Is there a thing that strikes more fear into the heart of a man than his missus telling him the following?
"Sweety, you decide fully what we are going to do this weekend..."
At this point--and many recently married/civil unioned/otherwise coupled young men don't know this--you stand at the edge of a precipice. On the one hand you can step gingerly backwards and somehow salvage the weekend and peace of mind. On the other hand you can actually take this comment at face value (you fool), assume the weekend is yours to manipulate as you wish, book two tickets for Tron Legacy 3D and expect your bitter half to play along enthusiastically.
Ignorantly blissful of reality you wake up on Saturday morning with a spring in your step, and Olivia Wilde in your head in three dimensions. (Let us not forget how excellent she is in just two.)
And then suddenly the missus, while reading a book or meticulously vacuuming the bath tub, says: "I am dying to watch any movie this week except that nonsense Tron: Legacy..."
Things go rapidly downhill from that point. You try to convince her with nostalgia, logic and Youtube trailers. She weighs the evidence fully and then decides, cruelly, to ditch plans for a Full English breakfast at the local illegal-immigrant-run cafe and makes poha instead.
You think I am saying all this on the basis of personal experience? Ah ha ha ha.
No this is what happens to Pastrami on some weekends.
Anyway. Imagine my horror when around 5 weeks ago the missus called me up from her office and told me that I had to immediately make travel plans for the long Royal Wedding-Easter weekend in the last week of April.
I don't know if you noticed online or read in any of the papers, but recently the United Kingdom celebrated the wedding of Prince William, first son of Prince Charles. It was a huge deal.
The bride was a little too thin. Still, the catering was not bad. Good fried rice. Excellent Chicken 65. Payasam was too cold. But overall not bad for an upper middle class family with no income. (However Mercy-aunty told me that apparently they don't have budget for a honeymoon.)
Thanks to the proximity of Easter on the 24th of April to the wedding on the 29th, almost everyone in the UK planned to take the intervening days off and convert the whole thing into a 10-day holiday. Which sounds like a great idea. The problem with this is that people who live in this part of the world plan the socks off their holidays. They are like the Montek Singh Ahluwahlias of vacationing but with greater accuracy. They book flights and hotels and tours and museum tickets months in advance. And they do it so comprehensively that any delay in booking impact liquidity severely.
One minute hipmunk.com is showing a London - Barcelona flight for just £140 return per person on ShadyJet. Unfortunately due to a long-entrenched distrust of Indian ecommerce websites, and previous experience of booking flight tickets on the right day but the wrong year, I hesitate. I double check before clicking on the buy button.
Disaster! Sad screechy Carnatic violin music!
That two minute delay is two minutes too long. When I click on the buy button again ShadyJet is fully booked and the only tickets left for Barcelona are first class fares on Air France.
If I wanted to spend that much money to be subject to incompetence I would have bought the Pune Warriors.
So you can begin to imagine the thoughts running through my brain when the missus empowered me to plan and execute the entire 10-day holiday program.
Where to go? What to do? How much to spend?
So that evening, after she came back from work and had finished vacuuming the TV, I asked her for suggestions of destinations and an estimation of budget.
Me: "Why don't we choose three places and then I can search for tickets and hotels and draw up comparisons..."
Missus: "Excellent. Which three places?"
Me: "I was hoping you would suggest something?"
Missus: "No no. You decide this munchkin..."
Me: "Oh ok. Then... off the top of my head spontaneously... I was thinking France with emphasis on Normandy, Germany with emphasis on Berlin, or Poland with emphasis on Auschwitz. A world war 2 theme... overall..."
Missus: "Very good. I also think that France, Holland and Spain are the best options."
Me: "It is as if you stole the very words from my mouth my little Verbal Charles Sobhraj."
Two hours later, after requisite budgetary discussions, we decided that a whirlwind tour of the Provencal region of France, starting with a short, skip and jump through Paris would be best. From Paris we would proceed, via train, to Avignon, Arles and then Aix-en-Provence before returning to Paris for the flight back to London.
Air France is not my favourite airline in the world, in much the same way that blunt force trauma is not my favourite feeling in the world. Yet the London-Paris-London tickets on AF were both well-priced and well-timed for our evenly paced but quite accurately timed trip. We would spend between two to three nights in each place, giving us just enough time to tick off the usual tourist haunts, and still have some time for lazy reading in French cafes overlooking French town squares.
Four days before we left for France, and thus the title of this post, I bought two sturdy backpacks for both of us. For her a 66-litre Mountain Life backpack in murky pink (favourite colour) with lumbar support, rain cover, external compartments on the top, bottom and sides, and adjustable shoulder straps. For me a 65-litre Mountain life backpack with orange trims (official Mint colour) but otherwise similar configuration as above.
The idea was to somehow carry 10 days worth of clothes and accessories in the two backpacks, and then carry reading material and laptop in a little day bag. We'd carry above mentioned day bag on board as cabin baggage in order to pilfer things from the plane such as trays, bowls, cutlery, toiletries and life jackets.
Comedy! I am kidding about the cutlery.
Over the next two weeks I hope, fingers crossed, to write you through those 10 wonderful days of traipsing around France, drinking beer, and eating cheese from plastic bags.
This fully illustrated story is full of history, romance, something called Panache, cold breakfasts, copious ethnic stereotyping, and Popes.
Hopefully you will enjoy these posts. Perhaps they may even inspire you to do a little travelling of your own. But, most of all, I hope they will convince you to never travel by Air France.
Till next time: Au ghevoir and take ze care yeah? Yeah ok ok.