What Not To Do: Three Silly Mistakes and Narrow Escapes

Goof ups during travel are inevitable and the best made plans may also go haywire. Sometimes things just happen without any ill-intention but more often it is because of the ignorance…

On our maiden trip to USA, we were confident of our habits. We knew we would not be the kind of tourists who create unnecessary nuisance, complain about every possible thing and are generally pain in ….!! We definitely did not want to let anybody think that Indians are bad visitors so we tried to follow the system as much for our month-long vacation.

Inspite of arming ourselves with all information that included driving a rental car across the country we could not prevent few silly mistakes and man, were we glad to have narrowly escaped some serious altercations with law enforcement guys !!

So here are our silly mistakes…Laugh all you want at our goof ups..but luck might not favour you always as it did us..

Mistake #1: Discharged battery translates into a lost GPS signal

My husband Aby, being a pilot swears by the GPS. I, however, am little less into using the services of an accented girly voice who confuses me with ‘Naaeee Sarrack‘ instead of ‘nai sadak‘… after all there are enough ‘bhai-sahabs‘ and ‘bhabhi jis‘ on our roads who will guide us to a shop or an address…better still one odd might even offer to direct us to the address personally if only we were willing to give them a ‘lift’ till the ‘kone ki dukan(corner shop)’or the next ‘chauraha(crossing)’

Any ways, there we were enjoying a ride, marvelling at the sprawling meadows that lingered past our car, the early fall colours that peeped through the green foliage, the huge trucks with shining chrome, cars with boats trailing behind them… our cell phone guiding us through.

Past the open lands and colourful trees

Past the open lands and colourful trees

In all our wide-eyed fascination that usually affects people visiting America for the first time, we failed to check whether the charging cord was connected properly to the cell phone.

Last leg to Niagara

Last leg to Niagara

As we neared Niagara, it started pouring and simultaneously our phone battery drained off. Cars whizzed past us…there was no ‘bhai sahab‘ willing to stop by and help us, no auto -rickshaw walah to pull over along side our car to ask ‘kidhar jaana hai saab?‘ We kept driving, crossed the huge flyover and got LOST! A small insignificant board with words ‘Niagara lane’ pointed to our right. Since there seemed no other option, we took the turn only to find ourselves in a residential area with not a soul in sight.

We drove into someone’s driveway and after much thought decided to ring the doorbell unaware of the law against parking in stranger’s drive way. The house owners were away for the weekend and nobody answered our call. By then our phone which we re-plugged for charging showed just enough activity for us to call our hotel and ask for directions. but since we could not tell them our location properly, they could not help us!!

We sat there panicking and at our wits end… Only after half an hour or so when the cell phone revived and GPS signal was re-established then we realised that we were just few minutes away from the hotel. The rain had stopped by the time we reached our hotel but it was late evening and we missed the last boat ride to the Niagara falls, for the day.

lesson learnt: 

  1. When travelling abroad with family, it is better to take two cell phones with GPS and keep a check on charging!
  2. Never park in someone’s driveway. Had the home-owner been there that day, he could have charged us with trespassing or worse shot at us if he felt threatened by our presence( I was told about such incidents later by my cousin)
  3. It is always better to contact local police if in trouble.

Mistake #2: Sleeping in the rear seat

On every road trip that we took within India, our daughter used to doze off on rear seat and free herself from the seat belt to lie down on the rear seat because sleeping in a seated posture was uncomfortable. I most times ignored it…

On our second road trip from San Jose’ to Los Angeles, the various stops along the picturesque Pacific Coast highway, tired her and she dozed off again. Being an outsider in a foreign land, I had instructed her not to remove the seat belt but due to habit she did take it off.

Cruising along the pacific coast highway

Cruising along the pacific coast highway

And then we were stopped by an officer of Highway Patrol(full story here). After confirming our credentials he left us with a warning.

lessons learnt:

  1. Never ever forget to wear seatbelt even in the rear seat!
  2. Be HONEST and ACCEPT your mistake when dealing with police.
  3. Have all important documents including driver’s licence, rental papers, hotel bills and itinerary details in order when travelling abroad.
  4. Do NOT argue when in a tight spot.

Mistake #3: Domino effect?

This one caught us off guard. Who knew x-ray machines get fooled by a harmless playing stuff?

While in San Jose’ my cousin gifted our daughter a box of domino tiles ‘Jenga’ which stacked up make the basic column and each player has to retrieve a tile taking care not to topple the column. With our suitcases packed to their teeth, we really did not have enough space in the check-in baggage. Running out of time to reach the airport I stuffed the game in the hand baggage.

At the airport, first the self check-in machine malfunctioned and by the time the airport staff helped us we were quite late and ran for last hand-baggage clearance before boarding. While we were cleared one of our bags, obviously the one with domino tiles was held back.

Game ?

Game ?

People had started the boarding but we were called back. A huge security personnel in army fatigues stood along with the airport staff near the bag. Panic clutched my heart and when asked to open the bag I kept fumbling. They took all things out scanned the domino box again through the X-ray and finally with a broad smile waved us off!

lessons learnt:

  1. No sharp items allowed in hand baggage stands true for toys too 😦
  2. Keep enough extra space while packing for souvenirs, gifts or last minute purchases.
  3. Whatever things are not needed for immediate personal use should be sent with check-in baggage.
  4. Obey when asked to show contents of your baggage at check points.

Lady luck was on our side may be because we met only people who understood our predicament and were ready to help in restaurants, in airports, shops. But with our lessons learnt, I am ready for another travelling experience…

Have you made some silly mistakes on your travels? How did you escape from consequences?

Why I did not fall in love with New York; the city that never sleeps…..

Of course! I was a wide-eyed  first time visitor to New York and pretty excited to see all the regular touristy spots the city had to offer. I had three days at my disposal for all the sight-seeing.

New York skyline

New York consists of five boroughs….. Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and the Staten Island. Of all boroughs, Manhattan is not only the most densely populated but also mostly the area which people are referring  to when they talk about being in  New York !

Every day after having a filling breakfast at our hotel in Newark, New Jersey, we would board the subway from Pennsylvania Station to midtown Manhattan. It took all of 30 to 35 minutes from buying the ticket, boarding the train to getting down at Manhattan station.

On our third day in the city, at the Museum of City of New York we chatted with this smart old woman at the help desk:

Old woman : Visiting for the first time? You stay here in New York?

Me: No, we are at vacation here.

Old woman: Oh okay where are you coming from?

Me: India….

Old woman: Oh wow, all the way from India? So, Did you like New York?”

Me(little carefully…lest I upset her): Umm…its er…fast.

Old woman: Oh! you are telling me?…This place is changing. It is deteriorating…too much crowd, too much of everything …earlier it was nice ….I have seen it change having grown up here…

So despite the Empire state, Chrysler Tower, Guggenheim Museum, MOMA, Rockefeller Centre, WTC  Freedom tower, the Statue of Liberty, United nations headquarters, Wall Street, Times Square, Central park, the huge glamorous stores of Macy’s, Rado, Gucci, Tag Heuer, Nike, Rolex, Armani (phew….you name it and it is there!!)…….Why did I not fall in love with New York?

Reason 1: They don’t talk much!!

Though I found the Americans very helpful always but what surprised me was that everyday during the 20-25 minutes ride in subway nobody spoke!! Every person on the train either had a newspaper or earphones stuck in their ears. The commuters always looked tired and sleepy. Some spoke softly on their phones but not to the person nearby.

The three of us…. my husband, my 11 yrs old daughter and me…..were overly conscious and spoke too softly to discuss the day’s itinerary. We were nervous that people would stare at us if we talked …..coz nobody else was talking, not smiling, not acknowledging the presence of others!! It was as good as nobody was on train because the sound which interrupted the silence was only of the recorded announcements….

Now, I have travelled in the local trains of Mumbai too. Agreed, that compared to New York metros, there is overcrowding and cacophony of voices in local trains of Mumbai but then….a strange camaraderie is also forged between the regular commuters of the route…….they offer the seat to the known face before alighting on their stops, they smile, they show concern by asking “Kya bhai, dikhai nahi diye kuch dino se? Sab thik-thak? (How are you? Didn’t see you since few days? All okay?)”…they discuss cricket and politics, they advice, they share newspapers , eatables and sometimes a coin or two too…..and nobody seems to object! A ride in Mumbai local train is not  always relaxing but it sure is entertaining and yet people don’t look as much tired as the New Yorkers.

Though I am not a very talkative person and neither  do I find myself befriending every passer-by but I definitely don’t enjoy travelling with no one to talk to. Afterall ….

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s road who help us appreciate the journey”

 Reason 2: Miles to walk before I sleep!!

Robert Frost must have visited Manhattan at some point before penning the poem!

Manhattan is planned on an extensive grid pattern with streets intersecting the major avenues at right angles. All those streets and avenues crossing each other make up a vast area to cover on foot. People walk, walk and just walk all the time…

Traffic was maddening and flagging a taxi was not only expensive but seemed unnecessary since there was a lot to see. Also the best way to discover a place, they say, is on foot and so there we were observing every billboard, every neon sign, every store and walking from one intersection to other, dodging vehicles, stopping for a bite, evading the tip-expecting street-performers,, visiting museums, theatres…. At some areas as the Freedom Tower of WTC,  due to construction work, vehicles were not allowed… everybody had to walk all the way.

By end of the day we had to walk down to the subway station which again was a long walk. By the time we reached our hotel, we were exhausted and the legs felt like lead.

 Reason 3:It is NOISY!!

Oh yes….. You think of a sound and there it was…. There was a continuous hum in the air… Yellow buses rumbled by carrying school students, the green, red and blue  buses transported thousands of tourists from one stop to other…the yellow taxis and thousands of cars scurried past, ambulances hurried about with a loud hoots, announcements could be heard , sounds from the construction works, the delivery vans, garbage trucks….The tremble and low growl of the subway could be felt and heard through the vibrations as we stood on footpath…

Recently I met a New Yorker who was visiting India. He was enjoying the calm and peaceful  desert camp at Khuri, Rajasthan. As we got talking, he told us of his plans to leave his job in New York and move to quieter parts of the country!

At Times Square , I felt like being trapped in a giant gaming arcade with loud blips and electronic sounds shooting me down…..People rushed past talking on their phones… It was a never ebbing sea of Homo Sapiens….So many soundscapes that it was difficult to  differentiate one sound from other….

By end of the day, the hotel room seemed unnaturally quiet… I could feel the silence! So accustomed are the New Yorkers of these multiple sounds bombarding their eardrums day in and day out that if some day the city sounds stop even for ten minutes, I am sure, they wouldn’t know what to do!!

Reason 4: Electricity

So much electricity!! Even during the day….Times Square was lit up as if Diwali (our festival of lights) or Christmas!! Day time Times Square

Billboards flashing advertisements of all kind of products….cars, lingerie, toys, movies, clothes, electronic goods….I can not even list so many things….I counted about 70 and then lost the count of flashing boards…

lit up...

The night-time New York must be visible from space with so many lights on! The offices in the tall buildings were all lit up even after the working hours….

I like a good night sleep with lights turned off….and had I left the curtains open, I would have never been able to sleep at night because of the lights from the buildings across the street. There are still many villages here in India which do not have electric supply…many cities still suffer long hours of power cuts. If even for a day New York switches off its lights and send it to us somehow… I am guessing, at least hundred of our villages could be lit up.

Reason 5: Too many tall buildings

me craning to see the buildings

Yep! that is me craning my neck to see the sky scrapers piercing the sky…..

Sure, I too love all that steel and glass facades, the sheer verticality, the challenge of designing a building that kisses the clouds but…only when there are a few of them, only when I can still see the skies above, only when the sun can spread its warmth on the ground below, only when I do not feel like sandwiched between two too huge rectangular blocks!

I do appreciate the architecture and engineering behind tall buildings but the street was full of too many tall buildings trying to surpass each other and yet all looked the same with their glass cladding….they were huge rectangular glass boxes with artificial light and ventillation…where was the beauty? Where was the fresh air to breathe? It was more claustrophobic and over intimidating, and not pleasing!

Reason 6: Expensive

You bet it is! New York is world’s fifth most expensive city. Taxis were expensive, we walked to avoid shelling out dollars… restaurants were expensive, we avoided stepping into one and ate pizza slices most of the time for our stay and chose to eat the complimentary breakfast at our hotel before venturing in the city.

May be I found it expensive because of being a tourist but what I could sum up after chatting up with a few friends who moved from New York was that rents for smallest of rooms even without window was a lot and everyday living in the city was expensive.

While writing these reasons of my not liking New York , I came across some thoughts on New York by Ryan Holiday.  Though I was pretty surprised after reading his version of New York but I am sure that if ever given a choice and opportunity to choose between my small city in India and New York , I would prefer my much smaller and quieter city….