(Sorry this post is late...the wifi at my landlady's house has gone on bank holiday or something, so I had to get down to the pub today and mooch theirs to do all my internet-ing.)
This trip was the first for my “British Life and Culture” class. We departed from campus at 930am, piling into two enormous buses for an hour’s drive down to the coast, where we would experience the place they call ‘London-on-Sea.’
Brighton is an interesting place – a little seedy but still holding on to a lot of its original elegance, it's crawling with a cosmopolitan and terribly fashionable populace and it's also a bit rusty around the edges (thanks to that salt sea air, I would guess). Altogether, lots of fun. According to Dr. Woods, who acted as our tour guide as the buses moved into town, it’s known chiefly for its checkered history (lots of sleazy hotels and a booming escort service, especially back in the day when divorces were hard – unless you got yourself caught in bed with a prostitute), Prince George IV’s Royal Pavilion (which we toured – more on that later) and cure-all sea bathing tradition. Way back in the 1730s, this man,
one Doctor Russell, wrote and told his friends that there was something about the seawater at Brighton that would cure everything you had: arthritis, acne, cancer, the common cold…all right, so I made that list up, but people did believe that swimming down there would cure pretty much everything. So they did. And the town got a whole lot bigger, busier and richer after that.
Fast forward a bit: though we were left to our own devices for most of this trip (a good thing, too, because the streets in Brighton are narrow and twisty, besides sloping down at least a 30-degree angle in most places. Our massed presence would not have been appreciated), the highlight was our guided tour of that Royal Pavilion I told you about.
The name is misleading. There are no royals living in it anymore, and it doesn’t look like any pavilion I’ve ever seen. The outside’s built in the fanciful, seventeenth-century-English idea of an Indian palace, and the inside’s the same, only Chinese-ish. It was great, though. They wouldn’t let us take pictures of the interior, because everything’s so old (and it’s hard to find pictures online unless you get lucky on a Google search). Prince George had ritzy taste, to say the least; dragons, chandeliers, velvet, wrought iron, Eastern curiosities and gilt EVERYTHING.
In 1850, however, Queen Victoria sold the Pavilion to the Brighton city council. She wasn’t a fan of her uncle George’s style, with the flash and flamboyance and so on. She stripped everything out of the house before she left, though (a la the Clintons upon their White House exit not so long ago), and it took the restoration crews ages to get stuff back from the various royal residences and museums.
Just outside the Pavilion is the Brighton Museum, which we were allowed to take pictures in. I spent a fair amount of time in there (although not as much as Josh did), taking in the town’s history - that is to say, the history of its wealthy collectors . Picked up a friend, too; another study abroad student from our group, named Michelle. She’s here studying journalism.
Michelle and I ended up leaving Josh at the museum and going down to the pier (once we found our way), where it was at least five degrees colder. You can see the funfair down there, as well as the rusted-out heap that was the old pier.
It was pretty overcast, as you can see, but we had fun looking in the little shops on the pebbly beach. I managed to restrain myself from buying anything, although I was sorely tempted once or twice.
The three of us also visited Brighton’s trendy little shopping district, which looked a lot like a giant antique store/rummage sale had exploded across about eight blocks. Here, I obtained coffee.
I really wanted to spend money here, but Josh and Michelle were getting cold (and bored, I suspect), so there was none of that. Eventually, it was time to meet our bus to go home, and it was coming on twilight when we all (minus one person, who apparently didn’t show up on time and had to take the train home!) piled in and dozed our way back to Kingston.
Altogether, I really liked Brighton, in all its seedy, friendly, sketchy glory. I hope you have, too.