Six hours, an agonizing wait at the visa office to process the Schengen visa. Our first Europe trip as a family of three, included Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Whatever excitement was building up for the holiday lost most of its fizz, just like an uncapped beer bottle sitting in the fridge for hours, screaming to be drunk.
Our respective offices were informed that the visa process shouldn’t last more than two hours. But it did (welcome to Indianess). We were so glad we didn’t take our daughter along.
We saw some kids there, and wow, were they relentless. Shouting, nagging, jumping around and tearing the fabric of peace with their piercing screams. The other patrons had put their patience on the front line, testing, when will it be busted open. A keen eye would have observed micro-emotions crawling on their apparent stoic faces. One parent was admirably calm and composed, while her toddler was testing his lung power and stamina. But we all knew she was dying a little inside.
In India, the good thing is that you don’t need to bring your child along till he/she is 6 years old (It might be 12 but I am not sure about that claim). The bad thing though, to procure any first world country visa is like preparing for war and ensuring that your arsenal has the latest weapons – salary slips, flight tickets (return included because f*** knows you’ll stay back), hotel bookings, income tax acknowledgement, letter from the office clearly stating that I am not planning to settle in your country, investment proofs, bank statements, marriage certificate, birth certificate, a cow maybe because then we are bound to come back to her.
We finally got the visa. We were off to Europe. First stop – Berlin.
We’ve experienced taking an international flight with our daughter before, short(ish) flight to the gulf, and she was nice and calm. You don’t need to buy a flight ticket for your child till the age of two. The hitch, she doesn’t get a dedicated seat, your lap is her seat.
We didn’t pre-book our seats (big mistake). We assumed (incorrectly) the airline will give us the front row seats because what are the chances of other families traveling with children from Mumbai, mid-June, at 2am? (very freaking high).
After getting our boarding passes we proceeded towards the gate. Still early, we decided to snack and that’s when realization struck, I had lost my boarding pass. In that situation, I did what any mature, level-headed adult would do – panic. I was trying to look cool but my wife knew I wasn’t.
If you thought a dramatic chase sequence to board the plane was about to ensue, it didn’t. In about 15 cool, yet panic-stricken, minutes I found it. The norm is that most of the lost boarding passes end up at the gate you are about to board the flight from. Good rule to remember.
Finally, we boarded, after settling down we knew it was not going to be very comfortable. My wife took the window seat and I was in the middle. So we requested the flight attendant to help us with another empty seat so that one of us could shift with the child. My wife, with a determined look, made it very clear that she needs her sleep, to which I said, “yeah me too”.
10 minutes later, I find myself, with a 22-month old; groggy, sleepy and cranky… (I get that way sometimes) seated in the middle seat of the middle row in the middle of the night, holding my daughter, her toy and a blanket in my lap.
My daughter did whine a bit but drifted off, I could see my wife from where I was seated, and she seemed pretty snug. I, on the other hand, struggled to sleep.
Throughout the night I was busy grabbing onto my daughter making sure she was warm and comfortable. Held onto her head just in case it drops off my chest and she wakes up. Catching her legs so she doesn’t hit the neighbours sitting on either side and covering her eyes from any stray lights. It’s amazing what a rubbish night-sleeper she generally is, but that night she slept like someone had knocked the daylights out of her.
The morning came and with it brought the staunchest headache. The mother and the child were doing just fine, I felt like a cadaver whose brain was being messed around with in a medical lecture. After our layover in Amsterdam we finally reached Berlin early afternoon and everything went off great, except we had a new problem…
Next Read: Episode 2 – The Berlin Leg