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Photo by Ed Pollard
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Photo courtesy Doumar’s Cones and BBQ
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Photo courtesy Nauticus National Maritime Center
The natives call it "Nah-Fuk." The transplants say "Nor-Fuk." Either pronunciation is acceptable, but unless you want to be mistaken for "a Natherner," you'd better refrain from calling it "Nor-Folk." However you say it, Norfolk's rich history, its proximity to the water and its metropolitan locale make it the perfect setting for a weekend trip.
No trip to Norfolk is complete without a visit to Doumar's Cones and BBQ (757-627-4163 or doumars.com ). The eatery's contested claim to fame is that Abe Doumar invented the first ice cream cone at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Whether or not this is true, the Doumar family has served generations of customers affordable barbecue, burgers, milkshakes and, of course, ice cream. Customers can eat inside the vintage diner or take advantage of Doumar's curb service.
Sitting on the southern end of Norfolk's picturesque Ghent District is the Chrysler Museum of Art (757-664-6200 or chrysler.org ). This free museum's collection includes works from Matisse, Cassatt, Rubens, Warhol, Hopper, Cézanne and Lichtenstein. But the Chrysler is probably best known for its glass collection of more than 10,000 objects, including works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Make sure to catch a free glassblowing demonstration across the street at the museum's Glass Studio.
For shoppers, the MacArthur Center's (757-627-6000 or shopmacarthur.com ) three stories should give you plenty to browse. If all that shopping works up an appetite, there are a number of restaurants worth checking out. For an intriguing experience — and some rather tasty food — visit Freemason Abbey (757-622-3966 or freemasonabbey.com ), a former Presbyterian church turned restaurant. Most locals rave about Cogan's Pizza (757-627-6428 or coganspizza.com ), but when I visited, they were recovering from a fire. (They've since reopened.) If you're in the mood for a more upscale dining experience, try the tapas restaurant Bodega (757-622-8527 or bodegaongranby.com ).
Constructed in 1894 by James Wilson Hunter as an anniversary present for his wife, Lizzie, the Hunter House Victorian Museum (757-623-9814 or hunterhousemuseum.org ) has its fair share of oddities. James gave Lizzie a blank check to design their home as she saw fit, which is reflected in its eclectic design. The house features a fireplace in the middle of the staircase, an intriguing blend of furniture styles and few closets in order to save on personal property taxes. Hunter's daughters, Harriett and Eloise, were a constant source of gossip in their day for never marrying, furthering women's suffrage and purchasing a car to learn how to drive. (Admission is $5 for adults, $1 for kids.)
Remember when Gov. Mitt Romney tapped Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate in front of an old battleship? That patriotic backdrop is the USS Wisconsin, which guests of the nautical museum Nauticus (757-664-1000 or nauticus.org ) can tour with the price of admission. Exhibits covering the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Sanctuaries, and the Jamestown Exposition of 1907 are also on display. (Admission is $13.95 for adults, $9.50 for children aged 4-12. Don't miss the beautiful Pagoda and Oriental Garden ( pagodagarden.org ) around the corner, a donation by the Taiwan Provincial Government in the '80s.
While the Spirit of Norfolk is a beautiful ship, it isn't the only way to experience the Elizabeth River. Hampton Roads Transit's Paddlewheel Ferry transports passengers from Downtown Norfolk to Portsmouth for just $3 round trip. And since you're already there, why not take advantage of Portsmouth's art galleries, as well as restaurants like the Bier Garden (757-393-6022 or biergarden.com ) and the Children's Museum of Virginia (757-393-5258 or childrensmuseumva.com ).
The Tide — Norfolk's light rail train system — will be decked out for the holidays. Hampton Roads Transit wrapped cars in lights for the downtown illumination in November, and they'll remain bright through the holiday season, with proceeds going to a local food bank. For more information on riding the light-rail trains,
including fares and routes, visit gohrt.com/services/the-tide .