Saturday, March 17, 2007

My First International Travel


They say, "Life mein bohut saari cheezen pehli baar hoti hain". One such experience was my first international travel to Phoenix, Arizona, USA. It was a new experience for me and I thought of penning it down and sharing it with you. In general, I was feeling very happy about getting a chance to travel abroad. However, half of my happiness was being marred by the fact that I was travelling during World Cup time and going to a country jaha pe cricket ko koi "Ghas bhi nahi daalta". And what was making it worse was the fact that I could not even check online scores for India's first match (as I would be travelling).

The route I was supposed to take was Bangalore -> Paris -> Atlanta -> Phoenix. The total journey time: 32hrs 50 mins (including all flight times and stoppages).

My First flight was from Bangalore at 2:20 am from Bangalore International Airport. I had a really nice farewell and a few happy and senti moments at my PG (Paying Guest). There were as many as 7 people (Shivang, Nilesh, Amitesh, Gaurav, Anurag, Yadavendra and Amit) who were all around me helping me with around and giving me some travel tips (including : Do not take your hand out of the airplane :) , try to find a girl at-least in US ;) etc. etc.). Taxi came at around 10 PM to a landmark near my house from where my roommate Shivang got the taxi to my room. After all the packing was done, me, along with Shivang and Gaurav left for the airport. For international departures, we are supposed to reach the airport at least 3 hrs before departure. So, maintaining my childhood habit of never reaching the destination before time, we reached the airport at 11:20 PM. My friends helped me with my luggage and it was a mix of sad and happy moments (as always while bidding good-bye).


The Flight, operated by Air France, was Huge. It had a nice in-flight entertainment system. By entertainment, I mean television :) . Of course there were a couple of not-so-appealing air hostesses. The seating arrangement was 2-4-2. Push-back was only as much as domestic flight. It was a 10 hr 40 min flight. The take-off was smooth. After 15 mins, we got something to eat (sandwiches and salad). After the meals, we dozed off. The smell of the breakfast was what woke us up at around 8:00 AM Paris time. I ate some portions of whatever they gave, had some fruit juice and then we got down at Paris airport.


My flight was supposed to depart from Paris Airport at 1 50 PM (Good that it actually did, as I didn't have much back-up time at the next airport - Atlanta. Paris airport was wonderful. It was indeed a very big airport. My flight arrived at terminal 2-F. I don't know how many terminals are there in all at Paris airport. One good thing at Paris was that there was no need for me to collect the luggage. It would automatically be moved to my connecting flight to Atlanta. So, there was a security check, few minutes of walking and finally I reached the next flight boarding area. The boarding area was huge. Almost 10 times the area of Bangalore International departure. I had plenty of time there. So, I thought of completing my morning routine job there ;) . After I was done, I looked for a tap or at least a spray. All I could find was a huge roll of tissue paper. And for the first time in my life, I had to be content with just that and I said to myself - This is just the beginning, Shashank. No wonder, my friends who have travelled earlier told me to buy a Mug first when I start shopping. Well, after the not-so-pleasant experience, I found a phone booth. It was around 4 PM in India that time and I decided to call up mom with an international calling card I'd purchased in Bangalore. She was delighted to receive my call. And so was I to hear her happy voice. After that, I just took out my laptop and started writing about this journey. I had some biscuits which I was eating occasionally.


The second flight wasn't very different from the first one, apart from the fact that it was daytime. It was a similar aircraft, similar food and similar air-hostesses. On this flight, I got to eat some rice, dry palak paneer and rajma. My stomach was happy. This flight also had an in-flight entertainment system. This time I utilized it better. I played lots of games too. Watched the James Bond movie Casino-Royale and also slept for 4-5 hrs. This flight was for a total of 9 hours. I also made friends with an American guy who was sitting next to me. He was a 12th standard student. He was telling a few things about his school, the sports that are played here and some other gup-shup. In this flight we were required to fill a form for Immigration and customs while entering into US. This flight landed at Atlanta airport at around 7 30 PM. The next flight I had to catch from Atlanta to Paris was at 9 25 PM. So, I had two hours at Atlanta airport.


Atlanta was the port of the entry for me. Port of entry is defined as the place in a country where you first land. Well, what to say about this Airport. It was HUGE! Got down from the aircraft, then there was a small (1 question) interview and then went to the baggage section. Yes, we are required to collect our baggage at the port of entry and re-check in. For quite some time my baggage did not come. I thought it might have got lost somewhere in transit. But luckily, after some time all 3 bags arrived one after another. Took the suitcases, put them on a trolley and straightaway headed for the customs check. Nobody there was really interested in checking if I was carrying spices and masalas for cooking or bombs. I directly went to the next check in counter and checked in my suitcases. Then I had to board the next flight which was supposed to take off from B-27 terminal. My flight had landed at E terminal. In Atlanta, they have separate sections of airport called Concourse A, Concourse B and so on. So from Concourse E I had to go to Concourse B. Some time back, in the second flight, I had asked my American friends whether there were trains in US or only flights and cars. And here, on Atlanta airport, I discovered that they have an underground railway station at the airport itself!! Amazing! The trains were somewhat like Calcutta Metro railway, having faster acceleration and lesser stoppage time than Mumbai locals. Within 2 mins I travelled from Concourse E to B. Might be around 2-3 kms or so. Had to walk a few hundred metres and climb a few escalators before I finally reached B-27 terminal. Then started a big confusion between the airport officials if the Atlanta-Phoenix flight would fly from B-27, B-07 or B-05 terminal. They were announcing a different terminal every 2 mins. I was cool. When they stressed and made final announcement that finally flight would take off from B-07, I went there and boarded the flight.


The last flight, being a domestic flight was like our Indian domestic flights. By this time, I was pretty tired and yearning for a bed somewhere. But I knew I had to wait a few more hours before I can enter the world of Sweet Dreams! The seats were little better than KSRTC/DTC/BEST. No meals, no in-flight entertainment. This was a 4 hr flight. Got 4 biscuits and some water. That’s all. The flight landed in Phoenix at 10 45 PM.


Thanks to the pilot, a safe landing brought me to the Phoenix airport. This airport was by no means small, much bigger than Delhi or Bangalore. Nowhere compared to Atlanta of course. No baggage or customs check took place here. Just got down and straightaway went to the baggage section (not very far). Got my baggage and waited for my friend (Sharath) who had volunteered to come to the airport to receive. He found me after around 10-15 mins. We went to the car parking area and then off on the streets of Phoenix in his Pontiac G6. My hotel was around 15 miles from the Airport. First we came to our hotel. Thoda fresh ho ke we went to Sharath's room (around 2 miles from my hotel). He had prepared lovely Vegetable Rice. Pate bhar khaaya. It tasted soooo nice after all the junk food I'd been eating all through my journey. Then I chatted with mom on Yahoo!. She was waiting online to see me reach safely. Chatted for sometime and then came back to my room at around 1:30 AM. And then !! Slept! :)

If you are reading this line.... Thanks for your patience :)

शशांक ओखदे

Couple of Snaps of My First Hotel : La Quinta Inn