Short Trips
A few days spent in a city in my own country,
usually taking in a cathedral and/or an exhibition.

1. Norwich
November 2017
More photos here


Wednesday 22nd
One of the consequences of my trip to Siena not happening, following BA's cancelling of my flight, was that I attended one of my V&A 16th Century Northern Renaissance course sessions that I would've missed, at which Clare the tutor raved about the Rembrandt etchings exhibition on in the Norwich Castle museum. So, what with the Cathedral to see too, it all seemed to have been fated, and a broadly medieval experience was anticipated.

Looking in the Smith's at Liverpool Street station I was drawn to a plush BBC History Magazine special on Medieval Life which just went to confirm my medieval fate suspicions. Waiting for the 10.30 train to Norwich a call went out over the P.A. for Inspector Sands which, as we all know, is panic-minimalising announcement code for FIRE! But luckily it was just a drill. I got a cinnamon swirl and an Americano as boarding was announced, and in no time at all it was blue skies, flat fields and brown trees out the train window. And my carriage was pretty peacefully full of middle class white people, mostly with white hair.

After checking in, at the Premier Inn just over the river from the station, I did a recce of the castle, had a late-lunch cheese baguette there, and then went in search of the Cathedral. A seasoned traveller like myself doesn't expect to have to do anything so wimpish as look at a map to find a flipping great cathedral (with the second tallest spire in the country) which is why I got truly lost, and ended up admiring the Roman Catholic cathedral (see photo below). 

But fate dictated that nearby I passed a bakery window displaying a most tempting pistachio, almond and raspberry cake, although when I say passed that sort gives the impression that I didn't go in.

My (eventual) first look around the real Cathedral was not exactly in full sunshine, as it was cloudy and coming onto evening, but it was in almost complete solitude, which was grand. The greeting ladies at the entrance where more than happy to look after my cake, to ease my photo-taking, with much joshing reassurance about my being safe in trusting them. And inside the church, just as I was leaving, remembering that I'd not seen the famous retable, a chummy and knowledgeable attendant took me personally back to the chapel where I had failed to spot it, his torch coming in handy as work being done on the lighting was making for frequent sudden darknesses.

I'm liking Norwich muchly, so far, with the natives proving very personable. Tea and my cake was taken rather late, and the sugared-up rush seemed to fend off my evening appetite, so I had a bath instead of a dinner, and an early night.

Thursday 23rd
The breakfast bar lacked muesli, for some strange reason, and so I began with a cocktail of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes topped with Rice Crispies and dried fruit, which was followed by nice fresh croissants and honey, with good juice and coffee. Perfetto! The early walk along river, taking in Pulls Ferry, Bishops Bridge and the Great Hospital, heading for the back of cathedral, was enlivening and full of fine photo opportunities. The almost-empty sun-bathed cathedral gave good cloister and sun-patched nave, and the Despenser Retable looked much better for some daylight. It's rare for anything so like an Italian medieval altarpiece to survive in this country, and it seems to have even been painted locally, as the red pigment used is only to be found around here. It survived to be rediscovered in the 19th century by being used, face down, as a table top.

The Rembrandt exhibition at the Castle was a revelatory treat, and the Norwich school landscapes there were a very soothing Dutch-tinged treat to follow. I almost missed the actual castle keep - up the stairs behind the ticket desk - but then accidentally got involved with a very engaging half hour tour, taking in garderobes and graffiti. Looking for lunch I found a chocolate shop nearby dominated by marzipan - Niederegger and Mozart - and succumbed to a couple of seasonal varieties, but manfully resisted the marzipan advent calendar. Lunch was a cheese and onion pasty (with ketchup, and a packet of chilli crisps) in the Cathedral refectory cafe. The gift shop in the nave had a handy and well-illustrated booklet on the retable, a sweet little stained-glass roundel of Julian of Norwich's cat, and some tempting festive fruitcake. Back to the hotel for a cup of redbush tea and some bites out of said cake. And a snooze.

In the evening I took a shopping constitutional around the city centre, admiring floodlit churches too, before returning to the hotel restaurant to try their Asian Style Veggie Burger - in which quinoa, soya beans, sesame seeds and rocket featured - a decision I did not regret.

Friday 24th

Some indecision about what to do with the morning, as my train back to Liverpool Street isn't until 1.30. A river walk heading towards the RC cathedral was looking highly likely. My breakfast decisively began with porridge and dried fruit, which worked. Checking my sites' Facebook page as I munched a croissant I found a recommendation from a locally-resident follower called Julia that I really should try to visit the Rosary Cemetery. I found it on a map, it was very close, and then found it in reality, and was very smitten: Victorian and overgrown, raking sunshine and autumn colours, solitude, squirrels...perfect! The delayed river walk was a sunny treat too, with complete strangers wishing me good morning! By the time I got to the Catholic cathedral time was tight, so I only managed a quick look and a few photos. It's not that old, but it is a handsome space inside - a very restrained gothic. A mozzarella, tomato and pesto panino was bought for the journey home, which passed without incident.

I know that many look to these trip reports for philosophical insights, so I'll leave you with the observation that whilst trips to warmer climes often entail decisions about air-con settings and ice cream flavours, off-season stays in the UK make for decisions as to whether lunch will be the soup or the hot pasty, and wondering whether to plug in the handy little wheelie radiator in your room.

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