Saturday, 25 March 2017

Brighton day trip: Siren Song of the Seaside Slot Machine

Brighton, United Kingdom
29 December 2016
While staying in Anerley, we seized the opportunity to make a day trip out to Brighton - a popular seaside destination for Londoners. As Anerley is in the south, we could catch the train from East Croydon rather than having to go all the way to Victoria Station, saving us a little time and effort. The train ride was uneventful, and the view out the window was frankly uninteresting, so we'll skip to the good bits.
Upon our arrival to Brighton station, we followed the main road, admiring some of the buildings along the way. In contrast to attractive architecture, we briefly popped into a gaudy arcade filled with flashing lights and a variety of machines, including slot, claw, and coin. As it was still morning, there weren't many gamblers in operation apart from a couple of frumpy women in their sixties clutching paper cups full of two pence coins, shuffling around the floor dropping change mechanically in each available opening. It was an off-putting sight.

Having resided inland for the last five months (since visiting Greece), we were keen to see the seaside and bounded over to Brighton Pier for a gander. We didn't go for a swim, however, because as nice as that may have been in summertime, December meant that the temperature of the air was disagreeable and logic follows that the water would have been much worse.

We walked to the end of the pier and back, finding that a large section of it contained yet another coin arcade for low-level gamblers. (We sacrificed a 2p coin just to have the privilege to say that we gambled in Brighton!) Was this city attempting to become the Vegas of the United Kingdom? It sure seemed like it! Also along the way were a series of crappy-looking food stalls all selling either waffles or rock candy or churros or crêpes or hot dogs or candy floss. At the very end were a few amusement park rides, but without many patrons it felt quite depressing (there were only two people in the dodgem cars and they were pretty good at dodging each other - probably because they were going so slowly).

Though the efforts to pander to tourists with plenty of coins and a wish to bump into each other is obvious, I enjoyed the old-world style that shone through in the details of the city: fencing, lamp posts, bus shelters. I was glad that we had visited at a time when the place wasn't awash with those on holiday, as I felt able to take in the atmosphere without too much interfering noise and light.

Going further downtown, we meandered through The Lanes, which are a collection of narrow alleyways chock full of tiny boutiques. In one particular lane, there was an abundance of jewellery stores - so many that it seemed impossible they could all stay in business at the same time. There were also clothing stores and antique stores, with colourful street art sporadically placed that brightoned (lol) the dim passageways.

As it was nearing lunchtime, we toed-and-froed for quite some time trying to decide where to go for lunch. We read many menus of Lonely Planet recommended restaurants, but ended up throwing out the rule book and opting for a Mediterranean café because they offered great sounding mezze platters. Unfortunately, we found the mezze to be uninspiring and not anywhere near the 4.5-star average that it scored on Tripadvisor. Regardless of that minor disappointment, it wasn't terrible and it filled us up. To cheer ourselves, we skipped down to Gelato Gusto to cram the remaining space in our bellies with sweet treats. They had several vegan choices and I opted for the apple pie flavour and chocolate chip peanut butter, with an Oreo brownie on the side. It was so delicious!

Our energy restored, we paid the £12 entrance fee for the Royal Pavilion and set about Christmas tree-spotting. Each room had a different tree, or multiple, and some were basically modern art. The Pavilion was very ornate, with an Indo-Islamic style exterior and Chinese style dragon-centric interior. It was designed as a seaside bach for George, Prince of Wales, and was lived in at one stage by Queen Victoria (though she disliked Brighton and called its inhabitants "indiscreet"). The Pavilion was sold by Queen Victoria to the town of Brighton in 1850 and since then has become a popular tourist attraction. During WWI it was closed to the public and converted into a military hospital for the treatment of soldiers in the Indian Army, boasting over 700 beds and two operating theatres.

The music room was exquisite, and coincidentally the only room you were allowed to take photos in. There were a lot of Christmas trees and chandeliers everywhere, but especially in the music room. I appreciated how the interior decorator utilised foliage in the designs: palm trees, plantain trees, lotus blossoms, the list goes on. If I could only have one takeaway from my visit to the Royal Pavilion, it would be that foliage and dragons are cool and should be used more often in modern design. 

After leaving the Pavilion, we considered checking out some of the free museums in the city, but weren't thrilled by the idea. Instead, we returned to the seaside to visit the West Pier which had been closed in 1975 and since fallen into decrepitude. In the late afternoon light, we once again found ourselves gazing up at the pastel-coloured buildings along the waterfront, and could easily imagine ourselves back in a bygone era. 

Over the years, the West Pier has had its fair share of hardships, from storms to fires, and is now deemed unsalvageable (though the West Pier Trust have expressed hopes to restore it). As the sun crept towards the horizon, we watched seagulls swoop over the waves and teenagers zoom along the boardwalk on skateboards. Our afternoon beach stroll took us past numerous tacky fish and chip shops and seafood restaurants.

Returning to the centre, we managed to see a fair number of the city streets lit up with Christmas lights before it grew very dark, and once we had found Yannick a doughnut for his dinner, we took a train back to London.

Today's post was almost called: 2p or Not 2p, that is the Concession (Where Low Denomination Coins Go To Die)