Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Autumn in Seattle

21st October to 24th October, 2011:

I love Seattle! Its cold, its wet and rainy....but this city has just grown on me.

The last 4 days we spent getting reacquainted with this city, like catching up with an old friend. Its freeway system, its quirky weather (rain one minute, brilliant sun the next), its gazillion parks, the floating bridge, the fall colors at the Arboretum, Husky stadium....were all there waiting for us.

Seattle does not have fall colors like the East Coast, but I saw some gorgeous splashes of red and orange colors I had to take pictures of.

We met up with lots of friends, ate good food and exchanged news from the past years. I went to Trader Joes and oohed and aahed like an Indian tourist....even though I had shopped there so many times in the past.

In other words, I had a lot of fun. We'll be back here in Seattle in about 3 weeks time, I have still so many things to do and friends to visit. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First stop Seattle!

20th October, 2011: India to US!

Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". 

Smart man this Capt. Edward A. Murphy, an engineer working on Air Force Project who said this. He must have known a thing or two about British Airways!

So our vacation got off to a brilliantly nerve racking start. After umpteen bye byes and a million kisses to my doggies, we left home at 3am for a 6.45am flight. About a half mile from home I hesitantly asked Raga if he had all the necessary paperwork, passports, visas etc. (I say "hesitantly" cos you know how defensive and belligerent these men folk get when you question their ability to remember important stuff like that.....) Well, in this case it was a good thing cos he checked his bag and realized he had forgotten our old US passports which has our Indian visa stamped on it and which we will forever have to carry with us like 2 extra appendages!!!! 3 years ago we forgot to take it with us and were almost denied entry back into India and got threatened with deportation. I am not joking. 

Well, back we went. The gate had been locked, my mother had cajoled the pooches back into the house....and here we were ringing the bell again! Doggies came running and all excited, they have no idea of time and thought we were back from vacation... :-( So after another round of byes and kisses, off we went to the airport. We got there around 4am and as we approached the BA counter were kindly handed a note saying the flight had been delayed an hour and 15 minutes! Huzzah!

The kind but inefficient man behind the counter told us we would be missing our connecting flight at Heathrow. NO, really???? So they would be re-routing us via Denver. Hyderabad - Heathrow - Denver - Seattle. We didn't argue...I mean, if that's the only choice we have how can we? We really should have paid close attention to the timings but we didn't. (You'll understand why later). So after the ritual of checking in and security we went to the departure lounge. BA folks - kind people - had told us we could use our boarding passes for free breakfast at Indian Paradise! Yippee. So dutifully we went and stood in line...a long twisty line. For a brief moment I felt like Oliver Twist.....

Well, we got our breakfast. A plasticky tray thingy with 2 idlis, a vada, some chutney and sambar. For those new to Indian cuisine, this is a very typical South Indian breakfast. In normal circumstances very delicious and satisfying. But at 6am with slightly frayed nerves and the thought of an impending long "3 more flights to go" journey was neither. 
Then we headed off to wait for the flight, boarded at 7.30 or so and soon were airborne! The flight to Heathrow was nothing great. I mean I know no flight is, but this was even more uninteresting. The entertainment system was down till about 4 hrs into the flight, the plane rattled with every turbulent thermal bounce, Raga didn't understand a word the British attendants spoke so I kept translating. Our vegan food requests somehow became vegetarian food we pecked at it. The only saving grace was that it was only a half full flight, so we had plenty of room to stretch out and snooze which I promptly did. 

Fast forward 10 hours...we land at Heathrow. Its now almost 2pm London time. We get off and look for our Heathrow Denver boarding passes....ummm...not finding them. We look again, in the bags, coat pockets, we go back into the flight...maybe its in the front seat....we look everywhere...nothing! So after a "you had them"..."no, you had them" dialogue, we go to the BA counter and get new ones. But, we have plenty of time. Its 2.30pm, flight is at 4pm. So we hang around biding time and we hear the boarding call for the LHR Seattle flight WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON!!!! DAMN! Too late for that now I figured cursing British Airways. So to calm myself I got a Starbucks Soy Caramel Macchiatto. Whatever Howard Schulz envisioned his coffee drinks to do, one thing they can do is soothe a frazzled nerve! Ahhh....

We board our next flight on time....Newer plane, only half full so plenty of room, entertainment system working, food smelling good...all seems well! But when food time finally rolls around we realize that not only has our vegan food request not been conveyed, even the vegetarian options are slim pickings!! We even get offered a chicken caesar sandwich.....huh? So once again we pick and peck at the meals and nibble at the peripherals.....enough to keep body and soul together. 
So between bouts of sleeping and movie watching the 10 hours roll by. As we get ready to land at Denver I realize the flight is half hour late and instead of landing at 6.30pm we are now landing at 7pm. Our connecting flight is at 7.40pm - you do the math. In 40 minutes we have to disembark, get the baggage, clear immigration and customs, go to the US airways counter, check in and board! Even my 2 doggies can figure out that is not going to happen! So I ask the head flight attendant if they can get us out of the plane first, I've seen that being done before. He declines. 

British Airways fail!

So we get off as usual, 33 rows after the rest, and head off to immigration. Again I ask stern customs official if he can expedite matters for us. I've been told they look stern but they are actually teddy bears. That, my friends, is not true, cos he gave me the glinty eye and told me to wait my turn!

So we get thru immigration. Time - 7.25pm...all I hear is tick tick tick, this deafening sound in my head. Off we go to baggage and get our bags at 7.40. We clear customs - time is 7.45pm. Seattle flight bye bye!  We head on up to the 6th floor to the ticketing counters to see what our options are and happen to see on one monitor that the Seattle flight is 15 mins late and is leaving at 8pm. We race to the US airways counter and plead with counter man. He does not budge and tells us to go to the Continental counter and get on the 9.30 flight. By now I am hopping mad so I say go to hell, and head off to the BA counter to whine and complain! Its pretty sleepy all around but we catch a lady there...and I vituperate! I rant and complain about everything and insist BA needs to put us up for the night cos I am not going to go knock on my friends door at 1am in the morning, so how about they give us a nice hotel room and put us on a morning flight to Seattle....she listens and nods and tsk tsks sympathetically and then hands me gift vouchers for 50% off at Marriot!!! Ok, so when is the Continental flight leaving???? 9.30pm? OK.

So back we go to the Cont. counter, I make sure they do not charge us for baggage which should have gone straight thru to Seattle - by now word has spread - there is a raving Indian lunatic woman at Denver airport!!!! While waiting to board I call my Seattle friend and tell her we'll be there in the wee hours of the morning. Then I call our car rental agency to make sure they hold the car for us....they tell me I should get there by 11pm, cos thats when they shut down. I say not possible....flight only landing at 11.30pm. Maybe it was something in my deranged voice or my tone cos she hurriedly said they would transfer our rental to 24hrs open Hertz!!! Whew!

After all this the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. I slept thru the entire 3 hr flight, we landed, picked up our baggage, collected the car and drove to my friend's place and got there at 1am.!

The good news is things can only get better from now on!!! Pics of unappetizing meals to follow soon.....