August 2020


Monday 10th
A little background first. This is my first trip since my tragic failure to get into the Van Eyck exhibition in Ghent in March, which coincided with the beginning of national lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown in the UK has now been eased to get the economy going and people back to work at the expense, it is argued, of safety and death-prevention. This easing has seen new measures introduced, mostly around social distancing (keeping 2m away from people you donít live with) and wearing a face-covering indoors in public. These restrictions are colloquially known as the new normal. The government in England have also introduced a scheme called Eat Out to Help Out, a deal whereby you get 50% off restaurant meals Mondays to Wednesdays during August. In addition to this we're going through the hottest August since whenever, with temperatures mostly around 30įC, and huge thunderstorms forecast for this week which (spoiler alert!) don't happen in Norwich. Suffice it to say walking out of our air-conditioned hotel was mostly a Turkish-Bath type of experience.

A very casual-start 11.30 train from Liverpool Street. After a steamy mask-wearing tube journey and wait, the coolth of the nice long and empty Greater Anglia train was blessed relief. No catering on board, though, and no hunger to induce a pre-journey Pret-search. An uneventful journey and check in to the Premier Inn, but the river view from the room was somewhat unbeautified by the expanse of flat roof below with long-dead pigeon remains. Out for an explore, a Pret lunch, and some book and cake buying, before a late afternoon rest. The book buying involved The Book in the Cathedral, the new Christopher de Hamel book about Thomas Beckett. For such a slim volume finding it took time, three members of staff, and five possible shelving places - new releases, art, history, religion, new hardbacks. It was finally found in the last place and, honestly, how could I not buy it?

Our evening stroll took us along the
river, passing the Cow Tower, and back into town via The Halls. Lots of people about on a hot Monday evening. The major mystery was what pairs of blokes were doing seemingly fishing with rope for clumps of river weeds. The Pizza Express in the Forum was busy too, because Eat Out to Help Out. It was my first Veneziana pizza since before lockdown, and the Peroni was my first alcoholic beverage in that time too.

Tuesday 11th
The new normal procedure for breakfast in our Premier Inn is to tell a waitress what you're having and she brings it. None of the joy of the buffet, but you do have to go get your own juice, beverages and toasting done. An incidental is hearing the waitress taking other people's orders, and realising that many people have very much breakfast when they can, sometimes even involving black pudding, or two! Another new normal thing is that one's room is not now serviced every day, you have to ask. Which has the incidental advantage that you lose the instinct to keep the room tidy, when no one else is going to see it, and are free to make it your own with cards propped up on shelves,
dirty washing not packed away, etc.

Along the river again this morning, with a quicker turnoff into town for a cathedral visit. Masks are to be worn, a clockwise route is taken around the Cathedral (and out through the south transept) and it's clockwise around the cloister too. But booking a timed ticket is not necessary, and a lack of fellow visitors added much to our enjoyment, it has to be said. Indulgent parents who think it's sweet for their little blighters to shout repeatedly in the cathedral less so. The shop is now open so I was able to find a deeper (and cheaper) guidebook than last time - more architecture and history, less colour photos of smiling worshippers. M&S sandwiches were later bought and taken back to the air-con coolth of Room 201.

Our evening walk was intended to see what the previously-unexplored area (and park) called Chapelfield might have going for it. An improvised route resulted in a bit of what I believe is known as 'getting lost'. Some unlovely streets lead us to Julian of Norwich's little church, so it wasn't all bad. Chapelfield turned out to be solidly OK, if not a highlight, with some nice old churches, needless to say.

A meal in the hotel restaurant this evening as Gem, a tempting local Turkish meze joint, couldn't fit us in tonight, what with the government-discount hoards. The broccoli soup was unusually yummy and I also enjoyed my Sloppy Joe Burger - a veggie burger, but a meat-impersonating one, but it was tasty too.

Wednesday 12th
Today saw Jane with bookings for the Sainsbury Centre and me off to the Rosary Cemetery, found and loved last trip, to wander around the cool and shaded paths passing the stone angels missing body parts and masses of monuments to Victorian merchant-class pride, taking oodles of photographs and barely seeing a soul. After an hour and a half of battery-draining photographic bliss I made for Over the Water, an area of north Norwich not explored before, evidently where the Anglo-Saxons first settled. Getting there I found an area a bit like a modest imitation of Camden, in London, or maybe parts of Brighton. In both of those places you get more coffee bars and artisan bakers, maybe, but you get the slightly chi-chi picture, with lots of antique shops. And a children's-clothes charity shop had a poster advertising itself as Breast-Feeding Friendly. My walk back took me by the church called the Halls and a deli I had patronised last trip, for a mozzarella, tomato and pesto ciabatta. And a slice of dark and spicy apple cake, which was free of gluten but very yummy.

An evening walk along the river and back and then some fab meze at Gem, the previously mentioned suave and shiny Turkish place just over the river from our hotel.

Thursday 13th
This morning when we were shown to our pre-disinfected breakfast table it was by the window and I mentioned to the hotel guy that he'd put us in sight of the window we'd sat in in Gem last night. He said he was hearing good things about the place, that they had only just replaced the Prezzo previously there, and that they had been open just two days when lockdown happened.

Our last full day evolved in an organic revisionary way. Firstly we made for the Rosary Cemetery so I could show Jane some highlights from yesterday, and take yet more photos. On the way back we passed through the Old Library Gardens, which has books carved here and there, a wooden statue of Paddington, and a bookswap cabinet. Then we walked along the river for a second visit to the cathedral, spotting more things (like vestiges of medieval frescoes and centuries-old graffiti) and discussing them with a pair of helpful and friendly guides. On our way to get lunch we found a church open, Saint George Tombland, and got chatting with the vicar. It's the deconsecrated churches that open for tourist visits that are all currently closed, it seems, with the ones still in use for services occasionally open. The vicar had come to Norfolk having spent most of his life in Rome, so the density of churches in Norwich was familiar to him. As to why there were so many he was of the opinion that it wasnít an excess of medieval piety so much as an excess of wealthy medieval merchants building their way to heaven. Lunch was sarnies from M&S again, but different ones!
A leisurely walk along the river this evening and a return to Pizza Express, much quieter this evening as the Eat Out to Help Out deal only applies Monday to Wednesday. A conversation with our waitress about all this madness led to me asking if she could recommend a good ice cream place in Norwich. She strongly recommended the Cafe Gelato, by the castle, which we found, but which opens very shortly before our train leaves tomorrow. And rushing and gelato are not two concepts that go together, I'm sure you'll agree.

Friday 14th
We got a somewhat less biblical than promised thunder storm this morning, all over by the time we'd finished breakfast. Our train leaving town at 11.30 I had time for a short morning walk to the RC cathedral, taking in the City Bookshop for buying a good-looking book I'd spotted on the Medieval Churches website. On the way back I passed a baker's selling cinnamon buns that I remembered from my last trip, but I resisted temptation, just this once. On my return to the hotel I found out that Jane had found out that our train had been cancelled. And the next one, at 12.00, was stopping short at Colchester. So we got on that one, which was short and crowded, being a three-carriage train replacing two nine-carriage trains. But we got seats and the train from Colchester was long and emptier and we were still home just after 2.00, to a cat happy to see us back and feeding him.




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