Thursday, June 7, 2012

Brighton, UK

--Eight Hours in Brighton--

The Bandstand
On the last day of my absurdly ambitious and very fabulous trip to London, Olso, Bergen, and back through England before returning to Madrid, I spent an 11-hour layover in Brighton.  I first got the idea to go to Brighton from Gatwick Airport's website about attractions close by.  As you can imagine, I needed something to do during such a long layover, and the website made Brighton sound like a relaxed, charming, vibrant beach town (It is!), so I decided  to check it out.  I debated just going back to London for the day since Gatwick Airport is equidistant (ish) from both places, but figured that by that point in the trip it might be nice to have something a little more relaxed.  Plus, I love seeing new places.

Southern Line Train Ticket
I began my day in Oslo.  Around 4:30 am, I left Anker Hostel and rode the Flytoget (Airport Express Train) to Oslo Gardermoen Airport.  Then, I flew to London Gatwick, arriving around 9:00 am.  From there, I left my backpack, Norwegian sweater, and Harrods bag in a hold at the airport, and hopped aboard the Southern Line train from the airport to Brighton.  I arrived just as the Brighton Royal Pavilion was opening - Perfect!

Brighton is awesome because it's big enough to have a lot to do, and small enough that you can walk everywhere.  The city has buses, but it's nice to walk.

The Lanes

The outside of the Royal Pavilion is almost too showy for Brighton and the area surrounding the Pavilion.  It certainly doesn't fit in with the surrounding shops and cafes in The Lanes (above R&L).  A beautiful, Indian styled palace looks just a bit out of place next to second-hand, hipster clothing stores and used CD shops.  One of the major criticisms of the Royal Pavilion and of King George IV is that the palace is ridiculously lavish and looks absurd in Brighton.  That said, the showiness is what attracts visitors like me to the palace.  This palace is distinct from any other that I've seen because it combines Indian, Chinese, and Gothic styles, and is extravagant beyond belief.  King George IV, the builder of the palace, was passionate about art and decorating, and loved to enjoy life.
The Royal Pavilion - Side View
In 1783, Prince George Regent (later King George IV) moved to Brighton to get away from the fast-paced life in London.  In those days, and somewhat still today, Brighton was viewed as a fashionable, seaside resort city.  A few years after arriving in Brighton and living with a relative in a farm house, he built the Royal Pavilion.  The Pavilion is small for a palace, but incredibly extravagant.  According to the audioguide, King George IV was passionate about art and beauty.  He frequently redecorated in order to keep his palace regal and in line with the latest styles.

Since most of the decorations are originals and very delicate, visitors cannot take pictures inside the Royal Pavilion.  I'll try to describe what I saw.  The first major room the visitor enters is called the "long gallery," and it features several Chinese styled illustrations on the walls.  The room is shaped like BU's Charles River campus - a long, thin rectangle.  The rich colors, vases, and details everywhere make a the first glances of the palace memorable.

To the right, you enter the banquet room, which is even more exquisite than the long gallery.  In the center of the banquet hall, a chandelier made of six sculpted dragons hangs over the table.  When the chandelier, which weights one ton, is lit, it looks like the dragons are breathing fire.  The audioguide mentioned that some guests were afraid to sit under than chandelier while dining.  The rest of the room dazzles, displaying crimson curtains, paintings, sculptures, and much more.  This is truly one of the most beautiful, amazing, and extravagant palaces I've ever seen.  If I had been a guest at one of those dinner parties, I probably would have been too distracted by the room to partake in conversation.

The audioguide told us that King George IV loved to entertain lavishly.  His visits were almost choreographed, in that everything ran perfectly smoothly in order to provide guests with every comfort possible.  It was paramount to the King that his guests enjoyed themselves while visiting.  The King also loved to eat.  Next to the banquet room is a state-of-the-art kitchen (for the day), in which a staff of several chefs and servants would regularly prepare 36 different entrees for one meal, along with several other courses and decadent desserts.  In the corner, there was a sample menu for an evening's dinner, and it looked like a very high scale restaurant's menu.
The Royal Pavilion and Gardens
After a dinner party, guests would pass into the next room to chat.  This room was much more mellow in style, and it was decorated in pale greens and other relaxing colors.  Sometimes, tea was served here.  King George IV, one who always valued appearances, even installed a special screen over the fireplace in this room so his makeup-wearing guests could look in the mirror over the fireplace without their makeup melting off their faces.  I'm not sure why he didn't just move the mirror.

Next, guests would pass into the music room, which is decorated almost lavishly enough to rival the banquet room.  In the center of the ceiling, guests look up and find thousands of sold gold conch shells, which come together to form a dome.  This room was unstable and had undergone major renovations since the ceiling has been destroyed twice.  Once, one of the dome pieces on the outside of the building was disconnected in a storm and came crashing through the gold-lined dome of the music room.  Today, it has been recently restored and looks better than ever.

The day after a party, intense cleaning would begin.  The top layer of the thick carpets was sheared off to remove stains, painted walls were dusted with stale bread, and wine and smoke stains were cleaned.  Shortly after, the entire cycle would begin again and new guests would arrive.

Later in his life, King George IV became very heavy and unhealthy, perhaps because he gorged himself on a variety of 36 entrees per dinner.  He became depressed and withdrawn from the outside world.  Confined within the palace, he eventually died.  Afterwards, in 1837, Queen Victoria moved in and lived there until 1845.  Queen Victoria; however, wasn't a fan of the Royal Pavilion.  She was less extravagant and less reckless than the late King George IV.  The Queen preferred a larger palace for her family, and wanted
Scones at King George's
more reserved decorations.  Eventually, she moved out and sold the Royal Pavilion to the city of Brighton.  Today, Brighton still owns the Royal Pavilion, and I think it's the only royal residence not owned by the Crown.

Before leaving the palace, I remembered that I hadn't eaten since about eaten since about 4:30 am in Norway, so I ascended the stairs to the tearoom.  There, I rested my feet for a few minutes, took a few notes about the Royal Pavilion for my blog, and munched on a raisin scone with clotted cream and jelly.  I suppose I can say I've dined at King George IV's palace now.  Sweet!

Brighton Pier
The next stop on my itinerary was the famous Brighton Pier.  On the way to the pier, I passed several adorable streets, the shops around The Lanes, many cafes advertising their food, and a Gap.  (A few blog posts ago I promised that if a Gap was there, then I'd find it and shop.  Mission accomplished.)  Strolling around, I noticed that the prices in Brighton, especially for food, were generally lower than the prices in London.
It occurred to me that Brighton seems like a very livable city.  It has all the stores I like and then some, along with tons of adorable restaurants, a beach, and lots to do.  And a palace.  After a short walk, I found myself at the entrance to the Brighton Pier.  Of course, there's a ferris wheel close by - It's like a miniature version of the London Eye.  Actually, I have no idea if it has anything at all to do with the London Eye.

Thanks for posing!
Candy Floss = Cotton Candy
Iron swirls painted in white outline the pier, giving it the appearance of a lace-trimmed sleeve from a distance.  Up close, the pier is a happening spot filled with tourist shops, souvenirs of those "lifeguard sweatshirts," and food stands with greasy food from many parts of the world.  At the back of the pier, I found myself in the middle of an amusement park with colorful rides and repetitive, recorded music.  I think on a sunnier day, the pier would be really festive.

Leaving the Brighton Pier, I strolled along the beachfront toward Hove.  Along the way, I visited the tiny Brighton Fishing Museum and browsed the shops.  A combination of souvenir shops and art galleries lined the beach, which to my surprise had stones in place of sand.  The shops sold seashells, strings of beads, and pins in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's upcoming Diamond Jubilee, which will celebrate her 60 years of reign.

Diamond Jubilee
Brunswick Terrace
As the afternoon continued, I walked over to Brunswick Terrace at Hove, just a bit farther down the beach.  As I was getting close, I noticed that nearly all the buildings were done in the same style and colour.  Each was cream coloured with a black and white checkered entrance.  On the way back, I stopped in a cafe for a snack and then found myself in front of the first Urban Outfitters store I had seen in about a year.  Of course I went in to check it out, and I found these lovely stamps:
Seriously, how awesome are these?
Brighton Pier
I'm really glad I decided to visit Brighton, even after such a busy trip.  The city has quite a bit to offer, and it's easy to get to.  It's very easy to explore the place on foot, the Royal Pavilion is incredible, the Brighton Pier is festive, and the little rows of shops and buildings are charming.  While strolling, I visited an outdoor flower shop which was selling some of the most beautiful roses I've ever seen.  I browsed the shops for a bit longer, passed Pret a Manger, one of my favorite British chain restaurants, then caught the train back to Gatwick Airport and flew back to Madrid later that night.
Roses in Brighton

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