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.