On Sept 15th, 2011, I began the lifestyle that would define me for the following months; that of a backpacker. My goal was to explore the world, learn about other cultures, and meet new people solely through mobile applications and social networks. Armed with an unlocked iPhone and 7 days worth of clothes, I made my way around based on the recommendations of friends and followers.
Traveling from Brighton to London seemed like it would be easy enough. However, when I arrived at the train station, I found that service to London had been canceled due to some sort of security issue. All was not lost however, as one of the friendly train attendants were able to help me figure out a route into the city using a variety of transfers.
I eventually arrived in 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 lived briefly to attend the School of the Art Institute’s graduate program in painting. At some point, Blair left to study abroad for a semester where she met Patrick. Fast forward a few years, and they are now married and living together in London.
My visit to London just happened to coincide with the Bermondsey Street Festival, where Blair was showing some of her artwork. Unfortunately, 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 who were participating in the show. I had a thrilling discussion with one gentleman, Alex, on the artistic merits of digital tools for artwork and the case for, and against, and the brilliant Japanese animation film Akira.
The next day I set out with Blair and several of her friends to the actual Street Festival. 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 its ‘Gowalla Guides’ feature. For those unfamiliar with Gowalla, it is a location-based social network 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. Their approach was to feature ‘city guides’ and recommendations of things to do. I was a big fan of the old app, so 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 Apple Stores are a godsend to travelers in all seriousness. The stores feature free Wi-Fi, clean bathrooms, water fountains, and usually (but not always) a place to sit down for a while. Apple is also very particular about where they build their stores and the design of them. So if you can find a city’s Apple Store, not only will it generally assure that you’ll see some beautiful architecture, but you’ll also find a lively shopping district with good (albeit expensive) places to eat.
Once I’d caught up with everything I needed to, I popped open Gowalla to look at what was nearby. When I saw that London’s famous Picadilly Circus was a short walk away, I decided to head off in that direction. From there, I made my way to Green Park and eventually Buckingham Palace.
The Palace is a sight to behold that, unfortunately, was closed when I arrived at 6pm. Thankfully, I was still able to see the guards from the gate and talk to some of the assigned police officers. I also got a bunch of great shots from the monument across from it.
I wandered on further through the Palace parks and noticed that I could see the famous ‘London Eye’ from the park. So I decided to walk towards it, where I eventually discovered 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 watching them. From there, 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 headed back to Blair’s via the Underground and called it a night.