Sunday, March 15, 2020

North of 60 : Wil's birthday trip, day 1

**BTW, Wil did NOT turn 60...**

Last year we visited Chichen Itza for Wil's birthday as part of our "7 Wonders" project. This year we decided to try to see a natural wonder: the Northern Lights.

I had first learned about Blachford Lake Lodge through the Cloud Appreciation Society -- they book a "Sky Holiday" where they hope NOT to see clouds, and instead see the Northern Lights. Their 2020 trip was just before Wil's birthday, which didn't seem right. I sent an email to the lodge and was told they could put us in a lodge room from March 1 - 4 if we wanted it. Even though it was nearly 10 months away, we booked it on the spot.

On Sadie Hawkins Day -- February 29, that is -- we started the trek to Yellowknife. I love that when we booked the trip I didn't really know where Yellowknife was. It's faaaaar. Faaaaar north.

We also booked the flights way way way in advance ... which meant that our flights changed multiple times. In the end our outbound flights were Seattle -> Vancouver -> Calgary -> Yellowknife, arriving just before midnight. We got to Vancouver with no problem, but then discovered that our flight to Calgary was being delayed by an hour, which endangered our 1hr22min transfer time in Calgary.

First we went to the Air Canada help desk, where a woman told us repeatedly that she couldn't get us on an earlier Calgary flight, and they wouldn't hold our flight to Yellowknife despite it being their fault. The woman was unpleasant in that way that people who have to repeatedly break bad news to people are, and she essentially dismissed us.

We tried calling Air Canada, but they had recently added a new reservation system so their hold times were 25 minutes or more. We did see that WestJet had an earlier flight to Calgary, but because of baggage restrictions we'd have to get our bags off the Air Canada flight and get them on the WestJet flight ... and pay $1500 for the privilege.

We went back to Air Canada and had the excellent luck of being helped this time by Sonia, who was a "premiere agent" or something like that. She was kind and calm and soothing and said she could put us on the direct flight to Yellowknife instead. Things were obviously weird with their system, but she patiently called the baggage people to get our bags out of the one flight and prep them for the Yellowknife flight... and (because we didn't dare ask), assured us that she could get us on that flight. Of course, then she saw that they were mileage plan tickets, BUT she was as good as her word and put us on the direct flight... and in business class.

Then all we had to do was head to the airport lounge where we suddenly had 7 hours to wait for our Yellowknife flight. Lots of time to hang out, listen to audiobooks, and snack.

Our Yellowknife flight was great -- though we were amused to be served a hot meal on a 2.5 hour flight. (The pasta was surprisingly tasty -- thanks Air Canada!). We landed just after midnight, and, as we waited for the door to open, I noticed that we would be walking to the terminal, and that EVERYONE ELSE had put their coats on.

So we got our coats out of our carry-ons just in time to head down the steps. Within seconds the cold hit me and I felt the inside of my nose freeze. We weren't even sure where go -- the doors to the airport were closed (because, duh, it's way below freezing outside) so we hesitated. Wil saw some people and said, "you seen to know where you're going" so we got behind them and ran for the doors.

Getting inside was really disorienting -- feeling shocked by the cold and tired from the day, and then seeing this:

Our bags arrived (phew!), and we popped outside looking for the shuttle to our hotel. It came pretty quickly, and then we all piled on (along with the flight crew) for the short ride to the hotel. While waiting to check in, we saw THIS GUY:

Yep, we'd been in Yellowknife for less than 30 minutes and we'd seen TWO taxidermied polar bears.

We got to our rooms, slightly jangly from the day and the crazy cold. Wil peered through the window and wondered if the greenish color was the aurora or just local lights. (Turns out it was the aurora, but we didn't know it at the time.) We sorted out some things for the next morning, and then slept.

Up next : to Blachford!

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