There’s so much to catch up on with our story of the journey to Canada but I’ll document first our early days here now because I think the jetlag might turn my brain to mush and I’ll forget easily.
We left our hotel in Melbourne at 7:30am on Friday 31 July. A large taxi took us to Tullamarine with our six big bags, two car seats and pram. We had a decent amount of time to get on the first of three flights, a short jaunt from Melbourne to Sydney. But as soon as we went to check in for our 9:30am flight, the first disaster hit. QANTAS wouldn’t allow us to board the flight as the immigration requirement specified that all passengers need either a valid visa or a return ticket. The nature of our visas meant that while we’d received pre-approval, we wouldn’t be granted visas until border crossing in Canada. And while Mr Chewbacca had a return ticket due to his visa’s requirement to demonstrate intent to return to Australia, the kids and I had only one way tickets. Stymied at the first step!
Mr C in particular was fuming when we realised we’d need to book return tickets on the spot and I ended up doing all the talking to try and keep everything cordial which was very hard, although to their credit the QANTAS staff did everything they could short of copping a $30,000 fine for us. They put us on a flight at 10, checked through our many bags and we headed down to sales to sort out the tickets. Once we got over the initial shock of discovering we’d be maxing out the credit card in one hit, we relaxed knowing we’d book fully refundable tickets and get them cancelled as soon as we arrived in Toronto. Except of course something went wrong with the credit card payment and it wouldn’t go through. They sent Mr C and the Dude through security to board the flight and I stayed to finalise the booking with the little Thumper asleep in the ergo on my back. The Dude was crying not understanding where mummy was and both Mr C and I were on the brink of tears worrying we would miss the flight. We didn’t say it but I know we were both thinking that this did not bode well for the rest of what was always going to be a challenging journey.
Anyway, with ten minutes to spare I literally ran to board the flight, picturing how I’d apologise to all the other passengers waiting to leave. The staff were great, so kind, and they reassured me the flight was already delayed due to something else. I am normally calm in these situations but I was so stressed out at what had just happened. I also quickly realised that because we were on a later domestic flight, we’d be rushing to get to our next flight through to Dallas. So I asked the flight attendant to call ahead and try to make sure we’d be given swift passage. I never do stuff like that – asking for things goes totally against my Libran diplomacy! As it happened, it wasn’t too bad and we went straight through and onto the flight I was dreading: 16 hours, Sydney to Dallas.
It was long, yes, but somehow it just wasn’t that bad. Both kids were really chilled, and the Dude even let us do a modified bedtime routine and went off to sleep using his seat and the spare one next to it to lie down. He did keep flailing out his legs and nearly rolling off the seats so we had to hold him, plus the little one didn’t stay down for long in the bassinet so I mainly held her while she slept which was sweet but very uncomfortable for me. But overall we sailed through that long flight quite easily.
We collected our bags in Dallas and were surprised to find one missing. It was an odd setup at the baggage collection area with random baggage handling people hanging around suspiciously as though we were supposed to tip them when they helped us with our bags. After realising our bag was gone we traipsed to the lost luggage counter and a super helpful dude took down the number and wrote out a thing to give to American Airlines upon arrival in Toronto. We then went through to the baggage transit area which basically involved dumping our remaining luggage on the floor alongside about 500 other suitcases with a few confused baggage handlers hovering about looking thoroughly disorganised. We weren’t sure whether we’d see it again.
Dallas Fort Worth is a fairly big airport and because we were there for five hours we decided to get one of those 30 minute hotels and have a shower. We then ate a horrible McDonald’s and then just wandered down to our gate. For a few minutes we relaxed and I took a few photos of the kids playing and looking out over the tarmac. But that didn’t last long. For some inexplicable reason, they changed the gate where we were meant to board and so we had to rush to what was effectively the other side of a massive airport. It was so far we had to take a train!
We lined up to board our final flight, Dallas to Toronto, worrying about the hoops we’d have to jump through to be granted our visas. It seemed fitting that we’d run into obstacles there. Of course as soon as the staff saw us and realised who we were they took our passports and asked us to wait in an alcove while they boarded all the other passengers! No real explanation. We thought it might be because they wanted us to pay excess baggage as our heavy bags were over the allowance for American Airlines. But no, after some cautious questions we ascertained that there was yet again some technical glitch whereby the baby’s ticket wasn’t attached to mine or something. It seemed to take forever to get the go ahead to board!
Once on our final two hour leg, the tiredness really set in. We had the nicest air hostess in the universe do everything she could to make us comfortable but alas, both of us had trouble staying awake. The little one conked out again within minutes of taking off and the Dude chilled out eating some chocolate from a snack pack we were given. We were almost there.
When we landed in Toronto we roused ourselves and gave each other a hand squeeze and a look: we still had to get through immigration. What if they gave us a hard time? What if we didn’t have the right paperwork? What if they said no, we won’t be issuing a visa, sorry, you’ll just have to go home. Maybe it was because we’ve watched too many episodes of Border Patrol but I know we were both nervous.
We headed to collect our bags only to discover another piece missing, the baby’s car seat. I began to realise that the more pieces you have, the higher chance of something going missing. And you could probably guarantee that if it was the last item of yours to be checked in then it would be the most likely to be lost. American Airlines were awesome, and the three people working at nearly midnight were doing everything to find our stuff. They took our address at the hotel while giving some suggestions about nice places to live in the Greater Toronto Area and we were on our way with our somewhat fewer pieces of luggage. Through passport control who weren’t interested in our visa status at all, we arrived at immigration.
There were no other travellers there and a lovely smiling Canadian waved us over. He chatted away, pausing to give directions to the bathroom because of course the Dude needed to go at this most critical moment! I nervously explained that I’d left the “duration of stay” section blank because it wanted the exact number of days and I felt silly writing 365 when I truly wasn’t sure! He totally didn’t mind. He didn’t ask to see anything, just our passports and preapproval letters. The only thing that held us up was Mr Chewbacca rabbiting on about how we’re going to watch the baseball and the guy was obviously a fan and had a bit of a chat. He handed us some official-looking sheets of paper and we were off to customs! We couldn’t believe it, it wasn’t an ordeal, we’d sailed through just fine. Customs were nice too and I think impressed with me ticking the box to declare food “just in case”, just like a good Aussie always does. We stepped out into a warm evening and realised we’d need to wait a bit for the car we’d hired as we were early. It was nearly midnight in Toronto but we were still on Aussie time and felt like zombies anyway! We ate chocolate, the Dude pointed at all the giant North American trucks masquerading as cars and thus began our time in Toronto.
Our guy picked us up in one of those enormous SUVs and drove to our hotel which was a nice place from the look of it. We were barely upright yet still smiling and glad to be there at this point. We got up to the room and immediately got ready for bed. I’ve rarely been that tired in my life! The Dude crashed out on his sofa bed and the other three of us in the big bed and apart from one very scary wakeup from the Dude where he jumped out of bed and ran crying out of our room and down the hall, we slept until 10 or 11am. Toronto: we had finally arrived.