Sunday, May 28, 2017

Billy Bishop's Alternate Universe, Part 2

Born in the USA

A well-known truism of international travel is that it is easier to exit the United States than return. I spent the early morning of May 28th putting the pieces into place to allow for a smooth flight back to New York. Comparatively speaking, this was the hard part.

Based on the weather forecast, we planned for a 4:00 pm arrival in the United States.We would need to fly to an Airport of Entry, with the most obvious candidates being Buffalo and Rochester (US ports of entry and their hours can be found here). I chose Buffalo because it was closer to Toronto and thus our ETA was less likely to be impacted by wind, weather, or ATC whimsy. Moreover, Buffalo's customs office is staffed seven days a week whereas Rochester's is only staffed on weekends by request. It seemed to me that, if a customs officer needed to make a special trip into Rochester on a Sunday just for us, it would not go well if we were late. Besides, I had never actually landed at Buffalo before and this provided opportunity and excuse.

Prior Aviation Service is the sole FBO on the field at Buffalo and conveniently located customs adjacent. Unfortunately, it has a reputation for expensive fuel (currently $6.60/gal) and high ramp fees. I called Prior in advance of the trip and was told that, if just clearing customs, we would only be charged a $5 landing fee.

I filed our arrival eAPIS manifest using the departure manifest as a template, then filed an IFR flight plan from Billy Bishop to Buffalo. After breakfast, I called US customs. US customs must be called at least one hour and no more than 23 hours prior to arrival. Unlike Canada, the United States does not have a single notification telephone number. It is necessary to call the office of interest directly. When I called Buffalo Customs, the officer asked whether I had filled out an APIS (but did not ask for the confirmation number) and he asked for our citizenship, my CBP decal number, the number of crew and passengers, my phone number, aircraft tail number, and ETA. He indicated that arriving +/- 30 minutes versus our ETA would be acceptable. At the conclusion of our discussion, he indicated that we were "cleared for landing".

A few minutes later he called back, having found an error on the manifest. I had typed 2017 onto the APIS manifest for The Bear's birth year and, since that date had not yet come to pass, the officer correctly surmised that it was an error. I fixed this in the eAPIS system, resubmitted, and called him back to verify that all was well. We were cleared again for landing.

Yes, But Do They Serve Wicked Butter?

With flight and customs planning complete, it was time to enjoy our day. We started with breakfast at Evviva Breakfast and Lunch, a quasi up-scale diner piping in a lot of early 70's American music hits. Our waitress seemed to be a native French speaker, but the Evviva radio spoke Eagles.


Breakfast was delicious. And filling.


And wacky.


And...oh, I have no idea what is happening in this picture.


After breakfast, we returned to our room at the Delta for the last time. Can anyone find the hidden Bear?

We Finally Found the Dinosaurs!

The Royal Ontario Museum has world class collections of dinosaurs, minerals, and artifacts from ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and Japan. We spent most of Sunday exploring the treasures that the ROM had to offer. I miss the little round metal tags that the ROM used to issue as tickets; one was clipped to the visor of my college-era beater car for years.


Since our last visit in 1990, the ROM added more space with mildly less traditional architecture.






This bronze dragon topped a Chinese ceremonial bell and it was my favorite find of the morning.


Evidently, the Chinese were using magnetic compasses long before Europeans. Nearby was a set of Chinese movable type that appeared to significantly pre-date Gutenberg.



It was almost as if we'd flown all the way to Egypt and only burned 8 gallons of avgas to get there!


The Bear was caught red-handed admiring Greek pottery.


"Oh, this looks just like my closet at home," said no one ever.




We spent well over an hour in the mineral and gems area because The Bear is a rock hound and the ROM has some really high end rocks.



Copper from Michigan's upper peninsula.


The lobby of the ROM features a Futalognkosaurus, a 2007 discovery. The ROM's Futalognkosaurus is the first casting to be mounted anywhere in the world and is the largest dinosaur displayed in Canada.


A stegosaurus with thagomizer on prominent display.



We ended our visit with this guy: the T-Rex and his stubby widdle arms.

Island Departure

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
28 May 2017N21481CYTZ (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) - BUF (Buffalo, NY)0.61637.8

Porter knocked loose one of my cowl plugs while moving the airplane.

We returned to Billy Bishop Airport to find that the wind was howling. It nearly tore the cabin cover out of my hand when I loosened the straps.

Porter is not an inexpensive place to spend the night. They charge a $60 CDN overnight fee on top of the landing fee assessed by the Toronto Port Authority, which, incidentally is $20.91 CDN (including HST) for US-registered aircraft and $15 CDN for Canadian aircraft. I detect a bias! The bill arrived in the mail within three weeks of our visit.

With the engine running, I called City Ground for clearance.

"Cherokee November Two One Four Eight One is cleared to Buffalo Airport via [blah, blah, blah], oscar lima alpha mike oscar, squawk 6356."

I read back what I heard of the clearance, including the OLAMO intersection. The controller repeated the "blah, blah, blah" portion and corrected, "OLAMO, not ALAMO." Well, I actually had the intersection correct, but was still stuck on the first part of the clearance. When she repeated it again, I understood her to say: Island One Departure, runway 8. It was my first time being assigned a SID (standard instrument departure). On my third try, I was rewarded with "readback correct."

Smooth. I was clear and confident on the radio with City Ground the day before. Not so today.

Billy Bishop Airport has multiple SIDs and it appears that anyone flying out of there IFR is going to be assigned one. I studied the SID, which featured a steeper than normal ascent. Remember that smokestack we saw the day before? We would soon be flying directly at it. I programmed the route into the Garmin, thankful that I'd upgraded the database.

Ground kindly directed us to the preferred run up area for runway 8. She probably guessed that I was not familiar with the airport given my US tail number and my lack of familiarity with the SID. We stopped to run up the engine just shy of the runway hold short line and to the far right with enough space for Porter's turboprop commercial aircraft to pass by on their way to the runway. As during our arrival, the airport was quite busy.

Lined up on runway 8 Billy Bishop Airport. Photo by Kristy.

City Tower instructed me to "line up" on runway 8 (no "and wait") while the wake from a turboprop dissipated. On the take-off roll, we were instructed to contact Toronto Terminal on 133.4 once airborne. On with Terminal, we were given a series of vectors to guide us away from the airport before reaching the first waypoint on the SID.

I'm finally in one of the photos! Photo by Kristy.

Our last view of the CN Tower. Photo by Kristy.

The vectors took us significantly out across the lake. Toronto Terminal called to ask if we'd like to go direct to Buffalo, or turn west toward land. I accepted the direct route because we were already a third of the way across Lake Ontario as it was.

Photo by Kristy

We made "landfall" near the mouth of the Niagara River.


The United States side of Lake Ontario was significantly hazier and cloudier than Ontario had been and we logged a few minutes of IMC time bouncing in and out of cumulus before ATC cleared us to descend for the airport.

Bridge from mainland NY (top) to Grand Island (bottom)

Buffalo provided a series of vectors for a visual approach to runway 5, descending us over Grand Island on a southerly heading. Considering the past decade of east-west flights taken through this part of the world, our altitude and heading seemed disconcertingly low and orthogonal to normal operations.

Downtown Buffalo. Photo by Kristy,

Landing on runway 5 at Buffalo (airport #174). Photo by Kristy.

GPS ground track from Billy Bishop to Buffalo. Plotted by ForeFlight.

Runway 14-32 and a significant number of taxiways were closed at Buffalo. We taxied to Prior without incident and were directed to parking by a lineman. He called customs on our behalf and, a few minutes later, an officer appeared carrying equipment used to scan for radiation. She noted our CBP decal number, asked why we were in Canada, then requested our passports, my pilot certificate, my medical certificate, and Warrior 481's registration. Within minutes she told us that we were cleared and wished us a nice day.

We had done it! We had successfully (if inelegantly, at times) worked the process. Toronto was a test run for future flights to Canada. Next stop: Quebec!

(Unless the zoo strike ends, in which case The Bear will want a return to Toronto.)

Sign at Prior Aviation Service. Just in case we were lost.

At Prior, I paid the $5 landing fee and we all took a restroom break before the last leg of the trip.

Home

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 May 2017 N21481 BUF (Buffalo, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 1.1 1638.9

Passing the commercial terminal at Buffalo.

While holding short to cross runway 5 at Buffalo, a cluster of landing lights in the distance quickly resolved into a Southwest Airlines 737 that proceeded to plant itself on the runway directly in front of us in a cloud of smoke from the tires. Viewing the approach and landing nearly head-on, I found the rate at which the airliner closed the distance between us to be disorienting. The landing itself was an impressive thing to see from such a close vantage point and gave the impression of a massive amount of energy being dissipated.

We flew from Buffalo to Sodus VFR, avoiding some build-ups that were developing on the straight-line course by flying an intercept heading for the lake that gave us a smoother ride. Hope of a smooth landing disappeared when we flew within radio reception range of the Williamson-Sodus AWOS.

 "...Wind 150 at 9 gust 15...," it said. The AWOS usually reports low when the wind is from the south because it is partially blanked by trees surrounding the field and, indeed, the wind seemed stronger than advertised. I planted the upwind wheel on runway 10 with minimal fuss and we taxied back to our hangar.

Home! Why do I always make her stare into the sun for these return photos?

Review

Our first foray into international flying was a success and we logged a few firsts along the way:
  • First landing at a foreign airport.
  • First successful working of the system to depart and return to the United States.
  • First time (without an instructor) contacting Clearance Delivery over the phone for an IFR departure from a non-towered airport.
  • First Standard Instrument Departure (SID).
  • First time landing at Buffalo, which seemed odd after so many years of flying overhead and talking with Buffalo ATC.
Kristy and I have traveled to Toronto via tour bus as college students and train as graduate students. Now we can add private aircraft to the list. In all, it was a unique way to walk down memory lane.

GPS ground track from Buffalo to Sodus. Plotted by ForeFlight.

My Checklist

While preparing for this trip, I  assembled a checklist of activities and information needed for a successful flight. AOPA has a terrific page describing the necessary steps to fly to Canada, but there are other sources out there as well. Below is my checklist, assembled from multiple sources. All of the information below is included in the body of the blog post, but I present it here as a concise summary in hopes that it might be useful to others.


Paperwork Preparation
  • Passports: $110 / person
  • FCC Radio Station License ($170) and Restricted Radiotelephone Operators Permit ($65)
  • CBP decal ($27.50 annual user fee)  
  • Canadian Flight Supplement and necessary charts (alternatively, upgrade ForeFlight for Canadian charts, $100 annually)
  • Create eAPIS account
  • GPS database upgrades desired or necessary? For Jeppesen Navdata on the Garmin GNS-430W, the "East/Central US" subscription costs $360 annually. Canadian data are only available in the "Americas" package for $550 annually. Jeppesen will allow single cycle (one month) upgrades for $185, which is not worth the cost versus the $190 dollar cost for an annual upgrade.
  • Verify that aircraft insurance allows Canadian flight.
  • Verify cell service and credit card use in Canada with service providers.
Before Departure for Canada
  • Verify operational hours of customs at Canadian Airport of Entry.
  • File eAPIS departure manifest no less than 1 hour prior to departure. There is no limit in how long in advance these can be filed. Save confirmation email and verify that flight is cleared. See this guide to fill out APIS properly.
  • File ICAO compliant flight plan (IFR or VFR).
  • Notify Canadian customs at least two hours but no more than 48 hours prior to arrival: 1-888-226-7277 (1-888-CANPASS). ETA should be accurate to +/- 15 minutes (per the officer I spoke to).
Arrival in Canada
  • Do not leave aircraft until cleared to do so by Canadian customs.
  • If VFR, close flight plan with Canadian Flight Service (1-866-WXBRIEF).
  • Call Canadian Customs at 1-888-226-7277 (1-888-CANPASS) and record check-in number provided by officer. 
  • Use of Canadian ATC service will generate a quarterly user fee invoice from Nav Canada for $17.06 Canadian. These fees are not applied to overflights.
Before Departure to United States
  • Verify hours of customs at US Airport of Entry. It is best to pick an airport of entry close to the border to minimize variability in ETA with a full time customs office, if available. Buffalo is open 8:00 am to midnight seven days a week (716-632-4727).
  • File eAPIS arrival manifest no less than 1 hour prior to departure. Save confirmation email and verify that the flight is cleared. See this guide to help fill out APIS properly.
  • File ICAO compliant flight plan. 
  • Notify US customs at the intended office of arrival no less than one hour and no more than 23 hours prior to arrival. Provide officer with: citizenship, CBP decal number, number of crew and passengers, callback phone number, tail number, and ETA. The officer I spoke to advised an accuracy of +/- 30 minutes for ETA. The officer will verbally indicate that you are "cleared for landing".
Arrival in United States
  • Call customs on arrival. Prior Aviation Services in Buffalo did this for us. Do not leave aircraft until cleared by customs.
  • If VFR, close flight plan with US Flight Service (1-800-WXBRIEF).
  • The US customs officer wanted to see: passports, pilot certificate, medical certificate, aircraft registration. She had equipment to measure radioactivity with her.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Billy Bishop's Alternate Universe, Part 1

Objectives

On approach, a mighty North American city slowly materialized from the haze. The roots of its steel and concrete structures were set deep in the Earth along the western edge of a Great Lake. Our destination was a small island off the waterfront, home to a bustling airport.

At first blush, one might wonder if this tale occurred prior to March 2003, before Chicago's Mayor Daley ordered the wanton and illegal destruction of Merrill C. Meigs Airport. Or perhaps the inbound aircraft flew in an alternate universe where the headstrong Chicago mayor failed in his efforts to ruin a jewel of a downtown airport.

Photo by Kristy

The simpler answer is that we were in Ontario, Canada and about to land at Billy Bishop City Centre Airport (CYTZ) in Toronto. In this case, maybe the alternate universe hypothesis is not so far off, after all. I often think of Toronto as an alternate universe version of Chicago: cleaner, friendlier, and still blessed with an amazing waterfront airport.

Like many pilots who grew up on Flight Simulator by subLOGIC / Microsoft, I had dreams of flying to Meigs Field, the default starting point in the software. Those dreams were rendered moot within six months of earning my pilot certificate when the airport was destroyed. As a result, I have wanted to fly into Billy Bishop Airport since the moment I first learned of its existence. As an added incentive, Toronto is a special place for me and Kristy. We started dating after a 1990 class trip to Toronto. Our last visit there was in 1995, so we are overdue for a return.

We have been flying through Canadian airspace between Buffalo and Detroit routinely for eleven years and might have landed in Canada sooner were it not for a single hurdle: a bureaucratic customs process enforced by officers packing sidearms, the kind of stuff that makes me nervous. Nonetheless, I decided that 2017 would be the year we landed in Canada and I set about understanding the process one bit at a time.

Preparation, Bureaucracy, and Dollars

If those seeking to hitchhike the galaxy are advised to bring their towels, private flyers seeking to land in another country would best bring their wallets.

In preparation for this flight, we needed:
  • Passports. Mine and Kristy's expired late in 2016, though The Bear's was still current. New passports were $110 apiece. This is money that would have been spent anyway.
  • Aircraft Insurance that covered flight into Canada. Check.
  • A Radio Station License for the airplane and a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit for me. Remember when the AROW mnemonic describing the paperwork required to be on board the aircraft was actually spelled correctly with two Rs? Though these radio licenses are no longer needed when flying domestically, the FCC still requires them them for flying outside US borders. I bought both in 2006 when we first started flying through Canadian airspace, but the aircraft Radio Station License expires every ten years and mine did so on schedule in 2016. A new license cost $170. My operator's permit was still valid because they never expire (until the pilot does); an additional $65 that I did not have to spend this time around. Honestly, I struggle with these FCC requirements. By most accounts, no one ever asks to see these two documents. I cannot fathom why the FCC needs to charge me for operating my radio in another country's airspace, but hey, I'm a rule follower.
  • CBP decal from the DTOPS (Decal and Transponder Online Procurement System) website. Decals cost $27.50 annually and are used to pay United States customs user fees. They are affixed to the exterior of the airplane within 18 inches of the egress door and must be visible when the door is open. My sticker was delivered within two weeks of ordering.
  • An  eAPIS (Electronic Advance Passenger Information System) account for filing crew and passenger manifests for flights departing and returning to the United States.
Canadian VNC (VFR Navigation Chart) showing Billy Bishop Airport. An alternate universe version of a sectional chart, but still easily interpreted by US pilots.
  • Canadian charts. Individual documents can be purchased from NavCanada. Alternatively, ForeFlight offers an annual Canadian subscription for $100. Because we are planning another trip to Canada later in the summer, it was more cost effective for me to upgrade ForeFlight than buy all the individual documents needed for both trips.
Instrument approach procedure for LOC-26 at Billy Bishop

  • GPS database upgrades did not occur to me right away because I have used my Garmin GNS-430W in Ontario many times. When I investigated more carefully, however, I found that the only Canadian waypoints in my Jeppesen East/Central US database subscription were those that defined United States airways crossing southern Ontario (i.e., the ones I had been using along Victor 2). Furthermore, when I reviewed the instrument approach procedures for Billy Bishop Airport, I saw that the ILS/LOC approaches required DME, which I do not possess. Thus, I would need the GPS to fly any approaches into Billy Bishop. While ForeFlight would have sufficed for VFR navigation into Canada, it would not be adequate for IFR flight. In order to get Canadian data from Jeppesen, users need the Americas package ($550 annually), which contains all of North and South America. A single cycle subscription can be purchased for $185, but that's within $5 of the cost differential with the annual East/Central US subscription. I upgraded my subscription and paid the difference after thinking about it for a few days, trying and failing to devise a less costly work-around (other than sticking to VFR flight).
  • Finally, I checked to make sure that my cell phone and credit cards would work in Ontario.
Planning

We chose May 27-28 for our trip about a month in advance and booked a room at the Delta Toronto Hotel, a high rise glass-encased tower near the waterfront. The room could be cancelled as late as the night before if weather was not going to permit a flight. Forecasts fluctuated in the days leading up to the trip and, as late as the evening prior, I was certain that an instrument approach would be necessary to get us into Billy Bishop Airport.

The plan.

A direct route from Sodus to Toronto would have saved time, but I wanted to reduce our over-water exposure and opted to stay over the south shore of Lake Ontario for most of the flight, then cut across the narrow western end of the lake. This route seemed a fair compromise and, though there were a few minutes that would be spent beyond gliding distance of shore, the amount of time was minimal.

Preflight

On the morning of the flight, Sodus was low IFR in fog. We planned a 9:15 departure with a 10:30 arrival in Canada both to avoid rushing around that morning (and making mistakes while working the bureaucracy) and to allow the fog to burn off.

In addition to the usual pre-flight activities, several additional steps were necessary before undertaking the flight:
  • I filed an IFR flight plan via ForeFlight the night before. Saturday morning's weather necessitated an IFR flight plan, but I would have filed IFR regardless. By filing IFR, we were guaranteed to have the squawk, active flight plan, and two-way radio contact with ATC required for border crossing.
  • I filed our departure eAPIS manifest. An excellent user guide to APIS can be found here and I recommend reading it. eAPIS needs to be submitted no less than one hour prior to departure. Although there is no limit to how long in advance the manifest can be submitted, it makes sense to wait until the flight details (e.g., ETA, time and place of border crossing, etc.) are set. After submission, I received an email indicating that "the travelers identified within this manifest are cleared for this flight." This email should be saved and available to the pilot; I had it on my iPad.
  • I contacted Canadian customs via their telephone reporting system (1-888-226-7277 /1-888-CANPASS). This call must be placed no less than two hours and no more than 48 hours prior to arrival. The Canadian customs officer asked for information on crew and passengers, including citizenship, passport numbers, and their expiration dates. He indicated that our estimated time of arrival needed to be accurate within 15 minutes.
  • The first landing in Canada must be at a Canadian Airport of Entry. It is also important to arrive at the destination airport while the customs office is actually open. Billy Bishop's customs office is open seven days a week, 8:00 am to midnight, but operating hours vary by facility.

"Oh My Gaaawd, Jimmy!"

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
27 May 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - CYTZ (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) 1.0 1637.2


We launched into a 1100' overcast after receiving our IFR clearance ("cleared as filed") over the phone. It was the first time I had received a ground clearance by phone since training for my instrument rating. My instrument scan was a little sloppy on the climb-out, but quickly tightened up as I settled in to flying in the murk.


After climbing through the initial cloud layer over Sodus, we flew between layers for a few minutes before entering the clouds for much of the flight along the Lake Ontario shore. Roughly 70% of our one hour flight was in solid IMC. I had been looking forward to the sight of the Toronto skyline on approach and began to wonder how much of the waterfront we would actually see on arrival. Still, it felt great to get actual IMC time again with impunity. Low clouds and concerns about icing had already led me to cancel three flights during the relatively cold spring of 2017.

As usual, I monitored Guard on 121.5 MHz. During this time, we were treated to several loud outbursts addressed to someone named Jimmy and a couple of audio samples of Chewbacca growling, the latter of which is evidently a thing now. The Bear was amused and the adults were unimpressed.


I was already familiar with a lot of Canadian ATC phraseology differences: "radar identified" instead of "radar contact", "decimal" instead of "point" when providing frequencies, and radar facilities described as 'Terminal" rather than "Approach". For example, "Cherokee Four Eight One, radar identified, contact Toronto Terminal on one three three decimal four." After years of talking to Canadian controllers, I felt right at home when Buffalo transferred me to Toronto Center.

Going feet wet just east of the Niagara River

Toronto Center offered to turn us direct to City Centre (as ATC refers to Billy Bishop Airport) just east of the Niagara River and HWYYN intersection (wasn't that a horse in the Chronicles of Narnia?). This was a slight alteration from my filed route, but I decided that the additional time over water would be insignificant.

While planning, I considered the scenario of a missed approach at Billy Bishop if the weather was below minimums for the available instrument approaches. After all, customs was expecting us at Billy Bishop at 10:30 am and flying into an alternate Canadian airport would not do. We carried 5.5 hours of fuel on board, so I filed Rochester and Sodus as alternates. If we could not get into Billy Bishop that morning, we would simply return home. Without a landing on Canadian soil, we would not need to clear customs to re-enter the United States.

Take Off for the Great White North

Before going feet wet over Lake Ontario, I checked Billy Bishop's ATIS: 9 mile visibility, ceiling at 5500 feet, visual approach runway 26 in use. My concerns about the weather being too low for landing vanished.


As we crossed the lake, Toronto emerged from the gloom, a broken layer hovering above as advertised by the ATIS.


Billy Bishop Airport was busy that morning. We were number four to land and vectored for a visual approach with a six mile final. According to the airport website, Billy Bishop is the 9th busiest airport in Canada.

Photo by Kristy

As we passed this tall smoke stack in the departure corridor for runway 8, it was obvious why departures from that runway required a higher than standard climb rate. We would find ourselves climbing directly toward it the very next day.

Photo by Kristy

The city finally emerged from the haze, popping into clear focus as we paralleled the shoreline on a long final approach for runway 26.

Photo by Kristy

Photo by Kristy

Photo by Kristy

Photo by Kristy

Photo by Kristy

Photo by Kristy

I can say without hyperbole that I greased Warrior 481 onto our first foreign runway.

Photo by Kristy

Airport diagram, Billy Bishop Airport

We slowed to a stop, exited on taxiway Foxtrot, and held short for conflicting traffic (a Porter twin turboprop and a Cessna) before taxiing straight ahead to the Porter ramp where we shut down and called Canadian customs via the CANPASS telephone number.


Crews and passengers of arriving aircraft are required to remain within their airplanes until cleared by customs. We had a brief moment of panic when our cell phones could not find signal, but they eventually woke up and locked on. I had a brief discussion with Canadian customs during which time I was issued a confirmation number and cleared onto Canadian soil. No one personally came to the airplane and, from my research, this appears to be very common for Canadian customs.

GPS ground track from Sodus to Toronto plotted by ForeFlight.

We had succeeded! No ATC deviations or international incidents!

Back To Where It All Began





The mainland is reachable from the island airport either by ferry or a tunnel that runs under Lake Ontario. We took the tunnel and, suddenly, Kristy and I found ourselves back in Toronto, the city we'd first visited as college Freshmen years before. Much to The Bear's consternation, the old private jokes began zipping back and forth. Our college friends would have found it hilarious. The Bear did not.

Any rock can be Pride Rock, even if it's in Toronto's Music Garden

The Old Bear and the Sea ("old" and "sea" are not exact terms)





We reached the Delta Toronto Hotel after a brisk walk along the waterfront. Our room was spacious, modern, and well-appointed. As The Bear was quick to note, it was the exact opposite of the last hotel room we had in New York City. She is a worldly Bear, after all.

Are Alex or Geddy Home?

Toronto is a vibrant city with a lot to see and do. Unfortunately, The Bear's numero uno pick for family activity was the Toronto Zoo, which we discovered to be closed indefinitely owing to a strike. There were many tears over this, but we carried on nonetheless.


The CN Tower, Toronto's most unmistakable landmark, was next to our hotel. At 1815 feet high, it was world's tallest free-standing structure when completed in 1976 and retained that distinction until 2010. In 1995, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World along with the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal.


In fact, the tower is so massive and distinctive, it is practically visible everywhere one looks.


The observation deck provides a grand view of the city.


While maybe providing effective mitigation against the extremely clumsy or suicidal, this screen did little to enhance the view. The last time I stood on the outdoor observation platform was on a cold, February night in 1990 while the wind howled and the footing was treacherous on the icy deck.


The Sheraton Centre, where Kristy and I stayed with our classmates on that fateful college trip, was the site of the infamous "wicked butter" incident. The hotel was close to Yonge Street where my friends and I explored multiple record stores, including the iconic flagship store of Sam the Record Man. The store was visible from blocks away because of a massive facade featuring two vinyl discs rendered in flashing neon.





"Vertigo: a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated particularly with looking down from a great height..." (citation: Google). 

The glass floor was installed in 1994. 

Egad.


The CN Tower also afforded a great view of Billy Bishop City Center Airport.




To my surprise, my photos from the CN Tower caught Porter in the act of repositioning Warrior 481. I inspected the nose wheel fairing carefully the next day. There were no scuffs, so Porter gets high marks from me for their handling of my airplane.

Photo by Kristy

"Where are the dinosaurs?" Kristy set up The Bear to mock me and my friends for mistaking Toronto's Parliament Building for the Royal Ontario Museum and bursting into the quiet facility demanding to know where the dinosaurs were.

We probably reinforced some people's stereotypes of Americans being loud and crass that day.

Photo by Kristy

Eaton Centre was the biggest mall I'd ever seen in 1990. It probably still is. It was just so...vertical.

Photo by Kristy

Dinner was at The Loose Moose, a popular local pub around the corner from our hotel and one that we discovered years ago as college students. We ended the evening with a swim in the Delta Toronto's fourth floor pool. Windows on two and a half sides showed the cityscape around us, dominated by the massive pylon supporting the CN Tower. The Bear was in little swimmer heaven.