“I am as hot as moulten lead, and as heavy too…I need no more weight than mine own bowels.” ~William Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part I, V, iii)

At the end of the last post I’d just finished watching the riders, team cars and team buses cross the starting line of the Tour de France Grand Départ in Leeds, England.  If you missed that post, you can read it here.  (And the first post in the Tour de England series describing my first week in Windsor, Surrey & Bath can be found here.)

Immediately after the police pushed back the street barriers in the Leeds city centre, I and tens of thousands of other people rushed the few blocks to the train station.  Northern Train Lines had assured me (and countless others) the day before that they were ready for the huge Tour crowds that would want to travel between all the start and finish towns (Leeds, Harrogate, York, Sheffield) on Days 1 and 2 of the race (which was my plan).  They said they would be adding additional, more frequent trains, and they pushed a special “Ride Rover” train ticket that would allow fans to see both starts and both finishes in all 4 of those towns on those days for a much reduced price (I bought one).  Seemed like a good idea at the time

I picked up my suitcase from the Left Luggage office at the station in a quick 10 minutes.  Yet by the time I rounded the corner to get in line to take the train to Harrogate, the queue had begun to snake outside into the overflow parking lot and beyond – WAY beyond.  Out-of-sight beyond.  I wheeled my suitcase into what would be my spot in line for the next hour, as we slowly inched our way around and around the outside line and then finally back into the station. 

Behind me in line was a nice family from Norway who had come to cheer for the lone Norwegian cyclist in the Tour, Alexander Kristoff.  We commiserated together as we were finally ushered onto a train only to then be made to wait another 45 minutes before departing – no one ever told us why or what we were waiting on.  However we still felt extremely lucky to be leaving after less than a two-hour wait, because as we pulled out of the station, we got a glimpse at what had to be the world’s longest train line in history – which by this time had formed literally several miles beyond the station borders.  (Remember, the riders were racing toward the finish in Harrogate on the road, and I highly doubt that many of those standing in line made it in time, despite five hours between the race start and finish.)

A short 20 minutes later we arrived in Harrogate, and I knew it would be mass chaos to try to find a spot anywhere near the finish line by that time (the riders were still probably 2.5 hours away).  I headed toward a very crowded supermarket to get a sandwich for lunch, but the shelves had been picked bare in a scene reminiscent of pre-hurricane hoarding (like the train lines, the stores had also underestimated the massive crowds that would overwhelm their resources).  I grabbed the last sad egg salad sandwich at the back of the case and headed down a side street several blocks down from the main city centre, then turned to migrate toward the finish line street.

The crowds were unbelievable.  I found a tiny spot of grass across the street from the award podium and sat on my suitcase to eat my sandwich.  A few blocks up by the actual finish, the crowds were probably 15-deep.  I migrated toward a spot behind one of the VIP seating areas but couldn’t get anywhere near the front and couldn’t see the actual finish – but the podium stage had a large TV screen on it and we could watch the race on that.

My sad vantage point of the Tour finish & podium in Harrogate, Stage 1.

My sad vantage point of the Tour finish & podium in Harrogate, Stage 1.

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At one point, when the riders were just a few miles down the road and nearing the finish, I discovered that if I stood on top of my suitcase, I could actually see the finish line and had a much better view.  However, after about only 10 seconds I was harshly tapped on the back by angry fans behind me who made it clear in no uncertain terms that they weren’t going to let me block their view, even though that view was extremely less-than-optimal.  I got pretty frustrated at that point – I was there before the people behind me, I’d gotten that spot, I’d traveled all the way from the US to see this sight, and if I had a suitcase-boosted view that they didn’t have, why shouldn’t I be free to use it??  But in the end I dejectedly decided to not start another near-riot and stood down, literally.

Turns out that even if we couldn’t see the race, the VIP area right in front of us was quite interesting while we were waiting for the riders to arrive.  I could see many pairs of feet directly in front of me as they sat on their very important bleachers.  One pair belonged to Prime Minister David Cameron, as he and his family were sitting there, with all of his bodyguards just inches in front of us, and the crowds kept yelling at him “Dave, Dave, give us a wave!”  Cheers erupted when he finally did.  The wife and child (and mother) of rider Mark Cavendish were also in those stands and walked past us at one point, quite famous in their own right in British cyclist circles and beyond…  And someone else told me they thought William and Kate and Harry were in that area right in front of us too as they waited for the riders, but I never saw them (until a few minutes later when they helped give out the awards on a royal podium stage).

Even though I couldn’t see the actual finish when the riders arrived, I was watching it on the screen across the street, so when British and crowd favorite Mark Cavendish crashed in spectacular fashion just a few yards from the finish, it was as if the entire crowd gasped and reeled in horror all at the same time.  We all stared at each other, strangers for the day but united in cycling fandom, in total disbelief at what had just happened.  I heard people crying.  Cavendish’s wife ran quickly from the stands in front of us to go find out if her husband was ok.  It was eerily quite until when, several minutes later, Mark wheeled across the line, helmet askew and holding one arm across his chest gingerly, the crowd around me gave him a massive cheer.  (His Tour ended after just that one day, he would not start the next morning.)

I waited to see a few of the podium prizes awarded by the royals, but knowing that the Harrogate train station was much smaller than the one in Leeds, decided to start back, as I still had to make my way to York that evening.  I’d waited too long – by the time I got in line for the York train, I was already extremely far back and settled in for another long wait.  This time it was 1.5 hours in line, and my line companions were American, from Boston.  By the time we finally got on the train, my feet were toast – I’d spent about 12 hours that day standing or walking (with about 50 pounds of luggage) and I was exhausted.  And to my chagrin I had to walk almost another mile from the York train station to my B&B, arriving after 7:00 that night and basically collapsing into the shower and then bed.

My spirited York B&B was a welcome sight after such a long day at the Tour.

My spirited York B&B was a welcome sight after such a long day at the Tour.

The Tour started at the York racehorse track the next morning for its second day in Yorkshire, and was due to ride through town during the neutral start; part of the course was just down the street from my B&B, so instead of trying to make my way to the actual start, I decided to be one of the road spectators along the course this time.  Plus, I was still exhausted from the day before and a short 5-minute walk down the road seemed pretty attractive.  I’d already decided that after standing in two of the world’s longest train lines the day before, I would not attempt to go to Sheffield this day to see the finish.  Seeing the depart out of York would be enough for me.

I left the B&B at 8:30 and was at my vantage point before the publicity caravan started to roll by about 9:15.  (Tour gripe:  I know it would’ve probably cost a lot of money to bring the entire regular Tour publicity caravan from France to England, but I really feel the British crowd was jipped out of the real caravan experience; there were only a handful of parade vehicles and none of them except the Yorkshire Tea float threw out any good swag gifts at all.)  I had a point right by the barriers next to one of the town’s ancient Roman wall towers, and would be able to see the riders as they came around the corner.   I met a nice couple next to me who lived there in York, and while we stood in our spots waiting for two more hours they gave me some pointers about what to do during my remaining days in the city. 

My York viewing point for TdF Stage 2.

My York viewing point for TdF Stage 2.

The Yorkshire cars in the publicity caravan.

The Yorkshire cars in the publicity caravan.

The crowds in York showed up in force!

The crowds in York showed up in force!

This is no secret to anyone who’s been to see one, but the Tour is very short-lived for its spectator-value.  It’s wonderful to be there as part of the experience and atmosphere, and to be able to say for decades to come “I was there,” but it really is all over in practically the blink of an eye.  Instead of taking pictures of the race this time, I took a video with my camera, and from start to end, from the time I could see the riders appear on the street to the time the last one passed us was 29 seconds.  Less than a half a minute!  And then it was over, just like that.  The team buses didn’t even roll through this time after the riders, due to York’s very narrow winding streets I guess, although the team cars did.

Hours standing in one spot for less than half a minute of payoff leaves one feeling slightly dejected after it’s over, but luckily I had 3 more days in York to look forward to.  I’d heard so much about this beautiful ancient city with its miles of medieval walls – everyone I’d told that I was going to York had said “Ooh you’ll love it there.”  So I set out to explore the city on probably what was its most crowded day ever, along with the thousands of other Tour fans there for the day. 

Awe-inspiring York Minster

Awe-inspiring York Minster

I had planned to go to the big fan park south of town to watch the Tour on the big screen TV, but after trekking halfway there I heard from a Tour Maker volunteer that the TV had stopped working and they couldn’t get it fixed.  That was extremely disappointing as I would’ve really enjoyed watching the race with a huge group of other fans; instead, I ended up finding a cycling-themed cafe in town with the race on TV inside, so I settled in to watch an hour or two there (and discovered a British milkshake is VERY different than an American one).  I was still very tired from the day before, so I then fought my way back through the extreme crowds in town back to my B&B to watch the finish of the stage.  I was so glad I was able to relax instead of fighting the train crowds and lines again to get to and from Sheffield.  I forgave myself for not sticking to my original plan and reminded myself to not set my expectations too high.

The next morning I took a very good and free (!) 2.5 hour town walking tour.  We saw the famous Shambles street (I think it’s a little overrated and very commercial), walked a short part of the town walls, and I learned a lot about the town that made me really appreciate its history. 

View of the Minster from part of the city walls.

View of the Minster from part of the city walls.

One of the "bars" or tower gate entrances into the ancient city.

One of the “bars” or tower gate entrances into the ancient city.

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Surviving section of Roman Wall from 300 AD

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Walking along the River Ouse through York.

Abbey ruins in Memorial Gardens

Abbey ruins in Memorial Gardens

Things were going great up until this point, but then I made a very bad decision.  I stopped at a deli called “Tarts & Tidbits” to get a sandwich (the name alone should have been my first warning, I know – tidbits of what exactly?); I picked a savory tomato scone and asked the young guy behind the counter to put some goat cheese on it.  I noticed he didn’t have gloves on after making several other sandwiches before mine, he hadn’t washed his hands in-between, and the goat cheese he grabbed was not in the refrigerated case – it was sitting on the counter behind him (for who knows how long?).  I hesitated when I saw all of this, but I went ahead and got the sandwich and took it back to the B&B to eat it while I watched the end of the Tour stage on TV.  I didn’t trust my gut, and so my gut rebelled.

It happened about three hours later.  I’d left the B&B again to go exchange some train tickets at the station (I cancelled the leg of my trip that would’ve taken me to Nottingham for a night, opting instead to stay an extra night in York), and on the way back I walked through Memorial Gardens.  I was taking pictures of some abbey ruins when the stomach gurgling started.  I began making my way back toward my B&B and made a bathroom pit stop on the way at a restaurant, but started feeling worse and worse.

By the time I got back to my room I was having what felt like a full-blown IBS issue, except I don’t have IBS.  So I’m pretty sure it was the germy goat cheese gone-bad that was the culprit.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say for the next two full days I had a very rough time.  Every step I took or every seat I sat in resulted in pretty severe abdominal pain and pressure.  I bought a small portable drugstore of OTC remedies but they didn’t help much.  I hardly ate anything for those two days and my B&B owner was nice enough to make me scrambled eggs for dinner since that’s all I felt I could handle. 

Pretty much my worst fear when I travel is getting sick or hurt.  (It’s why I buy really good travel insurance every time.)  I kept telling myself this was nothing serious, and in the end it did end up subsiding on its own, but it had me pretty worried.  I tried the ignore-it method and refused to just sit around, venturing out to walk all three miles of the ancient York city walls step by tortured step – and I’m glad I did, the views are really amazing and once all the Tour crowds had left it was nice and peaceful up on the walls around the city – but it took a lot of effort.  I took the York Minster tour but declined to go all the way up to the top of the tower, there was no way I could climb all those stairs straight up with my troubles.  I did choose to fore-go an intended day-trip to see Castle Howard and stuck close to town and my B&B instead, so I ended up being very glad I decided to stay that extra day.

Walking the walls

Walking the walls

Fantastic surviving medieval towers

Fantastic surviving medieval towers

Thank goodness that by the time I boarded the train to start the third week of my trip, my intestinal woes had calmed down to a manageable level.  I still avoided dairy for many days after that (not even any milk in my tea), and I still haven’t looked at or eaten any goat cheese (previously a real favorite of mine) as of this writing (over a month later).   And all in all, if that was the worst that happened to me during a long three-week trip, I think I got off pretty lucky.  (I did also have this very weird eye-watering problem for almost the entire three weeks, where only the outside corner of my right eye watered non-stop the whole time, but it was more annoying than painful or worrying…and miraculously just stopped the minute I got on the plane to go home.)

So my time in York was a mixed bag – highs during the Tour but pretty low lows during my intestinal episode – but overall I really liked the city.  Next week’s post should see the end to my Tour de England, where I go back to Shakespeare country in Stratford-upon-Avon and end up with 3 non-tourist days in London.  Thanks for sticking with me through Weeks 1 and 2 so far!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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