Must. Kill. All. Owls.

It was a bummer leaving York in so short a time, we were trying to decide between spending an extra half day in York, or getting an extra half day in Stratford upon Avon. We only had a 2 hour drive or so, and that was going to leave us with extra time somewhere. We figured that traffic would be best in the morning, and eft right after breakfast, opting to take our half day in Stratford.

We were right about the traffic, and got to stratford just after noon. Our room wasn’t even ready yet. We left our things at the hotel, and walked into the town. The town is small, and though full of tourists, very rustic. The timber framed buildings are beautiful, and it looks like there has been a good local effort to preserve them as best possible.

We have been on vacation for two weeks now, and have found that across the UK, every place that we have stopped has been really beautiful, but each in a very different way. I think we have been pretty lucky in our choices of destinations, but you also just have to credit the area for being generally scenic.

The weather, however, is finally starting to turn on us. Sasha is pleased. The heat was getting to her right away, and she is happy to have some rain showers and cooler air. Can you tell she is a Seattle girl? We found a nice tea shoppe to duck into while the rain came down to get lunch. We had a view right across the street of the Shakespeare birthplace. The place is remarkably preserved. We waited for the rain to clear a bit, and checked out the tourist shops.

Despite the huge volume of tourists, it was still really charming. The Tudor architecture is really hard to beat, even with all the development. We went back towards the hotel once our room was ready, and while nothing special, it was nice to be in a full hotel for some part of our trip. We got all set up, then headed back down to the lobby, as we saw a boat tour just next to the hotel.

Apparently, when built originally, it was a Hilton Hotel, (now a Holiday Inn) and the Hiltons wanted to advertise a “Riverfront” hotel. Unfortunately, there was no way in the area to build right on the riverbank, so the hotel was built a ways back, then they dug their own canal to bring the river to the hotel. This made little sense in the long run, but now a small tour company runs out of here, and we could take a 45 minute tour of the Avon for about 5 pounds.

it was a small operation, but they had a good sense of humor, and wine. I was amazed right of by the ability of the captain to maneuver such a narrow, long boat through the narrow channel. There was little room for error, and he made it look pretty easy. You could tell that it was a small, amateur operation as they were not completely organized, but they work working pretty hard to make everything interesting. We got river views of the Marina, Local church where Shakespeare is buried, city center, local homes, and a bit of explanation of life on the Avon river. It was pretty fun.

Then the Americans spoke up.

Some days I think, “Gosh, why do Americans have such a bad rap across the world?” Then I see Arseholes like this. About halfway through the tour, some woman started giving a hard time to the guide, giving him crap about his lame jokes and interrupting to show how much better she was. Apparently trying to impress her children in front of her new boyfriend, who seemed to be pretty horrified at how she acted. Judging by her Tiffany watch and rings, she was the one with the money, and didn’t give a crap about anything else. She was loud and trying to put the crew in their place, whatever place that was supposed to be. Our guide payed it cool and she gave up after a while.

Once we left the cruise, I ran into her again in our hotel, yelling at one of the staff in the lobby. Classy. Yulia commented that it was too bad that I hadn’t had a few more drinks, as then I would started comments back at her, which would have been entertaining. Although some people actually do take offense from being called an obnoxious fat tart, but I can’t imagine why.

We got dinner at The Garrick Inn, which is the oldest continuos Pub in Stratford, operating from the 1500’s It had been gutted by fire at least once, and rebuilt, so it had a mix of original exterior, and original and updated interior. The food was excellent, and reasonable prices, surprising for a tourist town.

“Drink sir, is a great provoker of three things….nose painting, sleep and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire but takes away the performance.”

Well said sir, Well said.

Things might cool down at night near the riverfront, but apparently our solid brick and stone hotel retained it’s heat pretty well. We might not have been able to sleep well, but the owl that lived next to our window gave us something to listen to while awake.

We still got up early, as a free breakfast was a free breakfast. There was a full selection of continental breakfast items, and a Full English Breakfast as well if you wanted it. I did, and ate some of Yulia’s as well. It too me two cups of coffee to realize that I had forgotten to wear shoes downstairs, while everyone else seemed to dress sharp for breakfast. They were giving my some funy looks.

Screw ‘em – They’re lucky I even had pants.

After dressing we headed out for our next York cat. This was working out to be a great city tour, we would find a cat, shop around, grab some espresso, and go for the next cat. We hit the whole center of town this way. On our way around, Yulia found some nice sunglasses shopping, and Sasha had some baby geese run up to feed from her hand and jump up on her. Too cute.

We walked around the bank and cut over to York Castle. We walked up the mott to the castle and enjoyed the view. We really weren’t up to pay to go into yet another castle at this point, but we saw ice cream across the street and made a beeline over. It was really rich, fantastic ice cream, and reminded me that England hadn’t fallen into the trap that the S had of replacing all food with tasteless, fat-free replacements that doubled up the sugar so you wouldn’t notice the extra salt and sawdust used to puff it up. Bastards.

We wend back across the center of town, past the birthplace of Guy Faulkes, and went to York Minster to see the tour. As it turned out, there was a funeral at the Mister that day, so we had to wait for that to finish to go inside, and most of the tours were closed. We were able to walk about the interior, which was massive. I would have to compare it to Notre Dame in scale, with a series of smaller prayer areas inside the size of most normal chapels. The artwork was beautiful, and we wished we could have taken a full tour, but that just wasn’t going to happen.

We left the Minster, and were seriously overheating. We went back to the center alley streets for more shade, and found courtyard cafe to hide in for a bit. Here, we were served the best Pimm’s cocktail yet. This had so much fruit in it, it was almost a drinking salad. I decided that that made it healthy, and ordered a whole pitcher. The short rest did good, and we went back up past Minster to find out last cat. After finding it, the heat was getting to us again, and we went straight back to the Hotel.

An afternoon nap was welcome. Despite being hard to sleep, it was nice to have the heat after some dodgy weather up North. the reports also showed that we were going to get clouds later in the week, so we decided just to enjoy this while we had it.

Once we woke, we went back to the center for dinner, and to find the last architectural oddity on our list, which was a red devil carving on one of the walls, there are interesting carvings al over the city, and this is one of the more famous. We found it, then found a French Cafe chain to have dinner at.

York was a great city. We easily could have spent more time here. We were very glad to have changed our plans.

We had a long drive ahead of us today. We were going from Glasgow down to York, and that was a 5+ hour drive. We had packed up most of the way the night before, But the Fast and the Furious the night before kept us up for too much of the night. We were pretty slow moving in the morning. We made what food we had left for breakfast, dropped our keys off at the interior office, and headed out of town.

We made amazing time heading to The South. the roads weren’t as scenic as they were driving through Wales, but even when they dropped to a single lane in each direction, they remained good and fast. We Folowed the GPS into York, and were winding among small streets and city walls in no time. Our hotel was just two blocks off from the pedestrian city center, which meant we were *inside* the old city walls. In most European cities, this is just a metaphorical comment, usually with some street, named something creative like “Wall Street” marking where the walls once stood.

In York however, this isn’t a theoretical discussion. The walls are all still standing, as are the main three gates. There are a few large gaps on main roads in, but otherwise you can actually still walk the top of the defensive wall all the way around the city. Bring a couple of loads of bricks from Home Depot and you would have the whole thing back in full operation. The tower gates even still have their portcullis’s, though they may need some WD-40.

The hotel was not too small, and very clean. Once we were settled in, we went to the lobby, and checked out the flyers for things to do locally. We found one that talked about the York history of architectural cat statues. Apparently York has had buildings put up statues of cats for luck since the time of the plague, apparently to scare off rats. the ones up currently are modern, and most from a single architect who loved the practice. The flyer gave us clues on where to look, and we decided to make this a project for the city. As the cats were scattered around the whole city, it would make for an effective tour.

The city center is just as beautiful as Bath, though completely different architecture. We walked in the evening through the skinny old streets, where the upper floors of the houses on either side extend wider with each added floor, almost touching on top. Yulia was going crazy here, she loved the place. We definitely made the right choice to come here instead of the Castle in Darlington.

We found a couple cats right off, wandered a bit, then settled in an alley cafe for some drinks and food. Prices were very good, which surprised us as we have been expecting things to get more expensive as we get closer to London, and even though this was a tourist center, it was really reasonable. We chased away a few smokers from the tables through pure shame, then continued our cat hunt. Part of our walk led s across the top of one of the sections of city wall. It was in near perfect condition, and the view was amazing. After finding a few more cats, we headed back towards the hotel to clean up a bit.

We headed back out after a short while and made our way to another section of city wall. We walked along the outside of the wall, and ended up along the river walk, heading back to the center. We passed by the river locks used for boats heading in and out of the canals, and kept in towards the center, finding an outdoor pub on the riverfront. We sat for a quick meal of wings and a couple of Pimms. It was cheap and good. and as the sun was going down and starting to cool off, thankfully quick. We headed back to the hotel, and were glad to get in an extra half day in York before out tour day in the morning. We were up for getting some rest.

The night had it’s own plans…