Last Day :-(

We had a bit of a lie-in this morning before getting up, packing up all our stuff and going down to the Inn at the Forks dining room for an enormous Canadian breakfast.  I really felt as though we wouldn’t want anything to eat for the rest of the day!  Trevor and I have often wondered what our transatlantic visitors must think of food portions served in hotels and restaurants in Britain; they’d think they were being given child’s portions or something!

After checking out of the hotel we left our cases with the concierge and set off to explore the neighbourhood on foot.

Across the road was a shopping mall with lots of interesting shops and stalls, selling clothing and traditional Native Canadian souvenirs such as wood carvings, totem poles and feathered head-dresses.  We had a good browse around the shops (and it kept us out of the cold!) as well as a walk down to the river.  We then decided to go and find a pub/bar and have a couple of beers apiece.

We went back into the mall and discovered a bar; we went in and got our drinks.  At the back of the room was a couple of comfortable-looking settees in front of a big flat-screen TV.  The telly was showing the Canadian inter-state Firefighters’ Games.  It was really interesting; feats of speed, strength and stamina while wearing full fire kit.  Kamloops Fire Department won.

We had another drink each, looked round the shops a bit more then made our way back to the hotel to collect our bags and wait for the bus to the airport.

Winnipeg Airport isn’t really equipped for long waits; it only provides domestic flights so there are no duty free shops or restaurants and only one fairly boring little bar.  By this time most of our Canadian dollars had been used up so we had to make our bottles of beer last ages 😦

Once on the Air Canada flight to Toronto, however, we were able to purchase a sandwich and some wine each.  I always find the long-haul flights back home to be a bit of a drag; they lack the excitement and anticipation of the outbound flights when you’ve got your holiday to look forward to.

So for the rest of the day/night that was it:  Air Canada overnight from Toronto to Heathrow, then a wait around (and a couple of drinks in the Crown Rivers!) for our British Airways flight back to Newcastle, then in the car and back home again.

Another unusual and memorable holiday had come to an end.  Roll on the next one!  😀

For Fox Sake

We got up this morning raring to go for our second day on the tundra, and our final day in Churchill, as later on tonight we would be flying back to Winnipeg.

After the usual hearty breakfast, we went back to Room 10 to pack up all our stuff and check out of the room.  We could leave our bags with the reception desk for safekeeping.  I bought a Lazy Bear Lodge sweatshirt as a souvenir, and we left our bags with Joel until later.

On the bus en route to the tundra buggy, we caught a glimpse of movement among the wasteland and spotted a couple of Arctic foxes.  They were half way through their coat transformation; during the winter months they are pure white.   There was a heap of spoil and the two foxes were playing; stalking and chasing each other, playing ‘dead’ and having a good frisk about.  The bus stopped for a good five minutes to allow us to watch their antics.

Once on board the tundra buggy and ensconced in its warmth, we set off to see what the day would bring.  We had a different route today; there are strict rules in place about the areas in which any tundra vehicles are allowed to go so as not to cause any erosion or otherwise upset the delicate ecological balance.

After driving around for quite a while, wondering if we were going to see any polar bears today, Trevor spotted some movement in the distance through his binoculars.  It was a bear!  Up went the shout on our side of the buggy, and everyone came over for a look.  It was quite far away; in fact, you really did need binoculars.  It was a very skinny bear, obviously quite hungry, and had lost a lot of weight.  It walked on the ice for quite a distance before disappearing out of sight.

At this point we decided to stop for a tea break.  We had a nice hot chocolate and a home-baked cookie each.

Continuing our journey, the tundra buggy lumbered over the uneven ground and through a shallow body of water.  Very soon the shout of “bear” was heard again and we spotted another one, this time on the right-hand side.  Again, it was close enough to watch, but not close enough to get a decent photo, unless you had a particularly good camera with telephoto lens.

The bear came closer and closer then, just as it looked as though it was going to cross a frozen-over pond, it decided to lie down and have a nap in a patch of snow! 🙂  As the temperature was a couple of degrees below zero, the polar bears must have found it too hot and they tended to lie down and roll in the snow/ice for two reasons; first of all to cool down and secondly to clean their coat.

On the left of the buggy Trevor spotted another bear in the distance, and it too looked as if it was going to come closer until it also decided to lie down for a nap.  We had a bear to the left and a bear to the right.  🙂  The buggy driver decided to stay put for the time being in case any of the bears decided to come closer.  We therefore decided to have some lunch.

Like yesterday, lunch consisted of delicious hot home-made beef and vegetable soup, as well as big door-stop sandwiches, crisps, cookies and a soft drink.  Today we had come prepared, however, and we added a couple of healthy slugs of vodka to our cans of Diet Coke.  😉

During all this time, the bears never moved, apart from to stir a little in their sleep.  We eventually drove away, but it looked as though our close encounters with polar bears was limited to yesterday; we never got that close to any today.

We also saw a couple more Arctic foxes as well as various birds.

In total, since coming to Churchill, we’d spotted nine polar bears and four Arctic foxes.  Who would ever believe I’d been arm’s length away from a polar bear in the wild?!

Later that evening, back at the Lazy Bear Lodge, we tucked into an amazing farewell meal; Trevor went for the musk ox again while I opted for chicken with pasta.  After dinner it was time to collect our luggage and board the bus for the trip back to Churchill Airport.  We felt quite sad to be leaving this unique place.

During the Calm Air flight back to Winnipeg, we enjoyed a few snacks and drinks and everyone was on a high (in more ways than one) after our fantastic experience.  Some wag looked out of the ‘plane window and shouted “Bear!” 😀

Back at Winnipeg Airport we collected our luggage and waited for this shuttle bus; this time we were staying at the Inn at the Forks in Winnipeg city centre; a much better location than the Hilton Suites we’d stayed in earlier on.

We were well impressed with the Inn at the Forks.  We had a lovely big room, a bathroom well equipped with a great selection of toiletries (which ended up in my flight bag) and the usual massive bed.  We had a quick wash and brush up before hot-footing it to the bar downstairs.

The bar was really lively and there was a live band playing.  A lot of the people from our trip were there, and we all sat together talking.  We enjoyed quite a few glasses of wine and beer and it was after midnight before we got to bed.

Tomorrow we had the morning to spend in Winnipeg before our long journey home.

Bear Necessities

We were up very early again this morning and, after another hot, substantial breakfast we assembled outside the Lazy Bear. It was still dark and there was a hard frost, coating everything in a frozen glitter.

After a ride of about 20 minutes we arrived at the edge of the tundra.  We could see a couple of the so-called “Tundra Buggies”, large all-terrain vehicles with big tractor-like wheels.  The purpose of the wheels was two-fold; first of all they provided good grip on the irregular, rocky and icy terrain, and secondly they allowed the vehicle to be high off the ground and out of the reach of polar bears!  A male polar bear, standing on his back legs, can be over 10′ tall.  🙂

But first a paragraph to describe what a tundra is.  Tundras are large areas in colder climates where the soil is permanently frozen and no trees can grow.  There are three types; the Arctic tundra, Antarctic tundra and alpine tundra.  Tundras are vast frozen landscapes, consisting of ice, rocks and low-growing scrubby plants and bushes and not much else.  A strong, cold wind is one constant feature of a tundra.

The subarctic tundra in Churchill is on the edge of the Hudson Bay, and each autumn polar bears gather to wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze over, so that they can return to their hunting grounds and hunt ringed seals.  During the summer months in Churchill the stranded polar bears fast for about four months, living on their fat reserves.  Polar bears are covered in a 4″ layer of blubber for this purpose.

But anyway… we arrived where the Tundra Buggy was parked up, waiting for us to board.  It looked like a very large bus, with lots of room inside to move around and plenty of windows for everyone to have a vantage point.  It was lovely and warm inside the buggy and there was a toilet and sink and  ‘kitchenette’ area.  At the back of the buggy was a viewing platform (outside) so that you could endure the bitter cold for an unimpeded view.

Once we were all on board, the buggy started up and off we went.  It only travelled at about 10 miles per hour over the uneven surface.  All we could see around us was rocks, frozen-over pools of water, a few wind-blown scrubby bushes and the Hudson Bay in the distance.  We kept our eyes peeled for a flash of off-white which could indicate a polar bear!  They are not pure white, more of a cream colour.  In fact, a polar bear’s skin is black to enable it to retain body heat, and the fur itself is transparent; it’s only because the coat is so dense, to provide insulation, that it tends to look off-white.

After about half an hour or so, a shout of “bear” went up; someone had spotted a polar bear swimming in the bay!  Everyone was going “where? where?” and trying to see.  I didn’t manage to see it but the buggy driver decided he would try to anticipate where it would come ashore, and go on ahead to that point and wait.

We headed off up over the rocks, the tundra buggy creaking and rocking and sloshing through water.  We spotted another  sleek white head breaking the surface of the water, only for a moment before disappearing from view.  Eventually the buggy came to a halt near a large crop of rocks, the driver switched off the engine and we waited.  The suspense was killing me!  🙂

Not long afterwards, our patience was rewarded in the best way possible;  a pair of white ears popped up from behind a rock, followed by a white face with a black nose – a polar bear!  I looked on, entranced, as the rest of the bear appeared and, sniffing the air, slowly walked in our direction.

I was utterly mesmerised; I could hardly breathe.  A real, live polar bear in the wild.  I could only whisper “oh WOW” over the massive lump in my throat.  What a beautiful, powerful, majestic animal.  This really was SO worth waiting for, and worth our long journey all the way to Canada.  How many times in a lifetime could anyone see this?

The bear came closer and closer, pausing and looking around as we all watched in silent awe.  We learnt that it was a female, approximately 6-7 years of age.  She came right up to the tundra buggy and stood on her hind legs, looking in the window!  We were able to get some fantastic photos, literally from arm’s length away.  You cannot believe just how big these bears are (they are the largest land carnivore) until you see them up close.  The paws are immense.

The polar bear was really curious and she walked all around the buggy, occasionally standing up and peering right at us.  Someone expressed it just perfectly when they said that the bears were free and had come to look at us in a cage.  Very true; this was their territory and we were the uninvited guests.

Eventually the polar bear got bored and went away.  We watched her until she was just a white speck in the distance, then they decided it was time for a hot drink and some cookies.  We opted for a mug of hot chocolate which is just what we needed; even just a few minutes outside in the wind and bitter cold was enough to make you run for cover in the warmth of the buggy.

After our break the driver started up the buggy and we set off once more, to try to find some more bears or other wildlife, for example Arctic foxes.  We rode around slowly and then once again came the cry of “bear!”  This time one was spotted on the right hand side of the buggy.  We parked up and waited, and once again we had the superb privilege of being able to see her (yes, it was another female) up close… very close.

She slowly walked around the buggy and along to the back, where Trevor was outside on the viewing platform.  The bear was directly below him and he angled the camera towards her, ready to get a good photo.  Just then she looked straight at him and reared up on her hind legs, almost into the camera lens!  Trevor had to recoil, quickly.  The bear was probably around 8′ tall; if it had been a male it would have been another couple of feet taller and would have been nose to nose with Trevor!  🙂  How close could anyone get to a wild polar bear without being eaten by one?!  Totally awesome.

The bear also went underneath the metal mesh flooring of the viewing platform, which allowed her to be viewed close up through the mesh.  At one point I knelt down to apply my camera lens to the mesh but the polar bear looked straight at me and bared her big yellow teeth at me!  These animals may look all white and furry and cuddly, but they are really ferocious.  But still, another unforgettable close encounter.

It was, by this time, lunchtime aboard the tundra buggy.  The Lazy Bear Lodge had done us proud with an amazing packed lunch; there was delicious hot beef soup, chunky sandwiches, crisps, hot tea or coffee or soft drinks, as well as more cookies if you wanted them.  Everyone also used the time to look back over the photos and video footage they had taken, not quite believing that we had seen actual polar bears in the wild.  🙂

After lunch we continued to ride about on the tundra.  We did see another couple of polar bears (or they might have been the same ones; after all, they all look the same!) but not close up.  We saw one in the distance (through our binoculars) that walked over a frozen stretch of water.  It walked for quite a long distance before finding a nice cosy patch of snow in which to have a nap.  We got a great photo of it lying with its backside in the air and its head resting on the ice.  🙂

As dusk came to the tundra the buggy made its way back to where the Lazy Bear bus was waiting for us.  What a day it had been – we were all on a high.  We got back to the lodge and rested before dinner, then got washed and changed and went to the restaurant for dinner.  This time we went in prepared though, and sneaked our half-bottle of vodka in to liven up the diet Cokes we bought. 😉

Then after dinner we went once again to the Seaport Hotel for a couple of drinks.  There was already a very hard frost and the road was quite slippy.

We slept well that night and knew we had another full day to spend on the tundra again tomorrow.

Huskies, Heritage and History

After a really good night’s sleep (the first one in days) we woke up early this morning and looked out of the window.  It was still dark (it didn’t get light until 8.00am) and a glittering coat of frost covered the ground.  A quick look at the TV showed us that the current temperature was -2°C with a wind-chill factor of -7°C.

We dressed and went along to the restaurant for our breakfast, which was a serve-yourself buffet.  We decided to have a substantial brekkie to set ourselves up for the (cold!) day ahead so we started with hot porridge, then bacon, sausage, pancakes, scrambled eggs washed down with fresh orange juice and good hot coffee.

Today our party of 35 had been split into two groups; we were in group one which meant we were doing the dog sled ride in the morning, and the Churchill history and heritage tour in the afternoon.  Wally came into the dining room and asked everyone in our group to assemble in reception for the bus at 8.30am.

After breakfast we went back to our room and dressed for the weather in thermal underwear (Damart – real passion killers but essential in the north of Canada!), fleece trousers, a t-shirt with a fleece hoody over the top, thick socks, walking boots, Regatta anorak, sheepskin mitts, scarf and fleece hat with ear-flaps.  🙂  We then went along to the reception/main entrance and stepped outside.  It was very cold and a few fine snowflakes drifted town.

We boarded the old school bus and Wally drove us out to the place where we would experience a real Husky sled ride, Blue Sky Mush.  The bus pulled up in the middle of nowhere; just a few tent-like buildings and lots of dog kennels.  We could hear the deafening sound of lots of dogs yapping, barking and howling.  We were taken into the largest tent and introduced to Gerald Azure, the owner of Blue Sky Mush and trainer of the Huskie dogs.  He and his wife Jenafor live and work in Churchill and indeed were married in the tent next to their Huskies.  🙂

Gerald and his eldest brother Ernest would be our ‘mushers’ for the day.  Because there was only a light sprinkling of snow (it was still only October, after all!) instead of going out on a sledge with runners on it, we would go out instead on a wheeled cart which consisted of two passengers, the musher at the back and a team of eight dogs in tandem pulling the cart.

Gerald explained to us how the dogs were trained and disciplined from small puppies.  He copies what their mother would do, even down to wrestling them to the ground and biting their ear (gently).  He didn’t believe in hitting or otherwise hurting his dogs.  You could tell he had a real love for his animals.

We went outside the tent to watch the dogs being harnessed up ready for their teams to pull the carts.  They were really raring to go and the din made by their barking was unbelievable!  When they were harnessed and attached to the sled, the musher gave the order and off they went!  They didn’t half go fast!  🙂

Eventually our turn came around; we climbed into the cart where we were covered in a sort of ‘sleeping bag’ type thing, and we were also given safety glasses to wear because of the grit and debris kicked up by the heels of the running dogs.  Ernest was our musher and he gave the command and the dogs took off like a rocket!  We went at some speed; much faster than you would imagine.  As we were also travelling into the wind, we were glad of our warm hats, gloves and the safety glasses.  We sped through the sparse countryside, consisting of rocks, fir trees, ice and snow and not a lot else!  It really was quite exhilarating and something else we can say we’ve done!  🙂

Once we got back to the tent we were glad of the shelter and the warmth after our sled ride.  We enjoyed some hot chocolate and home-made bannock, a sort of cake with currants in (like a big currant bun).  Once everyone was back inside, Gerald and Jenafor brought in two of their dogs who were allowed a couple of Bonio biscuits as a treat.  🙂  All of the dogs have names; these two were Thunder and Sound.

The dogs ‘retire’ at around eight years of age, then they can be adopted as pets.  Gerald is very strict and doesn’t just let anyone adopt them.  Also, he likes to keep in touch with the dogs’ adopted families so he can stay up to date with the welfare of the dogs.  If, for example, the dogs’ new owners decide they cannot keep them for any reason, then Gerald insists that they give them back to him, not just give them to anyone else.  It’s great to see that these animals are really looked after as there is too much animal cruelty and abuse in the world today.

Back at the Lazy Bear Lodge we went along to the restaurant for our lunch.  We enjoyed a meal of home-made hamburger with potato wedges and salad; it was tasty and filling.  After lunch we met once again in reception for the bus to take us around the town on the cultural tour.

Churchill is not a very big place at all, and is very remote.  Its latitude is 58° 47′ north.  Churchill’s winters are colder than a location at a latitude of 58 degrees north should warrant, given its coastal location.  The shallow Hudson Bay freezes, eliminating any maritime moderation.  Prevailing northerly winds from the North Pole jet across the frozen bay and chill it to a −26.7 °C (−16.1 °F) January average.  Juneau, Alaska, by contrast, is also located at 58 degrees north but is moderated by the warmer and deeper Pacific Ocean.  Juneau’s−3.5 °C (25.7 °F) January average temperature is a full 23.2 °C (41.8 °F) warmer than Churchill’s.  Yet in summer, when the Hudson Bay thaws, Churchill’s summer is moderated. Churchill’s 12.0 °C (53.6 °F) July average temperature is almost the same as Juneau’s 13.8 °C (56.8 °F) July average.

Around 56% of Churchill’s population is made up of Aboriginal people (you can’t call them “Indians” or “Eskimos” any more, which is considered mildly pejorative).  Churchill is a popular location for ecotourism, as well as for Arctic research.  The town also has a health centre, several hotels, tour operators, some restaurants, a rail line and a shipping marine port with a large grain elevator.

We were taken to the Prince of Wales Fort on the edge of the Hudson Bay.  It was bitterly cold when we got off the bus and  we were amused to see Wally carrying his rifle.  You had to be on the lookout for polar bears, and there were signs warning you of this.  Obviously no-one wants to kill a polar bear;  rather shots are just fired into the air to scare them off.

We also went to the Polar Bear “jail” in the town.  This is where polar bears that venture too close to the town are taken; they are darted to sedate them, then taken to the holding facility until they can be airlifted about 30 miles away.  Any closer than that and they’ll just make their way back again, particularly as they will be starving and ready to eat anything after their 3-4 months of fasting during the summer months.

We were then able to go to the post office and have our passports stamped with “Churchill – Polar Bear Capital of the World”.  This was good because we also had penguin stamps in our passports from our visit to Antarctica in 2006.  🙂

Opposite the post office was a liquor store, so we went in and bought a bottle of wine and a half-bottle of vodka, so we could sneak it into the dining room and add it to our soft drinks at the Lazy Bear.  😉

Once we got back to the lodge, we decided to have a nap – we were still slightly jet lagged but also tired after our action-packed day.  We had a sleep then opened the bottle of Cava we’d bought.  We were still quite full from the substantial lunch we’d had, so we decided not to go to dinner.  Instead we just stayed in our room, watch TV, read and then wandered along to the Seaport Hotel bar later on.

Tomorrow we would be venturing on to the subarctic tundra in search of the King of the Arctic, the Polar Bear. 🙂

The Charm of Churchill

As expected, we were awake bright and early – very early in fact as we were still on UK time.  So I was out of bed before 6.00am and had the coffee percolator on whilst taking a long, hot shower.

We had the morning to spend in Winnipeg as we were due to fly up to the remote little town on Churchill, on the edge of the Hudson Bay, just after lunch.

Once we were dressed we went down to the dining room and enjoyed a full Canadian breakfast; this consisted of crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, sausage and pancakes and the ubiquitous maple syrup, washed down with orange juice and coffee.

We went back to our room afterwards; we had the whole morning to kill before our flights up to Churchill.  The Hilton Suites Hotel is handy for the airport, but not much else.  There were a few shops, offices, other hotels and a Subway nearby – nothing much else in walking distance.  Nevertheless we decided to go out and stretch our legs as we’d spent all the previous day sitting around in airports and aeroplanes.

Outside it was fairly crisp and we wrapped up well.  We walked along the street a bit and went into a large discount shop.  It was similar to our Poundstretcher, selling all sorts of cheap clothing and nameless tat.  We browsed about a while and then went back into the hotel in time for the talk by our holiday rep.

We went into the hotel bar and had a drink each, watched a bit of TV and read the Winnipeg Free Press.  Then the rep arrived from the Lazy Bear Lodge, our hotel in Churchill to tell us about the sort of stuff we would be seeing and doing.

We then checked out of our room, got our luggage and boarded the mini-bus for the short ride back to Winnipeg Airport.

As I mentioned previously, it’s not a very big airport; it obviously only serves domestic destinations as there are no duty free shops and not a lot else.  It didn’t take long to check our cases in for our Calm Air flight to Churchill, then we went along to a dull little bar and had a couple of beers.

Eventually our Calm Air flight was called and we walked across the tarmac to a tiny little turbo-prop ‘plane, for the last leg of the journey, a flight lasting two and a half hours.  A very noisy flight, I might add, as our window looked out immediately onto the propellors.  🙂

It was dusk when we touched down in Churchill; the airport was not much more than a single airstrip.  Churchill is very remote and only has 900 inhabitants, and the airport was once a military air base.  The only access into and out of Churchill is by train or plane; there are no roads out of the town.

Once we collected our cases we were directed onto a rickety old bus, in fact it was a former school bus driven by the owner of the Lazy Bear Lodge, Mr Wally Daudrich.  Wally had built the lodge himself, starting off as a restaurant and then extending it over the years to the hotel it is today.  It is a proper traditional log-built dwelling.

When we arrived the lights were twinkling in the frosty early evening and the front of the hotel looked like something off a Christmas card.  As it was nearly Hallowe’en, the lodge was decorated with lanterns and a large inflatable pumpkin.  It looked warm and inviting.  We went inside into a gorgeous warmth from the wood burning stove in reception and checked in.  We were allocated Room 10 along the corridor on the ground floor.  The hotel looked so rustic and simple.

Our room was simply furnished; twin double beds, a hand-made wooden chair, bedside table and chest of drawers with an ancient TV on top.  There was no wardrobe as such, but pegs on the wall to hang a few items of clothes.  The second bed came in handy for putting the open suitcases on. 🙂

The bathroom was also plain, but warm and spotlessly clean.  We knew we were going to have three comfortable nights here.

There was not much to see out of the window (we didn’t expect there to be!) but our room looked onto the railroad tracks where a train was parked in a siding.  The landscape looked very flat, grey and featureless.

We were due to attend the welcome dinner at 7.00pm, so we had enough time to have a quick look around.  There is really only one main street in Churchill; up the road there was the Churchill Fire Department, one or two shops, a couple of cafés and hotels spread out along the road.  The weather was quite cold and a few flurries of snow drifted down.

Back in the delicious warmth of the Lazy Bear, we had a quick wash and brush up and made our way to the restaurant.  Again, this was simply furnished; a large stone-built wood burning stove in the centre, and heavy wooden tables and chairs.  Already an appetising smell of cooking was in the air and we realised we were starving.

The menu was very interesting; there was arctic char (fish similar to salmon), braised caribou and roast musk ox, as well as barbecue spare ribs and chicken pasta.  I settled for the caribou and Trevor chose the roast musk ox – a first for both of us!

The food did take quite a long time to come, but it was absolutely delicious, with generous portions, when it did arrive.  We also found out at the Lazy Bear does not serve alcohol (probably doesn’t have a liquor licence) but we decided we would try to find an off-licence the next day and sneak our own in 😉

After dinner we wrapped up warmly and asked Joel, the guy on reception, where we could find a bar.  He directed us to the Seaport Hotel along the road.  This was a restaurant with a cosy, dimly lit little bar at the back.  There was live entertainment in the shape of a bloke playing the guitar and singing.  The bar seemed full of regulars and everyone appeared to know everyone else.  It was a lively little place and it had a nice, low-key atmosphere.

We just had the one drink in there because the jet lag was starting to kick in again and we were feeling quite tired.

Back at the Lazy Bear we turned in for the night; tomorrow would see the start of our unforgettable adventure in the frozen north.  🙂

Welcome to Winnipeg

Once again it was time to depart on yet another long-awaited holiday – not a cruise this time for a change! 🙂  Instead, we were flying out to Canada; ultimately to Churchill, Manitoba for an expedition onto the subarctic tundra in search of polar bears.

Today would prove to be a long day, consisting of waiting around at airports a lot in between our three flights.

We started off by dropping the car off at Newcastle Airport a little after 7.30am and then proceeding to the British Airways desk to check in for the first leg of our journey to London Heathrow.  It was a fairly mild day for the end of October but we knew it would be much, much colder where we were going, so we had packed plenty of winter woollies and I had my trusty warm Ugg boots on my feet.

Our flight to London was fairly routine and uneventful and we arrived at Heathrow around 10.15am.  We had to get the train from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3 in order to check in for our Air Canada flight.  We had quite a wait ahead of us as our flight wasn’t until 15.10 but we weren’t too bothered  – once we’d looked around the duty free shops it meant we had a good couple of hours in the Executive Lounge.  🙂

We have Priority Pass permits into the VIP lounges at airports worldwide, and they really are worth it.  Trevor gets four free passes a year as a ‘perk’ with our bank account, and each visit costs me £15.00 (so it works out at £7.50 each).  This is much cheaper than having to buy food and drink in the normal airport restaurants and bars, in which the prices are often exorbitant due to the captive audience.  Also, the exec lounges are much more comfortable and quieter and aren’t full of screaming kids.

So we enjoyed fresh orange juice with prodigal measures of Smirnoff vodka tipped into them, some canapés and snacks and hot soup and olives, then I spotted the chilled bottles of cava whilst Trevor enjoyed a few bottles of Stella.  The time passed quickly and then it was time to go to our departure gate for the longest leg of the journey, the flight to Toronto.

Once our flight commenced boarding, we joined the queue and proceeded onto the aircraft.  At this point I went through the same little ritual that I go through on every single flight – give the ‘plane a little pat and ask it to get us there safely.  🙂  I know it sounds really daft, but it’s something that I’ve just got to do; I’d feel it was tempting fate a bit if I didn’t. :-p

We had the best part of an eight hour flight ahead of us so it was just a case of reading, playing on my Nintendo DS, watching the in-flight entertainment (I sat through two very early episodes of Men Behaving Badly), napping (with the aid of my new inflatable neck pillow) and eating an drinking the complimentary in-flight booze.

Eventually we touched down in Toronto airport; we had about an hour and a half to wait for our domestic connection to Winnipeg.  By that time I was feeling very tired and wanted a lie down; there were no seats fit for the purpose so I just lay down on the floor, using my coat as a pillow and covering myself with Trevor’s coat.  It wasn’t the most comfortable position, but it was sufficient to have half an hour’s power nap.  🙂

Finally we were boarding yet another aircraft; this one was our final flight for the night and would last for two and a half hours.

We were somewhat surprised to find that on this particular flight, the in-flight food and drink had to be paid for.  Most unusual for a scheduled flight.  But we weren’t too bothered as we’d had plenty to eat and drink for the day.

The flight was fairly uneventful and soon we were on our final descent into James Armstrong Richardson Airport, Winnipeg.  We were quite tired as the time there is six hours behind British time.  It didn’t take long for our cases to arrive as it’s a fairly small airport; once we collected our luggage we went in search of the Travelsphere rep who directed us to the bus stop outside.

We were booked to stay the night in the Hilton Suites Hotel which wasn’t fair from the airport at all.  Just as well really, because the hotel’s two minibuses they sent for us couldn’t accommodate our party of 35, so we had to wait for the buses to drop them off at the hotel, then come back for us.  It was fairly cold standing at the bus stop and we were tired.

Eventually the buses returned and we loaded our bags and ourselves into them.  The hotel literally was just around the corner.  We checked in and made our way to our room on the sixth floor.  When I say “room” however, it was more like a one-bedroomed apartment!  It’s not called the suites hotel for nothing.  There was a lounge area with a settee, chair, table, 42″ inch flat screen TV, sink, fridge and coffee maker.  Next door was our bedroom with a massive king-size bed, another TV and walk-in closet, as well as a large bathroom with a good array of toiletries.

Much as it was tempting to undress and go to bed immediately, we knew that if we did that we’d end up waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get to sleep.  So, after dumping our cases, we went back downstairs to the bar for a nightcap.

We each had a drink and watched the TV in a desultory manner, where they were showing a baseball game.

Then it was back up to our room, where we thankfully got into bed for our first night in Canada.