Published: July 17th 2008July 13th 2008 13 July:
Flying over Baffin Island
in north-eastern Canada doesn't show an inviting countryside, but at least I know I'm going home...
"AND THE LIVIN' is easy..." Up at 4:45 a.m., off on subway, regional train and express bus to Hamburg Airport (yes, that's what the sign says, not "Hamburger Flughafen" as it would have years ago). The trains are busier than one would think, with early workers and late night revellers. But then this is a port city that never sleeps, and public transit runs around the clock.
Hamburg - Frankfurt 55 minutes, then onto an Airbus 330-300 for the flight across the Atlantic. The best seats in Economy Class -- as I found out on the flight out -- are located in a small cabin immediately behind Business Class, encompassing seats 24-27. Going online last night I was able to choose only the first of my two Lufthansa flights' seat assignments. The long flight home is in row 30 in the large, noisy rear section of the plane, so I ask for a change... and get it... row 24 bulkhead isle seat... the best! But on board someone's already sitting there, with the same boarding pass seat. I patiently wait for a flight attendant to shuffle some other passengers with other requests. Then it's my turn. The purser
Now this looks more like it!
Vancouver Island (foreground) with Gulf Islands in the distance, on our landing approach to Victoria airport.
leaves with my ticket, returns minutes later, and (after the young woman who is already firmly ensconsed in her/my seat declines to move) I am ushered into the forward Business Class section. Well, I've heard of people getting upgrades, but this is the first time it's happened to me!
Normally, a nine-and-a-half-hour flight isn't the most comfortable way to travel, but what a pleasure this time around. The wide seats are infinitely adjustable at a push of various buttons from sitting to lounging to flat-out horizontal sleeping positions, with lumbar supports and massage features thrown in for good measure. I don't even need the inflatable neck cushion I bought after suffering through a less than comfortable experience on the way over. There is, of course, your own TV monitor with lots of on-demand movies, educational and music CDs. A personal comfort pack includes everything from tooth care items to ear plugs and sleeping mask, and I use those. Instead of a restless snooze I get two hours of blessed sleep. And the service! Three or four attendants at our beck and call. My jacket is immediately placed on a hanger in a closet; hot towels to refresh us a couple of times, linen table cloths and napkins, seemingly continuous offerings of drinks and food, and all served unhurried and with a smile. I can only assume the staff looking after First and Business Class are veterans who have graduated from harried Economy Class attendants.
I arrive in Calgary buoyed and refreshed. A few hours layover in that city's airport, which can almost be described as "cozy" compared to some others I've endured, then on to Victoria. On both legs of the trip I've had pleasant seat neighbours -- first a woman from Australia, travelling around the world, visiting friends in diverse places before seeing her daughter and grandson in Calgary, then an 18-year old girl returning home from a visit to that city. At YYJ my son, Normand and his children welcome me, take me to their home near the airport for a quick snack (they are leaving for a three-week vacation the next day themselves), before I finally return home to my own place in Victoria.
I sink into bed early that night. My watch shows 6 a.m. Germany time. It's been 25 hours since I got up to catch my flight, 41 days since I set out on my travels. As I had told the Canadian customs officer who sternly asked about the purpose of my trip out of the country, "I went to visit the past and to explore future." Not a twitch in her face; must be used to eccentrics...