The Easter vacation is over and York has assumed its more normal appearance -- a busy, prosperous small city which happens to contain a goodly number of Gladstone locomotive interesting old buildings along with some nifty mediaeval walls and bars. In the morning commuters pour out of trains and buses, with briefcases, lunch bags and umbrellas. In the morning there is room for delivery vans to approach the downtown stores; none of them has a rear entrance for deliveries. By mid-day the streets are starting to fill up with pedestrians who have parked their cars outside the walls and walked in to shop. The twisty streets and overhanging buildings give a quaint character to the scene. As a city that relies heavily on tourism, York has many places to eat and drink, and a few touristy stores, but most of the shops are aiming towards local shoppers.
Food shopping is a once-a-day affair for many of the locals, and may include stops at a supermarket, a greengrocer, a meat and fish market, a cheese store, and a bakery. We still see milk delivery trucks. Few of the English supermarkets are big enough to rival their American counterparts in variety. York has an outdoor market area which tends towards a number of flea market shops -- stuff like iridescent covers for cell phones.
We have taken the train several times now, from York to nearby cities. We've learned that the smaller local trains often run late because of the need to wait for the express trains to speed by. We often find ourselves arriving later than we had planned, but we have never had to wait more than an Visitors play engineer hour to board a train. Thanks to our Senior Railcards, we get discounted tickets if we travel after 9:30 in the morning.
We recommend the National Railway Museum highly. The collection of passenger cars and locomotives has been beautifully restored, and visitors may climb aboard many of the carriages and even pretend to be an engineer aboard a 19th century locomotive. There's a collection of royal trains, including some of the cars used by Queen Victoria in her travels -- a special car for her ladies in waiting, a bathroom car complete with full-size bathtub. For awhile the cars even had that new invention, the electric light, but she distrusted electrical appliances and had candles returned to her parlour car. Outdoors, we took a five-minute ride out to the end of the lot in a steam train, and watched children running some hands-on models. Go early in the day to beat the crowds.
We continue to go to many libraries and archives. Short on resources, many of the archives try to earn money by selling their services. But being government employees, they don't seem to be terribly good businessmen. For example, one archive has no public photocopiers available. Instead they offer Lovely old railcars to supply you with photocopies -- but it takes two weeks, even for just one page! Oh yes, and they expect you to pay 6 pounds for the first sheet copied, and up to 40 p a page thereafter! Needless to say, the users learn how to copy the pages down in pencil or type them directly into their laptops and say to hell with photocopies!
The British, however, are voracious readers. The libraries have many patrons, bookstores are numerous and apparently successful, magazines plentiful, and the country supports a large variety of daily newspapers, some national, some regional, some local. The York paper yesterday had a riveting headline: ASPHALT THUGS ASSAULT VICAR. Our own favorite has turned out to be the weekly magazine of news and opinion, The Spectator.
In the last year Britain's public libraries have all had an infusion of money, partly from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has supplied rooms full of computers hooked to the internet. In many communities a visitor can obtain a temporary library card by leaving a refundable deposit; the card then gives up to two hours free internet access daily. The libraries are crowded at all hours with patrons sending and receiving email, surfing, chatting, or just playing games. We thought the internet cafes would be loudly protesting, but they seem to be prospering, too. Of course the basic difficulty is A royal parlor car there's no such thing as free local phone service in England, so it gets kind of expensive to spend lots of hours on the internet at home. The libraries and internet cafes purchase bulk communications packages at a discount. It may turn out to be cheaper to hook up via cell phone. In our hotel the peak rate is 12 pounds an hour. Here's our workaround: sometimes we use the hotel phone on weekends when rates are much lower; and sometimes we gather up all our outgoing emails and copy them to a CD-RW, which we bring to a library or internet cafe. Oddly, one of the libraries got computers that only read floppies, not CDs!
The York library must be well aware that much of its Internet use comes from tourists: around the Internet room are clocks giving the time in York, Sydney, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco.
Insensibly we're learning to speak English, rather than American. No doubt people will give us strange looks when we return to the states in July. One receptionist, showing us the way to the town center, said "just go through that snicket there"; it was an alley. Other common expressions: "cheers, mate" (to a man), "cheers, luv" (to a woman), "ta" (from the conductor taking our ticket). And everybody DOES say "brilliant" for anything good.