St Petersburg and Baltic Explorer Cruise Update #4 (written after returning home).
At the end of Update 4 (sent just over two weeks ago) the ship was about midway down the North Sea heading towards the eastern entrance to the English Channel. That occurred sometime around midnight last night. Around 5:30 PM I did the online check in for the flight home tomorrow.
One of the things that always happens the night before arrival is that the luggage has to be put out before 11:00 PM. Even though I know this and have done it many times before on previous cruises I still find this last night a bit strange. I cannot explain it but I still find it odd. This usually means I do not sleep very well on this last night which occurred this time as well. The weather had been showing signs of getting a bit more exciting but was not predicted to be too exciting. I looked out at one point (I think it was around 3:00 AM) and the sea was churning wildly apparently from the fact that the wind was blowing rather strongly. We found out later in the morning on the coach ride to Heathrow Airport that Southampton has experienced 60 to 65 mile per hour gales during the night. That is around a 100 kilometre per hour gale for you metric types out there.
The approach to Southampton (and for that matter the departure as well) is about a four hour long process which takes one past the Isle of Wight and then through what are often interchangeably called Southampton Water or the Solent. Once one gets to these sheltered seas then things settle down and by the time one got up things had settled down considerably.
In this somewhat out
of focus image you can somewhat see the route to and from Southampton harbour.
The red circle with the arrow in it is the ship at its dock with the bow pointing in the direction the arrow shows.
The white line shows the ships route both departing from and returning to Southampton.
We were followed into the port by the Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship the Queen Victoria which was also here when we departed. We had been in the Baltic; it had been in the Mediterranean and had probably seen much warmer weather than we had. A number of the passengers from his ship were transferring to it for a cruise to the Adriatic Sea area. The Queen Elizabeth was also heading to that area and some passengers were staying on for that as well.
Arrival was scheduled for 7:00. Both ships were there but due to the orientation of the pier that the Queen Elizabeth was to dock at, it had some difficulty actually getting tied up. The use of a tugboat was required to assist which is quite unusual for most of these dockings. The Queen Victoria on the other hand did not really have too much trouble due to the different direction the pier at the Queen Elizabeth II passenger terminal was oriented in. That passenger terminal was the one that I either departed from or arrived at during all of my transatlantic crossings that I had done in the past. The one we were at is called the Ocean Terminal and was a reasonably recent addition to the Port of Southampton.
This picture, which was taken while waiting for departure two weeks ago, shows the Queen Victoria sailing past the Queen Elizabeth II terminal (grey building at the far left centre) where it docked on its return this day facing the same way as the Canadian warship (a supply vessel of some sort) in the centre of this picture.
The ship was finally in place and tied up by about 7:20 and then the disembarkation festivities could get underway. It takes them about an hour to get enough of the luggage off the ship so that they can start letting the passengers off. They estimated that the group I was in (Red 6) would be called to depart around 8:30 and it was just a bit after that. Cunard does not seem to like using the ship’s P.A. system. Everyone had to go to their designated public room (in my case the Queens Room) to be called off. This is quite a bit different than Holland America’s process. That was one of the unusual things about this entire cruise; the P.A. system was used so rarely that one wondered if it was even working most of the time. When they did use it, it was usually the captain making his almost daily announcement and that was only for 5 minutes. However I digress, so back to the disembarkation.
So, off the ship I go for the last time and down the long ramp and corridor to the large room where all the luggage has been laid out by the colour and group number. Red 6 was not a very large group (about 30 or so I think) and this group were all the people going to Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. There were several other Red groups going to other terminals at Heathrow and one terminal at Gatwick airport. With the small group it was not very hard to locate my luggage and head out through Customs and out to the coach park. For some reason I always have trouble finding the paper sign stuck on the coach telling you which one is which. It seems to be in an unusual spot to me. I eventually found the right one and boarded the coach for the trip to Heathrow. This is such a busy day that there is not much time to take pictures, so there were none taken during this process.
There is an interesting story to tell at this point. There was a husband and wife who live somewhere near here (I think it was one of the suburbs near Hamilton) who were on the coach to Heathrow. They were on the same flight home as I was. They had a friend who lived in the Yorkshire area of England (a ways north of London) who had travelled by bus to Southampton to meet them. They did not know he was coming and he did this not knowing whether or not he would even get to see his friends. This would have been approximately a four or five hour overnight trip by coach. This gentleman was no spring chicken either. I think he was likely in his 70’s or early 80’s. He was waiting at the exit of the Ocean Terminal and they saw each other at about the same time and could not believe their eyes. These people negotiated with the coach driver and he agreed to take him along with us to Heathrow. I gathered that a substantial tip was paid to the driver on the coaches’ arrival at Heathrow. Since there was the 6 hour wait at the airport they had a very long chat with him before they had to depart for home. The gentleman had to catch a coach home to Yorkshire from London shortly after 10:00 this night. These are some of the interesting stories that come to life when you are traveling.
The coach left Southampton at about 9:15 and arrived at terminal 5 between 10:15 and 10:30 for a flight that left at 4:20 PM. The weather was cloudy and cool with a few sprinkles of rain. It was probably the coolest weather encountered on the entire trip. The baggage drop for the flight did not open until three hours before departure or 1:20 PM. That left me with a couple of hours to spare carting the suitcase around. Here are a few pictures taken with my small point and shoot digital camera of the main departures area of Terminal 5. The big camera is packed away in its backpack at this point and is too awkward to get out to take just a few pictures in this situation.
The only two airlines that use Terminal 5 are British Airways and the Spanish airline Iberia which are both owned by the same company. The last word that is partly covered by the sign is “home”.
This is the Departure
check in area before security.
The large pylons with the letters on them indicate certain check in areas assigned to various flights.
At approximately 1:30 I dropped the suitcase off at the Bag Drop check in area and then was able to go through security. Security is interesting in Terminal 5 as it is only three or four years old. They have automated gates that scan your boarding pass just to let you into the security area. Once in you see one of the largest collections of security screening equipment I have ever seen in one place. It was fairly normal as far as the screening process goes but they have developed an interesting way to handle the plastic trays that you put your valuables and coats in to be x-rayed. It is a two level system where when you get to it you take a tray off the bottom, and move it up to the top level, put your items in it or them, and then send it through the machine. At the other end there is a very long run out to allow many people to collect their belongings and at the very end is a person who operates an automated system to move the empty trays down to the lower level and send it back up to the other end going under the x-ray machine so more people can fill them up again. I have never seen anything quite like this before and assuming it works well, which it appeared to, it seems to be rather efficient. I bet that there were a whole lot of problems with this machinery when it was first installed though. Many people remember the major issues they had with the baggage sorting system in this terminal when it first opened. There were no such problems this day.
Once through security, with which there were no problems and great efficiency, there was still a lot of time to look around. There is a massive shopping complex on the secure side of Terminal 5. I should probably note here that Terminal 5 consists of three fairly large buildings, the main terminal and two islands labeled T5A (the main terminal building), with T5B, and T5C being the two islands. Here is another picture.
This shows the general construction of the terminal. There are many of these holding the roof up.
The gate my flight was at was B48 which put it in T5B or the middle of the three buildings. When I arrived from Toronto two weeks ago I came in through T5C. To get to T5B you take a short automated train ride from T5A to T5B. It takes about a minute or so. The train is very deep below ground and you go a long way down to get to it and needless to say a long way back up when you arrive. So I took the very long escalator a long way down, then the train the short distance, and then another very long escalator back up in T5B and went to find the gate. The gate was as far out to the north end of the terminal as one could go. There was more waiting and I took a couple more pictures.
These two pictures
merged together were taken from T5A looking at T5B.
The gate for my flight was at the far left of this picture on the far side as gates go all around both T5B and C.
You can just make out the plane if you look just above the T5A building just left of centre and just a bit farther left in the gap between two planes on this side of T5B you can barely see it.
This is T5A from T5B. The two picture merge above was taken from the far left side of T5A as seen here.
This is T5C from T5B
with the main control tower for Heathrow in the left background.
Three of Heathrow’s other four terminals are also located in that area and are under major renovation at present.
Here are some different but similar structural elements holding up the roof on the departure level of T5B.
These two pictures
show what is probably the longest walk I have had to take to get to a plane,
after entering the gate.
A person going on this flight, as I was, had to walk along the glass corridor that can be seen in the foreground here.
In this closer
picture you can see where the glass corridor ends and you continue in a more
common Jetway style corridor farther out then make a
right turn to get to that island in the centre of the picture. On the far side
of that island is the normal connection to the plane which cannot be seen in
It is a long walk carrying something like a fairly heavy backpack like I was.
This was the last picture taken on the trip.
Just before they started boarding my flight there was some sort of incident at one of the nearby gates. Some woman was yelling at the top of her lungs about something. I am not really sure but I think she was not allowed to board her flight for some reason. With the way it sounded she may have been somewhat inebriated.
Finally, at 4:00, some five and a half hours after arriving at Heathrow the flight was boarding. Things went well and things were all ready to go only about 4:25 when the plane pushed away from the gate. For most takeoffs at Heathrow Terminal 5 is at the wrong end of the runways so there is some major taxiing time required to get to takeoff position. So just before 5:00 the 747-400 rumbled down the runway and took off heading west.
The route continued following basically a straight line heading west or perhaps slightly northwest then turning slightly to the south and passing just south of Cork, Ireland around 5:35 PM and then heading out over the North Atlantic. My notes say that at about 7:30 (BST) or about 2:30 EDT the flight was approximately half way between Ireland and Newfoundland.
Here is a quote from what I wrote at the time. “About an hour ago we passed an Air Canada jet flying a couple of thousand feet above us on our right which I think took off a couple of planes ahead of us. The plane climbed to 34,000 feet and then went up 2000 feet more just off the coast. There have been several course corrections to the right along the way. Speed is approximately 525 mph with a 40 mph headwind. Temp outside is -67F.”
Another quote: “It is now 9:20 BST or 4:20 EDT and we are just crossing the coast of Newfoundland just north of St John's. We have just made the necessary adjustments for entering Canadian airspace. There is now 2:45 to go. It is cloudy, what else. The plane is at 38,000 feet and going 560 mph.”
The flight across Newfoundland was quite bumpy. If took about half an hour to cross Newfoundland. Things settled down once over the Gulf of St. Lawrence where the flight turned slightly towards the south and crossed the Gulf in a southwesterly direction. After leaving Newfoundland things cleared up and there was a beautiful (though slightly hazy) view of the Gulf. The next land that could be seen was a beautiful view of the western end of Prince Edward Island and about half way across it looking east. The western end has the island's signature red soil and a large number of wind turbines turning briskly in the wind blowing off the Gulf. It was quite a view from 38,000 feet.
The flight then crossed over the Gulf coast of New Brunswick and headed inland. It continued across New Brunswick, caught the northeast corner of the state of Maine and then into the Eastern Townships of Quebec passing to the east of Quebec City. The flight then passed well south of Quebec City. It next crossed the St. Lawrence River between Quebec and Montreal and passed north of Montreal heading for Ottawa following the normal route that these flights take to get to Toronto. Sometime around this time (or perhaps a bit earlier) we picked up a nasty headwind that slowed the planes speed down to about 460 mph from the over 560 it had been doing most of the way across the Atlantic. Things also got somewhat bumpier at this point as well. The moving map info indicated a headwind of around 125 mph at this point.
It had been cloudy from about central New Brunswick to just northwest of Montreal where it cleared up. Ottawa was clearly visible and it was appropriately bumpy flying just to the east of it with all the political hot air that is in this city. I could also make out Kanata where a friend of mine lives. Just before this a light snack (some sandwiches that did not appeal to me) were served and the plane made a slight southerly turn to line us up with an almost straight line to Toronto, now about 45 minutes away.
Things were running a bit behind at the airport when we finally arrived in the Toronto area so we had to fly around a bit, basically to the north and east of the airport. We finally started our approach to the front runway (the one closest to highway 401) at about 7:05 and in a good but unusually unstable approach (which turned out to be a crosswind approach) landed at about 7:13. The plane taxied to Terminal 3 which took about 10 minutes and we were finally able to disembark. We had been warned that Canadian Border Services would be doing passport checks at the gate so to have them ready. They did their check and there were no problems with me, although they were looking quite closely at a few people who disembarked before me.
As always seems to be the case the walk to get to passport control was a long one with a brief stop at a washroom along the way. One has to go quite a long way to get to a washroom in Terminal 3; it is much closer in Terminal 1. There was only a short (by short I mean less that 10 minute wait) at passport control and was passed through without any issues. The wait for the baggage was somewhat longer (maybe another 10 to 15 minutes) for mine to appear. I think that there were still half the people that had been on the plane waiting for their luggage when mine came out which was interesting considering that my bag would have been one of the first ones checked in London. I was not complaining though.
I passed through the final customs check without any problem and was at the Ground Transportation Desk by 7:50 I think it was. The Airlink pickup occurred about 10 minutes later and the departure from the airport was just after 8:00. The trip home was quick and uneventful arriving home between 9:05 and 9:10.
Thus endith this trip and a very nice one it was at that.