Friday, March 6, 2009

Dad's 1st Visit

It is said that most Americans do not have a passport and an even greater amount never leave America's borders. With recent legislation in America making the old past-time of traveling to Canada, Mexico and certain Caribbean Island nations with a driving license or birth certificate now extinct more passports are being issued than ever before to American citizens. Yet it is unknown how many actually utilize them to travel outside of North America.

Whether most Americans not leaving their continent is an admirable or detestable situation is indeed debatable on many levels. It is understandable to believe that North America has so many different cultural treasures and great vacation spots that a person could spend a week vacation every year for 20 years easily exploring the continent and not going to the same place twice.

At the same time there are so many other cultures and environments on 6 other continents that have so much to offer and explore that it seems a shame to limit oneself to one continent.

In late February 2006 my father made his first trip outside of North America to come and visit my family and I in Birmingham for about 9 days. My dad is a typical American man in his 50's with a slight resemblance to Liverpool Football Club manager Rafa Benítez and getting him to actually apply for a passport was a huge step. At this point I had actually been living in Europe for almost 7 years and it amazes me that it took this long for my dad to get a passport and get on a plane. In fact, that more of my family has not taken advantage of me living in Europe to come and visit me leaves me incredulous. If I was in their shoes I would have been over at every opportunity. But I digress.

My Dad flew on KLM from Boston to Amsterdam and then after a small layover a short leg of Amsterdam to Birmingham. He didn't much take to Birmingham in those first few days. He wasn't too thrilled with the food nor the trash that people around here seem to religiously throw wherever they please in Birmingham. The only food he actually liked while he was here was Nando's.

I had booked us a flight from London Luton airport to to Grenoble airport in the French Alps on Easyjet while he was here in Europe so that we could go visit my son in France. The flight wasn't until late morning but we were catching a coach from Birmingham to London Luton at 6.45AM leaving us plenty of time to get stuck in traffic on the M1. As I only lived about maximum 10 minutes from the coach station we went outside to the car at around 6.15-6.20ish to have my wife drive us to the station.

Unfortunately the car decided that it didn't want to start. It was actually a very cold night out but I never had the problem with the car prior to that. We tried push-starting the car for about 5 minutes before we gave up and I called a friend to drive us to the station but of course we had missed our coach by then.

The next best option was a 7.30AM bus heading to central London. Luton airport is not actually in London. I would estimate it to be around 40 minutes drive north on the M1 from central London with decent traffic. I was actually hoping that the coach driver would drop us near the airport but I didn't have the nerve to ask.

By the time we got to London it was around 10.30AM and now we had to find a way to back track through the city and up the M1. It wasn't looking good. If we missed this flight my dad wouldn't have another chance to fly to France to see my son. I asked a black cab how much it would cost me to get to Luton and he quoted me "around £120". I found a private taxi and he told me he could get me there in time for £75 and we were off. He drove like a mad man through the city in his Ford Galaxy minivan and even stopped on the way for some gas before dropping us off at the airport with literally only a few minutes to spare.

We checked in and hurried to the gate to board the aircraft. After landing at St George airport we passed through immigration and boarded a bus for centre of Grenoble. I had booked a hotel nearby to where my son was staying and we had an excellent time having fun with my oldest son.

My dad loved France. He found the atmosphere and the environment of Grenoble to be extraordinary not to mention the great food. I think while he obviously wanted to spend time with his granddaughter in Birmingham he really hated to fly back to the UK.

The morning of his flight to Amsterdam continental Europe was having some terrible weather. His flight to Amsterdam was delayed a day and then when he did make it out to Amsterdam the next morning he got stuck there for another day before getting flown to Newark airport and then on to Boston.

I guess he didn't have that bad of time here in Birmingham though because he did end up returning about 2 years later. He still insisted on flying to France though.

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