Friends who don’t travel much have asked me how I explore a new city. First, the Internet is my friend. Long before I ever leave home, I can research bus routes, find out how close grocery stores and train lines are to where I’ll be staying, and look up local sights. But what I do first when I get there, depends on how much time I have. If a few days, I begin with the must-see places, like The Pavilion in the photo. If a week, I can afford to take my time and start with the ordinary sights. That’s what I did with Brighton and Hove.
When I picked this city, I had vague thoughts of beach-combing and the scene in Downton Abbey where all the servants go to the beach on a short holiday.
Indeed, this city is all about the beach. It’s extensive and feels much like the Florida Coast of the US, going on as far as the eye can see. In contrast, the tiny beaches I visited on the Isle of Wight were more like the pocket beaches of the Big Island. But I was hoping for sand. The Brighton Beaches are all pebbles, and divided into sections by groynes to prevent washing away.
When I say pebbles, I mean mountains of them. Climbing the hills of rocks felt much like climbing snow-hills: the rocks beneath my feet moved with the pressure and put me off-balance. So after two days of beachcombing and not finding anything, I quit. The sensory overload of seeing so many multi-colored rocks while fighting a headwind resulted in misplaced excitement when I saw even the odd bottle cap. But I won’t go home empty-handed. I did find a very nice, almost-complete shell.
I love to walk city streets, just to look. In contrast to the small winding lanes of Cowes and the narrow rural roads on the Isle of Wight, Brighton streets have a “planned” feel to them with many broad and regular avenues. The little pig-paths of the original fishing village that began this community do remain in a shopping area called the Laines. These lanes are so small and twisted that I had to retreat soon after entering for fear of losing my way.
You can learn quite a bit about a community by observing the signage. Brighton and Hove seem to be partial to sign boards on the sidewalks. I loved the one advertising the Vision Board Workshop, and the bar that proudly said they had no Wi-Fi, just chit-chat. But I wasn’t too sure about the world’s first Internet connected hearing aid (talk about being too plugged-in!) and the fresh calf liver special. Apparently one shop only has a gluten free menu on Monday and Tuesday. I guess you go somewhere else the other days. And who ever heard of walk-in teeth cleaning? There’s a three month lead-time to get into my dentist!
I love the sense of inclusion and diversity in the city. Invitations to come into St. John’s Church where they hold a day center for the elderly, stood not far from a Labour MP’s office covered with gay pride posters. Looks like I missed the Gay Pride Parade by two days. Brighton makes the claim to be the Gay Capital of England.
I always grocery shop the first day, no matter how many days I will be staying in a city. Perusing their main grocery chains is a great way to learn new things. A Tesco Supercentre was only two blocks from my flat. Besides all the different foods, I love their solutions to problems: they offer free fruit to children to keep them occupied while their parents shop; they offer to recycle plastic water filters, inkjet cartridges, batteries, and energy saving light bulbs; and finally, they have a boot on their carts (trollies) that prevent them from leaving the premises. I think these ideas have merit. Maybe US grocery chains are offering these innovations and I’m just not seeing them on the Big Island.
Then there are the cool quirky shops. Of course everyone needs a dinosaur head skeleton on sale for £60, or choose the other one for £95. I also stopped in my tracks when I saw the black velvet chair. “Only” £400 and that doesn’t include shipping. The man in the shop called out, “Go ahead, sit in it. You know you want to…”
“Yes, I want to.” Then I repeated our standard family line: “But looking leads to wanting, wanting leads to buying, and buying lead to the poorhouse.” (I mentally examined the word ‘poorhouse.’ They used them extensively here.) I didn’t sit, but I asked if could take a picture.
And I loved the window of the little girl painting “Sale” backwards with two others saying, “Should we tell her?” and “I haven’t the heart.” Made me laugh and made me stop to look at the window. Smart merchandising.
Finally, I have to admire the tenacity of the grocer who sets out this display of fruits and veggies every day. It was beautiful. I bought some cherries that lasted me all week. By the way, what are cobnuts and physalis? Travel always makes me grow.
Only after walking around my own neighborhoods, do I set out to explore the famous sights of a city. I’ll save that for a later essay. Stay tuned.
Other posts from this trip to England:
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