York: The tower, tour and tearooms

As a history buff and fan of the city break, a visit to York has been on my to-do list for quite some time (okay, since I moved here thirteen years ago). So in March, I finally got my act together, booked a bed and a spot of breakfast for a few days and hopped on a train for the two hour journey north.

I had three days to spend and a list of things I wanted to do. The weather managed to mix it up too – bursts of sunshine book-ended drizzle, rain and even a flurry of snow. But it was blue skies that beckoned as I got off the train, bouncing off bobbing yellow daffodils and brushing the distant Minster tower with soft light. So I checked into my hotel (Marmadukes Town House Hotel), dumped my stuff and headed out to explore.

York Arrival montage

I spent the last few hours of daylight wandering through the walled city’s cobbled streets and when the light finally faded, I found a cosy spot at the Lamb and Lion Inn (right under the old City Gate, Bootham Bar) to prepare my plan of attack over a quiet pint of something local.

It was a full three days – a wonderful mix of history, curiosities, architecture and breathtaking views – and I have so much to share with you. So I’ve split my York warblings into three Armchair Tours to cover the things I loved about each day.

Here’s Part One…enjoy!

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Yellow Peril…

In my last post I mentioned that I’d been travelling in the USA and one of the rare delights of hanging about (for hours!) in airport terminals is browsing through the local portfolio of magazines. The New Yorker is a bit of a fave so that’s found its way into my reading pile again. But I’ve uncovered a new candidate for my affections – Mental Floss – and having recently discovered their witty snippets on twitter (@mental_floss), I was delighted to find the magazine on the newsstand and spent part of my time Seattle-bound, devouring its pages.

Anyway this leads to the point of this post – flowers. In particular, yellow flowers. And not because it’s Valentine’s Day. 

(I’m a bit bah-humbug about Valentine’s Day and would much prefer to receive protestations of love all year ’round.)

No, it’s because I have just purchased my first daffodils of 2014.


This is a bunch from a prior year as mine haven’t bloomed yet. However I expect to get up tomorrow morning and seeing bright bobbing blossoms emerging from their green buds.

Sigh!

I do find such happiness in a simple (and inexpensive) bunch of cheerful daffs.

But according to Mental Floss, when it comes to a splash of golden colour, it’s not always sunshine and roses daffodils. In fact it could be downright perilous.

In Japan, a bunch of yellow flowers means ‘I’m jealous’ so green with envy seems not to apply in the land of the rising sun. In Peru, it’s a declaration of hatred while in Russia, the message is ‘let’s break up’, not exactly what you’d want to receive at any time of the year let alone on the 14th of February. 

But yellow flowers need not always be a declaration of your lack of affection. According to Mental Floss, if you are in Mexico, scattering marigolds over someone’s grave means ‘come back to Earth and visit me’…

Marigolds decorate this grave to encourage the soul to rise again

So on this St Valentine’s Day, if you’ve planned to say it with flowers, choosing yellow may not be the floral tribute your heart’s desire is looking for.

However, my source informs me that daffodils mean rebirth and new beginnings, regard and chivalry and ‘you’re the only one’.

So if I’m your ‘one’ – or even one of a special ‘few’ – you can feel free to send me some of these golden yellow trumpets any time of the year.

Double Digits And Drowsy Daffs…

If you’ve been speaking recently to anyone living in the UK, you will know that we have felt the grip of winter’s chilly fingers well beyond the ‘start’ of Spring. Night-time temperatures have dipped below 0C for far longer than usual and the days have nipped at the noses, fingers and toes of anyone daring venture into the outdoors.

But last weekend, things shifted. The sun appeared, the mercury climbed into the mid-teens and I found myself moving to the patio at Gidday HQ to breakfast, read the paper, paint my paws toenails and anything else I could think to do that meant I could stay in the warm mellow sunshine.

The days are getting longer too (I mean versus the night, not that we are getting more than our requisite 24 hours). In the last week I have walked from the office to the train station three times, a wonderful 15-20 minute respite in the fresh air dividing the frantic busy-ness of the office and the cocooning commute of the train. 

The best bit is that Spring colour is starting emerge. There have been signs of spring here and there but it would seem that the week of double digit temperatures has opened the ‘blooming’ floodgates (geddit? blooming…did you like what I did there?) and the tree out the front of Gidday HQ has burst forth in a riot of delicate pink blossoms.

And the daffodils are out. Their yellow heads have lifted from their winter sleep to bob drowsily in the breeze, lining paths, meadows, gardens and even the main entrance to the office. The Metro has been filled with pictures of Wordsworth’s host stretching across the Lake District in a golden sheet of colour – a sign of lighter, brighter days to come.

I have always loved daffs. They are such joyful, hopeful flowers and nothing makes me happier than a big vase of bobbing sunshine-y blooms. In Australia, they are in season around August and Mum always bought me a humungus bunch for my birthday so for me, there has always been a really strong association with family and happy times.

When I first arrived in the UK I was having a really difficult time, and I remember sitting on the bus, gazing out the window and quietly despairing about how I was going to keep getting up each day and build this ‘new life’ I’d crossed the world for. The bus rumbled over Kew Bridge and suddenly the view was filled with hundreds of dancing yellow daffodils splashed across the Green. My heart lifted, my resolve stiffened and in that moment I felt that somehow, things would all turn out.

So for all of you lovely Gidday-ers who enjoy my expat ramblings here at Gidday from the UK, you have a host of drowsy Spring daffs to thank. 

 

And every year, when those glorious golden trumpets appear again and toss their spritely heads, I remember that moment on the bus nine years ago when an unexpected burst of Spring gave me hope and I found the courage to keep building my dream.

I Feel Pretty…

I was out and about earlier and while there’s still a nip in the air, there are blossoms everywhere, leading me to believe that Spring might have finally arrived.

Early in March I was delighted to see some scattered daffs under a tree in nearby Victoria Park…

Then we had a couple of weeks of gloriously sunny weather (remember that time when we were warmer than you beloved Melburnites?) We were all delirious over here and there was even a breathy mention or two…could this be the year that we have a ‘good summer’?

Then it rained for a few weeks and I had to resort to bringing the outside in…

Bunches of daffodils are cheap here at this time of year and last between 10 days and two weeks

But today’s blue skies and spring-like 14C (I know, my expectations have lowered considerably on the temperature front over the last 8 years) have brought forth a veritable tour-de-force of blossoms…

I was crossing the High Road in East Finchley today when I snapped this glorious spread behind my bus stop
I noticed these buds on my side fence from the kitchen window last weekend which are now in bloom. I don’t know what they are so if any less horticulturally challenged than me can advise, I would not look stupid in my own garden be grateful
These are growing in random plastic buckets in the back garden. Haven’t a scooby what these are either. They live without much input from me. This makes me look good happy.

London is so unbelievably pretty in the Spring – I actually think it’s one of the things where it beats Australia hands down.

Even Google is getting in on the act!

Google 22nd April 2012

But lest you be misled, I should let you know that after a glorious t-shirt and light jumper walk this morning, it’s now raining…

Yes indeed, Spring has definitely sprung.

Departures…

After a 10 day sojourn, Mum flew out to Dubai last night on the final leg of her February 2012 odyssey. It’s quiet here this afternoon at Gidday HQ but I have lots of things to be getting on with before it’s back to work tomorrow.

All up it’s been a busy 10 days with some ‘must dos’ not done as we traded off a few excursions for a little chill out time at home. I’ll post about some of the specific things we did over the next week or so – that’ll be more posts of the ‘Armchair‘ variety coming up for you – but in summary we shopped, played tourist, ate, drank and were generally slightly hysterical very merry.

Day 1 started gently for my erstwhile traveller, recovering from 2 weeks amidst the hurly burly of Egypt with a sleep in, a short stroll around my local park and a coffee stop or two before heading into The Tower of London in the evening for the Ceremony of the Keys.

The Ceremony of the Keys has been occurring every night at the Tower for the last 700 years and is the ritual of securing the Tower and the Crown Jewels for the night. From arrival at the West Gate at 9.30pm to departure at approximately 10.15pm, every moment was filled with a sense of both occasion and history as the Yeoman Warder led the group down to stand at Traitor’s Gate and watch the ceremony.

After explaining the ceremony itself, he left us to watch in silence as he joined his fellow warders in the ritual locking of the two outer gates, the steady march towards Traitor’s Gate right through to the proclamation that the Tower had been secured and the haunting notes of the bugler’s Last Post. This is definitely one of London’s hidden gems and even better, it is free but you need to send off a request form a couple of months in advance. You can click here to go to the website and check it out for yourself.

Saturday we were off to High Tea at The Connaught in Mayfair with A-down-the-hill to enjoy a significantly posher version of our previous Champers and Cupcakes escapades…

Champers gets our afternoon off to a fab start
There were also scones (they were scrum-diddly-umptious) and we got to choose three jams between us – my fave was the Apple & Quince!

Mum and I took ourselves off to see The Artist afterwards which meant a much needed 25 minute waddle along Oxford Street…

Oxford Circus
Selfridges
Get your five a day at the junction of Oxford and Duke Streets

Sunday was clear and crisp so we headed off to Greenwich. This will be featured as an Armchair post so more about our day later on. Suffice to say we managed to get our hands on something quite old…

We did a spot of shopping on Monday then decided on a ‘rest day’ before heading off to Dublin on Wednesday for 4 days. This little trip warrants a couple of dedicated posts but for now, I’ll leave you with a highlights package…

The Boyne Valley, about 45 minutes drive north of Dublin, has 40 passage tombs in all shapes, sizes and states of preservation…
…and we visited Newgrange Passage Tomb which predates the pyramids.
.
I poured (and drank) the perfect pint at The Guinness Storehouse (and have a certificate to prove it)…
…while Irish history came to life for me at Kilmainham Jail.
I was delighted to find a ‘host of golden daffodils’ in Merrion Square…
…whilst visiting the Famine memorial by the Liffey River was quite moving.

We managed to cram a lot into our four days and came back to Gidday HQ on Saturday night absolutely exhuasted. Then departure day had arrived, all too soon it seemed, with much packing and sorting going on before heading back out to Heathrow again and hugging Mum goodbye.

As I walked away from the Departure Gate, I felt the familiar tearing of my heart between the love of family on the other side of the world and the connection of my soul with London. And I wondered at what it was in me that led me here so very far away, and where I might end up next.

Sunday On My Mind…

Today’s weather has left a lot to be desired, particularly after yesterday’s more inspiring blue skies, so I have been getting on with a few chores.  And washing (of clothes, dishes, hair) done – and trying to avoid looking at the enormous bag of ironing on top of the cupboard – I finally ventured outside between showers (the precipitous, not bathroom kind) to trim winter’s obvious bleakness from my surviving plants and to cut a few choice bay leaves in preparation for tonight’s culinary exploits – a Kym-style take on cottage pie accompanied by roasted squash.

To my surprise, I could see rows of tiny ‘bud-lets’ along the seemingly naked stalks and in recent weeks, my continental parsely seems to have been inspired back to life.  The bay tree by the door soldiers on as always and my strawberry plants may just be redeemable with a little TLC so there’s a chore for next weekend already.

The weekday mornings and evenings are getting slightly lighter now and during the week I was delighted to see that my daffodil bulbs had emerged, green and stoic and heralding Spring-around-the-corner.  But today, bay leaf snippets in hand and having pocketed my almost redundant secateurs, I turned to check on my brave little daffs only to find four – YES FOUR – flower buds nestled amid the greenery.

And after last year’s flowerless haul, there are no words to describe the joy that the prospect of those happy, yellow blossoms gave me today.

The year is looking better already…

Wishful thinking…

Well here we are…it’s April, it’s Easter, we’re on British Summer Time…
…and I have no daffodils…
Such a disappointment after I got 6 gorgeous sunshine-y blooms last year and after only 2 the year prior, I thought things were heading in a more prolific direction…
So J bought me some home the other night to console me…

So happy and bright aren’t they?

But part of me still wishes that I grew some of my own.

Sigh….

…a host of golden daffodils.

I got some wonderful news today. A lifelong friend of mine was recently diagnosed with cancer and has been preparing for her first round of surgery at the Marie Curie centre in Paris on Tuesday (for biopsies to assess the size of the tumour she has prior to any treatment/further operations)…the news is good with the tumour reducing in size since her original diagnosis meaning she will only need radiotherapy as opposed to chemotherapy…this journey of healing is not yet over for her but this news made my day…

We were born in neighbouring hospital beds in 1969 (she on July 31st, me on August 1st), two little Leo ladies who then went on to live on the opposites sides of Brisbane and then the world as our lives unfolded. As kids our Mums would visit each other – I remember we would get to play in their empty (of water, anyhow) in-ground pool (very special at the time as we only had an above ground one) and I would marvel at her independence and worldliness (she was visiting family in France from quite a young age and I just thought that was so-o-o grown-up).

The last time I saw Nat was in 2000 when Mum & I were in Paris for a week – the view from her window over the Paris rooftops was incredible – and I was so inspired by her love of life and her passion for her art (photography/documentary film-making). There is part of me that felt sad that it was her cancer diagnosis that opened up the flow of communication again but I am enormously glad of the opportunity to reach out and be part of her support network…

Nata was in surgery on Tuesday…and whilst I got the news today, my daffodils finally bloomed on Tuesday…the sight of these beautiful flowers breaking out across parks, gardens, roadsides back in 2004 (when I was really struggling with my relocation to London) were such a beacon of hope with their happy, hopeful faces and it seems perfect that they have appeared for Nata too…

Studying ‘Life in the United Kingdom’…

In order to submit my application next January for Unlimited Leave to Remain in the UK, I need to have passed the Life in the UK test which came in a few years ago for people wanting to permanently settle here. There’s a book to read (Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship) which I thought I’d get hold of early and read every so often over the year. This was always my study pattern at school/uni too – never was a great ‘crammer’ so if I didn’t know it by a few days before the exam, I had no hope!

I started reading last night and found that the history part is really interesting. I’ve heard of most of the things/people mentioned ie. signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Oliver Cromwell, Boudicca and the Iceni etc. but had no real idea of the course of history and how these all fitted in. Given I love reading history, this is actually turning out to be more engrossing than I thought…

…no sign of daffodil blooms yet but the buds are getting yellower and I count five ready to blossom in my pot (a significant increase on last year’s one) as well as three ‘wild’ ones on the edge of the path.

I wandered lonely as a cloud

It’s been a busy few days with lots of catching up with friends, movie going and a bit of yoga thrown in. Today is sunny and gorgeous so a good time to sit in my front window and enjoy life…the washing is drying outside (for a change!), the recycling has been collected and I have finally planted a few sets of seeds and in three weeks time – if the packaging doesn’t lie – I will be tending to fresh basil and coriander, a chilli plant and the  beginnings of a tomato vine. Keep your fingers crossed that these will grow as well as the bay tree and thyme that seem to be thriving under my boot camp regime called Surviving With Water Restrictions (no, I really truly don’t forget to water them at all – I am just preparing the little blighters…I mean loves…for the summer…hmmm).

I can see my daffodil pot from the window too and there are lots of buds just waiting to burst open and wave their lovely yellow heads about…the excitement is increasing to fever pith so stay tuned, the big event is literally days away…