Category Archives: Travels

London Part 1

Heading to London from Brighton seemed like it would be easy enough, however when I arrived at the train station I soon found that service to London had been cancelled due to some sort of security issue. All was not lost however as one of the friendly train attendants was able to help me figure out a route into the city that required a variety of transfers.

Eventually I made my way to east London and specifically to Cheshire Street where my friend Blair and her husband Patrick live. Although she’s originally from South Carolina, I know Blair from Chicago where she attended the School of the Art Institute’s graduate program as a painter. At some point Blair left to study abroad for a semester and met Patrick, fast forward a few years and they are married and living together in London.

Coincidentally my visit to London coincided with the Bermondsey Street Festivalin which Blair was showing some of her artwork. Unfortunately though it also coincided with Patrick being out of town for a friend’s bachelor weekend.

After resting a bit at Blair’s flat we made our way over to the gallery for an opening cocktail reception. There I met several of her friends and other artists participating in the show. I had thrilling discussion with one gentleman, Alex, on the artistic merits of digital tools for artwork and the case for and against, as well the brilliant Japanese animation film Akira.

The next day Blair and I set out with several of her friends to the actual Street Festival but after an hour or two I decided to split off from the group to venture out and explore London. I figured I would take the time to get to know Gowalla‘s newly revised iPhone app and it’s Gowalla Guides feature. For those unfamiliar with Gowalla, it’s a location based social networking service that previously was built around “checking-in” to a venue similar to Foursquare, which I wrote about when it debuted at SXSW ’09.

Recently Gowalla decided to concede the check-in war and revamp their app in a different direction that features city guides and recommendations of things to do. I plan on discussing this in greater depth in a separate entry eventually seeing as I was a big fan of the old app I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to give the new one a go.

First things first I head off to find the Apple Store Regent Street. Yes, I’m a nerd, I know but in all seriousness Apple stores are a godsend to travelers. Free Wi-Fi, clean bathrooms, water fountains and usually (but not always) a place to sit down. Apple is also very particular about where they build their stores and the architectural designs of them, so if you can find a city’s local Apple store you can usually assure that you’ll not only see a beautiful structure but you’ll also find a lively shopping district with good (but likely expensive) places to eat.

Once I felt I had caught up with everything I needed at the store I popped open the Gowalla guide to take a look at what was nearby. When I saw that London’s famous Picadilly Circus was a short walk away I head off in that direction, from there made my way to Green Park and eventually Buckingham Palace.

The Palace is a sight to behold that unfortunately was closed by 6pm when I arrived, but I was still able to see the guards from the gate, talk to some of the assigned police officers and get a bunch of great shots from the monument across from it.

I wandered on further through the Palace parks and noticed I was able to see the famous “London Eye” from the park and decided to walk towards it, eventually discovering Big Ben and the bridge between them. The area around Big Ben was very alive with street performers and tourists and I got a good laugh from them before I decided to take the advice of Jim Binder via Twitter and caught a cab over to The Old Red Cow for a bite and a drink. Sure enough Jim’s suggestion was spot on and The Old Red Cow was a cozy bar with a great atmosphere, a friendly bartender and a heck of a burger. Shortly after that I head back via the Underground and called it a night.

Photo set now posted here.

Brighton in Review

Last week I began the lifestyle that will define me for the next few months; that of a backpacker. My goal is to explore the world, learn about other cultures and meet new people all through the aid of digital tools and social media. Armed with an unlocked iPhone and 7 days worth of clothes I am making my way based on recommendations of friends and followers.

I arrived in London Tuesday morning and soon made my way via bus down to the coastal city of Brighton. It was early afternoon when the bus pulled into my stop where I met Jeremy and we walked over to the Clearleft offices. There I got a good rest in their nook and enjoyed my first legitimate cup of British tea. The office got a good laugh when I wasn’t sure how I wanted it (I went with milk and minimal sugar after asking the crowd.)

From there we made our way to Jeremy’s home. We enjoyed some delicious homemade pizza made by Jessica and had few glasses of wine and then it was off to bed, only to awaken the next morning to explore the city.

The next morning I took another pitstop to the Clearleft offices and then headed south with the intent on wandering the coastal pier area but soon found myself at the Brighton Pavilion, a bizarrely out of place, but beautiful structure. The Pavilion was built for Prince Regent (later King George IV) as a seaside retreat to be deliberately over the top, and it shows even today as it poorly mimics eastern architecture and design practices in a way that winds up being charming in it’s own right.

Wandering the area I stumbled upon The Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and found myself spending more than an hour exploring it’s halls and learning about Brighton’s history. The city was first known as a health resort spot and later as an epicenter for underground rock culture complete with fights between motorcycle rockers and mods on mopeds. All in all, my kind of place.

Once I tore myself away from the museum I finally made my way to the pier where I purchased a 99 flake and then was promptly attacked by Brighton’s infamous seagulls, eventually escaping into arcade portion of the pier.

That night we got together with the Clearleft folks for drinks and attended a night of “Geek Comedy” as part of the Brighton Digital festival. It was definitely the only time I’ve heard jokes about CD-ROM video games, rocket scientist sex magik and carbon atoms in the same show. It was a blast.

The next day on the suggestion of Jessica I visited the old pier on the west side of the city. Due to fire and suspicious activity the old pier has collapsed into the channel and what remains is mostly a haunting charred skeleton of a structure just a few meters from the shoreline.

That evening I met up with Jeremy and Jessica at The Grey’s Pub for a hearty meal and a round of drinks.

Brighton was a great time, it was a comfortable and friendly place to visit with obviously more culture than one can take in a few short days. In addition, Jeremy and Jessica couldn’t have possibly been better hosts, I look forward to seeing them again soon.

Photo set here!

Next up: London!

Grid Meets Road – World Travel in the Digital Age

On the 19th of September I will embark on an adventure that will almost certainly change my life. I am heading overseas to Europe to travel full time until February of next year.

Along my way I will use digital devices and social media tools to explore and find what to do in each respective city. I will document my experience on this blog, Flickr, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, FourSquare, GowallaTumblr & and maybe even YouTube. I will attempt to find places to say either with friends from these services or using sites like CouchSurfing and AirBnB.

The idea is to “crowd source” my adventure, asking for you, the reader, to supply me with input as to where to go, what to see etc.

My end goal will be not just to explore the world but to really test the limits of our global communications network, the so-called “global community”. Can we, “the internet”, actually supply what one person needs to know on such an adventure? How connected are we really through these services and how easy (or hard) is it to maintain the relationships with your loved ones while traveling full time?

I have also submit a panel to next year’s SXSW Interactive Festival and hope to be able to share the results of my trip with you there as well as eventually publish a book on the experience.

I will share more details about the trip as we get closer to leaving but for now I could use your help.

Please do me a favor and vote for my panel to be accepted to SXSW… the voting period ends tonight Friday the 2nd at midnight. You can do that here.

And if you’re so interested you can donate to my experiment as well here.

Anyone who donates me any money (doesn’t matter how much or little) will have their name on a slide at our SXSW presentation should it be accepted. Thanks!

To Memphis and Beyond

After leaving New Orleans we head back north again to Tennessee. This time to Memphis instead of Nashville. The drive was uneventful until our stop in Jackson Mississippi for lunch we took the suggestion of Mindy’s friend Osid Riley and checked out Keifer’s for a Greek lunch, a welcome change from all the BBQ we’ve been ingesting.

We could see the capital building from where we parked so we decided to walk over it. There we found a somber ceremony on the front lawn for Mississippi Department of Transportation workers who were struck and killed while working on the highways. I stood in the back taking it in for a while and a nice lady informed me of what was going on. It was truly moving. In a tribute that reminded my slightly of the ghost bikes to remember fallen cyclists they had set up road cones, each with a white worker’s helmet placed on top of it.

The capital itself was a beautiful building with the high steps and domed roof you’d expect from such thing but what really caught our eyes were the statues. They had a replica of the liberty bell in front as well as a monument to confederate women, complete with sculpted confederate flags. The embracement of the rebel flag is something jarring to me. I knew it was still a symbol that some clung to but it’s weird to see it as a celebrated piece of history in this area. Fascinating and disturbing to me at the same time.

From there we continued north and arrived in Memphis. Although our friends Kyle and Courtney were waiting for us at their home James insisted we check out Goner Records before they closed that evening. We looked up prices and times for Graceland as well and found it to be obscenely overpriced.

After getting set up at Kyle and Courtney’s we made our way out to get dinner. Of course Memphis is famous for it’s BBQ so it was the obvious choice again. I swear that when this trip is over I am lying off BBQ for AT LEAST a month. My arteries hate me right now but I cannot deny that it was the best we’d had on the trip so far. Over dinner Kyle told us about a beer place called Flying Saucer that has a beer club membership and over 200 beer choices and a website to log your beers. Seeing as how I’m attempting to try as many different beers as possible this suddenly became a ‘need to do’ item.

Sure enough I joined the beer club, drank a Ghost River Copperhead Irish Red, a Yazoo Sue, and a Sam Adams Black lager. All of which were excellent. The Sue was particularly interested as it was a smoked porter, the first of it’s kind that I’ve tried. I am not usually a fan of porters but I was pleasantly surprised. A few of Kyle’s coworkers from the local Apple store joined us for drinks and we spent the night swapping stories.

The next morning James, Courtney and I went over to get a traditional southern style breakfast at a deliciously greasy little place called Bryant’s, the first real breakfast we’ve had on the trip. From there James and I made our way to the legendary Sun Studios, the birthplace of Rock and Roll and original home to Elvis, Johnny Cash and more. Standing in the spots that these legends first recorded was an honor. They even have an original Shure 55 vocal mic that was used by these greats that, on the wishes of their founder, is available to hold and pose with.

Memphis was great, a worthwhile trip and we definitely didn’t give ourselves enough time there. Hopefully I’ll be back at some point.

Enjoy the photos!

Missing: New Orleans

We took advantage of not having to drive anywhere yesterday by sleeping in and relaxing around the hotel for much of the morning.

The weather was a uncomfortable mix of overcast, humid and hot. The kind of day where you can feel yourself getting a sunburn through the clouds and sweat seeping through your deodorant. This didn’t stop us from venturing out far and wide on foot. We first wandered over to a record store and then to Cafe Du Monde for beignets.

From there we wandered northwest through the French Quarter, eventually stumbling onto a voodoo museum and spending some time there.

We learned about Marie Laveau and New Orleans’ rich voodoo history. The kind of stuff that I’m not sure how to feel about or what to believe, but I know definitely not to mess with or cross people involved. Interesting stuff to say the least.

From there we took up a suggestion from Aki and paid a visit to the St. Louis Cemetery. The whole thing was interesting to me as it’s very crowded and completely paved. Due to New Orleans being built below sea level the bodies have to be buried above ground so they don’t shift up out of the dirt. This particular cemetery was home to many voodoo priestesses and the whole thing just reeked of creepiness.

From there we took the suggestion of Marcus Gilmer Marcus Gilmer to check out Domilises for amazing Po’ Boy sandwiches. It was a bit out of the way but well worth it. If I could eat one of those daily I would.

After that we took off to find a place called Holt Cemetery a little known, barely maintained resting place of many unmarked graves and penniless war heroes. Unlike the earlier grave yard, this one was almost exclusively below ground and many of the plots had fallen in on themselves. I plan to research and write a whole piece on this place so I’ll leave it at that for now. The experience was truly chilling and thought provoking. It provided a much different view of the city than you hear about often.

It was nearing the magic hour where the light hits everything perfectly (link) so James and I set off to take a gamble and visit a place that not many have visited in the last few years: Six Flags New Orleans.

The story of that visit, along with Holt Cemetery are enough to fill several posts and simply too much to write from my iPhone in-between shifts driving. Yesterday was by far our heaviest day of the trip, so more photos and entries will come when I’m settled in. For now here is a small set of shots.