Sunday 8th February. Brighton, England.
Yes, after thirty-two days of straight work, I've finally relented and taken a day off. I'm at the jolly seaside resort town of Brighton, where English people pretend that a beach can quite legitimately be made of pebbles, and where one wears a hankie on one's head to protect from the harsh sun in the summer, and the seagull poop year round. All jokes aside, I love Brighton, and always have, ever since the first time I shuttled down here for an overnight getaway ten years ago, when I was working in London. It's lively and fresh and airy, and there's something about Brighton that just makes you feel like you're on holidays from the minute you arrive there. I'm crashing with a local Brighton girl who invited me to come and stay. In fact, one year and one week ago, Becky was the one hundredth person to invite me to stay with them. Now there have been over six hundred invitations from readers all over the world, but for the honour of being number 100 Becky won a Story Bridge Hotel Cockroach Races Tshirt. She didn't say if she still wears it very often. Probably saves it for special occasions, I reckon.
After eight hours work yesterday, I jumped on a train at Redhill, a train which magically turned into a bus halfway to the coast, and took four times as long as it would've taken me to drive the measly thirty miles to Brighton, had I been in the possession of a car. In fact I could've cycled it as quickly, if I wasn't a lazy, unfit slob. For the privilege of having a thirty mile journey drawn out for over an hour, the train company charged me nine pounds (AUS$22.50) each way! That's almost a dollar a mile...imagine paying that much in Australia... or anywhere for that matter! No wonder I don't take days off very often.
But it is great to be free, even if only for a day, and awesome to meet someone with such amazing travel stories as Becky. She makes my travel experiences look like a two week Contiki tour. It's not often that I meet someone who's travelled more than I have, but I tell you I'm way out of my league this time. Becky has travel stories that'll keep you up till two in the morning, like last night for example. Her loungerooom is adorned with photographs from around the world; a boab tree at sunset in Namibia, a lone cyclist on a Sudanese desert track, a slope of windswept trees in Patagonia, street dancers in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Her extensive travels include:
.....and she's only thirty. Crikey!
Here's a few shots of Becky's London to Capetown cycling trip. These photos are from Northern Sudan.
On September 11th, 2001 Becky was in Turkey, bound for the Middle East. Of course, the terrorist attacks that were committed in the name of Islam would make anyone hesitate to travel through Muslim countries at that uncertain time, but Becky went ahead and plunged into Jordan, Syria and Egypt, and says she's never regretted her decision once. The local Muslim people were among the friendliest people she'd ever met, and she was constantly being invited to stop and take tea with a family, or offered a place to sleep if she needed it. Funny how CNN never shows that side of a culture, eh?
Back to Brighton. Becky had suggested we meet last night at the Great Eastern pub, just a few blocks from the train station. At that stage we both assumed that I'd be arriving by rail, generally a safe assumption considering I left Redhill on a train. Never mind, I found the Great Eastern, a cozy little watering hole, and obviously very popular judging by the crush of people. I weaved my way to the bar, scanning for someone who looked like they might be expecting me. I'd browsed through Becky's travel website ages ago, when she first told me about it, but I had no recollection now of what she loked like. If she's been following my travels, she'd be abe to recognize me, but how could I be sure if she'd been reading my website or not? My yellow tshirt should be easy to spot, but there wasn't enough room in the tiny crowded bar, to take my duffle coat off. It was barely possible to undo my buttons and let the coat fall open. The girl next to me smiled. It turned out that I was standing right next to Becky at the bar, and when she caught a glimpse of my yellow shirt, she figured that I was me. And I was. In fact I still am.
We just launched straight into travel talk, both relieved- I think- to find someone else who shares their passion for travel, and excited to meet someone who instead of just being an audience, could contribute to the conversation with tales of their own adventures. Before we knew it, the pub was empty, we were the only punters left, and we were being asked to leave. Crikey. Is it that late already?
When we got back to Becky's flat, the conversation didn't slow down until two o'clock in the morning, by which time we were both just too tired to keep talking. Or at least I was. I slept like a baby. Mum always said she thought that 'slept like a baby' was an odd simile, I guess since babies tend to shit themselves and wake up screaming several times during the night. Nothing like that happened to me, thankfully.
After a delicious fry-up this morning (late, late this morning) the two of us spent most of the afternoon alternating between the internet, and the newspaper, and cups of tea... suitably relaxing after the busy month I've had. Then just before sundown, we realized we should head to the beach and grab some photo opportunities before it was too late. I hope you like the results.
The beachfront was beautiful in that lighting, but it was getting cold, and Becky suggested that we retreat somewhere warmer, like a pub for instance. I was getting the feeling she doesn't mind a cold beer now and then, but before we got ourselves entrenched in a pub, I wanted to have a bit of a walk around 'The Lanes', a maze of charming narrow, cobbled streets with restaurants, art galleries and antique shops. I remembered being very impressed with The Lanes ten years ago, and there was a little cafe where I drank cups of coffee under a big umbrella and wrote stories during the hot summer afternoons. Becky and I passed a little pub, and I glanced in the window. I froze. That was the pub that my brother and I had sat in when he came to visit me in England ten years ago. We'd even had our photo taken inside, and later when the film was developed, realized we'd been sitting right next to a sign that pointed directly at us and proclamimed 'Ladies'. I wanted to go in and see if the 'Ladies' sign was still there, that's all. Then before we knew it, the pub was empty, we were the only punters left, and we were being asked to leave. I'm having deja vous, and this sea air makes my head feel funny. I gotta get back to my safe, quiet little loft in Bletchingley!
...and I never did get a good photo of 'The Lanes', so now I have to go back to Brighton again.