While in England I took a series of day trips to spread my knowledge’s reach to other parts of England beyond London. Branching out on the train lines I set out to adventure in England beginning with York where I stayed for two glorious days. With just my purse and my camera packed away I trekked across London to the King’s Cross Station, which is a big impressive station, next to the even bigger and more impressive station in my opinion, the St. Pancras Station. I had a bit of a long wait for my train so in the meanwhile I explored the area surrounding the station, and even watched a Lays commercial being made with a blind taste test where people kept burning their mouths on hot food.
Then I explored the interior of the station and realized that King’s Cross has Harry Potter’s Platform nine and three quarters and in the actual station they have this whole elaborate set up now for tourists looking to follow the Harry Potter things in London. It was a baggage cart cut in half next to wall with even an owl stuffed animal on it, and people had lined up, zigzagging through the station to take a photo with it pretending to be going through the wall. Not being a huge Harry Potter fan and finding the fanaticism funny, I sat on a nearby staircase watching the insane antics knowing if I had been with my friends we would have been one of those groups waiting in line since all of my friends are pretty die hard when it comes to Harry Potter. So I sat back and watched, laughing for almost an hour, watching the line snake its way forward endlessly.
Finally my train arrived and I was really surprised by how nice the trains where, especially after having used Trenitalia all semester in Italy which is pretty bare bones on the regional trains. The seats where plush and each one either had a chess/checkers table or a monopoly table for playing games. I had a really nice seat all to myself and a nice big window to watch the countryside roll by.
The two hour ride from London to York was wonderful, we essentially crossed all of England, almost to Scotland and the countryside was beautiful. Rolling hills of mustard grass and buttercups coloring the hills like a sea of yellow. Cows and cute towns speckled the landscape, the occasional river and undulating little hills with the fields of cows or sheep passing by the speeding train. I loved the ride and was almost sad when it ended, but even more excited to see what York had to behold.
I have thus far neglected to mention an important part of this little solo adventure to York, the fact that I was couch surfing with a total stranger. My housing for York fell through and I had to last minute find random housing and a 66 year old woman named Heather was kind enough to accommodate me. This was the first time I had ever done this and I was a little worried. But I had a few hours to kill my first day in York before I was supposed to meet her at the house. So I began with the wall.
The wall that runs almost entirely around the city of York is an artifact of ancient times, the preservation of the old city’s fortress walls. Almost entirely intact, today you can go around the city on the winding dragon spine of this town to take in its sights. I got onto the wall and could see York Minster in the background and I started making my way along the wall to see what there was to see. At the end of my first section of wall that dipped at a bridge crossing a river leading to what I assume once was an old guard tower tucked away by the riverside.
Much to my surprise I discovered that this little turret tower was in fact an adorable coffee shop. I knew I had to go in and see what a tower coffee shop looked like, but first I made a stop by the river to look at all the baby geese wandering everywhere in the town.
I climbed the stairs to the tower and looked inside to see wooden beams crossing the ceiling and couches filling every inch of the room that wasn’t taken up by the counter. It was really extremely cute, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my money just yet having just arrived maybe 10 minutes previous to this point in time. However, I wasn’t given much choice by a nice, but bluntly gruff man sitting in the corner whom, upon seeing me standing, gawking in the doorway, hollered at me to step in and get something to drink instead of just staring. He was a hilariously caustic man I came to known was called Shawn. Little did I know that him calling me into the coffee shop against my will and my wallet’s desires would lead to one of my favorite experiences of my entire month of travel after my program.
I shyly shuffled in and still a little cautious of the man who had called me in who was now muttering over his computer, I ordered coffee from the very kind barista. After I ordered I figured I could take a few pictures, so I asked permission first and the man in the corner, Shawn once again pipped in saying he would be very glad to model in the corner. And as I was taking pictures another traveler such as myself wandered in behind me and seeing me taking photos, jumped into my shot just like this. Didn’t have any idea who he was, but I deeply loved the photo.
So laughing I sat down with my delicious coffee and began talking with everyone there, observing the barista and Shawn who obviously where friends ad kept poking fun at each other; Shawn caustically muttering and the barista calling him a grouch and an old man because of his bad behavior. And I got to talking with Ben, the traveler who, like me had just hopped of the train, and we wound up sitting and talking for about 2 or 3 hours. It was a marvelous time, laughing at Shawn bashing every city in England besides York to prove that York was clearly the best city in the UK and the barista teasing him about him just being a silly grumpy person with impossible standards. Ben told me he was traveling from Scotland to meet up with his grandmother whom he loved very much so the two of them could travel together in the UK. I told him all about Italy and the cultural curiosities of the country that most people wouldn’t know. The entire time, any time I would say something he liked he would stop and hunched over his little notebook would write anything he liked that I said in his little journal for later so he could remember the things I said. It was invigorating to have a conversation with a total stranger and realize that my words mean something to him; that even though he would probably forget my name, my words remained in that little black book to be viewed again.
I was very sad when he realized he was late for his train and ran off, neither of us realizing the time that had passed while we were talking. He ran off, and I didn’t even know his last name at the end, it was a saddening end to a wonderful encounter, but my entire time in that coffee shop was so up lifting and had me believing so thoroughly in the goodness of total strangers that when I got back to the wall I was grinning from ear to ear with the possibilities of human interaction, which, coming from an introvert, is not a phrase I say often. I was just so happy and felt so rejuvenated that I wandered down the wall in total awe of people and a new hope for humanity blooming in my heart.
I got off the wall to go to another ancient site in York, Clifford’s Tower, a lone little circular tower perched high atop a hill overlooking the city. I walked through a field of geese and their little babies just to get to it.
I found purple doors, with fox door knockers, old churches knee deep in buttercups and dandelions, ancient cemeteries in older churchyards, and crooked streets leading me to crooked buildings.
I took a short break on the water after an interesting encounter over taking pictures of geese that went a little something like this: I was taking pictures of some adorable baby geese, and realized there was an elderly gentleman also taking pictures of them. I thought it was a nice moment to share together, we made eye contact and I opened my mouth to affirm what I thought we both were thinking, how adorable are these baby geese?, when he looked at me, also about to speak but before I could say what I thought he was going to, he just looks at me and whispers, DINNER. I was so deeply shocked at how wrong I had read the situation that I just started laughing and couldn’t stop until he had left.
After that encounter, it was time to meet my host for the night, who riding up on a bicycle with bunting covering the straw basket, didn’t even stop before asking me, Do you want to come bird watching in an old Victorian cemetery with me tonight at sunset?
The cemetery was entirely overgrown, a glowing green radiance summoned from the depth of these vine covered graves and deep rooted behemoth trees with branches reaching out like arms to encompass the entire cemetery like a mother raven pulling her children tightly underneath her broad wings. It was beautiful, quiet, peaceful, and despite it being a cemetery was a place full of life and solemn solitude.
The birdwatching itself was kind of a bust with a majority of the group entirely fine with examining the calls of black birds, desperately craning their necks and squinting their eyes to make out a pigeon in the distance, but the surroundings where astounding and I was very glad I went and got to experience his oddity.
After leaving the cemetery at dusk and run/walking back into York I broke off again from my kind host and decided to go wander around York at night to maximize my day and time for exploration.
After again sitting on the banks of the river with my feet dangling above the black starry water with a cider in hand, I finally headed home on the crooked cobblestone streets.
While on my journey back to the house, I saw something crossing the street, at first I thought it was a really weird looking rat because I could only see its outline in the dark and its strange waddling stride. I thought it was the strangest looking rat I had ever seen, I mean it didn’t even have a tail, when to my surprise as I wandered closer I realized it was a wild hedgehog. I have always wanted to see one and nearly lost my mind when I realized I had encountered one in the wilderness of York’s streets.
I went back to the house grinning once again from ear to ear as I had done when leaving the coffee shop that same morning. My host was gracious enough to give me my own room in the attic of her terrace home. It was adorable, but felt a little haunted or something at night, but still adorable.
So after talking with my host about art, wildlife, her work, my travels, and a huge array of random topics over English tea, we both retired to bed after a long but fulfilling day.