London is Always a Good Choice
Sponsored travel journal post for Virgin Atlantic to celebrate their new #BeChoosy economy seating options. They paid for our London experience, and in return, I share my thoughts and photographs from our time there.
London is a city full of art, culture and good times. After several visits, I can confidently say that it is always a good choice when looking for a great travel destination.
My daughter shares my never-ending wanderlust, and I'm glad it worked out that she could join me on this adventure. While the specifics changed numerous times, we knew that in the end, our Chapman DNA would empower us to roll with it all and make the most of the trip,
Virgin Atlantic designed this campaign to raise awareness for their three new ways to fly in their economy cabin. Based around their #BeChoosy hashtag, travelers can now choose between Light, Classic and Delight seat option. All of them include delicious food, entertainment, and irresistible personal service. In the graphic below you can see the different options clearly explained.
They designated me as the "Classic Influencer," and as we took our seats, it was apparent they were new and improved. Gone were the standard headrests that many airlines have. Replaced with padded leather that felt good as I raised them a bit and laid back against them. There was the standard amount of leg room, and the only complaint I had was that the seat back pockets were rather small and tight so my headphones didn't fit in them.
In a moment of pure marketing surprise and delight, a member of the cabin crew approached and told us to grab our bags. She walked us up to the Upperclass section of the plane and encouraged us to enjoy the flight.
My daughter has never flown this way and decided to fight off going to sleep to enjoy some of it. Her hot cocoa and cookies went perfectly with her late night movie choice. The in-flight entertainment options on Virgin Atlantic flights are numerous and free for all which was a nice perk on the flight home when I'd watch three different films.
Best perk for me was the Fastpass through customs we were given so that we didn't have to wait in any of the lines. If flying Virgin Atlantic, look into how you can get one of these because as a frequent traveler this was a perfect way to start our morning in the United Kingdom.
On the ground, we connected with the team and headed to the Moxy Stratford to check in and drop our stuff. This hip hotel is part of the Marriott chain and looking at their Instagram feed showed me they liked to have a good time. While we didn't find any crazy kangaroos or giant toothbrushes in our room, we were greeted with this fun message.
Stratford is far outside of downtown London and is currently under massive construction. I expect if I were to return in a few years it would be a bustling new area of London, but for now, outside of the Olympic Park, the train station and the shopping mall, there isn't a whole lot going on. Must be why the Moxy's 24-7 bar is so popular and always packed with patrons no matter the hour.
Our strategy was to stay awake and not waste any time in our hotel room except to sleep at night.
"If we are in London, don't we have to see Buckingham Palace?" asked my daughter.
It wasn't on my list of things to see, but my community had voted that we walk the city to take in the sights and over the next few days we'd put in just over 36 miles of walking according to my Apple Watch.
The Palace is always a site to see, but sadly Big Ben is under heavy construction. We got a good laugh at seeing that they left the clock face on one side exposed so that people could still tell the time and know that it was, in fact, the landmark under all the scaffolding.
Walking around London on the 4th of July made us smile. While there would be no fireworks or backyard barbecue, we figured the next best thing was to find a small pub and grab a plate of fish and chips. At The Liberty Bounds Tower Bridge, we enjoyed our dinner and discovered the deliciousness of curry sauce on fries. Who knew?
My daughter is a mixed media artist, so a lot of our trip was planned around creative inspiration. On my last trip to London, my friends had taken me around to see a lot of street art, and thus I knew if we walked up to the Shoreditch neighborhood of London we'd find plenty of inspiration, so that is where we headed.
This neighborhood is one of my favorites in all of London. A crazy mix of restaurants, shops, and art around every corner. We tried the most delicious Ghanaian chocolate, enjoyed perfect gelato under a park tree and found the most extraordinary variety of art.
Watching Emily find bits of inspiration, styles, and smiles among the art warmed my heart. As a father, you want your kids to discover their calling and anything I can do to help with that I will. Heck, I may have made the perfect photograph for her first exposition poster.
The next morning, Virgin Atlantic had scheduled us breakfast at Sketch. Part art gallery, part overly pink brunch spot.
Scooting into a corner booth, there was freshly squeezed juice, strong Kona coffee and tiny portioned yummy plates of food. It was an Instagrammer's heaven, but not my type of preferred breakfast spot. Fun, but a bit too fancy for my tastes. If you ever do go, be sure to swing by their restrooms where you'll experience a unique gender-neutral bathroom. Be aware though that while you are taking care of things, others will be there for the selfies.
With satisfied bellies, we took in the nearby shopping district. Emily was excited to pop into a Dr. Martins store and a variety of other little shops. If you enjoy shopping, London is a perfect city for you with everything from the major brands to the smallest of boutiques. Something for every budget and desire.
One of the benefits of this trip is we hoped to be able to sneak in a college visit.
Arriving at the Chelsea College of Arts, Emily instantly loved the neighborhood and vibe. What isn't to like when it is located across the street from the Tate Britain Museum and a short walk to a park? While most of the staff was on vacation, we were lucky to meet a helpful support staff member who gave us a tour of the campus when no one else could be reached. Because of her helpful heart, it is safe to say that Emily will be applying this fall. Thank you, Tess.
Tate Britain was the first art museum I've ever been in with Emily since she began taking art classes. I learned so much as she talked me through art history and shared what made each period unique. I appreciated the decades painted on the floor as you entered each new room of paintings. We also both fell in love with the work of modern artist Lisa Brice who we look forward to learning more about.
After more walking and refueling at Nando's, we arrived for our Thames Rockets adventure. They give boat tours of the Thames River and once outside of the London city borders can open up the engines for little high-speed fun on the water. The rush of fresh air mixed with the comedy of the hosts made for a great time. After walking around the city, it felt great to kick back on the water for an hour and not have to do anything but enjoy it.
Neither of us was ready to call it a night yet, so we found our way to the Seven Dials neighborhood and explored. Most of the shops were sadly closed by the time we arrived, but there is always something to see in London. It was fun to watch the theater crowds pour in and out of the pubs after taking in a show.
With our hotel being located far outside of downtown London, the Tube is easy enough to navigate that we had no problem getting home at the end of the nights. While the cabs didn't know where The Moxy was, it is hard to miss the purple lights when you exit the train station.
In the morning, I grabbed some coffee in the quiet lobby of the hotel. While it is crazy and busy at night, once the early morning breakfast crowd is gone you can find yourself alone to grab one of their many books, a cup of coffee and your thoughts.
Virgin Atlantic has partnered with Patissier Eric Lanlard to bring his delicious Cake-Boy creations to select flights starting this fall. They will be serving a unique version of an afternoon tea service to entire flights. Not only were we going to meet Eric and try some of the treats that would be served, but he was going to teach us how to make a few of them personally.
My daughter loves to bake, while I prefer cooking. The science of baking is too precise for me and my preference for a little of this and a bit of that. But, when I need to, I can buckle down and bake, so I was excited to see what we were going to make.
Eric was down to earth and over the top friendly. We all instantly liked him.
Over the next few hours, we made savory macarons, pistachio financiers, and bee pollen scones. I have to say that the rock-hard lumpy triangles that pass as "scones" here in America have nothing to do with the moist circles of yum that we made and enjoyed here. I'm thinking that they will appear on a Chapman dinner table sometime in the future as a new style of biscuits.
After we finished baking, we were treated to a formal English Tea. This is something I've never done on previous visits to London, so it was fun to experience.
All enjoyed delicious sandwiches, champagne and a variety of sweets. It was fun to eat the items we had just learned how to make. Eric even had one final surprise for us with signed copies of his latest book Eric Lanlard's Afternoon Tea to bring home. While I won't be serving afternoon tea anytime soon, all of the recipes would make for great appetizers at any future gathering.
While we were eating a text message popped up on my phone. Emily said she was initially worried at the way I jumped upon reading the block of text on my screen, but then she saw my huge smile and wondered what was up.
It turned out that my two dear friends AJ & Melissa were in London for the weekend and they wondered if we'd have time to connect. These are two of my favorite humans on the planet, and they happened to be finishing up a meeting and going for a drink directly in our path. Once tea was finished, we headed for Shakespeare's Globe, and when Emily wasn't allowed into the cocktail bar, we moved into the lobby to catch up.
Watching AJ talk with Emily about her future, Melissa and I shared a knowing smile and nod. Here were four Misfits in London. No idea when or where in the world our paths would next cross but knowing that we'd always be there for each other. Genuine friendships are like this. Love you both and miss you already.
Since we were in the neighborhood and it was Emily's top destination in London, we jumped on over to the Tate Modern. AJ had suggested we take in the Picasso exhibit and the special tasting menu in the restaurant. I'm glad we did both.
By the way, if you are between the ages of 16-25, there is a new program called the Tate Collective that is free to join, and members get £5 tickets to all exhibits. Emily signed up and now says she has to return to London to fully use her membership. Who knows, perhaps she'll have a piece of her art one day hanging on the walls.
Days before we boarded for London, I learned that Pride in London would be taking place while we were in town. Emily had been bummed to miss Pride weekend in Boston, so there was no way she was going to miss this since we had no other plans.
It was amazing to see the pure love and happiness by the thousands upon thousands of people we saw during the festivities. We arrived early to get a good spot near the end of the parade at Trafalgar Square. The conversations with the people we met make me smile as I reflect on them. Never know who you are going to meet at an event like this.
Thank you Virgin Atlantic for being a sponsor of the parade. It was a pleasant surprise to learn and made me appreciate working with you on this trip even more.
Walking through the SoHo District during Pride was an experience. Mix into the fun that England was playing (and would win) their World Cup game and the energy level was as high as it could be. Turn any corner, and there was a celebration of one sort or another. What an amazing day!
Usually, a delayed flight home is the last thing any traveler wants, but thankfully we found out about our two-hour delay before leaving for the airport.
Not one to waste a gift of a few extra hours in a country, we checked out of our hotel room and headed to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which was in the neighborhood. We knew it was near since the ArcelorMittal Orbit can be seen from everywhere in Stratford.
It is a beautiful park that sadly was lacking in pigeons, and the ones that we found were scared of the bread that Emily wanted to feed them. I'm not one to go looking for pigeons, but Emily wanted to feed them, and they had nothing to do with it. You can't begin to appreciate how much this bugged her.
After a quick lunch and scoring Emily her dream pair of Dr. Martin's we grabbed our luggage and headed to the airport.
As our car weaved through the streets of London, it gave me time to reflect on the few days we had just spent in this inspiring city.
London has all the culture and excitement of New York without the hurry and hustle. It is a city, I've grown to love and appreciate and that I wish more people got to know beyond the landmarks and the fun accent.
Virgin Atlantic asked me to #BeChoosy and go on an adventure with them, and there was no way I could say no. Thank you to all involved in empowering me to take my daughter along with me. We created memories that will never be forgotten.
Plus, if she ends up going to college there, I might be flying from Boston to London a lot more. :)