Canada Travels: Blog 2 – Airport escort and Toronto Islands
by Dr Anthony D. Cliffe
In this blog I visit an A380, the CN tower and explore the Toronto islands following on from my first blog about my travels to Canada Canada Trip Blog 1: The long trip west.
What a way to start a holiday…
Taxying to the gate, I feel pretty refreshed and the flight went surprisingly quick. I felt a surge of relief that I’m finally on Canadian soil and after starting my journey here over a day ago, I’m glad to have arrived. A quick catch up on texts and before I know it we’re pulling onto the stand and the engines are whining down. I always love the multiple sounds of the seatbelts clicking and the chatter starting. Before I left, Barb and Betsey two of my cousins in Toronto had been in touch about arranging to meet up when I was in Toronto and to go to places like Niagara Falls. Barb even offered me a place to stay which was incredibly kind of her but I’d already booked my hotel for the few days! I’ve only ever really met them once and that was as a very young kid. My memories are sketchy at best, I remember a huge house, pool and a basement. Basements are alien to us British folk and having a pool in your back garden is too. I mean, we’d get like what? Two days of summer to use it and even then it would feel like an ice bath! I remember playing star wars with my cousins in there but I think I was about 6? I do remember how welcoming they were and how kind they were and upon evidence of our Facebook chats before arriving that kindness and welcoming certainly hadn’t disappeared. Before I left England, Barb’s Husband, Dave, works as a police officer in Pearson International. He’s known colloquially as the Mayor of the airport because he’s been there so long! There isn’t an inch of the airport he doesn’t know, not a staff member who doesn’t know him. There was a possibility that if he was free he would meet me off the plane. That would be cool I thought.
I was one of the first off the plane and I walked up the air bridge and into the terminal, I had a big smile to see he had indeed greeted me off the plane, in full uniform. I can only imagine what the passengers must have thought! Maybe I was British royalty with an escort or maybe I was being extradited, I do vaguely look like Edward Snowdon after all ! From the first handshake, it was like I had known Dave for ages. What a guy! So incredibly funny, friendly and welcoming. We walked towards immigration, catching up with how the family was doing on both sides of the pond and before I knew it I was through immigration and customs quicker than I am in my own country! While waiting for my bags, he tells me stories about the celebs he’s met and wow, if only he was into blogging because some of them are best sellers!
I placed my bags into his police cruiser outside and he says…
“Fancy a look around the A380? Private tour I have a pass for you? “
Jesus Christ! What an opportunity! As an avgeek this is right up there with one of the best things to do. Especially as it’s a working aircraft, in a working airport. The A380 is the world’s biggest passenger jet and now I’m going to go on-board and sit in the cockpit. What a way to start a holiday! After going through security again but this time the one the aircrew use and walking through back passages I didn’t even know existed and having the pleasure to walk on the ‘world’s fastest travellator’, I was waiting at the gate to board the A380. It had just arrived from Dubai and we were met by the dispatcher who would take us on board. While waiting outside of the door, we had to wait until all of the crew members were off. It was almost like those comedy sketches where people just keep coming out of a car. There are so many crew members! I also wonder what they thought, seeing an English man in a tweed jacket, standing with an armed police officer waiting to go on-board for a private tour! The wait was just ramping up the excitement for me. After a few minutes I was let on board and given a tour by Dave and the engineer who let me sit in the co-pilot and pilot seat! Dream come true.
I was amazed at how small the cockpit actually was for such a massive aircraft. I’ve read countless magazines and followed the A380’s development and I knew the cockpit is the same as the smallest Airbus, the A318, bar two extra handles on the throttle column and some screens but wow. The dream of being a commercial pilot never took off but damn I am so jealous of pilots and the job they have. Plus I’m very much an Airbus guy over Boeing so win, win! After that and hanging out of the window, I was given a further tour of the aircraft. Absolutely amazing and I’ll outline a little more in my aviation blogs of this trip.
Now on a complete high and after many thank you’s I was back inside the terminal. Can I just say a massive thank you to Dave and to Emirates airlines for giving me such access to your aircraft when on ops. Truly wonderful experience! Dave took me to the Union Express station. Basically a high speed train that takes 20 minutes to get into downtown Toronto from the airport. We exchanged numbers, had a few more laughs and said we’d meet up for a meal tomorrow evening. I couldn’t thank Dave enough for this experience, what a great way to start an adventure!
The train was busy on the way into Toronto but with free Wi-Fi and aircon I couldn’t complain. A mixture of dehydration and excitement I was really thirsty by this point and warm. Really warm! It didn’t help lugging around a giant suitcase much, despite it only being 15c outside. The hotel was in downtown Toronto about a 15 minute walk from the station. I never like getting cabs in cities if I can avoid it, I prefer to walk and explore that way, even with a heavy suitcase! I didn’t have a window on the train so when I finally exited the train station and out onto the street, I had to stop and take it all in for a few minutes.
When you’re from England, our cities are like 5 stories max high, usually three at best. Looking up at this giant concrete canyon above you is quite amazing when you’re in North America! You feel so incredibly small, the concrete, the glass, and the logos. So cool. Then the noise of the city hits you, the traffic, the horns, the smells, the chatter, it’s a real slap in the face to the senses. Especially as it was rush hour, there were just streams of people walking towards me to get on their trains and I had to fight my way upstream like a salmon to my hotel! I’m not a city person at all, I much prefer the countryside due to its peace and quiet and relaxed way of life. I can understand those on the go loving the rushed vibe of the city and I do like that for a few days until it grates on me. As this was me just arriving, I got a real buzz from the walk to the hotel.
I was finally glad to check in to the Double Tree Hilton and lie on my king sized deluxe bed on the 20th floor. What a great room! For £200 for three nights I got a top class hotel room, with breakfast and a welcome cookie. In the UK for the Geography formal I spent £60 for one night in a Travelodge, no breakfast and the bed didn’t even have a duvet on it! Just goes to show you how ripped off we are in the UK.
I jumped straight into the shower to wash away the travelling, got myself some food, watched some god awful TV and before I knew it I was fighting a losing battle. 8pm Canadian time and I was out like a light.
FFIRST FULL DAY IN TORONTO
DAY THREE (DAY ONE (part I) IN CANADA): EXPLORING TORONTO
Rolling over in the huge king size bed, I rustle my head into the pillow. I don’t want to open my eyes yet but I can feel my body waking up, yearning to jump out of bed and explore. With a stretch I take off my eye mask fully expecting it to be daylight of sorts. It was a real struggle to stay awake until 8pm last night, I’ve slept like a log after being up for nearly a day straight with the travel yesterday, not to mention the time difference. However nothing but the dim glow from under the bathroom door across the other side of the room provided any light. It was still pitch black outside, 4 a.m. to precise. Of course my body clock thought it was 9 a.m. As far as my body was concerned I went to bed at 2a.m now I’m awake at 9, perfect amount of sleep. It is probably the only time and the last, that I’ll ever feel that awake at 4 a.m. as this morning. As it was a Saturday here in Canada breakfast in the hotel isn’t served until 7 am. I thought about going back to sleep for a bit but I knew that was a futile task and I doubted TV would be any good either in the wee small hours of the morning. After catching up with text messages and Facebook and watching all the videos I’ve taken from the flights over here, the first signs of my first morning in Canada appeared.
Opening the curtains looking down from the 20th floor into the heart of the concrete canyon, the deep black of the night had turned into a shade a deep blue, getting lighter by the second. I’ve always loved civil twilight. In the morning it feels like the world is waking up but isn’t quite there yet. As a photographer too, I love the way everything looks, silhouetted against a brightening sky. I like early morning’s in cities too. It’s quiet and peaceful before the storm of the people arrive for rush hour and the city comes to life.
After another very long shower and a check of the weather I headed down for breakfast. Canadians have a lot of things right in their country. Breakfast is certainly one of them! A quick scoot back to the room and to collect my camera and coat and by 7.25 a.m. I was out walking in the city.
I still was taken aback by the size of the skyscrapers as I walked towards the harbour front. My plan today was to explore the Islands. Despite being to Toronto a few times, I’ve never got a chance to explore it with family. Now I’m on my own it was a perfect chance to explore them for the first time before meeting up with my Canadian cousins in the evening. On my way to the harbour it’s hard not to miss the CN Tower. I’ve been up the CN tower at different times of day and in all seasons but as soon as I saw it I knew I had to go up it again. The view never really changes but I just absolutely love it. Weird for someone who doesn’t do heights particularly well!
I was the first in the queue as I waited for them to open up. Spring hadn’t really taken full hold in Toronto yet, so at 10 degrees it felt cool and crisp and a lovely blue sky above I knew I’d see some great views. After a quick stop through the airport style security, I was racing up the lift to the observation deck. I spent a good hour and a bit walking outside, inside, on the glass floor, just enjoying the views and taking way too many selfies. I took one that looked like I was about to skydive and couldn’t resist posting it to Facebook to scare friends and family!
After coming down I finally felt like all the stresses of the past few weeks had gone. I was really enjoying myself and the sense of adventure was rippling through me. I was so made up to finally be away and exploring on my own!
I carried on after the CN tower towards the harbour, stopping every five minutes to take pictures. Toronto is such a picturesque city and the fact it sits on Lake Ontario makes it a great place to explore.
For $7 dollars you get a return ticket to any one of the three Islands. Ward, Central and Hanlan. They’re all linked by bridges and walk ways, central being the main one. I decided to take a trip to Ward island first and planned to walk the 13 miles from there right the way around to the final Island of Hanlan point. I’m glad I did! Ward Island was a lovely quiet idea. People live on the Island and Ward is where they live. As a countryside person I could think of no better way to live than on the beach on this tiny island! It was so incredibly quiet and peaceful. Walking along the boardwalks with nothing but the chirps of the birds and the gentle lap of the waves. So beautiful.
I walked and walked for miles, going down different paths, exploring things, the beauty of single travel. I knew the city was on my right somewhere and I noticed a small trail through the woods over a bridge over a small inlet called Snake Island. Why not? So I bush whack through the woods, after three minutes of pushing bushes out of my face and contemplating turning back, the woods gave way to the best bench I have ever seen. What a view! I sat on that bench for a good 30 minutes, taking photographs and just relaxing, watching the world go by. I was disturbed by a German couple who stumbled upon this little piece of paradise too. I took some pictures for them and then left them to enjoy the serenity of it all. It was weird to have such a beautiful spot of nature and then across the water was sprawling metropolis of Toronto city.
I carried on walking for miles, more and more people appeared as I got closer to Central Island. I decided my feet needed a rest, grateful for bringing my hiking gear, so I decided to stop in a small restaurant. Chicken fingers and Plum sauce are the best combination ever created and plum sauce in Canada is, well I can’t describe it. Me and my family adore it. I ordered 15 chicken fingers with plum sauce and fries and I don’t even think they touched the sides at all!
After a rest, I continued walking down trails, stumbling upon untouched beaches, wildlife and scenery. It felt weird to be so far from home, at times completely alone on an island but a good weird! It’s a Saturday. Back home I might watch the match and go on my bike other than that, not a great deal. Here I am this Saturday, exploring a wonderful island.
I ended up doing some plane spotting at the local airport on the island and waiting for the next ferry to take me back into the city. I had been on the island since 10.30pm and it was not 3.30pm and I’d walked 15 miles so far today. Even though it was cool I could feel that my face was sunburnt already!
Walking back into the vibe of the city to my hotel felt a world away from where I had been. I finally got back to my hotel room and put my feet up, got a shower and got ready to meet my Canadian cousins for the first time in over a decade!
Next blog will be all about family and Niagara Falls.