Brighton & Hove, UK in November

Old Nov 29th, 2023, 08:36 AM
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Brighton & Hove, UK in November

There aren't a lot of mentions about Brighton in UK trip reports, so I'm sharing my experiences of a few days in Brighton in late November. I decided to visit Brighton since I would be sailing from Southampton on a trans-atlantic cruise and wanted to arrive early and see some sites. I was all set to spend a week in London and had researched all the museum shows, mapped out each day's itinerary, etc but at the end of the day, London was going to be so expensive (even with an AirbNB in Woolwich near the Elizabeth line) and I know from experience how hectic it can be there w/crowds....so I looked for an alternative that would be easy to get to from the airport and close to Southampton. Years (like 25 years) ago, I visited Brighton as a day trip from London and remembered the Royal Pavilion as a treasure. If I flew to Gatwick, easy to take a direct train to Brighton so decision made.

I arrived at LGW on a Friday morning at about 8:00 and even with checking luggage, was through all formalities and at the airport train station within 30 minutes. Used ticket machine to buy my anytime ticket and took lift to the platform. I realized afterward that I had gotten on the Gatwick Express instead of the Thameslink or other local train but no-one cared. Luggage storage sections in each car, so that was easy. 30 minutes later I arrived at Brighton Central Station. My hotel, Staybridge Suites, was literally steps from the station (follow signs to the taxis, take the lift on the right down to street level - past the coffee shop, walk about 40 feet and you'll see the sign and entrance to Staybridge Suites ahead of you).

The hotel was great - I would highly recommend it. Newish, great location for train and local buses (nearly all the buses stop directly in front of the station), walking distances to all sites and shopping, complimentary breakfast and very helpful staff. All rooms have small kitchenettes which was exactly what I wanted (for ready to eat dinners from M&S and sodas). New and clean microwave, hob, sink, toaster, fridge and plates/cutlery/glasses. Good lighting in the room for reading/working; bed was very comfortable; bathroom was large and shower had a rain head and handheld shower wand; good water pressure and temperature. Room was quiet - no internal or external noise. I had to ask the front desk for assistance with microwave instructions and they were responsive and helpful; the step by step instructions that should have been in the room weren't, so they came back with a copy and stayed while I read/tested them. The same person went above and beyond when my transportation plans to Southampton (on a Sunday) fell through and I had to figure out another way; he researched, made calls and made the final arrangements....all at 10:30 pm on Saturday night. He was noteworthy and I made sure to tell the manager how helpful he had been.

My room wasn't ready since I was there so early, so I walked through the North Lanes heading to the Royal Pavilion. I'm normally not a fan of neighborhoods full of gift shops, cafes and galleries since they often seem fake but this was a nice surprise. Although there were a lot of "fancy" coffee shops, there were also lots of odd ball shops, tattoo parlors and vintage shops. Since the old buildings have been repurposed for ground floor shops, etc, you just had to look up to see the original architecture. It was sunny & chilly, but I quite enjoyed wandering around. I was starving and just wanted something quick and easy and the fancy coffee shops/cafes weren't it; I finally saw a corner cafe "Breakfast at Tiffanys" that looked more my speed. Inside were several groups of construction/trade workers and mothers/infants which is always a good sign; I got a bacon bap and since the kitchen was busy, I people watched and listened in on conversations. My bap hit the spot and I kept walking to the Pavilion. Got there soon after opening and it wasn't busy. Highly recommend the audio guide since there wasn't a lot of signage in each room; staff in each room could answer questions but the guide provides good background info and things to look for. I loved the ornate decor, international influences, and yet approachable size and style of the rooms. Well renovated with sumptuous fabrics, carpet, etc. (an exhibit on the upper floor detailed how they determined the original colors, fabrics, etc. and recreated them). I spent about 2 hours there and before I left, asked the front desk staff for suggestions about charity shops for used books - they were a treasure trove of information! They told me about George Street in Hove which is full of charity shops and gave me bus info (#6), plus some restaurant suggestions. Luckily, it wasn't busy so they had time to chat which I really enjoyed - connecting over books and great prices! (We also talked about the large Tesco there and getting a Tesco card to take advantage of special prices....)

Leaving the Pavilion I meandered down to the sea front. Sat on a Victorian bench on the pier, ate my Pret sandwich and listened to the waves swishing through the pebbles/rocks below. Since it's a pebble (stony) beach, I got a kick out of so many people sitting on the stones chatting, eating, drinking, and watching the water; two brave souls went into the water; a guy drinking beer threw rocks at the gulls; and so on. Sunny, happy people and cheery. Walked down the promenade to the old, decrepit pier and then back through the town to M&S at Churchill Square, which seems to be the mecca for shopping with a mall and lots of big stores. I always enjoy wandering through M&S, very stylish clothing in appealing colors and patterns but I wasn't in the mood for trying anything on so made my way to the food hall - another spot I like to wander. It was late afternoon and busy so I got my spag bol for microwaving, soda, crisps and a pastry (absolutely nothing healthy at all but it's vacation). I was so tired w/jet lag and my feet hurt, so I took a bus back to the station. In the bus stop, I chatted with an elderly woman and her daughter from Worthing who were interested in what I had done so far in Brighton and why I came there - her words were "you came all the way to England and all you're doing is spending two days before turning around and going home"! I explained that the Cunard cruise back to New York was actually the purpose and "destination" so it wasn't like I came solely for a weekend in Brighton . We all got a laugh.

Saturday was rainy and windy, so I decided to visit Hove for the Museum of Creativity, the charity shops and Tesco...and maybe some beach huts. There was a kiosk for bus info at the train station, so I bought an all day bus ticket for 5 pounds (versus 2 pounds per trip); it was a paper ticket with a QR code that I just scanned in when I boarded a bus and sat up top to see everything. I could tell as soon as the bus entered Hove because the entire look was different than Brighton - fewer people on the street, those that were looked older and were well dressed, houses were larger and fixed up (lots of Victorian and red brick with white trim), well-tended front gardens and shops/cafes/restaurants looked more upscale. As we passed side streets, I decided to explore some of them after the museum. The Museum of Creativity is a new name for the Hove Museum. This is a small, local museum which I really enjoyed. No admission fee. The ground floor has two rooms used for exhibits which had just ended so those rooms were empty but the first floor had four rooms. The room featuring artisanal works (weaving, jewelry, ceramics and iron) by local artists using local materials was well done and not too much. The room I liked the most was the portraits showing people doing their job (mechanic, artist, dancer, etc.). It's always good to reflect on the simple things. Their room of vintage toys was well displayed and fun to see toys that I had read about. There was another room that I don't remember.

The highlight of the entire day was overhearing a gentleman in the portrait room (inspired by a painting of airplane mechanics) telling his wife and her friend about the 100 year old man he met who had been on a sister naval ship to the ship his father was on in the Battle of Oran (Algeria); his father died but the man survived, was imprisoned by the Vichy French in Algeria; released by the Americans shortly thereafter; sent to Pembrokeshire (I think) to work on Sunderland airplanes for the RAF; got bored doing that and requested a transfer to the "action" so was sent to the Italian front. The man in the room had gone to Algeria to retrace his father's last moments and entered the harbor by boat and went to the local cemetery; he had an Algerian interpreter who mentioned that he was taking another British family to the same cemetery that very afternoon since their relatives had been in the same battle. This man got their contact info, reached out to them in the UK and visited the man (who was 100), his son and grandson. I had come into the room about halfway through his story, so when I saw them in the museum's cafe, I hesitated and then said hello and asked for a bit more information since I had only "heard half". He and his wife & friend were extremely welcoming, asked me to join them and we spent an hour talking. It was delightful to hear the whole story and he showed me the photos of his meeting with the 100 year old soldier. The wife's friend mentioned the WI which I asked about since I only know of it from public television shows set during war-time and I wondered if the WI was still active. It turns out this lady was the president of the local chapter and on the board of the county WI so she filled me on the size, focus areas and accomplishments. I felt I had used up enough of their time (and their parking time was about to expire), so we said goodbye. They gave me their contact info and asked me to let them know if I run across anyone else who was involved in the Battle of Oran. I was so happy to have had that unique opportunity to learn about some WWII history that was new to me, and more importantly, to meet such nice people and have a real conversation. As a solo traveller, I do miss talking to people. (Oh, one more gem I found out - I follow English Premier League football and there's a team called Brighton & Hove Albion; now I knew where Brighton and Hove were, so I asked my new friends were Albion was..... the WI lady explained that Albion was an old, old name for England. Boy, did I feel dumb.)

The rain had stopped although the wind was still blowing, so off I went. I was heading toward Tesco but took a meandering route along side streets; it's such fun to see the different house styles, gardens, trim, etc. A number of houses had scaffolding for renovation and I was surprised by the number of "Sold" and "For Sale" signs. Very tidy and appealing. Tesco was fun - the customer service desk wouldn't give me a Tesco loyalty card since I live in the US and their system can't handle that; they suggested I ask someone in line to swipe their card for me. I happily bought an 8-pack of Pepsi Max (it's my favorite and the ship doesn't offer it; some people bring wine or spirits for enjoying in their stateroom, I bring soda); Quality Street tubs (I discovered these earlier this year, yummy); and Cadbury bars. (The couple behind me in line seemed bewildered about my request to swipe their Tesco card but the man in front was happy to do so.).

Heavily laden down I walked a few blocks to George Street and the charity shops. I was specifically looking for books by British writers that aren't available in the US; I subscribe to the London Times and make notes about books that sound interesting, so I had a long list of books to search for. (I do like the thrill of the hunt and saving money, which is why I didn't go to Waterstones.) It's a pedestrian only street with plenty of people out and about on a grey, blustery day and yes, lots of charity shops. I ended up buying five books and never even made it to the Oxfam Bookstore at the end of the street...my purchases were weighing me down and I was tired. I wandered my way back to the main drag and went into a Costa coffee shop to rest & use the toilet. It was about 3:00 and I bought a soda & sausage roll, sank into a comfy chair in front of the window and read the paper, people-watched, etc. After an hour I was rejuvenated so set off; decided to walk the few blocks to the sea so I could see the famous Hove beach huts. Getting close to dusk and downright dark but I was on a mission. Saw the huts and walked along the sea front back to Brighton; it felt like miles but it wasn't really that far....although the soda, Quality Street and books made it into a trudge. Enjoyed seeing the lights on the promenade and pier. Finally trudged up to Churchill Square, nipped into M&S to buy a Christmas tin of shortbread, took the bus to the station and back to the hotel. Lots of people and holiday lights - I was glad I was done for the day but I do like seeing what's going on.

After my spag bol, I figured I should check the train times for a train to Southampton...couldn't believe what I was seeing when the times were 5 hours and included 2 changes and a replacement bus service!! (When I researched them earlier as part of my plan to come to Brighton, I must have inadvertently been looking at weekday schedules....). OK, what about buses? No good - those were even longer. Now it's 10:30 at night and I have to be in Southampton by 1:00 pm the next day for the ship. Start looking at car services which are about 175 pounds - egads but what can I do? Tried calling one but can barely hear the guy and he wants to call me back; I want to resolve this and don't have faith in someone with a crummy phone connection so tell him thanks but no. Go down to reception and ask the front desk for help. He was a star; first, he researched trains and came up with the same results as me (train works galore); then he tried the car service they normally use but they didn't answer the phone; then he tried a few more services and finally Brighton Taxi who we settled on. Arranged for a pickup at 10:45 Sunday morning, for an estimated 170 pounds. Phew.

Sunny Sunday so took an early walk through the Lanes; taxi picked me up on time. The ride to Southampton was fairly scenic (even on the A27) and we got there at 1:00 pm. Thus endeth my trip to Brighton & Hove. I'm glad I went; I knew it was an oddball trip with small pleasures and that many Americans wouldn't get it but I like off the beaten track experiences.
vickiebypass is offline  
Old Nov 29th, 2023, 09:02 AM
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Great report! It's always nice to see info about places that aren't covered much by other reports.
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Old Nov 29th, 2023, 09:04 AM
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Thanks for sharing this, vickiebypass. As a solo traveler after years with late husband, I hear you about not talking with people, but you certainly managed. And, you got a nice combo of sights and local color. My DH and I had an unwelcome ferry schedule change over a holiday, so I can understand your weekend one. Glad you got good help. Hope your crossing is/was fun.
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Old Dec 1st, 2023, 10:51 PM
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Small bit of social history background: Hove is the prime example of how in late Victorian times more "select" (=sedate/upmarket) seaside resorts developed as their earlier and better-known neighbours became brasher/noisier and more vulgar. Thus Southend has Leigh-on-Sea, Hastings has St Leonards, Blackpool has Lytham St Annes, and so on.

Hence too the saying "Hove, actually" (allegedly from wouldbe posh locals when asked if they live in Brighton).
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Old Dec 2nd, 2023, 06:27 AM
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PatrickLondon Fascinating - thank you!! I love learning the social history behind locations. I didn't realize there was a pattern of development but of course it makes sense. Now you've given me some ideas of contrasting places to visit on future trips. Question: I'll be doing another trans-atlantic crossing in November 2024 and asked some of the British passengers on board QM2 for suggestions of Hove-like places to visit for a few days; one couple mentioned Eastbourne as a "genteel" place to stay; they also recommended staying at the Tiger Inn in East Deane for lots of local walks and a visit to Charleston house and Berwick church for the Bloomsbury gang (would rent a car). What are your thoughts? Thank you!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2023, 06:38 AM
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I'm no expert on all of those, but Eastbourne and Worthing were traditionally thought to be genteel rivals for the title "God's waiting room". Others may have other views!

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Old Dec 3rd, 2023, 01:52 AM
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Your trip to Brighton and Hove sounds exactly like what I would love to do. I went to the Royal Pavilion a long time ago and would love to go back. I also enjoy looking in the charity shops, you never know what you'll find. On another trip to Brighton, years ago, we took the bus to Hove and I remember thinking how nice it was and I'd never heard of it, whereas Brighton is so well known. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.
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Old Dec 6th, 2023, 12:01 PM
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For future reference there's a good second-hand bookshop down Trafalgar Street by the railway station, they always seem to have exactly what i'm looking for
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