After having some time to reflect on the trip, the inevitable conclusions will follow. I’ve compiled the most relevant ones to our current situation and, all in all, I can safely say we would have done things differently.
Never fly coach or have more than two stops on long trips.
Even if it costs an arm and a leg, try to be as comfortable as possible for the duration. You can’t enjoy your stay if all you’ll remember is the flying experience. Why suffer more than you have to when travelling? After all, this isn’t the 1800’s; your wagon need not be cramped and full of crying babies.
We waited too long to book our flight and ended up with stopovers in Bahrain and France. All this did was just add more jet lag and aggravation as an 8000+ mile trip ended up being 9000+. Also, we booked the flight with Gulf Air, but they have a code share with American Airlines and AA coach is probably the worst. The Gulf Air Airbus 330, even in coach, was a far better experience since the AA 757 was more of a cross between a Greyhound bus and a carrier pigeon. The flight attendants on Gulf Air were also more pleasant and professional than the AA ones.
On our trip from France to Bahrain, Gulf Air was our carrier. We had a very thoughtful flight attendant who helped us store our acoustic guitar (yes, we took a guitar as a carry-on) in the front so we’ll have more leg room.
Turbulence is Awesome!
In small doses, it does wonders to quiet loud people, spoiled, screaming, children and annoying people who want to talk to you when you just want to take a nap. While flying toward France, our plane shook quite a few times and it was more effective than a sleeping pill on me.
French Women Suck
This isn’t just my opinion as I have empirical observations behind the statement. And it pains me to say this as one of my favorite actresses, Audrey Tautou, happens to be French. Practically every native French women we came into direct contact with had some sort of weird attitude that’s a bit hard to explain. Think a combination of “I’m holier than thou” with “The world revolves around me” and “I don’t care, just ‘cuz“.
On the first flight from New York to France, we were sitting next to an older French woman who had a peculiar habit of tearing out the pages and images from the in-flight magazines. She had already destroyed hers when my magazine fell down as I got up to use the restroom and when I came back, I found a page torn from it as well. My mom had asked why she had done it and all she got was a smile and no explanation…
In front of us was a young French couple with two small children, one of which had a bad stomach ache. I only saw the dad carrying and consoling the child up and down the aisle, while the mom put her headphones on to drown out the crying.
Behind me was another crying child with a French family who was kicking the back of my seat repeatedly through most of the flight. The father was trying to console the child and keep him from kicking, but that did little to make the mother move an inch. In fact, she thought it was the cutest thing ever.
When the stomping demon seed finally fell asleep, I too was ready to take a nap, however the paper shredder next to us insisted she swap seats with my mom so she can read. Our lovely AA 757 didn’t have a working light at her seat and after she swapped seats, all she did was turn the light on and off repeatedly as she herself fell asleep and awoke to read. And, of course, she then shredded my mom’s in-flight magazine which she left in the seat pocket.
After disembarking at Charles de Gaulle, we were directed by the rudest lady I’ve come across in a long time. The French female security guard checking luggage was also rude to an Indian couple directly behind us on their stopover for no discernible reason.
At the cafe in the Duty Free section, the French woman behind the counter was extremely rude to my mom when she had a question about using Dollars vs. Euros while the French man was helpful. Interestingly another woman who also worked at the cafe was very nice and friendly, but her parents were from the Caribbean.
Likewise, another French woman who helped us navigate Charles de Gaulle, by far the most confusing airport I’ve ever been through, turned out to be Australian by birth.
If these were isolated cases, It wouldn’t be as bad, but… On our flight from France to Bahrain, we were behind the only two French women in an otherwise packed section full of Arabs, Asians and a Portuguese couple. The two women decided to slam their seats backward with no regard for the two of us behind and were repeatedly readjusting their seats as we were trying to eat.
The flight attendant had to come over and repeat the message to return the seat to the upright position for one of the women and, after the plane was on final approach (when the fasten seatbelts lights came on), this was how she was seated until turbulence from the lowering landing gear shook the plane :
So we either had the incredible misfortune of being herded through a gauntlet of Les Douches on this trip or French women really do suck.
Force your relatives to say what they need while you’re still at the Duty Free
I don’t know why this is exactly, but my family is incredibly shy when it comes to asking for things. At the Sri Lankan DF, they were selling all sorts of electrical appliances and we needed a new microwave and washing machine. We didn’t learn about this until after we came home.
I’m sure they thought they didn’t want to inconvenience us or cost us more money, but that’s exactly what happened later by not buying needed appliances before we left the airport. So modesty is only admirable when appropriate.
Next time, I’m going to make them take pictures of the interior of their homes and send to us so we can decide for ourselves what they need.
Don’t put off going home thinking you’ll have more time later.
Make the time you need because going home after too long is in some ways worse than not going at all.
Case in point, I now realise that it’s incredibly difficult to near impossible for me to read Singhalese signs even though my spoken Singhalese isn’t that bad. But if I ever get lost, I’ll have great difficulty explaining where I need to go and I’m practically tied to my GPS. If I went back when I was younger, it wouldn’t have been as difficult to re-learn Singhalese, although I would have still been faced with the consequences of an ongoing civil war which, thankfully, ended in 2009.
Never drive in Sri Lanka
More than half of my life was spent in the U.S. and the traffic culture shock was almost too much to take. Especially significant was the magnificent driving we have here in Colombo which is a cross between playing chicken and Russian Roulette… with buses. The buses don’t really have a schedule to speak of, only a route number, and they drive with the same constitution as a motorbike rider.
Cars, likewise, have their own set of rules and seem to fluctuate with the presence of traffic cops. The traffic police is ever-present in Colombo, however only mitigate slow traffic and manage troublesome intersections. Driving on the right (standard in Sri Lanka) seems to be optional for someone who really, really, really, wants overtake as double lines don’t mean much if the right lane is crowded.
On our trip from the airport to our home, I could literally count on one hand the number of times I saw a turn signal, no one wears seatbelts, bikes often double as family sedans and helmets aren’t always present for children. I’ve been told that this situation will change soon and traffic laws will be enforced strictly, but I ain’t holding my breath.
I can safely say that driving here is worse than India and Greece combined for both motorists and pedestrians.
I hope I can learn from all this on our next trip home.
Oh, and that spider came back to our bathroom…