With A Little Help From My Friends
Couple of interesting things happened just weeks before take-off.
Gill Watts-Morgan (pronounced 'Jill') came up with a brilliant idea. "Why don't you'll buy BritRail passes?" she asked in her email. Jeez! Why hadn't I thought of that? I'd come across the website on a few occasions, but it never struck that this could be a convenient and an economical option. After all, we did have a fair bit of travel in our scheme of things. I wasted no time. In the comfortable environs of the Business Centre at Residency Towers in Chennai, I bought 2 BritRail passes online, at £135 a piece. Lucky for us, they were running a promotion at that time. A 4-day Flexi-pass bought before 30th September would give us an extra travel day, Free! I think I got myself a good deal and all thanks to Gill for providing the lead.
Meanwhile, my Londoner friend from Chiswick, Nigel Watts-Morgan had been burning rubber using his precious weekend time going around London checking out some decent accommodation for us. I was keen to stay in the heart of London, in 'touristy' type areas such as Bayswater, Victoria or Paddington. Searches on the Internet had thrown up numerous options. Somehow, The Blakemore Hotel in Bayswater had me interested. Well, it wasn't exactly the Waldorf Astoria, but looked pretty much touristy, clean and importantly, economical at £55 for a double. Nigel agreed. "Balbir, it's any day better than some of the 'dumps' I've seen," he wrote in his email. Finance man that he is I'm sure Nigel must've launched himself into some lengthy negotiation with the lady in-charge of reservations and came up with a plum deal - £45 a night, continental breakfast included. I was thrilled, considering I had budgeted something like £50-£55 per night.
Then came a twist to the tale that took me by surprise. You see, Hotcourses Ltd, is a London-based company - in Hammersmith, to be precise - for whom we've been providing services for some time now. In many ways, we were (and still are) an extension of their arm in India and they've always been appreciative of our work. As a good-will gesture, Nigel told me that they'd taken a decision to pick up the hotel bill for our 11 days stay in London. I was overwhelmed. What else could I say but 'Jolly Good'?
A-la Archimedes I did a 'Eureka' (with clothes on, naturally) conveying the good news to our two boys. They were delighted and only later, I knew why. They promptly handed me a revised shopping list, and a closer look told me it was a bit longer than the original. Boys will be boys, eh?
Back home in Bangalore, a leading travel agent we approached offered to get us our passports. 45 days is what it normally takes to get a passport. But since our friend was a big help, it took nearly 3 months. Taking no further chances I applied for visas directly and
got them in 4 days. Now, the next step was choosing an airline that would give us the best price on the airfare. I'd read so much in the newspapers on airlines offering drastic reductions and all sorts of discounts. Believe me, there was nothing. Air Lanka, British Airways, and Jet Airways - well, they all worked out to almost the same. I chose Jet Airways simply because they had the most convenient connection out off Bangalore. We could leave in the morning (India time) and land in London the same evening (their time).
So, Jet Airways it was. I blocked two seats online and then called on a travel agent in Koramangala, whom I'd dealt with in the past. He was helpful and he offered a discount if I booked through him. It wasn't a hefty reduction, but at least it was something. So I said 'okay'. He booked us for the morning of 4th Oct, departing Bangalore at 08.55 via Mumbai for the connecting Jet Airways flight to London at 13.20 the same day.
That settled we now had to get our bags packed. We needed warm clothing, that was for sure; but how much? I remember during my last trip I had loaded my bags with lots of woolies and it weighed 17 kgs even before taking off. With only 20 kgs allowable weight, we had to be selective with what we took. Besides, we'd be bringing in some goodies like souvenirs, clothes and stuff like that; so that had to be kept in mind too.
We did a bit of shopping on the 1st of October. We bought presents for all those we knew at Hotcourses; just a few new clothes for me; but a lot more for Mona. After all, it was her first trip overseas and I really wanted her looking her best. I told her to forget saris; she'd have a tough time with those and instead I felt she ought to have more of salwaar-kameez dresses. "The more colour; the more Indian, the better," I had told her. Well, she took the cue and hauled in quite a lot of stuff. Women will be women, eh?
Each night, sleep was hard to come by. As we tossed and turned, it was obvious that the excitement was fast catching on as 4th October inched closer.
Next: We're Leaving On a Jet Plane