Because someone wanted me to write about “alleys.”
I’ve been missing England so much lately. Everything reminds me of London.
I liked living in Norwich for the semester that I studied abroad; I don’t think that I would go back to live there again (there are no mountains there!), but it was a great city to spend a few months in.
One of my favorite things to do during that time was go for walks. I would walk the 2.5 miles from the University of East Anglia to city centre on the days I didn’t have class (and sometimes on the days that I did). While the numerous traffic circles along the way never ceased to confuse me, I eventually became very familiar with the streets and neighborhoods of Norwich, especially the ones on the east side of town between UEA and city centre.
The main walk that I did, and the one that I’m sure will be permanently etched into my mind, was along The Avenues, a long, straight stretch of road that led pretty much directly from UEA into town. It was a quiet neighborhood with a lot of narrow houses and manicured gardens on either side of the road. Driveways were sometimes patches of gravel between the street and the yards. In the evenings, I could see yellow lamplight glowing though the curtains in second-floor windows.
A few small parks and hills and corner shops served to break up the journey. There was a long park surrounded by hedges with poetical phrases carved into the backs of the benches; you could only enter from one side, so if you walked all the way down to the other end, you had to turn around to get out. At the top of a hill was a school, which was noisy with children at recess during the daytime. Once, when I was passing, the children had managed to lob a ball over the high walls, and they shouted at me to track it down and return it to them. Fortunately it hadn’t made it far down the hill; it was lodged behind the back tire of a car parked on the street. I hurled it back over the wall and heard their cheers as it landed on the other side.
To get to town, you make a turn at a fork in the road at the bottom of the hill. Directions have never been my forte, but eventually my feet learned to carry me down the right street without me having to think about it. At the corner, there was a little shop that was usually closed when I passed it. It was full of pastel colors and items like handmade bracelets and tea cozies and jewelry boxes. Whenever it was open, I went in to browse. They sold tea there, too, and I always meant to get some, but I never did.
As you near the town, little signs pop up directing the way to city centre, and short stone walls begin to rise along the sidewalks. When you arrive at Tesco Express, take a left; follow along the road as the smaller houses vanish, larger homes-turned-businesses taking their place. Two consecutive roundabouts lead either down to the expansive Chapelfield Gardens (which houses, for some reason, a random Mexican restaurant) and then the busy mall, the Forum, and the market—or up to the more posh St. Giles Street and the cozy little shops there selling pastries and books and shoes and gelato and—we were delighted to find—waffles.
Getting to the west side of town was even more of a trek, since you had to either take a maze of streets through city centre or go all the way around, probably on Queen’s Road, which circumvents the mall and passes the Travelodge where I stayed my very first night in Norwich. That road has a roundabout too, which I initially got stuck on the wrong side of when I first ventured out of Travelodge (the sidewalk ran out part of the way around). That was the night I learned, to my dismay, that stores in England close at 6 or 7pm.
I only ventured to the part of Norwich where the cathedral is located once, on a very drizzly day. I wandered through the cloisters and around the back of the cathedral, where I stumbled on a small enclosed garden nestled between buildings.
Just above the cathedral, the river curves around, and the walking path that follows its banks and forms a circle with Bishopgate road is always good for a walk. Sometimes my friends and I would go to church up there, and we went to a pub near there on my birthday.
Below the cathedral and across the river on the lower part of its loop lies the Riverside Retail Park area, which doesn’t sound nearly as nice as it actually is. The Victorian train station is just across the road, a familiar destination for us with our regular traveling.
Aside from the station, the well-lit riverside shopping center is bright and modern-feeling. It has restaurants, chains like Topshop and H&M, and an IMAX cinema. There are nightclubs just across the bridge, though I never went to any. The Riverside area felt removed enough from city centre, to me, to almost be another place entirely. It reminded me a little bit of back home.
For my birthday week, I went to the cinema to see The Space Between Us (awful), and then I got Pizza Hut next door (fantastic). Pizza Hut forgot that I ordered a personal size and gave me a full-size pizza, which I carried home in its giant box and munched on all the way. It was nighttime and quite dark out once I left behind the colorful lights of the shopping center. Somewhere along the way I got turned around and had to pull out my phone to find the way back to Queens Road. The map led me through a secluded park with a branching path; into a private neighborhood of apartments; and finally back to the lights of the city. Before then, I hadn’t really realized how much of Norwich I hadn’t actually seen. Most of the rest of the city was neighborhoods, so there wasn’t really a reason to go exploring those areas, but passing through them was nice.
Towards the end of the semester, when the sun was out and the weather was warmer, I walked to Morrison’s in the Riverside Retail Park. Morrison’s is a grocery store with really good prices, so I was irked that I didn’t actually discover it until after spring break. It’s kind of like a Walmart but for food. I got the stuff I needed and shoved it all into my backpack. Too stubborn to pay for the bus, I started the nearly three-mile walk back to the university—and once again, I got myself lost. This time, Maps led me to the steepest set of tree-shaded stairs I have ever seen. After puffing my way up them, I speed-walked all the way down the Avenues back to UEA. I arrived to class late and very sweaty.
There were places I loved in Norwich enough that I went there all the time—like the mall or the Forum or the castle gardens. But my favorite places were the ones that maybe didn’t have a name and just left an impression, an image in my head. The sidewalk in the sunshine; the prickly green grass on the side of the traffic circle; walking home with pizza in the dark. I think those images are the reason I love, and miss, England so much. It’s a country full of imagery. Norwich gave me a hint of that.