07 October 2008

Journeying: Bangalore to Paris

Note: this journey took place on the eve of Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New year - I left Bangalore at 10:30PM Saturday night, Sept. 27th and arrived in Jerusalem at 6:30AM on Monday morning, Sept. 29th - just about 12 hours before the start of the Rosh Hashanah. I took me over a week to recover from my illness enough to put out the first blog post!

In a trip of many difficult journies, traveling from Bangalore to Jerusalem may have just been the most difficult.

I began feeling ill towards the middle of last week but didn't get really sick until Friday night when I found my temprature had risen to 102F. That afternoon I had already felt pretty bad which made my last day at Microsoft Research somewhat more rushed than I would have liked (especially the goodbyes) as most of the day I had been moving in slow motion. However, I did manage to finish up many of the things I had hoped to and say goodbye to most of the folks I now miss. I was really privledged to be there, and to work with such a fantastic bunch of people as the MNS group led by my wonderful advisor Venkat.

Anyway I was pretty upset to be so sick and had difficultly sleeping, eating, packing - all of which were quite necessary actions as I was due to leave for the airport at 10:30PM, just a couple of hours after the Sabbath ended. But I perserved, and so did my fever, despite my taking two doses of antibotics I had secured that Thursday. So after Shabbos ended, I immediately called the lovely doctor I had seen, Priya Ravi, my colleague Ram's wife. Priya is exactly the type of doctor I like to see - clear, concentious, easy-going, willing to explain the whys and whats and answer the innumerable questions I always have. She was so helpful. She increased the dosage of my then-current course, prescribed backup antibiotics and several other goodies to bring down my fever and clear up my breathing, and arranged for all of these to be delivered to my apartment before I left. She really was a lifesaver!

I did manage to finish packing around 10:45PM a couple of minutes after my cab arrived. We stopped at MSR to drop off some books lent to me by my friend Chandan (a series of graphic novels on the life of the Buddha - very nice stuff) and many bags of donated goods (weight limit concerns precluded me bringing them on the plane) and we were off to the airport. I was sweaty and half-delirious w/ fever but quite proud of myself and rather sleepy.

We arrived at the airport, I bed farewell to the transport folks and walked in. Various skinny Indian men approached me. One waved a dirty yellow ID tag saying "Lufthasa? I help!" and attempted to paw the baggage cart out of my grip. I asked him if he would be taking me to the check-in counter and when he nodded, explained kindly that I could find it myself. Another fellow began jabbering at me "Come for wrapping! For safety and security". After some miscomunication I asked him if this was an extra paid service. When he nodded, I explained that I didn't at the moment need that service. Then finally there were no more people trying to grab me and I slowly rearranged my baggage and proceeded to the check-in line.

Check-in went uneventfully until my baggage was weighed. At that point things became less pleasant. You see, I was informed my baggage was 22kg overweight (apparently the allowance was 20kg split between two bags). This was more than I had hoped, especially since I had called ahead to my travel agent and inquired how much the weight overage fee would be (5 Euro per kg was the answer). 110 Euro is alot for an iterant student intern, but I figured I'd argue a bit and then suck it up. A wheedling sentence to ask if we could reduce the charged amount by a couple of kilos formed in my throat. The check-in attendant said overage would be 30 Euro per kilo. I choked. 30 Euros per kilo?! Is that some type of sick joke. No apparently this is simply Lufthansa policy now, or so I was told. Still not sure if I can believe it. A quick mental calculation said I now had one of two options: (a) pay $1000 for my baggage or (b) throw all of my stuff out into the airport garbage can. Since neither of these struck me as satisfactory I chose option (c), raise a ruckus (at least insomuch as one can half-delirious with 102F fever with clothing soaked through by sweat).

The check-in lady was up to the task.
That's tremendously high.
That's our policy.
I was told 5 Euro per kilo by the travel agent.
You were told wrong.
But I was told 5 Euro.
I'm sorry.
After some of this type of back-and-forth I asked to speak with a manager.
This is where luck began to favor me.

The fellow who came to the desk was a turbaned Sikh with a very pleasant manner. After assessing the situation he looked over my iternarary and concluded that since my ticket had been booked as a series of flights originating and terminating from New York, I was entitled to the US baggage allowance (23 kilo per bag!) and didn't need to pay an extra cent! What a relief - from $1000 bucks of overage fees to $0. The only hitch was that one of my bags was 26 kilo while the other was 18. I needed to move 3 kilo from the heavier bag. I thanked him profusely and rushed over to the weighing station. But try as I might, I was unable to cram an extra 3 kilo in the other bag... I was sweaty tired and nearing the end of my emotional resolve. But then I had an image of a thin young Indian man blathering at me "wrapping for safety and security".

Eureka. I shoved a bunch of extra items in between my bag and it's slipcover. Would have never held through the flight by itself. But with several layers of the shipping equivalent of saran wrap, loss would be a non-issue. I had the bag wrapped for 200 rupees ($3 and change) and returned to the counter truimphant.

The initial check-in lady was as dense as before. "Your luggage is still 42 kilo, you need to remove more items". "No", I told her. "I just needed to switch 3 kilo from the heavier bag to the lighter one". The manager was quick to correct her when we asked. I asked him if there was somewhere I could send a note praising his excellent service. He gave me two email addresses and his name, Pushppreet Singh Chandoke, which I took gladly and then finally proceeded to the boarding location (after taking a couple of moments to sit down and collect myself).

The next leg of the trip was very long, but not terribly remarkable. I continued running a high fever and felt pretty aweful. I dozed a bit, moved from position to position to ease my sore muscles and generally abided. I had gotten stuck in a middle seat, but I had nice neighbors on either side. After 10 hours of flying we finally arrived in Frankfurt, Germany.

My fever still hadn't broken but I had to go through customs. It's a good thing we had an hour-and-a-half stop over b/c the famed German efficiency I had heard about was nowhere to be seen. Frankfurt International had the very worst queuing I have ever seen in an airport (and I've seen lots of bad queuing in my time ;-) After almost an hour, I finally made it through and got on my plane to Paris.

Now by this point, I was pretty wiped out, but the plane was quite empty and I had a whole row to lay down in right near the bathroom. This was particularly good since my fever had just broken (I was so happy). But you see the same antibiotics that had finally started to wipe out the bacteria making me sick, had been much more effective and wiping out the commensular bacteria in my intestines that allowed me to absorb water. Thus to put it politely I had more than a bit of stomach upset, making proximity to the bathroom very valuable.

I had initially thought to put my journey entire in one single post, to really provide the feeling for how long a trip it was and how transitional. But while I had to do it that way, I'm starting to feel there is no reason for you to do so. Just read the posts back-to-back-to-back and you'll get the idea. So I'm stopping this post here and will continue with my arrival in France in the next post.

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