Leah and I recently returned from a great week in Brighton, England. The impetus for the trip was Ampersand, a one-day typography conference, but since neither Leah nor I had been to the UK before, it made sense to tack on another several days for a vacation.
We rented a decent Airbnb close to the beach near the indistinct border between Brighton and Hove. The first thing I did upon arriving at around 2 a.m. was to misread the check-in instructions and enter the private residence of our host, where she and her family were asleep. Oops! Thankfully, this wasn’t America and I wasn’t shot on sight.
Once I got into the correct mews apartment, it was pleasant enough, though its lack of fans wasn’t ideal for the “heat wave” Brighton was currently experiencing, even if said heat wave’s highs of about 82ºF were downright idyllic compared to the 100º+ nonsense that was happening back home. The apartment’s warm, still air (not to mention the city’s very vocal population of herring gulls, whose cries often resemble those of anguished humans) kept me from sleeping well, as did a nasty cold I picked up toward the end of our stay. Luckily, the UK’s Netflix selection is currently vastly superior to that of the US (at least for my purposes), so there was plenty of cinematic comfort food available when I had to take a sick day. I revisited Romancing the Stone for the first time in decades, did an aquatic creature double feature of The Shallows (not bad) and Lake Placid (bad), and caught up on the third season of Rick and Morty (wearyingly overwrought).
But obviously we didn’t come to Brighton for the Netflix selection, and in addition to lots of quality time with our friends Jessica and Jeremy, we took in plenty of cool stuff while walking all over the city. Despite uncharacteristic heat and clear skies, my shade management skills helped me do it all nearly sunburn-free without a drop of sunscreen. Our favorite spots:
- Duke of York’s Picturehouse: A beautiful little one-screen cinema (reportedly Britain’s oldest) specializing in independent and art-house fare. Ampersand was held here.
- Royal Pavilion: Originally built in the late 1700s as a massive vacation getaway for George, Prince of Wales, the Royal Pavilion has all the ostentatious grandeur and exoticist pastiche you’d expect from a dude whose taste was inversely proportionate to his vast wealth.
- Brighton Museum & Art Gallery: The main attraction was a career-spanning exhibition of Gilbert & George’s “living sculpture” (which is actually mostly photography), much of which was eye-popping and all of which was thought-provoking. Also exhibited was the Museum of Transology, a collection of artifacts and portraiture representing the experiences of Brighton’s trans community. But my favorite moment in the museum might have been the room full of abstract paintings by the likes of Frank Stella and Donald Sultan, not so much for the work itself as the inclusion of poetic interpretations of the paintings written by elementary schoolers.
- The Robin Hood: A cozy pub with tasty pizzas and a huge selection of board games. We took in Belgium’s impossible come-from-behind World Cup victory against Japan while we played Simpsons trivia.
- Snooper’s Paradise: A sprawling junk shop full of mundane treasures, nestled in Brighton’s dense North Laine among dozens of boutiques, cafés, etc.
- Brighton Palace Pier: Arcade games, carnival rides, ice cream, etc. Good people-watching. The perfect place to kill an hour or so in advance of our reserved tour time at Sea Life Brighton, though it must be said that the surviving skeleton of the nearby West Pier, which was destroyed by a fire, is to my eyes a more visually compelling landmark.
- Sea Life Brighton: The oldest operating aquarium in the world, mostly underground with a stunning Victorian arcade enclosing its expansive main room.
- Mechanical Memories Amusement Museum: A fun little old-time penny arcade with a variety of vintage amusements.
- The Bee’s Mouth: Excellent dive bar with something of a David Lynch vibe.
- Booth Museum of Natural History: Our favorite place we visited. It houses the stuffed bird collection of its founder, Edward Booth, which is said to include at least one of every species in Britain. Booth apparently also was the guy who pioneered naturalistic diorama as a means of displaying taxidermy, and he left his museum to the city of Brighton, which has since expanded the collection to include a variety of skeletons and fossils, and hundreds of thousands of insects, minerals, rocks, and more. Admission is free! We’ll definitely be doing the behind-the-scenes tour next time.
- Mr. Magpie’s Collectors Emporium: Like a tiny Snooper’s Paradise in that it’s overloaded with all kinds of little trinkets and other old junk, but it’s defined by its typographic offerings, including letterpress prints and a large selection of castoffs from the titular Mr. Magpie’s wood type collection. I had a great time talking type with him, and as it turned out, he had designed a poster for Ampersand a few years back.
A few things we weren’t able to get to this time:
- The Prince Albert: The premier music venue for small shows.
- Trollburger: I’m told this is the best burger I will ever have in my life.
- Brighton Toy and Model Museum: I’m a sucker for miniatures. This spot and the previous two are all within about 30 feet of each other, right by the train station.
- Brighton Sewer Tour: Victorian city planning and engineering that’s still in use today.
- London: It’s less than 90 minutes away by train, but my illness got in the way of our plans to do a day trip or two. Oh well.