When the Captain announced we would be traveling to Vancouver via London Heathrow‘s Terminal five I must admit to an involuntary shudder and a dampening of my usual high spirits. Why couldn’t we fly direct from Schiphol, our local airport in Amsterdam?
Something to do with air miles we needed to use and times of flights. I didn’t argue; the Captain is the family wizard when it comes to booking flights and over the years he has never let us down. It’s not an area I want to be involved in; booking flights through BMIbaby and Easyjet are my limits of aviation planning and can reduce me to an emotional wreck.
It’s just that flying into Heathrow Terminal five conjures images of Dante’s Inferno, and the gates to hell “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” – walking through them and entering the First Circle of hell; Limbo.
You may consider I’m being a little over dramatic here, but think back to the bedlam of the opening weeks of the Terminal when luggage disappeared into the Purgatory of Baggage Reclaim not to be seen for months. And don’t forget the Captain himself was embroiled in the chaos of Hell freezing over in December last year when Heathrow ground to a halt in the snow and was stranded there for what felt like eternity.
In the event our passage through Hades was uneventful, calm and, if I’m honest, rather enjoyable. This may have had something to do with the Captain’s wonderful airline cards, worked hard for on his travels during the year which gained us admittance to the BA lounge and fast tracked us through the lines to board our jumbo jet. I say we, but let’s be honest here, it is the Captain who is the big shot, and I’m just along for the ride and included by association. I love it.
Usually you’ll find me in the cattle pens of the budget airlines, tearing my hair out, blood pressure rising and temper held in check through sheer force of will.
The flight to Vancouver was exceptional.
Despite having laptop, kindle and access to a library of movies and TV series to watch we spent the entire flight relaxed, chilled and fussed over by attentive cabin crew.
This is a route we’ve flown before and I love it. Leaving northern Europe the flight path skims the southern coast of Iceland where from the cabin windows we see the snow capped volcanoes rising from the earth’s surface and pushing into the azure blueness of sky that is only ever seen from this height; the blue on the edge of the world before it slides into the inky darkness of space.
Further west we cross Greenland; the sky is clear and below the glaciers and jutting barren mountains are seen through the clarity of cold artic air. I’m awed. Across Baffin Bay and the northeastern edge of Hudson Bay there is no vista of open artic sea, rather cracked plates of broken ice interspersed with small puddles of open water the sparkling brilliance of topaz.
Leaving the northern seas behind the plane turned slightly to follow the curve of the earth and traverse the thousands of miles of frozen, snow covered tundra below, broken by exposed glacial rock in the summer sun thirty thousand feet below.
We’ve been flying for hours and nowhere below us has there been any indication of human life.
We cross the prairies in clear skies and to the west see the heavy bands of slate-like cloud at the edge of the Rocky Mountains, erupting from the floor of the plains and towering over them. The air is turbulent as we fly into the greyness and begin the final stage of the journey down into Vancouver.
I have to say Vancouver airport is one of the prettiest I’ve ever been through. It’s calm, serene, light and bright. There is a small line at passport control, where the immigration officer is thorough, professional and friendly yet you know he is taking his job seriously. The baggage reclaim area is large and spacious, despite six international flights arriving within twenty-five minutes of each other. Customs, then out side into the balmy air of the west coast.
A short taxi ride to the south terminal finds us sat on the deck of the float plane terminal awaiting our flight on a four seater Cessna 182 taking us to Thetis Island. Nestled south-east of Vancouver, across the Straits of Georgia\Salish Sea in the lee of Vancouver Island live the Captain’s oldest and dearest friend Mike and his Dutch born wife, Twink. She moved to Canada as an infant with her parents, who before they left a war-devastated country had owned the bakery across the canal from Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam.
Lounging on the deck, breathing in the salty tang of the dancing air, watching our float plane fly in, the connection between this part of Canada and where we have come from is not forgotten. Life is a series of circles within circles, an interconnectedness of things.
Sitting in the back of the Cessna skimming the restless waters beneath, glimpsing Mount Baker in the USA to the south and the looming, mountainous fir covered slopes of Vancouver Island ahead there is a sense of coming home. I am still amazed that the island is the size of the Netherlands. I’m blown away by the scale of beauty through the windows.
Before we know it, Thetis is below welcoming us back. The plane banks steeply and we drop down into Telegraph Harbor, floats touching down effortlessly and we glide to the landing jetty passing the Pillar Rock, the boat we travelled in to Chatterbox falls last summer.
As the jetty comes into sight Twink is standing waving excitedly and it’s almost as if we’ve never been away. We step out of the plane and feel we’re home.