Canada Trip Blog 1: The long trip west
by Dr Anthony D. Cliffe
Well what a trip, that’s all I can say. In fact no, what an adventure more like! The trip to Canada was one of the best trips I have ever been on and through a series of blogs I’ll try to outline why. I’ll be interlacing my thoughts with snippets of my diary as I went along. I’ll have a few blogs such as the travelling aspect (upgrade on the way back!), two for Toronto and two for Edmonton and probably a concluding one. Expect plenty of ramblings and pictures. I really hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed living it!
This trip had come just at the right time for me. I needed this holiday, not just for a break but to regain some form of sanity. Working in academia is amazing and rewarding but blimey, it is mentally and emotionally draining. Add to the fact I haven’t been on a proper holiday since the Valencian grand prix in 2012 (research trips aside as they’re very much not holidays!) I was so looking forward to going away. Especially with the uncertainty around my contract and then with a PhD interview the week after the holiday looming which I really wanted to get, it was nice to go away, forget about everything and recharge. I have no doubt in my mind that I nailed the PhD interview only because I was in a nice calm and relaxed head space post trip.
Before I left I wouldn’t say I was nervous about what lay in stall but I was a little apprehensive by a few things. Those of you who know me well and follow my life through these blogs or social media, know random crap is never far away. I firmly believe I’m on some sort of TV show in a parallel universe although I can’t quite put my finger on if its a comedy show, a drama or a soap opera… So I was apprehensive in the sense that this trip would either be absolutely amazing and a classic episode in my life, or could turn into one where everything could go wrong. I mean I have form in that department, getting a puncture on the bike and having to walk 12 miles back into Valencia in 42 degree heatwave is just one of many moments abroad where shit happens. Above all of that though I was excited, not least for the eight flights ahead of me, two of which were on the 787 (avgeek squeal!). I was very excited and couldn’t wait to see family and keep the anglo-canadian/Irish links as strong as ever and above all it was Canada. A country I’ve loved since I first went as a child.
I leave with one question in my mind that I haven’t told anyone about, due to the uncertainties around my job and that was “Could I live there? Could I actually move here and start a life here” by the end of this holiday, that question would be firmly answered. I’ll know in my heart and my head if its meant to be. I’m at that age now where these decisions will be clear. So it’s now the night before I leave to travel thousands of miles across the ocean and what an adventure I hope I have in stall for me. The plans for the next few weeks are to fly to Ireland, then to Heathrow, then to Toronto, then to Edmonton, then to Calgary, then to Heathrow, then to Dublin and then finally back home. With a bag that was full to the brim, it’s time I get some sleep and its a time to leave.
The long trip west
I’ve grown quite fond of travelling on my own, there is a simple serenity in doing things the way you want to do them. There is a relaxed pace about it all which suits me down to the ground and above all I get the freedom to explore without having to please other people. Travelling around the UK or Ireland on your own is one thing. Travelling halfway across the world is a bigger kettle of fish. As much as I am an avgeek, travelling by plane is still stressful, at least the parts before you get on the aircraft. The hustle and bustle of the airport is exciting but can be a little daunting, especially when you have connecting flights in different countries to catch. I never really relax until I’m through security, there is just something that makes you think you have something on you even though you know you don’t, as you’ve patted yourself down so many times its boarding on weird. Yet never as weird as the guy who gives you the eye going through the detectors, you just know if that alarm goes off he’s going to love putting his hands everywhere. Seriously, I hope some of these people are vetted. I’ve been through airports before where it hasn’t even gone off but still got a free grope.
I have a long trip ahead of me that’s for sure and sitting in the living room of my house just before I’m about to leave and I know it’s going to be a long one and time is dragging. The first leg of my journey to Canada was to fly to Dublin first. Seems a roundabout way of doing things right? But starting and ending my Canada flight in Dublin saved me a massive £1000 believe it or not than flying out of the UK. I never know why Ireland is much cheaper, especially when you have to fly back to the UK to fly out to Canada but hey £1000 is a £1000. So with a return fare of £60 on Aer Lingus from Liverpool to Dublin I saved what was essentially my holiday spends.
I’ve checked my bags so many times that I probably could name every item and in what order it was in my suitcase! If this was supermarket sweep i’d make Dale Winton proud. The drive to the airport was fairly quiet and I was getting a twinge of excitement. I’d planned this trip for months and all of a sudden it was finally here. I hadn’t quite believed it yet and I wasn’t out of work mode yet either. The clouds around signalled some rain but of course its UK spring, whatever else!
Typical Liverpool airport fashion the airport was dead, it was a carbon copy of my flight out in November (outlined here: Day one of my Ireland Trip). As mentioned in that blog, I don’t get excited anymore flying to Ireland, it’s like getting on a train for me. After my parents said goodbye to me for a few weeks I trundled through the delights of security and then sat in Burger king with no-one but the cleaner looking out at a near empty and a now very wet apron. I don’t mind waiting for flights, I’m happy to get there super early, especially if I can do a bit of spotting but the only spotting I was doing was the raindrops on the windows. Liverpool is a great regional airport but when it’s quiet, it’s quiet.
With a distinct lack of aircraft arriving or departing I decided to head downstairs to a little café’ I found last time I flew out of Liverpool, tucked away in the departure lounge. The peppermint tea was still as good as ever, as were the hot blonde chicks behind the counter. Easy job they have too, over the course of the hour I sat playing on my phone checking my flight had departed from Dublin and texting, they served a grand total of six people! Six people an hour. What a job. When you’re waiting for a flight, especially one which leads onto an adventure I was about to have, time stands still. With every gulp of warm tea it felt like minutes. When the gate finally appeared and we made our way to the queue I could hear the rain hammering down on the roof. Not great for flying in that’s for sure. I opened my aviation apps, looked at the METAR’s (Airport weather system) and it was red across the board. Strong wings, turbulent clouds and very heavy rain. There was no chance I’d be seeing anything flying today and I was glad I opted for a small lunch. At Liverpool you have to walk to the plane, no air bridges here. You could barely see the aircraft due to the weather. I haven’t seen rain that bad for a long time, people were running to the plane steps like I run for the last cake in a shop. What’s the point I asked myself? You’re going to be drenched either way, you would have been drier in a shower.
Once on board and dripping wet, I noticed that once again this Thursday afternoon flight was completely dead. I head almost the entire rear of the plane to myself! Something I should have appreciated more, especially as every flight from then on, on that trip was always a full flight.
I’ve seen Eurofighter typhoons have a longer take off run that we had coming out of Liverpool. After a few bumps, a quick nap, 30 minutes later we were wheels down in my second home of Dublin. The original plan had been to pop into Ashbourne to stay with my grandparents and see them before I went off to Canada the next day. However with a change of flight time it would have meant getting a bus at 4 a.m. to get to the airport. With a long ass day ahead of travelling I opted to go to an airport hotel instead, the Radisson Blu. Great hotel, with great views of the approach into Dublin airport which I enjoyed while tucking in a really delicious burger which surprisingly was well priced for room service. After a bath and a few phone calls, I settled down for the night.
DAY TWO: Toronto via Dublin and Heathrow
Maybe it was the excitement of the trip ahead but at 4 a.m. I was wide awake and raring to go. After a quick shower I was in the lobby of the hotel waiting for the complementary shuttle service. I was amazed at how busy the lobby was at this unholy hour of the morning but then again, early morning is one of the busiest times of day for any airport so I should have realised that. However, everyone was very friendly, Italians, American’s, Spanish, it was a real mix of passengers in our little minibus to the airport. Early morning in airports have a really exciting atmosphere about them and its something I love. Outside is still dark, the world hasn’t really woken up yet but inside the terminal is a hive of activity. I love the excited chatter, the noise of the cases being hauled along and the smell of freshly brewed coffee filling the air. It really gets you in the mood for travelling. Especially as the way Terminal 2 in Dublin is designed is so bright and spacious that it’s a very smooth and stress free experience.
Queuing up to check in only took me five minutes and once at the counter the check-in clerk informs me…
“ I’m moving you onto the early flight of 6.20 am to Heathrow as they’re expecting severe delays in both Ireland and London later due to weather and capacity issues. I’d rather you had longer to wait in Heathrow, than sit here worrying that you might miss your flight”.
He was very helpful and a great gesture as if I didn’t get moved I would have missed my flight! Lucky break number one on this trip already, good job that I was checking in so early. This now meant I didn’t have a great deal of time to get through a very busy security screening and by great deal I mean squeaky bum time deal. The stress o’meter was beginning to climb. The good thing about Dublin T2 is they’re very efficient and within a quarter of an hour I was through security but didn’t have any time to grab any breakfast. I only just had enough time to ping a text to my dad that I was on an earlier flight if he was up to track it. Of course I had enough time to take a picture of the plane though.
After that it was straight to the gate to board Aer Lingus to LHR. The flight was a stark contrast to the one the previous day. There wasn’t a spare seat available and sadly I was put in the middle seat at check-in. Never fun, especially as the dick with the window seat was asleep the whole time, such a waste! Announcements were made for people to check in their carry-on luggage because the flight was so full but as I was connecting I didn’t have to worry about that.
I settled into my seat and claimed my elbow rests and got ready for the second flight of the trip, the first one of today.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking….We’ve got a delay with our slot time. There are delays in Heathrow and that means we have to wait for a new slot here at Dublin. We’ll be pushing back in around half an hour”.
Knowing I now had a three hour lay-over to play with I wasn’t in the least bit annoyed by that delay. The only thing that annoyed me was the fact I left my headphones in the overhead locker with my bag. There is only so many times you can read the safety card. After half an hour we finally pushed back and I counted 9 aircraft ahead of us waiting to take off. So it took another 15 minutes to eventually get off the ground at Dublin. Solid cloud all the way until on the approach to Heathrow. I so wish I was right next to the window as London and all of the landmarks were perfectly in view! Yes, he was still asleep until we pulled into the gate.
Luckily I was transferring in the same Terminal, terminal 2. This meant that from plane to departure gates including security was less than 15 minutes! Very handy and stress free. Terminal 2 has recently been renovated to the similar specs of Terminal 5 which I’ve flown out of a few times and love how much natural light comes in with great views of the runways. Duty free was bought, new sunglasses, whiskey and finally some breakfast!
Finally got to do some spotting which is great at Heathrow and before long I was waiting at the gate for the 7 hour flight to Toronto. I was flying premium economy so got to board first which really is a god send. Not to mention the huge seats and excellent food (I’ll do a full review blog of my flights soon, so I won’t bore you with the details!). The Boeing 787 is a fantastic aircraft, bigger windows, very quiet and all round great experience. After listening to music, stopping for meals and watching a film and taking pictures before I knew it I arrived in Toronto. The holiday finally was about to start and oh boy did it start!
(Blog two to come soon, including a police escort through the airport, a private tour of an Emirates A380 and my first full day in Toronto. Exciting day!)