You may know by now that we have a three year old boy who is obsessed with trains. Never mind the dozens of Thomas & Friends engines he has collected. He loves reading about trains: Big Book of Trains and All Aboard Trains have been read (and re-read) countless times. He has known the difference between steam and diesel engines for a year. He knows about boilers and buffers and tenders. He knows that Mallard is the fastest steam engine ever clocked. He knows that trains in Chicago run above the streets, that subway trains run underground, and that the bullet train in Japan is really fast.
So, as you might imagine, driving three hours to the world’s largest train museum was going to have to happen before we move. We went this past weekend.
Top line: If you get a chance, go. This place was spectacular (and free! except for parking, but parking is never free).
You start in the Great Hall, a (very clean and modern) shed with engines on display around a turntable.
There’s a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket (have you seen King of the Railway?).
The Mallard. King George V. Shinkansen. I was most impressed by the “Chinese Engine,” which was built in the UK for China, because of its massive size. (It’s on the left in the picture below.)
The Museum Store displays all of the bric-a-brac that doesn’t have a place in the rest of the museum. Signage, decor, serveware, model engines… a giant curio cabinet.
The Works featured some great-looking interactive exhibits on how railways work and offered a view into the repair shop. Our preschooler was excited to see the engine that looks like Brewster from Chuggington; mommy and baby were ready for lunch.
We ate in the Great Hall, in view of the engines. Miraculously, both kids ate really well and sat while us grownups enjoyed a mint mocha and locally brewed Mallard beer.
Station Hall, across the street, looks like a set of railway platforms with engines and coaches waiting to depart. I was giddy to see Gladstone, the Royal Train built for Queen Victoria. Even better was the chance to peek into her royal blue velvet and gold-trimmed salon.
A cafe is set up on the middle platform and is a charming spot for a refreshment. Christmas decorations were still up, and I immediately fantasized about dressing up for a festive function there.
A gallery next to Station Hall featured a Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibit, featuring stunning photographs of trains and railways. Walden entertained himself by singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and doing a “choo choo!” call and response with another young boy.
Of course we were all starry-eyed and picked up a few souvenirs on our way out. (When your husband grew up with trains, and likes to fix his vehicles, the Thomas the Tank Engine Owner’s Workshop Manual will of course be coming home with you.) All proceeds benefit the museum, why not?
And in the category of Stars Aligning, the road train from the museum to York Minster was loading up as we walked out. We boarded and pressed our luck with a walk through the beautiful cathedral (the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, they say), admiring the World War II memorial, the clock, the painted organ pipes, details of the Chapter House and as much else as we could with a very tired preschooler and napping baby. [A tip: medieval stained glass is probably best viewed when the sun is shining and/or when sunset isn't near on an overcast day. Also know that the great East Window is currently being restored.]
We wandered city centre a bit and walked back the mile to the museum to see the river and city wall. Then we were done.
We found a three-bedroom self-catering cottage just north of York through WelcomeCottages.com. It was perfect for us, as the kids had their own rooms and we had the flexibility of having a kitchen. The owner provided us with a pack and play and high chair, so we didn’t have to bring our own. And we were a minute’s walk to a couple of restaurants and a grocery store.
In all, it was a really great trip, kind of a positive test run for bigger trips we plan to take in the next few months. Here we go!