Today, I decided to take a little trip down the coast to the town of Hastings. I got off to a late start today. I’m not sure how it happened. I woke up early, but it was just one of those mornings where everything mysteriously took longer than it was supposed to. My eggs cooked slower, my makeup took longer, I had to try three different times before I found an outfit that didn’t make me look like a complete twat.
When I last checked, the weather forecast for today was supposed to be pretty nice. Yesterday was good, and the only topic of conversation all week among Brits is how glorious Sunday will be.
I think the clouds do it on purpose. They wait until after I’ve left the house and have no chance to turn back before they show signs of rain. A few drops hit my head on the last few blocks of the station, and I just had to hope that the hour train ride to Hastings would put me sufficiently out of range.
No such luck. The weather was dismal when my train pulled into the station. I am finally learning what the English version of rain is. It’s not the torrential, energetic downpour of the Midwestern US. No, English rain is a relentless drizzle. It’s easy enough to ignore at first; it’s hardly more than atmospheric. Slowly, though, it soaks through every “water resistant” layer you’re wearing until the wet has crept into your very bones.
Had it not been for the rain and the wind, today wouldn’t have been cold at all. Unfortunately for me, there was no chance I’d ever warm back up after the first five minutes when my shoes were soaked through.
Hastings is a really sweet town. Like Brighton, I think its real attraction is the sea. Hastings seems a bit older, though, and a bit more authentic… or maybe it was just the authentic English weather. I enjoyed dawdling through the town. I’ll say this for the rain: I would not have meandered half as much without it. I would have missed all of the lovely antiques had I not been ducking into the escape offered by every shop front.
The fact that my luggage must be so limited is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I’m not really sure how I’ll ever make it home carrying twice my weight in suitcases. On the other, there aren’t many things I can rationalize spending money on when I know I can’t take it home with me. Anything I buy, I’d really only have until June.
I eventually made it to the lift that takes you to the top of the West Hill. I like a good little climb, but the online reviews of Hastings had all said that it was very quaint and sweet… and only cost 1.50. Unfortunately, it was temporarily closed due to electrical problems. Apparently the hill is not climbed that often, because it wasn’t easy to find the footpath. I didn’t mind the chance to meander a bit more, and I did make it eventually. You walk up through a residential neighborhood and past a pretty church. Hastings was really cute, but did remind me architecturally of Brighton.
At the top of the hill, I saw a sign for the Smuggler’s Caves and castle turrets in the distance. I decided to head for the castle first. I wandered around for quite a while through more neighborhoods. It’s always much colder at the top of an enormous hill by the ocean, so I was pretty bitter when I realized the turrets I had been following actually belonged to a church. I went back to the caves.
The cave entrance must have been modeled off the Disneyland ride Pirates of the Caribbean. Not the new one based on the movie franchise, but the one I’ve only seen as featured in my old Disney sing-along VHS.
Some sort of family follows me in. There were three adults and three small children. We were the only people in the lobby, but for some reason they had us wait before letting us into the main part of the caves. We were just on the outside of the giftshop, which was apparently a former ballroom. I’m not sure if there had been a natural cavern there that a sculptor had then finessed into an arched, columned hall, or if the whole things was carved from solid stone.
The caves are an interesting combination of the two causes. Apparently, a gardener had been working one day when the land gave way before him and he found himself staring into an enormous underground cavern. He then got permission from the city council, as you do, and carved a pedestrian walkway into the solid stone leading 100 until you reach the natural caves. The ceiling is low but carefully carved into a pointed arch, and there are alcoves carved into the walls. It’s called Monk’s Way. The Ballroom is at the top of this path, which is why I’m not sure how it fits into the whole scheme of things.
The caves were used as a ballroom, a jazz hall, a WWII air raid shelter, and storage space for smugglers. The exhibit in the cave, as you might have guessed, is focused on the history of smuggling in the cave. The campy Pirates of the Caribbean theme continued throughout, making me feel at times as though I was a bit too old for it. It was strange how similar it was, though. Raggedy, life size dolls of raggedy people who occasionally moved mechanically to illustrate their life of drink and squalor…
The children running around added immensely to the entertainment. Kids are hilarious. Of the three children who came in behind me, the older two boys (all were toddlers) were instantly so terrified they needed to be carried. The baby of the babies, a little girl, was totally fine with it. Props to her.
But the enthusiasm and excitement of all the kids really did make me feel a little more excited. It’s contagious. Plus, small children with English accents are too cute. There were a few not-so-subtle jokes for the adults in the crowd, and towards the end it got a little graphic. After I had passed the dead body hanging from the ceiling in chains, two mothers shepherded past three bawling little girls. Uh oh.
Although the caves sheltered me from the wind, they’re not really the warmest places to be. As I was already completely soaked, I decided to take some time to warm up with a nice pot of tea. There was a café at the top of the hill with a great view. I enjoyed some reading and the hot beverage, but there’s only so much you can do in wet clothes.
I wandered around for a bit more looking for the castle. Eventually, I decided I’d been on the top of that cold, windy hill for far too long. Besides, as much as I hate to say it, when you’ve seen one castle you’ve kinda seen them all. I wanted to go find some of the more unique things Hastings had to offer.
I came down a different way and found myself lost in the department store area of Hastings. Eventually I found my way back to the old town. By that time, most of the little shops were closing. I decided that this would be the time for me to finally try “jacket potatoes.” I wasn’t exactly sure what this was, but I imagined a stuffed baked potato. They seemed very English and were advertised at every lunch café. I found a little place that had them on the menu and went inside.
The girls who worked there were really sweet, and guided me through all of the toppings possible for the jacket potatoes when I confessed it was my first time. I decided on bacon and cheese. It may have been cheating: it wasn’t a combination that was usually offered, so therefore not as English, and I was really basing it off my favorite American baked potatoes. But they were kind enough to oblige me, and I enjoyed it mightily. It was everything I had hoped for.
Realizing that I was quite a ways from the train station still, cold, wet, and not ready to leave my adventure behind me, I decided to look for a local pub. I’ve heard that whiskey will fortify you against cold, and at that point I was willing to try anything. I found a pub with a crackling fire and sat down. 6:00 isn’t really a busy time, but there was still a pretty lively little crowd.
The bartender was a nice young man who studies physiotherapy at the University of Brighton and wants to move to America after he graduates. He loves America, but he’s only ever been to New York City. The little local crowd was nice, too. They were older than me but not too old, and enjoyed expounding on the difference between English and American gay culture.
The train ride home was wet. It’s hard to think about anything else when your socks are sloshing about in your boots. Once again, I had missed the correct day for wearing my Hunter’s. They’re never going to see real rain. I took a cab home, which is actually pretty cheap, and well worth the money to avoid more of being wet and walking in the rain.
I’ve started to really make some final decisions about my Europe trip, and that’s pretty exciting. I need to find a way to keep track of all my plans. I found an app for my iPad that seems like it will be AMAZING, but I want to get a diary so I can have a hard copy as well. It would be awful if the things that have gone wrong on my recent trips happened on this long one. I’m just trying to make sure I double and triple check all my dates and confirmations. So far, so good…