Gap Year Days 358 – 361
When we landed in England we were back in our first primarily English speaking country since we left Australia almost twelve months ago. Oh yes, lots of other countries also have English as an official language (like Singapore, or India) and many more have a vast majority of the population proficient in the language (like the Scandinavian countries) but here it is THE language, and, really, my heritage.
Unlike many Australians though I don’t have close relatives here, it’s been far too many generations since one of my ancestors was born outside of Australia. We don’t have a whole lot of friends here, and never did the popular two year working holiday here in our twenties. We have only visited once before, and that was a very brief visit to Oxford and London three years ago.
This time though we were visiting friends, Claire and Nick, who we met in Florence, all the way back in May last year. We had kept in touch and once we knew we were coming back to this part of the world, they invited us to stay with them for the weekend.
We arrived on Friday morning, so after dropping our luggage off, we jumped on a train down to Brighton while Nick and Claire were still working. While they live only a few minutes from Gatwick airport, I didn’t realise it was also only twenty minutes by train down to Brighton.
Brighton is one of those iconic towns we have heard about all the way over in Australia. It’s also familiar to us through our own cities. I know we have a suburb of the same name in Adelaide, also one in Melbourne and Brighton-Le-Sands in Sydney (and possibly more) – invariably the settlers came to Australia and named their new homes after the old ones!
So we made our way down to the beach and did what we just had to do in Brighton – we sat on the pebbles and ate fish and chips! Simon had clearly not read as much about Brighton as I had, because his reaction to the beach was “where is the sand?” I actually quite liked the pebbles. I don’t like being sandy, and the pebbles were smooth and not totally uncomfortable to sit on.
Next up was a walk on the Brighton Pier. The pier itself is covered in food outlets, sideshows and rides, pubs and restaurants, and even what looked like a small casino. It was cold – about 14 degrees – and the wind was really blowing, but still there were plenty of people milling around. On the side of the pier more protected from the wind we were surprised to see people laying (although fully clothed) in deck chairs with their faces turned up to the weak sun, soaking up the few rays there were. We learnt later that this was the first “warm” day for the year.
We weren’t keen to soak up the sun, it was too cold for these antipodeans, so we left the pier and went off the find a little local coffee shop to warm up a bit, both inside and out. Once slightly warmed, we meandered through the Lanes, loving the cute little shops and traditional pubs. There are quite a few boutique chocolate shops, and we carefully checked each one – for samples of course! – but Choccywoccydoodah is clearly the most extravagant. There were jewellery stores and clothes boutiques, second hand books and every collector shop you can imagine, from stamps to rubber duckies. It was such a nice way to spend an hour or two.
Just when I found myself a great bookshop I could happily have hovered in for an hour, I remembered that Claire had said to check out the Brighton Dome and Royal Pavilion. So I dragged myself away from the lovely new books, and we went to look at these pretty cool buildings in the park.
Starting back towards the train station, we walked through a few more grittier streets. Here were the second hand clothes stores and street art, vegan cafes and tattoo parlours. The street art alone had me hooked.
I could have spent days pottering around the town of Brighton, but we had to get back for dinner. It wasn’t until later that I realised we had missed the ABBA plague on the Brighton Dome that we wanted to see. This was where ABBA won Eurovsion all the way back in 1974. Just means we will have to come back!
Claire and Nick live in an old English country village. Their house is over 600 years old, as are many of the other buildings around them. Central to any little English village (and any Australian country town for that matter) is the local pub, so after grabbing some pizza for dinner, we went off to the pub to meet the locals. Luckily the pub was pretty much across the road, because we went back there for dinner on Saturday, then a quick Sunday afternoon drink too. I think by then we had met half the town and were well on the way to being locals ourselves!
We didn’t do a whole lot else for the weekend, but boy it was nice. We slept in, had a late breakfast and went for a drive around the local area on Saturday. We found a lovely little tea house in yet another cute English village and enjoyed and afternoon tea of cakes and tea in flowery tea cups! So English!
Sunday we enjoyed even more tradition, with a Sunday roast beef, vegetables and Yorkshire puddings, cooked at home by Nick. We talked a lot about traditions, and it seems I grew up with many English traits even after many generations in Australia. We often had roast on Sunday, but for us it was lamb since we farmed sheep. I hadn’t had a Yorkshire pudding before though!
Monday morning we were back to Gatwick for our next flight. After large crowds and long immigration queues on our arrival, we arrived in plenty of time – to get a message as we walked in that our flight had been delayed. We were flying with EasyJet, so I was starting to fear the worst, having heard all sorts of horror stories about them over the years. It worked out okay though, and 45 minutes later we were in the air.
This is a hard one to judge because mostly we were hanging out with friends rather that doing touristy things. Even if you are in London though, I would totally recommend jumping on a train and spending a day down at Brighton. We will for sure be back in the UK. I hadn’t initially planned to come here this trip, because I have the intention of spending a couple of months, hiring a car and just pottering around the countryside.
The only public transport we used was the train down to Brighton. The trains for us ran as per their timetable. It seemed a little on the expensive side to me, but the trains were ones that link Gatwick to both Brighton and London – and we all know airport trains are more expensive than usual.
We were using a SIM card while in England so didn’t use much wifi. I do recall it being available for free in the airport and in all the cafes and the pub we went to.
I know from past experience that England is not the cheapest of places to travel. There are cheaper options though if you keep your eyes open.
Luckily for us the spare bedroom at Nick and Claire’s was free, but if you are looking for accommodation in England, check out Booking.com for all the latest prices and availability here.
Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.