Saturday, June 25, 2016

When London Dreams Came True - Part 2

Act 1 Take 2

Shortlisting the travel agencies to get me some sightseeing was an uphill task.  There were so many of them that at one point of time I told my dad that I quit.  Why can’t there be someone who can do all this for me and I just enjoy the whole experience without this arduous researching, enquiring and the works. But don’t they say no pain no gain? This exercise of going through websites of travel agencies, sending emails seemed to be unending. Then to add to my confusion there were alternatives like hop on hop off tours, 1 day tours and the likes.  A bit of researching later, I decided it was time to put a stop to running around travel agencies based locally. I thought of checking out travel agencies in London itself. There were quite a few who had 4 day packages or 3 day packages in and around England. However, most of them did not seem to be practical for a solo traveler like me. They were better suited for two individuals. I also found out to my surprise that the hostel I was booked in also had the booking options for tickets for most of the places I was looking to visit. But then luckily one of the travel agencies I stumbled upon seemed to have just the thing I wanted.  Aah. Lovely (in a brit accent) I thought. After enquiring with them, I found out that I could pay online for the tours I wanted to book with them or I can reach their office in London and then book them.  I decided to go for the latter.  Another thing to be done was off the list now.  It was almost April 3rd week by the time this thing was sorted out. It all seemed like a roller coaster ride. There was a new discovery every day about London, travelling solo and a zillion other things related to making a foreign trip.  I was told to hold on to my passport and the local currency with all my might. I should never ever lose my passport.

8th April
I get a call from my mom saying that she will be getting 4 days off from school, from 13th to 17th. The next thing she said was not very surprising. I was asked to fly down to Delhi pronto to do some preparation and get some parental wisdom (i.e., no drinking outside, no hanging out in bars during afterhours and getting back to the hostel at a decent hourJ).  Off I flew to do some shopping and get a few more things in order.

(Around) 23rd April
It was time to get in some cash in the bag. I was in this whole ‘show me the money’ (Jerry Maguire) mode when I was finding out about where to get the sterling pound (not so sterling now after Brexit). Eventually, I decided to go with one of the banks I had an account in. It helped as that meant I would not need to go through a lot of paperwork and the money will be debited and credited (if at all) from and to my bank account. So after filling up a couple of forms a couple of times, as I got the money in parts, I was good to go. I had the Queen in my pocket now! Another issue was sorted out.

30th April – I had the pounds in my pocket and I felt pretty zonked about it. It was now time to get the medical insurance.  That was one of the very few things my father insisted during this entire exercise that I should have, come what may. So I did that too, online. My mom had already given me this ‘friendly’ suggestion that I should start packing from April 30th. So I did, but I started on 1 May. Since it was just me and it was just 5.5/6 days in London, I hardly had any packing to do. Me and most of all, my parents were wary about the famous angreji weather – fashionably unpredictable. Plus, when we checked the weather during the week I was supposed to be there, it said between 18 and 21 degree C. That, to us in India in summers, especially, was cold. Pop came dad’s statement of finality. “Forget about wearing shorts darling. Pack sweaters.” So I did as a good daughter (:P). I even packed a trench coat sort of a thing, which was probably the heaviest item in my luggage after the weight of the suitcase. The suitcase was courtesy my beloved sister-in-law. So in a couple of days I was done with that too.

4th May - Dad had already told me that he will be coming to see me off and he reached Pune on 4th May. My flight was on 6th may at 10 am. We thought if we reached Mumbai on 5th night, instead of leaving at 2 or 3 am on 6th to be at the airport by 7 am, it will be better.  I called up one of favourite aunts in Mumbai to ask if we could stay at here place on 5th night. As always, it was a yes.  Before that the last thing to sort out was transport from Heathrow to the hostel. I booked a cab online on 4th evening. Since I  was landing around 8.30 pm at night and it was going to take me an hour to get out post immigration and baggage, cab seemed like the best option. Yes, even though it was a tad expensive. That was perhaps the only thing left before we started off for Mumbai the next day. We reached my aunt’s place the next evening, at around 8.30 after taking a bus to Mumbai. Excitement and anxiety, both were playing games with my mind.  I had only heard of the term butterflies in stomach, but as close as I got to leaving for London, I actually experienced what it is like.
5th May – I leave for the Mumbai international Airport with my dad and my aunt who is a complete sport. I reached the airport around 7.20 am. I got off at the spot which indicated that Emirates travelers should enter from that gate. I said to myself, “it is show time, without lights and camera!”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

When London Dreams Came True

Act 1, Take 1

Me- Circa December 2015 - “I want to go out some place in summer next year, out of India, preferably Europe and more specifically UK.  Oh and yes, if possible on my birthday.“
Me – Circa May 6th 2016, I am on my way to – lo and behold, to the land where Thames flows, London.
Flashback, 2016 January –
 I was frantically scouring through brochures and websites of travel agencies in Pune to check out if they have London only packages. It was a unanimous opinion that since it is my first time in a really far off, phoren land, it will be better if I go with a tour agency. And so started my research on tour packages to Londres, and how and what all to do there. Unfortunately or fortunately (mostly fortunately), after almost couple of months of reading and browsing through websites of travel agencies in India and in London, I finally gave up. I simply could not find a package which fit into my budget and the duration I was looking for. One of the major reasons was probably the fact that I was going to do a solo trip. So took a decision that I will do it myself. The fact that UK is an English speaking region worked to my advantage. It was one of the facts which gave a boost to my confidence that I will be able to manage this on my own. So that thing was set.
February 2016- I went to a travel agency to get my Visa done. Wow. It was no less than a school summer vacation project, with the number of documents I had to arrange for. It started from a letter from my workplace to my income tax declaration statements and the last thing I did was to get my bank account statements. It took me almost a month or so to get hold of all the documents. The irony was that it took me just 2 days to get the Visa after I submitted the documents in the UK Visa office at Kalyani Nagar! Blimey! That it was an experience is another story.  I was ecstatic when I got the visa and more than me, others were confident that since it is a tourist visa, it will be a cake walk.
So the next, the most arduous task on my hand was to zero in on the places I wanted to visit. It was a catch 22 situation because there were miles to go and excruciatingly less time on my hands. Nevertheless, you gotta do it, you gotta do it. So I narrowed down on 5/6 places – not to mention mostly touristy - Windsor Castle, Madame Tussauds’, Lords’ cricket ground London Dungeons and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. I also squeezed in a whole city tour.  I also had planned to visit my cousin who helped me with the invite, who is settled in Loughborough, Leicestershire, around 2 hours from London.
March  21, 2016 – Woohoo.. there it was. I had booked myself (finally after lot of deliberation, discussions and internet browsing) on an Emirates flight to London, Heathrow airport, with a layover in Dubai.  It took a good few days for me to digest the fact that I am now, booked on an Emirates flight to LONDON - the place, which I had been dreaming of going, since I don’t know when!  Immediately after that, I booked my stay in youth hostel, a la Queen, aka Kangana Ranaut, around 30 minutes from central London. The only difference was there was no Sikander in my dorm, as it was female only dorm! So I had Joan of Arcs and Xenas with my Razia Sulatna’ish endeavour in the 4-bed dormitory.  Booking my stay in a youth hostel proved to be one of the best decisions I had taken in a while
It was a huge relief for me once these two major things were done (after Visa ofcourse) with respect to my trip. Now making booking for the places to visit was one of the last of the challenges infront of me.