Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cow Bells on Titlis and Airport troubles

When I read Naipaul's "Among Believers" based on his travels in Iran/Pakistan etc what struck me most was his detailed descriptions of people, their faces, the dresses, intricate descriptions of places, even the soil, graphic descriptions of rooms, the setting etc. Remember this was before the age of digital cameras, IPhone, voice recorders etc. He probably took notes but reading some passages it made me wonder how did he capture so much detail. I've not read much of real good authors in the 'travelogue' genre. Paul Theroux, Naipaul's one time friend, is famous for that. The other guy who many Tamilians would recommend is Manian, editor of now defunct "Idhayam Pesugiradhu". Manian's travelogues had two persistent features, telling where we can find Idli+Sambar in some foreign country and the next was to get himself photographed with girls in swimsuits. The latter was god send in a starved 70's Tamil Nadu. The info on idlis, which I used to ridicule once, I find quite essential if vegetarians are in the entourage.

Coming to the women. New York, in summer time, is famous for skimpily clad women. I could see some of it in Zurich but Zurich women, especially the ones I saw at Bahnhofstrasse, were classier, the New York kind of 'in your face' skimpiness was not there. Of course I am comparing plebeian Times Square with ultra rich Bahnhofstrasse. I did not see the proverbial American obesity in Zurich or Paris.

I did not maintain notes and wrote from memory mostly, also not in very focused manner. I had forgotten to mention a very wonderful experience en-route to Titlis. As we were ascending towards Titlis in our cable car, with sliding window, over lush green pastures, we saw well fed cows grazing by. "Pastoral" is the one word to describe it. We were hearing nicely tinkling bells and I looked for a church in the horizon. Only after few minutes later did I realise that the cows had bells tied to them. After finishing our trip I sauntered into a souvenir shop I found cow bells at different prices and sizes. Its their national symbol. I bought two very small ones for our curio case.

I had briefly mentioned how Terminal 5 in Heathrow and Zurich airport are ages ahead of JFK and Newark airports (both arterial airports in NY). However what I found in common in all airports is that they have to do lot more for the aged and disabled. Many terminals are far flung and transportation is not seamless. Help is not readily available. Wheel chairs are not easily accessible and when the chairs are around no one is there to push them. We often tell our parents to just hop on a flight and come over. "Its just a flight, its a breeze, its air travel, easier than traveling by train etc etc". Walking from Virgin Atlantic vestibule to baggage collection was quite a hike, luckily our 4 year old was happy to walk. While we wait for immigration clearance baggage are often strewn about. The amenities around immigration clearance is pathetic irrespective of how swanky an airport is. The queues are long and one cannot go to toilets while waiting for clearance.

Airlines are on a league of their own when providing food. Their schedule has no relation to timing for dinner or breakfast. A flight taking off at 9 PM in Newark gives dinner at 12:00 AM. Given that taking food past security etc is prohibited such things pose serious hazards for patients with diabetes or kids. Newark departure terminal is really bad. There was no restaurant to get anything worthwhile to eat. I had had a harrowing experience at Philadelphia airport where , after dumping our food stuff at security check, we had to go without food for 5 hours as the flight was delayed.

Its amazing that in this age of technology airlines screw up on advising if a flight is on time or in giving info on gates. At Heathrow some gates need 20 minutes walk time and gates are announced 40 before boarding. Imagine the plight of aged and those with children or just sick themselves. Once South west royally screwed me in Philly. At check in counter we were told flight was delayed by 5 hours but right above the person checking us in TV display showed that flight was on schedule. I disregarded the attendant and checked in. On reaching the gate we were told of the 5 hour delay again, yet again the overhead TV showed flight was on schedule. When I asked about that the answer amazed me. The TV display is by airport and airline cannot control it. Apparently the airport had wrong info while the airline which had the info did not do anything to correct it.

Travels are good, they expand our understanding, help us get some perspective, we appreciate some comforts we enjoy better seeing others, we also compare and yearn if something could be made better back home. Its an art to go with the flow on travel especially to international destination where we have almost no control. Going to North Carolina in an Acura SUV fitted with GPS is any day much easier than landing in Zurich and wondering if your child can eat something that does not contain nuts or if your parents can have something that's ok. Not being frequent travelers is a problem too one does not know what to expect or one is to scared of not being able to meet ones needs. Traveling light is another art form. No use lugging 5 books, choose one or two good books. No need to take a camcorder, an SLR and a point-and-shoot. If photography is your hubby learn to smile lugging the various lenses. We have decided to make the next trip with as little paraphernalia as possible. Until then Adios!!!

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