USA Travel Diary Day 1 – London to San Francisco

Time for another adventure. I’m off to California. It’s been a while – well 3 months anyway. I’m travelling with daughter No 1 and my son-in-law (not sure he knows what he’s let himself in for) to see daughter No 2 for her birthday.

Our itinerary starts in San Francisco, then consists of two loops; firstly, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Secondly, a 200 mile drive down Route 1 along the Pacific coast through Big Sur to San Luis Obispo.

We’re flying with Virgin Atlantic. It’s my third time flying with them. On both previous occasions I swore ‘never again’. So expectations are set to low.

Travelling on a British plane (where we’ve lost interest in covid and decided to pretend it doesn’t exist) to the USA (where masks are still routinely required) I’m intrigued to see what happens on our flight. The answer is; on board, US trumps UK and having spent 3 hours in the airport where most people are maskless, once we board the plane, we are required to don masks, before sitting down next to the same people we were sitting next to moments ago without masks on.

We don’t get off to the best start; an hour delay with little explanation – just some random talk of paperwork. Finally, after sitting on the tarmac for almost 2 hours, we take off and drinks are served. I’ve been around a long time, but wine from a can is a new first – I’m still not totally comfortable with wine from a box or wine with a screw top… But it’s not bad. Dinner is pretty bland – you’d think it was difficult to make a Thai green curry taste bland, but Virgin have managed to successfully achieve it. Nevertheless, they totally redeem themselves with dessert; a chocolate pot which tastes amazing! First, due to my nut allergy, I check the label: ‘made in a factory that handles nuts’. Shall I risk it? It’s chocolate but it could kill me. A quick look at the in flight map tells me we’re directly over Iceland. They have good medical facilities, right? So I chance the chocolate pot which is sublime. And nut free, so no need to divert the plane and its 300 passengers to Reykjavik…

Then it’s time to settle down for the remainder of the 10.5 hour flight. Rule no 1 of frequent flying; never go to the cinema. That way, there’s probably going to be a decent movie you’ve yet to watch on board. A Virgin plus – the wine may be from a tin, but there are 3 drinks services – enough to anaesthetise me for a reasonable chunk of the flight. Although not ideal before watching Dear Evan Hansen for the first time – there were tears! And certainly not sufficient to prepare me for the ordeal of eating a Virgin cheese toastie. I don’t know how many flights I’ve taken, but we’re talking in the region of 300. That’s a lot of in flight meals. But nothing I’ve eaten on an aeroplane compares to a Virgin toastie. Exactly how you manage to get toast quite so chewy is beyond me…

The rest of the flight is as uneventful as sitting in an uncomfortable seat in a metal tube between two strangers for 13 hours can be and we manage to make up a little time, so arrive in San Francisco just 30 minutes behind schedule.

Time for the ordeal that is US immigration. In November it took us 1 hour 45 minutes, so I’m hoping for an improvement, although from row 62, with around 250 people in front of me, I’m not entirely optimistic. When the girls were young, when confronted by a long queue at US immigration, I would encourage them to cry in the hope it would bump us up the queue. That probably wasn’t appropriate then, and it certainly isn’t now she’s 28! So we must wait our turn with all the good parents.

Immigration is way faster than last time and customs, which also took ages last time, appears to be closed, so we can just walk through. Then it’s just a monorail to the car hire desk and a 25 mile drive to Palo Alto.


We make it to daughter No 2’s apartment by 6 pm, that’s 18 hours after leaving daughter No 1’s house. We haven’t seen each other since Christmas, so time for a catch up – in the jacuzzi, of course.

Then in bed by 10, which I’m quite proud of – last time I only managed to stay awake until 8.30…


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