More Costumed Fun

Today we continued to learn about the rich history of York. Waking up early to walk to the York train station, we reserved our train tickets for upcoming journeys and then proceeded to walk along the city wall. Many of us enjoyed photographing the beautiful York cityscape as well as taking the ever-popular selfie. As we walked, we imagined the various operations that would have gone on when the wall was still functional. The height of the wall was meant both to keep out invaders and to keep in the townspeople. While many of us were alarmed by the precariousness of the steep stone steps, we all managed to complete the walk without falling off (there were gates in some sections but not everywhere).

Next on our itinerary was the Micklegate Bar Museum. This museum is dedicated to the history of many of York’s famous royals including, Richard, the Duke of York. In the two upper levels there were informational exhibits on the medicinal properties in some herbs and spices, the head of the Duke of York on a spike, and various parts of a knight’s armor. For almost half an hour we were like little kids playing dress-up, trying on chain-mail, helmets, and other cumbersome pieces of clothing (I’m sure these pictures will end up on Facebook).  Needless to say, the armor was not one size fits all, and some of us could not see out of the too-big helmets. There was also a copy of Shakespeare’s Richard III on display. Having read this in Dr. Clark’s Shakespeare class, many of us were able to connect that text with the history we were learning about. It was an educational but fun experience.

After a short detour in the charity bookstore Ox-Fam (English majors rejoiced), we were dismissed to find lunch on our own. One group went to a Japanese restaurant while another went to a French restaurant. On other walks, I have personally seen restaurants for Turkish, Chinese, Indian, Italian, American, and Indonesian foods. York offers a wonderful variety of foods to choose from, and I look forward to exploring more of these cuisines.

The rest of our scheduled afternoon was spent at Barley Hall, the former home of William Snawsell, a very well-to-do English businessman. The tour was highly interactive and enjoyable, and most students in our group were able to do some playacting to learn more about the everyday life of Tudors (while laughing at the poop jokes, too, of course). What struck me as particularly interesting is that Snawsell, a very important rich man, was illiterate. He relied on his steward, who was literate, to aid him in everyday business transactions. I had always thought that it was the poor who could not read and the rich who could, so this was an eye-opening experience for me. I am sure many others in our group could say the same.

After touring Barley Hall, we broke up into smaller groups to find dinner and enjoy free time. Courtney and I wandered through the pedestrian shopping and as we were heading back to the hostel, we saw that we were just in time to attend Evensong at York Minster. As Catholics, we appreciated the differences and similarities in the short service. For example, the large choir that sang all of the hymns and other parts of the service was made up largely of men and young girls. There was kneeling, standing, and sitting, and we were surprised that there was not more participation by patrons, most of whom simply sat during the 40-minute service. However, Courtney and I both enjoyed the service and plan on attending more if we get the chance. What a great way to experience a different aspect of these majestic religious buildings!



Day Two: Experiencing the Sights, History and…Smells?

To say today’ adventures “taught us a lot” about the literary figures and history known to York would be an unfortunate understatement. The experiences we had today allowed us to see the more of the city through a walking tour, visit the beautiful York Minster, and learn about the fascinating life of a Viking in Jorvik.

We met our guide for the tour on the driveway to the hostel and we greeted with a his lovely British and we took off across the pavement to find the birth place of Wystan Hugh Auden: poet, well-known literary figure, and flamboyant playboy. It was quite fitting that his bust was depicted with a cigarette in hand. The next site we saw was the St. Peters school, a school who has the opportunity to boast – although why you would want to boast in this I cannot quite tell – that Guy Fawkes was once in attendance. A short walk down the pavement from the school was the King’s Manor, a beautiful structure that housed the Abbot, was a moral palace, and a girls boarding school. The rest of the tour included the Royal Palace theatre, and a church in which Richard III invested his son as prince. Each building we encountered in York offered us rich history, it seemed as very few people had not passed through this fascinating city.

Following the walking tour we broke into small groups for a quick lunch. The group I was a part of went to a “Mr. Chippy’s” for fish and chips, which was delicious. But most surprisingly was the side dish of the plate – mushy peas. A typical side dish for fish and chips in England it was tolerable if not slightly tasty.

After lunch we went to tour the York Minster, founded in 627 on Easter Sunday the York Minster is a testament to the art, architecture, and history of the city. The building we toured today was completed in 1472. The church had since then experienced three fires, from accident, arson, and lightening, and yet the beautiful structure remains for both tours and as an active Minster. The church is dedicated to St. Peter, and his image stands between the two large doors if looking from the inside. On either side of the statue of Peter twelve headless figures sign in Cemphor, a type of signing using arm movements, that reads “Christ is Here.” The artist purposely left out the heads in order to focus on the message. At the high peak of the entrance to the Minster is a window which includes a large heart pattern, and is fondly known as “the heart of York.” This beautiful window was a gift to the Minster as a tribute to Archbishops Thomas and Williams and is a awesome sight greeting the visitors of York as it towers in the sky. Although the entire cathedra was extraordinary, I found that one of the most interesting pieces of the art was the blue and gold painting at the peak of cathedral showing the souls of Christ’s feet and symbolic of his ascension. Our tour took us through many of the rooms of the of the Minster as we stood in awe of the beauty and history contained in this one structure.

Our final stop for the day was Jorvik, an archeological dig sight turned museum that taught us about the lives of the Jorvik viking. On this tour we were able to see artifacts from the dig such as a 1,000 year old sock, pottery, and common household objects. The most interesting portion of Jorvik however was most certainly the ride which depicted through animatronics and replicas of artifacts the streets of the Viking people. As we rode through we could smell something sulfuric, possibly fishy, and most definitely disgusting. The smell was meant to imitate the combination of seafood, butcher shops, smiths, and outdoor lavatories that were a part of the Viking cities. The experience was fantastic and truly allowed us to both see and smell what it might have been like living in York during the time of the vikings.

Today allowed us to make fantastic connections and have awesome experiences – now to retire to the hostel, tired, satisfied, and away from the smells of Jorvik Vikings.

Our 30-hour-Day One

Our journey began Sunday, April 27 in the Cedar Rapids airport full of hugs and “miss you’s” from friends and family dropping us off for a month. We were full of anticipation, excitement, and nerves (some of us were flying for the first time), imagining what literary adventures England had in store for us. After finding Dr. Clark (who was MIA for a while due to a late arrival to the airport) we laughed and gabbed all the way through our first flight to Chicago. It was interesting to figure out how to maneuver through the crowds with our gigantic backpacks, and we mostly bumped into each other for fun. Before we knew it, our three hour layover was over and we were boarding the plane to Manchester, UK! Things were going smoothly, with the exception of figuring out how to shove our backpacks in the overhead bins. Shenanigans ensued for the first chunck of our international flight, as our group was clumped back-to-back, allowing us to carry on silly conversations and share in the excitement. It wasn’t long before we quieted down with books, movies, and pillows. I think I can speak for the majority of us when I say that sleeping on the plane doesn’t work well. The time difference was our first big hurtle–loosing six hours of what would normally be prime sleeping time. On average, we managed a fitful 3 hours of sleep. We landed feeling like it was 2 a.m. (way past bedtime) only to fight the 8 a.m. sunshine we found in manchester. We may have been exhausted. We may have been a little delirious. But we were in England.

After some unnecessary freakout moments getting through international customs and more laughing-fits, we were soon playing follow-the-giant-backpacks through the airport to the train station. We activated out Brit Rail Passes (which we did NOT write on, Dr. Clark, haha) and boarded the train to York where we encountered three things: 1. Our first glimpses of beautifully quaint towns, cookie-cutter houses, sheep, and lusciously green countryside. Within five minutes of watching the breathtaking views pass us by, we had already taken dozen of photos and decided this is where we were join got live out the remainder of our days in bliss. 2. Authentic, in-action British accents surrounding us! We’re fascinated. It is just awesome to listen to and really made it feel “real” we were in England. We had the opportunity to chat a bit with those next to us, and we are determined to discover the real meaning for the term “cheers” (which we hear all the time and used in different settings). 3. Lastly, exhaustion. The adrenaline was beginning to wear off, and we were crashing.

Train Ride from Manchester to York

By noon (England time) our train arrived in York: our first official destination. Like a herd of turtles with lumpy, colorful shells, we meandered through the stunning, charming streets of York. We took pictures at every street and corner. If our backpacks weren’t enough to indicate our tourism, the constant clicks of our cameras were overdose. We walked along a trial following the River Ouse to our hostel. Our eyes took in every bird, flower and quaint house, and our cameras quickly began checking off the culture immersion checklist items, “eye-spy” style.

First glimpse of York

Our hostel surprised us–it’s a pretty classy place, set up like dorms with multiple sets of bunk beds and a shared bathroom. Nothing like the horror movie “Hostel” images we had envisioned. We were all ready to crash by 2:00 p.m…but we desperately needed food. We dropped off our bags and headed back downtown, first to find money (or pounds rather), and then to Ask Italian, a delicious restaurant downtown York. Pasta and pizza filled the table, and we scarfed it down before it even cooled.


Home Sweet Hostel

Our first exploration of York was breathtaking. It’s a beautiful city full of a rich and long history. Everywhere you look, you can find gothic churches, unique shops, cafes, and pubs, and gorgeous little homes. Dr. Clark was great at point out all the major sites, like York Minster, a gorgeous cathedral, and the ruins of the city walls that protected York long ago. Also, twenty feet below the streets is the ancient Roman city! Apparently they just keep building on top of things until today’s York was built.

York Minster! We can almost see it!

We got a peak at the historic University of York grounds and gardens, the ruins of St. Mary Abby, and the Yorkshire Museum. The museum covered the history of York, which roots back to ancient Roman times, then Viking control, and on to monarchy rule. The highlight of the museums (for us) was Shakespeare’s first folio: the first publication containing all of his complete collected works, printed in 1623. It was in beautiful condition and we goggled a bit. Without his book, many of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, like MacBeth and As You Like it, would have been lost.

Us at the Ruin of St. Mary's Abbey

After the museum, we stopped at a grocery story to pick up a simple supper–and lots of British chocolate and prawn cocktail crisps (shrimp cocktail chips (surprisingly good))! Then we split off for the evening in desperate search for our beds or free wifi (we really wanted to connect with our friends and family at this point), and some of us decided to extend our night to go on a ghost walk. Courtney, Amy, Jessie, Andrea, Chanelle, Christina, and I decided to push past our exhaustion to make the most of our time in York. A charming gentleman in a silly top hat and took us on a fascinating and theatrical tour of downtown York, sharing the haunted history and intriguing mysteries of this ancient city. We heard stories of a weary army of Roman soldiers trudging through a home cellar, a poor dog named Shamus bricked into the walls at York Minster, a headless duke roaming the Shambles (a medieval street), neglected workhouse children, and a young toddler who starved to death–trapped in a house with her family who fell victim to the plague.

Ghost Tour Guide With the Awesome Hat

After the tour we were starving, so we found a pub just in time to get some chips (french fries) and fried cheese bonbons (like mozzarella sticks, but balls) AND we found excellent FREE WIFI! We ended the night perfectly by (finally) checking Facebook (we didn’t realize what we were missing until we didn’t have it at our fingertips). And we discovered our new favorite hangout spot–The Hole in the Wall. We’re determined to go back tomorrow night for some live music.

Despite over 30 hours on an average of 3 hours of (crappy) sleep, every moment on our feet was worth it! Safe to say we’re ready to crash, but pumped to get back at it tomorrow!

7th-century chapel discovered at Whitby Abbey

On Easter Sunday, English Heritage (the organization that runs Whitby Abbey, Stonehenge, and Clifford’s Tower, all of which we’re visiting) revealed that archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a previously unknown chapel at Whitby Abbey. According to EH, the site dates to c620-680. Whitby Abbey was founded by the abbess Hilda in 657. In 664, church leaders in the north of England gathered there for the Synod of Whitby, where English church leaders chose to follow the rituals and calendar of the Roman church rather than the Celtic church. Cædmon, who is the first recorded poet in English and whose “Hymn” we’re reading, worked at Whitby as a laybrother during Hilda’s abbacy (657-680).


The chapel with the 13th-century Abbey in the background. (Source)

The Synod of Whitby was particularly important in that it set the date for Easter as the one the Roman church used, rather than the very differently calculated date used by the Celtic church. You can see why EH posted the news on Easter Sunday!

I don’t know whether we’ll be able to see the chapel excavations while we’re at Whitby; hopefully, we’ll be able to get close enough to take a look. In any case, this exciting discovery could illustrate what life at Whitby was like for Cædmon and his contemporaries nearly 1400 years ago. It also provides a sharp contrast to Bram Stoker’s gothic uses of Whitby’s post-Reformation ruins!

“Shakespeare’s” Dictionary

This morning, a couple of days before the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, a pair of booksellers in New York City revealed that they believe they have found a dictionary that belonged to Shakespeare. They detail their claims in a book called Shakespeare’s Beehive. Garrett Scott has posted a helpful overview.

Shakespeare’s dictionary! Since we know of no other existing books that Shakespeare owned, shouldn’t we be excited about this? Well, potentially — but not for reasons related to Shakespeare. The response of the community of Shakespeare scholars can best be described as a sort of skeptical interest. Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe of the Folger Shakespeare Library published a clear and thorough blog post explaining why. One of the points that Witmore and Wolfe make is that the book is fascinating in its own right, regardless of whether Shakespeare actually wrote the annotations or someone else did. In fact, what I’m most excited about is not whether these are Shakespeare’s annotations, but rather that Koppelman and Wechsler have posted examples online, making this unique book a little more accessible to all of us.

As we visit Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, we’ll be seeing a lot of Bardolatry (the idolization of Shakespeare as “the Bard”). I wanted to post these links so that (a) you all could take a look, if you’re curious, and (b) we could refer to them later in our discussions. What do we make of Shakespeare’s “Shakespeare-ness,” his overwhelming (overblown?) reputation as The Greatest Writer Of All Time? We’ll be seeing and reading a play by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Thomas Middleton’s Roaring Girl, which is hilarious and wonderful. Why have we all heard of Shakespeare, but I’d wager none of you have heard of Thomas Middleton? I promise you that it has nothing to do with “quality”!