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The small coastal city of Brighton, England, is filled with rich colors and cultures, and visited by the many eccentric groups of England. Shops abound and traditional seaside cuisine is replaced by vegetarian-friendly fare. Read as journalist Kristen Crawford explores these shores on a romantic getaway with her beau.
Text and photos by: Kristen Crawford
Country: England

birthday should be fun, exciting, memorable and, if you’re lucky, romantic. With high hopes on my twenty-fifth birthday, I’m taken by my boyfriend on a surprise day-trip to the famous seaside city of Brighton, England – a popular Londoner getaway where vintage is trendy, food is green, and cultures blend seamlessly.

I am an American, who moved from Long Beach, California, to the south coast of England on a six-month tourist visa. My boyfriend, an Englishman through and through, is the reason for my relocation. My boyfriend knows that I’m interested in every aspect of the English culture, and promises me that I’m in for a real treat.

Rows of adjoined, brightly colored squared homes align the narrow streets greeting us from the train station, reminding me of the small English beach huts common on the coast. And although most of the country lay hidden under sheets of fresh snow, the shoreline neighborhood is clear, the sky blue, a slight chill in the air.

Before now, I had never been to Brighton. I longingly peer from each street corner for the eccentrically dressed retro hipsters, Goth punks, and flamboyant gay population that are rumored to wander the streets.

The culture clash awaits me in “The Lanes”, a crisscrossing grid of alleyways, remnants of an old fishing village used now for leisure, retail and residential homes.

Streamers of dangling icicle lights and decorative orbs attach the constricted graffitied walls of the alley. The once pungent fish scent is replaced by smoky vegan hot dogs sizzling on an outdoor grill. Men with dreadlocks and woman with high-coifed hairdos busily fill the tight spaces.

Shops, like Vegetarian Shoes, Bell Book and Candle, and Snooper’s Paradise have a more extravagant window display than the next. Porcelain figurines, rubber animal masks, hand-made jewelry, just about anything can be found in “The Lanes”. My boyfriend and I find ourselves like a moth to a flame, flitting from one 1950s clothing rack to another.

In To Be Worn Again, a store more reasonably priced than others, I fall in love with an ivory flower-patterned polyester dress, which becomes my favorite birthday gift.

On the way to the beach, we pass the Royal Pavilion. I am blown away by its beauty; its large intricately decorated white domes, ornamental spires, symmetrical and numerous windows and pillars, and obvious Indian influences. The pavilion is an architectural gem that instantly conjures up images of the Taj Mahal.

Although it’s unlike any other building in Brighton, the pavilion is somehow fitting, adding only more character to the already fascinating city. A temporary winter ice rink and restaurant with its plastic gazebos are fixed in the garden, front and center of the pavilion, dulling its grandeur, but only in the slightest.

As we walk further toward Brighton Pier, we pass a legion of student protesters, a line of bright-yellow uniformed policemen hovering nearby. The students, disgruntled over raised tuition fees, hold banners and signs, chanting, “No rent, no books, no education!”

In the weeks before my visit, I saw many similar signs and at that moment I feel a sense of excitement and gratitude that I’m witnessing a protest firsthand. It is as if I’m somewhat part of history. Just days before a car carrying Prince Charles came under attack during a student protest gone awry in London. This one, thankfully, is peaceful and after spectating for a minute we continue to the beach.

The pebbled shore of Brighton Beach is picturesque as the sun begins to descend. The sky darkens and the lights from the Palace Pier’s ice cream stand and arcade begin to glow. The night suddenly feels magical. As my boyfriend and I stroll along the water’s edge, we cuddle together for warmth.

Perhaps because it is a Thursday, the end of the pier is deserted – its classical theme park closed and its game booths boarded. The bumper cars, haunted house, and Turbo rollercoaster stand as silent relics of childhood fun. It’s a bit disheartening, but reminds me of times spent on Santa Monica Pier in California, and I can envision Brighton’s pier in all its glory on a busy weekend. I want to return someday.

As the last bit of sun disappears from view, we head back to the train station passing again through “The Lanes”. We stop for a quick bite at RedVeg, a tiny eatery specializing in veggie burgers. And as we board the train I find myself contemplating how on earth anyone can make a meat-free burger taste so much like the real deal. With a more than satisfied appetite for food and fun, I find myself melting into the train’s seats exhausted. As I doze away to the gentle vibrations of the ride, I fall asleep knowing that today was a good day, a good birthday. It was fun, exciting, memorable, and romantic.

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