The day started shortly after 4a.m. for me. It took me a while to fully wake up. The previous evening I had spent with my son and eldest daughter down in London Docklands where she lives. They had given me an excellent send-off, with a delicious Italian meal and rather too much alcohol. Sally very kindly put me up for the night, and even though we had not intended to arise until 04:30, I was awake far earlier.
My daughter ferried me across to the airport, where we enjoyed a breakfast together, shared fond farewells and wished each other bon voyage; Sally would be travelling and working around South America by the time I returned. Sitting alone in the airport departure lounge, my mind mulled over the last few weeks of frenzied activity. During those weeks I had somehow managed to do all my Christmas shopping, card writing, bought four presents for birthdays in my absence, and cooked a large Christmas dinner for nine adults plus Oliver. It will certainly feel strange not actually being with my family over Christmas and the New Year, but I have the full support of my family for my wintertime adventure. They will all meet up again on Christmas Day and enjoy another sumptuous meal, courtesy of my sister. I haven't a clue what I'll be doing, but it will certainly be different.
Today turned out to be an excellent day for flying to the U.S., since the plane was only one quarter occupied. The reason, Thanksgiving Day, and almost all Americans would already be ensconced with their families enjoying the festivities. One American who was still trying to reach his family was Mark, who sat in the same row of seats as me. Mark moved from Britain to the States some twenty years ago, working as a software engineer in various multinational companies. He currently worked for Sony, and was returning from some work he had been doing over in London.
Like Blackpool rock, Mark had technology and gadgets running all the way through him, and he just exuded and enthused about the cutting edge stuff that he was working on. I was totally fascinated and absorbed by his current projects. He was also a passionate iPAD user, and waxed lyrical about its prolific properties. I related to Mark some of the technology I had been involved in during my engineering career, pointing out that I did some work using Sony equipment 23 years ago, when we transmitted High Definition T.V. over telecoms links; yes we were involved in such technology all those years ago.
I discussed my planned New Zealand trip, and also told him about last year's Rockies trip, and this seemed to fire his imagination somewhat. Mark is also a keen hiker and traveller, and he has a yearning to explore India; one day perhaps. As we chatted about travel, and food, and his passion for ceramics, he reminded me of myself in years gone by.
He was returning to Morgan Hill, south of San Francisco, and was to head immediately once there to a Thanksgiving party. Expecting to be up till late, he took advantage of the many rows of empty seats and laid down for a nap; I can't say I blame him. I too indulged in a catnap during the flight.
I occasionally gazed out of the window, observing a snowy Iceland, and Greenland appearing as a white wasteland punctuated with the odd rocky peak piercing it. At these northern latitudes, the sun hung noticeably lower in the sky. After an unending dense mass of cloud, Canada presented itself as a forested land, dusted with snow, and littered with frozen lakes. Forest gave way to a grid structure of fields, the monotony of which was alleviated by the majestic snowy peaks of the Rockies. Seeing those again gave me a nostalgic twinge regarding my trip the previous year.
In next to no time, we were circling over the Pacific, waiting for a landing slot. The sun shone brightly over the ocean, but the land was wreathed in sea mist; typical for this neck of the woods. After a perfect landing, and an amazingly quick passage through border control, just one hour today, I was officially in the U.S. I bade farewell to Mark and picked up a shuttle bus to get me to my hotel; the same one I had used when I first arrived last year.
My friend Marcia arrived in San Francisco several hours later, after an appalling flight up from Santa Barbara. Apparently small propeller driven planes are used for such short internal flights, and on this occasion, San Francisco had such a backlog of big jets stacked up in the air that they simply demanded the smaller Santa Barbara aircraft to return to Santa Barbara until there was a landing slot available. How bad can it get? Of course there was a knock on effect for all passengers travelling from Santa Barbara to San Francisco that day.
I came across Marcia in Santa Barbara last year. Discovering then that she was an artist, we soon got chatting about art and the time just flew by. When I had firmed up my round-the-world flight plans, I emailed her to see if she would like to meet up at some point to browse around the galleries up in San Francisco. She took me up on the offer and here we are. We managed to meet up later in the day and walked to a cafe where we each enjoyed a Pastrami sandwich, and caught up on news since our last meeting 15 months ago.
However, by this time I was well and truly shattered and I just wanted to get my head down; I had now been on the go for 27 hours. I returned back to my hotel, my head hit the pillow and I was out.