I spent four days there last week and enjoyed it. Herewith words and pictures.

I stayed at the London Bridge Hotel, a perfectly decent place just at the south end of that bridge. Since my visit last May, they’ve upgraded the WiFi and made it free; good on ’em; plus the breakfast is excellent.

The City · Mornings, I walked northward across the river and considered The City, which is the part of the city at the north end of the bridge. It’s under construction.

Cranes over the City of London

Well, for the moment anyhow. Times are troubled, obviously; the newspaper headlines scream crisis and panic every morning and afternoon. I spent time talking to finance people, Sun customers, worried people but not the names you’re seeing in those panicky headlines.

London is about money and it’s been about money for a long time; three and a half centuries if Sam Pepys is any guide.

Still, I like the City for its raw energy, its remarkably sharp-dressed women, its compactness, and the unselfconscious higgledy-piggle.

Construction in the City of London

FOWA · That’d be, in full, Future of Web Apps London 2008, something over a thousand Webfolk gathered in a thing called “ExCel”, a charmless conference center that’s near, well, nothing, and has the atmosphere of a second-rate venue in a random US suburb. Well, it’s big I guess, if that’s good. Did I mention it was remote? Depending on traffic, you can get to some parts of France quicker than to some parts of London.

We weren’t alone there. Across the hall was the Fruits and Vegetables association, but that and the other features of the location were mostly obscured behind a solid phalanx of beaming young faces—mostly female—whose crimson shirts proclaimed “I love my church”. They smiled at everyone, including the fruit-and-vegetable people and web geeks.

Here are a couple of people I photographed at the event. Todd Fast was there to talk about Zembly, a new Sun thingie that is general-purpose under the covers but currently positioned as a social-network (i.e. Facebook) app builder. Facebook is dead to me personally, but a ton of developers want to build apps for it, and I have to say the Zembly buzz around that was very positive.

Todd Fast demonstrates Zembly at FOWA London 2008

This is Paul Downey (AKA @psd), who does the coolio Web Architecture, um, pictures. I’d like to call them “mandalas” except for they’re neither round nor spiritual, but I would anyhow. This picture came out sort of grainy and satanic-looking; I have another in which Paul’s just this bloke with a smile, but grainy and satanic is way more fun.

Paul Downy at FOWA London 2008

I had the most charming dinner with Paul and Tony Coates and Jeni Tenison (AKA @JeniT) and Chris Dent and a couple of others whose URIs I can’t bring to mind; thanks, guys.

Travel Advice · Specifically:

  • Don’t attend any events at ExCel unless you have to.

  • If you do, don’t stay at the Ramada Docklands, which is a long walk from the venue, where the thunderous air conditioning doesn’t switch off, and where Internet costs £15/night and varies between slow and stopped.

  • If you are stuck out in the ExCel neighborhood, my condolences, but do go grab dinner at the “Fox@Connaught”, a pleasantly quiet and uncrowded roadhouse by the hotels with decent food and beer.

  • If you’re traveling from the Distant East back to Heathrow, take the Docklands railway to the Jubilee Line to the Piccadilly line and just stay with it all the way to the end. Unless it’s rush hour you’ll get a seat most of the way, and in terms of convenience and speed this matches or maybe beats both a cab and the extra transfer over to the fast train from Paddington.

Oh, and by the way, Heathrow’s new Terminal Five, if you’re proceeding straight through it without trying to transfer, sucks somewhat less than the rest of the airport, but that’s not saying much.

Heathrow Terminal 5 scene


Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Cowan (Oct 15 2008, at 06:58)

I'm not sure I understand. Do you know of any *charming* conference centers? (Okay, the Hotel Europa is charming in its way, but it's not a conference center, just a hotel where a certain conference is held.) You've seen a lot more than I, but until today I would have lumped them one and all as a peculiarly charmless lot of buildings.

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From: Dave Walker (Oct 16 2008, at 14:02)

For the most part, as with many other cities, London is a dump. It's better viewed from overhead at night, as then, you can't see the grime. In the medium or long term (where "medium term" is anything over a week), it's far from a pleasant place to be.

The "Square Mile" (as the City is also known), receives better cleaning, than the rest; also, it's a little-known fact that it has its own police force, which operates independently of that which polices the rest of London.

The fundamental problem with Lndon, is that there are far too many people, packed into far too little space. There are crowds everywhere, day and night; everywhere, and everywhen, there are people bumping into you, literally.

Even the supposedly poshest houses in Kensington and Chelsea, are terraced. I reserve the right, to turn my hi-fi up, if I want to, yet I couldn't, if I lived there. All that differentiates a terraced house in Kensington from a terraced house in the most desperate part of Liverpool, is the fact that the former building is fronted in marble, and within Tube commute of the Square Mile.

Give me a nice little village to live in, any day.

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October 14, 2008
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