I have always been fascinated by Spain, maybe a tad more after seeing the three Amigos having their exciting holiday there in ‘Zindagi na milegi dobara’. So when work gave me an opportunity to go to Madrid, I took it with glee
and got onto a Air India flight at 3 pm on a Tuesday. Despite all of what has been said and talked about AI’s services and quality over the years, somehow I have always liked it. The pilots are experienced, there is less turbulence during take off & landing and air hostess….well…much more caring. As soon as we took off, like most Indians do, I devoured few glasses of wine quickly with peanuts/ almonds/ cashews/ don’t remember and went off to sleep. It was quite unusual for me to have slept almost 5 hours on a flight and when I got up, didn’t know what to do. Air hostess came with a genuine smile (you always make it if it’s not !!) and asked if I’d like something to eat. ‘You haven’t eaten for a long time, have a bite…else you might get acidity’ , she said in Hindi. Kept thinking about the ‘acidity’ part…no other air hostess has ever said that to me before. Was she trained to say all this …probably not…why would she care to say that…she could have just asked if I wanted to eat and then left with that fake smile !!
How do you attach a price tag to this ? Made me sad that Air India is being sold (though last we heard there were no buyers )…just hope that only body is sold, the soul would remain as it is.
Next day, I took a walking tour of Madrid, where you pay at the end…only if you like the tour (that is confidence for you !!). On walking through the royal palace, monastery and cathedrals, listening to Spain’s history makes you realise the magnitude of blood and violence they have been to. Compared to that, Indian freedom struggle was almost non violent and that part of the world looks at it with great amazement.
After seeing the world’s oldest restaurant (estd 1721), it was time to grab a quick beer. The guide told us that in Spain, there is a rule that eateries have to mandatorily offer something to eat with beer (how noble !).
Two things strike you when you visit these European countries – the amount of planning they have done with infrastructure (and the respect that they have for it is reflected from the cleanliness of roads and public places) and they care about others. Two examples come to mind. First, when on our official sit down dinner, the person sitting next to me (we met for the first time) waited for a long time, patiently for my food (being a vegetarian in these countries is not easy) to come. It was only after my several requests that he started eating his dinner. The other was when I went to a Starbucks to get another bagel while leaving my sunglasses on the table outside. A lady passing by saw it and ran inside and looked really worried about my belongings. While I couldn’t understand a word of Spanish she was speaking, it was obvious what she was trying to communicate.
On the roads, I saw lot of elderly couples, leisurely walking holding hands and talking to each other. Lot of them can be found when you take a tour or a bus for tourist places. ‘I got 10% discount of senior citizen’ proudly announced a man who was with his wife on the same day trip to Toledo heritage city, 70 kms from Madrid. No cynicism, no self victimisation…and still a twinkling in eyes for what future has in store for them. Quite intriguing !
We had two Indian families on same trip. One Bengali family (who else !) was listening intently to what the guide had to say about the city, monuments, architecture and so on, whereas the other Gujarati family was running back and forth to take as many pictures as they could. The 40 something man was wearing a golden shirt with Rock & Roll written on the back (swear I am not kidding) and hardly heard anything on ear phone given to us for the trip. On a narrow lane of the city, where all of us had to stand on the corner against the wall to let the vehicle pass, he actually blocked the way to take his wife’s picture from the DSLR he was sporting. The lady guide politely said that the car was very patient, the man didn’t have any idea what the fuss is all about ?
Had a pleasure of seeing the Madrid football stadium…you have to pay 25 Euros only to see and add 5 Euros for the phone with an earphone that you are nudged to take on hire to listen about everything around, while you are seeing the trophies of winning teams over the years, history of star players and so on. It is a common practice to offer a device with earphone at all public places to tourists (of course for a price !) so that you can get to know the place better. In the famous Prado museum, where there are thousands of paintings and pictures, it was particularly handy as you can put the number attached to each one of them and hear the complete story. Should we not have something like this in India, where you have several ‘guides’ chasing you all the time for help and you’d never know about the authenticity of what they have told you ? But I guess in a country where the water mug in a train loo is tied with a chain, it might not be that easy !!
While coming back, my Air India flight at 11 pm got delayed and left only around 2 am in the morning and half of the fight was surprisingly empty. As I tried to straighten my seat to sleep, my mobile phone and charger found a hole and fell down, somewhere between the seat and the floor and refused to be found despite all my best efforts. Airhostess came to examine and concluded that now its likely to be retrieved only when we land in Delhi as the seat has to be mechanically lifted. I got very anxious with the thought of getting separated from my phone for 9 hours and after you have waited for half a night waiting for your flight, it was not particularly a good time for her to break the news. As I showed my displeasure, she reminded me that pilot had announced specifically to be careful with the phone else they could disappear. I was scared to put my hand in the hole thereafter…what if pilot announced us to be careful about that as well !! Anyways, Air hostess left promising that she would try to do what she could. I somehow forced myself to sleep on the adjacent seat after some time, only to be woken up with a torch light on my face and I saw the lady with one of the crew members trying to get my phone out and after few minutes….miracle happened…they actually managed to retrieve it !! It was an emotional moment for me, being united with my phone again and I could barely say ‘thank you’. Airhostess smiled again…and left.