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’m up at 3AM this morning and leave the Volendam for the last time to take the prearranged 4AM shuttle to the airport. The bus takes Holland America’s passengers to Terminal 1 at Changi Airport, where I check in with Cathay Pacific for my 8:05AM flight to Hong Kong and onward to Vancouver. I will get to live today almost twice over, since we cross the International Date Line mid-flight as we fly eastward across the Pacific Ocean.
After clearing customs and immigration, I find my gate and hit Starbucks for a cappuccino. I have several hours to kill, but Changi airport has free wifi, so the time goes by. By 6AM the airport comes alive with more people, so people watching keeps me entertained. The 3.5 hour Cathay Pacific flight from Singapore to Hong Kong goes well. They serve us breakfast, which I certainly appreciate!
When departing the aircraft in Hong Kong airport, I remember it is important to stay in the “Transfer” stream when you already have a boarding pass issued for the next flight segment. You still have to go through security, but then you can go directly to the Departures level and roam around. Otherwise you will find yourself on the Arrivals level, and have to take a lot more time to find your way back to the Departure level.
Cathay Pacific doesn’t load the flight to Vancouver by row. Everyone simply lines up at the gate and we are let on the aircraft after our boarding pass is scanned and our passport is verified.
This flight is excruciatingly long, however service by the cabin crew is very good. The first time I check my watch is an hour or so after they serve us dinner at the beginning of the flight. At that point we are five hours into the flight. Not even being half way is pretty depressing! The next time I check the time, we are about five hours out of Vancouver…still a very long time to sit. By then I’ve listened to all the music I can handle; I’ve read all the magazines on my iPad I can stand; so I haul down my MacBook Air from the overhead bin and write my journal and process photos for awhile. It would be great if I could sleep aboard aircraft, but that doesn’t happen no matter how tired I am. The sunrise is beautiful as we fly south of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
Our approach to Vancouver is over Northern Vancouver Island and the coast range of mountains of British Columbia. The pilot refers to it as “the Whistler approach” to Vancouver airport, taking us over the famed ski resort. We fly east of the city and then turn west on final approach over Surrey, Richmond, and New Westminster, giving us great views of the city against the North Shore mountains. I think we land on Vancouver runway 26R. I take some nice photos of the scenery out the window.
This time I’m prepared for the long stretches of walking required in Vancouver airport to get from the arrival gate to the Immigration kiosks, and then onward to the baggage carousels, and finally a long way to the end of the departure concourse to check in at the Westjet kiosks. I don’t have a through ticket, so can’t use Westjet’s transfer check-in (much closer to the carousels). After clearing security again, I find the domestic departure area and the gates for the local Westjet flights. It is only a 20 minute flight to Victoria, and I am soon home…greeted at the door by Rolly and Tanner, our Jack Russell Terriers, and the rest of the family. It’s time to go to bed for a well-deserved sleep after enduring some 27 hours elapsed time from when I left my cabin aboard the Volendam in Singapore earlier today.
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 the road.
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.
As the flight climbs out of Khasab, I have 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. Shortly after leaving Khasab I don’t see much, since it is cloudy the whole way.
It takes about an hour to arrive in Muscat, where we meet our Omani guide Yacoob and our driver. They take us to the City Season Hotel, where we have the afternoon to ourselves.
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 my notebook computer out of the bag. Thankfully my flight on Delta to Amsterdam is in the same terminal, so I am saved from using those dreadful trains that run between the SeaTac terminals.
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.
Victoria to San Diego flights, and departure from San Diego aboard ms Statendam
February 14, 2014 – Friday – Victoria, BC, Canada to San Diego, CA, USA
It is a stressful day flying from Victoria to San Diego. First of all, my alarm awakes me at 3AM, and I am out the door in less than an hour and in a taxi to the airport. After I check-in at the United counter at Victoria Airport, I pass through security and then have time for a cappuccino from the new Spinnakers on the fly in the holding lounge at the gates while I wait for my flight to leave at 6:30AM.
After we board, the aircraft sits on the apron for about 15 minutes, but the pilot finally announces we are ready for departure. Apparently the delay was caused from San Francisco, where there was some doubt we would get a slot for landing due to fog. The weather cleared enough for landings in San Francisco, so we take off from Victoria. The first hurdle is cleared, and I’m on my way! This flight is very odd: there are no children or babies aboard, and everyone is very quiet…a bonus for me since it is so early, and I’m not a morning person.
The flight down is very scenic once the Sun rises. We fly inland from Victoria to San Francisco. It certainly is very foggy in San Francisco as we approach, however there are clear patches and the pilots bring the aircraft down perfectly and everyone leaves the aircraft quickly. I’m thankful for this, because I’m still nervous about all I have to endure before boarding my next flight to San Diego. As soon as I leave the gate, I can see the airport is being renovated…never a good sign for someone not familiar with a large airport.
Before I can claim my bag, I have to clear US immigration. Two large aircraft from China have just arrived at the same time as our little aircraft. For some inexplicable reason, we have to go through security again before we can get to US immigration. There is a woman in uniform at the crossroads of a major intersection inside the airport that insists on directing all of us to the busiest security checkpoint with hundreds of those Chinese passengers waiting in line. As I reluctantly follow her bad advise, I stop to ask a man with a badge if this is the best way to get to my gate. He immediately says “no”, and thank goodness he volunteers to lead me and some of the other passengers from the Victoria flight in the opposite direction to another, less busy security checkpoint. He also points out that some of our tickets are marked “TSA PRE”, which means we are entitled to use a priority line. Although we still have to go through the security checkpoint, he probably saves us a half hour of waiting!
It ends up taking me about 10 minutes to clear security. At that point, I can go through US immigration, but wait…there are those hundreds of Chinese passengers ahead of us again! After about 20 minutes of waiting, they open up additional immigration agents, so I finally get processed for entry to the USA. Now I go to the baggage carousels and find my bag, and proceed through yet another US inspection. I re-check my bag for the next flight, and I’m off to find the boarding gate.
As it turns out, the gate for my San Diego flight is only the third gate past the baggage checkpoint I’m already at, so I arrive 45 minutes early! This flight only has a few empty seats, and we are back to the typical flying bus scenario: crying babies, sneezing and coughing kids, old folks who struggle down the isle to their seats, and the rest of us, who just want the flight to end.
We take off northward from San Francisco, and then circle around and fly down the coast to San Diego. The urban development between San Francisco and San Diego is impressive. This is a very crowded patch of the USA. We touchdown in San Diego at 12:25PM, arriving on time! Thankfully, the cruise terminal is a short taxi ride from the airport, so after I deal with the surely Russian cabbie, I present myself at the check-in for the ship. It is fairly well organized, but with over a thousand passengers checking in, it takes a bit under an hour to wind my way through the various lineups before I am issued my Holland America ID card and walk on board the Statendam.
I knew ahead of time that this day would be stressful, and it was, but ultimately everything worked out fine. I’m safely aboard the ship, and I still have time for a late lunch in the Lido buffet before I unpack my bags. I have a quick look around the ship’s outer decks, then go back to my cabin for a well-earned shower and nap. By this time, it is nearing departure time, but as per Holland America’s policy, there is a mandatory lifeboat drill before we leave.
Once that is over, the ship slips away from the dock, turns around in the harbour and heads out past the city as the sun sets off our bow. San Diego has a beautiful harbour, and the setting Sun gives the place a wonderful glow, so we have great views of the marinas, city centre, airport, and naval base as we sail away. A lovely Moon rises from the California hills behind the city as the pilot leaves our ship. There is a dense fog bank waiting for us as we clear the entrance to the harbour and head off across the Pacific Ocean, bound for Hawaii.
After spending an interesting hour on deck during our departure, I drop off my camera gear in the cabin and get dressed for dinner. The Rotterdam Dining Room offers classic table service with a 4-course menu, which I always look forward to. Since I am traveling solo, I always make a point of asking to join a large table, where there are many people to meet and talk with. It is so interesting to hear their stories and tell them mine as we work our way through our fine meals.
I have five days at sea to look forward to before we arrive in Hawaii!
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.
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 we stayed in Beligerate 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 we 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.