20 August 2013

Ashes to Ashes

One of the reasons that we had paused in Namur was to be within an easy commute to Brussels International Airport. My parents ashes still needed to be scattered and my extended family had agreed to come together on 18 August at Mom and Dad's former home at Shediac Cape, New Brunswick, Canada.

We booked flights departing Brussels at 1020 Thursday morning the 15th to Montreal with a comfortable two and a half hour connection for the flight to Moncton. Mid-morning on Wednesday we left Zonder Zorg and walked across the park to where we had been told was the local bus stop. We were busing rather than cycling so that we could check the bus schedule and time the trip. According to the schedule, the first bus on weekday mornings is at 0531 and the next one an hour later. The bus took 27 minutes to get us to the station.

At the station we bought return tickets to Brussels with transfers to the train to the airport for €10.40 each. The 0621 train was scheduled to get us to the airport at 0737, comfortably in advance of the required two hours prior to check-in. An incidental comment by the agent after we had bought the tickets mentioned that Thursday was "un jour férié". I asked him what the holiday marked, and he didn't know; there are twenty national holidays each year, and they are hard to keep track of.

Fortunately, I had remembered there were different bus schedules on holidays and rechecked Namur's. The first bus Thursday morning was 0701, and too late for us. We had the capitainerie book a taxi for us at 0545. Thursday morning the taxi quickly took us to the train station for a trip to Brussels, where we transferred to the train to the airport. We had stand-by seats from Brussels to Montreal and confirmed seats from Montreal to Moncton.

When our seats were confirmed, we were given the bulkhead seats at the very front of economy; normally our standby seats are in the last or second last row. We took off on schedule from Brussels, looking forward to an easy two and a half hour connection in Montreal, which in our experience is the worst airport in North America for incoming international transfers. Unfortunately; half an hour into the flight a young fellow two rows back from us had what appeared to be a heart attack. He was examined by a doctor on the flight and the decision was made to turn back to Brussels. We did a very heavy landing because of the near-full fuel load. An emergency medical team came aboard, set-up IV and stabilized the patient. After about half an hour he was evacuated, and with him went a large entourage of fellow countrymen. We spent almost two hours on the ground as they cooled the hot brakes and searched for and removed all the luggage of the patient and the deserters.

We finally took off again after we had watched our connection time dwindle to 35 minutes. The plane bucked strong headwinds across the Atlantic, and by the time we landed in Montreal, we were down to 21 minutes to de-plane, clear Customs and head back through security to the gate, which is impossible with Montreal's convoluted international arrivals system. Nonetheless, the sooner we deplaned, the more quickly we could re-book seats to Moncton. Fortunately, for the first time in years our seats were near the front, and we would be among the first off. Unfortunately when we landed, all the international gates were occupied and we had to disembark through the rear of the plane into elevator busses for the shuttle to Customs. Now we were near the rear of the line, with only first class behind us. As we were in the shuttle, the scheduled time of our departure came and went. We did manage to get confirmed seats on the 2130 flight, which was scheduled to arrive in Moncton at 2359.

Online I amended our arrival time with Hertz and told the B&B that we would be well after their 2300 check-in deadline and received late arrival instructions. We fell into bed in Moncton twenty-six hours and five timezones after we he had gotten out of bed in Namur.

After family visits on Friday and Saturday, on Sunday we all drove to Cape Enrage on the Fundy shore, thinking to scatter some ashes in the family's favourite picnic spot from the 1940s onward. For decades we had been the only people there; we rarely saw another car along the gravel road. Now there is a paved road and a parking lot and the place was overrun with tourists. The tide was about midway out, nine metres down and another nine metres to go and there was a howling offshore wind. Our protected nook in the cliffs was occupied by a large group. Opening the urns of ashes in the gale made no sense; they would have blown well inland across the marshes, as well as into the tourists eyes. We decided to head back to the family home.

The caterer had nearly completed the layout of the typical down-home buffet when we returned, so we decided to postpone the ashes ceremonies until we had gorged ourselves.

In the early twilight, after we had grazed and re-grazed the buffet, we strolled around the homestead scattering ashes in favourite places, like the site of Mom's old antique shop, her Scarlet Pippin apple tree, Dad's Azaleas, the shovel against the tree where he had left it when he finally finished gardening at age 98, and so on. As we did this we laughed and joked over memories of a wonderful couple who meant so much to all of us and to so many others.

We were up early on Monday morning to head to the airport to see if our standby tickets would yield seats to Montreal on the 1155 to connect to the flight to Brussels at 1945, for which we had confirmed seats. The flight to Montreal was overbooked, but we waited until the end of boarding incase there were no-shows. There weren't.

To hedge our bets, I had returned the car to Hertz, explaining the situation and telling them to process the return after 1215 if we made it on the flight, otherwise we would be back; our return time wasn't until midnight. While Edi checked flights to Montreal from Fredericton, Halifax and Saint John, I went to the Hertz counter to hold the car. Fredericton and Halifax were over-booked, but Saint John showed three open seats on the 1755, which arrived in Montreal at 1843, in time to make our Brussels flight.

The Hertz agent quoted $320 for a drop-off in Saint John, explaining the high fee was because there was absolutely no demand in the other direction and they would need to drive a driver down to return it. I put the Hertz agent on hold and went outside to check on taxi fare for the 150-kilometre trip to Saint John. The first vehicle in the line-up was a very upscale AirCab, and I negotiated a very favourable rate with the driver.

We squeaked into the the last two seats on the flight to Montreal and arrived at the gate for the Brussels flight as boarding began. We breezed through Customs in Brussels, caught the train into Brussels-Nord, connected with the train to Namur, walked across the street and caught the 2b to the Port de Plaisance and arrived back aboard Zonder Zorg twenty-five hours after we popped out of bed in Moncton. It was Tuesday and we were back n Belgium.


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  2. Such a wonderful film, so many memories - and chances to use the term while cruising in this region!

    1. Yup. We always have strange happenings commuting to and from Belgium, especially on Tuesdays.