How would you pronounce the name of that bustling seaport town in Virginia? Is it Nawr-fek Nah-fic, Naw-fok, or any combination of the above? Or would you call it just plain Nor-folk?
WELCOME TO NORFOLK
No matter how you pronounce it, Norfolk is a nifty and new 333-year old city that was the third port stop (390 nautical miles from Charleston) on my Silversea Atlantic Coastal Adventure aboard the Silver Shadow. Located in the heart of the mid-Atlantic, at the crossroads of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Norfolk is a lively international seaport fronting one of the largest, naturally deep, ice-free harbors in the world. In sharp contrast to its old image as a neglected rough and rowdy Navy town, Norfolk has undergone a mighty metamorphosis. Signs of a once run-down seaport have vanished and many historical points of interest have been restored.
NORFOLK IS A NIFTY AND NEW 333-YEAR OLD CITY
The lifeblood of this city, steeped in nautical lore and naval history, is the water surrounding it. Little wonder then, that I chose Silver Shadow's "Tall Ship Cruise" aboard the American Rover as my shore excursion du jour.
Excitement mounted as I boarded the magnificent three-masted topsail schooner American Rover for a two-hour cruise through the beautiful Hampton Roads Harbor. Cruising under sail on the smooth waters of the Elizabeth River, we were given the opportunity to help hoist the 125-passenger schooner's distinctive red sails, take a turn at the helm, or just relax as the captain points out the sights of the historic Norfolk Harbor. Seated on the shaded upper deck, enjoying light refreshments, I opted for the latter choice.
RAISING THE RED SAILS ON THE AMERICAN ROVER
Also berthed in the historic Elizabeth River, is America's largest and last battleship, the USS Wisconsin. Affectionately dubbed "Wisky" or "WisKy", this Iowa-class battleship is the second ship of the United States Navy to be named in honor of the U.S. state of Wisconsin. Her mighty 16-inch guns boldly and proudly project toward the City of Norfolk that was her homeport during much of her distinguished 45-year career.
Admission fee to the adjacent Nauticus (The National Maritime Center and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum) includes access to selected interior areas of the Battleship Wisconsin as well as the new exhibit For All Those in Uniform Who Have Served. Two favorites, from the ten permanent exhibits at Nauticus, are the following: "Our Mighty Seaport" is an engaging exhibit that introduces visitors to maritime commerce and allows them to navigate a tugboat down a busy waterway and receive "real-time" information on ships sailing past Nauticus. The "Tsunami Ready" exhibit explores the destructive power of these frightening natural occurrences and shows how tsunamis form and how to be prepared for them. Norfolk is the first tsunami-ready city on the Atlantic Seaboard.
And what would a day on the Norfolk waterfront be without lunch at one of Norfolk's finest waterfront restaurants? Todd Jurich's bistro is unique in the fact that you can dine on five-star cuisine in a casual relaxed atmosphere. For starters, try the Chesapeake Bay She Crab Soup. And, I'll let you in on a little secret. If you ask nicely, you may be able to order the Jumbo Flounder Norfolk that is only listed on the dinner menu.
On the other end of the dining spectrum, but equally delicious, is a mouth-watering barbeque sandwich and ice cream cone at Doumars, Hampton Road's landmark diner complete with curb-side service and car-hops. Doumars is the home of the original waffle ice cream cone and their handmade waffle cones are rolled right in front of your eyes on the original four iron waffle machine built in 1904.
THE LEAST EXPENSIVE AND BEST BARBEQUE EVER AT DOUMARS
In addition to the waterfront, Norfolk also has its share of other interesting attractions. The MacArthur Memorial, situated in downtown Norfolk, is the final resting place of the colorful, corncob pipe-smoking, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. The MacArthur Memorial is a museum and research center dedicated to preserving and presenting the story of the life of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.
The Memorial also pays tribute to the millions of men and women who served with General MacArthur in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Located inside Norfolk's restored 1850 City Hall, this museum complex houses an extensive collection of exhibits and memorabilia tracing his controversial life and military career. Mrs. MacArthur, who died at the age of 101, joined her husband when she was buried in the monumental rotunda in the year 2000. The Memorial Gift Shop offers a wide variety items relating to the time periods of General MacArthur's life and the events of those periods. MacArthur Center, adjacent to the General Douglas MacArthur Memorial, is an upscale shopping destination in the center of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area.
The domed structure dominating downtown Norfolk is SCOPE, Norfolk's cultural, entertainment, convention, and sports complex where a kaleidoSCOPE of ever-changing events takes place. Featuring the world's largest reinforced thinshell concrete dome, its logo features a multi-colored, abstracted kaleidoscope image.
Adjacent to Scope, Chrysler Hall provides the best of the performing arts in Norfolk. Built in 1972, the venue hosts Broadway plays and is home to the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Ballet.
The Federal-style Moses Myers House was built in 1792 for Myers and his wife Eliza. Moses Myers was one of America's first millionaires and Norfolk's first Jewish citizen. For over a decade, the Myers family composed the region's entire Jewish population. This stately historic house, one of the first brick homes built in Norfolk after the Revolutionary War, interprets 18th-century life of a prosperous American family. Much of the furniture is original to the house.
Greatly enhanced by a gift from Walter P. Chrysler Jr., the Chrysler Museum of Art is one of the South's finest museums. Nearly every important culture, civilization, period, and artist is represented in the Chrysler Museum that spans 5000 years of art. The museum houses the original ceremonial Norfolk Mace, the Emblem of Office of the City. Taken out periodically for parades, the dignity and beauty of the pure silver Mace (weighing 104 ounces) can still be enjoyed after more than 250 eventful years. The museum's glass collection, displaying more than 7000 pieces including Tiffany, Sandwich, Art Deco and Roman glassware, is acknowledged as one of the nation's best.
YES, IT'S A HAND-BLOWN GLASS CHEESEBURGER AT THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM
Norfolk, Virginia is a dynamic city with deep ties to its past and a genuine passion for its future. While maintaining its small town charm and southern hospitality, Norfolk has successfully fused its nearly 400 years of history with 140 miles of scenic shoreline and cosmopolitan amenities.
JANET STEINBERG is an International Travel Consultant, Travel Writer, and the winner of 40 National Travel Writer Awards.