Go to Newfoundland, see a play – how hard can it be?
A friend of mine has written a play, which is going to be performed in Trinity, Newfoundland. I’ve actually been to Trinity (briefly) a few years ago, and had been planning to go back. Unfortunately Air Canada no longer operates the daily flight direct from London to St John’s, Newfoundland, so I’ll have to go via Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Trinity is about 300 miles from St John’s. There’s a bus that goes from St John’s to Clarenville (nearest large town) and from there it’s about an hour (and $100 dollars) in a cab. Or there are a couple of cab companies that operate a cab/delivery service, dropping off people and packages around the peninsula – slower, but much cheaper.
To catch my flight at Heathrow, I will have to leave home 4.30 Saturday morning. Now, mornings – I am not at my best (to put it mildly) so I decide to just stay up all night Friday.
This is a decision I will regret.
Saturday – I leave on time, but the train is late. I get to London, and have to get across to Heathrow. As time is tight, I decide to get the Heathrow Express – more expensive, but quick and reliable. This leaves from Paddington.
Now, there are three Underground lines that go straight to Paddington. Two of these are closed for engineering works but the third seems OK – until I get downstairs and set foot on the platform. Then comes the announcement “Signal failure – no trains – passengers are advised to seek alternate routes”. I drag my luggage back upstairs to look for another route, and end up changing lines twice (and acting as guide for an Italian tourist, who is also struggling to catch a flight).
I get to Heathrow. It’s busy, but I make it through security and into the departure lounge before my gate is announced. “Great” thinks I, “Sit down, get your breath back”. But someone is kicking the chair behind me. I turn to look, expecting to see a bored kid – but it’s a woman having an epileptic fit. She stops kicking – because she’s stopped breathing. Luckily airport staff have called someone, and soon she’s sitting up again, and well enough to wonder where her other earring has gone.
And then I hear that my flight is boarding. In all the excitement, I hadn’t heard the gate announcement. I grab my luggage, sprint for the gate, board the plane. Now I can relax.
About an hour outside Halifax, the captain says “The good news is, we’re early…”
The bad news is – fog. Lots and lots of fog. We may have to divert to Montreal.
We fly a bit further. We circle Halifax for what seems like hours. The captain announces that we can try to land, but if that fails we’ll have to fly on to Moncton. I don’t like the thought of Moncton – but I don’t like the sound of a failed landing either.
Finally, the plane lands, safely. The captain gets a round of applause.
By the time I’ve cleared immigration, it’s after 3. My flight to St John’s isn’t till 9.30. I consider going into Halifax, but it’s about half an hour (and $50) in a cab, and it’s surprisingly cold and wet for July. I settle for browsing the airport shops, and treat myself to a Tim Horton’s Boston Cream doughnut – “Mmm, I could never get tired of these”.
I will eat those words…
Eventually I head up to the departure lounge. A lady from Nova Scotia tourism is doing a survey of why people are here, and seems a little disappointed that I’m just passing through. The time comes to start boarding, but the plane hasn’t arrived yet from St John’s – and the fog is getting thicker. The crew are hovering, waiting to hear what’s happening.
Finally the plane arrives, passengers get out, but still the crew are hovering. They get the OK to go, boarding starts – then stops. The flight is cancelled. Nothing is getting out of Halifax tonight. We are all given a piece of paper with two numbers to call – one to book another flight, one to book a reduced rate hotel room. We have to retrieve our luggage then ring these numbers.
This, of course, is the ideal time to discover that my mobile phone won’t work in Canada.
There is a stampede for the payphones. I ring for a flight – the first available one they have is on Monday evening. Then I ring for a hotel – the woman on the phone says Halifax is full. I ask if she’s tried Dartmouth (the other side of the harbour) but she just says “But you’re in Halifax” and tells me to try again in ten minutes.
I try again. And again. And again.
Eventually I give up on the Air Canada helpline, and try a hotel I’ve stayed at before. They tell me that Halifax may well be full. This weekend there’s a big concert on Halifax Common. It’s also the Atlantic Jazz Festival, plus the Tall Ships are in town. I try big hotels, small hotels, student accommodation, and finally a cheap place in a rough part of town. When even that is full, I know it’s not looking good.
I try the number of a friend in Halifax – who turns out to be in Ontario this weekend. I ring the bed and breakfast I have booked in St John’s to let them know I can’t make it. Thank goodness I happen to have a lot of quarters on me.
Some people who have been able to find somewhere to stay are hiring cars to drive out to hotels as far away as Truro. It’s hard to get a cab now because the concert has ended. Dozens of people are stranded at Halifax airport – women with babies, elderly people in wheelchairs. Eventually the staff notice that we aren’t leaving. There is a garbled announcement that we can get $10 worth of Tim Horton’s if we show our boarding passes – most people can’t hear it, and it isn’t repeated.
By now it’s midnight. I head up to the observation deck, where it’s quieter and the lights aren’t as bright, so I can rest my eyes. I curse whoever designed the airport seating with armrests, specifically so you can’t lie down. The fog is so thick that I can’t see anything outside, just the red Exit-Sortie signs reflected on the windows.
I can’t sleep, so I consider my options, with Pinchy. Pinchy is a big floppy beanbag lobster I have bought in Halifax as a gift – but he’s now been promoted to travel pillow/companion, and named after the unfortunate lobster in The Simpsons.
There is a ferry to Newfoundland. I would have to get a bus to Sydney (5 hours) then ferry to Port aux Basques (5 hours) then bus to St John’s (12 hours). I don’t know how much the fares would be, plus I might have to find somewhere to stay at Sydney/Port aux Basques if I miss a connection. There is a tourist information booth here, but it’s closed now till 9.30 in the morning, and Halifax airport doesn’t seem to have an internet kiosk I can use to find any information.
Or – West Jet have a flight leaving in the morning. If there are any seats left, and if they can get off the ground, I’ll only be a few hours behind schedule. It probably won’t be cheap, but it’s better than staying at the airport till Monday. The fog does seem to be clearing – I can just about make out the lights on the runway. I try the Air Canada helpline again, and it’s now just a recording telling you to make your own arrangements.
So – Sunday 4am, I join the queue waiting for the West Jet counter to open. Yes, they expect to take off as usual. They only have four seats left, costing $Eeep! I buy a ticket – it’s almost worth it just so I can check my luggage in, and not have to keep dragging it around.
By now I’m starting to feel sleepy, but I daren’t nap in case I miss my flight. I get my $10 of Tim Horton’s – nothing else is open. Then go back through security, back to the gate – and back to the tourism lady, who seems slightly confused to see me again. She says she has to ask me why I’m there – I bite back any number of rude responses and say that I just can’t keep away from the place.
I’m too tired to read, so I try to do a crossword puzzle, but in my current state it seems incredibly hard. More Tim Horton’s…
We board. Apart from me, everyone else on the plane seems to be a Newfoundlander who was at the concert last night. We take off – no problems, no fog.
No fog in Halifax, that is.
We get to St John’s, and I find out what a failed landing is like. The captain takes the plane down as low as is legal, but the fog is so bad he can’t even see the runway. We have to turn around – and fly back to Halifax.
I collect my luggage again, then sprint to the West Jet counter to find out what’s going on. They have a flight leaving for Toronto within the hour, where we should be able to get a connection to St John’s – but if that one can’t land either, I could be stranded in Toronto… I opt for their next flight out of Halifax – which isn’t till Wednesday.
If you ever get stuck on a flight that’s cancelled, try to make sure it’s with West Jet, not Air Canada. Within minutes, they have a hotel room booked for me (free) until Wednesday. They give me vouchers good for six meals at the hotel, and direct me to a shuttle bus to the hotel. Unfortunately, while getting onto the bus, I whack my head against the door frame. It is at this point I want to cry like a two year old, and wonder if I should just give up on Newfoundland entirely…
But I am nothing if not persistent. So I check into the hotel, have the world’s quickest shower, then try to decide what to do next. First priority – get a phone. Ordinarily when I’m on holiday, I’m out of touch – but little sister is hugely pregnant, and complications are expected. I left her my mobile number, and detailed itinerary – all of which is now useless. So I call a cab, ask the driver to take me to a mall where I can get a phone. He points out that it’s now Sunday evening, and the mall is closed.
Then (and this is why I love Nova Scotia) the cab driver rings a friend to see if they know anywhere that sells pay-as-you-go phones. Then he calls the head office of the store to see which branches are open late Sunday, then calls the stores to check that they have phones in stock. He drops me off right outside the store – bless his cotton socks.
I now have a phone. I’m right next to the boardwalk, so I decide to have a quick look at the Tall Ships – forty sailing ships from around the world – along with a fun fair, barbeque, and more piratey merchandise than you can shake a wooden leg at. Apparently 75,000 people visit, and they all seem to be here today. And the weather is great – it’s hard to believe after the fog at the airport this morning, but it’s so hot now that I have to buy some sunscreen.
I wander up to the Economy Shoe Shop (which, despite the name, is a bar), and have my first proper meal in what feels like forever. There’s a firework display in the harbour tonight, but I decide it’s probably a good idea to head back to the hotel. By the time I get there, I’m feeling pretty rough – not sure if it’s concussion, or the fact I’ve now been awake for about three days – but I black out for twelve hours.
Monday – I wake up to find I now have a bump on my head where I banged it yesterday. I wonder if I should fly at all – but after breakfast and a bath, I decide I’m probably OK. I set up my phone, and start making calls – check in with my sister (no news), then ring Air Canada (to check flight status), bed and breakfast in Trinity (to let them know that I am still planning to get there), cab company in St John’s (to let them know I won’t be going to Trinity today – the guy there says he’s lived in St John’s for 58 years, and has never seen fog like it). I get numbers for some St John’s hotels, so I’ll be able to find somewhere to stay if I ever make it there. Then I try to get my luggage organised, and check how much cash I have left. I’m too tired to go into Halifax again.
Most flights seem to be back on schedule, so I go to the airport – again! Through security – again! Up to the gate – again! Thankfully tourism survey lady isn’t there this time (she’s probably run away screaming by now). Some twisted part of my brain is singing an alternate version of Hotel California – Hotel Nova Scotia – “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”… and I can’t face any more Tim Horton’s.
The plane arrives, we board – but have to wait for eight people who are stuck in security. We’re late taking off, but I don’t care, because this time we make it to St John’s – and land!
It’s now after midnight. So I grab my luggage and start ringing hotels again – find one that only has four rooms left, and ask them to hold one for me – good thing I do. By the time I get there, they’re full. I’ve actually stayed in this hotel before, so the guy on the desk knocks a bit off the rate for me. And they have a computer! So I get to check my emails, before blacking out again. This time I have really weird dreams – including one that I have finally made it to St John’s…
Tuesday – I get up early to call the cab company and see if I can get on today’s cab out to Trinity. They squeeze me in – literally! Twelve of us, in a cab built for ten – two of them small children who keep biting each other – one a little old man who tells me he had too much whiskey last night – then offers me a sandwich. It’s cozy – and it’s quite an experience. We drive around, picking up people from hotels, hospitals, houses, gas stations, a crossroad in the middle of nowhere. And we take detours down tiny side roads, dropping off parcels, car parts – all manner of things, in a blur of evergreen.
But after five hours, I get to Trinity. Just enough time to check in, drop my luggage off, and race into the theatre.
(to be continued)