post

Dubai to Victoria

February 23, 2015 – Dubai to Atlanta

JoeTourist: Victoria to Dubai &emdash; Aurora out the aircraft windowOur Gems of Arabia tour group arrive about three hours before our flight leaves the Dubai airport at 11PM, so we have plenty of time to get through the check-in process and find our gate. The flight to Atlanta takes 16 hours and 4 minutes according to the pilot. I see the aurora out the aircraft window over Denmark and take some photographs. Oddly enough, by the time we fly over Greenland, the aurora is gone. I then briefly spot bright aurora again over Newfoundland.

February 24, 2015 – Atlanta

It is 6:25AM (3:25PM Dubai time) when we land in Atlanta. I quickly clear customs and immigration, since Atlanta has the same kiosks for US and Canadian citizens to use as SeaTac. Dealing with a customs agent after that only takes a few seconds, and then I reclaim my bag and say my goodbyes to the tour group. The sign outside says “Hotel Shuttles – call for pickup”, however what actually happens is that a shuttle transfers everyone from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, where the hotel shuttles are located.

I wait here in Atlanta for tomorrow’s flight to Seattle and then to Victoria by overnighting again at the Hyatt Place Atlanta Airport-South hotel near the airport. They don’t have any rooms available when I arrive at 8AM, since people are still having breakfast before they check out. I check my big bag and wait in the lobby while sipping on a cappuccino, so I’m relatively happy. After my room is ready, I have a shower and then draw the drapes and sleep for about 6 hours. I order some dinner and a cappuccino and take it back to my room, and then go back to bed and sleep through to 5am.

February 25, 2015 – Atlanta to Victoria, Canada

I had a good sleep at the airport hotel, but get up early since I’m still not fully adjusted to the time zone change from Arabia. I kill a couple of hours in the room, and then go down for breakfast and also have that essential cappuccino. I then return to my room and put in some time on the computer. I make some good progress on my travel photos.

I decide to kill time at the airport, rather than pay for a late check-out, so I leave at noon and have to sit around in the domestic terminal until 3PM, when Alaska Airlines will allow me to check my bag. I then have a bit more freedom, so clear security, ride the train to my terminal area and find my gate. Atlanta airport is certainly a great deal bigger than the last time I flew through it. There are two main terminals (domestic and international), and each of those terminals are huge in their own right.

The Alaska Airlines 737-900 appears at the gate on time, and we board on time, but then the screw-ups start. First up is rearranging the luggage in the hold, and then they pull back into the Jetway to let a passenger board. Apparently his dogs made it onboard in cargo, but he didn’t make the connection. The airline decides it is quicker and easier to pull back in to board him rather than send his dogs on ahead of him. I guess there is a first for everything! The pilot previously told us they would have to de-ice before taking off, and so after we pull away from the gate, the aircraft taxies over to a designated area for deicing. I remember from previous flights that deicing took place at the gate, but obviously ATL has different protocols. By the time all this transpires, we are an hour late leaving. It’s a good thing I have 2 hours and 15 minutes layover in SeaTac.

As it turns out, I have plenty of time to find the gate at SeaTac for the flight to Victoria, which is in a different terminal. Alaska Airlines announces Victoria airport is experiencing foggy conditions, so they will attempt to land, but if the flight crew doesn’t feel it’s safe, we will return to Seatac for an overnight stay. The weather is fine when we land in Victoria. My bag is one of the first to appear on the belt, I clear customs and immigration, take a taxi home and go to bed by 1:30AM. My trip to Arabia is over!

post

New Dubai

February 22, 2015 – Muscat to Dubai

We drive from Muscat, Oman back to Dubai, U.A.E. today. We are staying in the new section of Dubai at the Manzil Downtown Dubai hotel. This is perhaps the poshest hotel we have stayed at on the whole trip, and when I check out the room rates, they start at 1,400 AED (CD$400) per night. There are multiple concierges in the lobby, all eager to be helpful. I have dinner in the hotel restaurant this evening, since I don’t feel too adventuresome. The boneless beef ribs in date sauce with french fries are very tasty, and I chase it down with a Tiger beer. Service is impeccable. Cost is AED130 (CD$43) – about what I would pay for a nice dinner at home in Canada.

February 23, 2015 – Dubai to Atlanta – last day of the tour

Today is a free day to do what we want in Dubai, since our flight home doesn’t depart until 11PM. We have a late check-out from the hotel at 6PM.

Joe takes a selfie on the Observation Deck of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Joe takes a selfie on the Observation Deck of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Last night I booked a ticket for the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck (140AED or CD$50). When I initially went online, the standard tickets were booked until the mid-afternoon, however when I selected having a cappuccino and a cake for 15AED more, I suddenly had my choice of time slots!

So this morning I navigate my way through the Dubai Mall to the observation deck entrance at 9:30AM. The elevator zooms up to level 124, and I experience the tallest building in the world! There are inside displays and an outside deck. Although the deck is glassed in, there are gaps in the glass so photographs can be taken without window reflections. As I sip my cappuccino and pastry from the coffee shop below, I gaze up a this imposing building. It is visible from virtually anywhere in the city of Dubai, and casts its shadow for blocks.

Most people on the tour are shopping in the Dubai Mall, which is right across the street from our hotel. Since I’m not into shopping and I’m feeling it’s time to return home, I spend the afternoon in my hotel room packing, napping, cruising the Internet, and annotating my many photographs from the trip.

Our bags are picked up at 5PM and we depart the hotel at 6PM for our farewell dinner. The restaurant is near the airport, and the food is underwhelming, so I won’t mention the name. I guess we have been spoiled with all the good food we have had on our tour. Our flight leaves the airport at 11PM, so we have plenty of time to wait. The flight to Atlanta will take 16 hours and 4 minutes according to the pilot.

post

Muscat

February 15, 2015 – Sunday – Khasab to Muscat

Musandam peninsula coastline from the air

Musandam peninsula coastline from the air

After spending the morning seeing some sights around Khasab, we take a noon Oman Air flight to Muscat, Oman’s capital city. As the flight takes off in a northerly direction, it circles over Khasab and the harbour before turning south, flying over the wadis we drove through yesterday on our way up the mountains to Jebel Harim.

The flight to Muscat gives me a good opportunity to take some aerial photos, especially of the harbour, coastline, and the dams in the wadis, which are obviously for flood control, since Khasab and the suburbs are all built in the valley floor on low ground. It takes about an hour to arrive in Muscat, and shortly after leaving Khasab I don’t see much, since it is cloudy the whole way.

After landing, we meet our Omani guide Yacoob, who will be with us until we leave Oman. The bus takes us to the City Seasons Hotel in Muscat, where we have the afternoon to ourselves. I catch up on my travel journal and photos, and have a nap this afternoon. We have a sumptuous and extensive dinner buffet in the hotel, consisting of western, Indian, and Omani food. Table service is top notch, and the desserts are amazing! The Al-Zawawi Mosque is nearby and is beautifully lit at night, so several of us find a good vantage point to take photos.

February 16, 2015 – Monday – Muscat

This morning we visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: a beautiful example of Islamic architecture with exquisite crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, wonderful flower gardens, and a beautiful exterior design. Arriving early means we are ahead of the cruise ship tours, so it’s nice to have lots of room and few crowds for the first 45 minutes. The whole experience at the mosque is peaceful and sublime. I am most impressed with this Grand Mosque over the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque (Grand Mosque) which we saw in Abu Dhabi.

After leaving the Grand Mosque, we drive down to the harbour, which is the Mutrah area of Muscat – an attractive corniche of latticed buildings and mosques. The Sultan’s very impressive yacht pulls into the harbour while we are there. This souq is the same as all the others we have visited, so after a quick walk through, I sit in the shade waiting for the group to reassemble. Our next stop is the nearby Sultan’s Al-Alam Palace, which has a beautiful plaza with flowers everywhere. The palace is very small…obviously for ceremonies only. We are not allowed inside, but we have fun taking photos of the grounds, the plaza, and Michele directs our guide Yaqoob (as our ever-willing model) to add some interest to the scenes by walking in front of the palace and along a colonnaded breezeway. Yaqoob (and our drivers) are always impeccably dressed in turbans (or hats) and robes.

Later, we also see the Portuguese-built Mirani and Jalali forts at either end of the harbour, which the Palace is also located on. Jalali was a prison and is now a museum of Omani heritage. Mirani fort guarded the harbour entrance. Neither fort is open to the public, so we take a few photos of the beautiful harbour setting with the forts on either side and then return to our hotel. We indulge in another sumptuous and extensive dinner buffet in the hotel.

2015.02.17 – Tuesday – Muscat to Sharqiya Sands

We leave Muscat this morning, driving south along the coast for most of the day to Desert Nights Camp. We are in 4×4 vehicles (3 per car) for the rest of our time in Oman.

post

Musandam Peninsula

February 14, 2015 – Saturday – Musandam Peninsula, Oman

This morning we board a traditional Omani dhow for a half-day cruise into the Musandam Peninsula’s nearby fiords, or khawrs. Dolphins play in the wake of the boat as we travel along the tranquil waters. We arrive at Telegraph Island, which was a repeater station built in 1864 by the British to connect Bombay with Britain via an underwater and overland telegraph cable. The boat is anchored and I am the first one in to have a swim. The water is a bit cloudy, but it feels great, and floating is no problem in the very salty water.

We see the famous Sherry fish marinated and grilled for our hot buffet lunch, which is served aboard the dhow, and then we return the same way back to Khasab harbour. There are numerous fishing villages along the shoreline. Some have power, water and communications, while others don’t. As we return to Khasab harbour, we see Shinas, the fastest catamaran ferry in the world docked. It travels between Khasab and Muscat down the coast in about five hours.

This dhow cruise is one of the highlights of the tour for me!

In the afternoon, we take a 4×4 drive, climbing up into the mountains along steep gravel roads to Jebel Harim (1,800 metres or 5,900′ elevation), where we see a beautiful oasis and some petroglyphs. There are century-old villages built into the rocks on the sides of the wadis, including Bait ai-Qufl with its old stone houses, and the lush nature of Al Khalidiyyah Park with its many acacia trees, and interesting clam and oyster fossils.

The gravel roads throughout this mountainous region are very impressive, since they are very well engineered and maintained.

February 15, 2015 – Sunday – Khasab to Muscat, Oman

We visit the Khasab Castle, originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century, but now a museum to showcase Omani history and culture. Traditional boats and other historical artifacts unique to the Musandam region are featured. After withdrawing some Omani Riyals from a bank machine, I take a few photos of Kasab’s lovely Friday Mosque: As Sultan Qaboos Mosque. There is a small souq in the town square, with mostly livestock, fodder, and a few food items for sale under the tents. Next, we drive to the nearby Oudah village, located in Wadi Oudah. There are some petroglyphs in the rocks at Tawi village at end of road.

We drive to Khasab airport and take an Omani Air mid-day flight to Muscat, Oman’s capital city. We meet our Omani guide Yacoob and our driver, who take us to our hotel, where we have the afternoon to ourselves.

Our travels in Oman

Our travels in Oman

post

Victoria to Dubai

February 6, 2015 – Friday – Victoria to Atlanta

I’m out the door at my home and in a taxi to the airport by 4AM.  The United counter Victoria airport opens at 5AM (2 hours before flight time). Once my bag is checked through to Atlanta (US$25+tax), I clear security and grab a cappuccino from the Spinnaker’s On The Fly restaurant in the boarding lounge. My flight for San Francisco leaves at 7AM, so I have some time to kill. Once the flight to San Francisco departs on time I can relax, since there is nothing further I can do about anything except find my gates at each airport along the way. I’m flying through San Francisco and Houston to get to Atlanta today.

I only have an hour to find the gate in Houston for the final leg to Atlanta, but I catch a break. The flight arrives on time, the aircraft isn’t full so unloading goes well, and the next gate turns out to be in the same terminal. So instead of rushing around, I have a few minutes to spare.

Atlanta’s domestic terminal is under construction, and is a mess both inside the terminal buildings and outside with the access roads. I finally find the hotel shuttle and arrive the Hyatt Place at South Terminal. This hotel is a pretty good choice. Although the room fixtures are starting to show wear and tear, check-in is quick, and it is clean, quiet, and well-run.

February 7, 2015 – Saturday – Atlanta to Dubai

Today is a lazy day to start with, since my flight to Dubai doesn’t leave Atlanta airport until 9:45PM. I have a leisurely breakfast in the hotel lobby, fool around on the Internet for awhile, and then go for a walk in the sunshine along a local bike trail. I pay the hotel an extra charge so I can stay in my room until 6PM, since it makes no sense to spend an extra half day in an airport when I’m facing a 14 hour flight later today. I have a shower and sleep in the afternoon, and put on some fresh clothes before catching the airport shuttle at 5:30PM. The shuttle takes me to the domestic terminal parking area, where I have to transfer to the International terminal shuttle, which takes a good 20 minutes. I remember Atlanta airport being big, but not quite this big!

I check in at the Delta self-serve kiosks and give my tagged bag (Dubai-DXB) to the check-in clerk. Since I am “TSA Pre-cleared”, I breeze through security and onward to the concourse and find our gate by 7PM. An hour later I meet the tour group near the gate for the flight to Dubai. Of course it is a blur of introductions; names I will not remember for a few days yet. Boarding is disorganized, and it is a full flight on a Boeing 777-200SP. I purchased Economy Comfort in order to get an additional 4” of legroom and more seat recline, so I am in the Group 1 boarding. It’s nice to get onboard ahead of about half of the passengers for this 14 hour direct flight.

Flight path from Atlanta to Dubai

Flight path from Atlanta to Dubai

The captain announces we will arrive in Dubai a few minutes ahead of schedule. Our route is up the Atlantic coast, past Newfoundland, south of Greenland and Iceland, and over Western Europe. Let’s hope we steer clear of Syria on our way down to Dubai!

February 8, 2015 – Sunday – Atlanta to Dubai

7AM (Azores Time) I take a guess at the time zone as we are south of Iceland when the Sun rises. Sunrise over the North Atlantic is spectacular from my SE-facing window seat, and of course I take lots of photos since I’m such a sucker for sunrises and sunsets. I’m the only one with my window shutters open, but I can’t sleep and want to look out the window. We are served a cold breakfast bun and some coffee, and then everyone goes to back to sleep, except me of course. A flight attendant comes by and asks me to close one window and keep the other one half-shaded, so I finally give up and close them both and try to sleep as we fly over Europe. Now I’m sitting here typing this journal entry in the dark cabin while it’s full sunshine outside as we pass Sicily, crossing the Mediterranean on our way to the Middle East. Four hours and 15 minutes to Dubai.

We are now 1 hour 50 minutes from Dubai, flying across the Arabian Peninsula. The cabin is still dark despite it being early evening outside…bizarre! We are served another meal before our 9PM arrival in Dubai. The airport is controlled chaos as our group retrieve our bags and walk at least a kilometre (no people movers) to clear immigration, and then wheel our bags out to the waiting bus. We are staying in the old part of the city at the Arabian Courtyard Hotel, which is an older hotel, but I like it. My room is very nice, they have a couple of restaurants and a bar, and the location is ideal for shopping and sightseeing.

post

Flight: Paris to Victoria

September 22, 2014 – Monday – Flight: Paris, France to Victoria, BC, Canada

I‘m up at 6AM to get ready for a 6:30AM pickup by the SuperShuttle I previously arranged and paid for. The 9-passenger van shows up early, and I’m ready to go. There are five others in the van already, and we make one more stop to pick up two more before we head for Charles de Gaul airport (CDG). It takes almost an hour to reach the airport, and we drop a few people off at Terminal 1 before the rest of us are delivered to Terminal 2. This terminal is ultra modern, and as I expected, very busy.

I manage to check into the Delta flight without a problem despite the crowds. I have to take a train to transfer to terminal 2E, which is even newer than the main Terminal 2. There are high-class shops everywhere, and the gate area is super modern and clean. There are power plugs at each seat in the waiting area. I have a cappuccino and a pastry at the cafe beside the gate, since I have over an hour before the flight starts boarding at 9:40AM. The boarding process goes fast, we leave the gate on time, and we are number one for takeoff. The captain announces that the flight time to Seattle is 9 hours and 55 minutes, but he later announces that we will arrive about 35 minutes early.

I usually don’t watch movies on airline flights, but this time I found “a personal portrait of a Broadway legend”, which I really liked: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. She is so funny, and yet at the same time portrays a vulnerable side. She is 87 years old and still performing. The video was a nicehour and a half diversion from the boredom of the long polar flight.

I’m not looking forward to the jet lag after this trip. I always take a couple of days to recover when I fly from east to west over lots of time zones. Flying west to east doesn’t seem to bother me as much for some reason, although I was very tired on the second day in the Netherlands at the start of the trip. My final connecting flight from Seattle to Victoria goes without a hitch, and I’m home!

post

Flight: Victoria to Amsterdam

August 29, 2014 – Friday – flight from Victoria, Canada to Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I am up early this morning, get out the door and take a taxi to Victoria airport. I check my bags through to Amsterdam, and wait for my flight to Seattle to depart. Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air is using the usual De Havilland DHC8 Dash 8-400 turbo-prop aircraft. Once I arrive at SeaTac airport, the travel stress kicks in. I forgot that this is the Labour Day weekend, so everyone is traveling, and flights are full or overbooked. So this means lots of kids and families are in the air terminal and on the flights.

Immaculate timing meant that our little flight from Victoria arrives at the same time as a couple of large aircraft from the Far East. Despite this, I clear US Immigration quite quickly, since there are new automated kiosks that Americans and Canadians use. The kiosk takes my picture and scans my passport, I answer a few questions on a touch screen, and I’m good to go. This is a big improvement and much faster than going through a normal immigration interview with an immigration agent, especially when these large foreign flights arrive. Of course, most of those people have to go through the regular procedure of seeing an immigration agent, but I’m done in about two minutes!

I retrieve my bags from the carousel and go through US Customs. Thank goodness our bags arrived first on the carousel that is also assigned to a big airliner arriving from China. I re-check my bag and go through a security check. Of course this is the TSA, so I have to take my shoes and belt off, and take notebook computers out of their bags. Thankfully my flight on Delta to Amsterdam is in the same terminal, so I am saved from using those dreadful trains that SeaTac connects their terminals with.

Beginning of the flight northward out of Seattle to Amsterdam

Beginning of the flight northward out of Seattle to Amsterdam

The good news I discover at the gate is that the aircraft is already there, despite me arriving about two hours before loading time. The bad news is the crowds of people in the waiting lounge. Loading takes way longer than expected – chaos barely under control is the way I would describe it. How they all fit in the aircraft is astounding!  We eventually roll away from the jet way almost an hour late, however the pilot assures us he expects to make up all but 15 minutes of the delay during the flight. Let’s hope so, since many of the passengers I talk with are concerned about making their connecting flights. I don’t personally care, since no matter what time we arrive, I’m going my hotel in Haarlem, a small city between the airport and Amsterdam.

My seat on the aircraft is right beside two restrooms, but at least I have the window seat. The young Belgian guy sitting beside me in the isle seat has to put up with people waiting to use the facilities. The Delta crew serve us drinks shortly after the flight takes off. Beer, wine and cocktails are all free, but I just have some Coca Cola. I observe the great circle route on the monitor in front of me as we progress on our track at 33,000’. It is a smooth flight in Delta’s fairly new Airbus A330-200.

August 30, 2014 – Saturday – arrival in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We have a very nice flight over to Amsterdam. As we fly over the southern tip of Greenland, the most spectacular aurora appears. It is so bright, it reflects off the cloud cover below us. Later during the pre-dawn as we fly south of Iceland, I observe Venus and Jupiter in the eastern sky.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is huge and quite dated, but I manage to retrieve my bag, clear customs, and leave though the correct exit without a problem. I follow the instructions which the Rick Steves tour gave me, since I have to take a local bus to Haarlem, the city where I am staying until the tour gets underway. I find the bus stop, the bus comes, and I’m on my way in no time. The fare is only €4.50, versus about €45 to take a taxi. The bus drops me off at the terminus in Haarlem (which is also the train station), and I walk the few blocks to the hotel. Initially I get lost, but eventually find my way. I’m very tired, and just can’t concentrate.

After checking into the Hotel Ambassador, I have a shower and go to bed, and manage to sleep for several hours. I’m feeling a bit better when I awake, and go for a walk with my camera. There is a local market on the Grot Mark, which is right next to the Grot Kerk, the main church in Haarlem. Haarlem has very little vehicle traffic. Most people walk or bicycle. There are thousands of bicycles of all descriptions, and there are dedicated bike roadways, although wearing helmets is not mandatory, and virtually nobody wears one.

I meet a member of the tour group in the hotel, and we have dinner next door at Café Colette restaurant. We both enjoy our meals, so I’ll file this away for future reference.

There are hundreds of cafes, bars, restaurants, fast food kiosks and shops, however I have yet to see an American fast food outlet. Smoking is widespread in the Netherlands, and it is allowed almost everywhere. That is a real step back as far as I’m concerned, although I see very few overweight people here. I suspect many people who live in the cities simply don’t own cars, since they are so expensive to own and operate. In Haarlem, parking runs to several Euros per hour, and is scarce.

post

Flight: San Diego to Victoria

March 16, 2014 – Sunday – Disembark & flight from San Diego to Victoria

Venus rising in the east before sunrise with the pilot boat beside us, as we approach San Diego

Venus rising in the east before sunrise with the pilot boat beside us, as we approach San Diego

I wake up before my 6:00AM alarm when the Pilot boat shines his light on the side of the ship my cabin is on. The pilot is scheduled to come aboard at 5:15AM, but it is a bit later than that I think. As I peek out the windows, I see Venus shining through the clouds above the shoreline, which is visible since we are quite close to shore in the navigation lane to San Diego. I take a few photos in the pre-dawn with my dSLR.

The ship arrives about 15 minutes early and I am one of the first group to disembark the ship, since I enrolled for Expedited Disembarkation. I roll my big bag, with my briefcase on top and walk out of the ship and down the ramps with my camera bag over my shoulder. The U.S. Immigration agent doesn’t ask any questions, stamps my passport, and I’m free to go. I am one of the first to grab a taxi, and I’m at the airport about a half hour before I expected.

San Diego airport is great because it is located right on the harbour and in the city, so it is easy to get to. United Airlines check-in is now automated, so I’m forced to check myself in. Thank goodness there are people there to help with the process and to tag my bag. The TSA must have been listening to their clients, because the security check is all over in a couple of minutes, thanks to TSA Pre-check. I didn’t have to remove shoes, belts or watches, and I didn’t have to remove my notebook computer from my bag. I just had to take my cellphone out of my pocket and put it in my camera bag, put the two carry-on bags on the scanner belt and walk through the scanner archway. That was it…I just picked up my bags and continued on my way. The terminal where my flight leaves from is brand new, and really nicely done. The airport offers free Wi-Fi and there are power and USB outlets at every seat. I update the apps on my MacBook Air while I wait three hours for my flight to leave from San Diego airport.

The flight to San Francisco starts off with a bit of conflict in the cabin, since seat assignments seem to be a big issue with several people involved. Eventually everyone is seated and we roll away from the gate. Shortly after takeoff, the guy behind me and one seat over starts ranting very loudly about something. All three of us seated ahead of him ignore his outburst and he seems to calm down for the rest of the flight. When we arrive in San Francisco, we are a bit late, but as it turns out, I stay on the same aircraft as it continues to Vancouver. So I don’t have to go looking for a gate…it’s right here! Just as well, since the boarding for the onward flight starts about 20 minutes after our arrival. Our passports have to be checked before we can board, so that adds a bit of a complication, but everyone eventually is processed and seated on the aircraft.

We pull away on time, and the pilot reports at the start of the flight he expects our arrival to be 10 minutes early, so the flight takes two hours flat.

After landing in Vancouver Airport, here is possibly the most convoluted disembarking procedure I have ever encountered:

  1. Disembark aircraft.
  2. Walk along an overhead glassed-in walkway to Canada Customs, which is a very long distance away.
  3. Directed to self-reporting kiosks for customs and immigration, where my passport and declaration form is scanned.
  4. Wait for bag to arrive on the carousel.
  5. Walk to the far corner of the huge baggage claim floor, take an elevator up to the 4th floor, and walk half way across the terminal, schlepping my bag.
  6. Check in with an Air Canada clerk, and put my bag on a conveyor belt. There is an Air Canada agent at the belt, but he doesn’t offer to help.
  7. Walk out to the main entrance to the terminal.
  8. Clear security again.
  9. Walk the rest of the way to the domestic terminal to find my gate and board my final flight to Victoria.

The weather in Vancouver is cold and rainy – welcome home!

Departure from Fiji to Victoria, Canada

November 27, 2012 – Tuesday – Blue Lagoon Resort to Nadi

Multi-coloured striped fish and coral at Blue Lagoon Resort, Fiji

Multi-coloured striped fish and coral at Blue Lagoon Resort

Today starts off as usual with my view of the beautiful lagoon and coral reef right outside the front of my villa on my last day at the Blue Lagoon Resort. I go down to the restaurant to have some coffee and some yummy toasted homemade bread and a coconut muffin. Before I pack this morning, I go for my last snorkel in the lagoon. I think the fish know I’m leaving today, because they all crowd around me, and I spot two angelfish for the first time. I take some underwater photos, when I didn’t really expect to see anything new this morning. After having a shower, put on fresh clothes, pack and check out.

The Turtle Island Airways seaplane flight doesn’t leave Turtle Island until 4PM, so I have some time to kill before the resort launch takes me over there at 3:30PM. The Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane invited me to stay at their villa until I have to leave, so after lunch I take them up on their offer. It’s great to sit back on their front porch away from the noise in the restaurant. I snooze for a while until it is time to begin my journey home.

The launch ride to Turtle Island hits some choppy water, so it is a bit rough, but we arrive with perfect timing. I spot the seaplane coming over the ridge of the neighbouring island and landing no more than 10 minutes after our arrival at the dock. We have another barefoot pilot, and this one has a distinct Montreal accent. He is Oli (Oliver), and he tells me the South American pilot that flew us up to Turtle Island last week actually lived in Montreal for 10 years prior to coming down to Fiji to fly seaplanes. The flight down to Nadi is uneventful, but the view over the ocean and islands is not as good as when I flew up a week ago, since we are on a southerly course, so the Sun is reflecting off the water much of the time. I do get a good photo of First Landing’s Left Foot Island and the Vuda Marina on our approach. The seaplane dock is out of commission at the Nadi Bay terminal, so we have to make a wet landing on the beach.

My first inkling that my departure from Fiji is about to go all wrong is when the passengers from the seaplane finally have time to talk with each other after the flight. Apparently some received email messages from Air Pacific that the flight to LA is delayed until 7AM the following morning. They were instructed to go directly to a hotel to check in. I didn’t get an email notification, and the airline didn’t call me. Since I wasn’t notified to do otherwise, I take a taxi to the airport. My taxi driver decides to wait for me, since he “has nothing else to do”. Chaos greets me as I line up at the check-in counter with the other hapless passengers. We all commiserate with each other, since everyone now knows the flight is not leaving this evening. Despite the crowds, there is only one check-in clerk, so it takes me about an hour to find out I need to talk with someone else to assign me a hotel to stay the night. After I have my hotel assignment and vouchers, Peter my taxi driver takes me to the Grand West Villas, a Best Western hotel near the Nadi airport.

So I arrived at Nadi airport around 5:30PM this afternoon, and here I sit at 8:30PM still in Nadi in a hotel room, when I should be in the waiting lounge at Nadi airport about to board the 10PM flight to Los Angeles. I found out at the airport that Air Pacific cancelled the flight due to mechanical breakdown of their Boeing 747-400 in Sydney, Australia. I hear there are passengers who have been waiting in Nadi for three days to leave on flights to LA, so I can expect the worst when I show up tomorrow morning to check in for my flight. It is scheduled to depart Nadi at 7AM, with check-in starting at 3:30AM, so I plan to be at the airport by 2:45AM in order to get to the front of the line to obtain that all-important boarding pass. I want to be on my way home tomorrow, not sitting around in a Nadi hotel for days on end, waiting for something to happen.

The Grand West Villas is no prize of a hotel. The restaurant is open until 10PM to serve dinner to all their unexpected guests from the airline. The food is absolutely dreadful: frozen fish grilled, and french fries, pop or water, and zero service. This is the worst meal I have eaten in Fiji, and the meals in Fiji have been first rate everywhere else I have stayed until now. The rooms are very basic, but clean. At least the air-conditioning is working, so I can sleep for a few hours and then see what tomorrow brings. I call home to let them know to not pick me up at the airport, and that I will update them when I know more.

Needless to say, I’m very upset with Air Pacific, and I will avoid flying with them in future. I’m not too happy with Air New Zealand either. As the ticketing airline for my flights, they have dropped the ball big time by trusting their passengers to an airline partner who is obviously unreliable.

November 28, 2012 – Wednesday –Nadi, Fiji to Los Angeles

The lineup at Nadi, Fiji airport for check-in and boarding the Nadi-LA flight

The lineup at Nadi, Fiji airport for check-in and boarding the Nadi-LA flight

My alarm goes off at 2AM and my taxi driver Peter is ready for me at 2:15AM when I schlep my bag down the stairs into the lobby. I am #3 in line for the check in counters; waiting from 2:45AM to 4AM. Check in is complicated, since I have to be rebooked on my connecting flights. The good news is that I have a seat and a boarding pass! The bad news is that I have to overnight in San Francisco, which apparently Air Pacific will pay for.

I pass through security and explain to Fiji Immigration I arrived on Nov 8th by air, departed Fiji on the 10th by ship, re-entered Fiji on the 20th by ship, and am now departing on the 28th by air. They key all this into their computer system, and stamp my passport and boarding pass. As I take the escalator to the departure lounge Air Pacific is announcing they have overbooked the flight, and appeal to passengers to relinquish their seat for a US$500 cash payment, hotel accommodation, and guaranteed boarding on tomorrow’s flight. I’m glad I have an assigned seat…I’m certainly not giving it up! There is a huge amount of anxiety among those of us waiting in the departure lounge, but eventually after a few false starts, Air Pacific loads passengers onto the aircraft.

We are on a Boeing 777-200ER, which is a Euro Atlantic Airways aircraft, operated by a Portugal-based charter company. Air Pacific has obviously hired to fill the gap for their downed 747. I greet the young Portuguese crew as I board, and there is one Fijian flight attendant aboard. I tease her about this fact as I board…she giggles. Unfortunately, this aircraft is about 100 passengers smaller than a 747, which explains why Air Pacific is constantly struggling on the ground to cope with the extra bookings it has. The couple seated beside me waited three days for this flight, showing up at the airport each day only to be denied boarding. Their situation makes my flight delay look easy, although I’m still not happy about Air Pacific’s poor performance.

The bonus is that that there is much more leg room in this aircraft, there are less people aboard, and the air in the cabin is much better than what I encountered on Air New Zealand’s 747-400 on the way down to Fiji. I still blame that flight for causing the nasty throat infection I suffered from while aboard the ship. Both the male and female Euro Atlantic Airways cabin attendants are really cute, so I forgive their inexperience with delivery of some of the in-flight service.

EuroAtlantic Boeing 777 in LAX

EuroAtlantic Boeing 777 in LAX

The flight departure is delayed an hour and a half from 7AM to 8:30AM, when we finally push away from the jet way. This is going to screw up all the connecting flights for all passengers who don’t terminate in LA, since our arrival time with be late as well. Once we are airborne, I can feel the motion of the aircraft change with the change of flight crews in the cockpit every few hours. It’s pretty obvious when they start playing with the trim and power levels, although they maintain a 35,000’ cruising altitude, and it is generally a smooth flight with only occasional bumpy sections. The older passengers have found the free wine available from the galley. They wander the isles with their glasses of red or white.

I split my time aboard the aircraft between snoozing and working on my MacBook Air editing photos and writing my travel journal. It’s nice to have a notebook that fits on the aircraft fold-down tray, and I can listen to music from my iTunes at the same time. I also browse some magazines using my iPad, but the aircraft is shaking side to side in the rear section I’m seated in, which makes it uncomfortable to read for long periods of time.

We arrive late, despite the flight only taking 9 hours and 35 minutes – quite a bit faster than expected. I clear US customs and immigration and retrieve my bag, but then I have to wait in line to get my flights home rebooked yet again! As it turns out, when my connecting flights were rebooked in Nadi, everything was screwed up badly to the point it would have taken me two days to get home from LA! The guy who does the rebooking for me here in LAX knows what he is doing, and has proper flights put in place for me in no time.

Of course, all this waiting around takes up more time, so it is now 11PM by the time I get to the Hilton Los Angeles Airport, which is where Air Pacific is putting up everyone from the flight I arrived on who is experiencing flight delays. I run into a friend in the hotel lobby as we both check in, so after a quick cleanup, we both go downstairs for the dinner provided by the airline. By this time, it is coming up to midnight, and my friend has an early morning flight to catch to Vancouver, so we bid adieu.

November 28, 2012 – Wednesday – Los Angeles to Victoria

Since my flight yesterday flew eastward and crossed the International Date Line, I get to live Wednesday over again.

I go downstairs in the hotel to have breakfast, which is provided by the airline. I call home to let them know I’ll be arriving at Victoria airport at 10PM today. I catch the shuttle to the airport just before noon. Because I have paper tickets, I am redirected to the re-ticketing check-in and am issued boarding passes for both LAX and SFO. My bag is checked through to Victoria, so I go through security and then upstairs to find my gate.

San Francisco lights at night with Bay Bridge from the aircraft

San Francisco lights at night with Bay Bridge from the aircraft

I have over two hours before my flight leaves at 3:25PM, so I connect to the free Internet service at LAX. I didn’t expect free Internet in this airport – bonus! I update my status on facebook and work on a blog entry. United flight 1253 leaves a few minutes late, it is full, and I’m in an aisle seat on this Airbus A319 regional jet. It takes a surprisingly long time to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco – an hour and a half. Since I’m not in my usual window seat, all I can do is sit back and listen to music. There is essentially no in-flight service other than soft drinks and water.

After arrival in San Franscisco, I find my gate at the very end of Terminal 1 for the flight to Victoria. This is the oldest part of the airport, however to my good fortune, Klein’s Deli is located right next to my gate. I have a great tasting Cobb Salad for dinner while I wait several hours for my flight home to depart at 8PM. United Express flight 6494 departs on time and is using a Canadair Regional Jet. It strikes me as ironic that I’m ending this venture on a Canadian-made jet, operated by an American company to my final destination in Canada. In any case, we arrive on time, I retrieve my checked bag and quickly clear Canadian Customs and Immigration. It’s good to be home!

post

Auckland to Victoria

Nov 6, 2010 – Saturday – flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Victoria, Canada

We have breakfast a bit earlier this morning, say our goodbyes to Margaret and her husband Graham, and leave Te Kuiti for Auckland airport by 8:30am. Graham suggests using the bypass around Hamilton, which proves to be valuable advice since I expect the traffic from all the activity around the World Rowing competitions being held in nearby Cambridge would hold us up. Our drive up to Auckland airport goes smoothly. We return the rental car to the lot by 11am and roll our bags across the lot to the front entrance to the airport. I find the Hertz counter and finish my business with them, so we’re done with the car. We then check in at the Qantas counter, and proceed upstairs to the departure area since we are now free of our checked bags

We have to fill in a departure form for New Zealand immigration. I guess they want to make sure we depart the country as we promised earlier. We then have to clear security twice – once through the normal airport security, and then again just before the gate. We speculate it might be caused by the USA demands for tighter security on US-bound flights. Qantas flight 25 pushes away from the gate on time at 2:10pm local time, and we are on our way back home. The captain says we will arrive about an hour earlier than scheduled, but we will hit some bumps along the way, especially at the start and end of the flight. We leave Auckland at 2:10pm local time.

Although the flight is an hour shorter, it is still 11 hours flying time. Being stuck in an aircraft seat for that long is pretty nasty, especially since I can’t sleep while flying. I get some good rests, however I’m pretty tired by the end of the flight. Dinner is served after departure and breakfast is served before arrival. Both meals are excellent, as I have come to expect from Qantas. They also supply free beer and wine with dinner and afterwards. Although I don’t indulge, many take advantage. We are given a personal kit containing a bottle of water and some snacks before the cabin lights are turned off. The woman beside me is a Dutch national who resides in New Zealand. She is meeting her husband in LA, and they plan to see the Grand Canyon in a rented motor home. I encourage her by saying I saw the Grand Canyon in January, so experiencing it in the winter time can be a great idea

We arrive in LA at 6am local time. I retrieve my checked bag and clear customs and immigration. As a Canadian, I get preferential treatment – no fingerprinting or photos are required and quick clearance (thank goodness). I get to wait in the LA airport for almost six hours before the Alaska Airlines departure to Seattle at 11:45am. I hate LAX. It is the worst airport – it’s dirty, confusing, there is a distinct lack of services, and the staff are hostile…and that’s just for starters. Qantas arrives in the Tom Bradley International airport, however Alaska flights depart from the domestic Terminal 3, so I have to walk over to the terminal, and then go through security again, despite being in transit. Since this is the good ol’ USA, security is special: take off your shoes and outer clothing in addition to the usual stuff we are all used to. The airport was being renovated in 2004 when I flew through here before from New Zealand, and it is still being renovated in 2010! Internet access for 24 hours costs US$7.99 from t-Mobile…there is no free Internet at LAX, unlike in Seatac and Vancouver airports.

Aerial view of Crater Lake, Oregon

Aerial view of Crater Lake, Oregon

Despite having to kill six hours here, I can at least mark each hour off knowing I’m getting closer to my departure from this awful place. I meet some nice people, and I am astounded at how productive Alaska Airlines gates are as I watch them move flights through each gate in under an hour! Eventually my flight to Seatac appears on the board for my gate; they load everyone aboard, and we depart on time. Ta da!

I have learned from past flight with Alaska Airlines that the in-flight meals are quite nice now that they charge for them. I have a grilled Panini deli sandwich and a Coca Cola to go with it for US$6. It hit the spot, since my last meal was the breakfast served aboard the Qantas flight before our arrival at LAX over six hours ago. I take a nice photo of Crater Lake in Oregon as we fly north.

We arrive at Seatac on time, and I manage to navigate from one terminal to another using those dreadful trains. The Horizon Airlines gate is just as entertaining as last time I traveled through here. Horizon provides connections to so many small airports in the sparsely populated parts of the USA: eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, and who know where else? Of course, they also fly to another little town: Victoria, BC, Canada – where I am heading.

My flight leaves about 15 minutes late, which is typical for Horizon, however when we arrive in Victoria, my bag is the first on the carousel – wonderful! The Canadian immigration officer greets me jovially and waves me through once he hears the story of my travels. I am met in the departure area and we drive home in the cold, dark rain. I am greeted by three animals as I enter through the front door. It is good to finally be home!