2018 Newfoundland
A "Come From Away" themed trip to Newfoundland including a 1 day stopover in Toronto, 2 days in Gander, and 1.5 days in St. John's
On Presidents Weekend in Feb 2017, I couldn't pass up an offer to purchase $38 tickets to a new Broadway musical called "Come From Away". I like to see as many new musicals as possible, especially ones with original stories. Although I'd heard good word of mouth about the show, I was decidedly skeptical about the idea of a musical about a bunch of airplanes that were diverted to a small town in Canada. But I've spent $38 on far worse pursuits- and at least I'd get to spend another day in NYC.

Usually I try to see two shows if I visit NYC on a weekend. But on this particular Sunday, I changed things up a bit by heading for a long overdue for a visit to the 9/11 memorial. It seemed fitting thematically to finally pay my respects to Ground Zero the day I saw a musical about its after effects. Most of my thoughts on the memorial are beyond the scope of this writing. But as difficult and emotional as that visit was, the part that surprisingly struck me the most was a section near the end detailing how the US- and the world- had banded together in the immediate aftermath of the horrific event. I wept inside at the juxtaposition of that fleeting period of American pride and solidarity against how bitterly divided my country has felt in more recent years. Having not yet seen "Come From Away", I wasn't able to draw any parallels to the show. But in retrospect, I imagine that my emotional response to being reminded of the beautiful unity in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy left me quite vulnerable to the musical's themes.

My seat was at the rightmost seat in the very last row of the orchestra. Due to some freak luck, I was sitting next to my friend, Bettina, who had purchased her ticket separately. After the theatre darkened in anticipation of the performance, I was immediately drawn in by the catchy percussive beat of the rousing opening song, "Welcome to the Rock." As an animal lover, my ears perked up when one of the actors mentioned the SPCA toward the start of that song.

The first time my heart was truly touched by the show was during a scene when a bus driver borrowed a foreign language Bible to point to a verse number that would communicate to its non-English speaking owners that they shouldn't be anxious. At the end of this narrative, both actors simultaneously state "And that's how we started speaking the same language." In addition to the fact that I've always personally embraced understanding between different cultures, I work as a software developer for a language translation company- what I was seeing onstage was an exact parallel to our company's mission, something I work towards every day.

The moment that solidified the show's special place in my heart came a little later with the song, "Prayer", which is one of the most beautiful moments I've ever seen portrayed on a stage in my decades of theatre going. I'm currently not religious but I was raised with a strong Jewish background. When one character walked downstage singing "Oseh Shalom", a prayer I've chanted hundreds of times in my youth, I gasped inside and was moved to tears. At its climax, the simple but powerful number depicts people of all religions simultaneously singing traditional prayers related to peace in various languages. The tableau of multiple religions singing their songs of peace in literal harmony truly symbolized my feelings about the world- that diversity makes us all richer, and that despite outward differences, we are all more alike than we are different.

Woven throughout the show are more motifs than I can mention in detail that also speak to me- among them are female empowerment (as shown through the story of Beverley Bass, the first American Airlines captain), a real life love story between 2 mature adults (Nick and Diane, perhaps my favorite characters), helping out animals (Bonnie from the SPCA , an advocate for the dogs, cats, and chimpanzees on the flights), and travel itself which is one of my main passions.

Almost immediately after returning home, I bought tickets to see the show again with my nieces. As of the time of my 2018 trip to Canada, I'd seen the musical a total of 9 times in roughly a year and a half. I still feel more engaged each viewing than I do with most Broadway fare, due to the fact that so much is happening onstage and there are no throwaway moments such as generic love songs with overly flowery language. I laugh and cry as I sit engrossed in 100 minutes of virtually non-stop action. The post curtain call jam of Newfoundland style music performed by the show's handful of musicians are 2 minutes of pure visceral joy that always ensure I leave on a high note.

But the main reason I keep returning is that all of the beautiful themes I've outlined above serve as a powerful tonic whenever I am struggling with depression or anxiety. I've never been in the same exact situation as the passengers who landed in Gander but much of their plight is universal- when I feel anxious, my emotions are probably similar to what many of the passengers felt when they first landed. Except the journey I am on is a metaphorical one through life rather than a literal plane ride. Sometimes, I feel like I am stuck in a place where all I can see is darkness. When that happens, "Come From Away" helps me see beyond my immediate experience and reminds me that there is still beauty and kindness to be found in the world; it helps me feel hopeful that light will eventually emerge. The fact that the events depicted onstage are not just fanciful fairy tales spun from a writer's imagination grounds the musical's various messages with sincerity.

There are quite a few shows I've seen multiple times, but I don't think any of them have touched me on such a deep, personal level as this one. I've told myself that I will keep returning until such a time comes when it no longer evokes a visceral emotional response- whether due to overexposure or some other reason. In the meantime, I aspire to see as many performances, casts, and productions of "Come From Away" as realistically possible. The show is a rare, magical combination of quality entertainment that also enriches my soul.
My love of theatre has long complemented my travel curiosity- from the Paris Opera House ("Phantom of the Opera") to the Casa Rosada ("Evita"), I have enjoyed incorporating sites depicted in some of my favorite musicals into my travels. So when I found myself drawn to the musical "Come From Away" in 2017, I knew that a trip to Gander, Newfoundland would be inevitable- it was just a matter of finding the right time. Meanwhile, as luck would have it, I'd already booked a cruise that would stop in St John's, Newfoundland which would at least allow me the opportunity to partake in some local food and customs mentioned in the show.

Or so I thought. Much to my disappointment, the cruise was diverted to a premature arrival in NYC. There were some tears shed in the immediacy of the schedule change… but when the dust settled, I vowed that I'd make it to Newfoundland as soon as I could. The cruise diversion may have been a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to visit the province on my own terms instead of merely spending about a half day there. Moreover, I felt that it would be fitting that my initial entry to Newfoundland should be at Gander airport… where I'd be following in the footsteps of the "plane people" depicted in the musical.

To make my trip even more "on brand", I added a brief stop in Toronto en route to Newfoundland in order to catch a performance of the Canadian production of "Come From Away" which I'd been wanting to see for awhile. I imagined that it would be surreal to sit in the audience knowing that I'd be traveling to Gander only hours later. I was thrilled that I was also able to make plans to meet up with 2 long time online friends during my short visit to Toronto.

I decided to end my trip with a couple days in St John's, and booked a tour similar to the one I'd planned for my port excursion the previous year. I was glad that I'd have extra time to relax, shop, and just enjoy the atmosphere.

All I really wanted to do in Gander was to see many of the places mentioned in the show, and enjoy any chance interactions with the friendly locals. During my planning, I tweeted a bit about my excitement as I sometimes do when plotting my travels. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that someone from Gander- the daughter of one of the characters depicted in the show- would reply to a tweet and offer to show me around. I obviously knew from both the show and other sources that locals have a reputation for being genuinely friendly and welcoming… but random people going out of their way to do something nice for me just doesn't typically happen. I'd been struggling through some isolating bouts of depression and anxiety all summer, so it meant more than I can express to have felt such a warm welcome from a stranger who knew little about me beyond that I love a show based on her town.

As my departure drew near, I still couldn't quite fathom that everything (or even anything) I'd discussed about my time in Gander would really happen. I tried to temper my expectations because I've felt so much disappointment in my life… and also because I still had to get through my daily activities. And yet my heart was overflowing with hope that my summer might possibly feature a once in a lifetime fairy tale kind of happy ending... as if I were to step into the world of a musical I adore.

"On the northeast tip of North America, on an island called Newfoundland, there’s an airport - it used to be one of the biggest airports in the world. And next to it, is a town called Gander."
Often repeating the aforementioned quote from the start of the show to myself in anticipation of my travels, I couldn't wait to become the latest "come from away" (aka visitor from another place) to pass a couple days in that town.
The day of my first trip to Canada in I-don't-know-how-long, I worked from home, trying to keep my excitement in check. To that end, I lucked out into being able to spend most of the day focused on investigating and fixing an unusual issue which made the time pass quickly. When I received an email from my boss at 4pm calling for an early start to the Labor Day weekend, I immediately shut off my laptop and got ready to go. Vacation was ON!

Typically, I get a ride to the airport from friends. But this summer my anxiety had prevented me from asking them about whether that would be possible. It's probably just as well since my friend Brian who usually drives was out of town embarking on his own adventure. So I figured I'd just drive myself to the airport economy lot like I used to do; I'd been refreshing the website periodically throughout the day and there still seemed to be over a thousand spots available. In the past, I'd come across the lot being full a couple of times and I didn't want any unpleasant surprises.

It was raining during the drive down and the traffic was heavy, but I had plenty of time before my 8:30pm flight so I didn't stress. When I arrived to the lot, it seemed very full but I nonetheless managed to find a vacant spot without much fuss. Almost as soon as I got to a shelter, a shuttle bus arrived. Easy peasy. The airport has made some changes to their economy parking since the last time I'd used it. One obvious difference was that they were now utilizing smaller shuttle buses in which passengers were seated too high to see out the front window. The side windows were also a bit obscured. As a result, I felt an unpleasant mixture of claustrophobia and motion sickness during the (short but not short enough) ride to the terminal.

I would normally check my bag even if it was small, but I really didn't want to have to pay $75 in fees ($25 for each of the 3 legs on Air Canada). Since I only had a carry on, I didn't need to stop at the checkin desk and it was a breeze to get through security with TSA Pre-check. I'd already received an email that my plane was delayed, so I had a ton of time to kill… plus 15 extra minutes. But I was ok with that since I'd much rather arrive ridiculously early than have to rush to the gate.

Still, I'd noticed that an earlier flight was still delayed so I headed to the gate and asked if I could change to that one so that I might expedite my departure. The woman at the desk cut me off and instructed me to come back when there was an actual plane at the gate. At the time, I thought she was rude. But it turned out that the earlier flight was canceled outright not too long after my inquiry so it's likely that she had good intentions. Either way, it would have been a huge hassle if I'd managed to switch my reservation onto a canceled flight so it worked out well that I was stuck with my original one.

There wasn't much to do beyond wandering around the airport a bit. I perused the souvenir shops in search of additional items to bring with me to Gander and was way too amused to find that the Philadelphia postcards I liked were printed… in Canada. I had a hard time shopping for people I didn't know, but I did end up getting something extra to add to the gifts I'd already purchased in advance.

Not finding any appealing dinner options in Terminal D, I meandered over to Terminal E and happened upon a little sushi restaurant- not cheap pre-packaged sushi, but a legit sushi bar. Perfect! I couldn't resist ordering a Phillies Roll which was described as "Shrimp tempura, avocado, creamy spicy crab meat, tobiko and Gachi Savory sauce". I'm not sure what it had to do with the Phillies but it was delicious. I also enjoyed a small bowl of miso soup.

The rest of my night consisted of sitting and waiting. And waiting and sitting. I received several additional email alerts about the plane's delay. It was going to be a late night, but since the impetus for this trip involved a story of people who were stuck on airplanes for as long as 28 hours, I was able to keep my perspective and stay calm. Fortunately, my only plans for the night were to head to my nearby airport hotel so I didn't have to stress about potentially missing out on anything due to my tardy arrival. Some people from the earlier flight were still at the gate trying to see if they could get on my flight. It turned out that there was actually an empty seat near me on the plane, and I felt bad that it could have been used for someone whom I'd overheard frantically trying to rebook their trip.

About 45 minutes after the original scheduled departure time, boarding finally started and I managed to be one of the first on the plane for my boarding group… which was justified because I felt like I'd been at the airport for freaking forever. I wasn't exactly sure if my suitcase met the specifications for carry on item dimensions and I was relieved when no one from the airline stopped me, especially since they announced that they were going to be strict about bag sizes. Even when I got on the plane, I still wasn't entirely at ease because I had a few doubts about whether my bag would fit in the overhead compartment. I was very relieved when I managed to stow it!

I was really excited to finally be seated on the plane en route to Canada. The window was slightly misaligned, but not too horrible. We were delayed for awhile on the ground due to what the pilot referred to as a "passenger discrepancy." I don't really know what that meant but I was glad when the issue was resolved and the plane was finally able to leave the gate. I think the delays (a bit over 1.5 hrs) were longer than the actual flight time.

We landed in Toronto around 11:39pm. Without having to wait at bag claim, I was able to get through customs and out of the airport pretty quickly. I followed the signs to the airport shuttles… and saw a huge mass of humanity standing and waiting. My hotel's shuttle only ran once every 25 minutes and I was concerned I might not make it on the first bus. I was also exhausted. So I made the only sensible decision which was to pull up the Uber app and order a ride. 5 minutes later, I was on my way… and I don't think a shuttle had arrived yet. Definitely the right move, and well worth the $12 US + tip.

After a quick stop at the front desk, I arrived at my hotel room at around 12:30am feeling ready to succumb to my fatigue. I took some quick obligatory photos and unpacked a few things before enjoying the bliss of settling into a comfortable king sized bed. It may have been a long night, but flying in on Friday evening was better than the alternative which would have involved getting up stupid early for a Saturday morning flight. This way, I was already in Toronto and could sleep well knowing I just needed to catch a quick train downtown the next morning. When I woke up, my Canadian adventures would truly begin.
Display case at the airport Philly postcards... printed in Canada Phillies roll Excited to head to Canada Finally on the plane Hotel room
My eyes opened just before my 9am alarm… and all I wanted to do was to stay nestled in my comfortable bed. But as I grew more alert, I was reminded of my exciting plans and that motivated me to get ready and repack my bag. As I left my room, it occurred to me that this might have been one of my shortest hotel stays ever- I got in late, went to sleep, woke up, and checked out.

On the elevator, I noticed that there were a number of people in traditional African garments; there must have been a convention at the hotel. Although I was curious what brought them to Toronto, I just smiled at them. When I got down to the lobby, I examined the shuttle bus schedule that was posted. To my great relief, the next one was scheduled to depart in just a few minutes so I wouldn't need to spend more money on a cab/Uber. It arrived just about at the scheduled time.

I'd originally planned to leave my suitcase with the hotel desk and return to pick it up before my departing flight. But through the course of my research, I discovered a left luggage service at Pearson airport that would be much more convenient. They charged $11 US, but the nominal price was well worth it in convenience because I wouldn't need to worry about taking shuttles (or Ubers) round trip from the airport to the hotel just to pick up my bag.

I'd located the left luggage store the previous evening and it was easy to find it again. There was no line, and I just had to answer some of the usual security questions before they'd accept my bag. Upon being asked whether there were any firearms in my luggage, I couldn't help responding with a saucy "Hell no!"

Free of my rolling bag, I was tempted to stop at Tim Hortons but there was a line and I didn't want to waste any time getting downtown. I found an automated kiosk to purchase my ticket for the UP Express Train ($9.50 US) and then made my way upstairs to the train platform. The train is relatively new, having started operations in 2015, and it proved to be a quick and easy way to get into the heart of the city.

I arrived downtown at Union Station at around 10:50am with the goal of getting my bearings. But I was temporarily distracted by the gorgeous vaulted interior of the station's main hall which is lined with flags from the various Canadian provinces. My friend, Kathryn, had messaged that she was running late so I took advantage of having some extra time to head a few blocks out of my way to gawk at the Royal Alexandra theatre, where I'd be seeing "Come From Away" in just a few hours. I'd obviously seen photos of the theatre online but nothing gets me more excited for a show than seeing its marquee in person.

From there, it was about a little less than a mile walk to the restaurant where we'd be meeting. The weather was more humid than I'd expected, and I had some regrets about wearing denim jeans. But it was sunny, not too hot, and it felt pretty great to be outside. I'd been to Toronto several times but my last visit had been so long ago that it barely seemed familiar and I felt almost like I was exploring a new city. Along the way (mostly nearer to Union station), I saw a number of people dressed for Cosplay as various characters; my suspicions were later confirmed when I found out that there was a Fan Expo (similar to a Comic Con) happening near the station.

I arrived at the diner only a few minutes before Kathryn's most recent ETA. She'd suggested that I not wait for her to order so that I wouldn't be late for the show. But I felt like I didn't need to rush since I'd specifically requested an earlier-than-necessary meeting time so as to comfortably allow for some buffer time. I've had enough friends with kids to know that getting out of the house can take longer when there is a little one involved. So I sat down, perused the menu, and used my camera's selfie mode to ensure that I looked at least somewhat human after my walk through the humidity.

I wasn't sitting too long when I saw Kathryn walking towards me with her little guy, Marty! He's even more adorable in person than in photos- and boy did he love his toy buses! (and I sorta liked playing with them a bit myself…hee hee) I feel like I've known Kathryn forever online but I'd only ever met her in person once- 5 years earlier. I was overjoyed when she'd responded positively to my tentative question about whether she might want to get together while I was in town. Once we started talking, the time totally flew by the way it does when you feel totally comfortable with an old friend. We chatted about life and theatre and travel… and basically whatever came to mind. A meal filled with camaraderie was a great way to start to my vacation… especially since I was coming off of a summer where I'd been feeling isolated by anxiety.

I was glad to see that Fran's diner offered breakfast items since I still hadn't eaten. I ordered pancakes and bacon. And not just pancakes- chocolate chip pancakes. They served 4 thick pancakes and I wasn't sure if I could finish them, but I was so hungry that I did so easily. Very yummy!

Before leaving the restaurant at around 1, I made sure we asked a waiter to take a photo of us. I've had past regrets meeting up with friends when I travel without any photo evidence and didn't want to make the same mistake again. Kathryn walked me to my theatre, which was especially nice because having a baby carriage along made the pace more relaxing (and therefore less sweaty) than if I'd been solo. Of course it was also lovely to be able to enjoy her company for a little longer. And if we went a few blocks out of our way? No worries, it just meant I got to enjoy some bonus time together before the inevitable goodbye hug.

When I got to the theatre, I went downstairs to use the bathroom and freshen up. The spacious lower lobby featured a large backdrop with the show logo and a giant map which was meant for audience members to pose in front of. I offered to take a photo of a couple women if they'd take one of me in return. The instructions said to point to where you come from; in my excitement and geographical confusion, I ended up with my finger vaguely in the neighborhood of… New Hampshire? Ooops.

There appeared to be a merchandise stand in the lower lobby but it was closed. Grr. So I walked upstairs to the kiosk just inside the crowded entrance. When it was my turn, I warned the kind lady that I'd be buying a lot of items; she smiled and got out a calculator. In the end, I purchased 2 brochures (1 for a friend), a "Welcome to the Rock" t-shirt with a design I hadn't seen, a heavier-weight-than-Broadway Toronto hoodie, a long sleeve shirt, and a winter hat. I don't normally buy that much merchandise from a show, especially at one time, but these were all items I'd never seen before; many weren't even available at the online store. The souvenir stand wasn't prepared with bags suitable for a large haul but the seller improvised with a random plastic grocery store bag that she happened to have sitting around.

I got to my seat in the front orchestra, which I'd splurged on, only a few minutes before curtain- just enough time to take a quick obligatory photo of my programme in front of the stage. This was my 10th time seeing "Come From Away" but my first time with the Toronto cast. I saw most of the original cast, with the only exception being an understudy for the role of Beverley. Having grown accustomed the same core group of actors in NY, I felt like it was a little weird at first to be watching an entirely different crew. However, the adjustment period was quick and I soon grew to love how these actors were able bring their own special touches to the familiar characters.

The audience reaction in Canada was only slightly different than in the US. In Toronto, there was a noticeable reaction when the character of Oz says that he is going to Shoppers, whereas in NY, I've only heard reactions during his later lines when he announces that he is going back to Shoppers. Also, I was delighted to join in when everyone started clapping along to "Heave Away" during the Screech In scene; I've never experienced such an enthusiastic response on Broadway.

I always cry a bit during the show and I knew that if I focused on my impending flight to Gander, my emotions might overshadow the journey of the show. So I tried to fight against thinking "OMG I'm on the verge of seeing these places in person!!!" But during the finale, there is a moment when the cast chants "I am an islander" as they raise their arms into the air… and that's when it truly hit me that I'd be arriving in Newfoundland that night. I let my guard down and allowed myself to feel an intense combination of raw joy and awe as tears trickled down my cheeks.

On my way out of the auditorium, I made sure to turn around and take a photo of the newly refurbished theatre which I wished I'd had a bit more time to enjoy. As I walked outside, I saw that someone with the show had set up a small wheel that people could spin to win prizes; upon closer inspection, I noticed that each colored slice of the wheel displayed a different phrase from the show. Intrigued, I waited my turn, took a spin, and the wheel landed on "I starts my day at Tim Hortons" Someone in a CFA shirt presented me with a $15 Tim Hortons gift card and I blathered excitedly that I was heading to Gander. They also gave me a letter which explained that game was "RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) Roulette" and that it was part of a pay it forward initiative to spread kindness based on the "Pay it Forward 9/11" program started by realKevin T. Enclosed with the letter was another Tim Hortons gift card- this one for $5. Well, cool! I immediately knew that I was going to use my gift cards to pay it forward during my trip and I was excited to see how that might play out.

As I eagerly anticipated completing the challenge of paying it forward, I caught sight of my friend Kevin. (who should not be confused with Kevin T… or Kevin J) I'd only met him once, way back in 1999, at a Disney World parks meet. Afterwards, we'd lost touch for a many years. But through the miracle of social media and mutual friends, we'd eventually reconnected. I was very pleasantly surprised when he responded to my post soliciting any friends from Toronto who might want to get together when I'd be in town.

I had no preference for what we did or where we went- and honestly, I was still feeling All The Feelings from the combination of the show and my impending journey. I deferred to Kevin's lead, and he took me for a stroll along Toronto Harbour. I don't believe I've been in that area during my previous travels and it was quite a lovely area to chat with an old friend. Just like with Kathryn earlier, conversation was relaxed and easy. I discovered that we had more in common than I'd previously realized and I really hope we'll stay connected in the future. Kevin put it best when he said "let's not wait another 19 years before getting together again."

When I got thirsty, Kevin led me into a supermarket. I love browsing foreign food stores to see what nifty items they may stock that we can't get at home. Even though Canada feels a heck of a lot like the US, they still have some interesting products not available south of their border. During this particular excursion, I discovered some new flavors of soda such as Peach Sprite and Raspberry Coke, the latter of which I purchased. Kevin piqued my interest with a mention of Orange Sorbet Coke which was sadly out of stock. But I vowed to find it before returning home.

Even though I wasn't that hungry after my huge brunch earlier, I knew I should eat a meal before my late flight. So eventually, we decided to sit in the outdoor area of a pizza place along the harbour front which was a beautiful spot to relax and enjoy a meal with a friend. I hadn't intended to order a cocktail but I was intrigued by the Raspberry Beret, which was a delightfully refreshing mixture of Raspberry Sorbet and Prosecco that was perfect for a warm late summer evening. I think Kevin got a beer. We ended up splitting a margherita pizza which was delicious! And despite my protests of lack of hunger, I ultimately couldn't pass up a bowl of nutella flavored gelati… after sitting and letting my food digest for a bit. They served a lot more ice cream than either of us expected, but I finished it all. Always room for gelati!

As Kevin walked me back to Union station, I remembered that we needed to get a photo together so we stopped to take a selfie. I was 2 for 2 on photos with friends that day! And for the second time that day, I was sad to say goodbye but eager for my adventure to continue. In parting, I wished Kevin well for his own upcoming adventure to Europe the following week. I'm so glad the timing worked out that he was not away when I was in town.

After taking the UP Express train, I arrived at the airport at 8pm which gave me plenty of time for my 10:30pm flight. I changed my shirt into the new "Welcome to the Rock" t-shirt and then retrieved my suitcase from the left luggage service. I managed to fit all my new purchases inside my bag, with the exception of the bulky hoodie that I kept out to wear on the plane and in Gander where it was cooler.

Security was a breeze, and I managed to find the elusive Orange Sorbet Coke while walking through the airport concourse. I couldn't wait to take a photo of my airport gate with "Gander" posted as its destination. Except I had to wait. After being confused by signs that seemed to point to a dead end, I finally asked someone for directions. It turned out that my flight was leaving from a part of the airport that was currently secured for use by flights to/from the US and would only be opened up for domestic travelers closer to departure time. So I begrudgingly sat at a random empty gate to wait. For the first time since getting my new phone in March, I had to get out a portable charger (since there were no outlets nearby)- not bad since I'd been on the go for about 11 hours by that time.

At about 9:45pm, people started congregating near the doorways to the still secured area. There were several flights in addition to mine that would be boarding from that part of the airport. Closer to 10pm, the doors finally opened and I was able to make my way to my actual gate.

I'd been really annoyed that I hadn't been able to get a window seat for this leg of my journey. I'd still been on my flight to Toronto during my 24 hour check in time and by the time I landed, the only 2 free seats available were on the aisle… although there were a couple window seats open in the preferred seating area for an extra charge of around $40 - $50 CAD. By the time I woke up in the morning, even the preferred window seats were gone. I wasn't sure why on earth so many people would be flying to Gander, Newfoundland at 10:30pm on a Saturday night but it turned out that about a quarter of the plane was filled with a group of teenagers wearing matching uniforms.

I was once again relieved to be able to fit my suitcase into the overhead bin. I was seated next to a nice older lady who lived near Gander. When she complained to the flight attendant that her seatback video wasn't working, I saw a potential opportunity to sit by the window and graciously offered to trade seats with her since I didn’t intend to watch any movies. Alas, she declined my offer so I was stuck in my aisle seat for the 3.5 hour flight.

I tried to get some sleep, and must have succeeded to some extent because the flight didn't feel that long. I wished I could have had my eyes glued to the window as we landed, but at least I was able to take a photo of the iconic "Gander" airport sign through the window as the plane taxied to its designated parking spot. Once we deplaned via stairwell, I had the clarity of mind to dig out my DSLR camera and take a better photo.

Due to the 1.5 hour time change, it was about 3am when I landed. I'd been told that there should be taxis at that hour and had originally been planning to take one for the short distance to my hotel. But fate had other ideas. Upon tweeting my excitement about my trip, Lisa Fudge- daughter of realOz Fudge who is the basis for the policeman character in "Come From Away"- had reached out to me and said she'd show me around. A couple weeks before my trip, Lisa and I were messaging about my plans and she mentioned that her dad would pick me up at the airport. Since my flight landed at an utterly ridiculous time, I responded by assuring her that I'd be fine taking a cab. But she said that her dad insisted so what could I do…? Except cry. Oh, how the tears streamed down my face that afternoon! Tears of joy to be treated like I mattered… tears of mourning for all the times I'd felt trapped in a depression all summer, when I'd felt like everyone was better off without me… tears that came from being stunned to feel my heart so overwhelmed by a seemingly simple gesture of kindness. I could hardly believe that a total stranger who was famously depicted in one of my favorite musicals wanted to go out of his way to welcome me to the rock his town…. at 3am, no less!

I entered the small arrivals area of the airport and saw a small group of people waiting for passengers. Before I could even search out their faces, a smiling gentleman in a blue "STFD" t-shirt emerged from the crowd and approached me. True to Lisa's word, realOz met me at the airport at 3am and couldn't have been nicer. Later he told me that since it isn't easy to travel to Gander, he knows that anyone who passes through truly wants to be there and that's why he wanted to personally pick me up and ensure that I made it safely to my hotel.

As might be imagined, the ride to my hotel was quite surreal. Here I was, in Gander in the middle of the night, chatting with realOz like he was an old friend… and noticing with interest that the CD player in his car was set to "Come From Away." In the midst of our conversation, my head spun as we passed some of the sights I'd dreamt of seeing like Shoppers and Town Hall (with its rainbow colored crosswalk that appeared more like various shades of grey in the dark).

All too soon, we arrived at my hotel. realOz was friendly and a great talker; I could easily have stayed up all night conversing with him. But I knew my body desperately needed sleep so I got out of the car after (hopefully) expressing my immense gratitude. I knew I'd have plenty of chances to talk with him further over the next 2 days.

Even though there was another couple from my plane arriving at the same time, the front desk checked me in quickly. The clerk asked if I had a car and I replied simply that I'd gotten a ride. When I'd made my reservation online, I'd asked for an upstairs room; not only did the hotel grant my request, but it appeared that they'd upgraded me to a suite! I took a few requisite photos and then got ready for bed.

I had a hard time falling asleep because my mind was spinning out of control. Wow. I was actually in Gander…. realOz Fudge had picked me up at the airport… I'd had such an incredible time hanging out with 2 fabulous people I seldom get to see…. I'd enjoyed watching the Toronto production of "Come From Away" and unexpectedly coming away with a couple Tim Hortons gift cards.... and did I mention that realOz had picked me up at the airport?! My first day had produced enough highlights for an entire trip; I was giddy with excitement about how much awesome was still yet to come!
Union Station Outside Union Station Fan Expo attendees Royal Alexandra Theatre Chocolate chip pancakes and bacon With Kathryn and Marty 3D Toronto sign In front of the theatre Pointing at... not the right place Obligatory playbill photo from my seat Leaving the theatre RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) Roulette View from dinner Raspberry Beret Nutella gelato With Kevin Waiting at the airport Waiting for the airport to open up the doors to my gate (D51) Excited to finally be at the gate Gander International Airport Hotel room
After the late night excitement of the previous evening, it was quite an achievement to actually wake up to my 9:30am alarm instead of turning over and going back to sleep. I attribute that to my excitement to actually see more of Gander than was possible during a quick 3am drive though the town. One of the first things I did was to peer out my windows to get a look of the town. It was pretty much as I'd expected- very simple, small town feel with a few buildings and a lot of green. My room overlooked the main highway but there only ever seemed to be a couple cars at a time on the road. A sunny pleasant looking day beckoned at me to get myself ready.

In spite of my heroic efforts of getting out of bed, I nonetheless missed breakfast because it was only served until 10am and it took me a while to shower and get myself together. When I finally felt ready to face the world, I messaged Lisa and then waited downstairs by the lobby for her to pick me up at around 11:30am. I was excited to finally meet her in person, but I also felt nervous because I'm a definite introvert and it's awkward for me sometimes to meet new people. I reminded myself that over the course of our messaging, I'd discovered that she was a fellow red headed Disney cat lady… which obviously meant that she was several levels of awesome. The previous evening, I'd been amazed to discover that we also both consider purple to be a signature color. So the logical chance that we'd get along was pretty damn high.

Fortunately, as soon as she came in, I felt almost as ease with her I had with my old friends in Toronto. There aren't words to explain my gratitude to Lisa for the impact she had on not just my trip but my summer as a whole. When I first met her, I obviously couldn't yet imagine the depths to with she (and her dad) would touch my heart. But I was already so grateful for her kindness that I'd brought some presents that I hoped she would like based on some of our mutual interests. They included a pin of the castle from Disneyland Paris, a small Maneki Neko (traditional Lucky Cat statue) from Japan that I must have gotten for someone years ago but never given to them, and a Statue of Liberty Minnie Mouse plush that had recently caught my eye in the Disney Store in Manhattan. (I'm also indebted to my friend Bettina for actually picking up the plush Minnie for me when she'd been in NYC just before my trip.) I'd also brought a few Philadelphia things for her parents; it had been extremely difficult to pick out something for them since I didn't know what they'd like. I just did my best, particularly trying to seek out items that used the slogan "City of Brotherly Love". I was happy when Lisa smiled at my gifts, especially when she remarked that she'd always admired a Maneki Neko at a local restaurant.

I still hadn't eaten, so Lisa took me to what she called "The Goose", a small local gas station/restaurant that is officially called the Gander Big Stop Restaurant. Lisa cautioned me that local food was carb heavy and not necessarily the healthiest as if that could be a problem for tourists... but I saw no issues, especially since I was on vacation. I ordered pancakes with bacon and was served a huge plate that I was unable to finish despite my best intentions.

It was fun sitting in a local hangout and getting to know Lisa a little better. She described some of the real people associated with "Come From Away" so vividly that by the end of the trip I felt like I knew them. But I never got the sense that she was name dropping- the people she discussed appeared to be those whose company she genuinely enjoyed. It seemed like she was getting a kick out of the unique experience of being so closely involved with a hit musical, and so it was fun to hear the various little tidbits she shared. I particularly loved how she endearingly referred to the actors who play Oz in the musical as "Fake Dad."

After my appetite was sated, Lisa decided to take me to the site of the 1985 Arrow Air Crash which had resulted in the deaths of all 256 passengers and crew. The exact cause of the accident, which had occurred just after a charter US military flight took off from Gander en route to Kentucky, has never conclusively been determined. I'd never previously heard of the incident and found it interesting to learn of another story in which Gander was closely tied to the U.S. It was pleasant to walk around the site just off Gander Lake and take in the scenery, which included the Silent Witness Memorial statue, and a quartet of flags of Canada, Newfoundland, Gander and the U.S.

When originally researching my trip, I'd come across information for a tour offered by the North Atlantic Aviation museum called "Beyond Words Tours- A Come From Away Experience." As its name suggests, the tour was designed to show visitors many of the sites from the musical. Additionally, it offered the opportunity to meet a "notable local" who would personally tell their story. Obviously, I had to book it! Even after I'd later connected with Lisa online, I was glad that I'd planned to go on this tour because it had piqued my curiosity and I wanted to be able to experience it for myself.

Ever since a tour company had canceled my booking with very little notice during my 2011 Australia trip because they didn't want to run their tour with just 1 passenger, I've been leery that any tours I book might also suffer a similar fate if they don't reach some minimum number of guests. Leading up to my trip, I'd been checking availability on the website and I was getting nervous because it didn't seem like anyone else was booked when I was. When I missed a phone call from a Gander area code during my brunch, I worried that perhaps it was from someone canceling the tour. When I walked into the museum with Lisa, Abby (the woman who runs the tour) started to apologize. To my relief, the only hitch was that she'd been unable to find a "notable local" for that portion of the afternoon. She offered to refund a good portion of my payment, but I would rather have considered it a donation to the museum. Fortunately, Lisa was with me and before I could say anything, she insisted that her dad should be free. After she made a quick phone call, everything was magically as it should have been and I'd be able to experience the full tour! OK so I'd be meeting someone I'd already met… but I was cool with that.

After a cursory look around the museum during which time I was excited to see Beverley Bass' uniform and a piece of World Trade Center steel, it was time to hop into the van to get going. I am so impressed and pleased that they ran the tour- with both a guide and a driver- even though I was the only guest. It was obviously a very personalized afternoon, which is certainly way preferable to traveling with a full busload of tourists and feeling like the guide is mainly herding the crowd from place to place. Abby was an excellent and enthusiastic guide who had a wonderfully friendly and conversational manner of telling stories. I've since learned that she put together the tour herself, although she was too young to remember all that much about the original 2001 events. She's clearly put a lot of heart into researching the period and sharing her knowledge.

When I got into the van, Abby presented me a cute pin with the tour logo… which I placed in my bag and forgot about entirely until researching this blog entry. Our first stop was the Gander Airport. I'd obviously passed through there at 3am, but I'd barely even stepped into the building before being whisked off. One of the most noticeable sights in the main hall, just before the entrance to security, was a piece of the World Trade Center steel that was donated on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The finale of the musical mentions a single piece of steel from the World Trade Center being donated to the city but in actuality I saw 3 pieces during this tour and there is also one more in the neighboring town of Appleton. According to the tour brochure, the first piece of steel was donated to Gander for the 10th anniversary, which is accurate to the musical since that is when its finale takes place.

We didn't get to see any areas beyond those open to the public but if I hadn't been on this tour, I probably wouldn't have realized that the airport has an upstairs area where one can look through windows at the international lounge which is where the diverted passengers arrived. True to the character Kevin J's exclamation "We've gone back in time", the interior is supposedly pretty much as it was during the height of the airport's usage in the 1950's when planes used to stop there to refuel during Transatlantic journeys. (I had to be a smart aleck and remark that the "Free Wifi" sign was probably on the newer side...) Nowadays, there aren't many scheduled international flights to Gander airport, although I was amused to find out that they offer seasonal service to Cuba.

One of the most notable features of the international lounge is the only escalator in Gander, which Abby said probably doesn't work any more. Above the escalator are analog clocks displaying the time in London, Montreal/NY and Moscow as well as Gander. On one of the walls is an huge, elaborate, colorful mural and Abby explained to me the meaning behind some of the figures depicted in it.

As we stood in the viewing area above the lounge, Abby visually traced the passengers' initial journey, pointing out the places where many of the activities would have occurred. She also shared some large (about 8x10) photographs taken on 9/11/2001 including one that showed a bunch of planes on the runway along with a cluster of yellow school buses which would be transporting the passengers. Actually being in the airport and hearing additional anecdotes and details about what happened on that day brought the stories of the diverted passengers alive to me in a new way.

Abby also discussed details that wouldn't make for a good musical theatre story like how the airport needed to staff additional personnel to process the passengers through customs. I asked what happened to any passengers from countries which required Visas to travel to Canada, but she didn't know the answer. On the way out of the overlook area, we stopped to gaze at a collage of celebrities who had passed through Gander during the airport's heyday as a travel hub; some of these, like Tiger Woods, were obviously more recent.

During our drive from the airport, we passed the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #8… and I kinda made the driver circle back so I could take a halfway decent photo of the location where the "Come From Away" screech in takes place. Being the only guest on a tour certainly has some benefits. As we passed the Newtel building, Abby showed me a 2001 photograph of tables outside which had been set up for the "plane people" to use phones, which is something mentioned in the musical. Our journey also took us by Gander Academy, another setting from the show.

We parked at the back entrance to Town Hall. Upon entering the building, I saw another piece of steel from the World Trade Center and then took my time perusing a hallway lined with various plaques and tributes. Among the most interesting of these were a a 9/11 Thank You quilt from Lancaster, PA and a key to the city of Seattle that had been presented to Mayor Claude when "Come From Away" premiered at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015.

Then I entered the council chambers to "meet" realOz Fudge… for my second time. realOz had been a police constable during 9/11 but he's recently retired; however, he remains active in the community as a member of the town council- I smiled inside when I spotted his nameplate in the chamber. I'd obviously chatted with realOz already- and I would have more chances to casually hang out with him before leaving town. During the tour, I was treated to another side of him in which he assumed the persona of a master storyteller as he sat in front of me detailing some of his memories that had become part of a Broadway musical. Obviously a coherent 100 minute musical can't possibly include all the nuances of the stories that were its basis, and it was a treat to learn more about some incidents that were only briefly alluded to on stage... especially since realOz clearly enjoyed weaving these tales, sometimes with a bit of a twinkle in his eyes. I kept laughing every time he'd ask if I remember such-and-such a line… Of course I did! I'd seen the show 10 times, as recently as the previous day…. and I'd listened to the cast recording a ridiculous number of times.

I obviously can't relate all the details I heard- my memory is fuzzy and this blog is already long enough. But I'll share the highlights of some of my favorite tales. The first of these was an extended version of how realOz came to write out those "STFD" ("Slow The F--- Down") warning tickets during his days on the police force. It was super fun watching him re-enact how he'd want to make young drivers squirm while not really getting them into trouble. At some point (it may not have been during this conversation), he said that he'd talked to writers Sankoff and Hein so candidly because he had no expectations that the show they were writing would go anywhere and that he was surprised when he first heard "STFD" onstage! But he seems to embrace his now famous trademark phrase as evidenced by wearing one of the "STFD" shirts that his daughter Lisa sells (with part of the proceeds going to the Gander SPCA).

Another wonderful story alluded to briefly in "Come From Away" is how the town threw a party for the Make-A-Wish kids who were stranded in Gander. realOz had been directly involved in putting the event together and he shared the backstory of how and why it happened. I could tell that he was proud of his role in creating a little bit of magic for the kids.

I think it was realOz who shared the story behind the line "I saw a casserole dish I don't think I could lift", but it might have been Abby. I am unfortunately hazy on the details but the cool thing to me was that some people actually made a huge dish of food in order to help out.

A detail not in the show is that the town had to thoroughly clean out places like schools even before the passengers could be taken there due to health regulations. I think the story he shared was that someone came by to help or check on the progress… only to discover that so many people had already chipped in that the place was already completely clean and ready!

At one point, realOz pointed to a portrait on one of the Town Council boards of a gentleman named Ed Brake who was the real person that told a diverted rabbi his story of being born Jewish but being sent away during the war. (this incident is beautifully depicted onstage during the song "Prayer") In my research for this blog, I've learned that the rabbi didn't give Ed a kippah while he was in Gander (as shown in the musical), but rather he sent several items of Judaica later on. I was moved to read an article that said that Mr. Brake had been buried in a Kippah and Tallis that had been sent by the rabbi.

realOz seemed surprised that I'd never been backstage at "Come From Away"… which amused me because, I mean, who am I to be going backstage? He told me that I absolutely must let Lisa and/or him know the next time I see the show. As soon as I got a chance to sneak a moment with my phone, I messaged my friend Bettina, with whom I'd already been considering seeing the show again on Sept 30, and flat out told her we had to see it. (True to his word, realOz got us backstage and it was amazing!)

In retrospect, I wish I had taken some notes since my memory for minute details is not the best. But I really just wanted to enjoy the conversation and live in the moment- and that I sure did! The hour flew by, and it was one of many highlights of my time in Gander. When Abby returned, she offered to take a photo of me with realOz- and I'm glad she did because I was too in awe of my experience of being thoroughly enthralled in realOz's stories to have thought of asking for a photo.

After saying goodbye to realOz (for the time being), I went outside to the front of the building to take a photo of its facade as well as the rainbow crosswalk that stretched into the street in front. Repainted each year since 2016, the crosswalk represents inclusiveness and was originally inspired by the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Gander may be a small town, but it's a super cool small town.

The final stop of the tour was the Town of Gander fire hall where Abby has filled a small room with an impressive array of memorabilia: banners with messages from the "plane people", newspaper clippings, photo albums, thank-you notes, and binders full of cards from schoolchildren around the world. One of the binders happened to be open to a cover letter followed by pages of Valentines Day cards sent in February 2002 from a school in the town where I work! I smiled at the sight of the Commander Gander costume that Lisa had donned for the wish kids' party. On prominent display was one of the 2 original maps that had been set up at the Broadway theatre for patrons to use to pin their home locations. Unfortunately, this was the map of the NY metro area so it didn't have my pin; Captain Beverley Bass probably is in possession of the world map which would have the pin I'd placed during my first visit. I could easily have spent hours poring through every last item in the room- especially if I was able to go there on a rainy day when I had no other plans. As it was, I spent about 30-40 minutes there and I feel like I barely skimmed the surface of the room's many treasures.

One corner of the room had been set up as a small souvenir store and I bought one of the "STFD" t-shirts since I could pay by credit card. However, I also wanted to get one to surprise my friend, Bettina, and they didn't have any in her size so I purchased that one directly from Lisa later; fortunately Lisa received stock in my friend's size the next day!

Finally, the 3+ tour concluded back where we'd started, at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. I lingered there for about a half hour going through the areas I hadn't seen earlier. Although the small museum has a variety of exhibits relating to the history of aviation in relation to Gander, I ultimately gravitated back to the area covering the post 9/11 airplane diversions. I was disappointed that a section that was supposed to be playing audio of actual air traffic controllers didn't appear to be functioning properly. But I was intrigued by a 9 minute video loop from an old ABC news segment with Diane Sawyer documenting the activities in 9/11 in Gander that had aired in Dec 2001, which included some of the people who ended up in the musical as well as others who didn't. (you can watch for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxaxrlusQC8)

My hotel was nearby, and Lisa had told me about a path that would lead almost directly across from there. It was a very short walk, but quite pleasant. It might sound intimidating that I had to cross a highway to get to my hotel… but a Gander highway is more like a 4 lane road which happened to have little traffic at that time of day. I relaxed for only a very short time in my hotel room before Lisa messaged at around 5:45 asking if I was ready for dinner.

As I waited in the lobby, I was quite amused to hear a front desk clerk chatting with a guest about encounters with Moose in a manner similar to how Americans may sometimes talk about deer. It was such a Newfoundland conversation- I loved it! Lisa and her dad soon came by and we headed to "Wing 'n it" which is apparently one of her dad's favorite places. I was still pinching myself that this whole trip was actually real, and enjoying chatting with Lisa and realOz so I found it even harder than usual to focus on the menu. I was hopeless at scanning the intimidating columns upon columns of possible wing sauces. When Lisa ordered the macaroni and cheese with bacon, it sounded perfect to me- and much easier than choosing a sauce- so I ordered the same. No regrets- it was an excellent choice.

Afterwards, we headed to Scudrunner microbrewery because I was dying to try one of their custom brews, "LoveBirds", a mix of British and American processes/ingredients that was inspired by Nick and Diane, 2 of my favorite "Come From Away" characters. I could have ordered a small sample glass like Lisa did, which might seem sensible since I'm not usually a beer drinker. But I'd been anticipating this brew for months... so damn it all, I wanted a full glass! "Go big or go home," Lisa laughed approvingly of my choice. Don't ask me for comments since I don't much care for beer so I have no discerning thoughts to share… but I can say I finished the whole thing and I basically enjoyed it. Once again- no regrets.

There was some controversy with the brewery as they'd recently been going through a sexual harassment scandal with an employee. I appreciated the fact that Lisa wanted to ensure that I was informed about the story before deciding to go through with my visit. I trusted her judgment that the issue- while definitely awful- didn't involve the main owner who is a decent guy. Nonetheless, the scandal seemed like it might have been taking a toll... it so dead there that I was glad we visited just so the bartender wouldn't be dying of boredom. When we were almost done, another party walked in but for most of the time we were the only ones there.

As we were drinking, Lisa and realOz encouraged me to fly to Seattle and join them for the US tour opening in October. It was one of those ideas that sounded fabulous when I was feeling ever-so-slightly buzzed. I was all ready to book my plane ticket- to hell with the fact that it wasn't really in the budget- until I later realized with a sinking feeling that I'd already made plans for that weekend. I could never ditch my long time friends for a little brush with fame and new friends, even though it would have been wonderful to attend the opening party and to be introduced to Nick and Diane, whom I'm dying to meet (but probably shouldn't as I'm sure to say some awkward things and I'm not English so it won't come off that well). If I'm meant to attend one of these things, there will be other opportunities… I mean, there is a London opening next year…

After I was finally done with my drink (it, umm…. took awhile), they asked if I needed to stop for anything like snacks which was a wonderfully considerate thought. I suggested hitting Shoppers, a Canadian chain (similar to US Walgreens) that is mentioned in an amusing anecdote in the show, which was one of the places I'd most wanted to see during my visit. So I went to Shoppers and got a couple beverages and snacks. When I caught sight of a stack of reusable shopping bags near the registers, I excitedly thumbed through them hoping to find one with a Shoppers logo. Alas they had many beautiful designs… but none with even a hint a logo. When I went to pay at a self check-out aisle, I felt like an idiot because a cashier had to manually intervene to allow the sale to go through. I think it was because I had was using out of country credit card. Unfortunately, the current Shoppers is not the same building that was in use in 2001, but it was still cool to go there to feel a little show spirit.

On our way back to the hotel, Lisa and I started chatting excitedly about some of the purple items in our purses and realOz chucked with amusement that he felt like he was hearing double. It was a simple moment, but one that I recall quite fondly because I felt like I belonged. And because purple rules.

I got back my room somewhere around 9pm, which was a huge relief after 2 straight late night arrivals. I finally had a chance to relax a little and to reflect on my day. I was so grateful to Lisa and realOz for their hospitality. It might not seem like much… but when you've spent much of your summer questioning your place in the world with your friends and family, it's amazingly heartening to feel like people are genuinely glad to have you around.
View from my room Gander Big Stop aka "The Goose" Arrow Air crash memorial Silent Witness memorial Arrow Air crash site World Trade Center steel at North Atlantic Aviation Museum Beverley Bass' uniform Gander International Airport World trade center steel at the airport Gander International Airport- international lounge Gander International Airport- international lounge Gander International Airport- international lounge Vintage photo of buses lined up to transport stranded passengers Collage of celebrities who have visited Gander The Legion Town Hall: World Trade Center steel Town Hall: Key to the city of Seattle Town Hall: Thank You quilt from Lancaster, PA Town Hall: plaque Town Hall: 9/11 10th anniversary flag flown in Afghanistan Town Hall: Official portraits in the chambers Oz Fudge telling stories in the Town Hall council chambers Posing with Oz in the Town Hall council chambers Town Hall Commander Gander costume Exhibits at Town of Gander Fire Hall Exhibits at Town of Gander Fire Hall Map of pins that was originally at Broadway's Schoenfeld Theatre Letters to the editor from passengers Cute letter from a school child Photos on display Teachers' log of hours worked North Atlantic Aviation Museum North Atlantic Aviation Museum North Atlantic Aviation Museum Wing 'n it Scudrunner Brewing: "Lovebirds" brew Scudrunner Brewing So I went to Shoppers...
Waking up at 9am after an early night, I had no problems making it downstairs in plenty of time for breakfast which was served until 10am. There were quite a number of guests enjoying their morning meals in the small dining area but I had no problem finding a table. The buffet offered a nice variety of hot and cold options, but I wasn't all that hungry so I think I just had some oatmeal. Afterwards, I packed up my bag and left it with the front desk since my onward flight to St. John's wasn't until 11:20pm.

I messaged Lisa while I was getting ready, and at 10:30, realOz came by. As an animal lover, I'd really wanted to see the SPCA that was mentioned in the show. Before Lisa contacted me, I had planned to message them to see if I could arrange a visit- but of course Lisa and realOz know everyone and they were able to set it up. I was super excited to be headed there, especially since I'd be able to meet realBonnie, another local who is featured as a character in the musical "Come From Away."

I was in my element oohing and aahing over all the cats in the little building! They were adorable- especially the mischievous black kitty who had gotten into some tinfoil wrapped baked goods! But the best part of the morning was meeting realBonnie, who is a delightfully friendly lady that is as passionate about her work as is shown in the musical. She immediately welcomed me as if I was an old friend... to the extent that she encouraged me to stalk one of the Broadway cast members who would be in St. John's the same time I'd be there! I wouldn't mind meeting actors from the show… but if given a choice between the performers and the real life people upon which their roles are based, I'd definitely choose spending time with the locals who are the reason the show even exists.

If I had to create my own little slice of heaven for myself, it might be spending an hour talking (mostly) "Come From Away" with wonderful people like realOz and realBonnie… while also petting cats! Both parties told me that the scene onstage where Bonnie frantically waves down Oz to tell him about 9/11 is exactly how the situation had unfolded. Everyone I met told me that most everything onstage really happened- although obviously there were small tweaks made for the betterment and clarity of a 100 minute show such as sometimes consolidating multiple stories into 1 character.

I had to ask realBonnie about the Bonobo chimpanzees since none of the articles I've read about them mentioned that one was pregnant, let alone that she lost her baby. She confirmed the essential truth of the story and emphasized that the writers are fierce animal lovers who would never have made up such a story to manipulate the audience's emotions. However, she said that she didn't learn that the female was pregnant until later, and that were primarily cared for by handlers who had traveled with them.

realBonnie and realOz told tales of when Sankoff and Hein were in Gander on the 10th anniversary interviewing people for what would become the hit Broadway musical. Many "come from aways" had returned to Gander for that event, and realBrian Mosher (half of the inspiration for the Janice Mosher character in the show) was walking around a room with a camera asking all the returning plane people about their experiences. He reached Sankoff and Hein and, not recognizing them, asked them to relate their story about being stuck in Gander! Apparently there is private footage of this interview somewhere; I'd love to see it!

At the time, no one could have guessed how successful the show would become since the writing team had no Broadway credits. realBonnie thought that maybe the show would make it to a high school but she was willing to help and so she talked with Sankoff and Hein to share her story. Both realOz and realBonnie seem to be getting a kick out of the unexpected success of the show. They both talked fondly of seeing "Come From Away" for the first time at the concert performance in Gander in 2016. I'm a bit jealous of everyone who was lucky enough to have attended that event- it must have been an absolutely electric atmosphere!

All too soon, it was time to leave. But before I did, realBonnie agreed to join us for dinner and she friended me on Facebook so that was pretty awesome. I made a small donation to the SPCA because I felt like it was the right thing to do, and because I support animal charities in general.

I couldn't be too upset about leaving because Lisa was taking me to The Dover Fault, the setting for the song "Stop the World", which is one of my absolute favorite numbers in "Come From Away." While depicting the bittersweet feelings with with which the characters of Nick and Diane truly realized they were in love just before heading their separate ways, the song has an overarching theme of appreciating amazing moments while also trying to freeze the feelings behind them for posterity. These sentiments are akin to my thought process when I travel and take photos or write notes for my blog.

It was an absolutely beautiful day for a 40 minute drive. Knowing the unpredictability of Newfoundland weather, I'd braced myself for the likelihood that I'd be seeing the Dover Fault through overcast skies. Driving through the sunshine, I was thrilled that I'd have clear weather with which to enjoy the view. Lisa remarked that it was hot, and it was definitely a tad on the warm side, but it was thankfully nothing like the unbearable 100 degree days I'd recently endured at home.

I couldn't contain my excitement when we finally arrived. To get to the overlook, you have to walk up a few sets of stairs although it's nothing like the "million stairs" that the character Nick narrates. At the top of the hill is a beautiful little boardwalk deck that is designed to resemble a boat. Around the rim, there are a few informational signs, including a relatively new one about Nick and Diane that I was really excited to see.

The whole time I was there, the song "Stop the World" was playing in an infinite loop my head and I reveled in feeling like a total musical theatre nerd. I was absolutely giddy to be there, gazing out at the dramatically beautiful view! Of course, I "stopped the world, took a picture"… or 50, including some panoramic shots on my cell phone. Lisa made the awesome suggestion of taking one where I tried to emulate realDiane's pose from the 2001 photograph realNick had taken.

It was only around 1:30 when we were ready to leave and Lisa suggested heading to a little town called Greenspond. She knew of a place there where a lady served delicious homemade baked goods right out on her deck of her home. It sounded fabulous to me- I'm always up for a road trip or for sweets. So the idea of both together..?!? Sign me up! It took another hour to reach our destination, although part of that time was due to making a bit of a wrong turn which I didn't mind at all as it was part of the adventure. I felt completely comfortable with Lisa; by this point, we chatted easily like we were old friends.

Greenspond was a charming, quaint little town on the edge of the Atlantic. Our destination, a yellow house called Ida's Place, was typically closed for business on Mondays but, as Lisa had predicted, it was open for the Labour Day holiday. It was a delightful gem of a teahouse which offered friendly, cheerful service. We don't have places like that in the urban area where I live, and I would never have discovered it without the guidance of a local who was familiar with it. And the baked goods…! Both Lisa and I tried the Double Chocolate Caramel Brownie which oh-so-absolutely-scrumptious! I bought a couple of chocolate chip cookies to take with me, while Lisa purchased a cinnamon bun. Savoring chocolatey goodies with a new friend while gazing out at the delightful scenery, I felt like I'd been granted a second slice of heaven that day.

Before we left, I walked around a little and took a few photos of the photogenic landscape. I probably could have spent an hour or 2 wandering around exploring the area, and I'd definitely consider another visit if I ever return to Gander. Greenspond may not have any direct relation to "Come From Away", but I am incredibly grateful that Lisa came up with the idea of heading there.

On the way back to town, we stopped at a place called Joey's Lookout where Lisa shopped for some fresh vegetables while I admired the view of the Gambo River below. The area also included some food trucks where I might have grabbed a bite to eat if I hadn't just recently stopped for sweets.

Then we swung by the craft and gift store that was part of the tourist information centre across from my hotel. I was very disappointed that it was closed; I wish I'd tried to check if it had been open when I'd walked back to my hotel the previous day. I would have loved to have been able to buy some authentic local crafts to remind me of my visit. I also wish I could have found somewhere that sold a Gander flag.

Lisa dropped me off at Cobb's Pond, which she thought would be a pleasant place for me to visit. There was a path that circled around the lake. After a moment of hesitation trying to decide which way to turn, I instinctively headed in the clockwise direction. I thought of listening to "Come From Away" on my IPod but ultimately decided that doing so would be over the top.

As I walked along the path, I realized that this was the first chance I'd really had to explore by myself during my trip. It was a nice luxury to be alone with my thoughts in such a serene setting. I would like to say that I used the time and solitude to reflect on my experiences, but the truth is that I still didn't have the distance to do so in any meaningful way. I was continually trying to (metaphorically) pinch myself because it didn't seem like it could possibly be real that my Gander journey could end up eclipsing my dreams. Rather than thinking analytically, I was content to continue to go with the flow and enjoy my remaining hours.

Pretty much everyone I encountered on the path greeted me with a friendly hello, even a couple of children who were walking their dog. I sometimes had to remind myself to smile at people instead of maintaining my typical aloof city girl demeanor. Somewhere around halfway around the loop, I saw a familiar face walking towards me in the opposite direction- it was realBonnie walking her dog! Lisa said that I might see her at the pond but still- what are the chances?!? (At most, they were 50/50, dependent on the direction I'd taken) realBonnie addressed me as though I was an old friend, not someone she'd just met that morning. I resisted the urge to take a photo of her since she was dressed for walking and I didn't think she'd want her photo on the internet. Instead, I just took a photo of her little white dog who was adorable. After a couple minutes, we each continued going in our own directions and she said she'd see me in a bit for dinner.

Cobb's Pond was a lovely place to stroll around, with many little photogenic spots along the route… although I wasn't quite prepared for it to be about a 4 km walk! By about 3/4 of the way around, I was ready to be done. I'd brought my hoodie with me in case it got cool, but the effort of exercising had actually made me quite warm.

When I finally reached the end of the loop, I sent a text to realOz and told him that I was ready to be picked up. I'd say it felt surreal to be texting realOz Fudge but I'd already shattered the boundaries of surreal when I was riding in his car from the airport at 3am! In comparison, sending a text was almost ordinary.

realOz came by in a few minutes to take me to a couple places that I still needed to see before we went to dinner. The first of these was a "Wecome to Gander" sign on the side of the road. I'd obviously passed at least one of these before, but this time I had a chance to get out of the car and take some photos. realOz also took a few of me with the sign. In retrospect, I wish I'd thought of some more interesting poses but I'm generally not as creative as I'd like to be with that. Even so, I'm happy to have a photo with the sign.

Our next stop was the Tim Hortons (a Canadian chain similar to Dunkin Donuts) which serves as a prominent setting in "Come From Away." Since there wasn't anywhere else in town that I was dying to see, we decided to sit and take a break. I told realOz that I was treating and he selected a Boston Cream donut while I ordered a Strawberry Banana smoothie. Our snacks totaled about $5 and I paid for them using the $15 gift card I got at the Toronto "Come From Away." I left the card with the cashier and told them to use the balance on the next guests to "pay it forward" until it ran out. Ever since I'd seen a segment on a news show about that concept when I was a child, I'd always vaguely wanted to do something like that but I'd never had the courage to put those desires into action. I am very grateful to the Toronto company for essentially pushing me in that direction. Unfortunately, I didn't really notice the reaction of the family behind us because I was concentrating on trying to take a photo of my smoothie in front of a fireplace. I recall vaguely overhearing an expression of joy which I hoped it was in response to my "Pay it Forward".

My smoothie was perfectly refreshing after my walk. It was relaxing to sip my beverage while casually chatting with realOz. I was glad that he pointed out the corner of the room where realMayor Claude would typically sit because I hadn't thought to ask about that. Looking through my photos, it strikes me that they serve Coke products unlike the Pepsi that is Claude's signature drink in the musical. I've checked online and see that the chain has switched soft drink allegiances at least once, although I can't find a concrete timeline for when this has occurred.

We headed out to dinner to meet with realBonnie, Lisa, and realOz's wife, whose name I forget (sorry!). I'd been eager to try cod au gratin, a Newfoundland dish mentioned in "Come From Away" so realOz and Lisa decided that we should have dinner at Rosie's. I was grateful that I didn't need to look at the menu to decide what to order! As described in the show, cod au gratin is "Fish… with cheese." I love both ingredients and am glad I had a chance to try the dish although I found it too heavy to finish.

I enjoyed having one more chance to converse with the friendly people at my table who had come to feel a bit like family. Our interest in "Come From Away", although it came from different angles, helped facilitate a common language. We didn't really talk about the show in an obsessive way, but it was obviously a topic we could all relate to. At one point, Lisa showed me a cute meme of the Broadway and Toronto actors who play Nick discussing Diane, and I had her message me a copy.

One of the most rousing highlights of the musical is a fun local ceremony called a "Screech In" in which some of the outsiders become certified as honorary Newfoundlanders. My biggest disappointment about my time in Gander was that I wasn't able to get screeched in there because too many locals were out of town for the holiday weekend. Apparently they've spent the summer perfecting their technique; I chuckled when someone mentioned that realBeulah had bought a cod because there were so many visitors. realOz promised that if (when?) I come back, they will be sure to organize a proper screech in. As a consolation, I told them that I intended to try to get screeched in during my time in St. John's although I felt that would be a "fake" screech in since the process is very commercial (and costs $20 CAD) and I was sure it wouldn't be up to the Gander standards. But I vowed to find the best place I could, and not resort to places where the participants kiss a stuffed animal instead of a cod because that would absolutely be a "fake fake" screech in. Someone mentioned that the Toronto cast had been screeched in without traveling to Newfoundland, and I derided that as a "cheated" screech in. My tablemates seemed to approve my delineations.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed in groups but the conversation felt easy throughout the meal. Knowing that this was my last real activity in Gander, I didn't want the evening to end. Fortunately, I remembered that I needed a photo of the table to preserve the memory of a lovely night before realBonnie had to leave. A little bit later, at around 8pm, we could tell that the restaurant staff was starting to clean up and so the rest of us headed to the front of the restaurant to pay our bills.

Lisa drove me to the hotel to pick up my suitcase. When I went inside to collect it, the front desk clerk expressed relief at solving the mystery of its owner. Apparently they didn't expect anyone to be departing so late and there was some concern that it had been left behind. I'm half surprised I didn't receive a phone call about it, although I'm not sure they had my cell number. The bag was, of course, labeled with my name.

It was ridiculously early when we got to the airport and Lisa suggested turning around and embarking on a bit of a random drive around town to kill some time. I was OK with anything that would allow me to postpone my last goodbye. At one point during the day, Lisa had referenced some event from the previous day with some surprise that it had only been a day earlier; she said she felt like we had been on so many adventures together that it seemed we'd spent more than a couple days together. I quite agreed. I don't always like being around other people, but it felt natural to spend time with my new Gander friends. It's been said that a person can't find happiness from outside themselves; while I believe that is true, some simple kindnesses can nonetheless make a huge difference in your quality of life if you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety. Or at least it can for me. I don't think I'm being overly dramatic in saying that my short time in Canada helped turn around the narrative of my summer.

Eventually, it was time for me for Lisa to drop me off so I could head on to my next destination. One of my biggest hopes is that the goodbyes won't last forever. I'd love to return to Gander in the not-so-distant future and perhaps see more of Newfoundland. It would also be wonderful to reunite with my Gander friends at one of the "Come From Away" openings. For now, I just hope that we can stay in touch a bit… and that they realize how much I was genuinely touched by their kindness. They are all treasures, and I feel so fortunate to have spent a bit of time with them.

At 9:10pm, the airport was creepily deserted; it didn't feel unsafe at all- just super weird. I was literally the only passenger there. When I reached the airline desk, I checked my bag because there was no charge to do so. I was relieved to be able to check in successfully since I'd been concerned that PAL airlines flights weren't listed on the airport departure website. I wandered around a bit, revisiting some of the public areas I'd seen on my "Beyond Words" tour the previous day. Beyond that, there wasn't much else to do. The only modicum of excitement occurred when another passenger eventually arrived.

I wasn't sure if security was open so I waited to go through until there was an announcement made at about 10:40 for passengers on my flight to proceed. Needless to say, it was a super quick process. I was impressed that the domestic departure lounge had plentiful outlets and USB ports... especially since I hadn't found those amenities in Toronto. It wasn't until I was editing photos that I noticed with a chuckle that the clocks for different time zones in the domestic lounge were... not exactly accurate.

At 10:50- 30 minutes before the scheduled departure- the incoming plane had landed and the whopping total of 2 awaiting passengers were called to board. The lady who led us to the tiny plane one was the same one who had checked me in. She said she didn't need to see my ID since she remembered me. But actually I'm pretty sure that I hadn't even shown her my passport when I checked in.

When I climbed into the small plane, I noticed that there were already a bunch of passengers onboard. I think the flight originated in Goose Bay and just stopped at Gander for a quick drop off/pick up almost like it was a bus stop. The plane smelled a bit weird and some of the other passengers were a little rowdy. But I could endure anything for a short 35 minute flight- especially since we took off ahead of schedule. On the plus side, I was astounded that they actually found time to come by serving a basket full of snacks; I picked out a small bag of Bits and Bites chips as well as a Cracker Barrel cheese that I saved for later; I didn't realize that the latter didn't come with crackers or I'd have grabbed some of those as well.

St. John's airport was a bit bigger and sleeker than Gander, but it was still relatively small so it was a quick process to retrieve my luggage. I was already waiting for a cab at 11:40pm which isn't bad considering that my plane wasn't even scheduled to land until 11:55pm. Taxis pulled up in dribs and drabs but the wait wasn't bad.

The front desk clerk at my St. John's hotel was just as friendly as the personnel had been in Gander. She quickly and efficiently checked me in and I made it to my room at around midnight. I'd been checking prices at my hotels even after making my initial reservations and when I noticed that I could book a Junior Suite for the exact same price as I'd reserved for a regular room, I upgraded my accommodations. It was a very comfortable room which definitely felt more modern than my one in Gander. However, I was freezing because the air conditioner was blasting cold air directly on the bed. I tried to push the buttons on the unit to turn it down but they had no effect. Fearing that I might catch a chill with cold air blowing on me all night, I called the front desk and someone arrived very quickly to check it out. I found out that you need to adjust the temperature via the controls on the thermostat (which was on another wall) not the ones on the unit itself. Oops.

After taking a few requisite photos and unpacking some essentials, I climbed into the comfortable bed. I already missed Gander, but my heart was full of gratitude for how absolutely fabulous that leg of my trip had been. And I looked forward to spending the next day finally seeing the St. John's sites I'd planned to see the previous year… if only my cruise had stopped there as scheduled.
Breakfast buffet Gander and Area SPCA Gander and Area SPCA Gander and Area SPCA Mischievous SPCA kitty Oz and friend at the SPCA Bonnie and friend at the SPCA With Oz and Bonnie at the SPCA Dover Fault Dover Fault Dover Fault Dover Fault Trying to mimic Diane's pose at the Dover Fault Dover Fault Dover Fault Dover Fault Dover Fault Dover Fault Dover Fault Ida's Place Double Chocolate Caramel Brownie Greenspond Greenspond Greenspond Greenspond Greenspond Greenspond Joey's Lookout Joey's Lookout Cobb's Pond Cobb's Pond Cobb's Pond Bonnie's dog at Cobb's Pond Cobb's Pond Tim Hortons Strawberry Banana smoothie Cod au gratin Dinner at Rosie's Selfie at the airport Domestic departure lounge- 10:41pm in Gander Domestic departure lounge Hotel room
Getting up for my 8am alarm after arriving so late was haaaard. But when I looked out my window, the lovely view of the Harbour and Signal Hill (which I hadn't been able to see in the darkness of the previous night) beckoned at me to get ready. My hotel didn't offer a free breakfast so I improvised with the cheese from the airplane followed by one of the chocolate chip cookies I'd brought Greenspond (which was wonderful). A slight downside of inhabiting a junior suite was that I had to keep walking back and forth across the large room in order to get ready; staying in a tiny room where everything is within arm's reach has some benefits!

I'd booked a tour that would take me on essentially the same itinerary as the one I would have taken if my 2017 cruise had docked at St. John's as planned. However, I went with a company that offered small group tours because I thought that would allow for a better and more personal experience than a full size bus. Little did I know…

The morning started out well when then minibus stopped by my hotel on time. Unfortunately for my motion sickness, I had to sit near the back since I was one of the last few picked up and by then all the front seats were taken. The guide seemed friendly and, when we all exchanged info on where we lived, I was excited to be find out that a few of my fellow passengers were from New Zealand. All in all, we had a congenial group of 13. I know this number because the guide made a point of telling us he'd be counting to 13 a lot throughout the day.

We made a quick photo stop across St John's Harbour from downtown before heading to Cape Spear, the Easternmost point in North America. I was glad I'd brought my hoodie because it was quite chilly walking around there! It was a beautiful area with a lighthouse but unfortunately a good number of my group, including me, missed seeing the touristy sign marking the Most Easterly Point. I think the guide really should have led us around instead of just giving us some vague directions. I also shouldn't have blindly followed others, but I preferred to keep some of my fellow tour members in sight in order to ensure that I didn't get lost or left behind. One of the group members had a problem with her camera battery so I took some photos of her from my phone and sent them to her; the ones I took of her turned out much better than the ones she took of me.

We made another short stop at Petty Harbour which was a cute little area. During our drive back towards town, our guide/driver talked a lot about his life experiences and his family. It wasn't really what I'd signed up to hear but his stories were interesting enough. He wasn't originally from Newfoundland although he'd lived there for years.

As we rode down Water Street through the heart of the town, our guide provided some orientation and information about St. John's. I was intrigued when he mentioned a restaurant that served screech creme brulee, although I ultimately never dined there partly because I couldn't find a current menu to confirm that this dessert was still available. It was helpful later to have a bit of an overview of the town, although I didn't discover any information that was a revelation in terms of finding any hidden gems to improve my trip.

We stopped briefly at a statue commemorating Terry Fox, a runner who had 1 leg amputated due to cancer. In 1980, he set off on a cross country run from St. John's called the "Marathon of Hope." In undertaking this run, his aim was to raise awareness for Cancer research. Tragically, he had to quit his journey after 143 days and 3339 miles near Thunder Bay, Ontario due to a reoccurrence of cancer. The monument includes the quote "I just wish people would realize that anything is possible if you try; dreams are made if people try." I'd never previously heard of Terry Fox and I'm glad we made this stop so that I could learn of his story.

We arrived at Signal Hill at around 11:40am; the guide said we should aim to return to the bus by 12… 12:05 at the latest. It was even windier here that Cape Spear. Signal Hill is the site of a tower used for communications. I followed some fellow tour members inside, climbing the twisty staircase to a viewing area at the top where I really had to brace myself against the wind. The hill offered some impressive views over downtown St. John's in one direction and towards the Atlantic Ocean in the other.

On my way back, I perused the souvenir store and decided to purchase a trio of small Newfoundland flags for me and a couple friends. While walking around the store, I was amused to see an entire table full of "gay lumberjack" shirts. (note: that's a reference to a line in "Come From Away") I got in line to pay behind a family from my group. My receipt says 11:58am. After I completed my transaction, I walked directly toward the bus which was parked a little bit down the parking lot. While I was approaching, I saw it pull away. Not knowing where most of my fellow passengers were in relation to me, I assumed it was pulling around closer to the entrance. I was quite surprised to see it drive out of the parking lot completely. I knew the driver had left off one guest at the visitor center to use the restroom (she'd already visited Signal Hill) and I figured that once he picked her up, he'd do a count and swing back up for me. So I stood around and waited for a few minutes, taking some more pictures. I first posted about the incident on social media at 12:03pm after I'd already been waiting at least a minute or 2, so I have proof that I wasn't late.

When it became evident that the bus wasn't returning, I was quite in shock. I've been on tours all around the world and I can't recall any tour guests ever being left behind. If anything, I've occasionally groaned as the bus waited for people who were hugely late. The blunder was particularly astonishing in light of the fact that there were only 13 passengers to keep track of. I'm not sure how the few people seated across or behind me didn't notice that I was gone, but it wasn't their job to watch out for me. Perhaps they figured that I'd made arrangements with the driver to go off on my own.

It might seem surprising, but my overwhelming emotion at the time was a mix of relief and freedom. I was finally at liberty to embark on some independent exploration, unencumbered by time limits or the constant talking of the driver. I knew that there was a path that led into town and when I'd been making plans, I'd thought that it would be nice to take that walk if I had a chance. It was only about a mile to my hotel and it was all downhill. I'd like to think that I am the kind of traveler who can be flexible when things don't go as planned; in this specific instance, I was truly more than just OK with continuing on my day on my own- even though I couldn't believe that a guide at a top rated tour company would make such a shockingly unprofessional mistake.

I was quite hungry since I hadn't eaten a proper breakfast and I recalled that the visitor center just below the top of the hill had displayed a sign for Newfoundland Chocolate Cafe. The only sensible way to proceed was to head down there to regroup. Once I arrived, I approached the people manning an information desk and asked for directions on how to walk back to town. I told them my story and they were horrified; they offered to call the tour company or a taxi but I assured them I was fine.

After using the restrooms, I got in line at the cafe and ordered a ham and cheese sandwich which I had them heat up. I couldn't resist adding a hot chocolate and a double chocolate chip cookie…. I wanted all the chocolate! It was quite a relaxing little stop. I felt better eating some food, and of course I enjoyed all the chocolate.

At about 12:40, while I was still finishing up my meal, I received a phone call from a Newfoundland area code. I answered it and it was my guide, who said something about leaving me behind at Quidi Vidi. He was quite shocked when I coolly corrected him and said that I never even made it to that stop because he'd forgotten me all the way back at Signal Hill. He insisted on returning to pick me up, which killed my plan of walking back to town… but it's all good since it had started to rain a bit and I hadn't brought an umbrella or a raincoat on the tour. I would have been miserable walking back to the hotel in those conditions.

When he came back with the mini bus, the guide obviously apologized. He made a quick stop so I could take a photo or 2 of Quidi Vidi but it was still raining and we were only there for a quick instant so it wasn't all that thrilling. I'm not sure how much the other guests had seen on their original stop there earlier.

A few of the other tour members were still onboard (albeit none of those who had been seated behind me) and they told me I should have seen the guide's face when he pulled up to my hotel and no one got up to disembark. He'd apparently been (justifiably) mortified. They were all impressed with how well I took it all. But in my mind, there wasn't much of an alternative; I just had to move forward. I'm an experienced traveler and it takes a lot to phase me particularly when I'm not lost, I don't feel any sense of danger, and I don't have anywhere I need to be.

Still, there is absolutely no excuse for leaving a passenger behind out of sheer carelessness- what if it had happened to a passenger who was a less confident or experienced traveler? I was in the middle of composing an email to the tour company asking for a partial refund when I got the phone call from the driver. Figuring that I technically received the full experience of the tour I'd booked, I no longer felt I had any right to demand a refund- though it would have been excellent customer recovery if the company had offered a partial refund as a goodwill gesture. But instead of receiving any kind of personal outreach to apologize for their glaring mistake, I only got a generic thank you email requesting that I post a review on Tripadvisor. So that's exactly what I did- I gave a rather generous 3 stars to the tour and offered a dispassionate account of my experience.

The mark of a good company isn't necessarily that they never make mistakes, but rather how they deal with situations when something goes wrong. The company replied to my review with a seemingly sincere request for me to reach out to them so they could "express our apologies on a more personal level and hopefully prove that we are also willing to make every effort to rectify our failings." They obviously already had my personal contact information (since the driver had phoned me) and if they weren't sure of my identity, I'm pretty sure they could have contacted me directly through Tripadvisor (unless something has changed). Nonetheless, I tried to fill out a contact form on their website in response to their query. After receiving a 500 error when I tried to submit the form, I copied my comments and sent them via email. A week passed with no reply so I tried to connect with them again, this time sending a bit of a lengthier message via Facebook. Finally, a day later, they responded... their message was courteous but it basically told me that I needed to phone them. Sorry but that's was a total bullshit request- I'd already gone out of my way twice to write to them and now I needed to call? What was I supposed to say, "Hi, I'm calling to get my apology"? Also I don't really enjoy talking on the phone; it was their mistake, they should have run with whatever method of communication I chose. Or else they could have picked up a phone themselves. As egregious as it was for the guide to leave me behind, I chalked it up to a human mistake. I am much more troubled by the hypocrisy of the company maintaining publicly that they were apologetic while not performing a single action to live up to those words. Their lack of concern for their customer after such a glaring mistake is highly disappointing to me; the preeminent rule of running a tour should be that you don't leave anyone behind. I was surprised to receive such uncharacteristically callous treatment from Newfoundlanders who generally go out of their way to ensure that their guests feel welcomed and cared for.

At any rate, when I got back to my hotel, I checked out the most assuredly overpriced little market area beside the front desk because I was desperately craving a Diet Coke. As I perused the offerings, I narrated my tale of being left behind on my tour to the front desk clerk. She felt so bad that she told me to just take the soda! Now that's the Newfoundland hospitality I'd grown accustomed to. I greatly appreciated the gesture, and even moreso the compassion.

After a mentally exhausting morning that had followed another late night, I felt a little tired so I decided to take a break. I indulged in a very quick nap… but about an hour or so after I'd arrived back, I felt recharged and I was ready to set off again. Fortunately, by then the rain had stopped. I really lucked out with weather this trip.

On the way out, I asked the front desk for recommendations of the best places to be screeched in. I'd also asked my guide the same question when he dropped me off. The consensus seemed to be to head to Christian's Bar, which happened to also be the place I'd planned on going to the previous year if my ship had been able to dock at St. John's. So I headed out in that direction to check it out. I still had plenty of time before their 5pm ceremony so I assumed a leisurely pace and explored the downtown area en route.

My first stop was to take a closer look at the colorful townhouses on Jellybean Row which we had passed at the end of the tour. Bright, multicolored areas are always a hit with me and this area was no exception. St John's proved to be an excellent walking city, filled with cute stores, colorful street art, and statues. One of the most poignant displays I stumbled upon was "Angels Corner" which was a nook on the side of a street that was decorated with flowers, a purple mural and a fountain. A sign explained that this area was meant to be a place that "shines a light on the violence and abuse faced by women in our society." Despite being a small town area compared to my home city, Newfoundland seemed impressively progressive in its attitudes towards diversity and protecting the weak. Perhaps it's a general Canada thing.

I was delighted to find stores selling scented soaps made in Newfoundland- I got a couple for me, as well as some as gifts for my nieces. I also stumbled upon an artsy store where I was thrilled to find a pair of bluish earrings that appealed to me. I've given up trying to buy earrings at every. single. place. that I travel but Newfoundland was a special trip and I am so pleased to be able to wear some handcrafted earrings that remind me of my time there. (As a bonus, they totally match my "Come From Away" shirts!)

I was amused to come upon a restaurant placard advertising various forms of moose meat. Burgers seemed to make sense, but there were also photos promoting poutine and nachos. I couldn't help thinking that the "Come From Away" people staying at the Elk's Club would have enjoyed these offerings. I wish I'd had enough time to sample the poutine. Actually, I regret not having time to try any type of poutine on my trip. I was also excited to pass a store that had an Ugly Stick (traditional Newfoundland instrument) on display in the window; it had a note attached with instructions to pull a pin to take it apart for travel. I was very slightly tempted to check the price but I was sure it wouldn't fit in my carry-on... and besides, what would I actually do with it?

Christian's Bar is located on George Street, a 2 block area that is lined with many different bars and pubs. It seems to be a popular place to hang out downtown to enjoy the night life. I arrived at Christian's at around 4:15 and paid $20 CAD to register for their 5pm Screech In ceremony. I left and walked around the area a bit before returning. When I got back to the bar, I recognized a family from Ontario that had been on the minibus when it returned to pick me up. They invited me to sit with them, and we shared some laughs about the situation. It was particularly fortunate to run into them since they were able to take a couple photos of me during the actual ceremony.

At about 5pm, the lights dimmed and the speakers filled the room with a Newfie folk song entitled "The Islander." As the catchy tune repeated the refrain " I'm a Newfoundlander born and bred and I'll be one till I die./ I'm proud to be an Islander; here's the reason why", the bartender started preparing for the ceremony and I felt my sense of excitement growing. It was happening- I was actually finally going to live out my dream of being screeched in!!! I shot a video that includes most, if not all, of this initial portion of the Screech In.

I've no doubt that being screeched in by the Come From Away crew in Gander would have been even more fabulous, but the ceremony at Christian's was certainly credible and it was a whole lot of fun. Even though there were about 20 of us participating, the bartender had an impressive ability to remember names and hometowns which helped make it feel more personal than it might have. If I recall correctly, at the very start he spoke a short but poignant tribute to Anthony Bourdain who had been screeched in there not long before his untimely death.

There were 4 parts to the actual ceremony. First, we ate a slice of baloney. And then they brought the cod…. [**insert Jaws theme as played in "Come From Away" into my head**] I was ridiculously excited when it was finally my turn to kiss the (frozen) fish, a rite I'd seen acted out on stage so many times. This was the stuff of dreams! At least for a Broadway/travel geek, anyway. After everyone had taken their turn, shots of Screech were distributed and eventually imbibed. (as explained in the show, Screech is basically bad Jamaican rum) Finally, we had to respond to the question "Are ye a screecher?" by repeating in unison a phrase we'd been taught- "'Deed I is, me ol' cock! And long may yer big jib draw!" (which translates to "Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.") At that point we were declared honorary Newfoundlanders! Woo hoo! I'd been dreaming of this moment for a year and a half, and it was thrilling for it to become reality. Before presenting us with our certificates, the bartender shared some proud history of the province. Finally, another song played as he distributed our certificates. My name isn't quite correct on mine but it's close enough. I took a 2nd video of the final part of the ceremony, this time with my DSLR.

At the very end, we were invited to come behind the bar to pose for additional photos if we wanted. So of course I did. The flash hadn't been on my phone for some of the original pictures, so they hadn't come out as well as I'd hoped. I didn't feel like paying another $5 for a protective cylinder for my certificate so, after saying goodbye to the family from my tour, I walked back to my hotel which was about a 0.7 mile journey. On the way, I took in some sights- most notably a stop at Harbourside Park which featured a cute set of statues of a Newfoundland dog and a Labrador retriever.

At the hotel, I asked for recommendations of establishments where I might be able to enjoy some traditional Newfoundland music. The cleark offered me names of a few places and I researched them online. On a Tuesday night, it didn't look like there were many promising options. I decided to try Green Sleeves which meant walking back 0.7 miles to George Street, where I'd just come from! While the venue had live music playing, it turned out to be more contemporary. It was enjoyable but it wasn't quite what I'd been hoping for.

After perusing their menu, I decided on the Fish and Chips (made with cod, of course) which seemed like a sensible Newfie dinner for the last night of my trip. When I've tried Fish and Chips in the past, I've found it to be just ok. I was therefore pleasantly surprised at how absolutely delicious it was! I was satisfied that I'd made a perfect choice.

On my walk back to the hotel, I made a point to pass by the bar that realBonnie had told me that a Broadway "Come From Away" cast member was planning to visit that night. I stood at the doorway and peeked shyly inside. Not surprisingly, I didn't see them there. I had no idea what time they were planning on arriving and I'm really not that into seeking out actors just for the sake of doing so. If I had any concrete sign that this performer would have enjoyed the interaction, I would have found a way to make it happen. But I didn't want to crash their vacation. So I just headed back to my hotel and made it a bit of an early night; I'd had an eventful enough day.
St. John's Harbour St. John's Harbour Cape Spear Cape Spear Cape Spear Cape Spear Cape Spear Petty Harbour Petty Harbour Terry Fox monument Signal Hill Signal Hill view Signal Hill view Newfoundland Chocolate Cafe Newfoundland Chocolate Cafe Quidi Vidi Jellybean Row Angels Corner Street art Great Fire mural Traffic Box Art Ugly stick for sale Yah, that's a moose George street mural and statue Shot of screech About to drink a shot of screech Posing for a photo after the screech in ceremony Statues of Newfoundland & Labrador dogs National War Memorial View from my room Waiting for dinner Fish and Chips- so good!
On the last morning of my trip, I slept and slept… and slept some more. I think I was due for a crash after so many late night flights. Fortunately, I'd been granted a late checkout of 3pm so I didn't need to rush to pack although I did try to consolidate as much as possible. It was around 11:30am by the time I was finally ready to leave my room to enjoy a few final hours in St. John's.

I recalled passing by a restaurant near my hotel called Bagel Cafe which seemed like it would be a great spot for some brunch. As I was walking down Duckworth St to get there, I saw a person headed towards me who looked a heck of a lot like the Broadway "Come From Away" cast member who was in St. John's. I only had a split second to decide whether to say anything. They were in the middle of conversing with 2 other people so I just continued walking.

The Bagel Cafe was a delightfully quirky little place that was the perfect setting for my meal. As I looked over the menu, I was excited to see toutons offered. A Newfoundland specialty, toutons are basically fried dough. Lisa had been disappointed that she hadn't been able to take me to the place in Gander that supposedly serves the absolute best toutons because it had been closed for the holiday weekend. Although Lisa was convinced that the ones anywhere else couldn't be as good, I was still glad to have an opportunity to try some for myself. I ordered toutons topped with egg and bacon, and was quite pleased with my filling meal.

By the time I was done eating, it was almost 1pm so I didn't have a ton of time left. I was content to wander around and to enjoy the last few moments of my time away from home. While walking, I embarked on some last minute shopping. I returned to a souvenir store to purchase a cute purple Newfoundlant T-shirt that I'd spotted the previous day. While randomly browsing through another store, I fell in love with an adorable pair of artsy, brightly colored yoga pants. The best feature of these leggings is that they're made from recycled plastic! It was an impulse purchase that I'm quite pleased with- I feel happy wearing these vibrant pants to yoga class and they've been a big hit at my studio.

I returned to the Newfoundland Chocolate Company store near my hotel and picked up a handful of chocolate bars with screech liquor in them which I knew would make excellent gifts. (in the course of my stops at souvenir stores, I had been delighted to spot quite a number of items infused with screech... including tea, chocolate sauce and more) When I was checking out, the friendly lady at the register was chatting with me as Newfoundlanders typically do… and I discovered that she was originally from Gander. She'd seen the legendary (to me at least) concert performance of "Come From Away" and I was super jealous. She also asked me my opinion on the current US president which led to the typical discussions on that topic.

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped in at Tim Hortons and waited in line to buy something small using my $5 gift card from "Come From Away" Toronto. For some reason, I chose a chocolate chip cookie; in retrospect, I think a bagel might have been a better purchase. As I had in Gander, I instructed the cashier to use the resmainder of funds on the card for the next people in line as a "pay it forward." They seemed a bit more confused by my action than they had in Gander but they agreed to do as I wished. I didn't stay to see what ensued when the person behind me went to pay, but I hope my gesture brought a smile to their face.

Back in my hotel room, I was pleased that I somehow managed to successfully stuff everything I needed into my suitcase without expanding it. I'd purchased fewer gifts than usual due to the space constraint, but I was nonetheless relieved. As usual, the front desk was friendly and helpful as they checked me out and called a cab.

My cab driver was a big teddy bear of a man who let me sit next to him in the front. He was very friendly and we had a nice little chat on the way to the airport about topics ranging from my hometown to "Come From Away." I told him that I heard that the musical would be coming to St. John's in January…. I wonder if he remembered me when that engagement was officially announced about 6 weeks after my visit.

I arrived at the airport super early for my 5:40pm flight. The airport was newer and sleeker than Gander's (I've since learned that they'd very recently renovated the departure areas), but there wasn't a heck of a lot to do while waiting. I walked around and took photos of plush moose before finally settling down at my gate. The 3.5 flight to Toronto wasn't noteworthy with the exception that absolutely no snacks were served- not even a tiny bag of pretzels. As we descended into Pearson airport, I was treated to a breathtakingly amazing view of the Toronto skyline through a twilight haze.

Transferring flights in Toronto was really easy. It's one of only a few international airports where passengers go through US customs before boarding which expedites the process after landing. It was a breeze going through security and customs although the process involved a fair amount of walking.

By then, it was about 8:30pm Toronto time- or 10pm Newfoundland time- and I was quite hungry! I purchased another Orange Sorbet coke and then grabbed a seat at a restaurant which served Spaghetti Bolognese. Excellent decision- I definitely was overdue for a proper meal and my food was quite tasty. I was a little nervous about making my plane so I asked for the check as soon as I was served. But I needn't have fretted as I soon received an email that my flight was pushed back to 9:45pm instead of 9:20pm.

Even though the flight to Philadelphia was very short, they still managed to serve pretzels. I gazed out the window at one point and thought I saw Niagara Falls illuminated below the cloudless sky. I had the presence of mind to take a quick cell photo. It's certainly not the best quality picture, but it was useful to compare to Google maps and confirm that I had indeed passed over the falls.

When I landed at Philly airport, I could walk right outside to the ground transportation without having to wait for luggage which was a nice change from my usual arrival procedure. The mini bus to the parking lot was just as claustrophobic and motion sickness inducing as it had been on my way out. During the journey, all the passengers chuckled upon hearing through the radio system that a baby fox was reportedly running around the parking lot. The person who had broadcast the message came back on to clarify that the critter was "really cute." I was quite disappointed that I never encountered the little guy while walking to my car or driving to the exit.

I got home really late, somewhere around midnight, and performed the minimum necessary activities before going to bed including such tasks as feeding the cats and brushing my teeth. I was tired, but oh-so-happy to have experienced a bit of a fairy tale journey which had been full of wonderful highlights. I can't think of a better way to end the accounts of my travels than by quoting Sankoff and Hein: "Somewhere in the middle of nowhere… in the middle of clear blue air, you've found your heart, but left a part of you behind"
Ready to head out for my last day of the trip Bagel Cafe Tautons with egg and bacon Duckworth Street A phone booth...?!? Newfoundland Chocolate Company statue Souvenir I was tempted to purchase On the plane for my flight to Toronto St. John's International Airport Goodbye, Newfoundland Landing in Toronto Spaghetti bolognese at the airport Flying over Niagara Falls A couple of the souvenirs I brought home
Since I travel so extensively, it was natural my love for "Come From Away" would lead me on a voyage to Gander, Newfoundland. My original aim had truly been just to see the sites mentioned in the show and perhaps learn more about the events depicted onstage. What I found there absolutely shattered my expectations. My visit only solidified my love for the musical. I'll never be able to see it again without also fondly recalling the time I spent with realOz, realBonnie and Lisa.

In contrast to most of my trips, my most cherished memories have to do with the people and not with the places themselves or the photos I took. After a summer full of loneliness, self-doubt, depression and anxiety, it did me a world of good to spend a short amount of time in Toronto with Kathryn and Kevin, 2 old friends that I seldom get to see. It was absolutely incredible to follow that up with such a warm welcome from the "Come From Away" crew in Gander, and I can't even begin to express how grateful I am for their hospitality. I hope to continue to stay in touch with them and hopefully meet up again in the not-so-distant future.

There are certain mantras I try to hold onto in order to boost my morale during tough times. Things like "I made it to Antarctica" and "I completed a kick ass cave hike in Belize." I think "I got picked up at Gander airport at 3am by Oz Fudge" is a definite candidate to be included in that collection of iconic travel memories, as a reminder that I have worth… and that there are good, kind people in the world.

Gander is very small and there isn't a whole lot to see there. And yet I feel like I want to return sooner rather than later. I have unfinished business with getting a proper screech in, and there are also other towns in the area that I'd like to explore. I've heard great things about Twillngate, for example. I highly recommend a visit to Gander to anyone who is a huge fan of "Come From Away". Even if you don't randomly end up spending a lot of time with people from the show like I did, you will still have an amazing experience interacting with friendly locals and seeing the places mentioned in the show. I can recommend Newfoundland in general to anyone who loves to travel to different places, although you might not want to spend as much time (or any time) in Gander itself if you are not interested in the stories behind "Come From Away."

I was very lucky with weather during my trip. Other than a brief bit of rain in St. John's, the skies were clear and temperatures were comfortably warm. I packed a lot of layers I didn't end up needing, but it's better to be prepared than to be shivering.

No vacation goes off without a hitch but the biggest issue this trip- being left behind on my St. John's tour- didn't feel like that huge of a deal. In fact, I was immediately cognizant that the incident would make for an excellent story. My gut reaction at the time was a feeling of freedom and that's led me to rethink my plans for future trips in terms of possibly booking fewer organized tours. Since I typically don't want to rent a car when I travel alone, some group tours are always going to be inevitable. But moving forward, I am going to try to look more closely for alternatives even if they might cost a bit more money.

All in all, my relatively brief "Come From Away" themed Labor Day weekend excursion to Canada was among my most unique and memorable travel experiences. I believe that one reason the show came into my life was to lead me to the joy and healing that this trip provided.