Tuesday, May 31, 2011

York-It's Much More than the Minster

In addition to seeing Yorkminster church when visiting York, you'll have to be sure and visit the Shambles, voted the most picturesque street in Britain and winning the Google Street View Award in 2010. Lined on both sides with buildings from the 14th century, with overhanging timber framed buildings, the street was originally the location of scores of butcher shops, but today offers some of the most interesting shops and tea rooms in the city of York.

Shopping has to be one of the favorite pastimes in this quaint town,

with something to offer everyone,

whether it be  a pair of boots at Jones Bootmakers in this timbered building from the 1600's,

or a set of armour,

or something vintage from the church ladies at their rummage sale,

maybe something from the street market,

or even a bargain at Poundland, where everything's a pound! I must admit I gushed a bit at the possibility of finding things for just a pound--I had never seen such an option in London!

We had some great meals while we strolled the city streets, including a delicious sandwich from York Hogroast,

which was hand carved to our liking.

Our favorite meal there was at Little Betty's, the sister cafe to Betty's, which was first established in 1919, and draws huge crowds each day for delicious treats, meals, and afternoon tea. The hard part is narrowing down your choice from such a delicious array of goodies.

Our day was topped off with a spooky, thoroughly entertaining, quirky, and amusing Ghost Walk which sent us rushing back to the safety of our hotel at its conclusion.

All in anticipation of our day trip to Castle Howard the next day, which of course I will share with you soon, and which surprisingly proved to be one of my favorite castles in all of England.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Headed North to York

It would be hard to find many towns in England with more historical and cultural heritage than the city of York, located in northern England, halfway between London and Edinburgh. It was a perfect getaway weekend destination, and after arriving by train, we hopped off and walked towards the town and the many surprises that awaited us.

Crossing the River Ouse,

we headed towards the center of town, which had its beginnings as a Roman fortress in 71 AD.

Our walking tour started with the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey. Founded around 1080, the abbey was an important Benedictine monastery, one of the largest and richest in northern England,

whose abbots were known to be worldly, and the abbey was mentioned often in the stories of Robin Hood.

One of the city's most fascinating features is its medieval city walls which date from the 14th century, and are the longest and best preserved city walls in the country. The gates or bars, as they are called allow access into the city.

Monk Bar is the tallest of the four main gates, and still has a working portcullis. You can enter the walls here to begin a stroll around town that follows the line of the original Roman walls. 

The full circuit of walls is 4. 5 miles around, but even if you take a short tour of the walls like we did,

you'll take in beautiful views of gardens and get a peek of York Minster.

York Minster, the jewel of York, is an architectural masterpiece, and the largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps, truly a sight not to be missed.

The first church at this site was a wooden chapel built in 627, followed by several other churches built in succession through the ages, but the current minster was built between 1220 and 1480,

and encompasses all the major developments of Gothic architecture. I learned that the word "minster" was an Anglo-Saxon term attributed to missionary teaching churches, and is now a title of honor. Westminster is another example.

The interior is stunning-- lofty, airy, full of light flowing through the colors of stained glass on the sunny day we were there.

The entrance to the choir, or quire, is a 15th century screen,  towered over by the organ console.

The screen is decorated with statues of 15 kings of England from William I to Henry VI.

Inside the late 14th century quire, we were fortunate to hear a visiting young boys' choir rehearsing. Angelic sweet voices of young boys--nothing more beautiful.

Most fascinating of all to me was the variety of medieval stained glass found inside. Some of the stained glass in the church dates back to the 12th century. A statistic that amazed me is that 2 million pieces of glass make up the 128 stained glass windows in the church, most of which were removed at the times of World Wars I and II to save them from any bomb damage. That part of 20th century history has always intrigued me--how through the will and hard work of the British people, so many works of art, statuary, and in this case, glass were moved to safety during these two explosive times in history, only to be completely restored after the danger had passed.

This window is my favorite of all the windows. It's called The Heart of Yorkshire. Can you see why?

So much more to share about York than one blog post can handle, so stay tuned to hear more about this delightful town and its treasures.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Day at Wakehurst Gardens

One of my favorite day trips this spring was to Wakehurst, a beautiful country estate and gardens in the countryside of Sussex, which is administered by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew.

The Elizabethan house of the 16th century is the perfect backdrop for a tour of the extensive 465 acres of gardens

which were largely developed in the 20th century by Lord Wakefield--Gerald Loder, who spent 33 years working on his project.

Lakes abound on the property

skirted by the colors of the season.

Footpaths lead you through

an array of changing landscapes

of gardens, wetlands and woodlands.

The Himalayan Glade is a highlight of the tour and showcases Wakehurst's collection of Asian plants.

Flowers catch your eye

at every turn

and it's no surprise

that the gardens are the most visited National Trust Property.

The pheasants were quite friendly

and strutted off their

feather finery at every chance they could.

As the day wound to a close, the sun broke out on what had been a chilly April morning,

and we resolved to come back for another glimpse of all the flora soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Mansion House

So if you were serving as the Lord Mayor of The City of London, your home sweet home would be the Mansion House, located in the center of London across from the Royal Exchange.  Just a quick reminder inserted here that "The City" of London is also referred to as the "Square Mile" denoting its size and the fact that it is the inner historical core of greater London and the home of the United Kingdom's financial services. As Lord Mayor, you would live, work and entertain in this elaborately furnished house which is often used for ceremonial events and receptions, as well.

We took a tour recently and were amazed at some of the secrets inside this beautiful Georgian town palace which was built between the years of 1739-1758.
One of the first items we saw upon entry was this Hallkeeper's Chair from the 18th century. It was designed to protect the hallkeeper from some of the draft, as he kept watch over the entry. Underneath the seat is a drawer which could hold a hot pan or coals to give him extra warmth.

Going further into the house gave us a glimpse of the Salon, which serves as a large reception area and is graced by a row of crystal chandeliers which are considered by some to be the most beautiful in the country outside of Buckingham Palace.

The chandeliers date from 1875, and were originally gas powered. The largest one has 36 lamps and weighs 606 pounds. Incredibly beautiful!

Next, we went into the Long Parlour Room where meetings and small dinners are held.

The day we were there, it was set up for an afternoon meeting the Lord Mayor was hosting to discuss plans for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee to be held in 2012.
The Lord Mayor is elected by the livery companies and serves one year, in an unpaid ambassadorial role to represent the UK based financial and professional services.

The spectacular Egyptian Hall holds as many as 350 for a seated meal and serves as the main reception room of The Mansion House.

Not really Egyptian in style at all, it should more appropriately be called the Roman room,

and features statues of figures lining the walls which represent the classical world.

I loved the fascinating stained glass designed by Alexander Gibbs which was installed in 1868.

Moving on, we entered the State Drawing Rooms

where VIP's often gather before the receptions.

Most of the world renowned Harold Samuel art collection is displayed in these rooms. The collection includes 84 paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters and is considered by some to perhaps be the best collection of Dutch art in Britain. It was bequeathed to The City by Lord Harold Samuel, a wealthy property developer, in 1987.

The Merry Lute Player, on top, is the best known piece in the collection, painted between 1624-8 by Frans Hals.

Oddly enough, our visit ended with a peek into the men's toilets, where the original kitchen fireplace, dating back to 1753, is located.

Some of the ancient rules are still in place, though not enforced. 
Swear not, Lie not, Neither Repeat Old Grievances.
Warnings against eating or drinking in the hall with your hat on were also included.

Guided visits to The Mansion are held every Tuesday at 2 PM if you are ever in the area and would like to catch a tour. I can't imagine that you wouldn't enjoy it just as much as I did. A peek into the daily life of The City's Lord Mayor was fascinating.

Congratulations to Sue Watson who won the Souvenir Royal Wedding edition of The Sun newspaper after a random drawing by my sweet little granddaughter who loves to help out in this way. Thanks to everyone who dropped by and commented.