Notes from plane seats and the odd airport lounge


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Asia » India
January 8th 2015
Published: January 9th 2015
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HE SAID...
We had a 6am flight and we slept in, which wasn’t ideal. It had been a fairly hectic lead-up to our India adventure, and the water pump blowing up didn’t help. We had no water in the house for two of the last three days before we left, so showering was impossible and making a coffee was logistically difficult. My work deadlines were looming and my empty backpack was a constant reminder that I needed to get myself organised! The day before our flight we headed into Hobart to drop Mia (the cat) off at her boarding centre, but a squealing brake drum and puncture on the way meant an unexpected detour to the service centre. Mia wasn’t overly impressed with the noisy mechanics, but we were relieved to get the puncture the day before – rather than the day of – our flight. After a few last minute tasks in town, we headed home. Jasper and Oliver were picked up during the afternoon and taken to their boarding kennels, and I finally finished my remaining work. By 6pm, we had everything sorted, so we sat outside in the warmth of the setting sun and relaxed with a cold drink.

Anyway, back to sleeping in. We had a very early morning flight and I’d managed to set the alarm 30 minutes later than I’d meant to. Time is critical when you live 70 kilometres from the airport, so we woke in a slight panic. Fortunately, there was no traffic on the road, so we had a good run. After checking in I met an old friend that I’d shared a uni house with back in 1986. He was travelling to Perth with his four children. It was great to catch up after so many years. We barely had enough time to say goodbye, get through security, buy a lock for my backpack (I’d lost mine in the mad morning rush) before we were called to board. The flight to Melbourne was calm and uneventful – we were just lucky to be on it!

We know our way around the international section at Melbourne airport, and we have a lot of great memories there. We made our way to the gate lounge and whiled away the hours watching people come and go. An elderly Indian woman had lost her husband (or more to the point, he had gone missing from the gate lounge), so three young 20-somethings who were sitting close by spent an hour scouring the terminal trying to find him. They eventually rounded him up and guided him back with only minutes to spare before we boarded. It was touching to see such concern and generosity stretch across generations, especially considering they had never met the old lady or her wandering husband. I really wanted to ask where they found him, but I just couldn’t do it. I had a few theories, but I‘m sure they were all way off the mark.

The first leg of our flight to Singapore was bumpy in parts, but I love plane travel, so it didn’t matter in the least. The fish in coconut curry with vegetables and basmati rice was fantastic, as was the red wine. We were on our way to India, and that addictive excitement of travelling to a new land was really starting to settle in…

We had a four hour wait in Changi Airport, so we settled into the same seats we’d used a few years earlier when we first travelled through Changi together and freshened up with some iced tea/coffee and steamed buns. There is something so enjoyable about sitting together in transit and making up fantastical and assumptive stories about the lives of people who walk past us. It always reminds me of that great lyric from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’:
“Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said be careful his bowtie is really a camera.”

After a very comfortable four hours at Changi, we boarded an almost empty flight to Kochi. I think there were more air hostesses than passengers. One particular family did their utmost to push in and get on the plane first, but all their efforts were in vain – we got on just before them. The flight was reasonably bumpy, but the service was fantastic, and the fish curry and dahl with basmati rice was even better (and hotter) than on the first leg of this long journey. So too was the French red wine.

By the time we landed in India we had been travelling 26 hours, and we still had a further one hour taxi trip to our homestay. We were weary but excited. Not only were we in this vast sub-continent, but we were catching up with three fantastic travel companions (two from England and one from the US) to explore southern India for the next two weeks.



SHE SAID...
This trip to India is a little bitter sweet for me. When we booked this trip, Dad was quite excited for us, and we had numerous conversations with him about where we were going and what we would do. Dad had done a few train trips through India in the 1970s and had absolutely loved it. As some of you know, my Dad died quite suddenly in October last year, and for a while there I lost the excitement for this trip; however it didn’t last long... and I have since regained all my enthusiasm and eagerness for the new adventure. I had been looking forward to sharing this trip with my Dad, and while I’m quite sad that I won’t be able to do so, I won’t dwell on it. Dad lost both his parents when he was very young, and he recognised more than most that you just have to get on with life.

Every now and again we manage to have a calm lead up to a trip, but as is mostly typical, the last few days before the trip were quite chaotic. Despite good planning, we couldn’t really predict things like the water pump dying three days before we left, getting a puncture with Mia in the car or various other annoyances that took time away from packing and getting ready to leave. We were lucky that our plumber was able to install a new water pump for us so quickly, but two days without running water in the house wasn’t ideal. On the plus side, hand carrying water from the rainwater tanks outside and having bucket baths reminded us what a luxury it is to have running water. A timely reminder just before a trip to India.

This time (much more than others) it was really hard to say goodbye to Mia when we dropped her off at the cattery. I hope she doesn’t hate us too much for abandoning her. Jasper and Oliver got picked up by their favourite caretaker, and they seemed more than happy to jump into the back of the van, but I could see the panic in Jasper’s eyes as they drove away. I really can’t wait for someone to create an easier way for animals to travel overseas with their humans.

Our flight from Hobart to Melbourne was short and uneventful. However we were on the 6am flight, which is never pleasant. We have both caught this flight numerous times over many years, so you would think we would be accustomed to it by now, wouldn’t you? Even though I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that 3am start, a 3am start for a trip to India is far more bearable than a 3am start for an interstate work trip. 😊

Our time at Melbourne Airport was the usual mix of eating, drinking, trying on all the perfumes in the duty free shops, and sampling nuts and chocolates. It needs to be mentioned that the food options have vastly improved in the international terminal... I can highly recommend the rice paper rolls from Cafe Vue. We settled in at our gate and organised ourselves for our flight while watching a small drama unfold in front of us. An elderly Indian lady who was sitting in the priority boarding area seemed quite stressed and was getting three young people sitting nearby to help her with something. There were frantic phone calls made, staff assistance was requested and many discussions were held. We later realised that the lady's husband was somewhere in the airport and she was trying to find him, and he also had her passport and boarding pass, so the staff couldn't help her without her documents. As we were boarding, he ran/walked into the boarding area, with one of the young guys carrying his bag. The elderly lady was very (dramatically) happy and relieved to see him. However, the husband was clearly not interested in standing around to thank everyone who had helped. He grabbed the bags and marched onto the plane leaving the elderly lady to hobble on herself, miles behind him. We didn't get the whole story about what had happened, but it was very clear that he wasn't a very nice man.

The flight to Singapore was excellent. I had a Singapore Sling as soon as the drinks service started, and it was probably the strongest one I've ever had! We hit turbulence ten minutes later, and between the bouncy plane, the super strong cocktail and the Sia album, I was lulled into a deep sleep. I know it was a deep sleep because I couldn't hear the two poor screaming infants or the five year old in front of us who hadn't quite mastered his inside voice yet. I woke up for lunch, which was astonishingly good – a fiery fish curry in coconut with rice, and a cookies and cream ice cream. Happiness.

Changi Airport is a convenient connecting junction for us whenever we travel west, and we know the airport quite well now. We have a different routine for each terminal. We were in Terminal 2 this time, which is iced tea and coffee from Killeneys or Wang's with curry puffs and/or pork buns; and seats in the bamboo garden to watch the planes and people walking past. Yes, we are very much creatures of habit!

The flight to Kochi was on the tiniest Silk Air flight. However, the service and food were outstanding. I had the fish curry again, and this time it came with a dhal that tasted home-cooked. However, the meal was really quite spicy, which left me wondering how I was going to cope with the spiciness of the food at local cafes and restaurants in India.

Andrew has wanted to travel to India for years, but I have to admit I have been hesitant about agreeing to it. I knew that I wanted to experience India at some point, but I have had a few reservations. Where do I start explaining the reasons for my reticence? Well firstly, I’m a big fan of personal space, and I’m also a little bit of a germaphobe – so travelling to a country with literally a BILLION+ people and a poor sanitation record is slightly confronting. Secondly, it has quite a patriarchal culture that doesn’t look like changing for a long time. And thirdly, I have read enough about India to know that it isn’t going to be the easiest of places to travel through. But even with all of this in mind, and much to Andrew’s delight, 2015 turned out to be the year I said, ‘ok let’s go to India’. I have to confess that encouragement from Brian (who we travelled with in Malaysia in 2014) has helped, plus the fact that he will be joining us on the south Indian part of our trip. Yey! Also joining us are our friends Kim and Lee (from trips in Thailand in 2011 and Cambodia in 2013). Triple yey! Our travel excitement is so much more amplified when we are lucky enough to travel with such awesome people. 😊

As mentioned in our prologue, we have faced many questions about why we wanted to travel to India. It’s clear that India polarises people. And it’s equally clear that we need to experience India for ourselves and not be influenced by other people’s experiences or prejudices. In preparation for this trip, we have been engrossing ourselves in all things Indian for the last few months. However, sometimes too much information can be a bad thing and my imagery of India may have suffered as a result. I decided to stop reading when I realised that I been exposed to an overload of blogs about bad travel encounters and too much negative media. As I mentioned above, many people have said that it’s probably the hardest and most challenging country in the world to travel in (the most common sentiment has been – ‘it’s not a case of IF you get sick, it’s a case of WHEN you get sick’...), but I find myself sitting here with a very very excited feeling in the pit of my stomach.

We will be starting our trip in the state of Kerala. I know many people who sing Kerala’s praises, so I’ve been eager to see it for myself. Kerala was the birthplace of my maternal grandmother – the only grandparent I knew. Sadly, I don’t remember much of the stories Grandma used to tell us about her childhood in Kerala.

What I didn’t know before I started researching this trip was that the population of Kerala has political leanings towards the left. They were the first in the world to democratically elect a communist government, and for the last 40 or so years they have only voted in governments that were socialist or trade union strong. I found this extremely interesting, and wondered how a State government on the extreme left of politics would sit within right wing Federal politics. Kerala also has one of the highest literacy rates in the country, which go hand in hand with lower rates of poverty.

Well, we are getting close to landing in Kochi. I’ve forced myself to sit up and do some writing for the past hour or so, as I wanted to be wide awake when we landed.

Given we were arriving at the worst time imaginable for entering a new country – close to midnight – we have prearranged an airport pickup. I’m already looking forward to my first Kerala breakfast tomorrow morning.

See you in Kochi, on the coast of Kerala!

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9th January 2015

People watching
Do you ever play 'guess the nationality'? We try to guess where people are from by their clothes, gestures, habits etc. Probably a bit stereotypical but quite funny when you get it right (you don't have to check, but if you can catch a glimpse at the front of their passports,..... You have similar thoughts to me on India. Heard so many negative things about it, but my sister and parents have been a couple of times - mainly to Goa but my parents went to the Goldren Triangle on a tour too - and loved it. I'm not confident about it yet, but maybe your trip will change my mind.
9th January 2015

Re: People watching
Yes we play the nationality game all the time! We then try and eavesdrop on their accents to check if we were correct. So far, I totally love Kochi, but we've only been here 24 hours...will keep you posted :)
9th January 2015

Fly Me To The Moon
What a lovely shot of the moon over Aussie. I'm looking at it again tonight as I write this. How lucky to get a delicious fish curry so soon into the trip. Love A.J. and Molly
9th January 2015

Re: Fly Me To The Moon
Hi Aileen. Kerala is known as the epicentre of delicious fish curry, and we have had many fish curries already. We will miss them whe we move inland.
9th January 2015

And, you're off!!!
I am very excited to follow along with you on this trip. Glad the pre-flight nuisances sorted themselves out for you. Have a great trip.
9th January 2015

Re: And, you're off!!!
Brendan those pre-flight nuisances were really starting to add up! It was a case of 'however bad you think it is, it can get worse' :)
9th January 2015
our three munchkins

Feeling excited already!
Personally, I think you're going to have a blast ! Very impressed with your yummy airline curries and red wine and the treats and fun in the airports. Regarding Delhi belly, I think getting sick is just a part of travel--hope it's very short lived if (not when) it strikes. Too bad the next time you travel, I can't be there to pet-sit your munchkins. I've always done this since I'm wild about animals, especially yours, and do a pretty good job with plants, too. Perhaps you can find a fab house-sitter next time; it allows the babes to stay together and still smell you all around them. How perfect to start in Kerala and with friends--bon voyage!
10th January 2015
our three munchkins

Re: Feeling excited already!
Oh Tara, how fabulous it would be if you could pet-sit the three little ones! Maybe one day... :) x
10th January 2015

Family connections
Hi guys, hope you're loving it. We want to travel to Southern India some time next year on our year out so will read your comments with interest. I don't know if you remember but my first blogs on here were of Northern India taking my Mum back to where she was born. My maternal grandfather was Indian, so love the connection to the country! Happy travelling. We are in Laos. Meryl
10th January 2015

Re: Family connections
Happy travels in Laos Meryl! We've only been here for 48 hours and have loved it so far. The food is fabulous :)
10th January 2015

signs
Whilst reading about; the lack of water, inability to shower, unpacked bags, incomplete work assignments, punctured tyre, I was picturing the anxiety that must have filled your minds combined with the panic about lack of time. Then I witnessed three beautiful images of three gorgeous, relaxed relatives oblivious of the reality of the situation. There was your first sign that things always work out. A water problem and the feeling of not being able to shower just before a trip to India was definitely a sign! My theory about the old man who was "missing" with both passports, did not want to be found. His intention was to get on that flight all on his own. I am not sure if that was a sign... Really glad to hear the food on the plane journeys did not disappoint. Although you were "fished" out, seemed like you both enjoyed it. Cucks, upon your return from India, you and dad would have been equally excited about conversing about your experiences. However, as you quite rightly say, life has to go on and dad always said "live it to the fullest". He was always proud of you and this would be no exception. Glad you are loving the experience thus far and found a Peter look-a-like! Look forward to reading about the rest of India. Andrew, do you believe in "signs" now? Lots of love - Rom xxx
10th January 2015

Re: signs
Rom it was almost a comedy of errors... Jasper was aware of the stress, but the other two were blissfully unaware. I agree that the old man was trying to miss the flight, which would explain why he was grumpy when they brought him back in time to board the plane :)
10th January 2015

India
I wanted to go and Dave didn't so we agreed on a short trip. It is an amazingly charming country that has allure and romance even with all the dirt. The aromas and flies were tough for me a couple of days but it was all good. Lovely people and we are glad we went. Your world has been chaotic for a few months so I'm suspecting this last couple of days at home testing your calmness. I'm predicting smooth sailing from here on. As you saw in the airport there is so much more good in people than bad. Embrace everything India has to offer. Eager for the next blog.
10th January 2015

Re: India
Merry we are in holiday mode now, it has been smooth sailing indeed - with lots of eating and drinking. We leave Kochi tomorrow and hope to post another blog soon (trying to keep on top of it, but as always, I'm sure we will slip behind soon enough) :)
10th January 2015

"It’s clear that India polarises people."
I share most of your own concerns about traveling to India...and you are ethnically Indian so I guess I wasn't being prejudiced...which I didn't want to be. So I look forward to reading about your journey and hope that I might be able to do the same myself someday.
14th January 2015

Re: "It’s clear that India polarises people."
Thanks Bob. I don't think being ethnically connected to any place means that you can't evaluate it as you would any other place you travel to. We are loving our trip so far and having a fantastic time...
10th January 2015

Sometimes getting there is the adventure!
I don't particularly like airports or the length of time it takes to get to the locale, but like you, I've realized the people watching opportunities are gold! Have a wonderful trip in India, and I'm pretty sure your Dad will be right there with you.
14th January 2015

Re: Sometimes getting there is the adventure!
Thanks Andrea. People watching gives us hours of entertainment! We are having an ace time so far... :)
15th August 2015

A very enjoyable read!
Excellent, I have really enjoyed reading this. I like your relaxed and honest way of writing, and especially the "He said and She said" bits :-) I can also relate to many of the things you say: tricky country to travel in, it's not a case of IF you get ill but WHEN, and the creature of habits at the various Changi terminals! :-) I look forward to reading more
16th August 2015

Re: A very enjoyable read!
Yes we both got sick during this trip, fingers crossed you make it back home 100% healthy. It's so enjoyable following your trip, especially as you are going to most of the same places and that's bringing back so many memories for us.
16th August 2015

Same same
Same same on the blue Lonely Planet collection - I have three shelves of them at home to remind me of my journeys! Also same on the illness, I actually took ill on Friday and was bedbound pretty much until my flight home this morning. Still, made it home safely in one piece :-) it was just encouraging to read your comment about this while I was in bed in Bangalore... The big downsider of solo travel are the sick days...! Anyway, will write up my final entry for this trip tomorrow. And look forward to reading more of yours :-)
16th August 2015

Re: Same same
Oh no! So glad you got home ok... there is nothing worse than being sick and knowing that you have a travel day to contend with too! Final entry already? Looking forward to it :)

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