Thank you V.A.: I earned my contract money so I could go to Europe, and here I am.
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
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.
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:
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.
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).
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 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.
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:
And Epping Forest in which I had to turn around because I got lost after 3 1/2 miles:
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