Sometimes I just want to be in Norwich. I know I romanticize the city—how well did I evenknow it, really? I abandoned it nearly every weekend. I never went to half of the coffee shops and pubs that I planned on visiting. I never even saw Riverside during the day. But sometimes in the middle of my day I check up on it—a quick Google Map search of the University of East Anglia (UEA), No. 33, Biddy’s. I just want to know how it’s doing.
This blog post comes at a good time, actually. For one thing, it was exactly two years ago from today that I first took the train from London to Norwich—speeding into the countryside, past fields and bricked buildings and train station after train station, drinking in the town as our taxi drove us from the station up to UEA, bruising my calves as my broken suitcase banged against them, lugging my bags throughout campus, up three flights of stairs, down the hall to the otherwise pretty-well-deserted flat. Two years ago, I sat on my bare bed in my bare room, my now-useless suitcase half-unpacked, wondering why I’d come because I was very obviously not going to make any friends and oh lord this was going to be a painful and lonely three months. And then I actually met my flatmates and all was well.
So, not only has it been two years that I first wandered into the town, but last week I met a woman from the UK who, when I told her I spent a semester in Norwich, immediately burst into laughter and spat, “Oh god, how did they get you to go there?” After she continued to denounce it as an awful place, assigning something like five negative descriptors (bad, awful, so-tiny, oh-god, hahohoh) without a single actual reason, I creaked a nervous laugh and asked, “So, have you had a chance to go, or you just know well enough to stay away…?” to which she replied, “Oh, no, never been.”
Is Norwich tiny? Sure—from what I saw, the city centre is small, and you can back and forth up and down the river and not tire, and, yes, it’s quiet. But is it bad-awful-ohgod-hahohoh? Obviously that’s an opinion, and, true, I only spent three months there and was absent most weekends, but that’s still going to be a hard no from me. Even the just-under-an-hour walk from the university campus into the city centre was nice, really. I meandered through the residential streets, peeking in windows of students and families, admiring the brick buildings and corner stores. And maybe it’s just because it’s different from what I know at home, but there was something cozy and just really fucking pleasant about it, if you want to know the truth.
However small and sleepy I found Norwich to be, UEA was even more so. Especially Saturday mornings in Flat 29. Sometimes I’d come into the crisp kitchen before anyone else; the glass door to the balcony might be ajar, glasses and bottles strewn across the two tables pushed together to make one communal hangout surface, pots with dried pasta gathered near or in the sink. I’d scuttle across the chilled floor to boil water for tea. Sometimes Haydn would already be sitting on our stiff vinyl couch-bench, reading the paper or listening to music. If it was a weekend I wasn’t running off to catch a bus or a train—trying to cram in as many cities into my three months instead of maybe just staying put for once and chilling out—we might pop down to the coffee shop on campus or the museum café for a scone or pain au chocolat. Anyway, sometimes I just miss it all; afternoons at No. 33, nights at Gonzo’s, weekends studying at the museum, and the holiday meals, sleepovers, and late-night paper-writing in the kitchen. It was quiet, but it was a nice place to be. And every time I see ziggurat-style buildings, I think back to UEA.