Punch-drunk and scrambled; that’s not a new breakfast order but rather the way that I feel right now. It’s 0930 here in Montreal, 1030 back in Charlottetown, and I’ve been awake since 2.45 this morning. That’s awake in the physically conscious and aware sense; I crawled into the taxi, climbed on and off the plane, wandered through the terminal, and managed to make it to the Maple Leaf Lounge, which is our First Pit Stop. [For non-Canadians, the cultural reference there is to a TV show called The Amazing Race!]. I’m not really awake in the cognitive sense, however, even though I’m on my third Americano with an extra shot and really should have some synapses firing by now.

There’s a lot of snow in Montreal, it looks a lot more like a ‘proper’ Canadian winter than the damp and still-green landscape we left behind. The young woman who is house-sitting (and dog & cat entertaining) for Victoria flew in from southern Germany last week. She felt right at home and was disappointed not to be needing her Arctic-strength parka in order to bring in firewood. We tried to explain that in 2015 the same weather pattern prevailed, and after a warm and wet January we got eighteen feet of snow in six weeks. Time will tell whether this winter follows a similar pattern, and whether she is still talking to us when we get back.

It was dark, damp and around the freezing mark when we walked out to the plane, with a light mist of something sparkling under the arc lights. Think ‘thick air’ because it wasn’t really snowing or raining in any measurable sense. There was enough to concern the pilot, however, and so we had a 25-minute delay while the plane was de-iced. This wasn’t really of any concern to us, given that we have a six (6) hour lay-over between flights in Montreal, but a group of seven passengers who were supposed to be going down to Fort Lauderdale in Florida got somewhat upset. It seemed that their tickets showed a one-hour connection time, which their travel agent had told them was more than enough to change terminals, complete US Customs and Immigration in Montreal, and board the plane. The consensus was that a 35-minute connection time might not be quite so successful.

Flying in Canada, in winter, is always a challenge. I generally try to avoid it or, if it’s really necessary, give myself lots of time. Winter storms evolve out of nowhere, equipment breaks or malfunctions, crews get stranded in Point A when their plane is waiting in Point B, and so forth. That said, there must be some happy medium between a frantic dash across the terminal and a six hour ‘rest’ in the lounge, listening to Newfoundland oil workers on their way to or from the job site in northern Alberta use their ‘outside voice’ on a cellphone. Now all the rest of us in the lounge now know that Buddy isn’t going to get back to work on time tomorrow because he’s stranded back home with the fog, and Sheila got an upgrade so she’s happy, and someone else thinks that the engine in their truck needs a good overhaul before they try to use the winch again …

Montreal to Vancouver, an upgrade to business class made that a very enjoyable leg, then Pit Stop 2 saw us dashing outside the airport for a couple of hours to meet our youngest daughter Kate and her husband, Andrew, plus his mum Rose, for dinner. It was nice to be able to walk around for a bit, stretching one’s legs, and to spend time chatting and catching up; but there’s always this twitch at the back of one’s mind … what happens if there are long queues at security and we miss our flight, etc? There weren’t, and we didn’t.

And so to the long tedium of the cross-Pacific flight, hour after hour of darkness terminating in a flare of red before suddenly there was light, and then we went down through the clouds and had a first glimpse of Botany Bay as we curled around to approach from the south. We were given a bird’s eye view of what the First Fleet had seen exactly 235 years and one day earlier, on 20 January 1788, when they made landfall after a 252-day voyage from Portsmouth. They had 11 ships carrying 1400 or so people whereas we had a Boeing 777-200LR with 300 passengers, and the disembarkment process probably took about the same time because we arrived early and there was no gate available.

Still, eventually we were here, Pit Stop 4, and looking forward to a week of exploring the city. I’ve been here before, and have a few favourite places I’d like to revisit, but there are always new experiences to which one can look forward. That will be another blog.

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