And while visitors to Rome are attracted by the monuments and the cultural artefacts, they also go to shop and eat – to buy cashmere, handmade leather goods and hang out in stylish cafes and trattorias. How would little York compare? Amazingly well, it turns out, as I discover on my adventure around this beautiful city.
But first, food. Modern Romans don’t eat breakfast. They pop into a cafe for an espresso and pastry. So I head down Fossgate in search of Spring Espresso, the home of ‘artisan roasted coffee’. Inside, two students are reading poetry to each other and a local media guru is networking at her usual window seat.
I ask the co-owner, Tracy Dyson, for an Italian espresso. This is a mistake. She gives me a double-strength lecture about why the robusta bean and the machines used to make most Italian coffee in our high streets makes for crude, mass-produced kind of brew. Then I try her alternative: a flat white made from single-origin Arabica beans. It’s the best coffee I’ve had anywhere: York 1 – Rome 0.
Next we go and check out my shoes. The family firm of Cox has been here since 1921. They repair shoes and sell leather. They are not just any repairs or any old leather. Philippa Johnson, who married into the family firm, runs an expert eye over my Roman shoes to be sure the stitching is real and the soles properly made. Luckily for Rome they pass.
This sort of service becomes a theme among the independent shops of York’s historic centre. You can find the usual high street brands, but the real story is the tucked away independents. They care about the craft that goes into their goods; and so, if you can manage it, you can buy some unique things here. Just as you can in Rome – only you don’t have to walk as far.