I was wondering about the best way to approach this post. As opposed to my usual “On My Travels” posts which are based on a trip that takes place over a few days, this trip was relatively short – one and a half days, but I still wanted to share my limited experiences with you.
For those who don’t know about York, a very quick potted lesson. York was the traditional “second city” of England to London, home to one of the rival Houses which fought in “The War Of The Roses” and home to various chocolate and sweet manufacturing companies. It’s also reputed to be the most haunted city in Europe and, last weekend, was the starting point for the second stage of “Le Grand Depart” for the world’s most famous cycle race, Le Tour De France.
In light of this, we arrived to a city in celebration as York had a touch of the Gallic with yellow bicycles scattered throughout noted landmarks and cake shops such as the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms demonstrating various confections to commemorate the event.
This trip, though, was a chance for myself and my family to relax away from the day to day routine, albeit for a few days. It was also an opportunity for me to take photos to share with friends overseas and visit a place that I had not visited before, York Chocolate Story.
The first afternoon was fairly easy going as we checked into our hotel, have a wander round York and grab a quick lunch – which took longer than anticipated and led to us having very little time to actually do anything of note. However, after a wash and brush up, we decided to go on a relaxing early evening boat cruise of the River Ouse.
There are many ways to tour York. Open top buses, guided walks of various types – including walks of the “Snickleways” and City Walls, historical walks and various Ghost Walks, open top bus rides and bicycle tours, but, in my opinion, there’s no better way to relax on a beautiful Summer evening than sitting on an open top boat, with a drink in your hand (a cup of coffee in my case) whilst listening to stories about the history and sights of York and not just the main sites such as the Minster, but places such as the York Rowing Club, the Millennium Bridge and some of the public parks that run alongside the River Ouse.
After an hour on the boat, we decided to go to an Italian restaurant near where we were staying called Lo Spuntino. Whilst the food was beautiful, may I give a word from experience. A three course meal starting at 9:30 pm, especially an Italian meal, is not a way to get a good rest for the evening and we all recounted tales of trying to sleep with what felt like a bowling ball in our stomachs.
The following morning started kindly enough with morning breakfast, but I had little time to waste as I had decided to visit the York Chocolate Story that morning as the tours were time dependent.
For those who are looking to visit the Chocolate Story in the belief of visiting Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, I am going to shatter some illusions and say it’s nothing like that. The attraction guides visitors through the history of cocoa and chocolate from the time of the Aztecs (fans of the “Doctor Who” serial “The Aztecs” may gain a further appreciation of this part of the tour) through to Hernan Cortes’s expedition which led to the wider discovery of cocoa and the downfall of the Aztec civilisation, and to the eventual discovery of chocolate in the wider world and the role of York in chocolate and candy production – most notably through companies such as Rowntree’s (who originated products such as the “Kit-Kat”), Terry’s (the “Chocolate Orange”, formerly the Terry’s “Chocolate Apple” (which was a surprise to me)) and Craven’s.
There are fun aspects to this attraction as I managed to try cocoa drops and the Aztec cocoa drink (which is watered down cocoa with a slight hit of chilli) as well as learn how chocolate is made through a virtual interactive display, how to actually taste chocolate using all five senses, watch how chocolates are made and I even got to make my own chocolate bar. (Okay, I sprinkled the sprinkles whilst the chocolatier poured the chocolate, but it tasted nice).
If you have a fondness for chocolate or a passion for local history… or both, I would recommend the Chocolate Story as a place to visit.
After a brief spot of lunch, I decided to go off and revisit a couple of places that I have been to before. The first place was the Jorvik Viking Centre. This attraction is based on the site of an archaeological dig in the mid 1970’s to the early 80’s (which I visited twice when I was at primary school) and is one of a group of visitor centres run by the York Archaeological Trust.
The first part of the of Jorvik provides context to the Vikings settling of York after which you are transported in pods around a representation of the Coppergate of Jorvik with a commentary and animatronic characters, along with representations of the (ahem) odours of a Viking settlement. The final part displays artifacts and replicas of Viking age utensils, crafts and weaponry along with demonstrations of the crafts.
The York Archaeological Trust have a few visitors attractions around the city – Jorvik, Barley Hall, the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar, DIG and the newly acquired Richard III Experience at Monk Bar, with a pass for all the attractions being good value for money, because you can visit them as many times as you like for a year.
Following my trip to Jorvik, I visited another museum from my childhood which I visit regularly, the York Castle Museum which is housed in a former Debtors Prison and the Women’s Prison. Housed within this museum are displays and galleries to various aspects of Yorkshire life including reproductions of houses through various time periods from the Georgian era right up to the 1980’s, a Toy Gallery, a display about the building’s previous use as a prison including the cell which notorious highwayman Dick Turpin may have occupied, a new display commemorating the start of the First World War and its impact upon the people of Yorkshire and a reproduction of a Victorian Street.
This museum has always been a favourite of mine and I try to visit every time I go to York.
Once I met up with my folks, we all returned to our hotel to get washed and changed before heading out for dinner in a pub called the Golden Fleece, reputedly York’s most haunted pub. Thankfully though, the only spirits that evening were behind the bar and although it wasn’t a three course meal like the previous evening, but it was nice to have a smaller meal of “pub grub”.
The following morning we travelled home, making a small detour to the market town of Skipton. As with York, it was celebrating “Le Grand Depart” with yellow being a dominant colour for the decorations.
If you’d like to find out more about the places I visited in this trip, please check out the links below. My next trip will be at the end of August where I will be visiting London to see “Let The Right One In” and “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” on stage along with going on a tour of key locations from the Sherlock Holmes novels as well as the BBC Television series “Sherlock” and then on to Birmingham for the Diamond League and IPC Grand Prix athletics meets.
My photos from this trip and others can also be found on my Twitpic page.