Sometimes (like the times when you’ve been binge-watching the vowelicious Richard Ayoade in Travel Man on 4oD), you really, really feel like going on a mini break. Like really.
However, mini breaks require dog sitters, taking time off work (a mini break is a 5-day trip, right?), confirming travel details and numerous other practicalities that just aren’t likely to dovetail for me right now.
So what do you do?
You realise that it is actually perfectly possible to go on a mini break in your own city.
Yup, Exeter, capital of the South West, a Roman city with a Gothic cathedral and medieval underground passages. And gelato. Since the redevelopment of Queen Street, there is also a new dining quarter full of new and exciting restaurants to try. Oh, and did I mention the gelato?
Exeter is also home to RAMM, aka Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery. (You can see why they chose to abbreviate the name.) Museum of the year in 2012, thank you very much. And they are housing a really interesting exhibition on loan from the Ashmolean right now – Hiroshige’s Japan: Stations of the Tokaido Road.
What better way to feel like you’re abroad than going to an exhibition featuring an artist you’ve never heard of, displaying 21 artworks from a road you’ve never heard of? And then follow it up with some Italian ice cream.
You see? There’s totally a method to my madness.
The Japanese woodblock print designer Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) is known for his groundbreaking series Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road. And Vincent Van Gogh (who I have heard of), actually copied two of Hiroshige’s works. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so you know Hiroshige must have been gooood. I collated this information from the museum website and Wikipedia. I know, my research methods are infallible.
As much as I enjoy art though, I must admit that I know precious little about it. So I invited bona fide artist Sarah to accompany me. The fact that she is a friend of mine that’s super fun to be around is completely coincidental.
Having analysed the aforementioned Mr. Ayoade’s TV exploits thoroughly, I decided that his carefully crafted curriculum must be strictly adhered to in order to achieve blog-worthy mini break success.
So. The scene is set – read on to join us on our 5-step mini break in Exeter!
Step 1/ Notable buildings
My iPhone app told me it was raining in Exeter, so I was very pleased to find a city bathed in light, without a cloud in sight. Everything looks prettier in the sunshine, so I started taking photos right away. I’m always snap happy, me!
I had arranged to meet Sarah outside RAMM, but it took me a while to get there as I kept having to stop to take more photos.
Step 2/ Art appreciation
Finally, I reached RAMM, where I met Sarah and we made our way to the exhibition. It wasn’t easy to find – RAMM could certainly benefit from investing in a little indoor signage – but after asking for directions twice, we turned right at the elephant (yes, really) and found the gallery.
The exhibition was amazing, so we did two rounds of all the artworks. The colours and detail of the prints were amazing, and Sarah pointed out several aspects about the artworks that made them even more fascinating to me. Art is definitely best enjoyed with an artist!
Step 3/ Culinary culture
Art appreciation over and done with, it was time to move on to the next compulsory stage of a successful mini break – the brunch. We headed to the newly-opened Venetian restaurant Polpo in the Queen Street dining quarter, which was serving breakfast at a 50% discount during their opening week.
Sarah opted for a polenta cake, and I had a cheese sandwich and some Moroccan – or, in this case, Italian, mint tea. All very yummy!
After brunch, we went for another stroll until we decided it was time for dessert. In keeping with our Italian theme, and my cravings for gelato, we visited Caramello Gelato in South Street. Guess who somehow managed to misread the menu and wound up with no gelato at all?
Death by chocolate – or Choco-Nana, as I believe it was called – was also a delicious dessert option. It was a little on the much side, though, so Sarah and I swapped a quarter waffle with each other. She had rather sensibly opted for a plain waffle with vanilla gelato.
Step 4/ Visit a historic beauty spot + peruse local arts & crafts
With time being of the essence – meaning my parking was about to run out and I would soon be forced to head home to take the dog out for a walk – we decided to combine two steps. Exeter Quayside is a beautiful area just a few minutes’ walk from the heart of the city, where you can enjoy kayak-watching, bird-watching and people-watching while exploring the arts & crafts stalls. There are also some excellent restaurants in the area, but at this point we weren’t exactly hungry!
We carefully perused each of the arts & crafts shops in the old bonded warehouses, before heading back into the city along the ancient Roman wall.
Our mini break had lasted a full 5 hours. The consensus that was reached suggested that it had been thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Step 5/ The Highlights
Summing up the experience in true Travel Man style, we met up at Bella Italia in Queen Street a few days later. Over a cup of hot chocolate avec Baileys, we reminisced about the limited time we had spent enjoying our city.
Sarah’s highlights were the Hiroshige exhibition and our stroll along the Quayside – though her favourite moment was the scathing look she got from a member of staff at an undisclosed eating establishment, who locked himself inside a toilet to prove the lock was working, all the while never uttering a single word. I guess you kinda had to be there.
My favourite moments were Sarah’s hilarious conversation, the Hiroshige exhibition and my gelato ordering fiasco. And flirting with a waiter at Bella Italia, who claimed their gelato is much better than Caramello’s. This bold statement will have to be fact-checked at a later date.
My ice cream escapades in Exeter are far from over.
Love, Neens xx