Well, finally, after months of planning, research and saving our pennies, the day has arrived when we leave for our trip to India and Nepal. The house started buzzing with activity in the wee hours, the kids were jumpy with anticipation as they boarded the school bus. Our flight leaves tonight at 6:00, we should be in India in 2 days.
This trip has involved monumental planning, a reverse from the majority of our trips which usually give a whole new meaning to the term "Accidental Tourist"! The main differences; traveling with the kids, the unpredictability of Asia, and about 5 weeks on the road, have necessitated some changes to our usual style!
I have an emergency kit that takes up more room than our clothing. My first aid kit contains more drugs than many a pharmacy, as well as a few syringes, elastic bandages and moleskin. Incidentals include penknives, flashlights, a few balls, pens, sink plugs, padlocks and that magical invention the Frisbee, which aside from providing hours of entertainment, makes a great plate for impromptu meals!
I have an idea of where we’re heading, but of course we have not booked anything in advance, as we travel standby, and one can take this preparedness stuff too far! We’ll figure it out as we go along!
In hindsight, I realize that planning, like teamwork, is only as strong as its weakest link...and standby tickets do not make for strong linkage! Our flight is delayed (they couldn’t close the cargo door), so we’ll no doubt miss our flight from London to Delhi. Like true adventurers, we head off nonetheless; the kids have never seen London, so all is not lost.
Our first surprise of the trip was meeting our neighbor Pierre on the flight. Pierre is a flight attendant, and he arranged for the kids to visit the flight deck and managed to sneak a bottle of champagne into our hand baggage sometime during the flight! Things are looking up!
Of course we miss our connection to Delhi by at least half an hour...so we’ll be in London for two days. Before departing the airport we register for the flight in 2 days time, at which point the ticket agents tells us that all the flights for our return date are hopelessly overbooked and we should not go. Some people simply cannot grasp the spirit of adventure! We register for our flight and head off on the tube to Earl’s Court, budget haven in London.
The art of plucking unsuspecting backpackers from the streets and directing them to cheap accommodations takes far longer in London than in Asia. It took at least 5 minutes for someone to descend on us! We followed this guy to a hostel, but found it a little too risqué for the kids, basic black and a plethora of body pins seems to be a prerequisite to staying here! Out on the street again another fellow led us to the Table Mountain Hostel, and we got a "magnificent" basement room with two beds and a sink. In Asia, this finery would set us back about $8, however, in London it’s a whopping $95 for the privilege. I am beginning to remember why we hadn’t planned on stopping here. The remainder of the day was spent deciding what we would do tomorrow and sleeping off the flight. We did manage to contact a cousin of Don’s who is posted in London with Amnesty International and have arranged to spend tomorrow night in a plush flat at a great (read free) cost!
Up with the birds, we head off for one of those artery-clogging British breakfasts of eggs, chips and sausage. We are rather hoping this will curb our appetites for the remainder of the day. Unlike most establishments in London, the coffee here has free refills, so we drink about eight cups each as we have a long day ahead! We head off for the tube and get four one-day passes, which will enable us to give the kids the $5 tour of London. We breeze through Picadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral and Harrods. The highlight of the day was watching the unsuspecting kids buy pigeon food in Trafalgar Square; I’m glad they’ve never seen the horror flick "The Birds".
Despite the tube tickets, we walked miles, so we collect our bags and sit on the sidewalk awaiting Pat, who will show us the way to her flat. While waiting we try to decide what type of vehicle she’ll be driving, we decide on a 4 Wheel Drive (so popular with aid agencies), when up walks Pat (so much for the Range Rover)! Back on the tube and 18 stops later we arrive at the bottom of a hill. One thing we are beginning to notice is the kids are little help with carrying, so Don and I are the mules. Once again we should have realized things were going just a little too smoothly, for we arrive at the flat to find Pat has no keys! No problem, Roger should be home in a few hours. At this point I fear the kids are realizing that Mom and Dad are a little flaky when it comes to planning a vacation. Of course we do eventually get in, and enjoy a nice glass of wine. We head off for dinner to a community center housed in an old church, great vegetarian cuisine and cold beer. We tumble to bed early, enjoying what is certain to be our last night amidst clean sheets spread on a thick mattress.
Up early again we head to Heathrow and are actually given boarding passes! I can’t believe we’re actually going to make it. One thing about traveling standby is you steel yourself for the possibility of disappointment. I grew up in an airline family, so I’m an old pro at never believing you’re actually going somewhere till you’re on the plane...and we’re on the plane!