Thursday, July 01, 2010

Visiting the (slightly recent) past

Siobhan wrote about Tuesday's adventures. Today (Wednesday), we set out a little late, having slept in to recover from Tuesday.

Our first stop was the York Castle Museum. Despite the name, it's not really a castle, or about castles, or really having anything to do with castles. Its claim to the name comes from the fact that it's in some huge public buildings built on the site of a former castle (and one original tower from that castle still stands on a hilltop overlooking it, but it cost extra to go in, and didn't seem worth it). Instead, it's just a history museum.

And like all the other history exhibits I've seen here, it focuses quite heavily on recent history. There was one exhibit about the Civil War (late 17th century), and everything else was Georgian or later, with a big focus on Regency and WW2 eras. I think there were maybe two sentences in the entire museum that referred to anything before the Enlightenment.

I don't know how much of this is regional, but it seems the Brits have a great fascination for only the last few centuries of their lengthy and rich history. When I, as an American, think of England and history, I tend to imagine a mix of about equal parts Rome, Middle Ages, and everything after that (notably the story of the monarchs and religious reform), with side orders of stuff about the Vikings, Celts, and colonies. But the history museums here seem to focus almost entirely on a very narrow slice of that. The Middle Ages never happened, neither the romanticized King Arthur kind nor the "nasty brutish and short" kind. You'd think that when visiting castles, you'd get a hint of the medieval era, but nope. I suppose there are places in the south where you'd get a huge helping of swords and armor, just like you'd get overdosed on Shakespeare in the Stratford area. But at least in Yorkshire, you might as well imagine that England was founded in the mid-1700s.

Unfortunately, all the pictures I took of the exhibits in York Museum were lost. The camera's batteries had run out, so I bought a few AA batteries, since the book that came with the camera said it could use AAs as a replacement for the CRV-3 lithium battery in a pinch, and since the CRV-3s were so expensive, I settled for AAs for now. Well, they didn't work so good. They were running out very quickly. I made them last longer by switching to the viewfinder instead of the LCD, but it was touch-and-go to keep it going through the whole day, until I could get some CRV-3s. It kept shutting down mid-picture and requiring multiple startups, and at one point it lost its pictures -- fortunately that was only about seven shots, so I just went back for them. But when I got the CRV-3 in, the card was dead. In fact, I can't even format it, it's dead; I need to buy another one tomorrow.

That also includes all the pictures of the York walls which we explored. We didn't do the whole two and a half miles, only about a third of them, but after a while, they're all the same. We explored a few gatehouses and barbicans, and walked along the walls, observing the crennelations and murder holes and such. The gaps seemed a little low in places, but then I remembered that in the time these things were built, I would have been considered tall.

In between we had a simple lunch; Siobhan had fish and chips (though not from a real chip shop, just from a restaurant, so she's not expecting it's any reflection of proper fish and chips, she just got it because it sounded okay and was a good price), and I had a burger with a sauce made from Stilton, Shropshire cheese, and spring onions -- the sauce was really good, but there should have been more of it.

Dinner was at Akbar's. Seeking to use the opportunity to experience what "curry" means in Britain (and particularly, how that differs from what it means in India), I had lamb vindaloo. It was pretty darned spicy; just how I would have wanted it, save that I should have had something like lemonade to cut the heat when it built up. All I had was naan; we got a "family naan" which comes on a huge rack, and it was at least three feet tall, and good thing too as I needed a lot of it to cut the heat.

Incidentally, we're halfway through the week and I've had very little food that is "British cuisine" -- particularly the kind of cuisine that I can't get anywhere else, or when I do, people will say it's not the same. Things like proper fish and chips -- but not actually that, since I don't like fish. (I did like the batter on Siobhan's fish.) But I'm not sure what should be on that list, after you subtract the things I don't like. Curry was one of them, and that's checked off. I had a Cornish pasty. A full English breakfast is still on the list. I've had "chips" a few times -- admittedly, always from places that a true Brit can tell me weren't the good stuff -- but enough to give me to thinking that when I've made them myself via the British method, I've been getting as close as I need to get to the real thing. So what else? Steak and kidney pie? I doubt I'd like that. What else? I'm open to suggestions.

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