York: Bears, Monkeys, and Tour Guides

So, the thing about York is that it has a really BIG church. This building was designed and built to impress. After walking around the York Minster there is no doubt that over the centuries the Yorkies considered this a most important place – and wanted everyone to know.

The intrepid Sherry family climbed the hundreds of tight spiral stairs to the top of the tower, which is the highest point in the surrounding country.  Later the same day we watched a medical helicopter practice rescues from the top of the York Minster tower. I’m happy to say that Suzanne and I made it to the top and back down without medical air evacuation required.

However, we barely survived a 75 minute walking history tour through the church. Our tour began with a group of 15, and quickly diminished to five determined learners, the Sherry foursome and one middle-aged English woman.

The problem was our extremely knowledgeable guide. He dressed in a worn and unwashed blazer over a wrinkled white shirt and frayed tie. His white beard stuck out at all angles and his voice was soft and barely audible. He seemed a very nice man.  However, when I asked him a few questions he became flustered; then off he went on inaudible historical tangents. This added to the length of the tour. I stopped asking questions.

The kids maintained a state of polite “pretend attention” and quietly whispered their wish for the torture to end. Later that day, over our lunch at a pub near the old city wall (The Hole In The Wall pub), we all had a good laugh and exchanged ideas about how our guide could improve his performance.  For example, speaking louder, developing a sense of humor, and not assuming the audience knows the monarchs of Great Britain from 1100 to 1600.

Monkeys are in the top corners of the window – throwing acorns to the pigs below

One interesting tidbit that we did pick up had to do with monkeys.  Turns out that sea captains in the 1300’s would bring monkeys home as gifts for family and friends.  And frankly, York is not a good place for monkeys.  Apparently they became a real problem for the general population.  I guess there were mean monkeys stealing stuff and attacking people – I pictured the monkeys from the movie Jumanji.  The only useful activity the monkeys did was pick acorns and feed the pigs under the trees.  This is all captured in a stain glass window installed in the church in the 1300’s.  I think the monkeys are long gone – we didn’t see any during our stay.

The silver lining to our York Minster guide experience is that we established a new low-water mark for tour guides. The family all agreed that the beer cellar tour in Nurnberg was better, and that tour was conducted entirely in German (we don’t speak German). At least the Nurnberg guide pointed to things and made earnest comments.  He also cracked jokes that the German speakers enjoyed.

While walking through the old narrow cobbled streets of York we happened to come across a build-a-bear shop.  Alex lost her “travel teddy” in Dresden, and needed a new one.  After much email consultation with her friends back home, the new bear is named “Mr. Fuzzy Wuzzy”.

The counter in background of this picture is “flat”, the door jamb shows the slope of the room

As we climbed to the third floor of the shop where they build the bears, I felt a little dizzy.  The dizzy spell was an optical effect due to the floor, walls and ceiling sloping dramatically toward the street.  It reminded me of  something out of the old Batman TV shows – where everything in the Joker’s liar is askew.

Amazing these buildings have not slipped into the streets over the past few hundred years

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