03.04.2013 - 03.04.2013 4 °C
With the weather such as it is, it seems hard to get the full contingent of travellers out on any one day. While yesterday it was me who stayed home, today Abby elected to hunker down in her warm English cottage while the other four of us trudged off to see what Brighton was all about. That's OK, that means there's enough room in the car to be comfortable -- it can be a bit cosy with five.
Even with the lack of Spring colours and greenery, it was still pleasant to see the British countryside, the many little villages joined by narrow winding roads offering views of sprawling fields and intermittent sheep herds. It's not uncommon to find three towns dotting a six mile stretch of road; I guess they all had to be within a day's walk of each other when they were established. The names are fetching as well: Ditchling, Burwash, and Rottingdean, to name a few. Brighton proved to be quite close and we came upon it within half an hour. We found a parking garage and joined the other bundled families heading for the Brighton Pier. I imagine in summer it's quite the busy establishment.
Even as we paraded around the few amusement rides, overpriced food stalls, and tarot card readers, we were engulfed by the noise stemming from the constant playing of 1980s disco tunes and screams of youngsters learning how to gamble away their allowance in the arcades. This latter phenomenon was interesting to watch, but Hannah found it kind of scandalous to see the fever that it encouraged in the kids, knowing that amongst the group, there were bound to be future gamblers who would become addicted. We traded in a fifty pence coin to get 25 two pence coins so that we could experience this first hand. Hannah played a couple and actually tripled her money. Strong-willed, she left it at that and claimed that she was going home a winner, while we continued and lost the remaining funds. I think it was a good lesson for only 50 pence but Hannah saw it otherwise, saying she already recognized the futility prior to us spending any money. We moved on, saying no to the henna artists and even the pedicure, acquired by letting little fish peck at your feet for ten minutes. Ben seemed intrigued but not enough to pay ten pounds. Also, it's just a bit creepy, isn't it?
The other big tourist area in Brighton is known as The Lanes, a collection of small streets hosting many little shops. We endured window shopping for as long as we could in the bitter cold and then warmed ourselves in a small eatery, getting 'toasties' (toasted sandwiches) and such. The bread here is whiter than white, wouldn't you know. It's also very common to have a 'white coffee' (similar to an Americano with lots of milk). When we got back out, we completed our circuit of The Lanes, noting the abundance of second hand jewelry shops, many featuring very high prices and an astounding selection of beautiful vintage rings, brooches, necklaces and bracelets.
Feeling a bit disappointed in what we had seen thus far, and wanting to make our visit to Brighton more worthwhile, we decided to get tickets for a building that had intrigued us since coming into the town. It was a large, multi-domed and many-spired affair reminiscent of East Indian architecture. It intrigued us because it seemed so out of place in a staunchly British locale. Known as the Royal Pavilion, it was the pleasure palace built by George IV, son of England's 'Mad King' George III. However, it seems to me that George IV might have been even madder because he continued to spend money when he didn't have any so the parliament had to bail him out. Billed as "one of the most dazzling and exotic buildings in the British Isles ," it lived up to that phrase: much of the house was ornate but the banquet hall was resplendent in crystal chandeliers and 'life-sized' dragons to augment the Chinese motif. The interior design is largely Chinese while the exterior is Indian. It was very interesting to see the actual kitchen, which once was a hub of activity, serving dozens of guests during banquets. They displayed a menu of one such banquet and it had over 100 courses, with an amazing array of meat dishes alone. When Queen Victoria arrived to live here, she deemed it 'too small' and elected to live elsewhere. First world problems.
When we returned to our car park we faced a first world problem ourselves: we found our parking bill to be $32 for the 4 hours. Such are the prices in England. We'll see how we fare in the rest of the United Kingdom as we proceed on to Wales tomorrow.