Thursday, December 9, 2010

family vacations

Every ever so often, we go on vacation. A “phoren” holiday, to be precise! True, the High Court being closed for stretches of time during summer and pujas and again in winter, (we officially have 210 working days…in a year!) helps. But yes, like true-blooded Bengalis, we love to travel. I particularly do. I specially like packing a few things in a back pack and setting out to find new and exciting places….my ideal holiday would have no bookings, no set plans, expecting the unexpected and a lot of adventure….yes, I look back on my college holidays with shameless nostalgia.
For when it comes to family vacations, it’s an entirely different ball game.
First we choose the destination. I like the off-beat destinations, specially ones where I believe my interaction with other Indians or Bengalis will be very limited (yes, I am a snob) and my family is very agreeable and accomodating…..provided the finances allow it. So it may be Bhutan in the dead of winter, Thailand in April, Singapore in the rain, Spain in the summer, Scotland in the frost, Munich during the Oktoberfest…everyone gives in to my whims. No complaints.
Then comes the planning. I am given a freehand and a credit card (sometimes a few)….no one interferes, so I may plan a nude beach in Ibiza or a mountain climb up Zugspitze or a ferry ride in the North Sea, I am allowed to plan and book and choose the hotel and everything. I just love this part. I love to dream about that seven star deluxe accommodation overlooking the Bosphorus and then book the practical one we can afford. Then come the frantic phone calls, by me, to ensure everything is in order, tickets have been booked, hotel confirmations are at hand and passports and visas (if required) are in order. Before the holiday starts, hence, I have a dossier thicker than my wrist and probably a few fat books on things to do when we have reached wherever we are going.
That’s the fun part.
Then comes the part I dread. Packing. I pack for four people. My stuff is simple…..all minimal and keeping the weather in mind. My husband too does not fuss too much as long as he has fresh clothes every other day…..I must say he’s been most tolerant when I have forgotten to take his inners or shirts or shaving kit (not all on the same trip) and generally follows a non interference policy. That I can live with. Then come the girls. When they were small I only had diapers and cerelac and bottles and sterilization to worry about. That was when life was easy. Now I have to pack for two brats with opinions of their own. So while packing for Bhutan in winter I am handed a slip of a dress which my daughter insists she will wear on new years eve. The other one wants to carry her skimpy shorts that “make my legs look long” and no amount of explaining will help them understand that it will be COLD. So I wave them away and pack. But lo and behold…..when I reach Bhutan I find that string bikini stashed away in a corner…that chocolate I insisted could not travel with us squished inside my favourite sweater and a hardcover book which no one ever reads. Believe me, my first impulse is to throw them out in the snow along with their precious owners!
Anyway somehow we are ready…and on the plane…..we have woken up at an ungodly hour, the house has been appropriately shut down, the keys are in my bag, passports have been stamped, visas verified, the endless waiting in the boarding area is over, the new crayons we bought for the holiday are half broken and some have irretrievably rolled under the bulky uncomfortable sofa, the filthy loo has been visited for the umpteenth time, my voice is sore from asking the kids to “shut up” and “stop it” and “no you cannot have chocolate at 5 in the morning”…is it any surprise then, that I sink into my seat, turn on the i-pod and wait for the alchohol to be served!!!!!!!? My husband looks at me askance, its only 7:30 in the morning but I insist it feels like midday!
The girls watch TV. That’s if we’re lucky. If there’s no TV they play the whining game which means they whine in their seats, they whine about the window seat, they whine about the fact that there is no view and they whine about the food. These are times when I pretend I have a migraine and let my husband “bond” with his children……
We land, we clear customs…we are on holiday. The next few days…..weeks…I am chilled. I don’t care that the girls have not had a bath every day (after all, it IS cold) or have not emerged from the swimming pool all day; we catch the trains/ferries/whatevers and make the connections…we visit friends and/or relatives if there are any in the vicinity and we walk. On holidays, miraculously, everyone can walk. Only at home it’s the 50 yards to the medicine shop for which you need a car! We walk down riverfronts, in the castles, up and down the main square and all over. Sometimes we even do touristy things like hire a car or grab a buggy ride or ride a hop on hop off bus!
I like to experiment with food so I end up trying all the local stuff, sometimes, one or the other daughter will be adventurous and try something like baby octopus or oyster or black pudding and look at me in horror, “you just ate a unborn pearl, Ma!” But all in all the girls are happy, they are handed a huge sausage with a bit of bread and told that that’s lunch, they munch on some corn on the cob or jacket potatoes or coconuts and are happy….only a few days later, it starts. “You think we could get some Chinese food here?” one asks. The other says, “our room has a kitchenette, why can’t we have some butter rice?” and then we invariably make a trip to the supermarket….and here I am cooking and cleaning…not that I really mind, mind you!
And then there’s the night life, after a lot of planning, one night, the girls have been fed, bribed to agree to watch TV in some foreign language for as long as they want, and my husband and I go to check out the night scene! After a while we’ve had enough of the semi naked women (and men) and loud lights and that crazy ‘one beat serves all’ music and we return to the hotel exhausted and more than a little drunk but not admitting that we are too old for this shit. We both have had our eye candy and that’s that…..
Our holiday usually ends in a mad rush for souvenirs and gifts for friends and relatives…souvenirs we have been seeing all along and saving to “buy later, we have lots of time, it may be cheaper there…” So our last few hours are spent running about like headless chickens as each of us remembers soandsowhowentsomewhereandgotussomething and we rush about to buy something for them….then all our stuff is stuffed into suitcases that are over spilling and overweight although I insist “I didn’t buy anything for myself, ……. only those bottles of Cognac and Sangria and Jagermeister….” . Somehow we make it to the airport and are home ward bound again. We’re ready to drop on the plane as strangely content and satiated we survive the trials of the duty free area and manage to avoid paying excess baggage yet again……yes, “can I have a stiff Vodka please?”
I’d like to get sentimental here and say that no matter how good the holiday or whatever, there’s no place like home. As I look out the window (I’ve fought my kids for the seat!), I see the familiar landscape looming up below us, I’d like to say how much I’d missed being home and all that jazz. But my mind is worrying about the bottles in the suitcase, the ones I hope did not break and the weeks worth of laundry waiting for me and the girls’ school that will be reopening and all the unpacking I have to do but that’s another story.
Sure, after three weeks of ogling strapping young German men, I look at the squat bespectacled short bald man in blue overalls as we disembark and sigh, “yup, I am home!”
At that moment, jet-lagged or not, I’m strangely refreshed! And the holidays are over.
Until next time!

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