Madrid to Edmonton – on foot

But surely one has to fly?

Indeed that is true for some of the legs of the journey – but remember that the journey started with a suitcase and cabin luggage at the top of ten flights of stairs at 2.30 am. The challenge of getting all one’s clobber down 83 creaking timber stairs quietly, and finishing the decent with a reverberating bang of the massive timber front door because one didn’t quite turn around fast enough to catch it once the luggage is on the footpath, followed by the trundle of suitcase wheels on the cobbled pavement echoing upwards.

The nearby taxi rank had a vehicle so the journey to the airport was fast. In fact, it was the fastest part of the whole trip. However, could have had another hour’s sleep! It was not necessary to leave three hours before take off … and one hour before check in opened, because Madrid to Frankfurt is not an international flight.

Didn’t enter the check-in queue area, just in case the check-in point was changed, so parked luggage near its entry point.  Another traveller pulls up behind with his luggage, and within a short time, a line of people and luggage was stretching to the terminus entry (the mostly German payload was far more orderly than Italians and Spanish when it came to queues). A young woman entered in front of us all, because we weren’t actually in the check in area, looked around, apologised to everyone and moved to the back of the line. Check in opened exactly two hours before departure and we all shuffled forward. Then had to walk to the far end of the terminal to go through security, up escalators, down escalators, stuck behind wandering travellers who can’t control their cabin bag trolleys  and who have to make sudden stops, get to the gate lounge and discover that a bus ride out to the plane awaits us. We couldn’t have fallen over in the buses because we were jam packed. Aah, the intimacy of travel.

The two hour gap between landing in Frankfurt and departing for Calgary was action packed. Frankfurt is a very large international hub, and serious walking started here – at least 2.5 km from the point of disembarkation at the very end of one terminus (are there really that many gate lounges and no travelators), to the beginning of a long tunnel (is it really that long – thank goodness it has some travelators), through the tunnel, to embarkation at the very end of another terminus (and more wandering travellers getting in the way). Toss in a slow passport check in the middle of the journey, because the biometric scanners weren’t working, and one’s sense of equanimity in anticipation of a ten-hour flight to Calgary fades.  Didn’t stop to buy any hot German sausage because of a sense of urgency to get to the the gate lounge an unknown distance away.

The view of the Rockies was impressive. (It almost made up for the airplane food – the sort that jokes are made about, and you’d laugh if you could, but for the fact it’s so bad. Thoughts of the missed sausage frequently drifted back). We are disembarked … yes … at the end of the terminus furthest possible from the luggage area and passport control. Another long walk. In answer to his question, “Where are you staying in Canada”, the answer “Edmonton” left the passport officer genuinely amused. “Why? there’s nothing there!” was his response.

To reach the plane for Edmonton, one had to cross the icily cold windswept tarmac.  The flight  was in a Dash 8 (a twin prop, everything vibrating, deafeningly droning plane which takes a payload of 46 passengers – most of whom were wearing checked shirts and baseball caps).

Edmonton (pop 750,000) was even colder than Calgary. Its architecture looks very sixties. 60 km of  urban sprawl, comprised of mostly three-storey high grey and white metal clad houses, massive pick-up trucks, wide concrete roads and no people, characterised the journey from the airport to the condo. This is a city heavily characterised by motor vehicles. Big ones.