Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

My Photo
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Exciting Saskatchewan
(Part 1)

Last week’s work began with two interesting but enervating days in Illinois, both cold. Tuesday found me in downstate Illinois in whiteout snow conditions as I drove from Chicago to Springfield to Danville and back to Chicago. Altogether I put over 740 miles on my Hertz rental car in 40 hours before spending Tuesday night at the Hilton O’Hare Hotel.

Exhausted from long days in deplorable weather conditions, I checked in for a short 7 hours at the Hilton O’Hare. Riding up in the elevator, I pondered the odd circumstances that usually lead me to book in at the O’Hare Hilton: delayed or cancelled flights.

In this case, I’d chosen the property because I had a very early flight the following morning. The O’Hare Hilton is simply the most convenient hotel at the airport. One’s flight is a short walk across the street (unless you are aiming for the International Terminal).

Looking down from my luxurious top floor room, I reflected that I’ve never had time to take in and appreciate the virtues of the place. The O’Hare Hilton maintains high standards of management and service in spite of the teeming hordes that cycle through its rooms. Its facilities are first rate; all my stays have consistently been pleasant and relaxing, albeit brief. Maybe I can sojourn there for a future business week and get a proper feel for the place. Despite the brevity of my visit last week, I slept well and enjoyed the tranquility and quiet of my room.

Early Wednesday morning I boarded my Northwest flight to the Twin Cities for a connection on to Regina (YQR), Saskatchewan. NW honored my Continental Platinum status and kindly upgraded me on all four legs to and from Canada, despite its being, technically, an international itinerary. My flight in first to MSP was therefore very comfortable.

The NW flight MSP to Regina was aboard one of the new Embraer 175, an RJ on steroids. Entering the first class cabin, I was surprised to find the plane was fitted with either 15 or 18 F seats (I didn't make a special note) configured 1-2 (one seat on the port side, 2 seats on the starboard side). In coach, it was 2-2.

The surprisingly roomy first class cabin sported large overhead bins on the starboard side (I could turn my bag the long way with ease), but tiny bins on the port side fit only for coats (not even a small laptop bag could be accommodated—I saw several people try). The same overhead bins were installed in coach,, but a little smaller on the starboard side and a little bigger on the port side.

The Embraer 175 had large, very comfortable F seats. Once airborne, NW flight attendants provided great service, too, with cinnamon pita chips, pistachio deluxe nut mix, and other delicious snacks. It wasn’t a meal, but it was appreciated, especially compared to what AA offers in first (a pretzel mix).

I was oddly excited to look out my “A” seat window as we glided in for landing to get a good look at Regina, Saskatchewan’s provincial capital. I’d never been to Saskatchewan in my life, despite trips to most other Canadian provinces. What would it look like?

It looked damn cold and barren out there, a bleak landscape of flat terrain covered with ice, snow, and the odd manmade feature—the latter spaced far apart. At first I wondered if we were in the wrong place. Where was Regina? Surely it would be a sizable burg visible in the crystal-clear sunshine reflecting with blinding intensity off the frozen snow.

Then the plane gently banked, and Regina hove into view. My initial impression was a flashback to one of the Star Wars movies where Han Solo is landing on an alien sphere with a city sticking up in the middle of nothingness. Regina indeed looks out of place. It’s as if a perfectly civilized and leafy Ohio small town had been uprooted, trees and all, and plunked down on the face of the moon.

The city looks mostly square from the air, and it is defined by its many trees and buildings, all feigning well-mannered normality. However, where the trees abruptly end (and they do end abruptly), the Great Plains of the north fan out forever in all directions beckoning the harsh, deep cold of severe Siberian fronts to rush over the flat land, with winds whipping and howling, and with snow blowing, enveloping everything in white.

These images came and went quickly as the plane hit the runway and taxied to its gate. We were warned it was quite cold out, and indeed it was: below zero near noon. The sun was brilliant, blazing off the snow, and it made for an odd juxtaposition with the penetrating chill.

Hertz gave me a Toyota Matrix, a small car I’d never heard of, though I’d reserved a full-size four-door. At first I was peeved, but the little car soon pleased me. The Matrix was fun to drive, peppy, managed excellent gas mileage, was quite warm (an essential feature), and, importantly, started right up the next morning in 30-below-zero temperatures. (Of course it did take 30 minutes before any heat was felt in the Matrix’s passenger compartment the following morning, but I waited out the slow warm-up in my room.)

Despite my instinctive aversion to very cold environments, I was immediately rewarded with the warmth of the Canadian people from the moment I stepped off the airplane. The Canadians are a great society, and I enjoy all my visits to their beautiful country. Everybody at the airport was nice, and that experience continued without fail with every person I encountered, even including the total luggage-and-personal search I endured when I checked in the next day for my return flight to the United States.

I set off east along Canadian Highway 1 in my Toyota Matrix to drive two and a half hours to tiny Rocanville. Next week I’ll complete this tale, and here’s a preview of my overall impression: Saskatchewan is a hidden jewel of a place, with wonderful people who still know what it means to be neighbors, beautiful wild countryside with nature still mostly intact, and the province is on fire with opportunities for its people.

Safe travels home to your family.


Blogger Bill said...

I wonder if you can still get a Weibe Burger at the Weibe Family restaurant in Rocanville.

I worked near there many years ago for a month or two. It wasn't winter though:)

Try and eat at a good steakhouse before you go..Saskatchewan has some very good beef.

3/16/2008 6:50 PM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

Did have a good protein meal at a local eatery, but I had the misfortune to be sitting adjacent to the large picture window and froze while trying to maintain a smile and enjoy the meal. This was the 30-below evening.

3/16/2008 7:57 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

It is cold and there's not an easy way to get around that - especially if you are not used to it. Please be careful - you might think other drivers are so used to driving in the winter, but some of them are not. See if you can go underground in the mine, it is clean and very interesting. Potash mining is far different from coal...and I think Saskatchewan has about 40% of the world's potash.
I believe what are the two biggest uranium mines in the world are in Northern Saskatchewan too. I believe the French get a lot of their uranium from Saskatchewan.

I'm sure the locals will help you out with whatever you need, just like North Carolinans are helpful to visitors in their state.

See if you can go to a local hockey game - you might find it quite interesting.

Best regards,


3/16/2008 10:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home