This weekend has already been one to remember. Yesterday I had the absolute privilege to attend an event for international students at the John Ryland Library in Manchester—a library that has been called “one of the most spectacular libraries in the world.” While it’s only about 100 years old (which is young compared to the rest of Europe’s historical sites), it houses some absolutely magnificent collections of books, maps, and other historical writings. I was able to see quite possibly the oldest piece of the New Testament still around. It’s a tiny fragment of parchment with some lines from the Gospel of John. It didn’t even look like there was enough to make out an entire word—let alone a sentence, or even to place it as the actual manuscript of John’s Gospel—and yet it was wonderful. This is it, safeguarded behind glass and more glass…and lots of alarms:
Then today I took a day trip to the beautifully historic city of York. I chose this weekend to visit York because they had a big Viking Festival, and one of my ancestors Princess Gisselle was married off to the Viking king and given land in Normandy as an attempt to get the Vikings to settle down. While it might not be the most glamorous (or unique) thing to say that I have Viking blood in me, it’s still a pretty neat connection. So I thought why not? I might as well go celebrate with some ancestral pride.
Little did I know what I was in for. Not only were there costumed Vikings roaming the city, but the entire history of the city from Roman times until present was clearly a visible and vibrant part of the culture. Everywhere I looked there was another city wall, or cathedral, or 16th century wood-frame café. There were tiny streets lined with leaning buildings, and new shop fronts came with second and third floors that were a hundreds of years old. There was a railway museum filled with railcars both old and new, from railcars that had carried queens, to ones that bore produce. There was an antique shop with a café above it where we had afternoon tea, a sightseeing bus that brought us around the city, and the magnificent York Minster Cathedral, which is the largest medieval cathedral in Europe). And then we stumbled upon perhaps one of the most randomly fun things I’ve ever done in a city: a cat scavenger hunt! In York there is a long standing tradition that cat statues were placed on buildings in order to ward off rodents and other animals that would carry disease, and these cats were thought to bring good luck. Many of them are placed in inconspicuous places, and so with a series of clues we were sent off to try to find as many of the cats as possible! There were two “trails” to follow: the “kitten trail” and the bigger “cat trail.” We only tackled the kitten trail because first of all it was easier, and secondly it was cold. But it was still loads of fun, and at the end of the trail we ended up at the York Cat Trail gift shop, where craftsman make little glass cats that are supposed to bring you good luck. They come in 12 different colors—one for each month of the year—so of course I had to get one. I’ll let you know if it brings me any luck!
We finished the day by walking on top of the walls around the city and going for a ride on the city’s ferris wheel, the Wheel of York. With absolutely beautiful views of the city, it was a fantastic end to a spectacular day.