From the people who brought you the terms wanker, knackered, and kerfuffle – you’d certainly think the Brits would be able to come up with something more imaginative and inspiring to call their days off than just Bank Holiday.
I mean seriously – it doesn’t exactly conjure visions of gorgeous men lathering lotion on your soon-to-be-tanned skin while you sip a pina colada beneath a beachside bungalow.
It kinda just reminds me of the fact that I forgot to pay my credit card bill.
And that I’m poor.
Too poor to afford the actual holiday I’m about to take anyway thanks to the lack of self control I have when it comes to living inside my means – thus being forced to defer to my own interpretation of thinking (or spending) ‘outside the box’.
Even the weather has joined forces with the complete and utter blahness of the ‘Bank Holiday’ moniker as is evidenced by the fact that most photos in this blog post look like they should be prescribed antidepressants.
This reputation has even developed into its own English MEME:
But notwithstanding these minor grievances, a gloomy day on the beach outclouds a gloomy day in London as the masses leave the city to spend these three-day weekends along the nearby coastline.
Basically being British myself (minus the genealogical ancestry, sexy accent, innate tea making abilities, and overlooking the fact that spending most of the year in London does not actually change the fact that I’m completely American), I was fortunate enough to join the locals for a long Bank Holiday weekend in Brighton and Hove.
Brighton and Hove
About an hour train ride outside of London’s city center, Brighton and Hove has been a beloved seaside retreat since George IV first established a royal residence here in the late 1700’s. Over the years, it’s flourished into a cosmopolitan city rich with museums and galleries, vintage shops, Regency architecture, open-air cafes, street art, historic piers, burgeoning boardwalks, and a pulsating nightlife.
It’s a vibrant town ripe with character and though it has its fair share of tour buses marring slices of its natural beauty, there are still ways to mingle with the locals and find quiet stretches amongst the shore.
Hove is the quiet, shy younger sister of the more popular and gregarious Brighton.
While some may refer to the area as a peaceful seaside retreat, my friend Carla simply calls it home and kindly offered to host me for the weekend. She resides in one of the white stucco townhomes that neatly frame the residential roads all throughout Hove. Seagulls nest atop their characteristic brown rooftiles rousing both tenants and visitors alike as they take to the sky with their pre-dawn cries.
Giving in to the indigenous birds and rising for an early morning cup of tea isn’t too difficult considering Hove (like most places) is best experienced before the rest of the world opens their eyes.
The Hove Beachfront
Fresh off a mug of Carla’s impeccably brewed (and wholly English) PG Tips, we set off for the two mile walk between Hove and Brighton.
In typical English fashion, it didn’t take long for Carla to settle into storytelling mode as she shared tales of what the beach would look like in the imminent summer days as the weather improved and the hours grew longer.
The closed multi-colored storage units lining the beach would eventually welcome their owners when the time came to break out their assortment of water toys, beach chairs, and mini-BBQ grills. The latter of which is a favorite amongst locals who like to gather along the sandy shores to catch-up with lifelong friends.
As her clipped British accent lulled me into peaceful contentment, we continued along passing by dogs reveling in their unleashed freedom, pre-teens duking it out on the beachside basketball courts, and construction workers laboring away on what will eventually be the world’s tallest moving observation tower.
We soon came across a decrepit and abandoned pier that looked straight off the cutting room floor of the latest horror flick as rough waters lapped around its residual pylons while dark skies ominously lingered overhead.
I listened as Carla dramatically filled my head with mysterious rumors of sabotage and arson from the competing Brighton Pier – a newer pier that is now one of Brighton’s premier attractions with its Coney Islandesque rides, arcade games, and confectionery stalls specializing in the creation of its famous Brighton Rock candy.
The Brighton Beachfront
The pedestrian promenade widened as we approached the Brighton Beachfront and traded the peace and quiet for the sounds of squealing children impatiently awaiting their ice cream cones (topped off with the oh-so-characteristic British chocolate flake) at one of the competing booths found along the walkway.
Crowds congregated around the restored Victorian arched-porticoes that give shelter to a variety of artists’ studios, one-of-a-kind shops, and bars with al fresco seating that transform into trendy dance clubs when day transitions into night.
Past the fresh market seafood stalls, queues at the popular Fishing Museum, and distinctive (yet somewhat random) sculpture lying on the pebbled shore, the cool ocean breeze makes its way to the snaking lanes and alleys that form the interior heart of Brighton.
The Interior Lanes of Brighton
Bypassing tourist staples such as the peculiar Royal Pavilion – an outlandish palace more reminiscent of an Indian maharaja’s residence rather than of a British King’s beach house – we moseyed through the narrow lanes and did what girls do best.
Any and everything can be found here from Kate Middleton-style hats to handcrafted home decor to DIY supply warehouses. One store sells nothing but items containing chillis while another specializes in intricately crafted bonsai trees.
Casually splashed on the outer walls of many of these shops, original graffiti art is as much a part of the town as its celebrated coastline.
Renowned UK street artist, Banksy, even chose the facade of one of Brighton’s numerous pubs for a political statement piece comprising of two policemen kissing.
Now one of his most famous works of art, the sketch remains only to trick us with its lack of authenticity as a replica now stands in place of the original.
With a cultural mix of museums and art galleries, beachside attractions, historical heritage sites, paved shopping streets, energetic late-night spots, and a seemingly endless amount of coffee and tea shops, Brighton and Hove makes for a perfect weekend haven.
Even the seemingly imperfect weather can’t stop the thriving undercurrent of energy that breathes life into the old town streets.
Local Food Recommendations:
Giggling Squid – authentic Thai food made with fresh, local ingredients. Has locations in Brighton and in Hove.
The Fish Bowl – Fish & Chips is about as British as a meal can get. This lively and atmospheric restaurant serves some of the best in the area.
The Gingerman – simple, yet inventive and flavorful dishes that use only the best quality local ingredients.
The Ginger Pig – contemporary gastropub located in Hove.
Terre A Terre – located in the heart of Brighton, this vegetarian eatery opened before vegetarianism was even trendy. Even the most indulgent meateater will walk away satisfied.
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