Unwrapping York with a family trip during the Christmas season
More than two years have passed since our first visit to the glorious destination that is York. From fulfilling footwear fanatics with sneaker shop Size to those in search of a brew and a cake at the longstanding Betty’s Tea Room a few yards up the road, the centre of town blends modernity and heritage. Having previously visited in the summer of 2017 when Roma was just a couple of months old, we wanted to return now she’s older and as absorbent as a sponge while the charming city is in full Christmas mode.
The journey, according to Google Maps, is three hours on a clear run. Last time we set off about 9.30am due to being new to the whole travelling with baby thing, which meant over-fussing that we had everything, and thus arrived just after midday. This time we left at 6.45am and when Jenna checked the ETA, Maps said we’d arrive at 9.55am. Winning! But, in the sub-five minutes it took me to get petrol and grab a triple shot espresso, the ETA had spiked to 10.30am, then proceeded to dramatically spiral upwards from there. So we still arrived after midday!
Aside from being cooped up in the car for an increasing amount of time than we’d anticipated, it was less than ideal because there was a showcase hosted by Avocado Events we planned to attend at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland, which is based at the York Designer Outlet and it kicked off at 10.45am, so time was of the essence. After moving 13 miles and just two junctions in the space of an hour, it was pretty clear we stood no chance of making it. It was a real shame because the itinerary looked excellent: a Diddi Dance class, storytelling, colouring and mini first aid. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be – suppose there’s always next year… If we hit the road at 4am.
We finally arrived at 12.30pm, well after the event had finished at 12pm, but all wasn’t lost – we still had another activity to tackle at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland: ice skating.
Before that though, with time to kill, we had a mooch around the mall. Admittedly a good portion of that was spent with me changing Roma’s nappy in a cubicle because the wait for the baby change in the men and women’s loo was too long to endure.
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Despite wanting to climb onto this display, little penguin was acting really coy. It soon came to light she’d done a poo. But, it was only when looking back at the pictures that I realised I actually caught that very moment (swipe). As you can gather, the first photo is after the clean-up crew was called out and she was more than happy to strike a pose 😁🎄 #DADultLife #YorkDesignerOutlet #YorkCity #instagramvsreality #PottyTraining #LifeWithAToddler #TisTheSeasonToBeJolly #dadblog #daddyblogger #dadbloggers #dadlife #lifeofdad #igdads #instadad #toddlerlife #toddlersofinsta #toilettraining #daddyblog #VisitYork #yorklovers #christmasdecorations🎄 #Christmas2019🎄 #happywithdaddy #daddydoinwork #ukparentbloggers #parentbloggers #parentbloggersuk #pbloggers #pbloggersuk #dadtribe
However, one shop we did make it into was Gap, which had a 50% sale on everything – though, before you decide to jump in the car and stock up on bargains, this may have just been down to the ongoing Black Friday madness.
Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland
With time slipping away like an Amazon Prime delivery driver on a frosty path, we were getting closer to the 2.15pm ice skating reservation and made our way out of the labyrinthine shopping centre to pick up our skates.
Eagerly, Roma ran inside ahead of us as we approached the counter where a woman called India was only too happy to assist. Helping to make Roma relax, she was talking to her throughout and invited me to sit her on the desk so she could attach a set of skates over Roma’s trainers. Then as Jenna and I slipped on our skates, she proceeded to bring over a training penguin for Roma to use as her buddy on the frost, whose name, we’re told, was Jeff. It’s those little elements of attentiveness that made the experience begin before it had officially started.
Once we got on the ice, the enjoyment on Roma’s face was evident and that made me beam. Although a bit unsure why she’d suddenly started walking a bit like she did 18 months ago, our girl persevered and leant on Jeff for support. Although we offered helping hands, Miss Independent that she is, Roma largely wanted to power on under her own steam with her mate Jeff, so we merely acted as personal bodyguards to protect her from the would-be assailant: ice.
And using real ice as opposed to that odd plastic alternative, there was enough room on the rink to find yourself space without it feeling excessively vast, which was ideal considering it was Roma’s first experience of skating, and at the centre of it was a giant Christmas tree to really set the mood.
Knowing where she wanted to go, from making a beeline for a young girl and her training snowman to skating towards the centre of the rink towards the tree, there were no complaints to be had from Roma for the first 20 minutes or so. But seemingly getting a bit tired or frustrated – or both – at this point, Jenna suggested we give her a break off the ice, which for me was the kiss of death. Although it did give me a chance to briefly whip around the rink on my own like I used to as a kid.
At one point, with the lure of empty benches in the waiting area to climb over appearing like a new adventure, it seemed as though getting Roma back on the ice wasn’t going to fly. With about 15 minutes to spare before our session ended I managed to talk her around and we got back to it, but mostly without Jeff in tow this time as she held onto our hands.
The weariness lingered though and she kept wanting to be picked up, which I tried to avoid before relenting, only to be told just as quickly that’s not allowed – by both India and Jenna (bloody kiss arse) – because health and safety. I was tempted to tell India I almost joined an ice hockey team when I was ten but, you know, I don’t like to brag.
We made it to the end of the hour and skated off, with India back behind the counter to check in on how we found it. It was many things, but special would be my one-word summary. Aside from being a really festive activity to do, it was something lovely to experience as a family which we all enjoyed. In fact, I’m already pondering when we can hit the ice again.
Here’s a visual playback of how we got on.
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Is there a better time to go ice skating than at Christmas? The thought to take Roma actually crossed my mind last year but we didn’t get round to it, and truth be told she probably would have been too small as much as I hate to admit it, so it was essential this year. Ahead of our road trip to York I did some homework and found a @yorkshireswinterwonderland, which includes an ice rink, has been set up at @designeroutletyork, so the first part of our itinerary was sorted. Really impressed with how well she did on the ice considering it was her first time and I suspect we won’t be waiting until the next festive season to roll around before we go again. The staff were super friendly, which really helped and it was only really towards the end when Roma started to get a bit fussy and tired – but in fairness, a 5am alarm can do that to the best of us ⛸️👨👩👧🎄❄️ #DADultLife #YorkshiresWinterWonderland #IceSkatingFun #YorkDesignerOutlet #YorkCity #YorkLovers #VisitYork #FamilyTimeIsTheBest #dadblog #daddyblogger #dadbloggers #dadlife #daddilife #lifeofdad #igdads #daddyblog #daddydaughtermoments #familyofthree #mixedfamilies #perfectlyblended #mixedfamily #dancingonice #lifewithatoddler #toddlerlife #toddlersofinsta #toddlerhood #toddlerdad #toddleractivity #outdooriceskating #iceskaters
After the ice rink, we visited the chalet next door for a hot chocolate to warm up, which went down a treat. This was followed up with hitting the fairground area of Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland. By no means is this exhaustive, but after being up at 5am, we didn’t need it to be – we were already shattered. There are a handful of rides on offer, topped up with games where prizes can be won, and that’s plenty to keep a little ‘un entertained, especially after skating. So we took it in turns to jump on the rides with Roma and after a hat-trick, plus a visit to the hall of mirrors, we decided it was time to head over to the hotel.
We arrived at the hotel around 4.40pm – it should have been about 20 minutes earlier than that, but the way Jenna’s navigation is set up… Roma fell asleep on the brief, but not as expected, journey due to the setbacks, so when we arrived the view of the lobby, complete with its Christmas tree and lights that were visible from the outside, looked really cosy and inviting.
Once parking up on-site, we made our way into the lobby and checked in, during which we were handed a box of crayons for Roma to get creative with in the room, which was a really thoughtful touch.
Making our way up to the third floor, we entered our suite and were blown away by how gorgeous the room was. It was the first time we stayed at a Novotel, but the décor and layout was beautifully put together.
The room was effectively open-planned, with the bedroom essentially adjoining to the living area aside from a central wall that boasted a TV on either side. The lounge sofa was able to to convert into a bed that would make for two sleeping areas – of course, there was no doubt in my mind Roma would insist on joining us at bedtime.
Like Roma’s crayons, another nice compliment awaiting us in the room was a batch of assorted chocolaty treats to get the ball rolling for a couple of days of guiltless indulgence. And since our dinner reservation was an hour away, it would have been rude not to sample the candy in between, right?
Continuing the trend from the bedroom and living spaces, the bathroom was stunning. Full of mirrors and without any rubber ducks, nappy bags and general clutter lurking around, we couldn’t help but just imagine what it would be like to have such a powder room at home, so made the most of it while we could.
And man, what a shower! My only complaint in that regard is that I was ever so slightly too tall for it without crouching, but even that didn’t make me want to get out once the water from three separate jet options cascaded across me.
After resting up briefly and freshening up, we set off again into the December night to go and get some grub.
If it ain’t broke…
So while we changed up our accommodation from the first time in York, we decided to keep one thing precisely the same – a visit to Carluccio’s. And I mean the same. If you’ve never been before, they are indeed up and down the country, but the experience we had the previous time was so enjoyable that it seemed mad not to return.
An Italian restaurant complete with an array of dishes, the building of the York branch is Grade II-listed, so it’s an impressive structure in keeping with the history of the city inside and out, while still possessing that Carluccio’s flavour.
We had the same seats are last time too, which made the visit even more comparable. And really there was just one key difference – Roma actually has teeth and eats food now; albeit slowly and messily.
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Same family, same city, same restaurant, same seats, but new memories 🤪🍝 #DADultLife #FamilyDinners #Carluccios #York #ToddlersBeLike #NowAndThen #YorkCity #YorkLovers #VisitYork #FamilyTimeIsTheBest #familytime❤ #familytime💕 #toddlerlife #toddlersofinsta #familyofthree #mixedkids #perfectlyblended #mixedfamily #mixedfamilies #mixedracecouple #biracialfamily #visityorkshire #eatingout #dadblog #daddyblogger #dadbloggers #ukpbloggers #parentbloggers #ukparentbloggers #dadtribe
Previously she was only on milk, but this time around she had a full three-course dinner to tuck into as part of a meal deal. Carrots and cucumber to start, meatballs and pasta for main, which was a considerable portion size, followed by yoghurt for dessert.
Meanwhile, having enjoyed the long-standing arancini on my first visit, it was just as pleasant the second time around to kick off with. And I was very tempted to keep it properly authentic with a pasta dish for my main but the lure of the slow-cooked lamb shank which came in a tomato and olive sauce with cheesy saffron risotto was mouthwatering and well worth the risk.
Finally, after asking the waiter for his dessert recommendation, he brought the Bosco Incantato to my attention. It was a rich chocolate and nut ice-cream concoction inspired by a penchant Carluccio himself is said to have possessed for mushrooms – though thankfully there was no fungi to be found within to my knowledge, it was all in the design.
Stuffed and more than satisfied with the meal, it was very tempting to get a cab back once we left to combat the cold, but it was ultimately necessary to walk the meal off. We set about the Stonegate area and York Minster cathedral to appreciate the beauty of the settings as the darkness and decorations complemented each other before working our way through the now-closed Christmas market along the high street and back towards Fishergate to reach Novotel.
St Nicholas Christmas Fair
After a comfy night’s sleep – there were indeed the three of us in the bed as predicted – we got up and ready for the day ahead, kicking off with breakfast at none other than The Postern Gate, a Wetherspoon where bacon and pancakes took my fancy, while Roma went for egg and bacon and Jenna guzzled a full English.
Fuelled and ready to go, we made our way to the Christmas market. And despite being warned by the hotel receptionist just how busy it was over the weekend, the fact we travelled during the week worked in our favour.
While there were still people about shopping, it wasn’t heaving at all – which was ideal since crowds and kids are never the best combo. From fudge to brownies, candles to chutney and toys to mulled wine, there was no end of gifting ideas and gluttonous treats to choose from.
Among the medley of merchants, one stall in particular stood out – and not just because he was selling Harry Potter-inspired merch. No, among the wizard-based goods – I totally insisted we bought Roma a personalised wand with her name on it for Christmas – we also got her a clipboard with her name on it too, both of which the stallholder etched before our very eyes. And let’s be honest, it’s just as well because Roma isn’t the sort of name you’re going to find already attached to items, speaking from experience here with a name like Zen.
If the Harry Potter goods seem a bit random without context, allow me to Lumos my wand on that for you. It just happens that the cobblestoned Shambles area of York was an inspiration for JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley. So it’s a big deal in other words. It’s more than enchanting enough along that olde worlde stretch whether you’re a fan of the franchise or not but, if you are, there are no end of shops along the street that have been launched to capitalise on that, with The Shop That Must Not Be Named chief among them.
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It’s the same every year, packed with muggles, of course 🧙🏽♀️🧙🏾♂️ #DADultLife #YorkCity #TheShambles #DiagonAlley #HarryPotterFans #FamilyOnTheRoad #theshamblesyork #VisitYork #visityorkshire #northengland #harrypottermerch #dobbyisafreeelf #dadblog #daddyblogger #dadbloggers #dadlife #igdads #instadad #dadstagram #theblackmancan #blackdads #blackdadsmatter #happywithdaddy #daddydoinwork #daddydaughterbond #ukparentbloggers #parentbloggers #harrypottershop #harrypottercollection
While we had a clear itinerary for the day ahead – even if it didn’t go to plan because of the traffic – we were freestyling day two. With Jenna making the rookie error of choosing fashion over function – wearing ankle-exposing vans instead of her fleece-lined boots – she was moaning about being cold, so we kept walking and decided to go somewhere for a hot drink. While posing outside the Stonegate Teddy Bears store with giant six-foot bear, I noticed there’s a café upstairs dubbed the Mad Hatters Tea Room, which we gave a spin. Mad was right – the stairs we climbed all the way to the top of the vintage building were crooked and uneven, as was the floor on which we sat, making it plain where the name came from. As we were informed by the waitress, the building was once owned by a captain whose boat crashed on the River Ouse, but rather than leave his once glorious vessel behind, he used some of the wood to fuse within the very walls of his home. The quirky building itself was really intriguing and homely, which you’d expect to pay a premium for in London but a bottle of water and a hot chocolate here were sub £5. Even better.
After a bit more pottering around the streets, Roma still hadn’t had a nap and looked as though she was heading that way but we were in danger nap territory so there was no chance we could let that happen and decided we’d grab an early dinner at 4.30pm.
Now on our first visit, one thing I was kicking myself furiously about not trying was the Yorkshire pudding wrap – a meat-filled concept that went viral, grabbing news headlines just days after we went home to the extent people were queuing around the block for them. I’m not mad I wasn’t the one to break the news, I was just hangry I didn’t get a taste of that goodness. So when combing the York snickets – if you don’t know what that means, google it; it’s northern English, so I didn’t know it either – we came across Victor J’s Bar. The name might make it sound the opposite of somewhere you’d take a child, but the kid’s menu in the window and high chairs inside reassured us. And above all else, the festive menu had none other than a turkey Yorkshire pudding wrap on its line-up. I was going to eat it even if I had to dine alone, so in we went.
The service was incredibly friendly and my word was the food good! So good, in fact, we went back the next day for lunch. And yes, I got the same thing.
We made our way back to Novotel afterwards and started to settle down for the evening. Or at least Roma and I did. Jenna, a personal trainer through and through, proceeded to do a workout in the living room. Going back to what I said about the central wall though, not only could we not see what she was doing, we couldn’t really hear her either because both TVs were on, which effectively cancelled each other out.
I love working out. But for me to do it, I need to be in the right environment and a hotel bedroom, no matter how nice, is not it. So when I woke up the next day, with the girls still asleep, I set off early for a morning run across the city. I had no idea where I was going, but just went with it and changed direction when I saw fit.
It was both a combination of exercise and sightseeing as I stopped now and again to get videos and photos of my incredible surroundings – particularly as I charged across the City Walls, which really are a sight to behold and clamber up. Furthermore, if you have an overactive imagination like me and appreciate Game of Thrones – up until season eight – you can almost imagine yourself running across Castle Black or Winterfell.
It’s crazy really, an 8am run through London and you’ll be jostled left, right and centre but in York it seemed as though everyone had somewhere else to be and the streets and riversides were largely clear apart from a steady stream of commuters and students here and there, but it was clear the tourists were all still tucked up, perhaps after too many mulled wines at the Christmas market.
When I got back to the room just after 9ish with croissants tucked under arm, I’d clocked up 9km. That’s the longest run I’ve had since I can remember and, factoring in that my headphones died about ten minutes into the run, you can see just how much the environment spurred me on because jogging has never really been a love of mine.
With checkout due at 12pm, we had some time to kill and made our way downstairs to the pool, which was a great additional facility to have at the venue. Not wanting to be bested by me in the fitness stakes, Jenna done a waterobics workout of her own design, while I was on lifeguard/swimming teacher duty with Roma.
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I’ll catch you when you fall and always be there to lift you back up 🤲🏾🦸🏽♀️ #DADultLife #WW84 #FutureHero #NovotelHotel #VisitYork #SwimFun #PoolingAround #dadblog #daddyblogger #dadbloggers #dadlife #lifeofdad #daddilife #daddydaughterbond #daddydaughterlove #fatherdaughterlove #fatherdaughterbond #blackdads #blackfatherhood #strongblackfathers #theblackmancan #happywithdaddy #daddydoinwork #fatherhoodislit #ukparentbloggers #ukdadbloggers #daddysgirl❤️ #raisingqueens #raisinggirls #girldad
And aside from the brief addition of an older couple visiting the pool, we had it to ourselves for the duration and then made our way back up to the room to start packing once we were appropriately pruney.
After another wander around the streets, some final Christmas gifts picked up from the market and lunch at Victor J’s, we made our way back to Novotel to get the car and hit the road.
All in all, the visit was absolutely fantastic and I’m already looking forward to the next trip – even if it means sitting in the car for six hours again, it’s more than worth it.