Saturday, January 31, 2015

Barcelona Blues

So this was around the time when Pickwick was about knee-height. And just about toddling around, chatting to whomsoever struck his fancy (of course, we have now outgrown that phase and have resorted to sullen silence as the standard expression to greet any unsuspecting guest). So, unfettered by school schedules, we’d planned a weekend trip to Barcelona.
Now let me tell you about our weekend trips. They usually involved low-cost airlines, youth hostels in the centre of the cities and plenty of walking and public transport. We’d mastered the art of carrying what was strictly necessary in the backpack and living with slightly smelly people by the end of the trip.
So. Barcelona. Beautiful place. Full of bright, happy people. And angry tourists. Why, you ask? Let me explain.
image courtesy:
I’m going to skim over the details of how we travelled to Barcelona and how we found ourselves at the youth hostel at the centre of the city. Those details are of no import to the story that ensues.  Now, if you’ve been to the YH digs, you know that you cannot leave anything of value at the place. You can, of course rent a locker and leave it there, but us, having carried our haversack with us, decided to make like a camel carry it all.  The important stuff that is. Passports and nappies and stuff.  Things like spare clothing and fruit and cheese were abandoned at the hostel, to be collected later.
So, much like the tourists surrounding us, we decided to hit the spots, the Gaudi, the city centre, the beach…
Ah, the beach.Barcelonata, I believe it was called. Lovely. Warm, which was the main draw for me coming as we were from the greyness that is London.  Pickwick, having inserted sand into every possible orifice in his tiny body and hair, and also my hair, his nappies and my shirt, sat back to admire the thoroughness of his handiwork  and promptly proclaimed he was ready for some food.
Arun scanned the horizon for something  decent that wouldn’t involve us moving away from the beach and espied a café, attached to a – wait for it – Youth hostel.  Yup. Almost like home then. We made our merry way to the café in Q – Pickwick, insisting on walking as we pushed his buggy – with our haversack on it as I hurriedly shooed people out of harm’s way. The Café was deserted. Not a soul in sight except for the barista. So having parked our buggy next to us, I decided to have a conversation with Pickwick about the merits of not having sand up your bum while Arun busied himself getting our orders from the barista.
I had just finished extolling the virtues of a clean, sand-free ear as well when Arun comes round with our hot chocolate and coffees.  ‘Here you go. Can you hand me my haversack?’ he says.
‘It’s on the buggy. No Ritvik. That chocolate is HOT. Wait.’ ‘Where? I can’t see it!’ Say Arun. Honestly! Men!  ‘Really now, Arun! Right there…’ I say turning towards the buggy ‘on the bug…eh?’ The haversack had done a Houdini. Where minutes ago there was a haversack, there was now… thin air.  ‘whaa? Ritvik, did you drop the haversack somewhere?  No?  well, it was here a minute ago. Where could it go?’  As the barista took in the scene, viz:  two frantic adults on their knees scrabbling and one happy baby dunking his sandy fist into the hot chocolate, he knew what he was looking at. He had seen that look on the face of many a scrabbling tourist. ‘Ah. It’s been stolen. ‘ he says coolly, like he was telling us the house speciality.  ‘Stolen? Stolen!!’ blubbers husband, ‘By who, may I ask? There’s no one in the café but us.’ The barista shrugs. ‘It happens. Here- what cards did you have? I have the numbers of all the banks to report stolen cards – and with a flourish he fishes out a list bigger than his menu card of the list of numbers.  So the husband, in a daze goes about reporting his stolen cards, stolen by, apparently, a ghost.
We sit down in shock, too upset to drink coffee and too overwrought to notice Pickwick gulping down half his hot chocolate and generously sharing the other half with his shirt and trousers, when the barista come up to us again ‘ you have many things in the bag?’ he asks. ‘Yes! Our money, our cards and…’ the husband lets out a strangled yelp ‘Our passports!’ ‘Ah, that! NO problem. Thief sometimes takes money and cards and leaved bag and passport in garbage. You check, yes?’  Gosh, the barista was talking like he knew our ghost-thief. Still. It shows you the measure of our desperation that for the next half hour, we went around rooting in public dumpsters trying to spot our haversack.  With no luck. Belatedly we realised that we need to file a police complaint if we needed to make it back to England.  And call the Indian embassy.
Of course, this being the weekend, the Police station at the beach was shut (because criminals need a weekend break too, right?), and we had to travel to the police station at the city centre. We took the bus to the station (we had just enough money for the tickets), while we called up my brother, trying to arrange for the cash to tide us over. We are greeted at the police station with people of various nationalities, all trying to get a translator to inform the police that they’d been robbed too. And they were currently without a passport too. The police (the well-oiled machinery that it was) handily had the numbers of various embassies and we were advised to call them while we waited to file official complaint. In the meanwhile, grubby, sandy Pickwick, thinking he’d been patient long enough, announces in a loud voice ‘I done a poo, Mummy. Change nappy.’
Perfect timing. Can’t leave the station for hours, and even if we did, don’t think we have enough to spring for a nappy AND food. *sigh* In the meanwhile, Arun is calling the Indian Embassy’s emergency number – which happily informs us that they are open from 9-5 Monday through Friday. Because obviously one never has emergencies during weekends. Or nights. Oh no! While other nationalities are busy on the phone with their respective embassies, who are sending out things from emergency cash, to places where they can crash for the night to translators to clucking sympathetic sounds, all we get is a tinny message asking us to call Monday morning.  We finally get hold of an actual person to speak to on the other line and explain our predicament. After patiently hearing us out this is the solution she offers: ‘make your way to Madrid on Monday morning. Not now. That where our embassy is. We will issue emergency papers to travel to India. Once your get to India, Apply for a new passport. And then go through the entire visa process again for the UK. All very simple.’ Fantastic. Here we are, with not enough money for food, and you want us to make our way to Madrid, then fly to India, then cool our heels there until we have a new passport and visa??!! How is that even a solution?
While we were mulling this over, the police patiently heard us out, filled out the required police complaint, smelled us suspiciously (Poor Pickwick DID say he done a poo) and asked us to be on our merry way.  We were just wondering what on earth to do when Arun (bless his disorganised soul), discovered a stash of bills in a forgotten pocket in his pant. Yay! So that’s dinner and nappies sorted then…
The next morning, having had a hearty breakfast (Thank the Lord for B & B) we forlornly packed out measly belongings and having nowhere to go, headed on over to the airport. Why airport, you ask? Because Arun, being the smart cookie that he is, has scanned copies of our documents stashed somewhere on email. We took printouts and headed over to the airline counter to explain our predicament.  The lady was apologetic, but quite used to this scenario apparently. And it soon became pretty clear why. Just was we were awaiting our turn, a frantic Japanese family turned up saying they had been robbed of everything – at the airport! The thieves didn’t even have the decency to wait until the family hit a tourist attraction or two before pilfering their stuff.  The heartless heathens! Having directed the family to the local policemen (who was, once again, alarmingly aware of the modus operandi of the pilferers), she looks at us, and was about the refuse when Pickwick, decides to flash his grin at the lady and say ‘Gorgeous!’. Now, granted that was a new word he’d learnt at playschool and he was using it for everything from potted plants to toilet rolls, but the lady didn’t need to know that. Too much information might confuse the poor soul.
And so it was, that thanks to Pickwick, the lady decided to make a call on our behalf to the UK border agency who would then decide if we were allowed to enter the UK.  We didn’t hold out much hope, after the way our own embassy had treated us, but guess what, they actually agreed!
We nearly squashed the lady with our group hug, Pickwick, Arun and I, and Pickwick was even gracious enough to offer her his half eaten apple.  I hurriedly extricated the boys away from her before she changed her mind. For the next three hours we sat at the airport looking at things we couldn’t buy until the boarding for our flight was announced.  I have never been so emotional,even on reaching India after a really long time, but when the emigration official finally gave us our emergency papers and said, ‘welcome to the UK’  I was practically ready to name my second-born after him.  (Mercifully good sense prevailed. It would be a bit difficult to explain to people why we’d named our little girl ‘John’)
Now you’d think an experience like this would deter us from travelling for quite a while, but actually, now that we’d arrived unscathed, we just decided to be a bit more alert (and stop with the youth hostels for a bit), but carry on enjoying our European adventure regardless. After all, we still had Pickwick willing to say ‘gorgeous’ in a pinch.