I had met Tess and Liam in Belgrade in the summer of 2013. It was a short meeting; we hung out in the evening trading stories, but when they decided to go to a jazz club I had to decline as my shoes had just fallen apart and I didn’t think I’d be allowed in with thongs. I’d really liked them though, and given that they were perpetual travellers, I added them on Facebook in the hopes that we’d meet again.
That turned out to be a really great decision. Apart from the fact that they both posted really interesting things on Facebook, and offered good advice to the myriad questions I post, they sent me a message upon learning that I was in the UK and unsure where to go, offering me their couch.
How incredibly nice is that?
I was, of course, super keen. I’d get to hang out with people who I knew were good company, I’d get to be in an actual house with an actual bathroom, and I’d get to visit York – which I’d been wanting to visit anyway but hadn’t thought I’d be able to afford it.
I’d arrived in York on Tess’s birthday, the 18th of December. My first impression of York was that it was a little bit like a magical fairy-tale town. The main part, inside the old walls, has cobblestoned streets and lots of really old buildings, including pubs that have been around for centuries, and you feel like you’ve stepped back in time except that there’s also free wifi in most of the city and none of the pestilence they had in ages past. And Korean food – we went to this tiny Korean place for dinner, where I had my first ever taste of kimchi and octopus bibinbap. That definitely wouldn’t have been here any time before this century.
The rest of the night consisted of cocktails at this cute little restaurant (Tom Collins for me), before we moved on to this pub where a blues band that Tess and Liam were huge fans of were playing that night. Liam also absolutely cleaned up playing bar billiards with Alice, while the rest of us tried (and failed) to figure out how to play dominoes and then gave up in favour of just lining them up and watching them fall.
Despite offering me a couch, what I actually got that night was a room, which was especially nice of them because that was the room usually used as a study/exercise/miscellaneous activity room, and Tess and Liam were both super busy studying for finals and finishing essays.
Breakfast the next morning was amazing – Liam had made macadamia and raspberry gluten free pancakes with a smorgasbord of toppings – of which I chose honey and avocado. Unusual combination? Yes. But absolutely delicious.
I started the morning by doing my laundry, being in desperate need of clean underwear; my last hostel had been renovating their laundry and it was out of service while I’d been there and I was about to start having to resort to wearing my swimmers. Tess and Liam had just done their laundry too, so the airer was full, meaning I had to get creative about hanging mine up. I covered their furniture with clothes, clothes hanging from doors, from chairs, off tables, around knobs… it looked like some kind of wacky art installation, ‘wet clothes as interior decoration’.
Tess and Liam had acquired a map for me and pointed out what they thought were the best attractions. Tess had a museum card, which she lent me, so that I could pretend to be her and get in to York’s museums for free. It was a grand plan, but as I walked into the York Museum, it turned out that it had just expired. The woman let me go in for free anyway, telling me I just had to go into the library to renew it. I nodded compliantly, waited until she looked away, then just went in to the museum, ignoring the library altogether.
The York Museum was actually really cool. It’s fairly big and I get museumed out easily, so I didn’t bother trying to see all of it, but I picked the bits that seemed like they’d be interesting – I read about the history of lego and the Beatles and feminism and mini dresses. It was very interactive, which I loved, and the best part was that there were all these bits where they’d get locals to send in their stories and memorabilia, and ask for their feedback in how they’d presented bits of history (are we being biased? Have we represented all views adequately?). As an ex-extension history student, I really appreciated this; it was a fantastically inclusive history.
York is the kind of place where it’s really easy to just wander around. There was this quaint little store called Demijohn, where they have a huge variety of whiskies and vinegars and oils on tap. There was the Cat Gallery, which was wonderfully quirky, and the English Jumper Emporium, where I very nearly gave into temptation and bought a Christmas jumper. The Museum gardens were lovely to wander through, contemplatively, and I had a delicious gluten free lunch of peanut chicken and rice at The Shambles Kitchen.
I accidentally wandered into a library too – after walking into this intriguing building whose name I don’t remember, through a few courtyards, and finally going up some stairs – and sat there for a while reading Byron and Coleridge and Shelley while munching on some honey coated peanuts I’d had in my bag.
I very nearly also found myself going to a mass service at the York Minster. They’d had a placard up about Choral Evensong at 5.15 and I went in thinking that they’d just be singing. Luckily I looked at the program just before it started and realised that it was a whole mass. I upped and left just in time. The mass was held in the inner chambers of the Minster, so instead I just lingered in the outer chambers, just next to the door, listening to them sing, then left once they started sermonizing.
That night I cooked dinner and discovered kale. I made a gluten free fettucine with mushrooms and zucchini, while Tess steamed kale and brocolli as a side dish, served with balsamic glaze. I didn’t think I’d like kale but after trying a little bite with the balsamic I loaded up a few more serves. Man, balsamic glaze is so good. We sat up playing Scrabble afterwards – my first time playing, ever – and they more or less annihilated me. I went to bed that night frustratedly trying to recollect all the big words I knew.
Do you know how sometimes you think you have heaps of time for something, then realise that you actually don’t? The next morning I woke up, had some leisurely porridge, washed my hair, packed my bags….then realised I was going to miss my bus if I didn’t hurry. I was really lucky that Liam was still there and could walk me to the bus stop. We went across the town walls and over bridges and through so many streets that I would have spent ages scrutinising the map on my phone if I’d been on my own.
As it was, I had to jog the whole way, which after about the first two minutes made me feel a little bit like I was dying, really painfully. Liam did offer to help me but I have a rule about not letting anyone else carry my bags because it feels like a cop out. I was really starting to hate that rule, and after we’d hit the halfway point I wasn’t sure how much longer I could jog on with rucksack because it just hurt too much.
But Liam kept moving and so I kept moving, and ultimately we got the coach station totally on time! Early, even. The relief when I finally got to drop my bag down (any myself on top of it) felt a little bit like heaven. I could have sung with joy when the coach pulled up and the driver took my bag off my hands.
As much as I’ve gone on about York, the best part about visiting it was actually Tess and Liam. They’ve both done some really amazing things, and have so many great stories and you can tell they’re the good type of traveller – the kind of Herodotean, cosmopolitan, citizens of the world. After talking to them you couldn’t help but feel like you wanted to go do do amazing things too, while being socially responsible and eating gluten free (they’re both Coeliac, while I’ve got Crohns). I left York feeling a lot more sure of my decision to travel than I’d been this while journey.
I was really glad I’d come.