Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Europe Trip Sept 2008 - The Planning Stage

Anant and I really wanted to make a EU trip before we got back to being pregnant and having sleepless baby screaming nights again.
We wanted a trip to remember since we know that once the second baby came, we will be so deep into parenthood for the next 5 years at least, that we may not get a chance to go for such a trip. And plus once kids are a little older they are hardly going to be interested in visiting monuments and churches and basilicas. All our trips in the next 10 years would be to the likes of Disneyland, Waterworld and Elitch Gardens. So for the next 10 years this was going to be our last big trip that we take for ourselves. Of course there are the India trips, but they don't qualify as vacation since we need vacation after coming back from them.

Well atleast we started off planning like this, blissfully unaware of what was in store for us. Anant was not as blissful as me though. He thinks pretty realistically about things, and he tells them as they are. Unlike me where I am a little “filmy”, thinking that nothing will go wrong and we will be able to do everything according to our planned schedule (which was jam packed) and plus have a second honeymoon while we are at it. Well I like that about us in a way. I am pretty optimistic most of the times and Anant usually does not have an opinion about anything until he experiences it himself. I bring my enthusiasm and my fun, and he gets his wisdom to the table. So while I was like, “ I cant wait to go on our fabulous vacation trip, I want to have some crazy fun”, he was like, “Lets get to our first destination safely first, and then we'll see how it goes.”, “We need to take it easy San, don't get disappointed if we cannot do all the stuff from our checklist”. It annoys me many times when he says things like these and brings me down to earth from cloud nine. But I have learnt too many times now in the past 5 years, that his way of thinking causes less pain and disappointment. So that's what I told myself throughout the planning stage of this trip, “Keep realistic goals, Sanika, don't get carried away”.
There was too much pressure though. Last trip for the next 10 years, keeping realistic goals, getting the schedule for each day and every hour of each day of the trip, keeping in mind Aarnav's nap-time, potty-time and eating time, and cramming all spots and countries that I wanted in the 3 weeks that we had. After the schedule was ready we would begin the booking process for the flights, hotels, trains and tours and then apply for the visa's.

Shubhasya Sheeghram was the way to go and so we started with the planning on Dec 27th 2007 at 10 AM sharp. We made a rough list of countries that we would like to visit. My abundant EU experience from my Amdocs days came in real handy. Scotland, London, Paris, Spain and Italy made the first list. After looking at various guided tour options and many a Google mapping hours later, Spain was out of the picture. We finalized the start date and the end date of the trip as well as the start point and end point and made the flight bookings accordingly. Everything in the middle was still unplanned. I had already been to Scotland, London and Paris before so planning the number of days and spots was not tough for those. Once We came to Italy, we realized that we had two days too many for Italy. Anant bringing in his wisdom said that we should give those days to Paris so that we could relax there. I was totally not interested in spending 4 days in Paris. Secretly I had the craving to squeeze Switzerland into our plan, especially since we would have to pass through it anyways while going from Paris to Italy. A few hours of emotional blackmail later, Anant agreed. :-) So there was our final list. Scotland, London, Paris, Switzerland, Venice, Florence and Rome. Now all that remained to be done was hotel and train booking and some local tours and tickets if necessary. We did our research on EuroRail and railpasses. Ordered them when they were available. We devoted 3 hours every Saturday and Sunday for the next 5 months for the hotel research and booking. We were 90% done by June 2008.

Next on the list was visa's. We got the UK visa after getting fingerprinted the n-th time. The fun began when We found out that we needed to apply for the Schengen visa to the Italian consulate. Italian consulate are “Bade Log”. They needed both of us to fly to Chicago consulate for a 15 min interview which would determine whether we got the visa's or not. They is no loop hole. Anant was so furious, that he yelled to the lady on the phone that he had no intention of spending another $700 in flight tics and hotel reservations on top of what he was already contributing to their tourism department. He told me he would cut out Italy completely and return back to Denver from Switzerland. I saw my house of cards come crashing down. “Wait Hon”, I told him, “let me find a way to make this work”. I spent the next half day frantically getting all info I could on the internet about Schengen visa policy and consulate policy. And there it was a trick to get the visa's without any hassle. Schengen visa needs to be taken from the country where we spend the maximum number of days in EU. It was Italy for us. But since that was out of the question, I made cancellable bookings in hotels in Amsterdam and Brussels, for all the days that we were going to be in Italy. The Netherlands consulate is the only one that had the option of giving the interview in Denver and did not require us to fly to faraway lands for the interview. We removed Italy completely out of the itinerary and showed to the Netherlands consulate that we were going to be in Amsterdam and Brussels. After a 5 min interview and a few candies later we got the Schengen visa's from Denver. I promptly canceled all our Netherlands hotel bookings and used the visa for Paris and Italy. Phew!! we would complete our trip now and it was going to be so mind bogglingly awesome. “Earth Calling San! Do you copy?”.We are all set now, yippie.