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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Canadian Werewolf in England

With the first module at the ISU at an end, I made a trip up to northern England (York, to be specific) to visit some friends. It was the first time I would see them in person in some time, my first time in England, and it was a trip I had planned since I came to Europe! Follow me on my merry adventure!

The commute wasn't too bad, but I'm sure most people would have thought the tram ride + 6 hour train rides + 2 hour bus ride to be simply exhausting. Personally, I enjoyed the entire trip, and yes flying may have been faster but it was certainly not cheaper, and I wanted some extra time to think and unwind after my exam.

The exam went well, although I could have done better had I budgeted my time a little more wisely. Afterward, I bade farewell to my classmates and took the trip up to the Strasbourg train station. Early, but unsure of where to go, I found some trouble obtaining my tickets. I had the reservation but the machine was not working. I sorted it all out, just boarding the train as the doors closed. A great "standard" about Europe; when something is scheduled to leave at 4pm, it leaves at 4pm exactly.

The train was quite nice and spacious. Honestly, give me room for my luggage and legs and I'll usually be happy. With plenty of room, I took out my book, (currently reading The Farthest Shore, sort of a textbook for my program), and enjoyed learning about the space industry between glances out the window.

The train was fast, being one of those "bullet trains" everyone talks about, and the trip took me along northern France, between Strasbourg and Paris. The countryside was pretty, boasting vistas ranging from agricultural fields, to low hills, some ponds, a forest or two, and some quaint towns. I didn't take any pictures for two reasons: I was in the aisle seat and the vistas were moving too fast for my skills to acquire.

After 2.5 hours, I arrived in Paris! It was dark, and I only had 2 hours between trains, so I decided to take a walk. "Should I check a map?" I thought to my self. "No time!" I quickly answered. I knew I wouldn't go far and getting lost often leaves to further adventure.

Leaving the station, I took a right, continued up some stairs, took a picture of the station, and continued on my way. It turns out I was close to the centre of the city, as checking a map later indicated, but I wasn't able to find any high ground. Thus, I was not able to see the Eiffel tower as I had hoped.
Trust me, the picture quality and content get much better
I did see this painted on the side of a building which amused me. As I have no photo-editing skills, I'll describe it. The painting features a city exploding out of a brain with the words "Vous etes ici", or "You are here" written on the side. It made me laugh because it was not so helpful.

I also saw several sex shops and caf├ęs, only adding to some stereotypes I've heard about Paris. All in all, it was a short trip, full of hustle and bustle. Without meaning to, I found the northern train station which is where I needed to go.

My panoramic shot did not turn out quite right, this is better.
I proceeded through customs which was incredibly easy and waited for my train. Hearing strangers speak English after 2 months in France was strange and I found myself trying to translate their conversations into French. The train ride to London was uneventful, dark as it was due to the Chunnel and the time of day. Arriving in London, I met up with my friend Marco and we made our way to York.

This train ride was a lot of fun. We Skype quite a lot but it was great seeing each other again in person and catching up. We finally made it to his flat in York, where I met up with Meredith. The next few days were more Marco-intensive as Meredith was fighting a stomach flu/bug which left her tired at best, very sore at most. After hanging out together in the mornings, Marco and I toured the city, allowing me to play tourist and giving Meredith some quiet time.
This just struck me as "classically English"

York is a city full of old walls and secret paths
According to Marco, the tower on the left of the above picture, was once holed up by 15 soldiers as they defended against an invading siege. It's not a big tower, I hope they remembered to pack a lunch!
Fun fact: York has ample evidence of Nordic (Norse) presence. The one which made me chuckle involves the naming of things. As I explained to someone the other day, "In York, streets are called gates, gates are called bars, and bars? well, they're called pubs." For more information, and to see someone else's pretty adventures of York, check this out!

The first stop on our journey was the York Minster. A beautiful sight, it is the tallest building in York by law. We'll go inside in a moment but before that, there is a small display which lays out the foundation of the city quite nicely. Marco was showing me how some of the old walls still exist and where evidence of larger structures can clearly be seen.

We walked around the Minster, me snapping photos along the way, and here they are! (I tried to do some panoramic shots but they didn't turn out too well)

I swear this guy was pointing and laughing at me!

I love the depth of this building, just the many layers of architecture

After securing the parameter, we went inside...
So much intricate architecture and stained glass...
There were a few "modern", "artistic" additions which made Marco grimace
A view of the ceiling, complete with a lion-headed figuring off to the left, what's it for? Neither of us knew exactly.

So much in this picture; altar, balloons, statues of kings, choir in the background

Statues of several English kings
I thought these made a reverse silhouette of a rocket!
Creeping past the crypts...
King Edward III

It is interesting to note the appearance of the kings. Many were given exaggerated features which tells us about the loyalties of the carver/patron and the perspective of the time. Note the facial expressions.

King Stephen, looking dashing despite a mended sword
A lot of confused faces here including Kings Henry II and Richard I (3rd, and 4th from the left) 
"I'm King Henry II, I am?"

King William the Conqueror, looking the part

Off to one side of the Minster was an Astronomical clock. Despite the one in Strasbourg which I haven't a chance to see yet, this one is more modern.

Following a path around the clock led us toward the Chapter House, essentially an old meeting room for the religious leaders. During its construction, people were attempting to make York the centre of activity and one way they tried to go about this was display the power and influence by constructing a large, decorative Chapter House.

The pictures above and below display a unique engineering solution. While many similar structures often have a beam (or several) to support the structure, this chapter house does away with this by using heavily supported outer beams.

One cannot see the detail of this construction inside too well as it is masked by the intricate carvings and decoration.
As Marco was pointing out to me, the pieces you can see in the above picture, are probably close to half a meter wide or more, but they appear much smaller as they are high above us.
Similarly, there were many repeating motifs in this design, mostly concerned with numerology as people thought 3 and 5 to be important or fortunate numbers.

We did not get a chance to come back and see these candles lit, but that's okay.

The Choir, in its majesty

Making our way downstairs, we were able to see some of the support beams, and some of the exquisite masonry which took place. I do not know or remember nearly enough about the significance of this as I learned from Marco.

This picture didn't turn out the way I wanted, but I was trying to show the layers of the wall of the Minster.
Because it was nearing Halloween, I thought it interesting to include pictures of "The Doomstone". Details can be read in the above.

Shedding light on the subject...
While I haven't included pictures on here, I myself wear a cape from time to time, and wanted to show these pictures especially to my mom, who made my cape and is in the process of making me a cloak!

I call this, "The Desolation of Marco", and it features two things Marco dislikes.
The "Bubble" as it is called, in the picture above, is a dome in which one can see some examples of the stained glass, in a darkened environment where only the stained glass is highlighted. It is an excellent way to see the glass at close range, but Marco does not like the fact that it is placed inside the Minster. Being the archaeologist, he would rather the Minster stay exactly as it was constructed, and I don't blame him. The other point of disdain for Marco in the above picture is the backdrop showing what the glass at the end of the Minster would look like. It is currently under renovation hence the backdrop.
Marco enjoyed how the lights in this electrical panel box were arranged like the Minster itself
After the Minster, we took a walk around the local area.

Most of York is like this; shops and alleyways with old buildings and ruins along the way

I just liked this view, and wanted another photo of it
An old Roman fort, details below, the red line marks the border between the original (below) and the renovated (most of the above)

St. Mary's Abbey

It was interesting seeing the thickness of the walls

Marco and I joked that it reminded us of Assassin's Creed, and that if we were in the game, there would be a feather/flag/some collectible item up top.

This place had an old Roman name which I cannot remember. Essentially, it is an inn, a place where hospitality was bestowed. 
This amused me

And this amused me.

Running along the walls

Meredith wasn't feeling quite up to going out on Halloween night so she stayed in while Marco and I met up with a few friends of his. Apparently, he had impressed them all last Halloween with his Batman costume and since he didn't have time for making/buying a costume, he went as "lazy Batman" or "Badman" as we were calling it. I had brought some nice clothes so I wore those.

We met up with Doctor Who, a Steampunk Pirate, a Musketeer, Paul Stanley (from KISS), a Fox, and a Sexy Male Nurse. The evening was fun, riddled with humour, and everyone had a good time. The Nurse, Jim being his real name, was an unusual character, and we became fast friends, forming a bond over witty, wacky, incredibly obscure referential humour. While I had been upset at the start of the evening, feeling bad over not having a costume, I had a really nice time.

The next day, Meredith was feeling much better and joined us on our walkabout. The highlight of the afternoon was when I got to sit a hawk on my arm!
His name is Leon

I don't know why he looks so sad here but...

...I decided to join in
Later that day, I made my famous pasta sauce, and we invited Jim for dinner. Once again, the humour was high and I almost choked on my pasta listening to funny Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions. Afterward, we went out to the Museum Gardens to see an exhibition on some local history/culture. At the museum next to St. Mary's Abbey, large cloths were draped over the museum and a story about Eric Bloodaxe was told and projected. Unfortunately, it wasn't a stellar performance and my history/archaeology friends were not impressed, especially given some poor attention to detail and the £4 price tag. I personally enjoyed the night out, seeing the gardens, and the company was great, but I understand their frustration.

Pond Reunion!
A quick visit at Jim's house rounded out the evening. My last day at York was the busiest of them all. First, a haircut, followed by mailing off some ling overdue postcards. Anyone who pays attention might wonder why their postcard from France has an English stamp, and if they read here they'll know the reason was that I hadn't time to buy stamps in France. After the postcards, we met up with an old friend! None of us had seen Lauren in some time and it was really nice to catch up. She's the same energetic, lively soul I remember and it was like I only just saw her yesterday. Dining in a cellar pub, and enjoying a cake/coffee in a refurbished church, we walked through a snickelway ending the Pond reunion with ice cream. A snickelway is a word for the alleyways between buildings in York and we all had lived in the Pond road residence, hence the name of our reunion.

Taking a quick respite at Marco's flat, I finished packing and we then went out to another pub for one of Marco's friend's birthday. There, I met some people, including Sarah the birthday girl, and had another nice time. My time coming to an end, I chatted with Marco and Meredith until I left for the bus, Marco being most gracious joining me for the walk.

Bus to London, quick walk by Buckingham for a picture, then onto a London tube to the station. Train to Paris, quick connect and a train to Strasbourg, and I'm back where I started only days before. I saw a lot on this trip. I saw old landmarks and old friends. I made new friends and learned a few things about myself. While I didn't find the first ISU module particularly challenging, it was a busy time, and I know it will only get busier. Now that I'm settled in France, I can focus my attention on my studies. This year will be harder than ever before, balancing team assignments, a team project, classes, an individual project, as well as internship and job hunting but it is also the doorway to my future. I am learning more about this industry, my interest in it, what's missing, and what I can do to help. While this blog has been a little more adventurous and less academic as of late, I hope to share my goals, my process, progress, and ideas with you.

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the trip!

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