Saturday, March 21, 2015

to Brighton!

I leave St. Ives on an eery morning, initially of just fog, then of receding fog and a receding sun as well. My hosts tell me we are to have an almost full solar eclipse  (94% in Cornwall).

Should I look up? Should I take note? Will it burn my retina, even if there are wisps of fog passing before it?

I haven't the time to research any of it. I have an early train to catch.

After the completely delicious breakfast of porridge (and fruits and nuts and yogurts and, were I to be a complete piglet -- croissants and breads and jams and eggs and, well, you get the idea)...

(an appetizer before the porridge)

I say good bye to my wonderfully talented and energetic hosts and make my way to the train station, from where I do look up and around -- first, toward St. Ives which is cast now in shadows, even as the sky is nearly blue...


... then eastward, toward the sun and the cove, which is cast in the eery glow of a most unusual light, darkened in part by the foggy clouds (which actually made it possible for me to look and take a photo) and in part by the near full disappearance of the sun (here, it's still 10 minutes away from its peak moment)...

England-6.jpg more glance up at the hills and just momentarily, at the nearly hidden sun (as the birds flew in circles, perhaps thrown off by the intense light and non-light).


And then I catch the little train to St. Erth. One last look at the sands -- this time showing signs of a receding tide and, too, looking desolate in the strange light of the eclipse:


Not daring to miss my connection, I have given myself too long of a layover in St. Erth, but no matter: there is a small gift shop-cafe and I spend my time admiring copies of old posters that used to advertise rail service to Cornwall. The woman who works here is a retired school teacher and what's more, after asking me where I was from,  she informs me that not only does she know where Wisconsin is but that she actually visited the state some forty years ago, on a lark, for a friend's wedding. She remembers nothing of it except that it was very green. I'm thinking she did not visit it in March. As I leave, she waves a cheery hand and tells me -- give my love to Wisconsin!

(outside, a passenger looks up, the safe way)

My five hour ride to London is an exact replica of my five hour ride to Cornwall, except that I'm less exhausted and the Internet is even less functional and of course, it is in reverse. Remembering the words of the first conductor, I make sure to take in the landscape.


In London, I must change not only trains, but also train stations. Will I see London differently now that the sun is out and the air is a good ten degrees warmer?


Not really. I am again in the same area of park and indifferent blocks and I have only 65 minutes between trains (and google maps tells me it's a 41 minute walk, without the burden of a little suitcase) and so I do not pause and take only the rare photo.

(taking your horse out to the park on a sunny afternoon)

(walking your daughter home from school)

(pretty, but so inferior to Cornwall!)

I am in such a hurry and so suspicious of Google's estimate (do they account for red lights? or uphill routes? Do they time you to the periphery of a station or the heart of it?) that I really put the motor on. As I enter Victoria...


...I hear the announcement of the last call for the Brighton train. But it's the earlier train! I've cut ten minutes from the walk and I can run for the 16:07! And I make it just as the doors close behind me. (Why rush? Well, why hang around a train station when I can have a few more daylight minutes in a new place and one that's by the sea?)

The train ride to Brighton is on a speedy link, with limited stops: a mere fifty-eight minutes for the eighty miles.

Oh, the rail surely had an impact on the development of this coastal town! It came here in 1841 and from then on, Brighton became a seaside destination for Londoners. It joins other towns along the coast just south of London in forming a block of watering holes for the harried and hassled northeners in search of fresh sea air. Brighton's population is 160,000, but if you link the nearby coastal towns to it, we're talking closer to half a million. There is a beach: miles and miles of pebble rock line the sea (or more accurately, the English Channel) and you can imagine how crowded it gets during the summer months.

St. Ives seems a world away.

I'm here for only one night. I needed a place to stay that isn't too far from Gatwick Airport and that would offer an interesting set of hours before my afternoon flight on Saturday.

I walk the twenty five minute walk to my guest house. It is an uninteresting walk, but I am not completely surprised. Most cities have a seedier commercial face around major stations. I very few photos. Here's one of tweens, after school, at a bus stop. I think this has to be the toughest age for girls. Here, they're downing soda almost as if in defiance (there is a campaign in the U.K. to fight soda consumption and snacking; given the number of times the snack trolly rolled down the train carriage, I'm not sure it's all that successful).


And thisnext  picture tells me that Poles are here in great numbers. (My innkeepers say that you wouldn't move to Brighton to start a family -- it's not geared for that. Jobs are in the food and hotel industries which, traditionally pay less. So it makes sense to me that unskilled workers from Poland would migrate here.)


Still with suitcase, I detour to the shore, just to take a look. Brighton is known for its pier -- one that has some of the Jersey like concessions and amusements.


It's not especially a draw now. Looking west, in the strange yellow light of an almost setting sun, I see the remains of the second pier which burned sometime ago and has never been restored.


Perhaps this detour to the waterside was a mistake. It's as if I allow that to define my image of Brighton. And it isn't a sparkling image.

But I'm keeping an open mind. Why? Because the Bournemouth inn keeping couple I met in St Ives loved this place so much. And they spoke so highly of my guest house owners.

As well they might! I walk up now past interesting blocks of homes and guest houses spilling out toward the waterfront.


And I come to the lovely front door of mine -- called simply The Twenty One. (It's just a few houses from the shore, but I'm not certain if the shore is crucial to your well being in Brighton. It's as if it creates the space and expanse, but the pleasure of life has seeped into other Brighton areas.)


My hosts upgrade me. I had booked the cheap single, I got the lovely double on an upper floor.


With a mirror facing the bed.


It's certainly different that the St Ives accommodation but it is absolutely deserving of its gushing Tripadvisor reviews. The room is quiet, lovely and well stocked. I could not ask for more.

I had written my hosts asking for a restaurant suggestion, given that it's my last night in England. I told them that I wanted fresh and honest and somewhat British. I was told to try the Ginger Dog.

It is absolutely the right suggestion: informal and good, with a more modern pub fare.

(see trout with kale)

(informal dining; also the only place I will have seen sheep close up on this trip)

I made friends here: the couple next to me are foodie types and the amount of words they exchange on the wine alone (these are all fairly inexpensive wines) makes me smile. And so we talk. About why they chose to live here (like my innkeepers, one guy followed the other who wanted sea air and an easy commute to London), about England, about food, about Brighton, about America. They had a lot to say about America, since they'd traveled there numerous times.

I walk home past shops that do remind me I am in England. Who back home would call their liquor store The Boozy Cow?


Still, Brighton, to me, is different than your average English town. I get that from my hotel hosts and from my "friends" at the pub. I think I know what to look for tomorrow. I don't have a full day here, but I'm really energized. There's a lot to be said for Brighton. You'll see. Tomorrow.