Last week was full of university orientation and getting settled in Sunderland. By Thursday, my feet were still getting used to all the walking, and the jet lag was taking its toll.
When I was presented with two bus trips to nearby towns, I jumped at the idea of new travels and naps on the rides to and from the university.
On Friday morning, my friends and I boarded a double-decker coach bus to York with other study abroad students. Once we got there, we walked two blocks to enter the city through a stone archway. The York Minster Cathedral towered above us, the most massive church I have ever seen. I took in all of the spires, windows and statues. It amazed me that such a cathedral was tucked away behind the city’s walls. My friends wanted to find an authentic tea room, so we got a suggestion from our study abroad coordinator and went to Betty’s Café.
Betty’s sold tea and sweets in a front room. The upstairs contained a quiet tea room, and the six of us ordered drinks and pastries. I had China rose petal tea and a black currant and sultana tea cake. The food was delicious and exquisite.
We spent the rest of the day wandering the narrow streets and exploring shops. Everyone said the streets reminded them of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter.
We visited the smaller Holy Trinity Church, and I could feel the history in the stained glass windows and enclosed pews. York is a lovely, slow-paced city, and I would go back there in a heartbeat. The streets are quaint, and the history is humbling. York Minster is like the North Star; you can see it from anywhere in the city, and if you follow it, it will lead you back to the city’s entrance.
Saturday’s trip took us to Alnwick Castle and Gardens, home to the duke and duchess of Northumberland. The real draw was that the castle had been used in the first and second Harry Potter films. I was just excited to visit a castle for the first time. I wandered off from my friends in the gardens and visited the ornamental gardens at the top of the Grand Cascade fountain. A cherry orchard resided nearby, the largest of its kind in the world. I walked in silence, breathing in the fresh air and appreciating the tranquility of the grounds.
There was a castle tour at 12:30. I found the path to Alnwick Castle and could not believe my eyes when it appeared around the corner. It lay there, vast and quiet, sitting snug amongst fields of cows. I have never seen anything more impressive in my life. I took the quick castle grounds tour. It covered what Harry Potter scenes were filmed there and gave background on the cinema magic.
I found my way inside the state rooms after the tour. The decor was breathtaking. The salon, drawing room, and library all had carved marble fireplaces and ornamental ceilings. The library even had the family’s taxidermy dogs.
I walked along the rampart and grounds before walking back to the gardens. I found my friends and traveled through the sculpture garden and aromatic rose garden.
Walking home under the sunset that night, I knew it was one of the best days of my life.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow,” (Anita Desai). I know I will carry the memories of York and Alnwick Castle with me forever. The castle and gardens bring a certain calmness to my mind when I think of my time there. I cannot wait to explore more of Europe.
Until next time, cheers!