The Halverson’s seven-day ‘half term’ STAYcation in their temporary home town of Lowestoft, England, continues…
While I must admit there have been times when I’ve considered, in darkest recesses of my exhausted mind, feeding my three spirited sons to the tigers, I haven’t actually done so, despite this photographic suggestion to the contrary. This photo was taken inside Norwich Castle, a castle and keep built by the Normans as a Royal Palace 900 years ago on the orders of William the Conqueror. It once served as a gaol and is now a museum that features not only castle-related exhibits but natural history exhibits as well. Like this taxidermied tiger that scared the bejesus out of my sons and effectively ended our tour of the castle last September. The boys’ terror didn’t stop of us from returning to Norwich to drive by the castle this week when we took the City Sightseeing Bus as part of our ‘half term’ STAYcation adventures.
Norwich is a major city in Norfolk, East Anglia, in Eastern England. We live in neighboring Suffolk, a fifty-minute bus ride away. Being one of the top shopping destinations in the UK, Norfolk draws people a plenty to its busy streets. For that reason, it has a far more ‘bustling’ quality than does our coastal Lowestoft. Adding to the draw of its huge Castle Mall, Norwich has an ancient market place that was established by the Normans between 1071 and 1074 and which still runs today as the largest six-days-a-week open-air market in England. We’ve spent quite a bit of time poking around its colorful, albeit compact, stalls.
There are two things I find particularly fascinating about Norwich. First, the main building of Norwich’s exhaustive Castle Mall is largely concealed underground and built into the side of a hill, with a public park on its roof in the area south of the 12th century Castle. So, in essence, ladies trying on lacy goodies in department store dressing rooms are separated by just a wall and a few feet of dirt from the castle keep where criminals were once housed, tortured, and executed. Kind of creepy. And just imagine what those prisoners would have said if you’d told them what lay ahead for their damp, dreary dungeons. Their actual cells have been turned into exhibits by the castle museum, with child-friendly interactive setups every few feet. I once took a tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol in Australia, where the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly was hanged, and experienced a similar disquiet. It’s a tricky line, balancing the need to preserve and disseminate history with the very real economics of keeping said historic sites open in the first place. You gotta draw your visitors somehow, and exhibits, game, and role-playing skits are often a part of that.
The second thing has nothing to do with castle and prison misery nor with the interesting but sad fact that 98 Saxon homes were demolished to make way for the castle. Rather, being from a country with barely a couple hundred years of history under its belt, I can’t help but marvel at a city where modern life flows so effortlessly and blithely around relics from the eleventh century and beyond. There’s the castle next to the mall, of course. But even more stunning to me is the fact that all through the city are bits and pieces of the original city wall, a tough stone construction built between 1337 and 1344. Modern streets filled with cars and buses brush up against these wall remains, with nothing separating the two but air and the sands of time.
That’s one thing I’ll miss about the UK when we return to San Diego in July, that deep sense of history being mingled with the everyday. We just can’t touch it in the U.S. I’m glad we took this tour of Norwich before we left and viewed its past and present, side by side. Yet again, city tour buses have been a wonderful part of our travels in Europe.