Saturday, 8 September 2012

Who Goes to Norwich?

A couple of weeks ago I was having a drink with a friend and she asked what the taller half and I were up to for the weekend.

"We're going to Norwich."

"Norwich? Who goes to Norwich?"

"Um, we do?"

"But why?"

This was followed by the expected awkward moment while I tallied up the time and money we were planning to spend on our obviously ill-advised trip and she presumably thought something along the lines of Oops, that came out wrong. I followed up with some of my most eloquent reasoning, mumbling something about secondhand bookshops and the University of East Anglia. Then capped it all off with, "Oh! And they have a castle, too! I think."

She just smiled the smile of a local who has heard a very silly idea from a foreigner and, the next morning, we caught a train to Norwich.

Well, Norwich was great! And here's what we considered the highlights...

Norwich River & the riverside path


The train ride from Liverpool Street was very pleasant with nice views of the Olympic Park, rolling hills and some very pretty coastal wetlands. It was, however, painfully clear that the concept of the "Quiet Car" eluded at least 50% of the passengers around us. The 10-year-old got it, but those pensioners were nothing if not rowdy.

Eating:
Norwich knows how to eat. Should you ever find yourself in this lovely corner of the world, get thee to The Waffle House sharpish. I don't even love waffles and I would never go to Norwich again without going here. In fact, it was so good I might go to Norwich just to eat here. We couldn't believe that it wasn't packed on a Saturday morning, but it wasn't and we had our pick of tables. The best things about The Waffle House: 
1. The service. It's brilliant! So friendly, so helpful and very prompt (not always the case in the UK, it must be said). 
Norwich Castle Keep
2. The choices. You can have everything from a poppy seed waffle with hummous and avocado to the amazing, delicious banoffee waffle. Oh, yes, you read that right, a waffle with bananas, homemade toffee sauce and big flakes of chocolate (whipped cream optional). It is exactly as delightful as it sounds.
3. The maple syrup. It's real, it's unlimited and it's delicious. I don't know whether they import it from North America, but it would rival any sugar shack or cabane à sucre that I know of!

Drinking:
Like any good English city, there's no shortage of drinking holes, but if you get beautiful weather like we did, there really is nothing like settling in to one of the riverside pubs or restaurants and whiling away an afternoon just watching the boats (and life) just drift on by. Perfection.

Architecture:
They have a castle with the coolest keep going. It's all dark stone, doom and gloom and has a dress up area where you can pretend to be a prisoner. Take that Tower of London. There are also all sorts of exhibitions in the rest of the building from modern art to the story of Boudica and from classical paintings to natural history, so whether it's roman artifacts or taxidermy that float your boat, it's the castle with something for everyone. Plus, if you go in the last hour they're open, it's only £1. The grounds are small, but beautiful and free.

Wedding at the Norwich Cathedral (Protestant)
Norwich Cathedral is the main draw in the city and it's definitely very nice. Not quite nice enough to warrant the £10 donation they suggest, but, in fairness to them, do not get pushy about. Maybe if they had told me there was a labyrinth in the cloister I might have felt more generous about the whole situation in the beginning. Oh, yes, folks, a labyrinth, which consists of one path, no dead ends and actually, no walls. It's just stones set flush with the ground. The other highlight of the cathedral? You know those doors you see in church walls that must lead to the upper levels? Well, they do lead up there and in Norwich you can climb up a spiral staircase and have a look down from the second level. There are some silver bits and pieces up there, but let's be honest, we went for the view.

Norwich Cathedral. No, you're not seeing double and no, I'm not repeating myself. This is the Catholic Norwich Cathedral and it's not too shabby either. No volunteers begging for cash, no fancy new visitors centre and no labyrinth, but there is an excellent opportunity to  practice your foreign language skills as the pamphlets that tell you about the building are available in about half a dozen languages, none of which are English. Also, on a hot day, there's no place like a Catholic church for air conditioning; all that stone and guilt is very cooling.

Entrance to the Royal Arcade
There's also the Royal Arcade, which is a covered, pedestrian shopping street with pretty stained glass and old tiles. Plenty to photograph here and Jamie Oliver's restaurant right inside the arch.

Shopping:
Also inside the Royal Arcade is a mustard shop. Not any mustard shop, though, a purely Coleman's Mustard shop. I don't know who wants tea towels, bed spreads, street signs or milk jugs with Coleman's Mustard's logo on them, but if it's you, you can get whatever your little wholegrain heart desires at this shop along with the history of Coleman's Mustard.


Just at the end of the Arcade is a massive and rather overwhelming market that looked fairly permanent, with labeled aisles and stalls that sell everything from electronics to ice cream. If you ask me, it's not so much a market as it is a shrunken North American shopping mall with no roof so you get wet if it's raining. Apparently Norwich is famous for this but we're not really shoppers so after walking through one aisle we bailed and went too...


The secondhand bookshop is on the left
A brilliant second hand bookshop! It was one of the best kinds with an eclectic selection that ranged from obscure books published just twenty years ago to a first edition of William Makepeace Thackery's ever popular Vanity Fair sorry, no, it was The Book of Snobs. Unfortunately, not quite as hilarious as I had expected, but I still managed to spend ages in that tiny shop. So much time, that when I looked for my taller half, he had bailed and was napping outside on a bench. Where does the time go in second hand bookshops? They're like time vortexes.

So, rest of England, I'm talking to you when I say that Norwich is brilliant! It has a modern vibrancy, but preserves it's medieval history. It's very pretty. It's small and easily walkable. And it has the best waffles in the world. What more could you want from a city?

We'll be back, Norwich, so get those waffles ready.

No comments:

Post a Comment