Saturday, January 25, 2014

24-25 January 2014 – Return to God’s Own Country

I got up much ahead of the wake up call I had arranged with the reception and got ready for the drive to the airport on 24th. The drive to the airport was smooth early in the morning and we reached well ahead of the check in time. The flight was in time. It taxied for long in the airport to reach the appointed gate for disembarkation. At the time of take off from Rome the flight deck announced the temperature of 0 degree centigrade in Madrid. It was 1 degree centigrade at the time of landing there. I had packed my warm clothes into the checked in bag. The international flight terminal is very far from the domestic terminals. Bus transfers at frequent intervals transfer passengers between the two terminals. It was extremely cold waiting for the bus transfer to T4 terminal for the Emirates flight to Dubai. The T4 terminal is huge; one has to even transfer within the terminal by train. By the time we reached near the scheduled gate we were hungry as hell – the result was a huge Burger King meal. The EK 142 flight was unusually delayed, even after boarding due to some push back trouble. I opted to watch Spanish Masala, the movie by Lal Jose, on the flight. The food was also served late due to turbulence. It consisted of an appetizer of smoked salmon served with cream cheese, mixed olives and a lemon wedge; main course was a choice between seared chicken breast topped with mild curry yoghurt sauce, served with steamed rice and sautéed spinach and braised lamb roulade served with a lamb jus, accompanied by roasted rosemary potatoes, princess beans and tomato concasse. I chose the former. The moist sticky toffee pudding drenched in a rich toffee sauce encased in a creamy vanilla topping was the right conclusion for the meal. Also accompanying the meal was a box of savories consisting of cracker biscuits and cheese, brochettes and spicy chilly sauce and a piece of chocolate. The wine went right where it had to and it aided a peaceful sleep.

There was enough time to transfer from the arrival gate in the Dubai T3 complex to the departure gate on 25th early morning. The terminal was so overcrowded that I could not walk around without bumping into others. The Dubai Shopping Festival had drawn its share of additional passengers into the terminal besides the passengers transiting from one country to another – Dubai has indeed become the premier transshipment hub in the region, stitching one part of the globe with the other. The check out counters of the Duty Free shops was overworked. It took time despite the efficient handling of the counters.

The flight started boarding at 1.30 am – departure time being 2.15 am. The flight, as was to be expected, was full. Breakfast was served on the flight at about 6 am. It consisted of scrambled egg (against the steward claiming it to be an omelet!), potato croquettes, fruit cuts, bun and coffee. I settled for an orange juice instead of alcohol. The two other passengers by my seat were having a whale of a time – by their own admission, they had more to drink than they should have.

The flight landed ahead of time at the CIAL, by 8 am. The immigration counters were quick with disposal. However, the Customs department was operating only one scanner, which delayed passengers, with children getting restive and the elderly thoroughly inconvenienced. But worse was to come. Baggage got to the carousal very late. When checked with the Emirates personnel they mentioned that Customs was responsible fro the delay for they were scanning both sides of every bag! If they had to be stringent with checks they could have operated multiple scanners and carousals. Customer is least on their mind, it seemed. It took me two hours after the flight landed to be in a pre-paid taxi to head home. For the first time in ten days my watch showed the right time, for I had not changed it in Spain.

It is worth recollecting some impressions of the visit to Spain. The people look a lot like North Indians; their stature, complexion and hair color look a lot like that of the Kashmir/Punjab Indians. They are not as formidable in structure as the Americans. In fact, this is one factor that made me feel at home immediately on arrival. The public transport is excellent; the Metro, bus and tram services are very well organized. Combined day passes make for extremely economical multiple journeys to visit places of interest and heritage locations. They are also extremely visitor friendly, with eager to help personnel manning the buses and sites. One negative is the fact that the brochures and handouts are mostly in Spanish and hence, a bit difficult to appreciate the sites unless researched in advance. The relaxation facilities built for the local people are fantastic; the promenades, the shaded walkways, the beaches and eateries are shared by visitors with the locals. The discipline observed by the local people in using their facilities is another notable feature. Segregation of waste and their collection is a model worth following in our land. The discipline also flows from a respect for fellow inhabitants of the city or town. Breakfast consists only of cold foods – cereal, croissants, Danishes, fruits, juices, etc. Hot food is mainly for supper, which is had early. The normal accompaniment with meals is either beer or wine. Roman influence is pervasive. In a sense, they are proud of it too. Preservation of such influence tells its own stories. The Spanish are big on art, dance and culture – the preponderance of Museums, Art Halls and theatres are proof of this. They have a proclivity for lengthy conversations; time stands still for them when thry engage another in conversation and they have all the time in the world for that. The Spanish romance is exemplified by the paseo in a promenade. The lengthy leisurely walks studded with coffee and pastry is a pleasure to watch. All in all, an extremely wonderful part of the world to spend a holiday in.

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