I only wish that my trip to Toronto was for vacation, but even though I knew I would be working hard the entire time, I was thrilled to take the trip north. Beyond simply traveling internationally, I was able to visit some friends who live in the area. The trip started off with a very early morning trip to the airport, 5:30am to be exact because someone who sits at a desk actually thought it would be a good idea for international passengers to arrive 2 hours early, even for the first flight of the day. So what do I find at the airport… the security guard and one other person, not even anyone from the airline itself. It’s not for another hour before anyone from the airline shows up. So I get settled with my laptop and get a jump start on work and catching up with e-mails before I even depart. Fortunately Redding is such a small airport that the entire process was quick and easy…. Did I mention that the plane only holds 30 passengers?
I’ve always been slightly nervous of flying after I started my family, so I always throw up a little popcorn prayer for safety during travels. Of course, jokingly, when I saw that three of the pastors from Bethel Church were on-board, I was at ease… Of course God wouldn’t let three pastors from Bethel crashland? But I don’t seriously think that way, but it was a funny thought. And you know you’re on a small aircraft when they need to move people around the cabin to balance the plane properly.
After a very quick, but slightly bumpy flight up to SFO, I was all set for a 90 minute layover before the haul directly to Toronto Pearson International Airport. And I must say that Air Canada is a great airline to fly. Before takeoff, the staff was excellent and took the time to personally take care of everyone’s needs. I was particularly impressed with a flight attendant, Kirk K. The flight was smooth and pleasant, and the seatback entertainment systems were great. I brought by Dell D620 with extra batteries to watch movies, but the entertainment system met the need. I was able to watch Alice in Wonderland, which I had been wanted to see in the theatre, and also caught about half of How to Train Your Dragon – both excellent movies.
Before landing, I noticed that there was a video on international arrivals to Toronto Pearson International Airport, but for some reason I could only find the French version. Not knowing any French, I decided to at least get a visual idea of what I was in for… So I pressed the French version and I watched 8 minutes of moving pictures, trying to figure out what they were taking about. After all, if a picture it worth 1,000 words, then the video was going to speak louder then the voice over. Well, it wasn’t quite true in real life, but it did give me a good idea. Of course it wasn’t until after that I found the English version… Which I then proceeded to watch, which gave me a bit more information…
One thing I couldn’t figure out after I was in the terminal was why the moving walkways were used for departing passengers instead of arriving passengers. After all, we’re the travel weary people. However navigating the airport and finding my way through customs, and their friendly agents and to the baggage claim was simple. After a quick wait for the bags, and finding my bags were one of the first off the carousel, I was off to the rental car…
As I walked through the rental terminal, I was pleasantly surprised to find how short the line for my rental car, Avis, was… However that quickly dissipated when only 3 people in front of me ended up taking over an hour before I was in my rental car – and there was 3 agents plus a manager working. It sounded like there might have been a new person, and a lot of confusion, but it was absolutely crazy. With that behind me I was off to find the Holiday Inn Express which i was going to be staying in for the first part of my trip. It was as simple as navigating a maze to find the 401 freeway which is the busiest freeway in North America, reaching around a half-million vehicles in a single day. However once I entered the freeway I was surprised to find the following sign: “Express moving slowly; Collectors very slow; beyond next transfer“. I quickly double checked the directions I got from Google Maps to double check I wasn’t on some sort of a toll road. Nope, nothing on the directions, but what the heck is the express and collector all about? I was thinking about Toll Express Highways such as California SR 43 or even into Ontario Express Toll Route 407. After just a few kilometers, I discovered what it was all about. The highway is divided into two sections the express side and the collector side. Back to the 500,000 cars per day number, you’d expect that they’d need some sort of a better system to make traffic flow then just a bunch of lanes. Enter the express/collector system…. and the slew of roadsigns, such as below, which is common along the 401.
The green signs are for the Express lanes which basically go staight the entire time, and only periodically can you exit the express into the Collector side which is on the right and use blue signs.
The concept is that the Collector is used to “collect” people who are entering and exiting the freeway which is more prone to slowdowns, and crazy drivers who are trying to enter/exit at the last moment. While the express is basically drivers who just want to go straight. About ever 5 to 10km there is an chance to enter or exit the collector. There is excellent signage which keeps the Express drivers informed of when they need to move over to the collector. However, my flight conveniently placed me in the middle of rush hour traffic, so it took about 90 minutes to go 25km. It was madness. Fortunately anytime other than commute times, everything flows excellent. Another change from most of California is the abundance of overhead lighting for the freeway. You could almost drive without headlights at night and never notice it. Of course in California we have so many sky/star gazers, that they keep light pollution to a minimum. Apparently in Toronto they value road safety instead.
After a quick drive around, I found the Holiday Inn Express I’ll be spending my first three nights in. In the process I drove through the Jane and Finch area of North York which I was cautioned about. While I was not overly concerned it was interesting to find a Toronto Police Substation directly next door. The room was okay although it seems like they just cleaned the carpets which left all the floors with a funky smell. The room was comfortable and the internet was free and worked well. Speaking of free, they offer a free hot breakfast with eggs, sausage, and the other typical continental breakfast items of toast, muffins, juice, coffee and rolls. And with that, it’s off to bed.