Good Morning America!
It is an irony that 'food security and sustainable development' has brought me here. Well, this is the theme of the program, as also my related work in the area, that led the US Department of State to invite me under their 'International Visitor Leadersip Program' to tour around and interact with various people during the next three weeks. This blog is about my trip from Mumbai to Washington DC and the first night here.
At Mumbai on 29 night/30 morning April 2011 the check-in was smooth and much faster than I thought. I was pleasently surprised to get access to a free phone and internet; used the first to call up my wife at the wee hour and the web to chat with her for some time.
The in-flight entertainment by Lufthasa had some Hindi song channels (21 and 23), a Tamil one (22). The relaxation or stress buster channel (13) was good in the morning (German time) after having not slept in the night. Channels 2 and 3 also give western classical (vocal and instrumental respectively). I wish some more written information was there.
The breakfast arrived when I was really feeling hungry - opted for Indian vegetarian with Utthapam, Sambar and Upma. Wow! Arrived on time at Frankfurt.
Used the skyline and then some walking to go to the respective terminal. I had almost four hours for boarding my connecting flight. Some of the personnel with the 'May I Help You' tag come foward and know things, but at times you will be lost and no one to whom you can ask. Information is electronic/digital but if the one for your flight is not there then ...
Security check was smooth. They ask you to keep all your belonging, belt, purse, money, and jacket through the scanner. You should not carry anything in your pockets. A sari clad old Indian lady was subjected to a thorough check, but I was not.
Another problem I faced is looking for drinking water. The Lufthansa service desk people also did not know and there were no symbols/signs indicating the same. However, talking with the wash room personnel did reveal about the location of a drinking water facility - language was no barrier. He went out of his way to convey as much as possible. And, yes after those sips of water to may parched throat, what a relief.
While inquiring about internet availablity at Frankfurt Airport (or Fraport) I was told that one can access using payments through credit cards. Out of bounds for me. True, nothing should be free. But, if these were available at Mumbai (now privatized) then why not at Frankfurt. Passengers like me would have taken the opportunity to blog about them. They do not loose much, as I am doing it now. I used the time to skim through the Wall Street Journal writing about the Royal wedding in London, one child policy in China and the demographic concerns of an aging population, the relvance of the Arab spring (Jasmine revolution) with respecting plurality.
The connecting flight from Franfurt was by United Airlines (the earlier was their code share with Lufthansa that I had taken). There is a stark change in the in-house entertainment. All the muic was jazzy, peppy and what not. The closer to Indian song was something like 'Narayana, Narayana, Na, Na, Narayana, Om Namah Bhagbati...' The song that I liked most is 'Doe a dear...' as this reminded me of a program by Nerika. Lunch (vegetarian food was specially ordered through the travel agent) and snacks befor we touched down. Used this leg of the journey to see/glance at time two/three movies. I don't know their names (not even those of the actors), but enjoyed it.
Again reached on time at the Dulles International Airport, Wachington DC (it is actually located in Virginia, which is to the south of DC. Transfer from the flight to the departure area was in a specially designed vehicle (like a bus but feel of a metro), whose height could be adjusted. The quere at the customs was long, but once the process was done, my luggage was waiting for me. Once I came out, I could locate the English Language Officer for the program. Waited for some time for other participants but left as they were not showing up. I understand that they also reach withi 30/40 minutes of my coming to the hotel.
At the hotel, I met the other participant from India who had also come from Chennai. It seems that she also came via Frankfurt and was there at the same time and took a flight that was one hour prior to that of mine. Some coordination could have put us in the same flight because we reached Frankfurt around the same time (in fact, I reached earlier). That is a small matter. Both of us went for some shopping to Trader Joe's - I brough fruits and some drinks and a packet of corn chapati.
Later in the evening/went out for a walk towards the Foggy Bottom-GWU (George Washington University) metro railway station, located near the George Washington Hospital. The public telephone booth there operated by Verizon is a pay phone if one uses some other calling card (I do not know what will be the status with a Verizon card). While returning, went to the library of the medical college and was told that only people with GW card are allowed. Some time in the recent past they changed the policy and are not allowing outsiders to the library. Close by there is a store seven-eleven (is open till midnight). Was nice to walk in the pleasant spring weather! Look forward to explore more of this in the next few days.