By mid-morning, we are called to leave the Rotterdam, so we put on our face masks and gloves before leaving the ship. US customs and immigration wave us through, as does US Health, since ship’s staff pre-processed the required paperwork the previous day. As we board our buses, many of the staff in the terminal wish us well, and one woman is waving a Canadian flag – very touching and much appreciated! We wait in the buses for about an hour, and then the Broward County Sheriff officers take us on a half-hour motorcade to a private area of the Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood airport (FLL). I must say, it’s a very impressive ride!
We are then checked in by US officials and airline staff, and walk aboard the aircraft to find our seats and get settled. We wait for over two hours while the rest of the passengers board the aircraft. The Eastern cabin attendants are fully-suited up (see banner image above) and only offer basic services. The 1978-era Boeing 767-200 aircraft is a wide-body cabin with 2-3-2 seats across two isles, and has a capacity of 375 passengers. Every seat is taken. Once we take off for Toronto, we have several hours to get into the bagged meal given to us as we boarded.
After our arrival in Toronto, we are processed by Canadian Border Services and Public Health Canada, given a kit describing the quarantine conditions we will be operating under for the next two weeks, a digital oral thermometer and a new mask. They take my temperature, ask me some health questions, and get me to dispose of the mask and gloves I’ve been wearing all day on the aircraft. I’m on my way to Terminal 1 and my local flights from Toronto to Vancouver, and then Victoria. I barely make it aboard the Toronto-Vancouver flight, since the shuttle driver doesn’t know where she is supposed to take us, and once we arrive at the terminal, the Air Canada staff are confused about how to get us to the gate!
The flight to Vancouver is otherwise uneventful. Once we make the short hop from Vancouver to Victoria, my travel buddy and I drive (independently) to our respective homes respecting the Canadian quarantine rules we are now bound by for the next two weeks. Air Canada manages to lose my checked bag, but the baggage claim clerk takes a description of my bag and assures me they will deliver it tomorrow afternoon (which they do).
Dec 19, 2018 – Flying from Barbados to Calgary, Canada
I’m looking at 24 hours of elapsed time between leaving Barbados and arriving home in Victoria, Canada. I have a midnight to 7AM layover in Calgary, so this whole flying home trip will be an endurance contest. I know I’ll settle down once I return the rental car and find my gate at the Barbados airport, but I’m experiencing pre-trip jitters this morning.
I have a shower mid-morning and a snack before loading my big bag in the trunk of the car. I check out at Noon, drive to the airport and have the car filled up at the Esso gas station before dropping it off in front of the terminal. The Stoute’s car jockey gives an enthusiastic wave to the woman behind the counter, so I’m free to go!
I’m first in line for the bag check at the WestJet counter – a nice young man tags my big bag through to Victoria and prints out my boarding passes for me. I have already checked in online and have the electronic boarding passes on my iPhone, but I’ve found the paper ones are still the best to use, and scan quicker at the gate. Before I enter the secure area, I have to exit Barbados by giving the immigration officer my Departure Card, which was issued previously when I entered Barbados after debarking the Royal Clipper in Bridgetown.
Barbados to Toronto – Although I’m over two hours early, it isn’t long before the WestJet Boeing 737-800 rolls to the gate and arriving passengers from Toronto enter the terminal. Our aircraft boards passengers from the front and rear doors using stairways from the apron (see banner image above), since Grantley Adams International airport doesn’t have jetways. Just after takeoff, there is a gorgeous view of the old Moon in the blue sky during the day over the south coast of Barbados as we make the turn to the north.
I’m in seat 5A – the same seat I flew down in on all three flights to Jamaica, and ditto on my return flights home. Hey, I like a window seat just forward of the wing, I’m only a row away from the Premium cabin, and I get to use the forward washroom.
I splurge and purchase 24 hours of in-flight Internet service for $35 with WestJet Connect Internet, so I won’t be bored on these tedious flights home. I enjoy myself using the Internet while flying to Toronto. It certainly has some latency, but is usable for most of the flight. It does cut out once in awhile and then has to reacquire a signal.
Once we are levelled off, I order the Butter Chicken dinner, which is not too big, but very tasty, costing $9. The cabin crew on this flight give everyone much better service than on my flight to Jamaica. There is a beautiful display of colours over the Atlantic to the east as we fly offshore from the Bahamas at sunset. We are flying at 36,000′ according to the flight map displayed on the WestJet app on my iPhone.
The aircraft makes a wide, sweeping approach over Toronto before landing, affording beautiful nighttime views of the city. However, after landing at Toronto’s Pearson airport, the marathon starts. I have only an hour to go through Canadian immigration and customs, retrieve my checked bag, find the WestJet transfer desk to put my checked bag back in the system, go through security again, and find my gate. Finding the single elevator that takes us to Departures is a challenge, however I arrive at my gate five minutes before boarding begins. I’m in a real state by this time, so I sit down for a few minutes to calm down before my group is called!
Toronto to Calgary – After all that stress, the flight is late leaving. Flight duration is estimated to be 3:35, and the flight level 36,000’. The Internet access isn’t working since we took off about a half hour ago, so I raise my concern with the head flight attendant. She promises to “check with the guys”, which I take to mean she will talk with the pilots about the problem. Nothing comes of it, and the Internet is not available for the whole flight. We fly for what seems endlessly across the frozen prairie, which is visible tonight due to the bright illumination from the Moon.
After landing in Toronto at 6:24am, I have about three hours to wait for my next flight on WestJet to Jamaica. My departure gate is only a few gates away from the one I arrive at, so that makes it easy. Since there was no breakfast service on the incoming flight, once I find my next gate, my first task is to find some cappuccino. Of course Starbucks is always very handy, so I have a tall cappuccino and some banana nut bread.
My friends show up at the gate about an hour later and want some breakfast, so we go to nearby Caplansky’s Deli. They have some eggs and coffee. I have cheese blintzes, which are stuffed with ricotta cream cheese, and come with blueberry compote – very good and only $6!
Our Boeing 737-800 WestJet flight is soon boarding, so we join the usual organized confusion at the gate, but board with no problems. Our female captain says our flight time will be 3:56 to Montego Bay, flying at 35,000’. It takes the crew well over an hour to serve snacks and beverages to the Economy section. I buy my usual hummus and crackers, knowing that will be all I get for lunch.
We fly over Chesapeake Bay less than an hour after our departure. A couple of hours later after flying offshore from the US Seaboard, there are lots of beautiful tropical islands to take photos of (see banner image above) as we overfly The Bahamas. We next overfly Cuba. There is a northern tropical island offshore, but Cuba isn’t spectacular, since it is a huge landmass and it is covered in clouds.
After we land in Montego Bay, we are asked to remain in our seats for quite a long time, despite being at the gate. It becomes apparent why when the police come aboard and escort a family off the aircraft before anyone else. There was a heated discussion while we were in the air between a flight attendant and a woman assisting her grandmother to the forward washroom. Obviously the flight attendant decided to bring the matter to the attention of the captain, who must have called the authorities in Jamaica.
After that drama plays out, everyone debarks and then we hit the extremely crowded Immigration Hall, where everyone waits a good half hour to enter the country. We retrieve our checked bags and clear Customs in short order, however finding our hotel shuttle in the confusion outside the terminal proves to be a challenge. I call the resort, and they promise to send their shuttle. Almost immediately after I hang up, my friends spot a sign in a vehicle window reading “Deja Resort”, so we hop in and are driven the short distance. Our rooms aren’t ready, so we wait about a half hour in the lobby.
After travelling for over 20 hours since I left home, it feels good to be free of airlines, airports, and throngs of people, and to be standing on solid ground under the tropical Sun! After having some fried fish, rice and veggies for dinner, I’m ready for bed.
I take a taxi from home to the Victoria airport this afternoon, check my bag and clear security into the very quiet boarding gate area. I buy a turkey cheese sandwich from Spinnaker’s On the Fly bistro in the gate area; eat my dinner upstairs near my gate, and then go back to buy a cappuccino for dessert. This is the first time I’ve used the upstairs gates where the jetways for bigger aircraft are located.
Our Boeing 737-700 WestJet flight to Calgary boards and departs early. The captain comes to the front of the cabin to tell us the flight level will be 41,000’ and flight time 1:09. He warns us it is cold and snowing in Calgary “not like here!” He tells us three lightbulb jokes before returning to the cockpit – a first in all the time I’ve been flying!
Our flight arrives in snowy Calgary early, so we have to wait on the apron for a few minutes until the gate is ready for us. The pilot is outside the cockpit as we leave, so I compliment him on the good landing. He says “yeah, he did a good job”, which I interpret to mean the First Officer landed the aircraft. The gate for the red eye flight to Toronto is right across from our arrival gate, so that makes it easy!
This full Boeing 737-800 WestJet flight to Toronto is supposed to leave at 12:15AM but after waiting for delayed bags, we are de-iced for the second time before we finally take off at 12:50AM. Flight duration is estimated at 3:37 with a 6:15am arrival in Toronto.
Once we are above the snow clouds over Calgary, I spot Orion out my south-facing window, flying at 35,000’ altitude. I find this red-eye flight quite boring, but I manage to snooze a bit and listen to music on my iPhone. The flight map display on my iPhone only prolongs the agony:
2 hours left – over Saskatchewan
1:11 left – over Red Lake & Ear Falls, between Winnipeg and Lake Superior – 670mi/1,080kms to Toronto
0:35 left – over Sault Ste. Marie, 300mi/490km to Toronto
April 14, 2006 – Friday – Athens, Greece -Milan-Toronto-Victoria, Canada
My alarm goes off at 3am and I am picked up by Jimmy (Paul’s alternate) at 4am. It is a bit confusing picking out Jimmy, since there are so many cabs going by. Exarhia is still going strong at this late hour! Jimmy and I have a nice chat on the way to the airport, and I pay him the €500 I owe Paul for the taxi services over the last week.
As I board my Alitalia flight to Milan, it is raining lightly at Athens airport. We taxi over the airport’s main access road on an overpass to get to our runway. As we takeoff, the rain is increasing. What luck I’ve had on this trip. At most we had some overcast in Venice, otherwise it has been sunny every day. We fly the length of Italy’s east coast south to north, and land on time in Milan. I end up only two gates away from where my group left Malpenza for Tripoli three weeks ago! This is the old part of the airport, and it is very crowded. Destinations for the four gates include: Prague, Bucharest, Tunisia, Timisora, Cairo, Istanbul, Krakow, Dublin, and (of course) Toronto – my flight.
The Tunisia flight seems to be popular with the Italians by the look of the passports. Lots of tired, squalling kids, and they all appear to be waiting for the Toronto flight. I observe two common types of passengers for Toronto: Indians with kids returning home (after already spending many hours in the air), and older Italians obviously going to visit their family in Toronto. We board Alitalia AZ652, a Boeing 767-33A (ER) about 20 minutes late, then once we are aboard, another 30 minute delay is announced due to ATC traffic congestion.
I take some nice photographs of Lago Maggiore and the Italian Alps, where my eclipse tour group stayed in Beligerate on our last night (just north of Milan). We are flying over Guernsey and the south coast of Wales while having dinner. I also spot several large ships in the Atlantic shipping lane off the coast of England. Flying over Newfoundland reveals endless frozen lakes and not a tree in sight. I think the Italian woman sitting beside me was impressed, and perhaps a little worried about finding the same thing in Toronto! Unfortunately she doesn’t speak English, so I can’t reassure her about Toronto’s milder climate.
I’ve noticed as we fly over the Atlantic that aircraft in the traffic lanes fly very close to each other – at times I could almost make out the aircraft markings. One of the female Alitalia cabin crew sees my digital SLR, and tells me I can’t use it in flight. This doesn’t make any sense – it’s normal to prohibit use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing, but not during flight. Alitalia’s own announcement states this, but I wasn’t going to argue the point with her so I put my camera away. Despite this warning, I took some great aerial shots all the way from Athens through to the St. Lawrence!
After 9.5 hours in the air, we finally arrive at Pearson Airport in Toronto. Alitalia lands at a skyway equipped gate, but it is off in some remote area of the airport. Everyone has to get on a shuttle bus and go for a 20 minute ride to Terminal One. We then go through Canadian Immigration. There are a dozen officers, however two flights are being processed: ours from Italy, and one from China. The Chinese take a long time to be interviewed, since many don’t speak English, and it appears some haven’t filled in the form. Once I am finally interviewed by an officer, I breeze through in less than a minute. I also am lucky to find the correct luggage carousel and grab my bag right away. Customs decides they don’t want to talk with me, so that was easy!
I now have five hours to kill before my Air Canada direct flight to Victoria departs. I sip a Cappuccino Grande, which is my first cappuccino since we left Italy. While in Athens, I made coffee with my breakfast in the apartment. I really didn’t feel comfortable spending time in the numerous cafés in Athens for some reason – perhaps it was all the smoking that put me off.
Pearson International Airport is quite impressive, now that the expansion is completed. The new Terminal One is grand-looking, with soaring ceilings and glass, new car displays, bars, restaurants, coffee bars, duty free shops, bookstores and all sorts of other shops. Even the cleaning staff are impressive: they wear black and white suit-like uniforms complete with ties, and the airport is absolutely spotless.
While I’m waiting for my flight, I call home and let them know I’m in Toronto and the flight appears to be on-time, so they should plan to pick me up at 10:30pm. After this call, I watch a young Chinese guy try to use one of the pay telephones without success. He then asks me for help, and I see that the number he is calling is Ottawa (long distance). I coach him through the process of using a credit card, but the telephone rejects his Chinese card. I then offer to let him use my cellular telephone, which works fine. He is very grateful, shakes my hand, and runs off to the gate to board his flight.
I am extremely tired when I finally arrive at Victoria Airport. It takes me about five days to fully recover from the jet lag. The westward journey was certainly the killer. I wouldn’t let a travel agent talk me into a 30 hour elapsed time flight again…that’s for sure. I should have had an overnight stay in Toronto on the way back, as happened for the start of my trip.
Air Canada did a good job today. I have avoided flying Air Canada since 1967, so I have to say this is a pleasant surprise. My bags arrive as promised and undamaged; the flights are all on-time, and the in-flight service is quite good. I stay overnight at a hotel near the Toronto airport.
March 23, 2006 – Thursday – Toronto to Tripoli
I had a good night’s sleep last night. I return to Pearson Airport, where I meet our leader Ralph Chou and the RASC Eclipse group. I have made t-shirts for everyone who wanted them (see logo to right), and give them out while we wait for our Alitalia flight to depart for Milan and onward to Tripoli. It is a long day – about 12 hours flight time and 15 hours elapsed time between Toronto and Tripoli, with a stop in Milan to change aircraft.
March 24, 2006 – Friday – Tripoli, Libya
The Tripoli airport is quite large, however as we expect, the entry process with the Visas is painfully slow. Once the official realizes we are all listed on a single Visa form, he finally checks us all off and we are on our way. Both Mahmood from Bestway Tours & Safaris and the representative from Numidia Travel (Bestway’s partner in Libya) are there, along with a very nice air conditioned bus. The warm Sun and 23°C temperature feel good after all the cold, damp weather we’ve endured on our travels from Canada. As we drive through the outskirts of Tripoli, we notice lots of families having picnics, one family under the shade of each tree. It is Friday, and until sundown, it is the Muslim day of rest.
After our arrival at the hotel, Ralph quickly assigns a roommate for those of us in the group who are traveling solo, and then we all disappear to our rooms to get some well-deserved rest after our long journey.
Tripoli is an interesting city: very large, very Arabic, and very well developed. The city and the rest of the country are interesting, mainly because so many cultures have historically occupied this area. Oea was the Roman name for Tripoli, and the Phoenicians were here before the Romans. The Ottoman Turks were also here for over two hundred years, however eventually the Arabs took the place over once they ousted those terrible Italian armies and colonizers! King Idris was ushered into power by the United Nations after WWII, and then 27 year old Mu’ammar Gaddafi seized power on September 1, 1969 without even stepping foot in the country. By the way, “The Man” is not talked about in polite company by Libyans.