Saturday, September 01, 2007

Iceland, The Director's Cut - Days 9 & 10

Our goal was Cape Breton. We rose, had the first hot breakfast we'd enjoyed in over a week (in fact, the Hilton Garden Court has a great included breakfast - cold buffet, or your choice of hot entrees, all included) and got away a bit later than expected. It's a 4 hour drive from Halifax to Sydney, where we dropped off my brother so he could meet up with a friend who lives there (because my brother has friends who are insane). The drive there was... interesting, with my brother driving, my youngest brother navigating (hey, someone other than me has to do it sometime), and my mother driving from the backseat, and driving them nuts. Them taking the pot-holed side road instead of the handy major highway was less than welcome.

Regardless, we made it, dropped off my brother, and made our way to Tim Horton's for a snack. Unexpectedly, this particular Tim Horton's was right next to Casino Nova Scotia. How could I not go in to check it out? Wow. The floor was only a few thousand square feet, and full of crappy slot machines. About 8 table games, that were all closed, and a small 3 or 4-table poker room that was also not open on a Sunday afternoon. I still played the slots, and left up $10, knowing that if I stuck around longer, I'd have hit that oversized progressive. :)

We went down to Louisburg - the site of French port from colonial days. At its peak, Louisburg was the 3rd busiest port in North America, behind New York and Pittsburgh. The shipping and fishing industries were incredibly profitable for France, and it was a key military point against the British. After being taken by those pesky Brits, it was abandoned and fell into ruin. The Canadian Government rebuilt the whole thing as an historical site.

It's impressive - a rather regal French colonial town, with a dominating fort that is more castle than base. Throughout the day it is populated by people portraying daily life at the time, teaching the tourists. Or so I hear. You see, it closes at 5:30pm and they recommend an entire day dedicated to seeing it. We got there at 5:15pm and didn't get in. Oops. Still got some pictures though :).

A bit more random driving around and my brother was picked up as we began our long, dark journey back to Halifax via the Trans-Canada highway. It rained, it got dark, and the highway wasn't exactly "lit". Even in remote Iceland, the road was clearly marked by reflective posts along the edge. Here, in Nova Scotia, if it wasn't for high beams, you could find yourself in a ditch next to the highway. After a few hours, we found ourselves near St. Francis Xavier University, and college towns have civilization. We grabbed some dinner (mmm.. Boston Pizza) and got back on the long dark road for a couple more hours. A brief, and unnecessary (but nobody listens to me) about running out of gas, and we got back to the hotel for our last night.

Next day, more tasty breakfast and off to the airport.

I believe I've stated the problem of flying on employee passes. They're standby. Monday was supposed to be easy, with tons of open seats. Something changed and all the flights were greatly oversold, with tons of standby passengers who ranked higher than us. Our 10:50am flight was full, as was every other flight for the next 8 hours. Finally, we were able to (barely) get on a flight to Ottawa, where the plan was to connect to Toronto. This is the benefit of employee passes - it's easy to change your route on the fly.

This Halifax-Ottawa flight was interesting. We were told not to bother, because they were short two flight attendants, and therefore couldn't run a full flight. Also, it was over 2 hours delayed in departing. Somewhere, they found some extra staff and we all got on and out. The problem was, we weren't going to make our Toronto connection any more.

The pilot informed us as to the reason for the delay. A North American summit was taking place outside Ottawa between our Prime Minister, the Mexican President, and some yahoo cowboy from the States. Turns out W's little private jet (Air Force One or something) had landed behind the plane we were one before it could leave for Halifax, and they shut down the airport for 90 minutes for all those fun Secret Service things, delaying the plane from reaching us in Halifax, and causing it to miss some crew.

But it did make it eventually, and made it back to Ottawa, were we got a good view of that big honkin' 747 and its security force. As we were pulling up to the gate, the crew let us know that we were screwed. Anyone with a connecting flight had missed it, go to customer service to find out where you were rebooked. Damn. I really wanted to get home.

So I rushed off the plane and looked left to the gate we were SUPPOSED to go to. What's this? People? AHA! They lied! Our next flight was listed as "Departed" but hadn't QUITE finished boarding yet! I ran over and they reluctantly let me and the family on, literally closing the door behind us. I settled in my seat with a smile on my face that we'd made it... just.

The flight home was uneventful, and I was FINALLY able to settle into my own bed and get the sleep of the travel-weary. I have traveled all around this tiny planet of ours, and every single time I have the same thought - There's no place like home.

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