Last week marked the halfway point in this first term of my graduate course. We had just turned in our second paper, finished a mountain of interesting reading with the prospect of more, and it felt like time for a change of scene. I decided to book a spontaneous trip to Brighton—’as close to the ocean as possible’ is my favorite place in any country, and I’ve wanted to give this coastal town a visit ever since I heard Kitty Bennett say “I want to go to Brighton!” in various and sundry adaptations of Pride & Prejudice.
First of all, the train journey was beautiful, zooming a friend and me through bright green fields, past old manor houses, and under fiery autumn trees. Arriving in Brighton, I was welcomed by the friendliest, kindest Air BnB hosts at a funky, gorgeous flat just a block away from the sea. The breakfast nook in this place was all window, a little glass conservatory perch from which to watch the clouds and the people roll by.
The hosts left little notes all over, with handwritten guides of activity recommendations on the desk and fresh flowers in every corner.
I always forget just how much I love being by the ocean until I’m there again, and then I wonder how I survived away from it. The sound, the smell, the feel of the air—it’s healing, rejuvenating, and calming all at once. On Friday my friend and I walked all around the city and went up the Brighton i360, a 500-foot tower with a glass donut of an elevator around it, so as you go up you can see panoramic views of the city, the surrounding downs, and the sea.
After a long day of walking around, exploring, and eating delicious food, my friend headed back to London and I enjoyed a cozy, relaxing evening. Saturday was warm and sunny in the morning, and I went on a long run along the beach front, with the ocean next to me all the way.
There’s something about the beach in the winter time. It’s more wild, more raw, more privately yours to keep with you when you leave. The beach in Brighton is made up of large pebbles instead of sand. When the waves wash ashore they make that familiar crashing sound, but when the waves recede the pebbles and the water make a whispering, hissing sound, like it’s speaking to you.
Little art studios, shops, and pubs are clustered on the edge of the beach, weathering the chill and salty air with great aplomb and character. There are green spaces all over town as well, peaceful pockets of damp verdancy.
The day progressed ever more cloudy and drizzly, and I wandered around tiny twinkly alleys, dipping in and out of antique shops and shoe shops and ‘little-things-you’ll-never-actually-need-but-now-that-you’ve-seen-them-you-totally-want-them’ shops.
The rain wasn’t bad during the day, but as the night progressed it got colder and windier and rainier, so I made my way back to the haven of my rented apartment. All night long the wind shook the window frames and the rain tap-tap-tapped on the glass, and I snuggled up with the space heater and did some writing, reading, and video editing.
The morning of my departure it had cleared up but was significantly chillier, so I packed my things, bundled up, and went to snap some pictures (both mental and literal) of everyday people doing everyday things, like checking the price of flowers or eating scrambled eggs in a café with their friends. I love traveling with friends, family and loved ones, don’t get me wrong—sharing new experiences with people is really special and beautiful, and one of the reasons I miss them so much while I’m here is not getting to share these experiences with them. But I also like traveling alone because it gives me time and space to observe other people living their lives. It gives me perspective and oddly enough, gets me out of my own head because I get to be an invisible voyeur, more interested in the minutiae of other peoples’ lives than worrying about my own.
My last stop after a delicious brunch in a little corner coffee bar was the Royal Pavilion. This park in the middle of Brighton is occupied by a stately Indian-style palace, which was commissioned in the 1800’s by George, then Prince of Wales but soon to be King George the IV, as a seaside pleasure palace. His royal presence grew Brighton into a bustling social and arts destination, inspiring the fabrication of Brighton’s elegant white house fronts. The Pavilion also played an interesting role during WWI, serving as a hospital for wounded Indian soldiers, who were segregated from the rest of the British Armed Forces. These days, the Pavilion is a local historical and architectural attraction, and sits nestled in this park next to the Brighton Dome, the central performing arts venue in the city.
It was a restful, relaxing, and yet still adventurous weekend well-spent. I loved exploring everything that Brighton has to offer, both with a friend and on my own. I would love to go back, as I feel that there is so much still to see, and the sea is always calling.