So Visas yeah? They’re a pain in the behind. And there’s no other way to look at it. Even if you are ‘little miss sunshine’ incarnate with your own song and dance routine about every thing good that happens to you … and good things happen to you a lot … even then, the process of acquiring visas can be really really daunting.
And it’s not just daunting because a visa is difficult to acquire … it’s daunting because people make it sound so. ‘You know my so and so aunty once tried and she was rejected four times, four, not one, not two … four! Such a problem these visas are!’ If you do finally get the visa then the baggage mishap stories begin, ‘you know once my friend’s baggage was sent to another country’, ‘you know once my friend only got sent to another country’ … These stories freak you out even further, and the only way you can still manage to go through the whole process of acquiring the visa and preparing for travel is to not really take these anecdotes to your heart … But trust me, if you’re anything like me, you will not be able to avoid taking these stories seriously.
But first things first, visas are a pain in the behind but there’s no way around them. You want to travel, you have to go through them and the only way to do it is to do it right, and do it yourself … it sucks to have to plan your travel so much but honestly planning comes in very handy. Even though once you’ve set out your ‘plans’ will certainly change but by then you will know what you’re talking about … and that’s exactly the spot you want to be in, you want to know what you’re talking about. As for the ‘do it yourself’ bit … well, it always feels less horrid if something has gone wrong because of your own mistake than somebody else’s.
So, here I am, sitting at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi and although the last month and a half has pretty much revolved around visa processes, it doesn’t hurt so much … because now, another concern is taking over me … the ‘what if something goes wrong concern’. Its pretty taxing to be travelling alone, if something goes wrong there’s no one to watch your back or someone who’s back you can watch … it’s you against the world, or you with the world … glass half full, glass half empty … your choice! And I would like to be cool and say glass half full but the amount of activity at the airport is making the glass seem half empty.
Psst, its 1.45 a.m. … time to board.
So, Heathrow huh! Its 6: 25, London time, and I pretty much slept through the flight, which basically means everything went smoothly. The only problem area was that I kept waking through the night because either my mouth was open and began to get dry or my skin was soooo dry that it actually started tearing, literally! I just realized that the cuticle around the middle finger of my right hand actually had a blood clot, hmm! Is that an omen?
Anyway, I think I’ve pretty much seen all of Heathrow this morning, in and out of terminals and terminal buses et al. It has taken me a good hour through flight connections or so I feel. Boarding the connecting flight to Madrid now! 8: 15 London time, 9: 15 Madrid time.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will be serving a snack shortly, nothing fancy, just an English muffin, some juice and your choice of tea or coffee.
“Madam, would you like some breakfast?”
So its about 10:45 Madrid time, and I am looking out me window. Oh! And hey … my crummy economy seat was dirty, there was some gooey chocolaty (or so I would like to believe) stuff on it, so they upped me to a local flight’s version of first, ooooooh yeah!
So I am looking out me window and I am thinking, ‘hey it pretty much looks the same, no’ … petit plots of land, square-ish water bodies that look golden bathed in sunlight, and the works. Oh! But wait, we’re getting closer … and … and its not so same. Its different. Its better planned, planned housing areas, commercial areas, industrial areas … planned everything. There are hillocks, many of them untouched, only some of them being worked on to create building material etc. … but there is something else … there are a lot of these farms, with equidistant trees that look stunning from high above. I would like to think these are olive plantations and I couldn’t be bothered to find out otherwise.
And kaboom! We’ve landed. 11: 30 Madrid time.
12:00. Erm! Can someone tell me where I am supposed to find my ‘baggage’? Nope. Or Nada, more like. Seriously if you don’t know a little bit of Spanish, it might be very, very difficult for you to find your way around the Madrid Bajaras Airport. I don’t remember the little Spanish I know, so it is difficult for me to find my way!
Anywho, I found some people who I recognized from my flight and so I followed them around to ‘my’ baggage collection belt … and there are MANY belts, believe you me, there are! Phew!
So, out I go, at the information centre … and finally, eureka! She speaks English! She gives me all the information she can, all the brochures she can, literally marks each one of them for me and tells me that I need to change three lines to get to my budget hostel. Ok! Thanks kind woman. Sounds simple enough!
I get out of the airport, reach the gates of the metro line … and try to pick my bags off the trolley, and oh boi! That ain’t happening, not today!
So off I go to the taxi stand. Treinta o treinta y cinco euros. Dude, you got it, my friend gave me exactly the amount as a goodbye present before I left India.
Inside the taxi and that’s my first sniff of Madrid … Smoke! + Ham? body odour? Perfume? … god knows what, but it is different and I don’t mind it at all. My cabby is wearing Ray Bans & a funky sweat shirt, and rubbing his fingers often whilst driving. Wonder why he is nervous? Shouldn’t I be rubbing my fingers? May be he thinks I won’t give him the exact cab fare because I am ‘phoreign’! Erm! I can read man!
O boi! The city looks lovely. The cabby is now playing English songs instead of the Spanish ones he was initially playing. That’s my first taste of Spanish hospitality. As Beyonce and the likes start cooing sweet nothings, the city starts enamouring me … enamorados .. o .. o! I like what I see.
It’s the epitome European city to my completely and utterly Un-European mind and eyes.
And then I reach the street where my hostel is … and it’s the most gorgeous street ever, cobbled stone, a quartet playing Bach, policemen to give you directions (in Ingles) and everything. And then, I find my hostel … home sweet home! Or not ?!?
No, not for tonight. My bookings have been messed up, so I have to stay in another nearby hostel for tonight. WHAT ?!?
Anyway, once I am at the hostel, bathed and relaxed, smelling good again, I don’t mind it so much … now how about some food? O boi! Another disaster waiting to happen! A) The food at this café I have found is slightly more expensive than I’d like it to be (or perhaps its just conversion confusion). B) I have no idea what I want to eat. When in Spain, and don’t know what to order … order the one thing that you cannot go wrong with. Or can you not? Apparently you can go wrong with something as simple as tortillas. In my Spanish class one of our teachers made some tortilla and brought it to class. A simple preparation with eggs, potatoes, lots of fat, and chillies. But when I order it here at Marian’s Café, it comes sandwiched between two colossal pieces of bread. Hello? Why didn’t they tell us about the bread in class? Anywho, manage that somehow, avoiding the stares of some 20 other Europeans sitting around me at the street café, watching me chomp away on it awkwardly and unprettyily.
What’s next? Hmm! Think I will just relax today, have been on the run for 3 days now, preparing for the trip … must chill out dude! Hostel sweet hostel, and computer sweet computer. Blimey! The plug … doesn’t work here. Off I go to find an adaptor. I ask the hostel reception for information about where I can find one … and later realize that this is their answer to everything … Q. Where can I find an adaptor plug? A. At the Chinese shop.
Q. Where can I find some sandwiches? A. At the Chinese shop. Q. Where can I find some toothpaste? A. At the Chinese shop.
So, at the Chinese shop, the owner speaks impeccable Spanish and it takes me a loooonnng time to explain to him what I am looking for. At some point during the conversation I think he suggested cutting the original plug of the cable and attaching a Spain compatible two pin one, and fortunately one of his gestures made me understand what he was suggesting … so of course I did my ‘horrified’ face to make him understand that what he was suggesting was out of the question. Anyway he tells me he will try and get me a plug by noon next day and I leave his shop saddened, almost wanting to fly back home the next day if not the same … what on earth will I do here without my computer?
Back at the hostel a 10 minute nap and I am up and about again. Must go out and walk around, must do something … what a floozy, moping around in the hostel!
So on the street, I find another shop that has a lot of electronic equipment although it isn’t really an electronics store … I ask the man if he has an adaptor and he speaks English and says he has all sorts of adaptors, I just need to show him the plug! Holy guacamole! I literally run back to the Chinese man to fetch back my computer charger from him, which he had kept with him to help him with his hunt for the adaptor … And I reach his shop panting, he greets me with enthusiasm, and I really cannot make him understand that I want my charger back … he takes it out and there attached to the plug … is … is the white beauty! The elusive adaptor … Sigh! Now, I can start enjoying myself
Back at the hostel, here I am … telling you about my day in this strange, new land, not so sad anymore but missing home … and enter room – Mariella … and she is a vision. Europeans are so beautiful, even more so when they’re sleeping. The next morning I see her sleeping soundly in her white snug comforter and she looks picture perfect, breathtakingly so … Goodbye Mariella, my first European roommate in Europe , it was lovely talking to you for 3 minutes precisely…
P.S. – the highlight of yesterday was sitting in a noisy common room of the hostel where so many people had gathered together that it was becoming difficult to hear myself think … but I loved it! It was like being at a party without having to socialize … and what was even better was Gary one of my closest people back home was online … She has been to Madrid and done the exact same things that I am doing now … She gives me hope and says ‘I will love it’! Fingers crossed!