Thursday, 20 December 2007
Day 1 (Dec 19): Departure from Belfast for Toronto
Finally, after several trips abroad during the past years, I don’t have much difficulty in packing up my stuff despite the fact that I have other things to do one day prior to my departure. I had a meeting with my supervisors to discuss my 3rd revision of my research methodology and of course to plan my progress while I am away for almost 4 weeks. I sorted out whatever commitments I have while Im away from the university. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to revised my report as I promised to email it to my supervisors prior to my flight today. I have time to do it when I arrive Toronto. My supervisors can wait anyway, and I know they are busy with their admin tasks for the first term break.
I stayed in my friend's place in Belfast and did a final wrap-up of my 20-kg luggage, including a small bag and the back-pack for my laptop. I woke up in a relaxed feeling – ready to take on board with Continental Airlines (an American carrier). I did final run down of my personal things just to make sure that I carry everything that I need for my 4 weeks holiday.
Belfast International is quite far from the city where my friend's lives, or even if I will be coming from the place where I live near the university. I was little bit conscious of the traffic along the way, so we left as early as 830am for my 1115am flight. It was a smooth quiet journey to the airport with a chilly breeze of winter, while the Backstreet Boys' song, "As long as you love me" is playing over the car radio. It reminded of my participation in the final round of the singing competition in Brisbane (Australia), 4 years ago! It was fun though and of course I bought a DVD copy of that event just to remind me of my interest in music…up to now Im still dreaming to have a record deal and be in the top chart someday (joke only)!
I said good bye to my friend and extended my arms for my warmest hugs and Xmas greetings. He will be coming back to pick me up again on Jan 08 from Toronto. He is really a kindest person on earth and who will always there to extend his help for people who are in need. Unfortunately, I only handed a personalised Xmas card last night to him, and say, "surprise, surprise!" He was puzzled of what I was saying…Anyway, I bought my gifts from Amazon and be delivered to his place before Xmas day! I hope he will enjoy watching the film which I want to watch it as well when I come back. It is very convenient to purchase on-line (like Amazon) using vouchers or gift certificates, without really bothering to disclose my credit card details.
Back to my trip, I checked-in and presented all my travel documents. It is a surprise for me again, even with my complete documents to be interrogated by the ground steward about my itinerary and other identification cards to prove that Im a legal traveller with permanent address in the UK, and without any "equipment of destruction" in my bags! Well, being an American airline, Continental is strict to ensuring its passengers safety and convenient journey, which every carrier wants to do. The airline is also strict in terms of the number of hand-carry bags which I was forced to check-in my other small bag without any extra cost since I still maintain the 23kg (50 lbs) maximum allowable weight per passenger.
Since the bank notes in Northern Ireland are not recognised abroad, I already got some English notes (Bank of England) from my bank (Ulster Bank) day before my departure. I did not withdraw much of my budget for my travel, considering that my bursary (allowance) from the university is not yet deposited in my account. I don’t want to spend beyond my savings, even though that I have much of the overdraft from the bank. Anyway, I was happy to find out that my allowance was deposited today which prompted me again to withdraw and changed it to Canadian dollars at the airport. I have cash now far, far below from the maximum amount allowed to be carried abroad especially in the US.
Being satisfied with the dollar-pound conversion, I immediately walked towards the coffee shop inside the departure area. As usual not having a breakfast, I had my hot choco, banana and bread (with walnut on top. While sipping my hot drink, the teller of the shop approached me and handed a palm organizer for a quick customer survey. It is cool doing it electronically, not the traditional paper format survey. Quickly, I was able to expressed by positive evaluation about the food and service of the shop.
It is time now to go inside the boarding area for the final examination of my hand carry. There was not much of interrogation in the immigration area, except that all my stuff inside my back-pack were inspected individually and being swiped with a thin filter paper and being examined in the computer if there are dusts or powders from any "equipment of destruction" or illegal drugs. It took several minutes and finally the old staff was happy to tell me that everything is fine and he briefly told me that his son lives in Toronto! Frankly, I was impatient to do this thorough inspection which I did not encounter in my previous travels. Well, on the other hand, being an optimistic Archer, I am comforting myself to undergo this inspection to my own safety.
Finally, I boarded the plane and accidentally, I met someone from my university who happened to be on the same PhD programme with mine and who is going back to Canada (her permanent residence) for the Xmas holiday. The plane was supposed to take-off at 1115am, but due to the mechanical problem, we finally left the airport one hour late of the scheduled departure time. I seated comfortably with my laptop, while listening the music from my iPod. The aircraft does not have an individual monitor for the in-flight programmes but I was not really bothered about it because I will busy writing this journal and later I will start reading a book, Tripping the Velvet by Sarah Waters – a gift from a member of the bookcrossing club during my Xmas dinner.
While writing the first part of this journal, I had also my on-board lunch! It was a lovely meal… 3:08pm (UK time). Expected arrival to Newark Airport (New Jersey) is around 2pm (US time) on the same day I left Belfast.
…Unexpected happened that the aircraft touched down at 3pm, one hour late from the original schedule. Having said that, I missed my connecting flight to Toronto and rebooked for the next flights as "standby" or chance passenger. I waited for 5 hours and I was not successfull to get a seat in the flights. To make my story short, I was stranded in New Jersey (US) and while writing this last paragraph of my journal, I will be staying for almost 6 hours at Howard Johnson Hotel (www.howardjohnson.com) with free dinner and breakfast vouchers. The hotel is just few minutes from the airport via Airtrain service and using the hotel shuttle bus. Well, my tiredness and disappointment were gone when I found out that the hotel has a free wireless service, and this is the reason why I was able to write this section and successfully posted the entire journal in my travel blog. Hopefully, I have 4 hours to sleep to catch up with the first flight at 7am.