I am known by my family and friends to be a traveller who embarks on vast amounts of research before departing. I am a supporter of the philosphy `If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. Once, I Google Street Viewed my entire way around Paris before even arriving at Charles De Gaulle airport. Needless to say, I knew EXACTLY how to get to the Louvre sans a map or guide in hand…. But, sometimes when travelling, no matter how much research you have done beforehand, things can turn pear shaped…and very quickly. A valuable lesson that I have learnt through this is: When travel plans go awry, make memories out of the mishaps.
An adventurous time awaited me in Brighton, this past autumn. Having a few extra unaccounted for days on my United Kingdom itinerary, I decided to buy a train ticket and headed off from Victoria Station in London to Brighton. I was shocked to discover just how cold it was when I disembarked from the train. Brrrrr, I hadn’t expected autumn in the UK to be quite THIS chilly. But, apart from the cold, I loved the creative and dynamic atmosphere that greeted me in Brighton. (I even heard a couple of South African accents and, despite having just arrived, I felt instantly at home here)
I had pre booked my accommodation in the North Laines via Airbnb. The location of the townhouse was ideal, easily enabling me to meander through the shops and cafes in the famous Laines. Feeling rather grown-up and proud of myself for travelling solo in a foreign country, I dropped my luggage off at my home base, chatted briefly with my host…and, in the hurry to head off and fully explore Brighton, I swung around too enthusiastically and, in the process, my protruding umbrella whacked the lamp off a side table. It flew across the room and smashed into pieces. Many pieces. * (If you are an Airbnb host please note that this is not a regular occurrence and that you should not be deterred from hosting me in the future)*. I should have seen this as an omen that my perfectly choreographed plans were not going to play out as I had intended.
Red-faced, I promptly left the apartment tightly clutching the errant umbrella to my side. My first shop stop was at a quaint bookshop at which I perused umpteen novels and textbooks, to the welcome and calming sounds of the melodies of The Beatles…, softly singing along with Paul Mc Cartney to the words of ‘Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…’ (shattered lampshades momentarily forgotten) …’Now it looks like they are here to stay, Oh I believe in Yesterday…’ (my troubles were about to arrive but I didn’t as yet know it). I was delighted to find a few great drama and film textbook buys. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking of luggage weight at this stage. I proudly presented my shiny pounds and pence and proceeded to head out the store. That’s where it started to go downhill… or should I rather say DOWNPOUR. I come from a city dubbed ‘the windy city’, so I am fully capable of holding on to a lamppost in order to not blow away… but this wind AND cold AND rain… was something new to this South African.
I was determined to still see the city; unfortunately my flimsy, floral umbrella didn’t agree with my sentiments. I walked, and walked and walked…. and, at some point I realised that I was utterly and totally lost. (I’m convinced that there is some invisible magnetic field that absorbs one’s natural sense of direction in Brighton). I was cold, hungry, lost, (I hated admitting that I was lost, even to myself) and my umbrella had decided to turn itself into an inside-out contraption unusable to any human being! Exasperated, I hauled out my phone in a final attempt to locate myself but was unable to see through the pestering rain droplets continuously congregating on my screen. I declared an emergency but sadly nobody was nearby enough to hear my plaintive wails. Gone was the euphoria of feeling grown-up! I felt very alone.
My intended itinerary for Brighton had included taking a leisurely stroll along the pebbled beach whilst the sun beat on my back, and buying some fish and chips whilst exploring the iconic pier. None of these activities were remotely possible in this brumous weather.
I became a woman on a mission. Find warmth and shelter from the rain. Fast!
Anyone happening to walk past me would have thought that I had completely lost the plot. Occasionally I stopped to bash my umbrella against the nearest wall in an attempt to get it to turn outside in again and actually do what an umbrella is supposed to do, which is to protect me from the rain. I shall refrain from recording in writing the expletives that were uttered.
More meandering ensued in the bitterly cold, unabating downpour, and then I noticed exotic looking onion domes jutting up across the skyline. I could not believe my eyes… . Was it a mirage caused by the extreme cold and an insufficient intake of caffeine? No, I had not lost the plot. It was in fact, the bulbous Indo-Islamic domes of the Royal Pavilion. An exotic palace in the middle of British Brighton?! Wow, I was awestruck. Standing in front of the pavilion after a lengthy walk, I felt as if I had been transported to India, within seconds. The visual disbelief did not end there. Built as a seaside folly palace for George IV, The Royal Pavilion is a plethora of exotic design. I learnt that John Nash’s architectural design grew over 35 years from a simple holiday house into a spectacular oriental palace.
I was delighted not only to find warmth and refuge but also to momentarily feel like royalty as I explored the interior of the palace. The Pavilion is home to furniture and beautiful works of art including original pieces lent by HM The Queen. There are very few words that can adequately describe the splendour of the interior. Bright colours, glistening crystals, the blend of Indian architecture with opulent Chinese interiors make this a fun, frivolous and fashionable feast for the eyes. No taking of photos is permitted inside the palace which was not a bad thing as it allowed me to fully capture the resplendence with my eyes, the original cameras.
After mustering up the courage to face the crisp outdoor air again, I went in search of a good coffee and bite to eat.
So, imagine my rapture when I found myself transported to a palace of another kind – a palatial pancake place, The Creperie. The smell of the batter hitting the sizzling butter was a most welcome aroma to my nearly frozen nose. This palace was not clad with gold trimmings or delicately painted ceilings…, but, what was on offer was certainly like gold to me. Crepes, and not just any crepes, a combination of French haute cuisine and British style. The right twist of quirky. Think cool blue and crisp delicate white.
I arrived at The Creperie looking like a forlorn and wet dog. I felt as if I had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and thus justified the need for a high carbo feast. Initially, I only had eyes for the menu. Once I was safely tucked away comfortably downstairs and had ordered a warm and fluffy banana crepe with the promise of a filling oozing with Nutella, my eyes were ready to cast their gaze and feast on the many other intricate details of the place – unusual egg whisk chandeliers, striped pastel straws, branded napkins and plates, and logos on the table. What a charming eatery!
And then the crepe fit for royalty arrived. As a large pancake, it must have taken a substantial amount of Nutella to actually enable an ooze out from both sides. Case in point; this was a large and luxurious experience. Large pancake meets little mouth. (I have an extremely tiny jaw that clicks very loudly when over stuffed with delicious cuisine.) This certainly did not stop me. I devoured this pancake with a ferocity that left the waitron with a transfixed stare, or was it a glare?! He jokingly offered me another. Well, maybe he wasn’t joking. Maybe I did actually look that ravenous that I may have required a second helping?! I suppose seeing a ‘rained on, scraggly haired, ravenously hungry foreigner’ shoving into her mouth, sans any decorum, a crepe dripping chocolate from all sides whilst her jaw clicked away must have been rather traumatic for the poor chap.
Needless to say, the rapid rate with which I guzzled the crepe left me feeling rather uncomfortable. Oh Crèpe, maybe I should remember to chew next time?! To remedy this, I ordered an Americano, brewed with the beans that were artisinally roasted by the local coffee gurus, Small Batch coffee roasters. Aah, that did the trick, of course! Happy stomach? Check. Happy heart. Check. All right with the world again? Check.
Along the way ‘home’ I walked past the Brighton pier and wheel. The rain had subsided, allowing me to take my phone out and snap some pics and chat to another tourist who was also taking photos. We joked and laughed about how confident and cocky the Brighton seagulls seem to be.
I made my way back home. My food baby and I lay down in a feotal position, seeking comfort from the fun but tiring day….and drifted off into a light late afternoon nap.
Hesitant to stay indoors that evening for fear of breaking more furniture, I walked down the street and back into the Laines that were abuzz with lights, laughter and good food. Making sure not to venture too far this time I chose to pop into a magical Mexican place, La Chowza. Spicy and flavourful chorizo nachos on a cold evening sounded perfect. My waitress sported a burgeoning beehive hairstyle, copious tattoos and a thick Mexican accent. I’m sure the late Amy Winehouse has a Mexican cousin who lives in Brighton.
The final words that I uttered as the train and I left the station were, “Brighton, you are fantastic, even in the cold, but you really need to work on reducing that direction negating magnetic field. My mishaps certainly turned to memories and I will most definitely be back again, hopefully soon. Next time, I will make use of your exceptional bus service instead of going it by foot, although I shall walk along your prized pebbled shores come hell or high water, with a hooded rain coat and water proof phone casing.” God save the Queen!