Thursday, October 23, 2008

EUT 08 – London, Lets get it started.

Once we reached London we were in the flow. As the song goes we were runnin' runnin' and runnin' runnin' and completely in the zone. We had our day by day and hour by hour Excel sheet ready. We specially made that so that we would not have to spend time in figuring out the what, where and how about things to do next. After we landed in London Luton airport, the Excel told us to take the Greenline bus, the number, the fare, the place to buy tickets, the place to board it from and the place to get off. We reached Baker Street metro station and took the Bakerloo line to Paddington station. The excel gave us directions to our hotel from there and after circling the hotel a couple of times we finally realized that it was our hotel and checked in. The room was basic with a bed, bath, television and closet. The best thing was that it was on the Ground floor in a 4 storey hotel with no elevator. The staircase was about 3 feet wide and so to get our fat asses and suitcases up would have been a nightmare. The complimentary English breakfast was served down just one flight of stairs in the basement.

It was drizzling a little when we got out for a stroll after freshening up. The excel sheet told us we could either do Hyde park which was a 5-7 mins walking distance from the hotel or the Marble Arch which was a couple of stops by the Red Double Decker bus. We took the Hyde park option, but walked in the opposite direction of the Park. That was the disadvantage of getting too much in the 'Zone' I guess, occasionally it meant that we were like a couple of Asses just following the carrot (the excel in our case). Anyways, we realized that after we had walked for about 10 mins and decided that we were too exhausted and called it quits. We ate at a nice Malaysian Restaurant which had got 5 stars in the airlines restaurant review. It was worth it. The food was bellisimo.

The excel advised us to do East London that day. We followed all instructions word to word (with occasional common sense intervention) and did the Tower bridge, Tower of London, London Bridge, St. Paul's cathedral, Cleopatra's Needle, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. We stuck to the public buses and tubes for transport and it worked it a charm. Hats off to the public transport system of London. Even with a child and his belongings, which can be really bulky, we had no problem traveling around. But traveling with luggage and a child and his belongings...... now thats a different story. Anant's pumping metal for all these years came in real handy there. It came in handy and worked all of the times except for one. On the day we came from Inverness, we came by tube to Paddington. Now the Bakerloo line is in the depths of Underground hell. The first escalator was the longest, steepest and narrowest one. I took Aarnav by the hand and one backpack and climbed onto it. Anant managed to pull our 2 big suitcases one backpack and Aarnav's stroller on the escalator and our journey to the surface began. Not for long though. One of the suitcases slipped from its position on the steepest part of the escalator. Anant tried to maintain his balance, but one after the other all the stuff slipped and took Anant with it. He did a complete 180 deg flip and landed on the bags a few feet below on the escalator. He would have slid further down if 3 nice Sikh ladies would not have broken his fall. We all managed to get everyone up and safe in the end. Henceforth on all escalators we would take only what we could carry, deposit it on top and come back for the next. It was not like someone would run away with a 23 kilo bag while we were transporting the least we hoped so. This is one incident I will never forget, and believe me, I forget a LOT of incidents.

Back to past present, we docked at a Bangladeshi Indian restaurant and had an elaborate mughlai dinner. Aarnav met his first love there. The Tarka Daal. He had never liked it in any of the restaurants that we had been to in Colorado. But ghar ki murghi daal barabar, and bahar ki daal was like murghi to him. He hogged on an entire adult serving of it along with rice and a little bit of sabji. I was almost in tears to see my skinny dude in love with food for the first time. Seeing him eat that way had made my day and we all had a restful night and were ready to follow the excel sheet the next day.

The next day was West London's turn. We took the tube and then the bus to Oxford street. We saw the Marble Arch and then decided to goto Hamley's toy store in London. I remembered Hamley's as an awe inspiring toy store from the last time I was in London in 2002. This time it seemed like a vertical toys r' us to me. It was incredible how I felt so different about the same place after a few years in mega polis.Anyways, Aarnav played with the wooden train station model literally for hours. He had been asking for a Spongebob toy for a long time and we bought it for him finally at Hamley's after paying double the price in British pounds. But Aarnav was happy and we owed him that much, for being such a good boy until then. I remembered my colleagues statement one day when cribbing about how demanding Aarnav was getting. He told me ' Sanika, little boys, little problems, big boys, big problems'. It helps me deal with my emotions when I am irritated with Aarnav.

After Aarnav's shopping it was my turn. I visited Clarks, Primark, Mango, Mexx and Zara. Did not buy a thing from those places, but made a lot of mental notes of snapshots of what to buy once I am back in the US. It did not make sense to buy any of the stuff in British pounds. I told Anant how awful we looked in comparison to the hot-shot, fashion-week round the year kinda people of London. I made a resolution that henceforth I would not be a tightwad and spend money on exclusive items. We ate dinner in Aarnav's sasuraal, the bangladeshi restaurant. Anant's patience had given up by that time and we headed back to our pigeon hole.

We woke up, checked out and took the tube to King's Cross station to catch the Eurorail to Paris. We were all excited since the train whisks you under the sea though the famous Channel Tunnel, also called the Chunnel, to Paris. Goodbye London, we loved you. Bongiorno! Paris.

Friday, October 17, 2008

EU Trip - Scotland

We were greeted by rain when we landed in Edinburgh – the best small country in the world. We took a taxi to our first pit stop, The Globetrotter Inn. It is a cute little upgraded youth hostel. We were a little worried because a youth hostel brought an image of bunk-beds and common toilets to us. But since we had inquired earlier and confirmed that our room will have a double bed and an 'en suite' we were confident that we would have it. As promised our room had a double bed and and 'en suite' and nothing more. That means no toiletries in the bathroom. Thankfully I had taken every scenario under consideration before we packed and so we had all the necessary stuff. The youth hostel was on the bay and hence had mind blowing views. The land was covered with lush green grass and wild flowers, the little houses around had beautiful flower window baskets and hangers, there were fruit trees and flower trees laden with produce and we could see land, water, forest and mountains all in one glance. It looked like the land of the gods. Heavenly. All our travel fatigue was lost after seeing such beauty. We left the hostel a couple of hours later and took the hostel shuttle to the Edinburgh downtown. The downtown was a different kind of beauty. It is on the top of hills with valleys having train tracks and gardens. The Princes Street is the main street and has the best views of all the historical buildings, gardens, Castle Hill and Edinburgh castle. We walked along the street for a while soaking in the views and then headed for dinner to a nearby Burger King. Henceforth, we would goto a McDonalds or Burger King in every country we visited to get a ballpark figure of the cost of food in those cities. We spent around 20 GBP at the BK for dinner. That was expensive by US standards but was not wallet emptying. We returned back by the shuttle and called it a day.
The next day was our GreyLine tour of Loch Lomond, The Trossachs & Stirling Castle. It was scheduled to be at 9:00 am from downtown. We were so tired and jet lagged that we woke up (inspite of the alarm) at 7:30 am. The next shuttle to DT was at 8:30. We got ourselves together and made it to the shuttle. We fought with traffic but missed our tour bus from the planned location. We were not going to miss this tour. I took the back pack and ran through traffic hoping to catch the bus somewhere praying that like us it must have stuck in traffic somewhere ahead. Poor Anant ran after me with Aarnav in the stroller. I kept on scanning all the white buses that I could see on my way and finally after 10 mins of sprinting I found it. It had stopped at a traffic light. I ran across the light and banged on the door. I could tell that the driver was startled but he did pull over for us. We got into the bus after apologizing for being late and thanking him for stopping for us. I still cannot imagine how Anant dodged all that traffic while pushing Aarnav in the stroller. We would not have made it to the bus if either of them would have given up. Kudos to you both! I love you guys.
The tour was fabulous. The Trossachs, Stirling castle, the boat ride on Loch Lomond with its pristine views of mountains, castles tucked away in the thicket, the green of the grass was just so serene. We had a simple lunch of lentil soup, bread and some sausage at a local restaurant and returned back refreshed. After a quick dinner on Princes street again we returned back to the Inn. The next day was our trip to Inverness.
We got into the bus on time for this one and traveled through the beautiful countryside to Inverness. The Town is very pretty, green, hilly and laid back. Our B&B was fabuloso and walking distance from downtown. We dropped our luggage in the B&B and then headed by taxi to Clansman Hotel harbour to hop onto the boat ride on Loch Ness. I had already raised Aarnav's excitement telling him that we may see 'Nessie' the monster in the loch somewhere. We took the ride on the Loch and I was surprised to see that 60% of the people on out boat were desi's. Not used to seeing so many desi's in Colorado. Reached Urquhart castle and spent sometime roaming around it. Anant wanted to read about the history of the castle, but surprisingly we could not find a sign or board anywhere stating any. We then had a quick bite at the visitor center and returned back to the city. We spent sometime walking around the Main street market and shops. There was a stunt show going on in downtown with a man lying on a pin-bed and a lady attempting to stand on his abdomen. But all the ppl watching the show looked shady so we did not spend too much time there. We saw the Inverness castle, some kilt stores, some bagpipes and headed for dinner in one of the 5 Indian restaurants. We had some exquisite Vindaloo and returned back to the B&B satisfied. After some movie watching on our Huge LCD TV at the B&B we packed and caught some z'es. The next morning we had an elaborate and delicious english breakfast cooked by the B&B lady and headed to the airport to catch our plane to London. The airport ppl were genial and again most of then were desi's.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

EU Trip 2008 - The D-Day

On the D-day we took the airport shuttle to the airport. Our route was Denver- Detroit-Amsterdam-Edinburgh. On arrival at the airport we were told that our flight to Detroit was delayed and hence we would go to Memphis instead of Detroit. The northwest clerk at the baggage checkin counter told us to do a kiosk checkin since there was a big line and lot of chaos. We could not scan our passports through the slots since we hold Indian Passports, and they are not scannable. So we told the clerk that she will need to check us in the old fashioned way. I asked her how would we catch our next flight which was supposed to be from Detroit to Amsterdam, since according to the new plan they were sending us to Memphis. She was confused and then told us we would reach Amsterdam as planned. So my next question was will we have to go from Memphis to Detroit to catch our flight to Amsterdam. For some reason that seemed to have pissed her off, since she told us we would have to wait for 5 hours more if we needed to goto Detroit so badly. What kind of comment was that!!!!... I told her that I was confused as to how do I catch my next flight since the route was now changed and that did not mean that I have to fly through Detroit. The dimwit (her name was Kimberly) then told us that she will put us on another flight from Memphis to Amsterdam and that it would reach Amsterdam at the same time as the flight from Detroit would have reached. This was all I needed to hear and all the previous remarks were totally unnecessary. Well but not for our bonehead apparently. Before she gave us our boarding passes, she scribbled 4 S's on them. I did not ask her what it was as I had no more patience to talk anymore with her. So we headed to the security check. Thats when we learnt that the 4 S's meant that we were Quad-S'ed. It seems, every one in 10 people are randomly selected by the computer to head towards special security screening. Well I did not think that we were chosen too ramdomly though after our long chat with Kimberly. They opened our carryon bags and removed everything in it, told us to seperate out all liquids and gels into ziploc bags, remove all metal, shoes etc from your body and pass through the T-Ray scanner, after which they frisked us manually. Aarnav was made to pass through the scanner 3 times just because he kept jumping all the time when inside it. Now I did not know that this scanner is a controversial machine until afterwards when Anant told me about it. I felt extremely humiliated and broke down into tears. This was not a good start for our trip ahead. Anyways I calmed down in the train to the terminal and cursed Kimberly some more to get it off of my chest. Then we took our 3 flights without any more action thankfully and reached Edinburgh safely. Our trip had started finally.