is home to the Virginia International Tattoo,
featuring performers from numerous countries.
to the largest naval base in the world, the starting point
for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and a popular
stopover point for Canadians heading back and forth to
Florida for seasonal visits, Norfolk, Va., has been on the
radar of snowbirds and sailors for quite some time.
willing to look a bit deeper, however, will discover
there's definitely something different in the air here.
From the particularly perky Iraqi gentleman who rang up my
order at the local department store and the Persian teen
who compiled my kabob order recently, to the woman from my
old island home of Guam who waited on my table at the Thai
restaurant down the street a few weeks ago, this city is
full of good people from all over the world just enjoying
one another's company. In short, Norfolk appears to be
pulling off with ease what a number of other North
American destinations are still struggling to achieve.
Perhaps the most direct way for travelers to experience
this diversity is through the city's food scene. Turkish,
Hawaiian, Thai, Bolivian, Indian and Persian are just a
few of the cuisines that comprise Norfolk's repertoire of
nifty noshables. Craving Middle Eastern street food? Head
to Mr. Shawarma, where they will serve you up a grilled
meat wrap complete with garlic sauce or a combo platter
that will have you feeling like you just walked off the
streets of Amman. When they really earned their
authenticity stripes with me however, was when they added
fried eggplant slices and French fries to my vegan falafel
pita along with the chopped veggies and tahini sauce. I
hadn't seen it served that way since my classroom teaching
days in Kuwait.
Garden serves up generous portions in high-value lunch
specials. For less than 10 bucks, I scored a huge plate of
vegetarian pad Thai preceded by a medium-sized garden
salad with fresh Asian dressing and a spring roll. Their
iced coffee's not too shabby either. For a fresh take on
Turkish food, consider making your way to Pasha Mezze,
where they dish up traditional grub in a modern, yet
welcoming atmosphere. Vegan travelers will be especially
tickled with their red lentil pate and spicy walnut dip.
From there, my favorite thing to do is head over to
O'Connor Brewing to enjoy a glass of Turkish Coffee Stout
in their too-cool-for-school warehouse space. They also
offer growlers to go, frequent live music events and free
scheduled tours on the weekends.
The city also maintains a multicultural focus with an
active festival schedule. Of note is the annual Cajun food
and music festival known as Bayou Boogaloo. Featuring
everything from alligator-based cuisine to the unique
music style Cajun culture is known for, this yearly event
is a must for anyone who likes to enjoy tasty treats along
with a toe-tapping good time. There's also the Latino
Music Festival, an opera-in-the-park event and waterfront
jazz performances in late summer.
the most impressive jewel in Norfolk's performance art
crown however, is the Virginia International Tattoo. Part
of a larger arts festival lasting several weeks, this
multinational ceremonial drumming event is arguably one of
the largest of its kind outside of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Featuring drums, pipes, drill teams and international
dance groups for more than two decades, this event marries
the city's diverse cultural scene with its military
Norfolk also offers diversity in its green spaces, with a
large waterfront oriental garden complete with a giant
pagoda and a 75,000-gallon koi pond. Visitors can stroll
for free while enjoying the architecture, plants and
peaceful serenity. The most fabulous freebie in town is
arguably the Chrysler Museum of Art and its massive
companion glass studio that offers live demos daily and
makes classes available for those interested in taking
their creative knowledge to the next level. The museum
houses one of the largest glass exhibits on the continent,
along with numerous other collections, including
antiquities from the ancient world, modern art,
photography and more.
in strolling around to get a feel for the city? Pick up
one of the NEON arts district walking maps from the
visitors bureau, which details the locations of dozens of
public art installations, including building murals and a
variety of sculptures. The tourism office also has a
mermaid spotting map that directs visitors to various
points around the city where giant, decorated mermaid
statues are displayed as an artistic nod to the area's
line? There's much more to Norfolk than aircraft carriers,
Lynnhaven oysters and she-crab soup. If a multicultural
food scene, spectacular free art access and international
cultural festivals top your list of must-have travel
amenities, it might be time to give this coastal
destination a try.