Searching for locations: Lake Louise to Toronto, via Calgary

All the worries we thought we might have in getting from Lake Louise to Calgary, in the end, it was just like driving to work, only a little longer.

When we left the Fairmont, the car had two frozen bottles of water and a frozen donut, left in the car for the two days we were there, so hiding in the garage might not be a good idea.

At the garage where we refueled, it was so cold I could barely clean the windows and glad to get back into the warmth inside the car.

Thankfully as we got closer to Calgary, it got warmer.

We bypass the city going to the airport, but, as it turns out, we would not have had much time to look around anyway.It’s nice to go to an airport and actually find the car rental returns first go with adequate signing to get there.

Returning the car took a few extra minutes because we were at the end of a dozen or so others who turned up at the same time.  All good, they remembered giving us a half full petrol tank.

At the check-in, it is very smooth sailing, the kiosk working and once the booking reference was entered, it spat out the desired number of boarding passes and baggage tags.

Then to baggage drop, through customs where I managed to lose my jacket, which is amazing that you would be allowed to leave anything behind.

So…

We have an hour and a half to kill, so a long soda and two long island teas settle the pre-flight nerves if we had any to start with.

Time to consider the vagaries of the flight.

Today we’re on an Airbus a320, and we are seated in the very last row, row 33.  It’s always a bad thing to look up planes on seatguru.com, because it has painted them as the worst on the plane.

What’s the downside, sometimes the seat pitch is less than further up the plane, the seats don’t recline and you get the seat in front in your face, and you get the constant flushing of the toilets.  And my major bugbear there’s no overhead luggage space.

What’s the reality?

To begin with, the seats recline, but not very much.  We’ll wait till the plane is cruising before judging how far the seats recline in front of us.

The seat pitch is good and it doesn’t feel like were cramped into a small space, but again this is relative to what happens with the seat in front.

Overhead baggage space, none whatsoever, so if you don’t get on first you are basically screwed.  We were almost first to the rear of the plane so I suspect others also know about the lack of overhead bin space.

Being at the read most part of the plane affords you a view of how the baggage handlers treat your baggage, and it’s interesting, to say the least.  They smile a lot, so I suspect that a few bags might get the ‘treatment’.

Enough already.

We’re now backing out of the bay ready to leave.

We’re getting endless announcements in foreign languages so when next I fly with Air Canada I should at least learn French.

Or not…

Ah, the smell of kerosene floods our end of the plane.  So much for air quality, which so it happens is being covered in the safety video at the exact same time.

But as it turned out, the flight was uneventful.

I scored a window seat – it’s like winning the lottery

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So, what do you do when you finally win the lottery?

Well, not the monetary one, the airplane one where you get a window seat, and a window seat you can actually see out of?

Because most of them are not aligned with the windows.  I remember drawing a window seat a while back, but …. you guessed it, there wasn’t a window.

I mean, really!

But now you have one, what do you do?

I’ve seen a lot of window seat travelers pull down the blinds to block out the view.  Seriously?  It’s obvious they travel a lot and have seen everything there is to see.  Why they would want a window seat is beyond me.

Like would they be looking for a lightning bolt to hit the wing tip?  An engine falling off?  Another plane flying too close alongside, like a menacing jet fighter?

Not today.  Not flying near a restricted air space, or foreign border.  Just going from one state to another, out of Melbourne on our way to Brisbane.

Of course, this was before COVIS 19 grounded everything.

Me, I look at clouds, check every so often the engine is still there, watch the wings flex, or the flaps move.

The last time I had a window seat we arrived in Brisbane from the ocean and the plane got awfully close to the water on its final run to the runway.

This time it was over the bridges after flying past the city, and over the Brisbane River.

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Sometimes you can see cruise ships.  There might not be another one of those for a long time to come.

And, yes, the engine is still there.

It was an uneventful flight, but I took a lot of photos anyway.  The grandchildren like looking at oddly shaped clouds.

 

The Perils of Travelling: Every plane trip is, well, different

The course of plane travel can run like clockwork, or rapidly come apart at the seems.

Every time you go to the airport, it can become an adventure.  Checking in, battling the airline’s kiosk, printing and attaching bag labels, going to bag drop, remembering that every airline does it differently.

Hong Kong airport is huge and there are endless boarding gates.  Being dropped off in the zone that belongs to the airline you’re flying is simple.  The next step is to find the aisle letter where your flight is checking in and then do the automated boarding pass and baggage label.

If it’s international travel which it is today, there’s the added stress of negotiating immigration and the duty-free stores.  We followed the rules, got there early, had the usual problems at the kiosk requiring the assistance of two Cathay Pacific staff, and finally made it to the initial departure concourse.

Next, there’s the temptation of overpriced airport food if you’re hungry which we are not.  But we have a McCafe coffee to satisfy a caffeine fix before the flight.

The shops are all expensive at the initial departure concourse, so we decide to see if there are other shops near our departure gate.  To get to our particular departure gate we descend to the train and get off at the 40-80 station.  It’s a short journey, and once back up on the concourse level we find a collection of more affordable shops where we buy every man and his dog a selection of sweets.

From there it’s a couple of travellators, which sounds rediculously short, but are, in reality, very, very long, to our gate and we get there ten minutes before boarding is supposed to commence.
Today we are traveling on an Airbus A350-900, a relatively new plane so you would think there couldn’t be anything wrong with it.  We had the same plane coming to Hong Kong and was, literally, plain sailing.

We find a seat in the gate lounge and wait along with everyone else.  I’m still surprised at the number of able-bodied people who take the disabled seats for the sake of being closer to the start of the line and worse was a woman who not only took up one of the seats but also another for her cabin baggage which was extensive.

Boarding starts late, and routinely for the first and business, and disabled passengers.  The rest now start to line up in the economy line.  Some people haven’t moved, perhaps they know something we don’t.

We eventually join the line and go through initial formalities while waiting.  And waiting.  As the minute’s tick by nothing is happening other than what appears to be growing consternation by the gate staff.  The tipping point for immediate concern is when the previously boarded passengers begin to come back through the boarding gate.

One of those who had been on board came our way and said there was a problem with the plane.  They were told it was due to technical difficulties the official non-scary description for your plane Is broken.  Because of consternation among the queued economy passengers, there was an official announcement that advised of the technical difficulties, and boarding would be delayed.

We all sit back down, but this time there were a number of disabled and elderly people who needed seats, and our able-bodied lady and her baggage didn’t move.  Shame on her.  We are lucky that where we were in the waiting line it was adjacent to nearby seats putting us closer to the head of the line when it reformed.

Now we were able to watch the other passengers jockeying for position to race to be first in the economy class boarding queue the second time around.  I think they realize they have the same seat if they are at the front of the line or the back.  Because we were all asked to sit down, those at the front of the queue would now find themselves at the end if they’d decided to sit and wait.

After a delay of about an hour and a half, we are finally boarding.  The worst aspect of this delay is losing our slot in the departures and I’m guessing this was going to have an effect on our actual takeoff time.  It appears to be the case.  Boarding does not take very long and shortly after the doors are closed we’re pushing back from the gate.

From there, it becomes a chess game when we get a slot.  We are in a queue of planes waiting their turn, and before the main runway planes are separated into two queues, and we are in the second.  Since we are the only one, I suspect we’re in the delayed take-off queue, and sit watching four or so other planes take off before we finally get on the runway.

All around us, planes seem to be going by and taking off while we wait, and wait, and wait…

On the plane, we discover one of the toilets is out of action so perhaps that was the technical difficulty.  It’s not full so one toilet down will have little effect. 

Leaving in the early afternoon will get us into Brisbane late at night.  It was meant to be around 11 pm, but with the delays, and possibly making up time in flight, it will now be after midnight when we arrive.  Fortunately, we have a 24-hour airport.

The flight from HongKong to Brisbane is without event.  Lunch after takeoff, then a few hours later, an hour or so before landing, we have dinner.  Both of us are not hungry.

We land after midnight, tired but glad to be home.  I guess it could have been worse.

Searching for locations: Sydney to Beijing, China – Every flight is different

Sydney to Beijing – Qantas A330-200
Boarding 11:45, everyone on board by 12:02, for a 12:10 departure. Pushing back 12:12 Take off 12:27

Lunch
Airline food is getting better but the fact they serve it up to you in a metal tray with a thick aluminum lid does nothing for the quality of the food inside.  I get what the chef is trying to do but often there is too little of one thing and too much of another and what you finish up with is slop in a tray.  Sometimes it’s edible sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes the meat is tender and other times it’s like boot leather.  As it is today. I think it’s pork, I should have had the chicken.  Or perhaps it was chicken.  I hate it when you can’t tell what it is that you’re eating. But, the drinks were good.

Rest or Sleep, maybe
It’s going to take 11 hours and 20 minutes from Sydney to Beijing, a long time to sit in a plane with nothing much to do other than crosswords, read a book or newspaper or magazine, listen to music on your own device, or the in-flight entertainment, watch a movie again by the in-flight entertainment – if it works – or try to get some sleep. I started with the crosswords but got bored quickly. I fiddled with the in-flight entertainment, looked at the movies and tv shows but none really interested me, not then at least, so I set it to the flight path. Not exactly stellar entertainment, but it’s always interesting to know where the plane is. Or is it? If we crash, what good would it do me to know it’s somewhere over the ocean, not far from Manila, or somewhere else.  It’s not as if I could phone someone up, on the way down, to let them know where we are. But, just after dinner, we still haven’t left Australia

However, by the time I’ve finished fiddling with and dismissing all of the entertainment alternatives, it’s back to the flight path and now we are…

Somewhere approaching the Sulu Sea, which I’ve never heard of before, so it looks like I’ll have to study up on my geography when I get home.

OK, Manila looks like somewhere I’ve heard of, so we have to be flying over the Philippines.  Not far left of that is Vietnam.  Neither of those places is on my travel bucket list, so I’ll just look from up here and be satisfied with that.

Working, or not
Chronic boredom is setting in by the time we are just past halfway to our destination. We are over 6 hours into the flight and there no possible way I’m going to get any sleep. I brought my Galaxy Tab loaded with a few of my novel outlines, and planning for missing chapters, thinking I might get a little thinking time in.  Plane rides, I find, are excellent for getting an opportunity to write virtually unhindered by outside interruptions, if, of course, you discount the number of times people brush past, knocking your seat, the person in front lowering the seat into your face, or people around you continually asking you to turn off your light because they’re trying to sleep. Sorry, I say, but you can suffer my pain with me.  It’s one of the joys of flying with over two hundred others in a claustrophobic environment.  Besides, aren’t the lights supposed to be slanted so only I get the rays of light?  Except, I guess when the fixed light doesn’t line up with where the airline has fixed the seat (usually so they can squash more people in).So, sorry, not sorry, take it up with the airline.

Back to work, and I put in some quality time on a part of the story that had been eluding me for a while.  I knew what I wanted to write, but not how I was going to approach it, so that blissfully quiet and intense time worked in my favor, something that would not have happened back hope. I won’t bore you with the synopsis, just suffice to say it’s finally down on paper, digitally that is, and it’s a huge step forward towards finishing it. There is, of course, the end play, the reading of the will but not before there’s a few thrusts and parry’s by some of the players, but all in all the objective was to showcase a group of people with their strengths and weaknesses pushing their characters in various directions, some at odds with what is expected of them. But enough of that.   A quick check of our position shows we’re still over water but closer to our destination, so much so, we might start the pre-landing rituals, starting with food.

Dinner
7:00 – Dinner is served, well, the lights go on and a lot of tired people try to shake the sleep, and sleeplessness, out of their systems. Then flight attendants that are far too cheerful, and must have beamed in from somewhere else, serve another interesting concoction that says what’s in it but you can’t really be sure of the ingredients.  It comes and it goes.

9:10 – We begin our descent into Beijing, you know, that moment when the engines almost stop and there’s a sickening lurch and the plane heads downward. 9:56 – We touch down on the runway, in the dark and apparently it has been raining though from inside the plane you’d never know. 10:10 – the plane arrives at the gate,  the usual few minutes to open the door, and, being closer to the front of the plane this time, it doesn’t take that long before the queue is moving.

Early or late, it doesn’t matter.  After clearing customs and immigration, we have to go in search of our tour guide, waiting for us somewhere outside the arrivals terminal.

Searching for locations: We’ve just arrived in Beijing International Airport, China

Instead of making a grand entrance, arriving in style and being greeted by important dignitaries, we are slinking in via an airplane, late at night. It’s hardly the entrance I’d envisaged. At 9:56 the plane touches down on the runway.  Outside the plane, it is dark and gloomy and from what I could see, it had been raining.  That could, of course, simply be condensation.

Once on the ground, everyone was frantically gathering together everything from seat pockets and sending pillows and blankets to the floor.  A few were turning their mobile phones back on, and checking for a signal, and, perhaps, looking for messages sent to them during the last 12 hours. Or perhaps they were just suffering from mobile phone deprivation.

It took 10 minutes for the plane to arrive at the gate. That’s when everyone moves into overdrive, unbuckling belts, some before the seatbelt sign goes off, and are first out of their seats and into the overhead lockers.  Most are not taking care that their luggage may have moved, but fortunately, no bags fall out onto someone’s head. The flight had been relatively turbulent free.

When as many people and bags have squeezed into that impossibly small aisle space, we wait for the door to open, and then the privileged few business and first-class passengers to depart before we can begin to leave. As we are somewhere near the middle of the plane, our wait will not be as long as it usually is.  This time we avoided being at the back of the plane.  Perhaps that privilege awaits us on the return trip.

Once off the plane, it is a matter of following the signs, some of which are not as clear as they could be.  It’s why it took another 30 odd minutes to get through immigration, but that was not necessarily without a few hiccups along the way. We got sidetracked at the fingerprint machines, which seemed to have a problem if your fingers were not straight, not in the center of the glass, and then if it was generally cranky, which ours were, continue to tell you to try again, and again, and again, and again…That took 10 to 15 minutes before we joined an incredibly long queue of other arrivals,

A glance at the time, and suddenly it’s nearly an hour from the moment we left the plane.

And…

That’s when we got to the immigration officer, and it became apparent we were going to have to do the fingerprints yet again.  Fortunately this time, it didn’t take as long.  Once that done, we collected our bags, cleared customs by putting our bags through a huge x-ray machine, and it was off to find our tour guide.


We found several tour guides with their trip-a-deal flags waiting for us to come out of the arrivals hall.  It wasn’t a difficult process in the end.  We were in the blue group.  Other people we had met on the plane were in the red group or the yellow group.  The tour guide found, or as it turned out she found us, it was simply a matter of waiting for the rest of the group, of which there were eventually 28.Gathered together we were told we would be taking the bags to one place and then ourselves to the bus in another.  A glance in the direction of the bus park, there were a lot of busses.

Here’s a thought, imagine being told your bus is the white one with blue writing on the side.

Yes, yours is, and 25 others because all of the tourist coaches are the same.  An early reminder, so that you do not get lost, or, God forbid, get on the wrong bus, for the three days in Beijing, is to get the last five numbers of the bus registration plate and commit them to memory.  It’s important.  Failing that, the guide’s name is in the front passenger window.

Also, don’t be alarmed if your baggage goes in one direction, and you go in another. In a rather peculiar set up the bags are taken to the hotel by what the guide called the baggage porter.  It is an opportunity to see how baggage handlers treat your luggage; much better than the airlines it appears.


That said, if you’re staying at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, be prepared for a long drive from the airport.  It took us nearly an hour, and bear in mind that it was very late on a Sunday night.

Climbing out of the bus after what seemed a convoluted drive through a park with buildings, we arrive at the building that will be our hotel for the next three days.  From the outside, it looks quite good, and once inside the foyer, that first impression is good.  Lots of space, marble, and glass.  If you are not already exhausted by the time you arrive, the next task is to get your room key, find your bags, get to your room, and try to get to be ready the next morning at a reasonable hour.

Sorry, that boat has sailed.

We were lucky, we were told, that our plane arrived on time, and we still arrived at the hotel at 12:52.  Imagine if the incoming plane is late.

This was taken the following morning.  It didn’t look half as bland late at night.

This is the back entrance to Building No 4 but is quite representative of the whole foyer, made completely of marble and glass.  It all looked very impressive under the artificial lights, but not so much in the cold hard light of early morning.

This the foyer of the floor our room was on.  Marble with interesting carpet designs.  Those first impressions of it being a plush hotel were slowly dissipating as we got nearer and nearer to the room.  From the elevator, it was a long, long walk.

So…Did I tell you about the bathroom in our room?

The shower and the toilet both share the same space with no divide and the shower curtain doesn’t reach to the floor.  Water pressure is phenomenal.  Having a shower floods the whole shower plus toilet area so when you go to the toilet you’re basically underwater.

Don’t leave your book or magazine on the floor or it will end up a watery mess.

And the water pressure is so hard that it could cut you in half.  Only a small turn of the tap is required to get that tingling sensation going.

It’s after 1:30 before we finally get to sleep.

As for the bed, well, that’s a whole other story.

The Perils of Travelling: Every plane trip is, well, different

The course of plane travel can run like clockwork, or rapidly come apart at the seems.

Every time you go to the airport, it can become an adventure.  Checking in, battling the airline’s kiosk, printing and attaching bag labels, going to bag drop, remembering that every airline does it differently.

Hong Kong airport is huge and there are endless boarding gates.  Being dropped off in the zone that belongs to the airline you’re flying is simple.  The next step is to find the aisle letter where your flight is checking in and then do the automated boarding pass and baggage label.

If it’s international travel which it is today, there’s the added stress of negotiating immigration and the duty-free stores.  We followed the rules, got there early, had the usual problems at the kiosk requiring the assistance of two Cathay Pacific staff, and finally made it to the initial departure concourse.

Next, there’s the temptation of overpriced airport food if you’re hungry which we are not.  But we have a McCafe coffee to satisfy a caffeine fix before the flight.

The shops are all expensive at the initial departure concourse, so we decide to see if there are other shops near our departure gate.  To get to our particular departure gate we descend to the train and get off at the 40-80 station.  It’s a short journey, and once back up on the concourse level we find a collection of more affordable shops where we buy every man and his dog a selection of sweets.

From there it’s a couple of travellators, which sounds rediculously short, but are, in reality, very, very long, to our gate and we get there ten minutes before boarding is supposed to commence.
Today we are traveling on an Airbus A350-900, a relatively new plane so you would think there couldn’t be anything wrong with it.  We had the same plane coming to Hong Kong and was, literally, plain sailing.

We find a seat in the gate lounge and wait along with everyone else.  I’m still surprised at the number of able-bodied people who take the disabled seats for the sake of being closer to the start of the line and worse was a woman who not only took up one of the seats but also another for her cabin baggage which was extensive.

Boarding starts late, and routinely for the first and business, and disabled passengers.  The rest now start to line up in the economy line.  Some people haven’t moved, perhaps they know something we don’t.

We eventually join the line and go through initial formalities while waiting.  And waiting.  As the minute’s tick by nothing is happening other than what appears to be growing consternation by the gate staff.  The tipping point for immediate concern is when the previously boarded passengers begin to come back through the boarding gate.

One of those who had been on board came our way and said there was a problem with the plane.  They were told it was due to technical difficulties the official non-scary description for your plane Is broken.  Because of consternation among the queued economy passengers, there was an official announcement that advised of the technical difficulties, and boarding would be delayed.

We all sit back down, but this time there were a number of disabled and elderly people who needed seats, and our able-bodied lady and her baggage didn’t move.  Shame on her.  We are lucky that where we were in the waiting line it was adjacent to nearby seats putting us closer to the head of the line when it reformed.

Now we were able to watch the other passengers jockeying for position to race to be first in the economy class boarding queue the second time around.  I think they realize they have the same seat if they are at the front of the line or the back.  Because we were all asked to sit down, those at the front of the queue would now find themselves at the end if they’d decided to sit and wait.

After a delay of about an hour and a half, we are finally boarding.  The worst aspect of this delay is losing our slot in the departures and I’m guessing this was going to have an effect on our actual takeoff time.  It appears to be the case.  Boarding does not take very long and shortly after the doors are closed we’re pushing back from the gate.

From there, it becomes a chess game when we get a slot.  We are in a queue of planes waiting their turn, and before the main runway planes are separated into two queues, and we are in the second.  Since we are the only one, I suspect we’re in the delayed take-off queue, and sit watching four or so other planes take off before we finally get on the runway.

All around us, planes seem to be going by and taking off while we wait, and wait, and wait…

On the plane, we discover one of the toilets is out of action so perhaps that was the technical difficulty.  It’s not full so one toilet down will have little effect. 

Leaving in the early afternoon will get us into Brisbane late at night.  It was meant to be around 11 pm, but with the delays, and possibly making up time in flight, it will now be after midnight when we arrive.  Fortunately, we have a 24-hour airport.

The flight from HongKong to Brisbane is without event.  Lunch after takeoff, then a few hours later, an hour or so before landing, we have dinner.  Both of us are not hungry.

We land after midnight, tired but glad to be home.  I guess it could have been worse.

Searching for locations: Lake Louise to Toronto, via Calgary

All the worries we thought we might have in getting from Lake Louise to Calgary, in the end, it was just like driving to work, only a little longer.

When we left the Fairmont, the car had two frozen bottles of water and a frozen donut, left in the car for the two days we were there, so hiding in the garage might not be a good idea.

At the garage where we refueled, it was so cold I could barely clean the windows and glad to get back into the warmth inside the car.

Thankfully as we got closer to Calgary, it got warmer.

We bypass the city going to the airport, but, as it turns out, we would not have had much time to look around anyway.It’s nice to go to an airport and actually find the car rental returns first go with adequate signing to get there.

Returning the car took a few extra minutes because we were at the end of a dozen or so others who turned up at the same time.  All good, they remembered giving us a half full petrol tank.

At the check-in, it is very smooth sailing, the kiosk working and once the booking reference was entered, it spat out the desired number of boarding passes and baggage tags.

Then to baggage drop, through customs where I managed to lose my jacket, which is amazing that you would be allowed to leave anything behind.

So…

We have an hour and a half to kill, so a long soda and two long island teas settle the pre-flight nerves if we had any to start with.

Time to consider the vagaries of the flight.

Today we’re on an Airbus a320, and we are seated in the very last row, row 33.  It’s always a bad thing to look up planes on seatguru.com, because it has painted them as the worst on the plane.

What’s the downside, sometimes the seat pitch is less than further up the plane, the seats don’t recline and you get the seat in front in your face, and you get the constant flushing of the toilets.  And my major bugbear there’s no overhead luggage space.

What’s the reality?

To begin with, the seats recline, but not very much.  We’ll wait till the plane is cruising before judging how far the seats recline in front of us.

The seat pitch is good and it doesn’t feel like were cramped into a small space, but again this is relative to what happens with the seat in front.

Overhead baggage space, none whatsoever, so if you don’t get on first you are basically screwed.  We were almost first to the rear of the plane so I suspect others also know about the lack of overhead bin space.

Being at the read most part of the plane affords you a view of how the baggage handlers treat your baggage, and it’s interesting, to say the least.  They smile a lot, so I suspect that a few bags might get the ‘treatment’.

Enough already.

We’re now backing out of the bay ready to leave.

We’re getting endless announcements in foreign languages so when next I fly with Air Canada I should at least learn French.

Or not…

Ah, the smell of kerosene floods our end of the plane.  So much for air quality, which so it happens is being covered in the safety video at the exact same time.

But as it turned out, the flight was uneventful.

I scored a window seat – it’s like winning the lottery

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So, what do you do when you finally win the lottery?

Well, not the monetary one, the airplane one where you get a window seat, and a window seat you can actually see out of?

Because most of them are not aligned with the windows.  I remember drawing a window seat a while back, but …. you guessed it, there wasn’t a window.

I mean, really!

But now you have one, what do you do?

I’ve seen a lot of window seat travelers pull down the blinds to block out the view.  Seriously?  It’s obvious they travel a lot and have seen everything there is to see.  Why they would want a window seat is beyond me.

Like would they be looking for a lightning bolt to hit the wing tip?  An engine falling off?  Another plane flying too close alongside, like a menacing jet fighter?

Not today.  Not flying near a restricted air space, or foreign border.  Just going from one state to another, out of Melbourne on our way to Brisbane.

Of course, this was before COVIS 19 grounded everything.

Me, I look at clouds, check every so often the engine is still there, watch the wings flex, or the flaps move.

The last time I had a window seat we arrived in Brisbane from the ocean and the plane got awfully close to the water on its final run to the runway.

This time it was over the bridges after flying past the city, and over the Brisbane River.

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Sometimes you can see cruise ships.  There might not be another one of those for a long time to come.

And, yes, the engine is still there.

It was an uneventful flight, but I took a lot of photos anyway.  The grandchildren like looking at oddly shaped clouds.