Monday, February 23, 2009

An overnight stay in York

We went to York over the weekend to play with the Vikings.

We left late morning on Saturday and decided to drive up avoiding the motorways. Jenny took us on a very pretty, roundabout route through lots of South Yorkshire villages we had never heard of – or, if we had heard of them we had never been - and then through some lovely North Yorkshire countryside. It takes a good bit longer than going along the motorways, but it is considerably more restful.

Thereafter, we had something of a mixed weekend, although we did have a good time and were mostly perfectly happy.

Where to start …

Food

It was a weekend, really, of not entirely satisfactory food.

Despite having gone along the laneways and back roads, we had still arrived too early to check in to our hotel room. Finding ourselves in the wrong lane at a roundabout, and therefore inadvertently driving past a Wyevale garden centre (I’ve only ever seen Wyevales in the south before), we decided to call in for some lunch. We have, I suppose, been a bit spoilt by the cafes in our local garden centres, but even so you wouldn’t think they could do much wrong to a plate of fish and chips. But it didn’t inspire confidence when, half an hour after ordering, The Builder asked when our lunch might arrive – and was told that it was nearly ready but that haddock takes a long time to cook! The batter was almost impenetrable!!

We had dinner in La Vecchia Scuola, which is indeed in the old girls’ school. A very mixed experience. My starter salad was fabulous. But the main course was very disappointing and was served much, much too quickly after the starter plates had been removed. My somewhat expensive chicken fillet in a creamy garlic and prawn sauce was a large chicken fillet plonked onto a plate and swimming in a lake of red cream with no discernible garlic taste and a scant handful of frozen shrimps (they weren’t frozen by the time they got to my plate, of course). I would expect the fillet at the very least to be butterflied, the cream to be reduced, the vegetables not to have been microwaved to death and the potatoes to be edible. I also don’t expect, when I ask for a jug of tap water, to be presented with a bottle of still mineral water and, when I sent it back and it was replaced with a jug of tap water, still to be charged £4.50 for it (not that I expect to be charged £4.50 for a bottle of mineral water anyway)! The pianist, on the other hand, was wonderful. When I asked if he could play some Gershwin, he grinned and played a whole set of Gershwin for me :-) I suppose, though, that the restaurant name should have rung at least a small warning bell. Real Italians would have called in La Scuola Vecchia!

Breakfast was a serious disappointment. The hotel itself was lovely. We were upstairs in an attic bedroom, which had been beautifully decorated and was very comfortable. The hotel was only a short walk from the minster. But we have become accustomed to being offered breakfasts made with local produce and which are well cooked. This was quite definitely a Tesco’s value breakfast. And a not particularly well cooked Tesco’s value breakfast at that. It’s a pity. We would certainly have gone back. But for £70 a night, I’m not eating a value breakfast again!

We had our Sunday roast at home in the evening. I had had enough not entirely satisfactory food for one weekend. We had roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, edible vegetables and a gravy made with vegetables and stock. That was extremely satisfactory.

The Vikings

We enjoyed the Vikings. It was a bit unfortunate that we were there for the last day of the festival and there was less going on than earlier in the week. But realistically, it would be hard for us to get there mid-week in February. We were disappointed that they weren’t doing anything on the river, but we enjoyed the craft tents and the museum. We also enjoyed the plate of mini-pancakes we bought in the market – perhaps we should have been eating street food all weekend! It would be expensive, mind, if you wanted to do all the Viking related stuff. The battle re-enactment would set you back £6; entry into the craft tents is £2. But in fact we had a happy time pottering about in York itself, pootling in the shops, wandering around aimlessly and admiring the buildings. I think we might not bother with the Vikings again for a while. They run the festival during the half term holiday which means that York is extremely crowded with families. There is nothing to stop us just coming up for a weekend, or even for a day for a potter about, without attaching it to festivals, and there is Viking material around all the time. But we are definitely coming for the food festival this year!!

We went to matins in the cathedral on Sunday morning. The cathedral choir was on its half term holiday and the service was sung by the gentlemen from the choir of St Andrews in Aberdeen. But if the gentlemen of Aberdeen were singing in the York minster – who was singing in St Andrew’s?
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