This past Tuesday was the day I left England to return to Canada. Not going to lie, it was one of the toughest days of my life saying those goodbyes. There are some moments that you are forever glad are over and done with and that is one of them.
Luckily I have the most loving friends and family, so while it might have been bitter on one end, the sweet on the other balanced it enough that I’m still plodding along with determined good cheer. A big thanks to all of you: you’re the best.
Perhaps to compensate for the difficult circumstances, the universe provided me with one of the more enjoyable flights of my life. So much so that I feel I need to gush a little about why Air Transat should be your next airbus to take you abroad.
I wasn’t expecting much from it to be honest. It was a cheap flight – about $450 CAD – and only accepted one piece of carry on luggage (which even Air Canada, my nemesis of airlines, allows two of). Not only that, but the checkin counter was in the airport equivalent of the dungeons. In all, I was figuring it was going to be just a cheap sardined flight that did the job but left it at the bare minimum.
Well first off, my assumption that we were going to be sardined was undermined by the fact that the flight was basically empty. The staff was super friendly and came around to inform everyone that once we’d taken off and the seatbelt sign came off, we were free to sit wherever we wanted. A woman in my row took them up on this offer leaving me and another guy free to spread out on the seat between us.
Next off, they came around with pretzels and choice of beverage. This was almost instantaneous after takeoff. Soon after they came around handing out menus.
Figuring it was the usual overpriced stuff enticing hungry customers to indulge in $15 mushy ham sandwiches, I tucked it into my seat pocket after a scoffing cursory look.
And yet, after a few more rounds of the drinks trolley (not to mention timely rubbish collecting afterwards), it was announced on the overhead that they were coming around to serve our choice of lunch from the Bistro menu.
Hardly daring to believe it, I watched the food trolleys roll slowly but surely up the aisles. When they came around to me, I was indeed given the maki rolls like I asked along with chopsticks and my choice of either banana bread or a giant chocolate chip cookie. (Banana bread all the way). They even offered complimentary red or white wine.
Aside from the fact that I used wayyy too much wasabi and blew a fire hole through my nose like a whale spewing water from its head, it was absolutely delicious. The banana bread capped it off as a perfectly moist and flavourful dessert. I honestly haven’t ever been so happy getting airplane food before.
Once the food was swallowed, digested, and the wrappers removed by the unfailingly friendly staff, it was time for me to distract myself. The one thing that the flight was lacking was a personal entertainment screen. Instead, they had a large one at the front playing a preselected film which you could listen to by plugging your earphones into the armrest.
As an alternate alternative, they also offered an in-flight entertainment system via wifi that, if you had the media app, you could stream any of the offered movies or TV shows on your phone, tablet, or laptop. I tried to get it to work on my phone, but there was no more room for me to download the app. A shame, really, because I was looking forward to taking advantage of that opportunity – or at least satiating my curiosity of what it was like.
Instead I did some reading. I found a copy of Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson on my Kobo and figured it was very a propos. The last time I left a country completely devastated and feeling like it was too soon – Australia in 2011 after my student exchange – I also comforted myself in Bill Bryson’s travel literature (In a Sunburned Country that particular time). It was just what I needed.
A few hours in, I got a bit sleepy and plugged in some Bon Iver to coax unconsciousness my way. Thus it was that I awoke to a mumbled announcement from the pilot saying something about looking outside to catch a glimpse of…something.
“Unusually clear day,” he was saying through the crackling speaker. “Very lucky.”
Still half asleep, I pulled up the window slat and looked out onto a world of ice.
My first thought was, “Did I sleep all the way to Canada?”
Then my seat neighbour asked what we were supposed to be looking at, and I said stupidly, “I dunno, the Arctic or something.”
We were slightly further south than that though – turned out it was the southern tip of Greenland. I’ve never seen a landscape like that in person before. It was alien and beautiful and kindled the irrational desire I’ve always had to go and see the Arctic tundra. I stared until I seared my eyes from the brightness reflecting off the snow.
After that I couldn’t sleep anymore, so it was a waiting game until landing broken up by phone games, more reading, and more passings by of the drink trolley.
About an hour before descent, we were granted more food: this time pizza.
I could hardly believe my eyes. Especially when after this they gave us another complimentary bag of pretzels. Considering I took a six hour flight on Air Canada (painfully spanning breakfast and lunch time) and all they did was give a pack of peanuts and a cup of water without ever coming around to collect the rubbish or offer any further beverages, I feel like Air Transat treated us like royalty. In fact, I haven’t enjoyed being pampered on a flight so much since Singapore Airlines.
When we touched down almost eight hours later though, I was definitely ready to be off and gone. I basically ran out of the plane and through immigration (the latter of which took a tidy two minutes – a nice karmic apology for my arrival in the UK), and was off to meet my parents.
Except it wasn’t my parents there waiting – it was my best friend, Shiloh, surprising me after she got off work early.
I’d been doing really well holding it together and putting up a steel veneer of Spock emotionlessness, but when I saw her with a flower between her teeth and an Ice Cap of Canadian welcome, I pretty much lost it.
We spent the rest of the day driving around finding a giant SAQ warehouse, (for non-Quebecers: the provincially approved liquor store), sitting by the water in my hometown, and drinking inferior Canadian cider from a local wannabe English pub.
We did see a fairly wonderful illustration in the menu of said pub, however. They brew their own artisan beers, and this one in particular was named “La Noix de Marmotte”, or “The Nut of the Marmot”.
It was very cathartic friend time that was much needed. The perfect introduction back home making a difficult thing much easier.
And just to make it even better, when I got home my mom had four boxes of Game of Thrones action figures waiting for me on my bed. A Jon Snow and three Khaleesis, the latter because she read my post about going to Forbidden Planet in London and regretting not getting the discount Dany I saw.
So while this has been a super tough time, I’m so grateful to have been enveloped by so much love on this side of the pond. I’m missing Hastings terribly – its people first and foremost – but I’m determined to make the best of being back home and to appreciate it in and of itself. After all, I don’t know the next time I’ll be back, nor for how long when I do.
A big – no, ginormous – thank you to everyone back in the UK who gave me a home away from home for the last four months, who made me feel so welcome. I couldn’t have had a better time and I loved getting to know you all. It was an absolute pleasure, and I hope to see you again soon.
And to everyone back home, here’s to the next few months of adventures together.