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Nerdvana

Started: 2014-06-03 20:53:19

Submitted: 2014-06-03 22:03:25

Visibility: World-readable

Friday, 23rd May: in which the intrepid narrator visits Nerdvana in York, otherwise known as the National Railway Museum

This was the day that justified my entire trip to York: a pilgrimage to the National Railway Museum, "the world's largest railway museum" according to their promotional material. But first we had to eat breakfast (which was provided by the hotel; the buffet was fine but nothing special, but the reconstituted machine coffee was atrocious), and then we had enough time before the museum opened to swing by Ken Spelman Booksellers, with an eclectic selection of used books where I spent a great deal of time staring at the English history wondering what I would find interesting. (I did not end up buying anything.) We dropped by the Oxfam thrift-book-store down the street, where Kiesa looked for books by Enid Blyton, then headed to the National Railway Museum shortly after it opened at 10:00.

Steam engines surround the turntable at the National Railway Museum
Steam engines surround the turntable at the National Railway Museum

As advertised, the museum was huge, spread out over two large exhibit halls with a wide variety of engines and rolling stock, almost everything with some strong connection to Britain. (They invented the train, after all.) We started in the Station Hall, which was displayed as if it were a railway station, featuring a large collection of royal trains, from the simple saloon coaches used by Queen Adelaide (which looked very much like a stagecoach on train wheels) through the coach used by Queen Victoria to the trains used by more modern monarchs. Calvin liked the video playing in one of the modern British Rail coaches that looked very much like the Mark 3 coach we road in the day before. (He gravitated to almost every video he could get his eyes on.)

Great Hall at the National Railway Museum
Great Hall at the National Railway Museum

We headed next to the Great Hall, an old steam depot that had been cleaned up and displayed the highlights of the collection: elaborately-restored mint-condition steam locomotives with names like "City of Truro" and "Mallard" and "Duchess of Hamilton", sitting next to a retired Japanese Series 0 Shinkansen bullet train and diesel and electric locomotives from the middle of the twentieth century, as steam gave way to newer but still temperamental motive power. There was very little newer than the 1960s; everything else is still in service, carrying passengers and freight, but we did see the mockup nose section of the Class 43 High-Speed Train diesel locomotive that we rode on yesterday. Any one of these locomotives would have been the centerpiece of a lesser museum, but here they were packed together with barely enough room to walk between, let alone appreciate them for the engineering and artistic and commercial masterpieces they are.

City of Truro on the turntable at the National Railway Museum
City of Truro on the turntable at the National Railway Museum

I watched "City of Truro" spin around on the working turntable, then wandered through the working machine shop, where engines are restored. (It was not immediately apparent on the ground, but reading on Wikipedia gave me the impression that the museum values working locomotives above strictly-accurate cosmetic restoration, which is a stance that is somewhat controversial.) I looked at an exhibit explaining signaling and safety in great detail, then tried to make sense of the monitors showing live train movements on the East Coast Main Line, visible from the viewing balcony just north of York Railway Station. In the open archives, packed floor-to-ceiling with stuff the museum hasn't figured out what to do with yet, I found a display case with rock from the collection of legendary engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel from the districts serviced by his Great Western Railway.

Machine shop at the National Railway Museum
Machine shop at the National Railway Museum
I.K. Brunel collection of stones found while surveying the Great Western Railway
I.K. Brunel collection of stones found while surveying the Great Western Railway

Calvin recognized the replica of Stephenson's Rocket as "Steve" from one of the Thomas the Tank Engine incarnations. I was not quite sure what to make of that: cultural appropriation or age-appropriate rail history. Probably both.

Calvin with a replica of Stephenson's Rocket
Calvin with a replica of Stephenson's Rocket

After five hours at the museum I decided I'd seen enough and we headed to the exit, still a little dazed by everything we'd seen.

Calvin on the footplate of a steam engine
Calvin on the footplate of a steam engine

We emerged from the museum and walked to the Yorkshire Museum, a small museum in the gardens of the gardens holding the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey (destroyed by Henry VIII). The museum featured archaeological finds from York's Roman, Viking, and Tudor periods, and fleshed out a bit of the history I'd read about.

Kiesa tries to restrain Calvin from splashing in a puddle in York Shambles
Kiesa tries to restrain Calvin from splashing in a puddle in York Shambles

We left the museum when it closed at 17:00 and walked out into a rainstorm. I brought my rain coat with me, but neither Kiesa nor Calvin were so well prepared, so we dashed back to the hotel to pick theirs up, emerging roughly as the rain subsided. We walked to York Shambles, a narrow street with overhanging 15th-century Tudor buildings, then wandered around the tiny, tourist-filled streets of central York in search of a late-afternoon snack. We almost stooped to Starbucks when Kiesa found York Cocoa House, which had a very long hot chocolate menu and some amazing desserts. (I had tea, served in the proper English fashion with milk and sugar.)

Calvin and Kiesa walk along the York city walls to Monk Bar
Calvin and Kiesa walk along the York city walls to Monk Bar

Properly fortified, we continued walking through York; we looked at the outside of York Minster, then found the stairs to climb the section of the city walls behind the cathedral. We emerged onto the streets behind one of the original gates, still standing, and headed to Goji Vegetarian Cafe and Restaurant. Our meal was excellent (and even Calvin enjoyed his gnocchi starter as his main dish), then headed back to our hotel for the night.

For more photos on Friday, 23rd May, see Photos on 2014-05-23. For Kiesa's parallel account, see York – Day 2.

Then I'll get another piano, and we'll be even.
- Heidi Enderson, 08 September 2001, in response to Neelix's
computer-acquisition schemes