Eastbourne is one of the iconic British seaside resorts you'll find scattered along the East Sussex coastline. For a long time, I never really understood the appeal of my hometown* as a holiday destination. Eastbourne is Brighton's frumpy sister and is dubbed by many as "God's Waiting Room" due to the large number of old peoples' homes.
While going home to Eastbourne doesn't fill me with excitement after having lived in Budapest, Frankfurt, Madrid and Tbilisi, slowly I'm beginning to see the quirky appeal of this little seaside resort.
The town is undoubtedly picturesque, with its Edwardian architecture and sea views. This is classic "Sussex by the Sea" territory: it's antique, and it's not the fashionable, up-dated version you'll find in Brighton. People flock to the shingled beaches at the first ray of sunlight with a box of takeaway fish and chips, while predatory seagulls shriek in the air plotting their culinary burglary.
My personal impression of Eastbourne is its grittier, chav laden side of inebriated girls tottering around in miniskirts or the drug dealers who sit on the street corners in the residential areas behind the seafront. However, after taking a stroll along the seafront on a very sunny New Years Day allowed me to gain new appreciation for the town. Away from the derelict back streets you'll find a town that's full of old fashioned charm.
Often I've had to bite my tongue from laughing at the signpost "The Sunshine Coast Welcomes You." It's always raining when I pass it, but statistics show that Eastbourne has a track record for the highest levels of sunlight in the UK (although, I think another town has stolen Eastbourne's sunshine crown now). This is a bit depressing when you think about it, especially since it's already dark by 3 p.m. in December.
On the rare occasion when the sun is out, Eastbourne is very pleasant. Walks along the seafront are refreshing. There are plenty of cafés along the beach, which make for a nice spot for a coffee with a sea view or if you're looking for something more traditional, you can enjoy a cream tea on the pier.
For the more adventurous walker, there is a picturesque hike up to Beachy Head. This is famous for being one of the top suicide spots in the world, but the white cliffs around Beachy Head offer some of the most stunning coastal views in the UK.
Despite Eastbourne's unfashionable image, you'd be surprised at the number of celebrities who've passed through the town. Apparently, John Malkovich even owns a hotel here and has been spotted on the seafront a few times.
Eastbourne has had its fair share of famous visitors and residents. Charles Dickens performed amateur dramatics at the Lamb Theatre in the 1830s, and Communist Manifesto authors Marx and Engles spent a lot of time in the area as well. Engels even had his ashes scattered from nearby Beachy Head. There is even a legend that Debussy found inspiration for "La Mer" here.
Other famous residents have included The Graduate author Charles Webb, sci-fi writer Angela Carter, occultist Alistair Crowley, comedian Eddie Izzard, Tommy Cooper and many more.
Some even say that John Cleese came up Fawlty Towers after a terrible holiday in Eastbourne.
Eastbourne Bandstand is one of the town's iconic postcard features, sporting a turquoise blue dome designed with a fusion of oriental and neoclassical design.
We saw a placard next to the bandstand commemorating one of the musicians who had gone down on the Titanic. He was member of the quartet that continued to play as the ship sank. It sent chills down my spine, since my Hungarian great-grandfather missed his connection in Hamburg to catch the "unsinkable" ship. He sailed to New York on the Carpathian - the ship which picked up the survivors.
Eastbourne is a curious box of contradictions that has many surprises to give. Parts of it might be run down and even dodgy, but the rest is a picture postcard resort of classic British seaside charm. There must be something in its sea air to continuously attract curious and famous characters.
*The closest I have to a hometown.
Jennifer is a freelance writer specialising in art, travel & culture. This blog is a melange of her published articles and independent thoughts.