Another return

15 September 2023
Once again I find myself back in an old haunt that was unsure I would ever visit again, let alone for the second time in less than six months. The purpose of being back in town again is to attend a technical conference and the trip haf some added extra days to “enjoy” the place. Unfortunately straight off the bat I wondered why I was around at all. Visiting this old home city of mine has had a distinct lack of energy that at times bordered on aversion, and it was certainly not value-for-money as I did little that was not related to the conference.


Accomodation is the same bedsit I used last time but it is a double room rather than a single and being ein-suite had more than what I have got from the place previously, but at the end of the day is still exceptionally expensive for what it is coming in at £110 per night. I wanted to include a Saturday night but the extra cost was well beyond any sane justification compared to extra week-day nights. To be fair the place itself has everything I would realistically want such as 24-hour reception, as for instance I am not a breakfast person these days, but for the money other cities give so much more and this results in an opportunity cost that is hard to justify.

Bedsit courtyard

From both my own impression and what others remarked when asking about it the area the accomodation is in has gone down-hill in just the four or so months since I last stayed in the area, and it is clear it now borders on no-go for tourists since most accomodation is now used for refugees and homeless. While I did not heed advice to take a taxi instead choosing to walk back to the place, I nevertheless chose longer routes based on mmy local knowledge and to be fair I personally had no trouble. Myself I would be happy to stay in the area again but hand-on-heart I would recommend against it for anyone who does not know the city already.

Bedsit courtyard

I could have got a better deal by staying multiple places over the trip, which is something I have done in the past, but doing so is a massive strain I did not want this time round. Last year in Bordeaux I had three checkouts over a five-night trip which made me a wreck by the third checkin, and was finished off by a full twelve hours stuck in the airport. With just the single hotel this trip was seriously draining as-is and it took a day or two just to recover after getting back from Heathrow.

The Conference

Unlike last year that was seriously affected by a travel moratorium by major US headquartered companies this one had a respectable attendance, and it was overall a much smoother operation in how the hybrid nature was handled, but it was nowhere near as good as the pre-Covid conferences. I think I was the only person who did not travel back on the last day and there were several people who only stayed over a single night — in past years pretty much everyone stayed until the janitors turned up whereas now a good portion of people disappear by lunchtime on the last day.

Car decoration

For me these conferences are more social & networking rather than business, and even then very much towards the former than the latter, and I was not the only person being open about this not being job-related. Getting back into the technical side is something I have been meaning to do for the last five years, but all the projects that spring to mind are more or less respins of stuff I did in my first post-doc job and so far have not scratched up the motivation. For personal projects it competed with electronics and even with the latter I have been a little slack.

What to see

When I was over earlier in the year I took the opportunity to do some of the touristy stuff that one never does when actually resident but this time round I did not bother trying to line anything up. The one or two things left to do that I thought might be worth the effort looked like they had already been cleared out by reseller scalpers who book up everything in advance. The week itself was generally unpleasantly wet weather and this coupled with doing my back in at the bedsit on the first night meant I was disinclined to travel far. More generally the list of places and old haunts that lockdown prevented me visiting before my eventual departure is so long there is no chance of meaningfully visiting them all, and overall it felt better to simply leave the associated memories undisturbed as the haunts I did happen to visit just weren't the same.

An old haunt

As for meeting people there was a surprise or two but overall it was towards the bottom end of expectations, and even then it was a close call for one particular meeting I had set aside specific effort for. A lot of friends simply do not live in the city anymore, and to meet those who are still around involves a Saturday night stay which in itself when I checked was the €200 ball-park. With inflation so high and my current career transition not going as smoothly as I had hoped it is hard not to think about opportunity cost, especially with the trip all-in likely to be around €2,000.


A future return?

The question “would I return” was pretty much the first thing I get asked and as things stand the answer is ‘no’. Living here has made me intimately familiar not only with the problems the place has but also how it is run, and it is pretty clear that the latter is an impediment to the problems being sorted out in a timely maner. The city is not the one of the previous decade I fondly remember and if I was to move back it would be a huge strain that I am in no position to go through. As for visiting it comes back to what I would get out of a trip versus the cost.

Looking back

The conference was perhaps an excuse rather than a reason to come here but in the end it was pretty much all I did. The hardest part was seeing how certain things had actually become better and these are things I have yet to find comparable equivilents near where I now live, but ultimately I know this is a visit to a past life at a time when my future life has so much up in the air. As I await my return flight the conference itself was a success but the rest of the trip cannot be considered anything special. Four months ago I had stuff lined up and was apprehensive of my emotional reaction, but this one was basically a complete lack of motivation and was treated little better than a trip to the other side of London.