I woke up at the usual time this one fine day when my family and I would head off on what promised to be a spectacular 12-day wing through Europe. We would start this spectacular family holiday by first meeting at the Los Angeles International Airport. My wife Nenita, my daughter Kari and my 10-year-old granddaughter Somaya and I would be driven from our Burbank, California home to Los Angeles International Airport there to connect with my daughter Kimberly who would fly in early that morning from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kimberly is Somaya’s mom but had been off on work in Albuquerque.
We had been planning this trip for a long time and everyone was excited. What a great group we were, ranging in age from 10 to 72 and a total of five: four females and one old geezer (me) and we had grand plans indeed. First we would spend one night in London just to catch up and have a wee bit of fun before heading off to Brussels and then Cologne and then Paris and Reims and then back to London before flying home.
Twelve truly action packed days and as I began putting the final pieces together on this day one I reflected back and asked myself “How did all of this get started in the first place?” Oh yeah I recalled it was all my beautiful bride’s fault because about three months earlier when she learned that one of her family members from the Philippines currently living and working in Singapore was planning a trip to Paris Nenita announced that she wanted to go meet with her cousin. It took maybe a day for the rest of us to suggest all the places in Europe we wanted to visit and soon began the basic plan of this adventure, but no longer just for Nenita but for everyone. And now here we were, packed and ready to get on the road again.
Getting from Burbank to LAX was made extremely simple thanks to Go Sedan limousine service and driver Robert Narzaryan. He wasn’t just on time but early and he instantly became helpful by assisting in getting all of our luggage — three woman equals plenty of luggage, I had Just one carry on — out of the house and into the car. He also proved to be an extremely capable driver, getting us quickly and safely from our home to Terminal 2 at Los Angeles International Airport there to be met by Kimberly and the check in process soon began.
We were there at least three hours prior to the scheduled departure time which for international flights these days proved to be a smart and in my opinion necessary move. No waiting at the ticket counter and the Virgin Atlantic representative was extremely helpful getting us preferred seating assignments, albeit in coach, but still excellent seating; and then helping us to smooth our next step, a swim in the TSA shark tank. That done we now had about two hours before actual flight departure time or a little over one hour before boarding which is not an excessive amount of time.
We all grabbed lunch in some form and enjoyed visiting the Duty Free shops. But here is a hint: you may not have to pay any “duty” on merchandise purchased at a Duty Free shop but plan on paying full retail price. Simply while it may be “duty free” it fails as a true bargain, but hey looking can be fun.
The boarding process was somewhat lengthy but very well organized making getting more than 200 passengers on board a fairly smooth process. First to board were those booked in “Upper” Class, Virgin’s way of saying First Class. Next they boarded the “Premium” Class known in the rest of aviation as Business Class and finally came us folks in coach.
There is a clear and obvious distinction in the three different cabins. With the “Upper” Class clearly was more plush with comfortable seating. And from previous flights I can safely say with far better food and beverage. But on Virgin Atlantic even their coach service is generally comfortable, the food is good but somewhat sparse and the service was at worst good.
The only thing that was abundantly obvious was that neither the coach seats nor even the premium class seats were all that good for sleeping in flight. They reclined very little for doing so would impose on those behind you. On a ten-hour flight that condition does become annoying. But one must weigh that less than perfect condition against paying many times more for the Upper Class luxury. Were it only me flying maybe I would but with five it was not an option so off we went in coach.
Settled in and soon the aircraft pushed back from the gate and ambled out for takeoff. I was particularly concerned about my 10-year-old Somaya because she was stressing about the experience. Her eyes wide open she sat firmly in her seat but not long after liftoff I saw a little twinkle emerge from her tense face and soon she was at peace with the process.
Virgin Atlantic does offer fairly extensive inflight entertainment options. Not everything appealed to me but so what, that is why they offer many options. I did get to watch a powerful movie, Dunkirk not exactly light fair but I thought particularly important given our destination. All in all there was enough to make sitting still, more or less, for ten hours tolerable. But then the descent into London’s Heathrow began and our first ever transatlantic flight together came to a pleasant conclusion.
Then came the arrival process. Maybe it was less but our walk from the gate to the immigration portal seemed like about two miles winding eternally through London’s Heathrow Airport and then it came to a near standstill as the line of 200 to 300 arriving passengers weaved slowly before eventually spinning out to an immigration officer’s desk. Passport viewed and stamped it was then off to the baggage claim area. Keep in mind this was all happening about 10:30 a.m. London time or 2:30 a.m. back home and after a very long flight so it was a beautiful thing when we found our luggage waiting for us and the customs process essentially non-existent.
Next came a very quick and comfortable 16-minute train ride from Heathrow Airport to Paddington Station in Westminster, London followed by a pleasant three block walk to our hotel, the Mina House Hotel, 21-23 Craven Road, Paddington, London, Great Britain. The Mina House Hotel is in a very pleasant area surrounded four and five star hotels but its rooms are very small and basic. But the beds were clean and comfortable, the bathrooms were efficient and really what else do you need? Plus, the cost of a night at the Mina House Hotel was pleasantly modest, right around half of what a room at three-star hotel in the same area would cost.
So it was a great place for our first night and one heck of a good deal. But we weren’t ready for sleep, we were excited and hungry. So our two daughters and our granddaughter took off to explore London and grab a bite to eat and my wife and I headed out to immerse ourselves in the British experience at a nearby pub, the Pride of Paddington where we enjoyed classic food and beverage. Nenita had fish and chips that were absolutely amazing and I enjoy bangers and mashed with a pint of genuine British ale. Cheerio!
Filled and chilled we casually strolled around the Paddington area for a while looking for but not finding a cute bear. Well actually we did find several stuffed ones but that was about it. Meanwhile, KImberly, Kari and Somaya explored a farmers’ market not too far away before working their way back to the Mina House Hotel. We enjoyed two separate but adjoining rooms but we weren’t yet ready to turn in and enough time had passed that we wanted just a wee bit more to eat before getting some very much needed sleep. Not far away I found the Villa Rosa Italian restaurant where I bought a cheese and ham pizza that was truly authentic Italian, modestly priced and utterly delicious.
It had been an extremely long day, actually covering much of two adventurous and fun days and as many continents. Our next day would allow even more fun in London before heading off by train to Brussels Belgium and beyond. But for now — out.
Photos by Ron Irwin
Ron Irwin was born in Chicago, Illinois a long time ago. He served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, became a trial lawyer, TV and radio host, CEO of a public company and once held an Emmy. He never won an Emmy he just held one. Ron has written and published twelve books. His most important book to date is “Live, Die, Live Again” in which Ron tells of his early life and his unexpected and very temporary death in 2012. That experience dramatically refocused his life and within the pages of that book Ron reveals how he achieved a much healthier life, ridding himself of Diabetes, Cancer and Heart Failure. Now Ron enjoys writing about many things including health topics, travel [he has circled the globe several times], adventure, culinary experiences and the world of performing art. Ron’s motto is “Live better, live longer and live stronger because it feels great and annoys others.” Contact the author.