Two Days in Norwich

You don’t know anything about Norwich; you don’t know where Norwich is or what’s there worth seeing.

Norwich isn’t London but it’s not far from the capital, at least not in an American road trip sense of the relative word ‘far’; about 100 miles north-northeast as the crow flies.

Norwich isn’t Manchester or Liverpool either, although it is a slog from the northwest of England.

Located in Norfolk, East Anglia — farm country — Norwich tends to be, in English football broadcasting banter, the butt of jokes about travel thanks to a lack of M routes (motorways) and a bevy of A road roundabouts in this part of the empire; east of Cambridge, west of the North Sea.

One doesn’t just find themselves in Norwich or simply pop over to Norwich for a day trip. Except when one does.

Last fall I was scheduled for a football match and a night’s sleep near Carrow Road, the home ground of Norwich City Football Club. That’s it. I’d arrive, park, check-in, walk to the match, walk back, sleep, wake, and drive on to the next place (Leeds, in this case, via a meandering path to see the stadiums of Hull City, Lincoln City, Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Middlesborough, Sunderland, others).

That plan, however, was smashed once I totaled my Toyota Prius in Ipswich. My life was spared but the chance to see those football grounds was lost. A fair trade, sure, but I was as sullen as I was shaken. What was gained though was a day in Norwich, a blue-sky-sunny, crisp-clean-cool-air Wednesday that had been chef’s-kissed by the silly angel who apparently was still looking out for me.

After a full English, me and my full belly walked away from the Abbey House Hotel on Stracey Road, around the train station, over the River Wensum on which Norwich was founded, and into the city centre. I ambled with no destination, like someone with a rare blank space on his calendar, exactly like a man who very much had hours to spare until a new Prius would kindly be delivered by Toyota Great Britain.

Soon enough, I found myself crying again (more than a few tears were spewed the day prior) at the plaque and statue of Edith Cavell, laughing at the name of the Giggling Squid (curiously, a Thai restaurant), gawking at the design elements of the 15th-century Erpingham Gate, and photographing Norwich Cathedral, a majestic Romanesque structure dating back to the late 11th-century.

The night before, I loved watching Norwich City play free-flowing attacking football and taking all 3 points from Aston Villa. By the middle of the next morning, I had fallen in love with the city itself, and I hadn’t even arrived at The Book Hive yet.

Every great city, for it to be considered great, needs a couple of things. A warm and welcoming people is key and a fantastic local bookstore is a must. Marrying the pair is cause for celebration. That’s what the Book Hive does for Norwich and did for me on that autumnal mid-week day.

This independent bookstore smack dab in the heart of Norwich, in the crooked ‘Lanes area’ of the city, was so intoxicating that it would be one of the two reasons (the Canaries of Carrow Road being the other) that I rented a car and drove six hours roundtrip, circling many an A route roundabout, with the Mrs. six months later during what was to be an exclusively ‘London’  long weekend filled with musicals, a Harry Potter studio tour, and a couple of Oyster cards to move us around.

On my first visit I bought every book that Propolis, The Book Hive’s in-house publishing imprint, had released thus far. During my second, I bought more books; a book for myself, one for my teen, and a couple for my niece for her 21st birthday. Books, especially those purchased at an independent bookseller, do make the perfect gift. While settling up and converting pounds to dollars in my head to realize just how invested I had truly become in this particular East Anglian bookstore, I actually opened up my shy, introverted mouth to talk to the staff behind the counter. That‘s how comfortable I was there; there at the Book Hive, there in Norwich. She was lovely, warm and welcoming, and so I told her I that was back for a second visit and that I’d previously bought everything they’d published. She kindly gave me the store’s canvas tote gratis. Warm and welcoming people indeed.

A great city needs some tremendous food too. Back in the fall I paced up and back through the Norwich Market, an outdoor cluster of stalls selling everything from luggage to lo mein. I got some lunch (tasty) and then some locally made ice cream (extra tasty) and sat down next to a couple of artists painting en plein air. I watched them paint. I took their picture. I ate my lunch in the sun and didn’t stress a god damn thing. Even without considering what had happened to me less than 24 hours earlier, I found myself surprised, pleasantly so, to be that kind of serene.

Last month, the Mrs. found the Moorish Falafel Bar on Lower Goat Lane and we walked there beneath a spritz from above for a quick, brilliant vegetarian bite before the Norwich City v. Swansea City match (1-0, thanks to a sweet goal from Emi Buendia right in front of us in Castle Club of the Geoffrey Watling Stand).

I needed to be back at the Book Hive. I needed to stand in front of Edith Cavell again. I needed to sit down to watch and jump up to cheer and wear yellow & green again. I needed two days in Norwich.

And I wouldn’t mind a third or fourth real soon.

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