Day the first:
I arrived at Toronto Pearson Airport amid awful traffic. As the saying goes, we’ve got two seasons in Canada: winter and road construction. After a brief – almost sudden – departure from my dad and grandparents, I was off. Off into the airport, anyhow.
I was assisted by a tall, thin man called Mark. H seemed to be a pretty big deal at the airport. He escorted me, insisting I hold his arm. I managed to cut through the lines and get ushered through the scanning area with speed. I didn’t even have to take off my shoes. More than once he had to stop to answer his Wilkie talkie. Like I said, very important. He made a big show of it, too. Did you know you can answer a walkie with a proper flourish? Neither did I. He was also kind of hard on his subordinates. This being an East Indian man and a nice Chinese woman. I’m not accusing anyone of racism or inequality practises at the airport, I’m just saying that he repeated his questions to them at least three times, and demanded an answer each time.
The Chinese lady had charge of me next, plopping me down into her golf cart. I’ve always wanted to ride the airport golf cart, and let me say: it was glorious. I rode it through checkpoints, past throngs of obese Americans (“hey, why didn’t WE rent a cart” I heard them say in the awful Buffalonian accent), and finally, princely, to the gate.
I took my seat in the waiting area. I met a nice guy, perhaps a bit older than me, from England. He told me he was from outside Stonehenge, and we delighted to know I was familiar with the area. He’d been in Canada for ten days. He went from Calgary, where he has family, to Montreal for the F1 races. He hadn’t been affected by the student riots, which is good. He saw some demonstrations on tv, he said, but we agreed that in the time since they split from France, they haven’t been able put on a proper French riot.
“The French riot right. They flip and burn cars. They flip and burn trucks. They organize and yell and get upset. They get shit done,” said he. “If there’s one thing the French can do, its riot, ”
He asked where I was headed. I said London, Brighton, and then I had no plans. He was giving me tip after tip on where to go, with a particular motivation on his part.
“Southwest Ireland and Southern Scotland, mate,” he insisted. “The girls there have beautiful…voices.” “Yeah?” I replied, laughing. “No joke brother. I’d starve from listening to them talk all day.” He stared at me in such a way that I knew he probably would do this.
He seemed interested in my story. That, or he was placating me as I rambled on. But I think the interest was genuine. He asked me about Canada, told me about the UK, and schooled me on why Liverpool is really a nice city, with friendly people. I’m sure it is,and they are…but I think he may have been talking about a different city.
I was approached at first by a flight attendant, telling me they’d come and get me when they there boarding the other passengers with disabilities. Well, they forgot me. I saw the last wheelchair disappear around the corner and decided it was to act. I bid my English friend adieu and ambled toward the plane. I got a bit of a chilly reception from the attendants, but hell, they forgot me.
When it sunk in that I had the white cane, I became hero of the day. They sat me quickly, two attendants regularly checked in on me, the whole bit. I even managed to score some free Pringles – though that may have been more due to the the fact that she didn’t rave her visa machine with her. Either way, chip larceny: successful.
The takeoff went fine, and there were only a few bawling children on the plane. Honestly, who bothers complaining about children crying on planes? They’re tired, upset, their ears hurt…they’re a fact of life, deal with it. I had an English lady and her two children next to me (I was in the right side, aisle seat, they were in the centre). These kids behaved fantastically. Plus, their accents reminded me of posh accent Emma Thompson has in Love, Actually; therefore: delightful. Her kids were great. The older of the two, a girl no more than four, was practicing counting to thirty. They’d skip some numbers, and when her mom stopped her to go back, she’d insist that she missed none and he mom was wrong. I like her.
I overheard this Canadian couple behind me complain away about everything. The seat was too small. The plane was cold. There was no wifi. The bathroom was too small. Wah wah wah. Eventually the guy spilled hot tea on himself and that shut him up – after a brief whine about turbulence, and how he’ll make tons of money inventing shocks for planes. I openly laughed at that one.
I managed to watch two tv shows on the plane (Modern Family and a documentary on the Heineken factory). I knocked off a few notes, which led to this post, then I tried to have a sleep. I’m not sure if I did, but time did seem to pass quicker than I though.
There was a dinner. The food was as close to being food as a donkey Is to being a unicorn. My options were .beef,’ ‘chicken,’ or ‘pasta.’ I asked for chicken. It was pasta with chicken. Or an approximation of the bird, anyhow. It came with a little bun, a thing of what appeared to be rice (though it didn’t behave like rice – it jiggled). The upshot was that I was given free wine. One glass, but free, still. I don’t know what it was – probably the stuff they de-ice the planes with – but I’ve drank far worse. So, free wine and I’ll-gotten Pringles? Not a bad flight.
Upon arrival at Gatwick in the sudden morning, I was escorted from the plane by airport staff. Which sounds a lot more badass than it was, looking that over. I met a woman named Sharon. Sharon is a very nice, extremely patient lady from the south of England. She led me through the airport, helped find my bag on the carousel, took me into customs, ushered me past lines… And then I found out that she was the airport manager for the day. People kept calling her, messaging her, stopping her. Yet she insisted on seeing me through the whole thing. She figured out which train I needed to get on, and didn’t leave me until I was comfortably sat on the Gatwick Express to Victoria. I thought she was going to take me to the hostel, at the rate we were going. Well done, Sharon, and well done, Gatwick Airport. It was a great experience.
And then I got to Victoria Station. Holy Christ I forgot how busy it is there. It’s a wild place. I knew the rough layout from the last time I was here, but the station is still bedecked in gaudy jubilee garb. Union Jacks and streamers billow with the movement of the trains below, blasts of warm air flashing with the cool air from outside. In the huge main concourse, this air pushes smells and sounds all around you, confusing your olfactory senses. Now, imagine a thousand people in there with you, all busy, places to go, signs to read, people to shout at.
It’s confusing for me.
I wandered until I figured out the direction of underground line. I realized I forgot a crucial thing: I had no map to my hostel. I sat to regroup. I took out my iPhone and skimmed through my browsing history. Luckily, I found the address. But address is one thing, finding the place is another.
I went to the assistance kiosk at the tube station. I spoke with an impossibly short man about whee I’m going, and my riding options. I bought an Oyster card, which is a declining cash balance card that you can reload. You hover it over a large yellow pad at the entrance to the platforms, and again at the exits. It withdraws an amount based on your distance, and works on the bus, too. Great system. If the TTC doesn’t have this yet, it should.
I remember needing the Swiss Cottage station, and getting there. I wandered a bit in the Swiss Cottage area. I still don’t know why it’s called that. I saw no cottages, Swiss or otherwise. I knew the hostel was on College Crescent, but that’s it. I eventually asked someone and they told me I was on the street itself. Great. I kept walking, and I managed to walk by the hostel twice, in a daze. I shouldn’t have missed it, though. It looks like a cross between the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, and…well, no, it pretty much looks like it.
I stashed my bag for a few hours – it was 10am and check-in isn’t until 2. So I slept in a couch in the strangest common room I’ve seen in a hostel, hotel or a Pier 1. No two couches or chairs are the same. The building is over 150 years old and the decor has things from every era between.
I woke up a little after two, got my key card,found the room, and after stashing my bag in a under-bed drawer, I crashed. I’m not sure how long I slept, but when I woke up I hade a gander around the room. I’m on the bottom bunk of a two-stack in a 16-bed room. The beds all have individual curtains, we’re given sheets and pillows, even a little light. It’s pretty nice, as far as hostels go.
I think I’ll let my brain rest for now, I’m going to hit bed now. More tomorrow.