Porto-Lisbon-Madrid-Guatemala City-Panama City-Mexico City-Vancouver-New York-Toronto-Chicago-Los Angeles
It was a lazy start before heading down to the metro station for the quick trip to the main heavy rail station. Upon boarding the regular service to lisboa (not the more expensive high speed one) I was very impressed with the second-class carriage and this was enhanced by the dismal ridership. Trip was surprisingly smooth through the rolling Portuguese countryside and we arrived at the famous (expo 98) oriente station right on time where I transferred to the public bus for the 15 minute ride to the airport. Checked in and waited for my low-cost flight to depart. Lisbon airport does is best until the brand new airport is finished much further out of town in a couple more years. The incoming vueling flight was late so we departed late but managed to arrive on time in Madrid due to the incredibly short airtime; the crew didn’t even get up to flog their wares. I was glad for the short flight time as the seat pitch was very painful. I was at my airport hotel shortly after.
Headed back to the airport first thing and had a fantastic buffet breakfast at Iberia’s Velázquez lounge in the non-shengen satellite terminal. The amazing food and wine offerings made up for the deplorable lack of wifi. Again I scored the furthest gate possible so I left the lounge a little early. We left quite late due to some very late passengers so we missed our runway slot, which severely compounded the delay, as it was now the middle of the LatAm rush hour. Eventually we got in the air on my first non PTV longhaul flight in quite a while. Also quite a change of scenery from my last Atlantic crossing, which was in seat 1A on Iberia. They showed 4 movies during the very circuitous route travelling directly over New York, Miami, Habana and Cancun before getting to Guatemala about two hours late. Luckily it was still light so I could enjoy the unique challenging sole approach to the airport, with many high green mountains requiring precise turns before a steep decent to the short runway. Upon leaving it became even cooler seeing the huge drop right at the other end of the runway. 90 minutes later we made it to panama and I ended up at my lodging just after midnight.
The location of where I was staying was peculiar with a dodgy neighbourhood between it and downtown, but it was literally right on the canal so it was a good place to watch global trade go by. After a quick breakfast, where I was the youngest person by about 50 years, I walked to the mouth of the Panama Canal where good views could be had of the massive urban skyline. Then I headed to the rainforest where the humidity was even more oppressive. It was kind of like Kings Park if it was a tropical rainforest, and it was devoid of people but full of animals. I saw some lemurs, butterflies and some crazy armies of huge ants forming impressively long supply chains. There were also good views of the pacific from some of the higher points in the park. I was covered in perspiration by then so I took a cheap cab back to the canal.
Early ride to the airport past the eerily pitch black CBD. My first taste of Mexicana was pretty disappointing. Seats are designed for Mexican midgets and food was crap, and this is coming from someone that usually likes plane food. This experience was the same on the flight from Mexico City to Vancouver. The airports are the exact opposite of each other. My history with Canadian immigration continued and I was eventually allowed into the country, despite already having my onward boarding pass. The new skytrain was unfortunately not directly connected to the terminal so had to brave the rain to get there. It has been designed with way too pessimistic ridership estimates as the platforms and trains are tiny, even given the Olympics they will need to think about upgrades. Was downtown in no time and I headed straight for the official downtown IOC complex, this had serious lines for security so a further few blocks away was the more dynamic BC government set up which was much better. There was a great vibe with many permanent live broadcasts going on, and people and screens everywhere despite the lacklustre weather. There was also a good range of activities on offer. Before long it was time to head back to the airport where I picked up my bag from storage, checked in and raided the nice food selections of the Cathay lounge. Everywhere in the airport people were watching the semi-final ice hockey game. Down to the gate and my first trip to the US since the Xmas day incident. Had all my carryon stuff manually searched, which was annoying, and very time consuming. I was the first person to board one of the only Boeing flights of the trip and was very happy with the low loading so I had a whole row to myself. De-icing (unnecessary in my opinion on this occasion) took a long time but due to quick boarding we still made it on time. StudioCX satisfied as usual as did the catering. We arrived at JFK and I had the opposite immigration experience to Canada; I have never had any problems with US immigration. Got my bag and took the skytrain to t4 and was shocked to find a massive queue for LAN check in stretching almost the whole building. I soon learnt of the massive earthquake in Chile which was requiring large scale reroutings for most passengers. Fortunately I was on the final leg of a flight from Santiago and the plane took off from Chile hours before the disaster. Thankfully the business class check in line was still functioning well and I was pleasantly notified of a free upgrade. T4 was built just months before September 11 so there is no inline baggage screening which requires lining up to dump your bag at the screening point after checking in. This line was also humongous due to the reliably hopeless TSA. Headed to the third party lounge LAN use and was very impressed by it, which is very unusual to find a decent 3rd party lounge. Boarded my classe executivo seat to find the business cabin very empty, which made the 1 hour flight even more pleasant. I managed a quick test of the full-flat bed, my first 180-degree experience whilst enjoying a great Chilean SBS. My immigration experience was a little better than last time entering Canada and I was on the airport express bus soon after. Dumped my stuff at the hotel and went about exploring Toronto, which I was deprived of last time I try to visit due to weather, flight and baggage delays. I enjoyed the sights and can imagine the waterfront and islands being nice places to be in summer.
Woke early for a very good buffet brekkie and then went to the main train station to pick up my rental car for the day. The main goal was to get to Niagara Falls, and this was the cheapest way thanks to the sorry-its-a-toyota discount. It was weird driving for the first time in a month, especially on the wrong side of the road. I successfully navigated my way onto the highway where it soon started snowing. Traffic still moved well and the speed limit was routinely ignored by everyone. Made it to the border and located the hidden free car park. There is a lot of Vegas style development on both sides of the falls but I was just interested in the natural attraction. Just as I happened to be leaving did the sun chose to come out of the dreariness. Anyways it was back along the horseshoe coastline of lake Ontario to Toronto. En route I enjoyed some typical North American cultural activities such as the mall and drive through, things that can only be accessed with a vehicle. The radio stations were abundant (one every .2 MHz) but the quality was abysmal across the board, seems there are no rock channels and anything remotely electronic is banned. Also it was strange to get interference on FM channels as they are so close together. I also did my first proper laundry of the trip and timed it quite well, just before the game that stopped a nation, the gold medal ice hockey game against the US. Unfortunately as it was also a Sunday there were still some unpatriotic Canadians around doing their entire wardrobes worth of washing, sometimes with their curtains and doonas as well. Dumped my newly washed clothes at the hotel and then dumped the car. On walk back through downtown people all of a sudden erupted out of nowhere yelling and screaming, I guessed that the Canadians had won. The level of pandemonium rose quickly to the level where horns were honking nonstop and there was beer flowing freely in the streets. It was going to be a long night with everyone overjoyed.
Back on the airport express bus I took advantage of their free wifi during the peak hour traffic. At the airport I “entered” the US at the preclearance facility and again endured the manual carryon baggage search, which was taxing in an airport space that clearly was not designed with this sort of rigmarole n mind. Hopped on the CRJ for the short flight across lake Michigan and was on the shuttle to my airport hotel in no time.
Began my long journey back to the lucky country with the first sleep-in in ages. Checked in and was over the moon to find my upgrade on the a380 had cleared. Chilled in the admirals club until boarding the 767 to LAX where they showed Up in the Air, what a shock. After arriving in LA I made my way to “gate” 44 where all the busses are to other terminals. Upon arrival at the International terminal I couldn’t believe it was below my already low expectations. I can see why the crazy German bus lady was encouraging people to stay at T4 until the last minute, especially according to her Wednesdays are the busiest days due to 2 Qantas a380s departing. Made my way to the new oneworld lounge, which was nice but too small for the level of patronage, think Perth circa 5am. However the food and beverages on offer were great and it was nice to be in a lounge where there is free wifi for all (are you listening AA?). Boarding shortly to Sydney…