My body says 10 to four in the morning, my clock says 21.50… And it’s still not dark. I’d forgotten about that.
Yes we have arrived in Europe. Our long long journey is almost at an end (for a few days anyway) as I sit on the train bound for Eastbourne and my parents. Small one is crashed out under a liberated Air India blanket. She has once again been a traveling superstar and has conducted herself with much more composure and courtesy than most of the other travelers we encountered today.
We began with a four hour ‘hop’ from Bangkok to New Delhi. Rather uneventful, with a not too shabby breakfast of omelette, sausages, fruit and plenty of coffee ( not quite sure what the strawberry jam was meant to accompany though… ).
A hearty meal is exactly what you need when you are transiting through any Indian airport as the security is something of an ordeal, even when you know what’s coming….
Bear in mind that you have already gone through airport security at your departure point and an additional pat down and hand luggage search at the gate. So you have had 2 full security checks by the time you get to New Delhi. When you exit the plane you are shepherded towards a passport check area where you must show your passport, boarding card AND the stub you have left over from the boarding card you have just used on your previous flight. So don’t leave it in the seat pocket or throw it away. They get quite cross if you don’t have it.
After that you are given leave to pass through this desk you will be given a new luggage tag for each item which MUST be filled out and attached to every single item (including a child’s teddy bear) and then you are taken to a security screening point. Yes another one.
It is utter chaos. There is a semblance of a line, but it’s more of a free for all to get to the front. Now the next bit is REALLY important. At the edge of the scrum if you are a gentleman, go to the left lane and if you are a lady, go right. They don’t tell you to do this unless you happen to go the wrong way. They get quite cross if you go the wrong way.
Once in your correct gender specific lane you must put all hand luggage on the conveyer belt and walk through the scanner gate. Once through DO NOT try and pick up your bags. They get quite cross if you try and pick up your bags.
You must then have a personal ‘wand’ scan. Now if you are a lady you have to step into a closed curtained booth to have this done ( by a lady officer of course). You must show the officer your boarding card and stand with your arms out ready to be ‘swept’. Do not attempt to smile or make conversation ( definitely don’t be tempted to try out any wizard of Oz themed ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ jokes) . They get quite cross if you do that.
After you are deemed fit to pass through you may then identify your bags and wait until the labels have been date stamped by yet another officer before you are allowed to reclaim them. If however there is something in your bag that is deemed unacceptable (despite being passed through security twice already) you must empty your bag completely and remove the offending article.
Now after a child’s pencil sharpener had caused us to almost miss a connecting flight through Mumbai a few years ago I had been super careful with packing. As this trip was a hand luggage only deal I had to be absolutely aware of what may or may not be permissible. I even went as far as to email head office and was assured that my needlework scissors would be acceptable as the blades were under 1 inch.
Sadly head office didn’t pass on that particular memo and regardless of my pleas and assurances that head office had okayed my scissors they are now languishing in the contraband bin. Don’t try and tell the security staff about head office. They get quite cross if you talk about head office.
Case re packed and stamped luggage in hand you are then free to pass through to the main body of the airport. Where you can walk into a stationary shop and buy a pair of scissors. Go figure.
Now small one was getting a little peckish by the time security rigmarole had ended as we still had another hour till our connecting flight was due to be called so we headed up to the food court for a burger. Having been assured by my bank a week previously that it would be ‘absolutely fine’ to use my card anywhere, it turns out that it was somewhat less than ‘absolutely fine’ to use it in New Delhi airport. Trying to scale back the order to fit the 300 baht I had left in my purse ( thankfully thai currency is acceptable here) left me without coffee or bun, but as long as small one could eat that would be fine. It was then that a small act of human kindness made it all okay again when the manger (whose attention had been caught by a slightly deranged foreigner calculating the price of chicken nuggets versus cheeseburger), just pushed the tray of food we had already ordered towards us he’d take care of the shortfall. Two minutes later when he arrived at our table with a huge cup of coffee ‘on the house’ I actually almost cried. It is the sometimes the simplest and smallest of gestures that can turn a rapidly escalating stressful situation into calm and happy moment.
But that still left the problem of my card. Without being able to use my card I was left without Internet, as I couldn’t buy any time, so I was unable to keep people posted of my progress. Slightly more worrying was the possibility that when we reached London my card still wouldn’t work and without a phone I couldn’t call the bank, without cash I couldn’t get to Victoria station to get to my mum and dads….. Now I could have worried about this for the entire 9 hours of he next flight, but I decided that as there was absolutely nothing I could do to alter the eventual outcome it was a bad idea to spend the rest of our journey fretting about it, and as we had already been the recipients of one strangers kindness I felt certain that should the worst case scenario transpire that we would find a Good Samaritan. If you have faith in human nature it will be rewarded ( not every time I know, but I am a great believer that people are inherently good and kind, however deeply it may be buried in some).
All to soon it was time to go to the gate for yet another hand luggage check and full body scan, then through to the corridor where the final severe looking soldier stood and checked that everything you were carrying has its own label. Whatever you do when you are transiting through India don’t be tempted to go shopping, or if you do make sure you can fit whatever you have bought into your existing pre checked luggage, as an extra carrier bag without its own label can be enough to get you held back off the flight if the mood takes them. And don’t argue with them that ‘it’s just a carrier bag with sweets/booze/whatever in’, because they really don’t like it when you do that.
We finally made it to the door of the plane and small one pulled out an ace out of her sleeve and guaranteed that we would be very well looked after by ‘wai’ing ( the Thai hands together greeting ), bowing her head and apologizing to the cabin crew that she didn’t know how to say hello in Indian. GOOD WORK SMALL ONE! She immediatly had her bag taken from her and we escorted to our seats and had our luggage stowed for us as we took our seats, and were told if there was anything we required during the flight just to let them know. I’ve trained her well over the years of traveling.
The flight passed as most of them do, in a slow progression of snacks, drinks, films, fidgeting and reluctant small talk with the Indian gentleman sitting next to me who decided at one point that his life story was the most enthralling tale and must be shared at once. It really wasn’t. But he was a pleasant enough chap so I sat and let it wash over me as I drifted in an out of a light snooze. He didn’t seem to mind.
When the cabin crew came around proffering yet another round of drinks, he paused briefly in his chatter to berate the poor lady as his previous Bloody Mary was not mixed well enough. He really was extremely rude to her and my face must have been a picture when she caught my eye as she gave me one of those ‘ don’t worry it happens all the time looks ‘. I made certain that when I was given my little plastic bottle of wine I thanked her profusely and in a very British way signaled my disapproval of his behaviour by firmly plugging in my headphones and turning away from him. Not an easy task in economy class.
On a side note here I would just like to mention here the utter pointlessness of the many and varied security checks to ensure that no one brought anything in anyway vaguely capable of doing grievous injury on to the aircraft, when they give you a full set of metal cutlery with your in flight meal. You took away my 1inch scissors and then you gave me a metal knife. A knife!!
After food I began the futile search for a comfortable position to nod off in, twisting and turning into ever more contorted and painful poses, a task made all the more complex when you have a 9yo next to you trying to do the same. When the cabin crew saw our efforts they did what they could to assist with many extra blankets and even a comfy pillow was brought out for small person, who finally collapsed in a heap on my knees putting a firm full stop to my own attempts. Oh well.
A couple of instantly forgettable movies helped to pass the time until the next meal. When it became clear that small person was not to be roused the staff bagged up her food and threw in a few extra chocolate brownies and some juice boxes for her to enjoy when she regained consciousness.
It seemed that an eternity had passed before the sheer joy of the ‘seat belt sign’ blinking into life told us that London was at last almost below us. Small person was maneuvered into an upright position and we began our final descent.
There is something quite magical about flying into London on a clear calm summers evening. All cities have their unique views from the air, but the sheer number of landmarks that slowly reveal themselves the lower you go is breathtaking. From the shape of the Thames snaking its way across the terrain, being able to pinpoint districts long before they can be seen simply by feasting your eyes on its languid curves and hairpin peninsulas, to the iconic buildings that rise up to meet you one by one as the ground grows ever closer. On a clear calm day it really is my favourite approach.
Upon landing there was the customary rush to be first to wait behind the swishy curtain for 10 minutes before the doors were opened and as usual we just kept our seats and waited till the plane was almost empty before making our move. As we were sitting waiting for the crowd to disperse the lovely lady from the crew came and got our bags down for us ( 🙂 ) as I was trying to unwrap small person from the blanket. “But its so comfy mum, they are the best plane blankets ever !’. She had a point, they were very nice. When we were finally ready to disembark small one was presented with her very own still wrapped air India blanket. Which made me feel a little guilty about the one I’d stuffed in her case in order for her to stop whining and get off the plane…..
A quick breeze through the airport ( I love traveling with hand luggage only ) via a cashpoint which accepted my bank card, yeah!, down to the depths of the underground where to my surprise I found there was still a cash balance on my hastily packed Oyster card ( London transport prepayment card) and 1 minute later we were on our way to central London. Now I’ll admit that I have a hefty advantage flying into Heathrow as I know my way round and I’m familiar (although less sure than I used to be) with the tube system and routes. If you are unfamiliar with it here are a few tips.
Plan your route from Heathrow in advance. It’s quite a way from central London and there are no free shuttles waiting to whisk you to the capital.
There are however many options -coaches, taxis and express trains will all get you there at varying degrees of expense, If you have vast amounts of luggage and are traveling at busy times it might be easier/less stressful to book a coach into London as there is not a huge amount of space for luggage at rush hour on public transport.
By far the cheapest and easiest way is by the underground.
Maps and journey planners are available online but its a good idea to have a ‘pocket tube map’ with you just in case. Familiarise yourself with the route you intend to take and any changes you need to make before you travel.
If at all possible have an Oyster card with you. This is a prepayment card that can used for Tubes, busses and some river bus services within London. It will save you a fortune as ‘Oyster fares’ are significantly cheaper than ‘cash fares’. You can buy and top up Oyster cards at most underground stations. And if you are traveling with kids then all under 10’s go free on tubes and busses. Which is nice.
Anyway…… It was a very smooth journey to Victoria station where we picked up our pre booked train tickets and had just enough time for a coffee and buns. And to pick up 5 minutes free internet and let everyone we had arrived and were on schedule. So here we are on the 21.17 to Eastbourne speeding towards my parents, small person fast asleep under her Air India blanket, large person having a tiny freak out because it’s still not dark, watching the familiar countryside that used to be home whoosh past in a blur of ever darkening greens shot with red from rays of the setting sun and happy in the knowledge that our travels are almost at an end. Well for a few days at least.
Jer Gan Mài