Holiday Day 17 (March 18th) In the air, on the ground, in the air again
And starting to change plans
Today, officially our last day in Canada, was mainly about flying. We were due to meet everyone at the hotel in the early afternoon to board the coach to the airport for the homeward flight. That left us with a morning to wander what were by now deserted streets, look at closed offices, shops, cafés and tourist attractions, and fill in a few hours of, again, brilliant sunshine. While we were in Vancouver, we had hoped to take a trip to Grouse Mountain to do this…
What to do?
The mountain’s attractions, however, were closed. We’d also hoped to visit people we’d met on Symi, including Yiannis and Megan who we had first met when Yiannis was teaching here on Symi several years ago, but they live on Vancouver Island and were working, and what with ferries and work, the timings didn’t fit, and we weren’t able to do that either. So, this, our last morning, was spent walking down to the waterfront again to pass the time and take photos of interesting sights such as this:
You know, one of the things I wish Google had was a function whereby you could upload a photo and ask, where’s this? I can’t remember exactly where or what this building is, except it’s number 355 Something Street and wasn’t far from our hotel. Perhaps someone will enlighten me. It’s a fantastic entrance to an office block though.
Meanwhile, some of our party had been speaking about the seaplane excursion they’d taken the day before or were intending to take that morning. As we walked, we discussed the idea, and by the time we reached where the seaplanes operate from, we’d made up our minds to do it. It was cheaper than what we’d put aside to fling ourselves off a snowy mountain in a canvas bag dangling from a piece of wire, so, why not?
Neither of us is scared of flying, we’ve flown from Athens to Rhodes in a plane with real propellers which I loved, and been stuck in a jumbo for 24 hours. I’d survived an Air Sinai wind-up contraption from Aswan to Abu Simbel in the past, and once taken a scenic Cessna flight over Land’s End, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat and wondering what would happen if the captain suddenly jumped out, passed out, or died. (I watch too many disaster films.) But, neither of us had been in a seaplane.
‘So, why not? Come on then, we’re not going to get the chance again. Are you sure? It’s only a plane’ kind of conversation happened for all of two minutes, and we headed to the Vancouver Harbour Seaplane Flight Centre, which we’d walked past yesterday. This must have been the only sightseeing event happening in the city by then, and surprisingly (or maybe not) it wasn’t busy. We booked onto a flight in an hour’s time, and as the tickets came with free coffee, hung out in the terminal’s very comfortable lounge watching planes take off from the water. The service isn’t just for tourists as seaplanes, also called floatplanes, ferry people and post to the islands, so there was plenty of to watch until our turn came.
Oh, we found this unfortunately apt thing on the way to the dock…
There were five of us and a pilot on our 20-minute flight, and, of course, we followed instructions to the letter. All bags in the boot, which must have a better name than that, everyone strap in and try not to cough on each other – no chance of social distancing there, but then, it still wasn’t a requirement, just a serving suggestion. With everyone strapped in, the pilot poked his head through the door and asked, ‘Your first time on a seaplane?’ to which everyone replied, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, me too.’
Well, it broke the ice.
The trip gave us plenty of opportunity for photos. There are far too many to post here, but rather than me trying to describe what we saw, I’ll show you a few and let you imagine the hum of the engine, the tilt of the plane, what it’s like looking down directly over the top of a city, and what it’s like to know that there’s only half an inch of steel between you and several hundred feet of nothing.
Take off was noisy, the landing was smooth, and the time in between magical, and we survived.
To the airport
Afterwards, we took a slow walk back to the hotel, checked the packing, vacated our rooms, and reported to the right place at the right time.
Cut to the airport.
You might know, or you might remember me mentioning a couple of weeks ago, that Athens airport has its own museum. It shows you what was excavated before they could build the airport, and it helps pass the time when you’re waiting for your flight. At Vancouver airport, we found all manner of distractions, including a late lunch, a display of Steampunk style objects including a camera, and some haute couture.
I thought Elaine C might like to see these ‘Brown Paper Couture’ dresses from the Givenchy 2011 spring collection because we came across them in her homeland, and hope others enjoy them too.
We didn’t have too long to wait in the quiet airport. The boards were showing a multitude of cancelled flights, and we learnt that this was to be one of the last flights from Vancouver to London until… Well, until everyone saw how it went and decided what was to be done, took advice and so on. All we knew and needed to know was that Keith was on top of things, our check-in was seen to, and we were again accidentally flying premium economy. No complaints there.
Stepping outside for some fresh air and to watch the somewhat limited world go by, I was impressed by the openness of the place, by which I mean even their smoking areas don’t discriminate…
We also gave the bears some air before they climbed back into our hand luggage ready for the nine-hour-twenty-minute flight. This was due to set off at 6 pm and arrive the next day at 11.20, and I’ve never been good at getting my head around all that shift in time zone stuff. When a nine-hour flight seems to take 17, I simply don’t worry about it. There were plenty of films still to watch on my personal screen, and although it was a night fight, there were dinner and breakfast to look forward to, and the linen tablecloths.
Racing Against Time
From now on, until we get home in a few days and this long, winding blog comes to an end, you will be pleased to know that the entries will (might) become shorter. That’s mainly because I took fewer photos during the return trip, and saw fewer places of interest. I’ll try and make it entertaining, however, because what started out as a simple homeward bound journey, soon became something of a race against time.
One thing we had picked up on while waiting for our flight was that all tourist attractions in London were now closed. Our original plan was to spend two nights at a hotel in Heathrow, the first to recover from the flight, the second to be there for our onward flight to Athens on the Saturday. The day in between was to be spent visiting the Tutankhamun exhibition in town and then having lunch with dear friends Kinny & Nick who had offered to take us to Joe Allen in Covent Garden for a late lunch and long overdue catchup. Well, both were closed, so there was no point going into town, and not much point staying in Heathrow, but we had flights booked that would give us two days in Athens to chill before catching the ferry home.
We decided, as we were waiting for the flight, that there was no point sticking to that schedule. London was closed, Athens was closed, and Vancouver was closing down behind us. So, sitting in departures, I started rearranging things, and falling into travel agent mode, cancelled our Air B&B apartment in Monistiraki. (We got an 80% refund, which I wasn’t expecting as it was such short notice.) I also started rebooking flights from London to Athens. This was via Aegean, and you can pay with PayPal, except I couldn’t, because I had no money in it, and, for some reason, wasn’t able to upload any from my bank. I had to contact Jenine for a temporary PayPal loan, and with about ten minutes before boarding, switched flights, the idea now being to fly to Athens on Saturday and head straight to Symi rather than wait around in Athens for the Tuesday booking on the Blue Star out of Piraeus. We’d worry about refunds later.
More about that as we go on, for now, I’ll just say it all got very complicated, and we’d have been stuck without a smartphone and Jenine.
And so, off to departures.
Again, we had that unnecessary priority boarding, and although we weren’t in the front seats with space enough to tap dance, we had plenty of room and were made very comfortable for our second flight of the day.
Watched films, ate, slept a bit, woke up, watched half a film, slept some more (I’m getting better at this sleeping when moving thing), and finished off the other half of a film, were served by attendants in masks, washed our hands regularly, were given free hand-san, dozed off…
On Monday’s blog, we land in London and check into our fifth hotel of the trip (sixth if you include the train), and begin a strategic game of reaching home before we’re locked down in London. We weren’t tense, in fact, I love this kind of challenge and part of me was already plotting how we might journey across Europe by land because so many flights were being cancelled and airports were closing down. Of course, soon, entire countries and their borders would be closed, but we didn’t know that at the time and anyway, that’s a story for Monday.
As you can see, at this point, we were still smiling.