Thank you V.A.

Thank you V.A.:  I earned my contract money so I could go to Europe, and here I am.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

I usually don’t return to places I’ve already been – too much world to see.  But my last big trip to Europe was 39 years ago (1974-5).  There’ve been a few small forays since – 32 years ago when returning with my newborn baby from Manila, Philippines.  (I’d lived there 2 years.) Again, occasional weekends while in transit, and in 2010 a week in Bavaria when returning from Big Trip #1.

I’m not usually nostalgic, but I love reunions, and this trip I’m planning reunions with some of the  people who provided me cherished memories on former trips:  Aurelie  (from Paris) I met in Colombia; Anselm & Anne (Berlin) I met on my Uyuni (Salt Flats) tour in Bolivia; and Sanne (The Netherlands)  I met in Malawi.

But here I am in London

2013-09-16_14-48-59_231

and this reunion is with:    myself.  I lived and worked here  for 4 months in 1975, and  London was kind to me.  It  healed my  emotional wounds  with its generous free “new age”  services  – individual & group  therapy – and the people, kind  and otherwise, that I met.

In my 4 days’ here (this Monday – Thursday) I did play tourist, but always with one eye comparing this experience to 1975.  One big difference:  I had no money then.  Again, thank you V.A.  I’ve eaten out with my comfortable budget, so I’ve enjoyed multiple and multi-ethnic meals & dinners out.

This is the Turkish meal I very much enjoyed – tasted just like in Turkey.

Turkish meal

They’ve got this more-up-scale than McDonald’s omni-present sandwich/salad/snack store called Pret a Porter (literally “ready to carry”) which touts healthy, fresh, tasty food.  I agree.  EVERYWHERE – much more present than McDonald’s in the U.S.  It’s all laid out ready-made.  About $7 for a sandwich or salad, but good and reliable and … everywhere.

The London Eye was not here in 1975, nor did it rain then because there was a rare draught. Now, there’s the Eye and there’s rain:

London eye

London Eye in the rain

I also went to see the hostel where I’d stayed on Campden Hill Road  off Kensington High Street.  It wasn’t there any more. Instead there’s a humungous modern brick government structure  taking up an entire block, the Kensington & Chelsea District  Services Center.

Location of former hostel

On the same street, opposite  side, is the house where I got a  job first as a maid (e.g. dusting a  desk actually used by Marie  Antoinette), then as a live-in  cook (hardest job I ever had).

Where I was a maid

Where I was a maid

Can anyone remember details from 38 years ago?  Just finding the street felt like a crap shoot.  But when I saw that row of houses where I’d worked for such a kind elderly woman, widow of a British admiral, I felt the emotion of  lost attachment.  She didn’t mind that I cooked Weight Watcher food for her family, or that I didn’t even know what watercress was, no less sandwiches with crusts cut off left for “tea.” She was so Britishly polite, she never enquired about my past, which I was keeping private.  Yet she confided her concern and guilt about her adult 40-something son who lived as a recluse in her attic – she’d sent him off alone to live in Canada with relatives to protect him during the war.  Ah, maternal guilt: ubiquitous.

Back then, I took a ferry when going from London to Paris, and it took all day.  Today, I am taking a bus ($88) that takes the Chunnel, and it takes all day.  There are faster, more expensive, means of travel (e.g. high speed train – $224 for Friday service).  Also flights, but with all my luggage and the extra charges, I chose to not even deal with a bargain airline, which I understand you have to book way in advance.

Man, was I uninformed – I figured the Chunnel was like a longer version of the Holland Tunnel and the bus drives through it.

NOT – all vehicles, commercial and personal – get put into a train car

The %22train%22 the us goes into

The Chunnel Train – looks like a trailer or a coffin with windows

and you sit inside your vehicle and get whisked on the high speed train to the other side of the Channel.   NOT FOR CLAUSTROPHIC PEOPLE (which, fortunately, I am not).

I’m on the bus as I write this, and now that we’re in France I’m much happier.  The air conditioning is finally working, I got the wifi sorted out, I had a conversation with a  New Yorker (ah, comprehension), and I had lunch.  On the England side I saw only congestion. Here, it’s green scenery.

In France

In France

I’m only talking about this particular bus ride, though, because I know England has lots of greenery.

Where I was yesterday when I took a train out of London to walk in the woods:  this is Changford:

Changford - not the city

Changford – not the city

And Epping Forest in which I had to turn around because I got lost after 3 1/2 miles: 

Epping Forest

Epping Forest

BTW – hotel rooms in London can be expensive.  I paid $25/night to share a dorm with 5 other women.  The location was great as were my conversations with some of my roommates – from Kazakstan & Rome & Switzerland.  It was clean enough for me, but the mattress was a killer.  As I attempted to coax hot water from a faucet that was a puzzle, I pondered the difference between this cramped shared bathroom and my luxury maid-serviced bathroom in Rapid City.  The conclusion  was a window into my values and preferences:  much rather have a “challenging” bathroom in London than one with luxury in Rapid City.

A bientot –

Meri aka Retired Nomad

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6 thoughts on “Thank you V.A.

  1. Connie was just asking me where you are now! Glad for this update! I was worried you were still in no man’s land! Glad to see you are on a good adventure again!!!

  2. Wonderful! I love all the added details such as the 40 year old living in his mom’s attic, the bit about cooking weight watchers food for the british widow, and the revelation about the Chunnel transportation being like a moving coffin! And then there’s the part about That Epping Forest… A great read as usual.. Thank you Meri! XO

  3. I’m with you on the South Dakota thing. Looks great, Hope to see you before we leave for Columbia and Ecuador. First week of November.

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