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Old Sep 25, 11, 10:35 am   #1
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Multi-Modal-Mayhem - To Toronto with a bevvy of Economy madness...

Multi-Modal-Mayhem - Back to Toronto with a multi-modal bevvy of madness...
With Eurolines, Brussels Airlines, Air Canada and Lufthansa


Well I did promise I have something on the boil. Guess Iím starting to understand the mistake fares that happen. Oh well. As usual, weíre in traditional Kevincm territory here - that means itís back of the plane, non-stolen iPhones in sickbags, but with some additional elements... as you can guess by the title...

Lets call this a mini-road trip and we'll settle at that


Mistake fare: A mileage runners dream and a planners nightmare
(Yup, the Introduction - one day Iíll run out of witty titles...)

Even though I have Lufthansa Senator status sewn up for this year, there is a small matter of BMI Gold. And call me olde fashioned - but I like my BMI Gold card - least of all there is a chance to retrain BMI gold, and it will be a lot easier to hang onto than Lufthansa Senator. As putting any miles in Lufthansaís way would be ďthrown awayĒ this year (100,000 in 4 months? I think not...), it seems to make sense to keep BMI Gold and re-qualify on that for now (even though BMI is in more of state than usual it seems)

So as usual, I was keeping an eye out on the mileage run forums, when the a fare popped up. After crunching the numbers, I could make it work.

So where would I be going? Toronto. Hang on... Wasnít I here before in April? Correct dear reader - a repeat visit to somewhere... that isnít Chicago. Shocking eh?

Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - www.gcmap.com

However, the clever observers will have noted the ones small little detail. As Iím based near to Birmingham (BHX), Iíd have to schelp down to Brussels to start the trip.

I briefly considered flying to Brussels, but at single fares coming in at 3 figures, I threw that out of the window. Next I considered Eurostar, which came in at a reasonable £49. However, the shocker was the hotel bills. And thereís no easy way to put this: Ä160 for a Holiday Inn Express or Ä149 for a Holiday Inn near the airport.

There is such a thing I believe called ďTaking the mickeyĒ - the above prices being a classic example of this. Scrapping the hotel plan, I realised with some semi dawning horror what the only way to get to Brussels Airport on schedule without breaking the bank.

A COACH TRIP.

Whilst the trip is over 8 hours, on the plus side, thereís no accommodation fee, and it costs a grand total of £33. In addition, as itís a late night coach, itís a ferry service over The English Channel, and gets me to Brussels Noord for 5:45 in the morning - early enough to catch the train to Brussels Airport.

Getting back was a simple FRA-LCY trip with Lufthansa in a E-190. The fare was reasonable £88 in comparison to heading directly to Birmingham. And as I had a held return train portion for the train trip back, makes no odds to me.

So weíve got the major modes of travel covered: Train, Plane, Coach and Ferry. Read and weep.



And thatís the plan. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men come into play later in this trip...
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Old Sep 25, 11, 10:36 am   #2
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Part I, To London, and To Brussels.

I wanted an easy start to the day, so the day off work was booked and a lazy 2pm set off was booked. A bus ride into the City Centre and a walk to Moor Street for the first train of the day.

Some of you may remember my rant on GhettoIFE.com about ďThe Perfect BagĒ. In this trip, Iím using my new Etnies Transport backpack. Iíll let you know what I think of it at the end...


Yes, the new backpack. And yes, I'm site agnostic

Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone
Chiltern Railways, Class 168
Price paid: £5 Single

The photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...to-london.html


The train to London

Normally, I wouldnít bother with this bit, but today - Iím going to as the Chiltern lines have been through a bit of an upgrade (and Iíve been on the sharp end of the upgrade when travelling down to London and the line has been closed down due to engineering works).

The aim of this wonder-upgrade is to decrease train times from a boring 2 hours and 2 minutes to a faster 1 hour and 37 minutes from Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone.

So, does it deliver? The answer is a resounding Yes. The service made itís calls at Solihull, Warwick Parkway, Leamington Spa and Banbury, and didnít loosen up on speed until High Wycombe, where it accelerated and basically hit the brakes just before Marylebone.

There was no service to speak of on board the train - other than the ticket check. Nothing unusual about that for an off peak train heading to London.

The trains are reasonably equipped, with power-at-seat, and air conditioned. And as the train was half empty - a pleasant - and fast way to get to London.

Overall: For a Fiver, itís bargain of the month. Whilst the Class 168ís arenít the last word in comfort, theyíre great little trains thatíll get you to A to B.

What is more important is that there is now a viable alternative to the Virgin Trains service. For those of you who do the Birmingham <> London run, some numbers:

Virgin Trains - 1 hour 24 to London Euston <> Birmingham New Street
Chiltern Railways - 1 hour 37 to London Marylebone <> Birmingham Moor Street
London Midland, 2 hours 20 to London Euston <> Birmingham New Street
National Express Coach 2 hours 40 London Victoria Coach Station <> Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station

With a few hours to kill in London (and a deadline to be at Victoria by 19:30, that gave me a few hours to head to the Bureau de Change to get my Canadian Dollars and some Euros (pin money). Afterwards, I made camp at St Martins in the Field for a bit and watched the world go by.



After some time, I wandered around the West End, doing random FourSquare Checkins to get some more hotel points (dread the thought, my HHonors balance will one day resemble more than a pittance), before getting bored and catching the Tube to Victoria Coach Station.


Being early of course never helps.. but as the queues built up, it was a good idea. Eventually, check-in begun and moved v-e-r-y slowly, to the point where they had to hold the two coaches - one heading to Frankfurt, One to Dortmound - for 20 minutes.


This was it quiet. It got a *lot* busier



Eventually, we finally pulled off with a full coach load.

Eurolines Coach 163
London to Dover (Cross Channel Crossing), Calais - Brussels via Ghent
£29+£4 booking fee.
The Photos http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...and-ferry.html

To say there was a fair mix of people on-board would be an understatement. All backgrounds and all sorts were on board as the coach trundled through London, and out onto the M2. The seat pitch as you can guess was akin to Low Cost Carriers level. On top of that, there was also minimal stowage space, so the backpack had to be at floor level for most of the trip

Originally schedule to make various stop to Dover, the coach ran down the M2, and then back onto the A2, finally reaching the classic Dover Eastern Docks. Now for those of you with a sense of nostalgia for the old days when you used to go to Calais for the day, or even took a coach for a ďBooze CruiseĒ, one of the sights you canít forget is the final approach down to Dover docks along the Jubilee Way.

And yes, itís here on Youtube - and apologies this was shot in the dark...!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpuKup9WCv0

As we picked up our last passenger for a bit, we approached the UK/France Border, where everyone was kicked off the coach, processed and when customs were happy, let back on the bus. A drive around the docks, and we parked up where it seemed to be German Foreign Exchange Student Season as there were coachloads of them heading home.



In other words, it was loud but fun. As we had a good 15 minutes before boarding, everyone got off the coach to grab some fresh sea air. And whilst it was fresh, it was by no means ďcoldĒ - a pleasant 17c or so.

The call eventually went out for people to re-board their vehicles, and soon enough the loading of the ferry begun. We parked up, and were told to come back before docking.

Making my way upstairs, I had all sorts of nostalgia. And yes, I had been aboard The Pride of Calais when I was a lot younger, it still had that wonderful sensation of people aboard, the ferry buzzing and people looking forward to going to places. Or dread the thought ďThe Romance of TravelĒ.





As it was a late night, it was loud and raucous, but no one over drunk (even though Duty Free was doing a fair olde trade in canned beer... ). There were some places - like outside that were devoid of life and quiet though.


Night on the deck

I merely took this opportunity as I was away from any wireless network to get on resorting my Photographic Portfolio and not be disturbed. A pleasant way to spend an hour or so.


The port of Calais ahead

The ferry took itís way across the Channel in darkness, only to see light as we approached Calais. Soon enough it was time to bid farewell to this old friend, and then back to the crammed conditions of the coach with my new friends.


Off we go again.

After docking, the mass scramble to get out of the ferry begun, and soon enough, the night travel begun, taking itís way through France and into Belgium, initially arriving at Ghent Station. A quick pit-stop to drop more people off, and then it was off to Petrol station in the middle of nowhere on the E40 for a driver break.





Truly the middle of nowhere...

A short blast down a highway, and soon enough we entered the land of compromise and politicians - Brussels.

At 5:45, we reached Brussels North Station where I wearily got off the coach, back aching, but happy I had made it.

Overall: Coach travel is what you make of it. I found pain relief helped a long way, and the ferry a trip down nostalgia way. However if hotels are a mite cheaper next time, thereís this wonderful thing called Eurostar. Nuff said? However if youíre on a tight budget, the coach has a lot going for it. Just donít expect to sleep that much on one.

Onto Brussels Airport.




Onwards!

After stretching a bit, I made my way upstairs to the mess that is Brussels North Station. Of course, the ticket booth was closed until 6am, so for a laugh I tried to use the ticket machines.

Of course, they donít take standard Visa or MasterCard. Annoying. 6am passed and eventually, the ticket windows opened up and I was able to waste Ä5.20 for a ticket to the airport (or Ä3 with a Ä2.20 Diablo surcharge. More diabolic if you ask me...)

After working out where the train was going from, I grabbed some cold morning air as trains zipped in and out until this old rickety 2 car electric unit arrived - the gateway to the airport. However, once I got on I noticed a fair amount of commotion on the platform with an irate conductor explaining in 3 different languages there was a problem. As we pulled out of the station, the conductor went person to person explaining there was a fault at Brussels airport, so we were being sent to the village of Zaventem, where a bus would take us to the airport.

And thatís what happened. At Zaventem, we were all kicked off the train, where we waited for the bus. And waited. And waited some more. 3 buses came and went, all going the wrong way until one was going the right way - and two trainloads of people boarded the bus. Never fun.


Where am I? In the Village.. of Zaventem...

To be honest, this is London Transport levels of disorganisation. Frustrating more than annoying, but eventually, the bus parked at Brussels Airport and I made my way to check-in.

Last edited by Kevincm; Sep 25, 11 at 10:57 am Reason: Added Content.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 10:36 am   #3
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Part III, BRU-LHR.

Initially I was directed to the Machines, and after stating I had a ďcomplex itineraryĒ, I was sent to a person, where he happily checked me in for both legs - with the aisle seat sticking sadly for the long haul segment. A window seat was assigned for the short hop to Heathrow.

After completing the check-in, the agent also offered me a fast-track sticker for whenever I was at Brussels Airport to avoid the security queues.

How very kind!

With those formalities complete, I headed for the B Pier, and made my merry way through to Passport Check, and then over to security where I beeped my fast track sticker - and it worked a treat. I was through security in 5 minutes flat (with the queue for economy snaking back as far as the eye can see) and headed straight for the lounge.

It was breakfast time after all.

Lounge Stop: Brussels Airlines Non-Schengen Lounge


Sunrise

I was welcome into the lounge, putting it on my Lufthansa SEN card (well - I have to save BMI a few pennies here and there), and parked up in a sunny spot to wake up. Obviously the pan-au-cholcate, Coffee and Croissants helped.


Breakfast


Bakery Selection

The lounge itself was very bright and light nicely as it runs along a window

It did busy up as I was there and quietened down, mainly as US bound flights were departing, but it was a very relaxed environment. The only slight downside is the toilets to the lounge were actually outside the lounge. A clever piece of thinking there.

After asking, WiFi keys were given out if needed. I took one and quickly checked my mail and posted a blog, before seeing the time. As 9:15 rolled by, it was time to head down to the bus station for the AvroJet to London.


Gate 91

By the time I had arrived at Gate 91, boarding had just begun, with no priority boarding. The queues built up and I was beeped through the gate and off onto the bus. Eventually, it filled up, and it was time to trundle to the middle of nowhere to meet our little Avro.


Two Barbie-jet engines.


A T-Tail


Boarding


SN2093 (Code Shared as BD5433) Brussels National Airport to London Heathrow
Brussels Airlines BAe 146/Avro RJ-85, Seat 12A,16/09/2011
218 Miles Flown, 0 Miles Earned (Stupid Brussels Airline Earning codes).

The Photos - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...ru-to-lhr.html

I boarded the plane in a daze, and again was taken back to my past when I flew BAe146ís every now and again. The airplane was configured in a 2 x 3, making it a relatively light feel in comparison to the possible 3 x 3 configurations. The seat pitch was a standard 31Ē pitch and the load seemed to be pretty good.


Seat.


Cabin.

However with a few hours sleep to my name, I promptly conked out. I awoke when the safety briefing began, and dozed off after. And woke up just as the four little barbie jet engines whirled into life down the runway....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_y0fmE2LVc


Climbing out of BRU.

As we turned and climbed, the bongs indicated service could begin, and I took the opportunity to zonk out for the remained for the flight, only waking up in time for near enough final decent. The plane turned over Reading, and decent past Windsor Castle, with a gentle touchdown at LHR.


Windsor Castle

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD6j18BEgxQ

The plane taxied to a stand position, and the doors opened. I thanked the crew and headed up the stairs into the bowls of T1.


Parked up at LHR

Overall: Yes, I didnít get much from the flight and the window seat, but I got a soild 1 hourís sleep. Which after that coach journey, was not a bad thing at all. Heck. It did the job. Thatís all I ever ask...

Last edited by Kevincm; Sep 25, 11 at 11:14 am Reason: Added Content.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 10:59 am   #4
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Transiting at LHR - and a nasty call....

However at LHR my phone went off with voicemails stacking up. Whilst I was walking to the UK Border and the Transit bus,, the phone rung again. When itís displays the caller as Blocked it can normally mean only one thing - itís the office. And stupidly, I picked up. And there was a flap on the other end about a disk that had gone in a server.

*various swear words*

After talking through how to get a new one I was asked ďWhen are you back... because we could really do with someone installing it ASAPĒ

ARGH. As much as I would leave a server in a compromised state, the kind person in me won out, and I negotiated that the office pay my train fare back to Birmingham on the Monday when the disk arrived. And stupidly, I agreed to do it before the end of play on Monday so I could a bit of Tuesday to myself.

For those of you counting, that means two segments have gone up in smoke - the LHR-FRA, and the FRA to LCY segments.

So much for a pleasant little trip. Stupid HP Equipment and thanks my silly organisation for using 8 year old servers in a production environment... of course no one listens to the tech until it all goes pear shaped...

Oh well. Calm down. Itís only £88 down the pan. If it buys me 10 minutes of peace and quiet in the office, so be it.

I made it through the Transit Zone, and onto the transfer bus without any issues, and begun setting about cancelling the FRA-LCY Segment, and would deal the way back in Toronto.

I was through security in a minute with no secondary - rather the security agent was amazed that I was fully prepared. Quickly through, I made my way to HMV to get some bearable headphones (and thatís a GhettoIFE.com article in the next few weeks on *very* Cheap headphones ). A glance at the departures board the board had gone to boarding for the flight already. Knowing this is Heathrow and signs can mean next to nothing, I made a lounge stop to see what was going on.

Lounge Stop: Air Canada/SAS ďThe London LoungeĒ
Hot Dogs consumed: 2 (Well it was Hot Dog Friday!!!)

After being welcomed in, I was advised to rest and take my time as there was a medical emergency on the inbound, and the plane was being prepped. I took this as an excuse to grab a meat based snack for a bit and just chill after cancelling flights here and there.


It was Hotdog Friday!!!

Once again, I powered up the laptop and kicked back, not even looking at the departures board as I was informed that a call will be made when boarding was ready to be commenced.

And it seems that post breakfast catering in the London Lounge is a lot better than the breakfast catering. The range of hot items and salad was good, along with noodles and crisps - all that my heart could desire in its dazed and confused state.


Off to the gate....

Eventually, the boarding call was made, so it was time to wander around the T3 dungeon to Gate 31 where our bird was waiting. A boarding scan and security check, and I made my way directly aboard.

AC857 London Heathrow Terminal 3 to Toronto International Airport.
Air Canada Code Shared as BD4857, Seat 41G, 16/09/2011
Boeing 777-300ER
The Photos - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2011/09/16/


I made my way aboard, long before the main economy lot begun. Unfortunately, I knew what was going to greet me for the next seven and a half hours - an isle seat in the middle block. Not my first choice of seat by any part of my imagination, but by the time I got a valid PNR for the Air Canada legs, it was isle seats or middle seats.

And I donít do middle seats. So an isle seat was the acceptable compromise.


Compromises...

Loading continued until there was a practically full load heading to Toronto. (I counted 2 seats free on the whole of Economy, with Business checking in as full). As we were late boarding, we had long missed our slot for departure. By the time we were up in the air, we were 1 hour and 5 down already.

For those of you who are sick of my YouTube takeoff videos, good news! As I was nowhere near a window, no video . During this period, I paid attention to the safety video and drifted in and out of sleep.

The flight took a northerly route over the United Kingdom, and up over Greenland, over Goose Bay ,then down to Toronto - a slightly unusual route, but one do I like as Iíll show later.

After we had levelled out, the first service begun - the main meal. Choices were as usual - chicken, or pasta. Fearful of pasta for various reasons, I chose the chicken.


Roll


Pasta Salad


Cutlery and "Desert"


Chicken

The chicken itself was Chicken in a ginger sauce with beans and carrot and potato mash. Now for those of you who only live in Business and First Class, Iím now making a concentrated effort to make economy class food look edible.

Yes, Iím a sadist at heart

The Chicken itself wasnít bad, wasnít overcooked and was cutable quite easily. The veg mash wasnít sloppy, and the beans werenít completely floppy.

The pasta was a very nice take on having something that isnít salad, and was fresh and cold. However roll was indeed a projectile, and could be used as a weapon on-board if someone put their mind to it, and the cheap person who put a cookie as a desert does need to be taken out and hung.

As usual, there was a bottle of water on the tray, and a drinks service followed - the water being pocketed for later on in the flight, and a Coke Zero and a Plastic bottle of Savingon Blanc plonk.

The meal - whilst not the worst on the planet could had done with a bit of attention in the desert department. But I donít fly airlines for the culinary experiences... Lets put it like this: it still beats certain other airlines in the meal department.

After the clear down, another drinks service followed and another glassful of Diet coke appeared, at which point I drunk it, and zonked out for a few hours.

Being in the edge of sleep and awkake, I tried to keep awake, and browsing through the IFE, I found The Great Escape - with Chickens.



Of course that couldnít keep me awake so again, I was out cold for bits of the flight until we reached Greenland, where my body kicked in awake for a bit. And Iím glad it did as when I wandered down to the back of the plane to stretch my legs I saw this:



[IMG]http://pb-i4.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/6247-1316395774-17.jpg

[/IMG]Damn. I wish I had a window seat this flight.

Upon returning to my seat I made a GhettoIFE system (sickback + iPhone + table-back mount = IFE system) where I fancied the Boys from the Dwarf...



But that didnít keep me awake until a snack service was literally up the isle. Either my body is good at this detecting when thereís movement, or Iím just good at guessing when food is near.


Snack - yes, the bird is the word.

Snack of course is Pretzel-bites and coke. Where I dozed off to sleep again. And woke up, with the final service commence - the Montyís Wrap service (as most BMI Premium customers are discovering what they are). And shock and horror - no Five Spice Chicken this time - instead, it was a sort of curry chicken. Still it was hot, edible and filled a spot.


Wrap

Cleardown was relatively quick as the service had been delayed till under the 1:30 mark... where they decided this would be a good time to give out the immigration forms for Canada. And if there is one part of the Air Canada service that could be improved is this. Give out immigration forms after takeoff and not under an hour to touchdown. Itís a small thing, but would save a sense of panic when people were hunting out pens in the final part of the flight.

Anyhoo. With paperwork done, the cabin started filling with light as people opened their blinds, seats going into the upright position, and the rubbish collected.

1 hour late, we touched down at Toronto Person, and after a short taxi, the plane docked. I thanked the crew and made my way off for my date with destiny.

Overall: Again, Air Canada did an impressive service with a full load on the plane. A few things could be changed (such as the immigration form run) and the excuse of desert in Y needs to be addressed, but the hard product is good (and sleepable in), the IFE is excellent and the crew were engaging and talkative. A nice job overall.

However, I knew I was arriving in Canada, and there was possibly going to be trouble ahead. I made my way up and the Express Escalator whisked me to the immigration points, where I followed the signed and joined a queue.

Last edited by Kevincm; Sep 25, 11 at 11:28 am
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Old Sep 25, 11, 11:15 am   #5
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The JOY of Canadian Immigration & Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville.


Canadian Immigration STRIKES AGAIN.


Yes Canadian Immigration. You get a whole section of this report. It seems if youíre single male International traveller, visiting Canada for 3 days, itís enough for their immigration system to go into panic mode.

Or if it isnít Canada, prove me otherwise.

The first person who interviewed asked for my details, my return ticket and was mostly in shock that I wanted to come all this way to visit for 3 days. The agent made all over the immigration card, and I was sent to secondary immigration.

The secondary immigration person asked why I was visiting, and stamped my passport as a welcome.

However, when I arrived at the customs part of the airport, I was directed again to secondary customs. Thankfully, there was no queue, and my reasons for visiting were questioned, what I was doing (although the officer wasnít interested where I was staying). We then proceeded to the luggage strip down and inspection.

It was noted that my camera equipment was ďexpensive and looked professionalĒ. I kindly pointed out that I was getting annoyed of crap results, and I wanted equipment to deliver good results. I explained each and every thing to the agent, who took a minor interest. Which is nice.

Then it came to the hard disk examination. Thankfully this time I had control of the laptop, so the agent pointed, and I showed him all the different variations of my work (most of you know I take *all* sorts of pictures well within the legal limits of international laws). I noticed a few raised eyebrows, but complied with every instruction, and finally thanked for my time.

I was also asked if I had any questions. I asked for the reason I was pulled over, but also stated there was no chance of getting a straight answer. I at that point took my own sweet time putting my stuff together, and was thanked again, where I headed to the exit, making noises under my breath that were not entirely complimentary about Canadian Immigration .

Dear Canada, Canadian Immigration and Canada Border Service Agency.

Whilst I respect your right and privilege to defend your borders, this is second out of three visits to you great country that I have been detained without apparent good reason, and more importantly - no explanation offered WHY I was being detained.

It is enough to quite frankly enough to put a person visiting a country.

Signed Kevincm.

And CBSA - a formal complaint is winging itís way to you. Iíll be amused by your results if you have the guts to respond.


Grumping my way out of the airport, I made a few calls, calmed down and rather than waste $40 on the Airport Express, I worked out how to use the Toronto Transit Commissions wonderfully antiquated system of paying a fare and collecting transfer slips (hello Toronto, Iíd like to introduce to you the concept of a Preloaded Fare Card), and headed downtown - or Yorkville anyway. For $3 and an hour, its reasonable value

Exiting the station, it was easy to find the hotel - over the road, on the left, the ROM on the other side of the road. Convenient eh?

Hotel: Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville
Room Booked: King Room
Upgraded to: King Single Suite.

Part 5: The Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...lle-suite.html


Exterior


Interior


Reception

This is one of those occasions where I will say "Hang it". Iíve suffered in a coach and in economy. Time to splurge. And when I checked in I was asked ďWould I like to consider Ambassador MembershipĒ.

Now Iíve been thinking about Ambassador for some time, and the check in agent promised if I signed up, Iíd get a suite on the spot.

I hmmed and ahead for about 10 second and then said. Just swipe the card and be done with it. Besides, worse comes to worse, I can hand off the BOGO to someone else

So is it a Suite like as an Ambassador? Lets find out.

Making my way upstairs, to the 6th Floor, I followed the sign to where it said 625 - Executive Suite


Executive you say....

I dipped the key in and was greeted with a living room. I popped my stuff down to explore. So thereís a living room, a hallway toilet, and one hell of a monster of a living room facing out onto the Royal Ontario Museum


Living Room




Bed


Drink Facilities


Hallway

Making my way left, I found a well equipped bathroom, bath and shower.



And the room was amazing. Whilst Wifi was $19 for the two nights, it's a very nice space. The bed was comfortable, and the view great.

I won't bore you with what else I did apart from Niagara Falls, but there was only one minor fault with the IC... and that's the welcome amenity didn't arrive the first night... or during the second day. It did on the 2nd night eventually



Overall: Amazing. Iíll be blunt, this is the biggest room Iíve ever stayed in, and the staff were excellent and communicative. The concierge service was excellent, as were all the front desk team. The Welcome amenity was a minor niggle, but not the end of the world.

Last edited by Kevincm; Sep 25, 11 at 11:51 am Reason: Added Content.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 11:29 am   #6
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Thumbs up Niagara Falls Day Trip.

One-Time Exception: Niagara Falls Tour
Operated by Shop-Dine-Toronto - http://www.sightseeingtoronto.com/niagarainfo.php
Price Paid $93 after tax.


Photos:

Part I - The Falls Phttp://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2011/09/21/niagara-falls-1.html,
Part II - More Falls http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...a-falls-2.html
Niagara Whirlpool - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...whirlpool.html
Niagara on the Lake - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...-the-lake.html
The Peller Wine Estates - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...es-winery.html


Well this is the main reason for the trip to be honest. To get out of the city and experience the power of nature. The trip was booked by the hotel concierge as quite frankly there are an amazing amount of tours down to the falls, and working out which would be best just got too confusing.

We were picked up from the hotel where payment was processed, and dropped at Dundas Square where we switched to the Coach.

Once all aboard, it was time to begin the journey, with the driver giving a history and background to the Greater Toronto region, about the places we were passing, about Tim Hortons, as well as the odd toilet break on the way.

Eventually, the bus made itís way over to the falls, to a collective wow of everyone.

At this point, the bus parked up, and it was time to head to the Maid of the Mist



Now I missed most of my group as was getting my equipment ready (new battery in the camera, new compact flash card, raincoat on.

And let me be frank - thereís nothing like the power of nature. As one of my co-workers who is from the Toronto area put it ďItís not the Maid of the Mist, Itís the Maid of the Torrential DownpourĒ.



And boy, was she right!

Now thereís not many words for this bit - just take it in people

The boat left the dock, and swung past the Rainbow Bridge, then onto the American Falls (Where I got soaked for the first time)







Then onto the Horseshoe Falls (Where I got epicly soaked - even with the raincoat on).





The boat swung out of the falls, and headed back downstream to the dock ponto, but not before the American falls decided to soak me one last time.




and yes, I got soaked too.

After disembarking, I spent the next 20 minutes wringing my jacket dry, and just watching the world go by. With a posted departure of 3pm, and the the boat tour finishing around 1ish (even after I wrung out my clothes), I wandered round the tourist haven of Niagara Falls, and lost count of the amount of Ghost Houses. I also indulged in a Timmies whilst I was there, and just walked around for a bit until it was time to get aboard the bus again.

The next stop was to Niagara Whirlpool (with the bus driver annoying the locals as we were taking in the sights)



And then onto Niagara on the Falls. A quaint little town, and if you use Wikipedia, Iím sure you can find out more about it.



However, for most of the FlyerTalk/MilePoint/GhettoIFE crowd, the next stop would be considered the most important of all - the Winery Tour.









This was at the Peller Estates, and there were tasting of a sparking Resling, A Rose, A red, and of course - Ice Wine. Personally, I enjoyed it - but not enough to partake of purchasing a case or two to send home

It was then a non stop trip back to Toronto, with the bus dropping off along the way, and I was dropped back at the InterContinetal, where I went upstairs and flopped out of for a bit before wandering into Koeratown, and wandered back, picking up a Pizza on the way.

Overall: A good tour, with a great guide. The Maid of the Mist is definatly the highlight, with the Peller Winery tour very good as well. Whilst you could probably do it cheaper with a Rail ticket, and buying a boat ticket, itís simpler to sign up to a tour. Recommended if youíve never been in the region before.

The rest of the trip was filled with walking, the madness of Toronto Transit Commissions Token and different food (Iíve had more Korean and Vietnamese food than Iíve had for some time!) and doing.. stuff.

Last edited by Kevincm; Sep 25, 11 at 12:12 pm Reason: Added Content.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 11:52 am   #7
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Toronto to London

Back to YYZ

But Sunday 6pm came far too quickly. With an hour to get to the airport, and factoring time to sort out some routing issues, I picked up my trash at the IC, and caught the green line back to Kipling, and the 192 to the Airport.

After being dropped off at the public levels, I made my way up to Elite Check-in, which was choc-a-block.



Once I was called up, I explained to the agent my problem, who modified my itinerary, and I went away to repack my bags. Now with two bags (the Etnies Transport going as checked and the Anter Urbanite II going as hand), I made my way back to check in, and was checked in to London Heathrow only, with my bag only going there too.

A quick visit to the small room, and I was ready to face security... which apart from 1) being directed to the disabled lane and 2) 3 wheel chairs pushing past without the occupants or the pushers saying the words ďExcuse meĒ, seeing it as their right to push through and damn anyone else who actually was in the queue.

However, the security formalities were done in seconds, with no secondary examination, and after grumbling about people pushing in, I packed up my trash and headed down the slow travelators (the Express ones had been switched off to ďsave the environmentĒ), and I headed straight to the Maple Leaf Lounge.

Lounge Stop: Maple Leaf Lounge - International.

Now if youíve only ever flown in the lower 48 states, you wonít know what hit you when you enter this lounge. For everyone else, this is what a lounge is like. There are things like proper food, alcohol without a ba, lots of seats, power, and Ö a shower.


Seating


Pick your drink!


Cookie!

Considering I had been traipsing around Toronto in the sun all day, this was deemed a good idea. The shower was warm, the water hot, and the towels fresh. All good things in my view.

Food in the lounge was the usual Air Canada affair of Soup, Nibbles, and today - Ravioli's of different sorts. Different, but again - creative. It shows with a bit of effort and money spent on the lounge you can get a pretty amazing product.

Firing up the computer, I found an invite in one of my email folders (which Iíll be disclosing about soon.. trust me... youíll know about it when it arrives!) and I took the opportunity to update the photos, whist confirming work needed me in the next day.

As I was in no rush, I just watched the clock until 10 minutes before boarding where I thanked the safe for a great lounge experience and headed down to Duty Free to pick up some gifts, and then to the gate where boarding was about to begin.

When elite boarding was called, I made my way down the jet-bridge.


At the gate


AC858 Toronto International Airport to London Heathrow Terminal 3.
Air Canada C/S as BD4858, Seat 26K, Economy Class
Airbus A330-300


Photos Part 1 - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...-to-lhr-1.html
Photos Part 2 - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...yyz-lhr-2.html

I boarded the plane and headed down to Row 26, popping my bag in the upper bin, and the iPhone in my pocket. As boarding continued, I noticed the plane packed out without a spare seat in the house. Compared to the trip I did in March/April, this was yielding backsides on seats for Air Canada.

Whilst I prefer the A330 as an aircraft (sorry, down the back, the 2 x 4 x 2 seating appeals to me greatly), the lack of air-vents is rather annoying. Thankfully, this plane is configured with the Air Canada IFE system, as well as a generous 32Ē seat pitch - all things that would be useful for a night flight.

Take off was 20 minutes late, and from the looks of FlightAware, we never made up that time as we were late landing too. And yes, I'm in the window seat, so iPhone4 and Yourtube time strikes again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UD2uliD19dQ

One last goodbye from Toronto.


The service was pretty much out of the door quick as this was going to be a sleeper flight. Food choices again were Chicken or Pasta.


The Tray. Note the advert for the Arrivals Lounge at LHR...

So what have we got here? Well the sweetcorn was fresh, the roll uncommonly soft, and the Honey Mustard Chicken with Veggie Rice was again - very palatable. Heck, there was even a desert. A choclate fudge square. Again, a nicely rounded meal.


Sweetcorn


Roll


Chicken


Desert

And at this point dear reader, once clear-down was complete, I put the seat in half recline made a GhettoIFE system to watch Spaceballs: The Movie in, and by about halfway through, that was it for me.


When will then be now? Soon!

Waking up as the lights came on for the breakfast service, and as promised, it was a muffin breakfast service. And I do just mean that.


"Breakfast"

Ok airlines, Iím going to bash on about this, but a bit of effort wouldnít go amiss with a breakfast service. Handing out a muffin whilst quick, isnít a great service at all. Still at least the drinks had been delivered freely as always on Air Canada.

Making landfall over Wales, the cabin started lighting up as people opened windows, and I followed, taking in my view of the wing... but was behind the wing was more interesting.

Normally, I prefer a left-side seat as I love to watch the sun rise in the air. This time however, being stuck on the right put me in a perfect line... for Docklands, The City of London and Westminster.


The Dome


Canary Wharf & The Docklands


The South Bank, The Wheel and The City



[I]Buckingham Palace and The London Area[/I

The decent continued, and soon we touched the tarmac of Heathrow Airport.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urhOOnNvYXA

And whilst the plane had landed at the right end of the tarmac for T3, we were a victim to Heathrow traffic, and had to hold for a bit until we were allowed to taxi to Gate 31. Eventually, we parked up and after a shot wait, disembarkation commenced.

Overall: Once again, a good service by Air Canada. The crew friendly, and whilst could not spend as much time as they did on an empty 777-300ER, conducted the services quickly and efficiently which is needed on a night flight.

The moment I was off the plane, I switched the phone back into voice mode to find the hard disk had been delivered. I did the math, and said I should be at the office for 15:30 subject everything running to schedule.

After picking up my bag, I did something quite unusual - even for me. I had some small change left over from Canada (a few dollars at most). Now normally, I keep everything from a trip. This time however, I put the money in a charity box and headed for the train.

Yes, I was still quite annoyed with Canadian Immigration even after a few days (and heck, near enough more than a week later).

*ABORTED - LHR-FRA, FRA-LCY Segments*.
London Heathrow T1 to Frankfurt International Airport, Frankfurt Airport - London City Airport

Last edited by Kevincm; Sep 25, 11 at 12:26 pm Reason: Added Content.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 11:55 am   #8
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Heathrow to Birmingham.

Heathrow Central to London Paddington,
Heathrow Connect, Class 360 Train.
£8.50 Single



Back at Heathrow Central

I exited, and headed for Heathrow Connect/Express train station, and got a single Heathrow Connect ticket to London Paddington. And whilst itís more expensive than the tube, for £8.50, it still represents far better value than the stupidly overpriced Heathrow Express.

As usual, the train was on time, and pottered itís way to Paddington via the Great Western Slow Lines. The loads as it was past midday were low, with the cheap travellers like me at Heathrow and some locals boarding along the way. As a result the train never felt busy or unsafe.

27 minutes later, the train arrived at Platform 12, and I was out through the barriers.



Whilst Platform 12 is out of the way to visitors to London, it has one little feature just beyond the barrier - an entrance to London Underground and a direct connection to the Bakerloo line. Considering Marylebone is a few stops down, this is very useful. For those of you visiting London, this is also very useful as it cuts across important stops in the heart of Westminster - namely Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Charring Cross and Embankment.

A hop on, and hop off, and I arrived to see a train go. No matter - I booked a ticket for the 13:37 the night before anticipating the time to transfer from Heathrow to Marylebone. The train was called a good 10 minutes before departure, and people were directed to not a Diesel Multiple Unit, but shock and horror - a proper train with a Locomotive and Carriages!

London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street.
Chiltern Railways Mainline Silver Train Service, Class 67+Mk III stock
Advance purchase single: £7.50
The Photos - http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201...-mainline.html


Damn. Iím going to have to trip report this properly I suppose!

For those of you who have only known the British Railway network before 2001, you can skip this bit. For everyone else, allow me to explain. In the past, there used to be trains with locomotives, and carriages. On some of the mainlines, these are being displaced with Multiple Unites (Electric or Diesel) or in some cases coaching stock remaining.


A "Class 67 Locomotive"

The Mark III coaching stock has been round the houses and operators (From BR to InterCity to West Coast Railway to Virgin Train, to Wexham and Shropshire trains). But operators are seeing logic in using this older stock as it offers some comforts over modern trains. That and theyíre cheaper to hire too.


Rolling Stock

Chiltern Railways (and Wrexham and Shropshire) have been busy with these trains, practilically rebuilding and refurbishing the innards of the coaching stock till they look like they rolled out of factory.


Very lightly loaded


Power sockets


Branding


The Espresso Bar

In a five-car rake (Plus a driving van and a locomotive), itís a standard class affair throughout - with a ďbusiness zoneĒ (supplement payable) and ďEspresso barĒ near the Birmingham end of the train

In terms of comfort, the Mark III coach canít be beaten. Through all refurbishments, itís always been a comfortable seat you could just sink into. But these are modern times, so putting on new seat covers isnít enough. The coaches have power at seat now, and for the connected traveller for today - Onboard WiFi that was free to use.

And like the journey down, the train just breezed through, making itís five stops to Birmingham Moor Street - all on time and on scheduled.


At Moor Street


Head that way...

Overall: Again, perfectly delivered by Chiltern Railways. The new Mainline service is well priced and should really be used as an alternative to other services to and from London if youíre heading from Birmingham.

I bundled myself into a cab, and arrived at the office. Lo and behold in Server 7, one dead disk. A quick check to see if the maintenance company had sent a correct replacement (they did). Flick the armature open, pull the disk out. Place to one side. Flick the armature open, push new disk in, lock the armature, watch disk rebuild.

Of course, I didnít bother to check my email. Iím on leave still thank you very much.

Happy the disk begun rebuilding, I picked up my trash, locked the Comms room door and caught the bus home. 2 buses and 30 minutes later, I was at my front door.


Last edited by Kevincm; Sep 25, 11 at 12:32 pm Reason: Added Content.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 11:56 am   #9
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Closing up:

Lets be honest, crap happens. At the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my office to provide uptime for services, and if it means curtailing a trip - so be it. I’m just glad them in the office were in the mood to pay my train ticket back to Birmingham. Getting the other £88 out of the office will be another matter I suspect...

Chiltern Railways provided one of the bigger surprises of the whole trip. With the new “Mainline” service, it has really grown into a major competitor on the London <> Birmingham rail corridor. Comparing it’s prices and times to the Virgin Trains services, work your times carefully, and it can be one hell of a cost saver.

National Express and Eurolines... a budget travellers dream, but an acquired taste. One I do not intend to acquire again for some time. It certainly saved money, and thankfully I had the opportunity to sleep on the rest of the flights. Like most travel - it’s cost verses convenience. Take your pick. On the plus side, the Channel Crossing was a step into the nostalgic past I had of travel.

Brussels Airline has a very niche product - one I look forward to trying again sometime if my travels take me there.

Air Canada again delivered both in terms of ground product and the in-air product. Yes of course they could sort of the excuse of the breakfast service, and replace the cookie with something more substantive, but the friendliness of service cannot be beaten compared to some North American carriers

The Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville was quite frankly - amazing. The service was top notch, and the room (as well as the suite) was amazing. And as it’s slightly outside the main Toronto Central Area, it’s just that bit more peaceful than the heat of the city - a Hotel I’d recommend.

However, there is a sad note in this trip report, and it has to do with Canada and me, it’s going to be a hate/hate relationship, and unless I have any urgent business in the land to the North, I have zero intention of visiting Canada again.

And that saddens me in a lot, in respect as there are some wonderful places yet to explore in the north (from Montreal to Edmonton, to Calgary and to the far north of the great country). The people once you get past the border are friendly and warm, and the mixture of types of food you can eat is quite frankly amazing. However, the bottom line is that whilst Canadian Border Services seems to enjoy picking on me each time I go into the country, I’ll avoid the place, and take my tourist money elsewhere.

Or Canadian Border Services - to put it in the words of one your stars - That don’t impress me much (Yes, Shania Twain is Canadian).

Right. That’s enough from me for a few weeks. Hopefully no other servers will decide to go bang in the meantime, but as Summer turns into Autumn, it is time, so it’s back to return to the Windy City as I attempt not to get my luggage wrecked by the TSA again in “A Smooch of Chicago and a Kiss of DC - The Autumn Run with United”.

Till then - safe travels!

Thanks and your comments and thoughts are always welcome!

Previous trip reports:

LHR-BRU-LHR ... or "How do you burn a £50 BMI voucher without too much pain?"
MAN-ORD on BMI (29/10 ... or Did Kevin Make it to ORD?)
Kevin goes for a little mileage run on UA - ORD/CHM/IAD/EWR/ORD
ORD-MAN in BMI Premium Economy (with Pictures)
Kevin’s American Adventure – MAN-ORD-SEA-ORD-MAN (4 flights, 2 weeks) in Y..
ORD - MAN in BMI Premium Economy: How hard can a PE product drop? (also random moans)
LHR-PHL-SEA, SEA-PHX-ORD, ORD-PHL-LHR - In Y, Come and be scared with US!
LHR-SFO-LHR - If you're going to San Francisco - SFO MegaDO Trip report
Gold Run - Mr Kevincm goes to Washington with EI and US
Long Haul Commuter Run - LHR-IAD-ORD and back with UA
Saying Goodbye to a Friend - Travelling for the wrong reasons - LHR-PHL with UA (Also on GhettoIFE.com - expanded)
The BA Y+/Y Class Long Haul Experience LHR-BKK/SIN-SYD and back on a bargain fare (Also on GhettoIFE.com -Expanded)
The Autumn Run - Mixing Business with Pleasure (C/F/Y adventures with UA and US) (Also on GhettoIFE.com -Expanded)
Long Way Home - The Spring Commute with UA and CO (Also on GhettoIFE.com - Expanded)
Atlanta or Bust (and Frankfurt too!) - (Also on GhettoIFE.com - Expanded)
Drinks in Belfast with the BMI Board with LCC’s - (Also on GhettoIFE.com - Expanded)
Kevin get’s a bit of Seoul - First and Business class with Asiana Airlines and Thai to Seoul and Hong Kong (Also on GhettoIFE.com - Expanded)
Mixed Classes and Infinite/Madness: The Autumn Run with United - LHR-ORD-LAS-LAX-SFO-DEN-LHR - Also on GhettoIFE.com - expanded
Gold Run 2: Blame Canada! It's Only A Mileage Run anyway! (To YVR with AC, CO, BD..) also on Also on GhettoIFE.com - expanded
Re-Creating a Photo - To New York with United, British Airways and BMI Baby (Also on GhettoIFE.com)
Going the Canadian Way: To Chicago with Air Canada (LHR-YYZ-ORD in Y) (also on GhettoIFE.com)
SEN for £129? SEN Status Match Run with Swiss and Helvetic. (also on GhettoIFE.com)

Last edited by Kevincm; Sep 25, 11 at 12:51 pm Reason: That's it - all written up!
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Old Sep 25, 11, 1:24 pm   #10
  
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A very well done and comprehensive report. Thanks for posting it.

I had never contemplated visiting Niagara Falls. However, I may have to reconsider if I am in the area.

A question. What was the point to going to Brussels and back?
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Old Sep 25, 11, 2:04 pm   #11
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Originally Posted by Paint Horse View Post
A very well done and comprehensive report. Thanks for posting it.

I had never contemplated visiting Niagara Falls. However, I may have to reconsider if I am in the area.

A question. What was the point to going to Brussels and back?

Thanks Paint Horse. The Fare was a "Mistake fare" and had a start point of Brussels... hence I needed to get there. If I had timed the trip better, I could had got away with a cheaper hotel. But sadly... I didn't.

I'd recommend the Niagara Falls. It's possible to get more than 1 day trips there, but I felt 1 day was good for a taster of a place.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 2:47 pm   #12
  
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So the Air Canada TATL was a continuation of the Brussels Air flight on a single ticket.

I like the description of the fix to the server. So simple, but one must maintain a certain level of mystery concerning such things. No need to let the children know all the secrets, if we want to remain indispensable and thus employed. I used to do that sort of work before I began teaching others how to do so. I do miss spending many a happy hour in a dim and cool server room with no sound other than the gentle humming of cooling fans.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 3:31 pm   #13
  
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Observations

If you get to Washington, please PM me. I'd love to meet you.

A few notes about my experiences in crossing the USA-Canada border.

My father's mother's people were from the area along the Fermanagh-Monaghan border. They got out of Ireland during "Black '47". Because of the substantial anti-Irish (and anti-Catholic) feeling in the United States in the late 1840s and early 1850s, the ship carrying my ancestors ended up in the St. Lawrence River, and they ended up in Kingston, which is halfway between Toronto and Montreal at the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. So, Canada is in my heritage, for better or worse.

Canada and its provinces spend a fair amount of money in tourism advertising here with the goal of getting Americans to visit. One is enticed by the advertising; then, when one gets to the border, he or she is viewed as a potential criminal. I am made to feel this way every darn time I want to go into Canada. Almost 10 years ago, I had my dad in my van; we crossed into Canada in a very interesting spot--we took a ferry from Cape Vincent, NY, at the source of the St. Lawrence River (south channel), where Lake Ontario flows into the Thousand Islands, about one mile on a sort of barge that accomodates 6 vehicles, over to Wolfe Island--about a 7 mile drive later, you reach the village of Maryville, where you go on a bigger ferry for about 20 minutes to downtown Kingston. There was a solitary female immigration/customs officer on the Canada side of the Cape Vincent ferry, and she did not believe that my 80+ year old father and I were in Canada to visit his first cousin, age 84, whom he had never met. Her skepticism not withstanding, she let us through. This is supposed to be the longest "friendly border" in the world. What a joke.

I've taken the train to Montreal when it was an overnight sleeper from Washington Union Station. The Canadians actually stop the train when it reaches the border at Cantic, Quebec, East German style (unlike the former USA INS, whose agents would board the train in Montreal, and then start checking passengers at the USA border without requiring the train to stop, and then detraining at St. Albans, Vermont). The Canuckistan border guards hold the train for up to 90 minutes.

Just as bad is the big border crossing at Blaine, Washington/Surrey, BC across the Interstate 5/Highway 99 corridor between Seattle and Vancouver. I've been in BC twice in the last three years, on the invitation in the media to visit "Super Natural British Columbia". Both times, I have had a man in a turban and the uniform of the Canada border agency stop me and give me the third degree--how did I get there, where did I get my rental car, how much money did I have on me, did I have any firearms, did I have any food, what was I doing in Canada, when was the last time I was in Canada, did I have any business in Canada, etc., etc.

Anyhow, I digress. Two things I like in the "Golden Horseshoe" and "Niagara Frontier" areas: (1) immediately across expressway 427 from YYZ is Woodbine Racecourse, the top horse racing facility in Canada and, next to Vincennes in Paris, the top harness horse race track in the world; and (2) less than 15 miles east of Niagara Falls, one of the most interesting and historic places in the annals of American transportation/commercial history, the Lockport locks, originally opened circa 1825, which was the final natural barrier in connecting the Hudson River with Lake Erie and the great lakes beyond. In season, there are boat tours of the locks. It seems funny to say that something 400 miles from New York City would make it the leading seaport in the world, but the Lockport Locks and the Erie Canal made it exactly that.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 3:45 pm   #14
  
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Originally Posted by Kevincm View Post
Chiltern Railways provided one of the bigger surprises of the whole trip. With the new ďMainlineĒ service, it has really grown into a major competitor on the London <> Birmingham rail corridor. Comparing itís prices and times to the Virgin Trains services, work your times carefully, and it can be one hell of a cost saver.
Chiltern has offered a "rover" ticket where for GBP39 you can get a ticket good for unlimited rides on their system for 3 days (all hours on the weekends, after 0930 on working days). I found this when doing a combination mileage run and "four racetrack, four day trip" (Aqueduct in New York on Thursday, Monmore Green greyhounds on Friday (I made it a doubleheader by attending a rare Friday night fixture at the Hawthorns in West Bromwich), Warwick National Hunt on Saturday and Vincennes trotting races on Sunday. I stayed at a nice little inn just down the ramp from the Warwick stop on the Chiltern line. I flew Delta to LGW, used my GBP9 national rail ticket to go to Clapham Jct via Southern and then connect on a SouthWestTrain to Waterloo, then take the Bakerloo line to Marylebone. Their trains were at the very least OK, and I enjoyed my travel with them.
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Old Sep 25, 11, 4:04 pm   #15
  
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Interesting. I have visited Canada several times, all by air, with no problems at all. All they ever wanted to know was why I was there, to board a cruise ship, and the name of the ship.

I have always found Canadians to be very friendly, but distinctly different from Americans.
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