Letter from Tokyo: Totally Taken With Tokyo

Dear Friends,

After my first twenty-four hours in the largest metropolitan city in the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_metropolitan_areas_by_population), and by far the most expensive city I’ve had the pleasure to meet, I thought it to time to pick my jaw up off the floor and hands from jet-lag mode and let you know what’s going on here. In 24 hours, it’s plain to see that I’ll need to multiply that by 244 more hours x 244 days to get a handle on this city. Tokyo’s metro map ( http://www.bento.com/subtop5.html) makes Paris’s metro map look like Billabubb, South Dakota’s tram system (if there is a Billabubb, South Dakota that is).

In this post, I won’t tell you about how easy it is to get lost in Tokyo because the streets have no names (hey, is that why U2 wrote that song?), or how utterly confusing the streets are because they’re packed at all times (and nameless!), or how Tokyo makes NYC look like a pumpkin patch in the middle of Nebraska, or how everyone has an iPhone because they’re cheap, or that Tokyo was deemed the most expensive city in the world for expats in 2011 …(in the WORLD people: http://www.cnbc.com/id/43374737/The_World_s_Most_Expensive_Cities_to_Live_in_2011?slide=11), but I will tell you about my house.

The school where I’ll be working sent me a list of housing options and out of the list, I chose one of the Borderless House’s of Tokyo for its proximity to the subway (less than five minutes walking), its newness, and its nearness to the school itself. The house, just renovated in August of this year, is located in Oshiage, which isn’t central Tokyo, but in a quiet neighborhood about thirty minutes away by train.  Borderless Houses are shared houses, and by regulation house half international residents and half Japanese residents; they can range from nine to sixteen residents. In my house, there are five private rooms and two shared rooms. Out of my desire to save yen, I chose a shared room. If I regret my decision, I’ll change to a private room for a small fee when someone moves out. These shared houses are usually temporary situations for many residents, so the stays are anywhere between six months and one year.

Can I digress and tell you a little about Valerie S., and why my mother thinks it’s incredible that I’m sharing a room, albeit a large one, with someone else? I have two older brothers, who shared a room when we lived in Jamaica, as the girl I had my own. Flash forward to New York, my older brother went off to NYC, my other brother had his own room, I was still in my own room. Years later in college, I never once had a roommate– requested a private room in a suite at HU and lived in that. Left that college, went back to my own single rooms from NY to Sao Paulo (slight hiccup there– I shared a room for six months with a girl who’s now a sister) to Kingston to New Jersey. I had flatmates often, and always swore I never wanted to live with anyone again, and that I never would. I swore. Then the rents for Tokyo flats rolled in, and I realized that there was no way, no how I was going to be able to afford my own place and save. Let me just tell you that a private room in the house is close to a US$1000.

I’ve met all my housemates , except one and we really are a diverse group; there is an Economics student from Fukishima, a student who’s studying Japanese and waitressing, a professor who’s teaching sociology at Meiji University, an assistant headhunter for an IT firm, a runner, a part-time worker at a French language school, a woman who I haven’t met yet, thus have no idea what she does, and me. Sadly, I have only photos of only five of my roommates (for now), so that’s what we’ll start off with:

* I start with R, because he was the very first housemate that I met. I was so happy to hear by email that there was a Smith in the house, because I knew that meant that there would be someone with whom I’d have little difficulty speaking. He’s lived up to his Smithness by being gregarious, sweet and funny.

Y’s energy and sparkle is captivating. She lived in France for two years, and now works in a French language school. When we went to the supermarket earlier, she looked as cute as can be in her heels. It’s no fallacy that Japanese women are always well put together.

* T’s cool as heck. He went to bed at 2:30 am (a few minutes ag0), so I know that he’s the one that will hang with me to the wee hours. He’s a brilliant student at Meiji and wants to get a job helping those in developing countries build better financial structures… believe me, it sounded better when he said it, as I’m merely paraphrasing and know nothing about economics.

*M (not pictured) is T’s professor at Meiji. She’s from Chicago, but speaks fluent Japanese, as this is her third time living in Japan. Right before this, she was living in Brooklyn. M’s so intelligent and well-rounded having lived and traveled to numerous places, that she’s an inspiration and an eye-opener. She also has a special place in my heart, because she introduced me to the Shibuya neighborhood of Japan and my first taste of authentic Japanese sushi (with wasabi inside the roll– yum).

* I is my roommate… and the best possible roommate that I could have (she’s not reading this, so there’s no kissing up involved on my part). She’s not too neat, and therefore not uptight (yes, in my book the equation is overly neat=anal=uptight (needs behind – stick); she fits with those she’s around, and is an adaptor. She’s amiable, and talkative but not overly so, and definitely one who sleeps early as her job requires her to be up at 6am.

* E‘s a 22 year old Russian hostess at a restaurant in Tokyo where the entrees start at US$100. Her co-workers are all blonde Italian, French, and fellow Russian women who’re hired to be eye candy. She’s fun-loving and at this very moment of 3:09am, she’s sitting behind me at the kitchen table on her laptop. My  fellow late-nighter!

* YH– Can you tell that YH‘s wacky? He speaks little to no English, and thus we need a translator between us; but not a person, his phone has an app that he types what he wants to say and it spells it out in English. The only problem is I can’t answer him back in Japanese, so there’s a whole lot of head nodding going on. Let me tell you one more thing, I expressed to YH that I’d love to run with him in the mornings, in the quest of fitness, and he translated that he runs 10 miles a day. Needless to say, that idea was quickly squashed by me. He finished his run with a huge green bean and watercress mixed salad.

Now, let me introduce you to the house:

* One of the toilet rooms. Like many bathrooms in Europe, the toilet is in a separate room than the bath; however unlike Europe, for efficiency, the sink is on top of the toilet, and automatically turns on when the toilet is flushed.
* My favorite room in any house by far, but especially in this house. Please notice that there’s a television placed above the tub, the small white box beside it regulates the heat. To the left, there’s no shower stall, but there is a shower head, because the whole floor drains. Genius. Believe me when I say that we each take and love our 20 minute showers.

* The front entrance. In true Japanese style, our shoes are removed at the door, and our slippers await us.

* The living room… we have a small balcony.

* The kitchen– 2 rice cookers, sliding cabinet doors, and a convection oven/microwave/toaster in one to save space.

* We have two refrigerators, both sectioned in three parts: food on top, fruit compartment, freezer on the bottom.

Now, you know the house and soon I’ll send photos of the streets.

Oyasumi,

Val

Letter About CDG Experience

Hi Friends,

My departure from Paris ended on as good and hectic a note as it started. There’s something about the process of flying these days that brings about a certain madness/panic/adrenaline rush. It’s the combination of uncertainty, making it through customs, and possibly missing a flight that evokes feelings of controlled hysteria.

At the Air France check in counter at Charles de Gaulle airport, the agent informed me that the weight allowance on China Eastern Airlines for two pieces of luggage and a carry-on is 42 kilos, and that my suitcase was seven kilos (14.4 pounds) overweight. He also regretfully informed me that each kilo would cost 65 euros. 7kilos x 65euros= 455 euros= $620.66. I think as much blood drained from my face as the day I put my hand in my purse and discovered that my wallet wasn’t there. His best advice was that I go to the side, near the scale, and figure out what to do with the offending seven kilos.

What could I do with 7 kilos?  I knew a girl who lost seven kilos in five months, and here was this guy telling me to lose seven kilos in thirty minutes. I was at a loss. I sat with my two suitcases open, trying to decide what was priority, what I’d need in the next year, which items I could stuff into my purse. I piled on an extra sweater, and an extra pair of socks, but that only amounted to .2 kilos. So, into a plastic bag, that I’d found in my suitcase, went black jeans with a messed up zipper, two cases for my sunglasses, toiletries, a few long-sleeved t-shirts, and one pair of shoes that really are a pain to walk in. I rested there for a long moment rearranging, weighing, and just generally looking drained by airports. Then, in a puff of light, came Remy.

Remy is yet another angel I’ve met this summer in France. It seems he had been observing my goings on and wanted to help. He spoke no English, but let me know that he was there to help me, and nothing should be discarded. He took my suitcase to the Safety Bag counter and asked the man at the kiosk if he had any overhhead bags for the cabin. The SB guy said that he didn’t, but we should try another terminal.

I kid you not when I say that Remy took off on a run to terminal 2E (we were in Terminal 2F). When we got there, there were small bags available; so, Remy took everything out of my “trash” and filled the bag. There was still room, thus we threw in scarves, belts, and some shirts from my two suitcases. It worked out perfectly. Do you want to know how much the Safety Bag cost? 10 euros. $16.

Remy went out of his way to help me, and when I asked him why, he said “I could see you needed a hand.” It just reconfirms what I know– people are amazing, I’m blessed and fortunate, the French are truly awesome, great things happen.

* At the second Safety Bag counter… you wouldn’t think I’d be taking pictures at a time like that, would you?

Ciao for now,

Val

Letter from Madrid: … like Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus—Italian or Spanish? Founder of the New World or fraud? I’m sure if I wikipediaed Chris C, I could find a wealth of information about the first question, and the fact is that I care little about the second. Christopher Columbus was one heck of an explorer/adventurer who managed to get others to fund his trips in the name of power/discovery/innovation. He’s my hero (please don’t email me about the indigenous people of the colonized lands—our heroes aren’t always perfect).

I wish I’d tried to convince a few people in the name of power/discovery/innovation to fund my trip to Madrid, but since I didn’t think of it and I’m sure no one would go for it, I found a cheap ticket on www.edreams.com for Ryan Air with a return on Veuling. On www.hotels.com, I found the extremely impressive hotel, Novotel Campo De Las Naciones‏. My brother might tell you that I’m easily impressed, and while that is generally true case (Wow, your watch has no hands!), the hotel had a pool, gym, safe in the room, mini-bar, shower and bath separately, down comforters, as many pillows on the bed as you’d see in a Pottery Barn magazine, and a wonderful spread for breakfast included in the rate… all for $200 for two nights! (That deserves an exclamation mark).  Now, I must note three things: I’ve been staying in hotels in France where a submarine sized bathroom in the room is a big deal, breakfast included means a croissant (choose a pastry) and coffee, and almost zero amenities for the same rate or more.  Let me also remind you that the one time I went under the rate of $100 a night, my neck, back and arm paid the price in bed bug bites.

The flight from Paris to Madrid is only two hours; it actually took more time to get from the hotel in the south of Paris to Gare du Nord, with three metro transfers, than it took to get to Paris Beauvais Airport from where Ryan Air flies. For a budget airline, Ryan Air has comfortable seats, and trust me I know airplane seat discomfort (Hello Spirit Airlines).

Since I’m flying to Tokyo on Monday, and my aunt was in town for six days, I figured it would be great to squeeze in one more trip on this continent, before everything became alien (I’ve already gotten an email where I’ve been called Smith-san).

Years ago, two friends and I traveled to Barcelona, and we were extremely underwhelmed. The food was bland and uninspired, the people cold, and the temperature much cooler than we expected; the shopping, however, was fantastic and the whole Gaudi thing somewhat interesting. The Barcelona trip (and the fact that the “fantastic” shopping left us broke and hungry for two days—maybe three) made me resist booking a trip to Spain. Upon hearing that I was traveling to Madrid, my Barcelona traveling buddy and friend Tiease only said, “Don’t starve.” My search for cheap tickets on edreams was for Rome, but Madrid’s
fares on the side of the screen were much more appealing. Was I in store for another mediocre round of paella, eggs and potatoes, and unfriendly Spanish people? I figured for those rates, and the few days that I was staying, it didn’t really matter.

Now, I wish I hadn’t slept on Madrid.  It’s a city that needs more time than a weekend; there’s much to see and do, and it’s so spread out so it can’t all be done in two days. Solution 1: City Tour Bus. Solution 2: Go back to Madrid and spend a few days. It’s culturally vibrant/perfectly landscaped/simultaneously old and new world/clean/hot for the end of September (temps in the mid-eighties)/extremely easy to navigate by public transportation/ and inspiring.

* There’re pedals on the park bench… now that’s fitness!

* Doesn’t this look like the beginning of a scene?

* This Coffee Shop Jamaica deosn’t mean the same thing that it would in Amsterdam.

Viva Madrid!

Letter from Paris: In and On the Outskirts of Town

written on Friday morning at 2: 23 am

Dear Friends,

As I’d mentioned before, my aunt is visiting from New York, which is wonderful because I get to see and enjoy Paris like someone who just disembarked Air France and not someone who’s leaving in three days (plus, since my wallet has been lifted I get to eat real meals—let me be honest, my meals now are better than when I had a wallet in my possession). It also thrills me that my aunt has a serious sweet tooth, so we’ve been indulging a two scoops of gelato a day regimen.


Much ground has been covered walking: Montmartre (Sacré Cœur), the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (l’Arc de Triomphe), Chatelet, The Louvre Museum, Notre Dame Cathedrale, and Versailles. I should’ve been looking for a job in Paris as a tour guide to English-speaking tourists, and not a job as an English teacher. We have walked miles on cobbled stones and paved streets, and I keep thinking that we have “miles to go before [we] sleep.” What she still hasn’t seen up close is the Eiffel Tower, but my aunt has assured me that she will hurt me physically if we don’t… (or maybe that’s what I heard in her tone). So, the Eiffel Tower it is on Sunday… after we return from a quick getaway to Madrid.

* I wouldn’t call myself a religious person, though I do do things religiously, like I religiously eat gelato, and I religiously spread Nutella on baguettes before consumption; however, when I saw the Sacre Coeur at the top of the hill I was in awe of this religious monument: it’s grandiosity, architecture, significannce. Just so you know, the Eiffel Tower beckons in the distance. I tried to take a picture of the lit tower, but my camera doesn’t have those capabilities.

* We walked up the Seine… like human salmon.

* The Notre Dame Cathedral has incredible carvings and details in the arches and along the columns. The elaborate stories on the outside held more interest for me that the inside. Go there, and let me know what you think.

* This gargoyle looks very familiar… like a baby I’ve seen.

* The Louvre museum is open late on Wednesday nights, so for ten euro you can enter and head stratight to its biggest attraction.

* More interesting to me than the Mona Lisa was the sign on her right.

* Yes, beware of those damn pickpockets.

* This is how someone looks after being pickpocketed…. desperate, desolate and on their knees, looking to the heavens asking, “Why?” Note: I did this with my pants on.

* The train to Versailles is the RER C Versailles- Rive Gauche, which is thirty minutes from Invalides in Paris. Easy, fast ride filled with
nothing but English speaking passengers. “What did Marie Antoinette say?” “Let them eat cake.” “What’s wrong with that, I love cake.” Sorry, I pretended that was a real conversation with my use of quotation marks, but that conversation only happened in my head.

* Louis XIV greets you on your way in… and beckons you view his wife’s wonderful gardens (acres and acres– 39 fountains).

Friends, there’s so much to see at Versailles, and so much ground to cover, that I can’t possibly post all the photos. I’d be “that”  friend who kills you with her photo album… and then I saw this rose/tree/statue/urn/marble bust/tourist in whale shorts/swan/etc/etc/.”

See you soon,

Val

A Quick Note from Epinay-sur-Orge

Dear Friends,

This is just a quick note accompanied by zero pictures, because I have to tell you what happened today.

Ever since my time ran out at the lovely apartment in the 19th arrondisement, I’ve been traveling (Amsterdam and London), and living in hotels all over Paris and on its outskirts. I stayed for three days in a hotel near Parc Disneyland that had a wicked goat-cheese bruschetta. I stayed for one night at Hotel Moderne du Temple that left bed bug bites all over my neck and back. It was like a disgusting, welty case of hickeys. Never stay there! I stayed for three nights in the Campanile Paris Est by the Gallieni bus terminal, which was clean but didn’t have a working television… that wasn’t a problem, because it had no bed bugs (now, that’s my main criteria– no bed bugs, and a decent shower). At the moment. I’m staying in a hotel so far from Paris that I feel like I’m in Brussels. It’s an hour away.

My aunt came into town today, so I met her at her hotel, Median Chatillon, which is at the southwest edge of Paris, and two trains, twenty minutes walking, and two hours away from here. It’s far; even if I were still in zone one of Paris, it’d be far. Anyway, we had a lovely day taking in the amazing views from the steps of the Sacre Coeur cathedral, where one can see the entire city, followed by a roast chicken and fries dinner, which was much more fabulous than the simple concept implies. The chicken was swimming/relaxing/chillin’ in its own juices… I swear even my french fries were molesting its plateside companion– that chicken! After dinner and walking around historic and lively Montmarte, my aunt and I stopped and watched a film crew set up, the Eiffel Tower in all its lighted glory, and took some pictures of the trams, and the drummers and dancer on the steps. Fantastic.

At nine, we boarded the train, thinking it was time to call it a night…. then we boarded another train, ’cause like I told you my aunt’s hotel is pretty far (the last stop on the #13 train). We walked… then I went up to her room, we spoke a bit, and I said, “Let me not dilly dally ’cause it’s getting late.” I actually said that, didn’t just think it. Please stay with me.

When I arrived at Invalides, where it’s necessary to make the connection to the RER C for Petit Vaux, I noticed the train to Versailles-Chantiers wasn’t running. Yes, this worried me a bit, but I figured once I got to Juvisy, where I needed to transfer, there would be more notices for the train headed to the right direction. I got to Juvisy a few minutes after 11p.m, and wouldn’t you know it there were no more trains. The screens were off. Off.

Now, I’m in the suburbs of Paris with no train running, and all the information windows closed, what was I to do?! I saw two guys and asked them if there was any taxi or bus to Petit Vaux, and they told me that the buses don’t run this late. I started having serious 1996 Long Island flashbacks (that’s scary). Hamesh, one of the very nice guys, told me that I should take the train to Epinay-sur-Orge and walk to Petit Vaux, which would be no more than a fifteen minute walk. An aside: he asked me if I had any kids, and told me now’s the time to start (all in perfect English… he’s from a part of India that I can’t pronounce). Mind you, I was kind of stranded and Hamesh thought it time to start a conversation about my child-bearing years.

I followed Hamesh’s advice (I like saying that name), and took the train to Epinay-sur-Orge; however, when I got off the train I had no idea where I was going or which direction to walk in. All the police officers that are at the station in the day, are fast alseep in their beds at midnight. And now I ask you, wouldn’t it make more sense to have officers patrolling at night and not five of them staring at each other in the daytime? I stood confused for a minute, and then I saw a young, dreadlocked guy coming down the train steps, also having just gotten off the Epinay train. I asked him if he knew how to get to the hotel Premiere Classe, and he started pointing and explaining. He walked me to the bus stop, but the buses had stopped running. The screen was off. Off.

Then, he asked me if I’d mind if he went home and got his car so that he could give me a lift to the hotel. Mind? Do people ever resist being saved? I couldn’t thank him enough with my minimal French and his same amount of English. It seems that “You saved me!” doesn’t translate. His name is Them, he’s from the Ivory Coast, pursuing a Ph.D in Political Science. This man is an angel, and if you ever meet him tell him I told you so. Them is his name.

So, because of Them, I’m writing you from my hotel room with the bathroom shaped like a submarine’s, and not from the side of the road… Thanks Them!

Bises,

Val

Letter to Paris: Toujours, Je t’aime…

Dear Paris,

I’d always seen you and loved you from afar. In movies. In postcards. In my mind… envisioning myself at one of your cafes, drinking an espresso (though I’m not a fan of coffee), smoking a cigarette (though I’m not a fan of  tobacco), having witty repartee in fluent French with some guy that I liked much less than you. Oh yes, and I’d be doing all of this in crimson-red lipstick, and a black and white striped sweater while basking in your light. Paris– golden and ideal.

Paris, I studied your language for years, so that I could understand you and relate to you. Language is always the first step, isn’t it? I listened to your music, watched the movies in which you were featured, became familiar with your celebrities: Yvan Attal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melvil Poupaud, Marillon Cotillard. Their grace, beauty and talents were a reflection of you. I wasn’t a Francophile, I was a Parisphile… obsessed/obsessed/obsessed.

Then, in spring of 2010, after many years and many films, and many classes at the Alliance française, I met you. Oh, the feeling. When I sat in one of your 200 parks, with a baguette in one hand, and a mimosa in the other, I knew that we were meant to be together forever. It was March, but your sun warmed me inside and out.

A year and a half later, we reunited. Your Tour Eiffel sat on my desk at work, a gift from my wonderful boss (in a not so wonderful job), and I knew that we’d reconnect.  Your most revered symbol, and perhaps the most visited tourist attraction in the world, rested on my desk, on my mind, and everyday I plotted how to see you again.

And so it happened. In June, I gave up my job to come to you. Exactly as Peaches and Herb sang, all summer long, I’ve been singing and screaming and exclaiming, “Reunited and it feels so good.” It has. You have been amazing, living up to the promise. How many things do that? My adoration for you was complete, only to be rivaled with my adoration for The Gloved One. When my friend Nadia, said that she’d come to visit us this weekend, I wanted her to see you and love you as much as I. Your charms didn’t impress her on her previous visit, and I just knew she’d change her mind once she saw how absolutely perfect you are. There’s no rudeness, arrogance, or ill-will in Paris. Never.

Sadly, she was harassed by three police officers at the airport. She was chosen at Charles de Gaulle for a random search, and your brash officials asked her why she doesn’t speak French, rifled through her underwear, and unscrewed her toothbrush. Sure, she was shaken, but I told her that all airport officials, in all countries are, for lack of a better word, pricks. That wasn’t you, that was “airport security.”

Then, today we left the hotel to find a nice cafe to live the “Parisian dream.” When I opened my purse to pay for something, lo and behold, the wallet was gone. The bright pink wallet with my money and bank card and credit card. Gone. Paris, I’ve been with you for many weeks now and have received nothing but love, so imagine my shock. I thought “could things between us be going sour?” Then I spoke to my mother on Skype, and she said, “Valerie, Paris isn’t perfect.” She told me that you weren’t perfect, that you weren’t heaven, and it amazed me, because I thought you were. So, Nadia and I went out and enjoyed our Saturday:

* At Siam cafe

*… we also went to a creperie

* In a cafe, you’ll never be rushed, never be hurried; buy a crepe and spend four hours catching up with your friend.

* This girl may be an angel… I swear there was no actual light behind her.

Paris, as my mother says “you’re not heaven,” and yes you’ve disappointed me (your large number of pickpockets at least), but I realize that one needs to be very, very careful with his/her wallet, and also that I’ll always love you (cue Whitney Houston).

Bisous,

Val

p.s

Letter from London: Friends, Food, Fun

Dear Friends,

If I ever tell you that I’m booking a trip on a Eurolines coach, because it’s cheap and they’re having a deal that “just can’t be beat,” remind me of my ten hour bus ride from Paris to London. Exhausting. Tedious. Butt-cramping. Yes, I’d taken the ride from Paris to London by bus before, but the difference was that my friend VP was accompanying me then. It’s amazing what a difference a friend in the next seat makes.

VP, a friend who’s more family than “friend,” moved to London almost two years ago and never returned to NY. When we wished her good luck and safe journey over tequila shots and back-breaking dancing at le Poisson Rouge in the Village, we knew she’d never return. I, for one, welcomed her departure, because it meant a cooler, hipper, “fancier” city to visit. “Go VP, go!”

* Last year’s trip to see VP and London’s sights.

* A previous trip to Berlin….

* and brunching in Copenhagen; I’ve so many pics with this girl, but let’s move on.

At 57 euros roundtrip Paris-London, there was no way I was choosing the train over the bus. Turns out that 43 euros extra on Eurostar would’ve been well worth it (100 euros more would’ve been worth it). Though extremely sweet, the 75-year-old man sitting beside me hacked after every sentence; I was sure that he was contagious, and am still living in fear of what I may have contracted on the bus. Semi-kidding.

Eight hours into the ride, after three stops for customs officials (one unplanned), we boarded the ferry. It was on the boat sailing into Dover that I knew that I was headed to a place that was expansive, inclusive, familiar, and yes, slightly unattractive (and by that I mean the people).

* A group of women playing a game on the boat, which required them to say “Call it” every few minutes.

* On the other side, a couple of men who were having the crisis after mid-life (what’s that one called?). I’ve never seen an almost eighty-year-old man with a diamond stud before. For the record, they were very nice.

* Gypsies everywhere, traveling in packs… flowy skirts and off-the-shoulder tops.

All bad things end, and the bus ride eventually did; however, I did need to hop on the #38 bus at Victoria Station to get to VP’s apt. On the way, we passed Picadilly ablaze in lights, Chinatown with red lanterns hanging in the streets, multiple theaters, one of which was showing Thriller Live, grand-looking homes with columns, and tons of scaffolding covering buildings, as London gets pretty for its Olympics gig next year. Friends, I saw many picture-worthy things, but was too tired to reach into my bag for the camera. I was tired, but thrilled. London’s alive, pulsating, throbbing with energy… and I understood why an eighty-year-old man would have a stud earring and feel young at heart; London vibrates, and it’s easy to love.

VP lives with a wonderful, energetic, delightful eleven-year-old who came to get me at the door, and when she showed me my room (which is usually hers), there was a chocolate on the pillow. It was then that I knew that although my stay would be short, it would be even more wonderful than I could have imagined. And guess what, we ate my favorite foods (for dinner and breakfast), and my favorite dessert (cupcakes!).

* A brunch to celebrate another friend’s birthday, VP’s upcoming wedding to possibly the nicest guy ever, and the fact that I was still alive after the bus ordeal.

*Walk leisurely and enjoy the casual vibe of Exmouth Market’s numerous sidewalk cafes. The weather, uncharacteristic of London, cooperated– sun, sun, sun.

On Monday, VP and I went to Brick Lane and walked into rows and rows of vintage shops. Fantastic shopping… though I didn’t buy a thing, it was nice to see the gowns/dresses/hats/bags/boots/shoes/everything!

* My friendship with VP is vintage: old, valuable, and wears well.

Friends, before you start sight-seeing, have a “When Haloumi Met Salad Wrap” at Breakfast Club, and think about your life– your loves, your friends, your future fun.

* Don’t wait.

See you soon,

Val