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My Valentine

Yvan in Panjim

To my beautiful and loving wife, Sarah:

I miss you so much, and think about you all day, every day. I would say I wish you were here, but that would be a selfish sentiment. I know you'd melt. As to whether you'd rather be home in -25C temperatures, I don't think either of us could say for sure..

Thank you for being independent enough to let me leave you for a month, but not so much that you won't want me back.

Soon we will be back in each other's arms, and we'll both have so many stories to share.

Baby, you're the greatest.

Day 5: Goa Carnival, and Stretching Out

Story to follow.

Day 4: Mumbai to Goa

Sleeper class on the Mondovi Express

The flight arrived ni Mumbai more or less on time.

I had booked berths in a couple of trains (in case one fell through). If I could make it to Vasai Road Station in about 90 minutes, I'd make it to the train on time.

Asked a taxi driver, hoping to make a fare, how long it would take to get from the airport to Vasai Station. He told me about 2 hours. After I explained that I needed to catch a train in less than an hour, the estimated time of arrived went from 2 hours to 1. Hmmm... I said it was OK, I would catch my other train instead, but he was quite persistent that he could make it. Tired from sleeping all day, who was I to disagree.

It was like I was in a chase scene in a Hollywood movie. At speeds up to 130km/h on busy streets intended for 40km/h traffic, death was a legitimate concern. We arrived 10 minutes before my train was supposed to leave. I thought I took video along the way, but apparently I didn't press Record.

Unfortunately, not understanding the layout of the station, I was on the commuter side of the station. I waited for my train at the brightly lit platform. As I did, little did I known that my train was leaving from one of the dark until platforms, six tracks over.

It took me a while to realize that I had missed my train. I asked a lot of people about it, by no one spoke English. Finally I found the Station Manager who explained that he looked for me at that track, but I wasn't there. That train would have been a first-class air-conditioned single occupancy berth.

I figured out how to take the commuter train to the Dadar station in Bandra so that I could catch the Mondovi Express a few hours later. By this time it was about 4 in the morning and I was surrounded by very sleepy commuters on their way to work.

It had been a long time since I had anything to eat or drink, and I didn't have any rupees. Luckily there were ATMs at Dadar station, so I took out some money and got some breakfast.

My train arrived more or less on time, my berth waiting for me. I had the upper-side berth in Sleeper class. Each car seats or sleeps 72 people, separated into sections, each with 2 side berths against one side, and two sets of 3 berths across from each other, perpendicular to the side, like this:

Sleeper class layout

Sleeper class is not air conditioned, and it was in daytime configuration, meaning the middle bunks were decommissioned to let people sit. With the windows open, the lack or air conditioning wasn't really an issue. After trying to stay awake, I gave in and crawled up to my bunk, and slept pretty much the whole way to Goa, or about 12 hours. It did get pretty hot up there during the daylight hours. Toward the end of my journey I had a couple of samosas on the train.

Upon arrival I took a taxi to Porvorim, and with a few stop for directions, ultimately pulled up at the house just as Ulrike was standing outside.

Day 3: Asleep at FL350

View from the back of a Boeing 777

I slept.

A lot.

Today may not have actually existed, due to the miracle of time air travel. I'm not entirely sure. If as I suspect, time jumped directly from February 11 to February 13, please disregard this post.

I do remember booking a train to Goa while at London Heathrow, and eating the best airplane food enroute BOM on Jet Airways. In particular I remember two courses of ice cream bars.

With about 500 people aboard the Boeing 777, I certainly wouldn't call it spacious, but real food and ice cream bars go a long way.

Photo: BMI Alan

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Day 2: Take Two

Stupid winter

I spent a few hours on the phone with Expedia and Turkish airlines. When the Expedia guy told me about the $430 rebooking fee, he neglected to mention the "plus difference in ticket price" part. Not surprisingly, a same-day ticket to India is quite a bit more than one booked a month in advance. In short, they wanted almost $2000 to rebook the flight.

First, I don't have a spare $2000 kicking around; secondly, other airlines are offering the same flight for about $500 less, no strings attached. Nonetheless, not something could afford.

The Turkish Airways rep added fuel to the fire by telling me they will not honour the return portion of my return ticket, because I was a "no-show" for the first segment. Some bullshit about airline policy. The fuck they wouldn't. Now it's personal.

Feb 23 note: Planning on showing up for return flight (still noted as valid on website). If I have to buy a ticket I will sue and take this "policy" to the Supreme Court if I have to.

I spent a few hours researching and considering my options. The one I ended up choosing was a $600 one-way flight through Priceline.com, offered after a failed name-your-own-price attempt.

With only 2 hours to departure, I dropped everything and headed to the airport (checking first for my passport), dropped off the rental car, and made it to the gate with 30 minutes to spare.

Day 1: False Starts and Turkish Hospitality

Turkish Hospitality

They say that absent mindedness and brilliance often come together and in proportion to one another.

On February 10, I must have been particularly brilliant.

Not one to pack weeks, or days, or day in advance, I do nonetheless take an organized and thorough approach. I had started my packing list and to-do-before-departure list days before. I had to make a few sacrifices on the to-do list, but the packing list was complete; by my departure date everything was packed, checked twice, and so reflected on the list.

I had heard a wise travel trip is to photocopy all your important documents: passport, visa, driver's license, etc. The idea is to make two copies: one to take with you, in case you somehow are separated from the originals, and another to leave at home in the security of a loved one, perhaps to provide to the consulate in the event of disaster or decree of war. I followed this advice to the letter. Better safe than sorry!

After a relatively productive day at the office, Sarah and I drove to the airport, with a brief stop for supper at the South Side Burger Company. I arrived at the airport 2.5 hours before my departure time, and kissed my sticky-bun adieu.

I stopped briefly on the way to the Turkish Airlines ticket counter to ready my documents for inspection and receipt of my boarding pass.

Oh fuck.

No, wait.

Shit.

My passport was curiously absent from my backpack. Immediately, I knew exactly where it was.

I approached the friendly ticket clerk. "I have a problem," I began, explaining my situation. After a brief exchange of words, we had a plan. I would simply connect with Sarah, who would be delighted to retrieve my passport from whence I left it (the platen of the photocopier of course), rushing it back to me at the airport with plenty of time to meet the plane at my gate. "I will explain the situation to my supervisor," the clerk explained. I would get my passport 30-45 minutes before the flight, head through security, to my gate with time left to peruse the magazines at the gift shop. "You are checked in, and we only need to see your passport."

Moments later I received an SMS confirming that I was checked in, along with a confirmation code.

Getting in touch with Sarah was tricky, but she nonetheless came through for me. Some 90 minutes later, my passport in hand, I rushed to the ticket counter to collect my boarding pass.

It was unstaffed. All the ticket agents had disappeared, and with 45 minutes remaining before my flight, not even the supervisor was in sight. I had already checked in, so maybe I didn't need a physical boarding pass. Most airlines got rid of those years ago.

SMS confirmation code in hand, I rushed to the security line to get to my gate. The guard at the entry to the security queue stopped me and demanded my boarding pass. I explained that I didn't have one, and that I couldn't get one because all the ticket agents were gone, and that I had an electronic confirmation do-jiggerer right here, and "I need boarding pass. I must scan barcode."

I spent 5 minutes trying to find anyone resembling a Turkish Airlines agent to no avail. I appealed to a helpful looking airport employee. She suggested I pick up the info help phone and ask the to page the Turkish Airlines supervisor. Brilliant!

I picked up the phone and waited while it auto-dialed my new best friend, perched to make my request. Sadly my new best friend had an automated call attendant, but that was OK. My call was important to him, I just needed to stay on the line. The call duration timer on the help phone incremented. 0:10... 0:30... 1:00... 5:00... 10:00... 16:00... and he granted my wish.

I sat by the ticket counter in anticipation of the page, and the apologetic supervisor rushing to print my pass. Some 10 minutes later, I heard the page at last.

No one came.

Desperate, I ran back to security to reason with the guard. Maybe I just didn't explain myself well enough. You see, I've checked in already. I'm good to go.

"I need barcode."

Back at the ticket counter I sat hopefully. A security guard noticed that I was in an empty queue to speak to a non-existant agent. He directed me toward a Turkish Airlines office where I found a person to hear my woes. She pointed out that the flight was leaving now ,and there was no way I could be aboard.

"What are my options?" I pleaded.

"There is another flight at the same time tomorrow. You will need to take that one."

With acceptance, I agreed, "OK, please put me on that one." This is the point where companies with exemplary customer service shine. They empower their front-line staff to solve problems quickly and with empathy for their travel-weary pax. A few keystrokes, and I'd be all set for Plan B. Unfortunately, I was flying Turkish Airlines, not Southwest or WestJet.

 

The sign read, "Turkish Hospitality". My sister and I, during a visit to her a few years earlier, were searching for a good cup of coffee from a mom and pop shop in Vancouver's west end. "What do you think that means?" we wondered aloud. Long story short, it meant that you got a warm cup of coffee half an hour after ordering it, with a side-order of contempt.


"Call your travel agent and ask them to rebook."

Unwilling to call Sarah for a third trip to the airport, I wandered toward Car Rentals. As always, the Enterprise agents greeted me with a friendly attitude, and empathy for my situation. After glancing at my driver's license, the booking agent wished me a happy birthday and was excited to see someone from his alma mater. He apologized profusely for charging me the discounted rate, still a bit high due to the last-minute booking.

Once home, I called Expedia. After 45 minutes on hold I got to speak with an agent. There would be rebooking fee, collected on behalf of the airline, but it could be done. He called Turkish Airlines on their travel agent line to complete the transaction.

They were closed.

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