Thus Spake Exuberance Unlimited, FR - The UK Chapter


Credits: incredibleindia.org
After forty four years of my life in my wonderful country, India and having been blessed with an opportunity to travel across its length and breadth throughout my life (and yet, so much remains unseen), I recently got an opportunity to visit another country. As they say, when it rains, it pours! So, it ended up being not one or two or three countries but a total of ten!! Something of a jack of all trades and master of none situation, you might say!

We had been making plans for a while and they always got shelved mostly for monetary and leave availability reasons. Yet, when the time is right, everything falls into place. My Mom-in-law came to a fairly hefty sum of money from her property which she generously distributed amongst her two sons. At around the same time, a certain tour manager came to my mother’s notice, who created great packages at reasonable costs and was advertising for a Europe trip. Knowing that it would interest me, she told me about it and I parroted the same before my husband.

My son being in grade twelve, this was a difficult decision to take. I remember not letting him bunk classes in kindergarten and here I was about to make him miss his coaching classes and extra classes from school. Then again, he would go to college next year and with God’s blessings he might even make it to the college of his choice, in which case he would be away from home and there was no guarantee when we would get such a golden opportunity again. So we opted for this twelve night thirteen day trip which would take us to Italy for five days followed by Switzerland for three and France for another five. We decided to add five more days for UK where we would visit my brother and family.


Credits: oscartours.blogspot.com
When we finally got the dates in order and mentally ready for the trip, it got cancelled due to last minute cancellations by a lot many early takers. We were so disappointed. The travel agent sensed it and offered to put us on another tour which began in England. There was a lot of discussion that followed enough to put this whole headache aside and go to Goa instead! But it was God’s will. A new itinerary was chalked out and now we were going for eight days to UK followed by a fourteen day road trip covering nine countries!! We saw the programme and realized that it would be a tight schedule and we would not have room to do our own thing.  Then again, we had never been to Europe before so anything and everything we would see would be new to us. Besides, being a part of the tour would solve a lot of issues. So we gave it the go ahead.

The only person who would suffer on this trip was evident-Me!! My knees, being in a bad shape, would suffer with insufficient leg space besides squirming under my weight from all the walking that was waiting to happen. Another thought, would we get motion sick on the bus? We travel by road very frequently and love it, but that was in our car and driven by my husband and with the freedom of stopping where and when we liked. I kept my fears to myself for a while, in case the trip got cancelled because I voiced my concerns! Last but not the least, was the biggest concern of them all and only people who really know me would understand- we were going to be fifty to sixty people on that bus for a fortnight!!!!

Born in the year of the tiger, I am a loner to a fault. I am pleasant and friendly but I start getting anxious after an hour unless it is a one on one conversation. I am not a group person unless mandatory. So we began reading reviews on the net. One of the reviewers mentioned they had a lot of fun on the trip- “like one big family” and that they played “Antakshri” (a game played between teams where we sing songs from various films). My husband and children started laughing looking at me, for that completely wiped the smile off my face. In fact, till the very last day of the trip, my husband would threaten to ask the tour manager why we hadn’t played Antakshri yet!! 

Credits: youtube.com
Still, we persisted and soon went crazy with the formalities of obtaining visas for UK and the multiple-entry Schengen Visa. A lot happened and after uncertainties galore, we received all visas a week or so before departure. Apart from a handful of close friends and family, I did not mention it to anyone for the “positive exuberance unlimited” frame of mind that I had, I was sure this trip was jinxed and something would go wrong. It didn’t.

In fact, everything was so quick and so smooth all through that I was wondering if they knew what they had to do at the airport! However, it was only short of touchdown at Birmingham, where the beautiful greens met my eyes that I believed I was actually going to step into another country.

My brother was waiting for us at the airport and though we reached early, it was a long wait before we could get out. The immigration formalities didn’t take too much time but the queues (something that lasted till the end of the trip) were long. I was thoroughly impressed by the pleasant officials who asked us a million questions in a manner that wasn’t unsettling but almost as if we were about to start a friendship for a lifetime! It was going to be exactly the opposite in France!

Credits: twitter.com
Eight days in UK were perfect and I give full credit for the same to my brother and my sister (-in-law) who planned everything to perfection. From the sightseeing, tailor made to our tastes, to every single meal, and to bring alive the things I’ve read as a child in Enid Blyton’s books, the two of them made it a dream for us. And if we thought that was great, the icing on the cake was the warmth and affection of my nieces and their excitement that enhanced our own. That week just flew; we saw a lot and soaked in everything. A visit to Shakespeare’s county, Warwickshire, to see the Great Bard’s birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon, after a hearty English Breakfast of sausages, bacon, eggs, hash browns, berries, smoothies and toast and which ended only after the grand Afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream, finger sandwiches and Victoria sponge cake was a grand first day. 

The two highlights apart from the sightseeing were the senior citizens here. The sun was out and the place was abuzz with people enjoying and a large number of those were the elderly folk. They were so well dressed and dignified with a sprite in their step. No sign of weakness despite their frail frames. Also, they are encouraged in their society to step out and applauded for the same. The best gardens are maintained by them too!

The second highlight and this was across Europe, not just the UK, were the dogs. Never have I seen such robust looking and well kept furry companions. Their size, their coats were so different from the same breeds you see here. I am not in any way suggesting that dog lovers here are any less but I do wonder why the same breeds differ so much?  

The drive up to Bath the following day past lovely meadows, seeing wild daisies everywhere, a picnic en route of ham sandwiches and crisps was a dream, come true. Here, we visited the Jane Austen museum and felt Mr. Darcy come alive, and got to wear costumes of that era as well(I thought and felt like Elizabeth Bennet when I posed with him till I saw the pictures and realized I look like his housekeeper!) making it a memorable experience. 



This was followed by a visit to the Roman baths which we had only read about and finally the prehistoric Stone Henge, which was something else. Strangely enough, what my sister-in-law mentioned was true-one side of the walk had plenty of ravens while the opposite side had none. Spooky! 




Next day, came the shopping at Bullring, a visit to St. Martin’s church (and meeting an old priest who having learnt we were from India asked us if we had heard about dinosaurs ever, after his initial doubt whether I understood him at all!! Backward Indians, I presume) and Japanese food with a first taste of Sake.





The next two days were spent in London where we saw London in all its glory. Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace(including Princess Diana’s dresses), St. James Park, Hyde Park, London Eye, the cruise on the Thames…and lots more. There was so much to see and my brother wanted to show us more and more but on day two, despite the Hop on Hop off, the walk took its toll on us and so we let more than a few things go. Again, we ate everything from fish and chips to steaks to Greek food. Yet, my kids were already waiting to get back to Birmingham to enjoy some more at home. The last two days were spent with the family and enjoying home, the conservatory especially, while digging into roast chicken, Yorkshire pudding, Banofee pudding…everything sinful one can possibly imagine! We also drove around and did some shopping nearby. And yes! A whole lot of washing that got us ready for the two weeks of nonstop travelling that lay ahead of us.



I shall not go into details about the rest of the tour in this blog or it will never end but I am sure I will have anecdotes and lovely little lessons to share subsequently.


One lesson learnt from this trip is that just like a week is not enough to see even a state completely in India, one week is completely insufficient to see any country and I say that especially of the United Kingdom, for most our reading has been of English authors, right from our Nursery rhymes so naturally, our curiosity to see all of it, is at its peak out here. In fact, leave alone Lake District and its connection with William Wordsworth, I was dying for the Harry Potter tour! And Cornwall and…

What impressed me most about this country with its rich history was the inherent sense of discipline and civic sense (with the exception of strewn cigarette butts) in every sphere. It was a huge eye opener and no other country in Europe matched up to its standards. Polite, patient and respectful and not showing expressions of irritation which I am sure they would feel, since they aren’t robots.


One observation I made is that we Indians and probably Asians and developing nations as well (I am talking about the middle class here), would have a tendency to see as much in the limited time and money we can spare but we need time to soak in things as well. We need to assimilate everything for that complete experience. Our appreciation of UK was far more than the other beautiful countries that we had been to because of too much input in too little time. Another point that comes to mind is that all people in general take more pictures and videos than they actually view a place, in the panic that the moment will be lost. In reality, you never forget moments that you take time to experience.


And just in case you are wondering what FR means, it is “Foreign Returned”- something a dear friend told me when I was about to leave, making me laugh heartily and gleefully, though technically it is used for those who get educated abroad and return!





Comments

  1. Just like your visit your blog is soooooooooo refreshing that I can see daisies dancing in breeze and lush green meadows where out of blue, The Famous Five are seen enjoying picnic and ginger beer!..... You are right when you say that experience is nneve forgotten. Like i believe.... Drink with your eyese the heart will store the experience. Love reading your blogs.

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    1. Thank you dodo d!! You were thought of so often! Each time something "our type" came my way!

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  2. A delightful read as always! Welcome back FR to blogosphere... Am sure you have a lot more to share and when you look back, am sure you will find little topics that crop up in your mind and you may want to share on the blog :) Travel is addictive. Nothing against our nation, but especially so when you visit abroad! So, welcome to a whole new addiction. More via snail mail... Till then, keep blogging!!!!

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    1. Thank you so much Jiji! You are a globetrotter and I have always enjoyed hearing, reading and learning from your travel experiences. I do have a lot to share via snail mail too :)

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  3. I was eagerly waiting for this blog and it is as refreshing as the first rain... keep your memories alive

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    1. That is such a sweet thing to say...Thank you so much :) :)

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  4. Resonates so much with the way I felt during our trip to Europe. Pleasure reading your blogs. Love your subtle humour :-)

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    1. Thank you so much Anu...very encouraging to hear that :)

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  5. Beautifully written...felt like i was sitting next to you and listening.😊

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  6. Interesting review of your trip.Keep it up!!! Looking forward to hear more of your experiences.

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