As I prepare for my project adventure in Croatia, I may take a glance from time to time at parts of London I’m particularly fond off.
Brixton is one of those edgy places, maybe a bit marmite? I do like Brixton although I haven’t always. I largely grew up down the road in its sister neighbourhood, Clapham, and preferred to head south central towards Chelsea and the West End on errant days.
Recently, however, I’m appreciating Brixton more. It helps that there’s been an increased investment in the area, the most superficial expression being the trendy restaurants that have sprung up. The Ritzy Arthouse cinema reminds me of bygone film days – watching them of course, not starring in them.
I remember once offering to go with a student friend of mine to an all-night ‘mafia’ film season night (Scarface and others I don’t remember) that ended with us stumbling out at 4 pm. More fool me. Then, there was the time myself, my brother and friends smuggled in some Kentucky Fried Chicken to munch on while watching a movie (I think that one was Save the Last Dance with Julia Stiles).
Brixton today is a maze of markets and shops hidden in intriguing alleyways. A creative buzzing hub that’s determined to defy being categorised a bland metropolitan village.
The FT held its first FT Weekend Live Festival at Kenwood House on Saturday. Speakers included Heston Blumenthal and the travel adventurer Simon Reeve.
My target was the midday travel talk and I was not disappointed. Included in the discussion were pointers on pitching travel stories to editors and lots of travel vignettes.
The strength of the story is key
The Daily Telegraph has lots of travel pages whereas the FT is more selective. What they are both looking for are strong stories that will engage and even inspire their readers. The travel writer also has his or her own motivation and sense of what makes an enticing story: “I know what’s worth getting on a plane for” declared Sophy Roberts who has written for Conde Nast Traveller and the FT. “I find people more interesting than places”. She finds many of her most intriguing stories in Africa.
There are travel stories right where you are
Journalists look for what’s counterintuitive and ‘different’. Tom Robbins, FT’s Travel Editor, pointed out that he gets way more pitches for ‘exotic’ places than (for example) France. There are places in Europe that don’t get written about, whilst the least visited country is Moldova, he pointed out.
“Travel writing will never die. It can’t”
…declared travel writer Horatio Clare. But it may take different forms. The rise of the travel blogger wasn’t really discussed, but Sophy did express concerns over TripAdvisor’s influence. Still, opportunities abound for those determined to write and share their travel experiences.
There will be conflict between writing for the company that paid for your trip and writing for the reader
The panellists didn’t deny this pressure and all found their own ways to mitigate it as much as they could. Writer Tim Moore goes off and writes travel books paid for (initially) from his own pocket. Sophy Roberts will pay for a trip herself if she feels really passionate about a particular place. Horatio Clare ‘doesn’t go as a journalist but as a tourist’ and writes about his experience from the viewpoint of a celebrant.
I decided to take advantage of the warm summer weather and disappear for a few days to gather my thoughts and give myself some headspace. Ever since childhood we – my brother, Mum and Dad – always hotfooted it down to Brighton for our seaside fix. So that’s where I went. Next time though, I hope to broaden my horizons and visit another coastal resort, Devon, Cornwall or Poole, say.
Anyway, Brighton it was for now.
For a relaxed leisurely ride, it would have to be National Express coach. Gazing out the window as shops, people and fields rolled by, intermittently tuning into my head-phoned music (Bebel Gilberto anyone?), sea salt dark chocolate easing the journey along. Not bad for £20 return. The coach on the return leg would be around half hour late, cementing my view that the coach service is fine for a leisurely break, but I wouldn’t necessarily rely on it to get me to work or a business meeting.
Monday in Brighton is busy. It’s a bank holiday so no wonder. It’s a bit too busy for me, as I wind my way around residents and visitors alike. Quickly, to get it out of my system, I seize on fish and chips for £6 and eat it at a table on the beach. It was nice, but can’t compare to the delicious sea bass and chips I had a while back in Beirut.
Being the urbanite I am, my sweet spot that day is finding a bubbly form of one of my favourite white wines – a vouvray (chenin blanc) – and drinking it at a table on the pavement, watching the Brighton world go by. It tastes more like champagne than prosecco to me, so I’m happy. Then my next best highlight – finding a sesame chicken and rice meal (£5.70) at a small Japanese restaurant tucked away in the centre.
My YHA room is simple and perfectly adequate, with a nice contemporary like bathroom. The downside is the late night noise outside, so I don’t get much sleep. I can put up with it for a night, but I’m glad it won’t be for longer than that. It’s a shame because otherwise this refurbished hostel is a bit of a gem (cost of room £49 booked online).
On Tuesday morning I get to do what I came for: an early-ish morning coffee sat on the pebbly beach. No crowds, just a few people and children dotted around.
The sun is hitting the side of my face and I can feel its warmth on the bare part of my feet. The air smells fresh of fish. And I watch as the waves wash and lap against the pebbles, crashing into them with soft roars. I don’t mind that I’m not enjoying this late summer scene completely on my own. I like it that others around me are enjoying this too, children laughing and shouting at the waves warning them to roll back, hurling pebbles into the sea.
I don’t want to return the hectic city bustle just yet. But return I must, as I later head off to my delayed coach.
I had experienced some small nice touches while booking my Arbor City hotel room online. I liked that I could click my estimated arrival time. But even better, I got a complementary room upgrade just for tweeting about my stay. Nice. I paid £85 per night (two nights). It’s right at the start of Brick Lane and practically round the corner from Aldgate East tube station. It’s also served by a number of buses, at least one that goes to Oxford Circus. And thankfully it’s much quieter than my Brighton room.
On the downside the room/housekeeping service was a little bit disorganised. I only ate their pizza which was okay, but for their prices (£12 for the pizza) I hope they make a little more effort with their food quality. But, having said that, I would stay here again for sure. The location surrounding the hotel is choc a bloc full of eateries, especially curry houses. And the hotel is modern, boutique and airy.