Posts filed under ‘Travel Anecdotes’

Ferry Tales

First of all, thanks to all of the new visitors to my blog who found my Cabot Trail post via links left by the lovely folks at Nova Scotia Tourism and Cape Breton Living! Thank you! I hope you’re enjoying reading about my travels. Feel free to leave more travel tips—I may have already finished this trip, but Canada is a place that I’ll always continue to explore, and the tips could always help other people, too.

So my last post left off with a lovely sunset at the end of the Cabot Trail. So we ended up driving to Sydney in the dark, across a terrifying bridge. We were supposed to be at the ferry terminal before midnight to board our boat to Argentia, Newfoundland. The crossing was scheduled to take about 15 hours. The usual ferry crossing from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland is more direct and only takes 7 hours or so, but it dumps you out in Port-aux-Basques, on the SW tip of the island. Since we wanted to hit St. John’s, the capital and largest city, and Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America, we would have had to make a 12-hour drive across the island to get there. So instead, I spent days shuffling around the itinerary so we could catch one of the ferries to Argentia. The Argentia ferry only crosses in the summer and only crosses 3 times each week. And instead of crossing a channel, it basically ventures out into the ocean. For Jules, this made it extra terrifying, but it was the only way to make all the pieces of the trip fit into the last two weeks. Upon arrival in Argentia, my mom was going to meet us. She wanted to be a part of my trip and see a corner of the world she’d probably never see otherwise, so she was flying in and out of St. John’s and would spend a few days with us there.

After picking up snacks at Shoppers for the trip, we drove up to the ferry terminal and I ran inside and asked where to park, since we weren’t taking the rental car on the crossing. The guy inside told us that there was a lot across the street, and looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for further directions. “It’s right across the street! You just cross the street and park!” So we did. We crossed the street and parked on a random field, among a bunch of other cars. While we were sorting through the crap in the back of my car, because we were each only taking enough stuff for the few days we’d spend in Newfoundland, a circle of guys were standing in the parking lot and staring at us. Just standing there, smoking and staring. They stared at us while we walked past them, dragging our bags, and kept staring as we crossed the street and headed back to the ferry terminal. It was so uncomfortable that I started thinking that the empty lot with all the cars wasn’t the parking lot for the ferry, but I was scared to ask the guy in the terminal about parking again, so I just forgot about it. (I’ll get back to this in a few days.)

The ferry terminal in Sydney, NS, is nothing like the BC ferry terminals in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. There was a ramshackle souvenir and convenience store, but no Starbucks, no couches, no shops. Just cramped chairs, like the ones in airports, and people coughing. Seriously, everyone in the ferry terminal was coughing and most fantastic cough was snarfled at regular intervals by the woman sitting next to me. I started to wonder if she had tuberculosis, and how close I had to be to her to be in danger of contracting the disease myself. When we got on the little shuttle bus that took us aboard the ferry, Miss Bubonia, as Christina started calling her, was right next to me again. I was certain, at that point, that her bunk was going to be right above mine.

But when we got on the ferry, she went in a different direction. We showed our tickets to one of the staff, and they told us to head down one more deck. I’d purchased the ferry tickets for all three of us, and we’d decided to spend a little extra to get beds, but we didn’t spring for a private cabin, which were sold out, anyway. I have a lot to say about the accommodations on the ship, but to save space, I’ll just show you the picture that Christina took, once the shock started to wear off:


Note the lack of SHEETS. When I bought the tickets for bunks, I wasn’t expecting a lot of privacy, and I wasn’t expecting a Sleep Number mattress. I was not prepared, however, for sheetless mattresses with suspicious stains or for the temperature in the sleeping quarters to be below freezing. But what was there to do then? We were stuck in steerage. So we changed into pajamas and kept our sweatshirts on and cocooned ourselves in the thin fleece blankets and tried to sleep.

We’d been up for 17 or 18 hours at that point and I was exhausted. I also have a knack for falling asleep just about anywhere. There’s a legendary story about me falling asleep standing up in the Montréal Metro. However, that night, I discovered one of the notable exceptions to the circumstances under which I can fall asleep. I cannot sleep on a boat crossing the ocean when the mattress has a weird stain and I am grossed out and shivering. Neither could Jules or Christina. We dozed, off and on, until around 8 or 9, and then got up and decided to explore the ship. We still had most of the day before we would see land.

Things on the ship:
A cafeteria that smelled nauseating
A souvenir shop
Robin’s Coffee & Donuts, which we later learned was a Newfoundland chain
A lounge with moderately comfortable seats that played action movies
An outdoor seating area with a lovely view of the impossibly thick fog, complemented by people smoking everywhere
A “lounge” in the “bar” sense of the word that appeared to be serving beer at 9.30am
Bugs & Debbie Green on the accordion and the spoons, playing pretty much all day:

Things not on the ship:
A seating area that was smoke-free & inside, quiet, free from weird smells, and well-lit. That was ALL I WANTED.

So I didn’t get as much done as I intended, but I did finally manage to find a power outlet behind the back row of seats in the movie lounge. I did my best to tune out the movie and worked on photos and wrote a post for this blog. Christina wanted fresh air, so she braved the chilly temperature and sat outside for a while to read, but found that most of the “fresh air” to be had was laced with cigarette smoke. Overall, the whole experience was long and uncomfortable.

As the trip finally reached the final hour, the three of us went outside together to see if land was in sight. No luck. Even if land was close, the fog was almost close enough to touch. But we stayed outside for a while and then, suddenly…


…land ho! Newfoundland looked lovely, with more hills than I expected and, well, more greenery, too! The water was just as blue as it had been off the coast of Cape Breton, and it looked like it was a beautiful day.


Here’s a shot of what it looked like behind the boat, so you can really see how abruptly the thick fog began. I’m not zoomed in here! I’d never seen anything like this before, but I’m told this is quite normal in NL!

O Canada

Nothing cheers me up like a flag waving against a bright blue sky, so the transgressions of the ferry crossing were quickly forgotten and I couldn’t wait to dock in Argentia and then arrive in St. John’s.

Unfortunately, the fog quickly slithered back in. Soon, we were sailing in complete dingy greyness again. But we were almost done with the trip, and when we finally docked in Argentia, I can’t even tell you how thrilled I was to see my mom waiting for us! We piled into the car she’d rented and started heading for St. John’s, only a bit over an hour away. After about 20 minutes, the fog was gone again, and we had a chance to see how gorgeous the Newfoundland landscape is! If I had been driving, we would have stopped at least eight times for photos, but my mom was behind the wheel and we were on a mission, anyway. We didn’t want to miss seeing St. John’s that evening, in case our second day in the city wasn’t as lovely, and more importantly: we were starving. None of us were brave enough for the smelly cafeteria on the boat, so we’d been surviving the whole day on snacks.

Up next: an evening in St. John’s.


February 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm 2 comments

American Airlines

I’m a fairly experienced air traveller. I don’t travel weekly for business, or anything, but I fly more often than most of my peers, I’d say. I think this is my fifth trip by air this year, and I’ve been flying alone since I was eight, so airports don’t intimidate me. I usually have my act together and I know which lines I should be in.

Until this morning. Running on little more than three hours of sleep, I stumbled into O’Hare’s Terminal 1 and waited in line for about 15 minutes before I got to the front of the line at the United Domestic Economy counter. First, I tapped the screen in the wrong place and set the language to French. Fail #1. Fortunately, I still practice my six years of French study with my mom (a former French teacher) and Québecois parents at skating competitions, so I scanned the screen for a button that said something like “back.” There wasn’t any. So I asked someone behind the counter how to reset it. Sure, I could have dealt with the French touch screen if I’d had to, but I was too tired to think that hard and figured that resetting the screen would be easy.

Not so much. One of the women behind the counter told me to press Exit, but there wasn’t an Exit button. Another suggested that I just couldn’t find it, because maybe it was in French. I assured them that I knew some French, and there was no button that said anything like “exit” or “back.” I don’t think they believed me. So I clicked on the button that said, “J’ai besoin d’aide,” but it didn’t offer any pertinent help. Finally, someone else came over and discovered that the Exit button was mostly obscured because the screen resolution was off, so he tapped the blank corner of the screen repeatedly until I got back to the beginning and back to English.

Already flustered enough, I couldn’t believe it when I swiped my credit card and the screen said that they couldn’t find my reservation. My printer was out of ink this morning, so I hadn’t been able to print out my flight confirmation, but fortunately, I’d left the screen open in my browser, so I knew I could get the number from there. The confirmation number wasn’t recognized either.

So I picked up the handset next to the kiosk and told customer service that I needed my confirmation number. The man through the phone asked me what my flight number was and when I told him, he said, “1875? What airline are you calling from?”

It was only then that I realized that I was supposed to be flying to Seattle on American Airlines, not United. Epic Fail.

And of course, since this was O’Hare, the world’s busiest airport, American Airlines was two terminals away, not just a few counters.

Fortunately, I’m happy to report that I made my flight, although I didn’t have time for Starbucks. So I’m currently flying over Mid-American flatlands and am quite unespressoed, but I’m confident that Seattle will help me remedy this situation when I land.

And I definitely double-checked the rental car information before I walked up to the wrong counter.

I wrote this on the plane, but stopped in Marysville, WA, to grab some coffee and a snack. This blogging moment brought to you by the friendly baristas at the Marysville Starbucks. Thanks for chatting with me about my trip!

Next stop: downtown Vancouver! (And go Hawks tonight!)

June 9, 2010 at 3:36 pm 1 comment


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