Six years ago, I fulfilled one of my dream trips: to travel around Europe by train.
If you didn’t before, you can read about the beginning of the journey here.
My friend and I bought our Interrail tickets in the beginning of July 2010. She met me in Hertfordshire (where I was living at the time) on the 23rd and we started our trip on the 25th.
The plan was to use our Interrail Pass to get to London St. Pancras and jump on the Eurostar straight to Brussels (our first planned stop).
But day 1 was unexpectedly spent in Brighton. Here’s what happened.
This was not according to plan
Tip #1: take your time to plan your trip in advance.
The Interrail Pass* gives you free travel on a large number of trains around Europe. Faster trains, as for example TGV or Eurostar, come at an extra (yet cheaper) cost.
With our passes, we knew that we could book the Eurostar from London St. Pancras to Brussels Midi at a discounted rate. The only way to book it is to call them on +44 (0)8432 186 186 and fares (or places) are subject to availability.
I highly suggest you book these in advance as, sometimes, other Eurostar fares are cheaper than Pass holder fares. For more official information click here.
So when I called (with a week in advance) to book our tickets, I literally freaked out with what I was told:
‘There are no more Pass holder fares for the 25th I’m afraid’. #nooooo
What now? What were we going to do? We had to start on the 25th, there was no other option! We had already booked our flights from Barcelona to Lisbon on the 8th August, so I’m like, PANIC! #aaaaaaahhhh
Tip #2: circumstances will change, so adapt.
Right. So we couldn’t get out of the country until the next morning. And we needed to get to Berlin by the evening of the 26th to keep the rest of the plan on track. There was no way around it, so the only solution was to change plans. We didn’t want to waste a day, so we needed to travel somewhere in England to make a good use of our Pass.
Where could we go on the 25th, that we’ve never been before, and was close enough to London?
1st destination: Brighton
Brighton came as an easy and good choice. It’s usually just up to 1h45 minutes away from London (depending on the train and/or union strikes), has a seafront and we had never been. #PerfectChoice
When the 25th of July arrived, we grabbed our bags, and off we went to London King’s Cross!
We grabbed a quick coffee with a couple of friends at London St. Pancras (next doors to King’s Cross) and searched for the trains to Brighton. For an unknown reason, there were no trains to our destination from the station that day, so we had to get a train from Victoria. Rush hour was thankfully over, so we didn’t struggle too much traveling around with our bags and off we went.
Brighton is an awesome melting pot of bohemian, students, hippies and tourists put together. It’s known for its seaside resorts, its large cultural, arts and musical scene and for being the unofficial “gay capital”. It tends to be sunnier than London and has something I miss quite often: the sea. It’s relatively small, colourful and relaxed. And, lucky us, we got there on a sunny (yet cool) day.
Here’s what we’ve walked and what we did for the day:
Tip #3: Whether you’re old school or technology savvy, take note of where you’ve been on your trip. I used the book and highlighted our routes with a pink highlighter. Google does a good job creating the same on your online map.
As it was our first day, we were struggling with the (already) heavy backpacks. To be quite honest, we didn’t investigate too much of the city and nothing too special or weird happened. So, we saw the main attractions and went back to London.
Tip #4: Plan lighter days for the first days of the trip. It takes a few days to get used to the rucksacks, and you’ll feel more tired than usual.
When you get out of the station, getting to the beach is frankly easy: just walk down the main road. We stopped for a coffee and toilet break on the way and headed down to the beach.
The beach reminded me a little bit of Coney Island and Venice Beach mixed together, due to the people you see and the fun fair in the pier. Brighton’s beach is not made of sand, it’s a pebble beach, which for us, Portuguese, was quite an unnatural setting.
We took some pictures and tried to tan a little on the beach. Well, we were honestly resting our backs already. Pebble beaches are not the most comfortable things to lay on, but that half an hour was perfection to us. There are chairs spread around, but you obviously pay to use them. We were obviously kicked out of a couple of free chairs before we laid on the pebbles. #CheapIsTheNewBlack
Brighton Pier and West Pier
After meeting an old friend, we went to the century-old Brighton Pier.
If you go to Brighton, you have to walk down the Brighton Pier. Be ready for it, as it’s definitely a little tacky. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s what makes it fun to watch.
If you feel brave enough, go on the rides (the sea proximity must definitely give it an extra edge #NoPunIntended), or eat a fish and chips and fight a seagull. Now, honestly, don’t. Be careful with them as the Brighton ones are braver than most seagulls you might find in your life. A friend of mine fought a seagull for her ice cream once and well, she lost. After a 5 minutes battle. #TrueStory
Spend a pound on the ‘almost’ casino (one pound only! Remember, you’re saving money, not trying to lose it all) and people watch for a bit.
To the right of the Brighton Pier is the West Pier. Despite it sadly being a derelict structure, I liked the sight of it.
Built in 1823, the Victorian pier used to have a concert hall where Charlie Chaplin once performed. Destroyed by war, fires and storms, it is now damaged beyond repair.
There have been talks of rebuilding a new pier in its place, although I like the sight of it as is it right now. Sure, it’s a burnt down structure, and it’s a shame it got destroyed to this extent. But it gives a little mystique to the beach. It makes your imagination run for a bit and wonder what it looked like at its glory. It frankly looks gorgeous under the sunset.
As we were hungry, we grabbed a non-greasy sandwich and went to the Royal Pavilion. We were simply not in the mood, but I would totally recommend having a fish and chips (#JustBecause). The Regency seems to be a local star and after all, this is Brighton, and fish and chips is definitely a must do.
Tip #5: Try to eat something local everywhere you go. We made the mistake of not doing this in some cities, so it’s something I now have on my travel lists.
We finished our day trip at the Royal Pavilion. It’s a short 5 to 10 minutes walk from the Brighton Pier. And even if you don’t go in (it’s an £11.00 ‘investment’ and it’s open between 10:00 am and 5:15 pm), don’t miss it. It’s definitely a must see, even if just from the outside.
The funny thing is it feels totally displaced from the rest of the buildings in England. So much so, that late Queen Victoria apparently called it ‘a strange, odd Chinese place’. Not her favourite, I’m assuming.
We got there quite late and decided not to pay the £8.50 it cost at the time to get in (remember, this is 2010). Although, now that I investigated a bit, I totally need to go back and see it on the inside. A dragon themed banqueting hall sounds like a very odd yet cool room to see.
We decided to sit down and eat our ‘lunch’ in the free Palace gardens. My heart melted when I saw a kid sharing his juice and cookie with a random new friend he made.
And after that, we head back to London St. Pancras to spend the night.
When in Brighton again
During our trip across Europe, we walked and saw a lot. But we didn’t take the time to enjoy or investigate each city deeply.
We saw this trip as an opportunity to get a grip of how the cities ‘felt like’.
We saw the main touristic sights and walked as much as possible to see as much as possible.
As if it was a first contact for future trips.
So, here is the list of things I’d like to do upon visiting Brighton again:
– Visit the Royal Pavilion
– Visit the Toy and Model Museum
– Walk around The Lanes and North Laine
– Catch a show
– Have a coffee at a local coffee shop
– Have a drink somewhere – according to Foursquare most of the bars and pubs have an 8.0 and up rating. So the hardest thing will be to choose where we’ll head to.
Do you have any other suggestions for me?
Where and what should I eat?
What else should I not miss?
Let me know and I’ll add them to my list.
P.S.1 – Looking for Day 2? Click here to read more.
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