The story starts at Christmas time, December 2012. Kate and I had a few gifts under the tree, including some from relatives living in faraway places. One of the gifts addressed to me was actually a small bundle of wrapped gifts, numbered 1 through 5, from daughter Natalie. She had given me verbal instructions, “Don’t open anything before Christmas, and I (Natalie) want to share the opening with you on FaceTime, if we can make it work.” She told me later that she/they wanted to see my face as I opened Gift #1, so at the appointed hour the great FaceTime experiment began. I got in front of our iMac computer, and (long story short), we just couldn’t make it work. Our internet connection here in the boonies was just too slow to support the video connection. So, I went ahead and opened Envelope #1 (see picture).
and, inside the envelope, I found this Christmas Letter:
(I hope you’ll take the time to watch the video she put together – it’s only a couple of minutes, just click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlC5tgJkhew )
To summarize the content of the video, for those who are unable to see YouTube videos for some reason or chose not to watch:
Natalie had arranged for a Father/Daughter trip! The two of us were to go to England for 10 days (April 12th – April 22nd 2013), flying out of Chicago O’Hare airport, United Global First Class, direct to Heathrow Airport, just west of London. We were to see Abbeys and Cathedrals, and England, Oh My!!
We’d be staying in nice hotels, seeing the city of London from the famous red double-decker buses, then join a small group of tourists on a 5-day jaunt, seeing the South of England on a small touring bus. We’d wrap up our stay in England by visiting the Cambridge area, including the village of Saffron Walden, where I was born, lo those many years ago! (I was a ‘war baby’ – my dad was a Yank, stationed in England during the early war years, and he met a young maiden (AKA my Mom), and then Mother Nature took over. They were married, I was born (October 1943), and the rest is history – MY history!) Now, I was to take my first trip over there as an adult, thanks to my daughter, Natalie! (insert sounds of cheering here)
So, the Game was Afoot, Watson! Now, the main problem was that my calendar went into ‘slo-mo’ mode – the pages now turned ever in maddening ‘waltz time’. It was Christmas, but now the waiting began, waiting for April to arrive! (by the way, Gifts 2 through 5 contained the necessary guide books and maps, a travel umbrella, and a few other small items I’d find useful)
In a perfect world, I would have been accompanied by my amanuensis, who would have recorded my every thought, my every utterance, made videos of me and of Natalie as we enjoyed all the wonders that were England. But, in the real world, I had no amanuensis, I could not spare the space for a laptop computer, and my memory is imperfect. I will endeavor to share my feelings and my discoveries with you (plus the occasional photograph), and perhaps impart a small measure of the wonder and delight afforded me due to having been given this marvelous Trip of a Lifetime!
Thank you again and again, my wonderful daughter Natalie!
In the intervening time between December and April I tried to trim down and shape up, so I’d be better able to do all the necessary walking and stair-climbing we’d be encountering. This was all due to a recommendation from Natalie – apparently she didn’t want to drag me around after I had a heart attack or stroke. So, I was successfully able to modify my diet, and got in some time on the treadmill. Overall, I lost 40 pounds. I still have a way to go to reach a better number, but it was a helpful start, and it got me through the physical demands of the adventure.
Yay, me, thank you Natalie!
Now, I’ll begin the tale. I plan to break it into digestible parts for the sake of the readers – one posting per day of the trip. I’ll sprinkle in some photographs as we go, as visual aids (Oh, NOW I see! He flew to Chicago in an AIRPLANE!).
Day 1 –
Corydon, Louisville, Chicago
My lovely wife Kate (see visual aid) was kind enough to drive me to Louisville, KY for my 8:00 AM flight on Friday, April 12, 2013. We left the house way early (yay, Kate!), and got me there in plenty of time to wrestle my two pieces of carry-on luggage to the gate. Natalie had suggested this method, rather than checking the bags, and it worked out pretty well – I did learn one or two things about economical use of space for carry-on’s (although, Kate took care of most of that for me, and I just kinda stayed out of the way).
The flight from Louisville
went smoothly, I arrived just as promised, and found my way to the First-Class lounge at O’Hare airport. Oh, just to say it again – we flew FIRST CLASS! Natalie really provided an amazing experience for me! I’ll throw in a couple of photos of the FIRST CLASS lounge, so you ordinary mortals can see what it’s all about (of course, I can’t share any FIRST CLASS secrets with you – the special handshake, none of that stuff)
I was impressed by the amenities offered in that lounge area. A full liquor selection (no, I didn’t get any of it), and you could even get champagne, just by asking (I tried that, just as an experiment, and it worked! Twice!!) There were finger sandwiches, pastries, lotsa stuff! And, I wasn’t pestered by paparazzi while I was in there – those guards are GOOD! I had an 8-hour layover in Chicago, and I managed to endure it, *somehow*, in the first-class lounge 😦 ahh, the burdens of air travel.
I met a fellow there in the lounge who was just in from several weeks in Mumbai. He was doing some photographic work there and since I expressed an interest in photography he offered to show me some of his work he had stored on his laptop. Excellent shots of the people of Mumbai! Several of them featured the colorful native costumes, and some were studies of people with lots of miles showing on their faces. My new friend’s name is Scott Bird, and you can see some of his work at http://scottbird.smugmug.com/
Natalie’s flight arrived from Dallas about 4 hours after I arrived, so we laughed and chatted excitedly about the upcoming adventure. We didn’t exactly take turns pinching each other, but it was NEAT!! After a bit we strolled on over to our gate ( I thought they might carry us on sedan chairs, but I guess there are limits, even to FIRST CLASS! ). We got to use the PREMIER BOARDING line to get on the plane, so that was nice. I had to hurdle a nun in a wheel chair to take my rightful place in line, but hey…. FIRST CLASS, ya know? 🙂 Here are a couple of pics of us in our luxurious surroundings on the aircraft. Yes, I still look like Jabba the Hut! Still some weight loss to do there! 😦
So, we got settled in and waited for takeoff. We got off the ground as scheduled, then started counting down the hours. Our flight path took us up and across Ontario on our way to Ireland and England. The tedium was frequently broken by the arrival of hot towels and gourmet food, of course, and we had many choices of entertainment on our personal video screens, including many first-run movies. Some of the movies featured good actors and some had Tom Cruise.
The flight was scheduled to leave Chicago at 4:10PM Central Time, then arrive at London Heathrow airport at 6:55 AM London time. Sounds like a terribly long flight, but when you figure out the time zones (or, just look at your ticket), you discover that the flight is just under 8 hours long.
So, 4PM Chicago is equivalent to 10PM London. If we quickly dozed off by our 6PM, that would be just like getting to sleep at midnight on London time. If we ‘stayed up’ til 8PM Central Time, that would be 2AM London time. So, if you wanna fly over the Atlantic ocean you gotta a)plan on retiring early or b) plan on arriving exhausted from lack of sleep. As it turned out, we went with Option b. Therefore, we did not sleep. Too much going on in the plane, too much excitement running around in our heads. The big plane got us there on time, approximately 6AM London time, and we grabbed up our carry-on’s and stormed Heathrow Airport!
Next time – the wonders of Heathrow, Paddington Station, and, yes…. LONDON!