Driving Across Europe to Slovakia

What was amazing was the way people looked at me. This was probably the very first time they had laid eyes on an Indian, or for that matter someone colored like me. I exaggerate not, when I say that whole villages came out just to get a look! I could now understand what white skinned people feel when they visit India, and everyone is just staring at them, nudging each other, and passing remarks.

I’ve been to Slovakia twice, the first when I went to attend the funeral of Jaro, an eighteen year old kid, who left this planet when he met with a tragic motorcycle accident.

This was in the October of 2008. At that time we promised his grieving mother that we would come back and visit during Christmas. Whereas I didn’t take any pictures given the sad occasion, I did take plenty of photographs during the Christmas visit.

So this blog is really a combination of the two visits.

When we received news about the tragedy, we searched for the quickest means of transport available, however discovered that the only possibilities were to take a flight the next day, and arrive into Slovakia only around 6 PM the next day. And that too we would land in Bratislava, and from there would be driving to Dolny Kubin, so in all probability would be at final destination around 8-9 pm.

So I’m thinking, rather than just wait around till the next afternoon all gloomy and sad, why not just drive to Slovakia. It would help pass the time, and we would end up arriving into Dolny Kubin around the same time.

Google showed us that this was a 1,100 mile drive or about 1,800 odd km, but I was most certainly up for it.

I had a rather mean machine, a Mercedes GL 450, and it would most certainly do the trick. So we quickly got prepped, filled up the tank, and got on the road at around 11 pm. It was too late to take the train ferry, therefore we had no option but to take the Dover – Calais ferry crossing option.

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The White Cliffs of Dover

As we leave the white cliffs of Dover behind, I’m reminded of a movie, The Scarlet Pimpernel, that famous classic, that epic, which depicted the civil war in France, and how The Scarlet Pimpernell, launches rescue mission after rescue mission to save some of the French aristocracy from the gallows. I’m also reminded of The Three Musketeers, and some of their tales.

That, my friends, was me drifting off subject, as is usually the case. Let’s get back then.

The crossing takes about a couple of hours if I’m not mistaken, and we pull in at Calais, drive off the ferry, and guess what? We are in France!

Now here is the interesting thing. The said GL 450 is a left hand drive import from the US, and I’ve been driving a left hand drive vehicle in a right hand drive country. A neat trick, but then I am a really good driver, or at least I fancy myself as a really good driver. Now that we are in Europe, back to a left hand drive region, I am able to switch back to driving like I did in the US pretty easily.

The journey itself is really wonderful, and the roads are superb, especially in France, where the tarmac is laid like a carpet. The mean machine, takes to the tarmac like a fish to water, and we are speeding on our way to Slovakia.

We pass through several countries, first France, then Germany, Czech Republic, before we finally enter Slovakia.

London to Dolny Kubin
Docklands – London to Dolny Kubin, Slovakia: 1100 miles/1800 kms.

What really struck me as a pleasant surprise, was that we didn’t have to stop even once for any sort of border checks, as there were none. All these countries were part of the European Union (EU) now, and all border controls had been dismantled. Well, there were a few border posts, but they were nothing but the unmanned, forsaken, abandoned remnants of the pre EU days. The Indian passport is not exactly a powerful passport, despite the fact that I had an US work permit, a UK work permit, a Shengen visa for Europe. Had it been earlier days, pre EU, I’m sure I would have been stopped multiple times, what with the color of my skin, a real fancy (expensive) car, and a white woman as my travel companion.

The only place where we did get stopped was in the Czech Republic I think, and that too for having my car headlights off at 4 pm. See, it was wintertime, and cars were expected to have their running lights on all the time.

Why drive a really fast car at snails pace?

If you want to hear something really funny, hear this. Ever hear of the German Autobhan? I had. What I had heard (and was true when I did those trips) is that there were no speed limits. So I’m driving along at a steady 80 mph, and find it really strange that nobody, except a few odd balls, are whizzing past me like I’m standing still! I’d see a patrol car approaching behind me, and I would back off to 70 mph. We then stopped off for some coffee, a smoke and some fuel, and I happened to ask the attendant, what the speed limit was. I was really embarrassed, when I was laughed at and told, this is the Autobahn, there are no speed limits. He further said, you have a powerful car, you can even fly! Imagine that! Here I have the occasion (urgency to get to Slovakia), the opportunity, and the ability to let loose, and I am crawling, well relatively speaking of course. Duly enlightned, and maybe even chasticed, and hugely embarrassed, I am soon in flight. I have broken the speed limits before, in the US, in the UK, and have taken the speed up a few notches, but here is the perfect opportunity to open up the throttle and see what this baby, the GL 450 can do. All I remember is passing through Germany like a blur clocking a top speed of 130 mph, limited only by the electronic speed limiter.

“The 5.5 liter V8-engine in the Mercedes-Benz GL450 generates 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. At only 6.4 seconds, the 0-60 mph acceleration time is almost comparable with that of a sports car, as is the electronically limited top speed of 130 mph. The GL450 has a displacement of 4.6 liters, power output of 335 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. It makes the dash from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and goes on to an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph”.

Funnier Still – why wait at a fuel station all night?

I pulled an even funnier funny, during another trip into Europe.

Now I ALWAYS tank up before I do a long drive, ’cause its the sensible thing to do. This time around, we were running late. We had opted to take the “Chunnel”, Channel Tunnel, and drive the car RORO (roll on roll off), to France and beyond. I had a meeting at the Paris office, and needed to get the car on the damn train, so as to arrive into Paris in time for my meeting the next morning. From Paris it was off to Slovakia. This is what the route looked like.

Europe Round 2
London to Slovakia via Paris: 1301 miles/2080 kms

This time we transit, France, Germany, Austria, and finally Slovakia. This time around I didn’t crawl.

So we roll off the train, drive for a couple of hours on the French highway, and then I’m looking for a fuel stop, but for the life of me, can’t seem to find one. The digital fuel gauge says I have no fuel at all, and now I’ve switched off the air conditioning, am coasting in neutral as far as possible. I fall back on the GPS, to find the nearest gas station, and she’s telling me there is one in some French sounding location about 20 miles off the highway. I haven’t a clue where we are, am panicking, and therefore fingers crossed, follow the lead of the GPS. The location is some remote French village, but we hit pay dirt, there is a fueling station. So promptly drive in, only to find its unattended. No damage done, I’m sure they accept cards, and so I’m trying to figure it all out, but try as I might, the thingy, or rather all the dispensing thingies don’t want to work for me.

I think perhaps my international cards are remiss, I try my Indian cards, my American cards, my UK cards, both debit and credit, and none want to work. I have cash, always carry cash for emergencies, and I have the foresight to carry Euros, but no attendant, and no slot in the pumps to accept cash.

I fall back on a rather ingenious plan of giving someone cash and asking them to use their cards to fill me up, but there is a minor problem. It is 2 am in the morning, it is an unattended station, there are no other customers’, and it is a remote village. So desperation makes me go and stand on the main road, and try to flag down some kind soul to assist. Can’t find, or rather, nobody is willing to stop at that godforsaken hour.

Finally someone rolls up, can’t speak English, and my French is so broken, that hand gestures work better, but the poor soul has no credit card. Another hour goes by, more flagging (trying), another soul at the gas station, and still no luck.

Finally, at about 4 am, this dude on a motorbike, exits one of the houses in the village, notices us, and stops to see if something is wong. He understands some English, I manage some French, and we actually understand each other. He laughs out loud, and takes us to one of the dispensing thingies, there is a switch on one of them, he switches it on, and eureka, it whirr to life, and does accept my card.

I seriously was ready to hit myself hard.

Dolny Kubin, Slovakia

It is Christmas, the family is still grieving, but the mood is somewhat lighter, and so we travel around a bit, visit some of the nearby towns and villages, and this time I do take a lot of pictures.

Dolny Kubin is a beautiful little town, nestling in surrounding hills.

As is typical, a beautiful town square, cafes, restaurants, clubs, and the like. The town itself, is just a few streets wide, and a couple of turns and you’re headed outa town.

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What was amazing was the way people looked at me. This was probably the very first time they had laid eyes on an Indian, or for that matter someone colored like me. I exaggerate not, when I say that whole villages came out just to get a look! I could now understand what white skinned people feel when they visit India, and everyone is just staring at them, nudging each other, and passing remarks.

One weekend we traveled to a town which was at the foothills of the Tatra mountain range. This range borders Poland. The house we stayed at was simply beautiful, well-appointed with every creature comfort.

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The weekend before we had to head back to London, I was taken to the ski slopes. Its pretty late, so no time for skiing, but there is time to take a ride on the ski lift. The view from up there was simply breathtaking.

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Snow had been steadily falling all through Christmas and New Year and therefore the drive back was a lot slower than the way in, and finally we are back again at Calais, and on the way back choose the ferry crossing over the Chunnel crossing.

We get back January 1, and the next day we are back to our routines, back to reality, leaving yet another fond memory to reflect on and reminisce. The events events that unfolded after that visit pretty much changed the direction of my life, perhaps for better, perhaps for worse. Maybe I will write about it some day, maybe I won’t. At the present time, all I am willing to say is, the reason why events unfolded the way they did, were a combination of the tragedy, and my own actions.


Moving Back to India – Amchi “Mumbai”: Circa 2010.

However, once I knew that I was going back, I was a mix of emotions, apprehensions ….. would I re-adjust, would I like it, would I get used to the heat, dirt, etc, all associated with Bombay and India.

End of Several Overseas Stints

The loyal brood who know me and who have read some of my posts, would know by now that I’ve lived on four continents, and worked in five, Asia, Middle East, North America, Latin America, and Asia Pacific.

After having lived overseas for several years on and off, I was finally going back, back home to Bombay. Yes, yes, I’m still stubborn and call it Bombay, not “Mumbai”. Man this is what I grew up with, and I’m not about to change it for anything.

I didn’t know how it would all pan out, many challenges, several hurdles or I would readjust seamlessly? I didn’t know how long I would be there, but it seemed at least a few months if not more….. Hindsight is a great thing, and so I’m still here in Bombay, albeit, I travel quite a bit.

By now I’ve lived in major cities in the four major geographies, Singapore in the Far East, Abu Dhabi in the Middle East, Chicago in the US, and London in the United Kingdom, apart from travel to many, many countries for work and just a little sight seeing. Living abroad is a fantastic experience, broadening your horizons, a lot of learning about culture, psychology, customs, traditions and so on and so forth. Highly recommended and an essential grooming for one and all. Go for it and encourage your kids if they want to do it, its well worth the challenge and the adjustment.

Once I knew that I was going back, I was a mix of emotions, apprehensions ….. would I re-adjust, would I like it, would I get used to the heat, dirt, etc, all associated with Bombay and India. Don’t get me wrong, if you cut me I bleed Indian, but people who have lived overseas will understand what I mean. There are so many things we take for granted when we live abroad. And living is so different from visiting on business or for personal reasons. When you live someplace nice, you get used to the comforts, the conveniences mainly I think.

From the beginning of January 2009, I had known due to professional developments that I will have some change in my job profile, which could possible lead to me moving to another country, perhaps back home, back to India. In October 09, due to certain unfortunate “developments” I received a call from my boss and on speaking to him it became more likely that the move would happen sooner than later. A few days after my call with him, it was confirmed that I would need to go back and work from Pune, in India until it was finally decided what was to become of me. By mid November 2010, I was asked to return to London, wind up my establishment there and come back.

So by now in this job I had moved from Bombay to Pune, Pune to Chicago, Chicago to London and finally from London to Bombay, back to the home of my parents, back to the family.

The “fun” part was getting all my stuff shipped back to India under the re-location package my employer had given me. I’ve been away several years and in that time I had gathered a “little” stuff, stuff that I could not just throw away or discard. So the packers and movers were called in to pack my stuff in London, and arrange shipment and related formalities in India.

I’d thought of where a lot of the furniture would go, replacing some of the older items at my parents place. Now nobody knew what was coming their way, except Krishanu who had visited my in London, and seen all the “stuff” I would be bringing back.

The essential fact that a combination of 60 cartons and boxes of assorted dimensions were headed home was information not for the faint at heart! But was I ever so professional at getting all the stuff in, especially the larger items of furniture like the bed and sofas. In two days flat a majority of the shipment was unpacked and stowed away. The balance was completed in another week, so all in all great going, with minimum pain.

What was worth seeing, was my mothers’ face when she saw the guys unloading 60 assorted boxes into the apartment! However, it was all hands to the wheel and everyone pitched in to get it sorted.

During my stints overseas, I visited India almost every other month, but mainly for work, and just spent a day or two at home. But in October – November last year I spend about two months in India, so I had a whiff of what it would be like, and that time perhaps helped me get used to being back and living like I had in the past.

One of the great things about being back is that I’ve had the opportunity to spend quality time with my kids, Krishanu the older boy (almost 20), Keertana the darling girl (15), and the little fella Kartikeya (10). Living abroad for an extended period of time had in a lot of ways estranged me from my family, and whenever I did come back I was a visitor for a couple of days, en route to some location or another.

It has been a period of bonding, of getting to know each other all over again, for the kids to realize that there is a father figure standing behind them. It’s been very hard on the family, my being away, and I had no realization of how difficult it must have been, until I’ve stayed put and spent most of my time at home with them over the past six months.

Bhavna kept telling me that I should try and spend time with the kids, go away somewhere with them, that they are growing up very quickly and are very interesting. Being caught up in my world of the corporate, flying all over the place, hotels, lunches, dinners,
I just didn’t have the time to do that, or perhaps it would be more honest if I just say, I didn’t make the time to do that. She and the folks had been doing that, and I would get supplied pics that did often, leave me in tears.

It is my loss as time has gone by, I’ve already missed those times, but I’m so happy for the last several months of being in that “in-between” condition as they put it, when you’re seeking another challenge. Talking on the phone or Skype or email periodically does not really include you in the day to day stuff that goes on with the kids.

Just today, Krishanu my eldest, comes to me and shows me this note. Its a “To Do” list made by Kartikeya. See what I mean? Its these small little day to day things that you miss when you are away.


I’m beginning to dread the prospect of being away from them again should things pan out the way I plan. The way it’s looking, I will get much better opportunities overseas, and that will mean relocating yet again, something I’ve become quite professional at.

I’m sure my audience will say, “so stay put in India dummy” or “don’t you know what you value more” or something to that effect. However, “its complicated” as they say, and it will suffice to say here that I’ll look for opportunities back home, but its not a huge possibility. I’m hoping that they will elect to study in a location close to me, wherever I am, and that way I will get to spend quite some time with them.

But let’s talk about the day to day logistics of being back. Well for starters, no room to myself, so I share with Krishanu. He’s kindly emptied one of his closets so I don’t need to live out of my suitcases and boxes. Even before I moved back, one evening, we were on chat, and I felt bad that he was forced to share space with me, and I told him as much and thanked him. Krishanu being Krishanu, (that gentle, sweet boy), and insisted that it was no problem at all. And I’ve not been used to having so many people around me, mom and dad, three kids, Bhavna, house help, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment that.

I had gotten quite used to being the recluse, my time was my time, my way of cooking (my time of Zen), my way of cleaning, all of that stuff. Then there is the stuff about transport, having only one car one that “belongs” more or less to Krishanu (he calls it “Nightwing”), getting around is not as much a taken for granted thing as it normally is. Even simple things, like waking up, sleeping, dinner times, etc are all adjusted to suit all. It was hard to begin with, but I settled into the rhythm, and everybody has been really accommodating about it. I’m pretty sure that on one side, they love having me back, but sometimes they probably say, “what a pain!!!”.

Then of course there is the train and bus system which is great, but of course the crowd, the levels of cleanliness, all pose certain challenges to using mass transit.But that’s all the flip side.

Personal relationships and friendships are so much easier in India, just hanging out at the local coffee place, the street corner, at the club, one meets old friends and after the first meeting aeons after the last and the catching up, it’s like I had never left.

I met my cousin sister Anuradha, after about 10 years, and we picked up right where we’d left off, reminiscing about the time we spent as kids in each other’s houses. I

I’ve made a firm resolution that no matter where in the world I finally end up, I will make that extra effort to keep in touch with immediate family and a few select friends. Casual bonding, instantaneous rendezvous, unplanned coffees and dinners and drinks with friends and family, is such a rarity in western societies in general.

I made a good friend in London, and over drinks one evening, Sulamif (that’s what we’ll call her- she likes it, something to do with Sulamif being the favorite and most beloved wife of King Solomon-The Wise) and I got into a long argument about culture and traditions. I think she sparked something in me (maybe my pride in my rich traditional and cultural Indian upbringing was hurt), when she said that the English had a lot of tradition and culture. Because my reaction, we dwelt on this particular aspect quite a bit, and after an hour or so of arguing, sometimes animatedly, I discovered that we were agreeing violently about the same basic tenets.

My only objection to her stand was that she seemed to generalize and believe that the English traditions and culture were deep rooted across all levels of society, to which I violently disagreed, but only because I’ve seen tradition and culture in India, the Far East, the Middle East, The Americas, UK and Europe and it is my belief that if there is tradition and culture across all strata of society, then the Far Eastern societies are leagues ahead.

Of course we both supported culture and tradition and I have developed a lot of respect for Sulamif, therefore we were able to reconcile our views and opinions and grow the friendship. Maybe I should do a blog entry on Culture, Tradition and Religion. So maybe I drifted a bit, what was my point….. hmmmmm, I think, it was to say, that being back in India, I’ve been re-exposed to the traditions and culture of my youth, and my knowledge and experiences are recharged by my time here. So that’s been another good thing!

Then of course there was the wedding. My cousin, Nikita getting married, all the relatives and old friends reassembling after many, many years, a traditional Indian wedding. I can say that it has been one of the best weddings I’ve ever attended. The arrangements, the events, the bonding, all went towards making it great. I could write so much more, but that is saved from another installment, a website complete with pictures, et all. But as a parting shot, I really felt for the first time in my rather colorful life, that I would soon be in the same position as Mickey (my Uncle), getting a daughter married!

Strange feeling that. Even though she’s still very young (not so youn, I could almost feel deep pain in my heart, as if she’s going away already. I did get a similar feeling when my kid sister Shruti was getting married, however, I was too preoccupied with other serious goings on in my life at the time to dwell on it.

Coming back home has meant spending quality time with my lovable mom and dad… I call them Mama and Papa.

Papa turned eighty earlier this year (we think). March and April are when most of the birthdays happen in our family, with the exception of Shruti, myself and Krishanu, who are in July, August and October. Mama and Kartikeya in March, Bhavna, Keertana and Papa in April. Well, Papa happens in March and April, but that is something we will leave out of this blog. So we did nothing special, except order cake on one of the days, and went out for a common birthday dinner to Basilico.

I think they really would like me to stay put in India…. having a son around I guess is reassuring. Me, on my part feel better if I’m closer to them as well. They have been there in my absence for the kids, who have essentially had to deal with an absentee father. What can I say about my parents! They are the best!

They have faced so much in life, they have taught me by example, they have taught me to face adversity and hold my head up high. They have taught me to face life, its not what everyone gets to learn from parents. I’ve learnt a lot from the school of very hard knocks, however, they taught me the principles and values and above all they gave me faith, which has been my foundation in the face of storm.

What more can I say, except that I feel more and more love for them each day (but I’m a bit off in expressing that openly enough), and tearing myself away, if that comes to pass will be very difficult this time around.

I should write about each one of the family, they are all wonderful people in their own right, I stand humbled before them in so many ways.

Before I get too nostalgic, I’d better conclude, and so in conclusion, I love being back, albeit with some minor challenges, would love to remain here if I get a good professional opportunity (which seems quite unlikely), especially as I’d be so much closer to family, culture, traditions.

On the other hand, wanderlust, professional aspirations, a desire to be at the top of my game, and to have that which has been missing in my life……..But that’s not in my hands as of now. Maybe another blog entry of yet another stint abroad will be supplied. Time will tell…….

Chicago to London – Compelled to Compare: Circa 2008/9.

International Mobility is a fantastic experience. You see the good, the bad, the ugly across boundaries. The apartment hunting, the packing & moving, the hooking up of services, setting up shop, getting to know your way around, getting lost quite a bit….I’m quite the veteran at this, having moved from India to Singapore (my very first stint overseas, then back to India, then a few months later to Abu Dhabi, UAE, then back again, then moving to Pune within India, then, from Pune to Chicago, then to London, and finally back to India.

International Mobility is a fantastic experience. You see the good, the bad, the ugly across boundaries. The apartment hunting, the packing & moving, the hooking up of services, setting up shop, getting to know your way around, getting lost quite a bit….

I’m quite the veteran at this, having moved from India to Singapore (my very first stint overseas), then back to India, then a few months later to Abu Dhabi – UAE, back again, then moving to Pune within India, then from Pune to Chicago, on to London, and finally back to India.

As you go through the process you can’t but compare life in general, but specifically products and services in various countries.

This is about moving from Chicago to London, but extrapolate that to a  comparison between the US and UK.

Basic Amenities – A Cinch in the UK? Think Again

I think it’s a safe assumption to say that I’m a simple guy, needing the basic conveniences in life, like a cable connection to watch some “telly” as the Brits would put it. I don’t think adding a landline connection, and a broadband service would mean that I’m expecting a bit much, would it?

So I ask around to get some advise on how I can get connected, get some phone numbers of service providers. Things seemed to be looking up finally! Were they really? Nah, was an illusion after all. Now I did speak with the service providers, but I started getting some strange responses.

Some previous tenant, has kindly left behind a broadband connection, which works, but I really want my own, don’t I?

Here I am asking for a Broadband Internet connection or a SKY cable connection to be set up, but all they want to know is if I have a BT landline at home? Now after telling them all that I had only just moved to London, I sort of assumed that they would figure that I didn’t. Nevertheless……

So I tell them, no I don’t have a BT landline at home. “Well sir, we cannot install our service if you don’t have a BT connection”. For the life of me, I have not been able to figure out, why would an Internet Service Provider, insist that I have a BT landline, when BT offers it’s own Internet service as well? Perhaps my stint in the US made me brain dead.

Call Centers in India – Service Levels? WTF is that? Ditto for IT folks.

I’m a really unpopular guy, perhaps to the extent where squads are being sent to exterminate me. I make no friends and neither do I take prisoners in two places, the IT folks, the BPO folks (read Call Center). Since the BT calls were redirected to some dimwit in India, yes, this is about my experience with Call Centers in India.

I am dead sure we have all seen movies that at some point add humor by having a scene or two involving a chat with a call center agent based our of our beloved India.Bhaiya or South Indian accent, nose digging and all.

This horror and frustration I have experienced first hand, didn’t have to see the nose digging though. Not nice. The reps read from a frigging script, and if your query is even remotely off the script, then boy oh boy! Are you in for a marathon call, with absolutely no hope in hell of getting your issue addressed.

As the saga continued, I tried, tried in vain, and several times at that, to get that damn BT Line installed. Now to say that I’m frustrated is the understatement of the century. I get off the phone after being on for about 30 minutes, only to gain access to what its going to take to get a landline installed, and only to get disconnected after all that work. This to please be coupled with the previous episode where the call got cut off, and that too after getting my land line number. And even before that, speaking to BT who promised to send an engineer to survey the property to determine if a landline had ever been installed at that property before, an engineer who sent an SMS that he was coming over but never showed.

Is this what we call doing business or is this how we deliver a service?

Now I started getting a bit ambitious (pretty much glutton for punishment) and wanted to put in a TV connection! So again I do the usual internet search, again shamelessly using the broadband connection that didn’t belong to me, and converge on SKY as the service provider.  Determine the mix of shows I want, and am feeling all happy now. I guess my happiness was meant to be short lived. Now it seems that the only way I can get a SKY box installed is if I have a BT line. What??? What’s this obsession with BT? Could it be something to do with the ugly word “monopoly”? Or would it just be a technology issue.

So very hopefully I ask SKY if there is any way I can get a connection without a BT Line? Yes, there is and all I need to do is pay an amount of 85 quid. So the said sum is paid, the SKY engineer comes over and gets the service going. Soooo at least one thing goes right, albeit at a cost.

So now I’m thinking, well there is an internet connection at home (not mine), there is a SKY connection at home (legitimately mine), and they both need a BT line to function, perhaps BT has a record that there is at least one connection at the penthouse, so let’s talk to BT again.

So talk I do … goes pretty much like the first time, endless waiting on the phone (cellular of course), providing all possible detail, and as luck will have it I got disconnected at the penultimate moment. The agent had given me my digits, saying that this would be my new BT landline number. I waited for about 45 minutes thinking (wishfully) that the agent I spoke to for about 45 minutes, would call me back, since they wanted to earn some money by clinching the deal. Well, she did not and I called BT again.

Should I be surprised that there was no record of my call, no record that I had been signed up (after providing my payment details)? Perhaps not. So I am on the phone for 45 minutes, again, and tell the agent up front that if for any reason I get disconnected, PLEASE call me back. To make a long story short, my cellular battery went dead, I connected to the mains, but I didn’t get a call back in confirmation of the deal.

I finally gave up, but a few days later when looking at my bank statement, discovered a standing instruction favoring BT. So it seems that finally I would get a line, but how?  I did get an SMS letting me know the anointed time when the engineer would come over to get me going, by first surveying the property (at my cost of course). Speaking about surveying, don’t forget that there is a BT broadband connection working in the apartment (kindly forgotten behind by the previous tenant), and one which I’m shamelessly using. What’s more the SKY technician had to put in a landline connection to install the SKY service. Now with two landlines in the apartment (without the broadband SKY will not work), BT still maintains that there is no record of a landline at that post code, at that property, and at that apartment. What gives??? I just don’t get it, and by now I’m beyond caring, and about to give up the whole enterprise. Screw it, will just get an internet dongle.

This saga of moving and getting settled in of course spans a couple of months, so let’s get back to the apartment, shall we? If you recall, I have recently moved from Chicago to London. Moving to London: Circa 2008/9

Still no mailbox key, outstanding issues, such as door not functioning, etc. Still not sorted out. So I speak to the office, the signatory to the lease, and ask them if I can terminate the contract, on grounds of breach. The general opinion is that it’s still not breach, but we do have grounds to send a strongly worded legal notice so I’m told. I waited for two whole months and finally sent a legal notice, after which the key strangely appeared under my door one day. Insert the key and it still does not work. I think that the landlord knows that the key is faulty or even worse the mailbox lock is bad, but does not want to spend 150 quid to fix it.

And they say that the UK is largely a service based economy? In my most humble opinion, it doesn’t seem that way.

Life in the US

The best way to describe life in the US is to say that it is idiot proof, or to be more specific (if you’ve not already guessed), is that the facilities provided allow you to leave your brains at home, therefore my words earlier “brain dead”. Unless of course we all go and assume that since a certain fellow with orange hair, recently got voted to power by popular adult franchise, that does say a lot about the rest of the voters.

I moved to London-UK, from Chicago-USA. That land of opportunity (then in severe recession), ultimate convenience and one that makes you brain dead. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way at all, except I try to use those words in order to amuse.

America is really an extremely easy place to live in, be it grocery shopping, subscriptions to service like cable television, telephone, broadband internet, and the like.  Then of course there are those fantastic highways or motor ways as I must now learn to call them!

We drove from Chicago to the Grand Canyon, all of 1700+ miles each way and didn’t even feel as if we’d traveled so far. Plenty of convenience stores, gas stations or petrol stations as I must learn to call them now, along the way. Things like grocery shopping and convenience shopping, are really made so easy, with Jewel, Target, Domnick’s, Walgreen, Walmart, all varieties of gas stations (oops petrol stations) all round the corner in practically every little town, or borough as I must learn to call them in the UK.

People Differences: US vs UK

The real difference between people in the US and the UK is that the average US citizen is not really exposed to anything outside of the US. Be it education about foreign countries, people, culture or languages. I remember from my very first visit to the US in 1978 as a Rotary Exchange Student, of people asking me if I had pet snakes, tigers, elephants, etc. I did have a whale of a time leading them up the garden path about stuff like that.

Now I do know from my first experience of living in the US that the school curriculum does not prescribe much international education, and that may well be a reason why people are so badly informed about international issues, but on the flip side, America has been known as the land of opportunities and for that reason people from all over the world flock to America.

So the question that begs an answer, is with the racial mix in the US being truly international in flavor, how come there is so much ignorance about the world in the US? I’ll be dammed if I know…

The average American is also generally a poor world traveler, and that is possibly because of almost everything in the US being idiot proof or incredibly convenient. Whereas the Brit seems to be a natural born traveler.

Now that may be because at one time the Brits ruled a large part of the world. My guess is that all of these character and national traits are in the genes of the general population. Another huge difference is that the US has influenced the global economy and culture, pretty much remotely, whereas the Brits did it by traveling the world physically. I’m talking history of course. East India Company rings a bell?

London is Expensive

Generally, life in London is expensive, and few will beat me up for saying that. The company I worked for took care of me, and I really will not complain too much. They paid for my “chick magnet” penthouse associated utilities, linen, cleaning and everything.

In spite of that if I were to compare the 1000 odd quid a week that the company pays for my apartment and the associated costs, what would that same amount of money buy me, in Chicago, Singapore, Bombay, or for that matter in any other major world city. A lot!

Since I do need to spend my money on groceries and personal expenses, I can say that it’s three times more expensive in London! Even take going out for that odd dinner or two a month. Expensive!

Clothes shopping is expensive too! However, I must comment that over the years that I’ve been visiting, the prices are becoming more realistic and better aligned with other comparable locations.

People talk about people being so well dressed in London as compared to the US, and the topic veered around to women wearing the latest fashions, snazzy stuff, which is not exactly cheap. The style and fashion scene in London, and generally in Europe is up market.

Now if I found London to be expensive, I cannot help but think, how does the layman, or woman as the case may be, survive here!  I do ask around, and what I’m hearing is that household income is pooled to get along, many people don’t have cars so that’s a saving, even people who have cars use the train or tube as it’s called here, and therefore several expenses associated with life in the US are not incurred here.

Raison d’être

I believe it goes back to how these nations came to be created. Europe being the old world where culture and all it’s components, art, language, literature, fashion and the like were allowed to flourish, and the Americas being the new world, where people flocked for several reasons …. escape from life situations, wanting a freedom that was not available in the old world, escape from financial situations, from criminal prosecution……

They all came and by the sweat of their brows, tamed a wild and largely barren land, connected huge distances by rail and road, and overcame mammoth obstacles to make it in a new and free world.

However, all said and done, people who went there, and indeed who still continue to go there (that’s about to change though), go with an intent to begin afresh. And the American system, supports that very well, going back to my points about convenience and ease, rewarding and celebrating success, and providing a basic living to all. Thus, America is still viewed as the land of opportunity, a varied cultural mix, with the old world inhabitants in the New England state of Massachusetts and New York, and the new settlers from across the world spread across the country.

Without a doubt, they looked at what didn’t work in the countries of their origin, and tried to make changes for the better. Of course there has always been a large rebellious streak in America, and perhaps they took it too far and made changes in extremes.

For example, from Cricket they made Baseball, from Football/Soccer they made American Football, from Squash they made Racket-ball. Instead of kilomteres we have miles, we have a different measure even for the gallon. In the financial system as well, it was pure diehard capitalism all the way, fiercely protective, money being the end all and be all, as would be the natural outcome for a race which left all behind to make a new beginning.

Public Transport

Apart from NYC in the US, in general they’ve missed the plot as regards public transport is concerned. You cannot really survive in the US without a car, as you really cannot get from point A to B. Whereas, in the UK the public transportation both intercity and intracity is excellent (save the outages on the Jubilee Line), but even then you’re not left stranded, the replacement bus services connecting the stations affected do manage to ferry you across. Not the most convenient, but it does work. A legacy that the Brits left behind in India.

Your Identity in Country

In the US your identity is your Social Security number and to sign up for anything you will need to quote that number. everything you do is tracked by that identification number. So be it bank accounts, credit cards, phone companies, cable companies and all service-providers, they all track your behavior based on that number. So guess what? Should you delay a payment, or for that matter even get sued, or sue someone else, it WILL be tracked and a whole lot of people will have access to that information! The system does compel you to remain straight.

In the UK your identity seems to be the Bank Account number, and the first thing they will do when you go to get signed up for a cellular service is ask for your UK bank issued Debit Card. That’s what they use for the address proof and verification.

People Differences

In the US I found people to be more open, more friendly, more receptive, albeit with some degree of caution. But in London, I found Londoners to be more closed, save the immigrant population. London, is largely comprised of immigrants, so London wasn’t half bad.

The London Pub Culture versus the US

I found that in the US, the work week was sacrosanct, and people properly went home after work, however, in the UK, and London in partcular, 4.30 pm onwards, its down to the local pubs, tank up and then people head home.

I could go on and on in terms of comparison, and could go on to compare UK versus Europe, or for that matter, Continental Europe with Central and Eastern Europe, but let’s save that for another day. I think one of my next blogs is going to be about working and living in different parts of the world, and my general observations of how people live and work across the globe.

Shipping A Car Across The Pond

See I was supposed to be in the US of A for about three years, and one day as I’m driving to work in my car, the Mercedes GL 450, I get a call from the boss of my boss. He’s a man named Carr.

Don’t Try This

Have you every tried this? Take my advise – DON’T! Especially if you’re shipping from a Left Hand Drive Country to a Right Hand Drive Country.

Why Ship at All?

See I was supposed to be in the US of A for about three years, and one day as I’m driving to work in my car, the Mercedes GL 450, I get a call from the boss of my boss. He’s a man named Carr.

He and I get on well, and after the initial preliminaries he starts telling me what a fantastic job I’ve done. We aren’t exactly stupid, we just look it, so when the Bosses’ Boss makes a transatlantic call, the game is afoot.

Now I’ve been in the US just over 10 months when this call came in and  so my antennae did go up a bit, and then he spilled the beans.

He said he had another job for me to do, he was facing a problem and he wanted someone to go fix it. Off the bat I told him, I was a team player but could I think about it and possibly speak about it in person. Which we did, and as things then panned out I got shipped, and so did a lot of my stuff to London!

Now about the car ….. The only reason why I bought a car that some consider to be up market or expensive, was that I wanted to ship it back to India which has relaxed tariffs on self owned used cars purchased abroad. Well that’s not completely true, I always dreamed owning a Mercedes and I got a really sweet deal on this. Read …. I negotiated the hell out of the dealer on the last day of the month when they were pressed to make a sale. (This tale deserves a full rendition, so let’s just save that for some other time).

Company Policy is a Hurdle – Time to Negotiate

Now as per company policy, I’m not allowed to ship the car, well I’m allowed, but the company does not pay for it. But my boss agreed that if I negotiated with the shippers to lower the cost of relocation to squeeze the car in, he would agree.

Did The Sumir hear negotiate? He did. Bring it on! And so the car make it’s way to London, along with furniture, clothes, CD’s, books, papers, and the like.

The Fun Begins

Watching the packers and movers, pack clothes, and stuff, no feelings at all, but, watching them take away the car on a skiff, now that is something else! Will it reach in one piece, will it be damaged, will it be scratched. All valid concerns and all come to naught! It’s arrived free of any customs duty, vat, or any other major expense. Until now, that is.

Dead Battery

They deliver the GL in a container, and I’m summoned to back it out. I’m handed the keys to do so. Turn the key so, no response. Try again, no response. And again, and again, and again. The dammnnn battery is dead!

Have you every tried to get a battery out of a GL series? I’m guessing few have. For starters, it sits under the front passenger seat. The seat needs to be moved all the way up front, the seat needs to be tilted forward all the way, and then you take off the matting/carpet, under which, you find a plate that needs to be unscrewed, and only then can you even access the battery. With no power at all, fancy moving that huge seat. Can’t be done manually. Finally we get a set of cables, jump start the engine, get the car off the container, and I drive it around for an hour in an attempt to charge the battery. Does not work. The battery is done for. Reason? some idiot turned on the lights and let the settings to stay on, even after the engine was shut down. It died of natural causes, in the container, in a rather confined space.

The Pain Begins

Now stupid as I am, even I know that I cannot just drive the thing off the container and on to UK roads. And so the process is to go to the SVA, VOSA, DVLA, (they are not expletives, though they might as well be), step by step, to finally drive the car that I’ve grown to love.

What’s not to love about your first Mercedes, fully loaded, V8 petrol driven engine, off road package, rough and tough speed machine. Despite its size (full size SUV), turns ona  dime, refused to skid what with traction control, frigging broad bad ass tires, amazing sound system.

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But, before I go into full drool, I’d better get back to talking about the aftermath, post shipping.

What’s mandatory, is an inspection for it’s suitability to be driven in the UK, cost 190 quid. Emissions, lights, ground clearance. If any adjustments are necessary, visit a Mercedes workshop, and make prescribed adjustments, more cost possibly? A follow up inspection and then go to the DVLA to get the car registered.

The car is still parked in my parking spot, waiting to be unleashed (I’m allowed to drive it to the inspection and back legally until I get it registered) on the roads. Not that I’m going to drive a lot in London, given that I live just minutes from the office, and the average speed through the City of London is 8 KPH. The odd weekend trip out into the country, to meet “Ness”, maybe to Europe, let’s see ….
 The driving to work did happen, as did the visit to Lochness, as did the drives into Europe, Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria.

Delighted in Some Ways

But here’s the real story on this …. I was growing used to getting poor service from utilities and service providers in the UK in general, but DVLA, VOSA and SVA have been a treat! I was able to download the application form for the inspection, easy enough to fill, attached the payment and sent it off.

To my surprise I received a call the very next day from VOSA and they found that the VIN number I’d entered did not match the VIN number that the Customs’ Certificate. I found that I had erred in entering the information in the application, and was pleasantly surprised when the voice on the phone corrected it on my authorization.

The appointed date was bit of a disappointment and I was given a date 3 weeks into the future. But the story of good service continues, when they called back and said they had a cancellation and could I please bring the car around a week earlier? Pleasantly surprised, and I hoped that the rest of the processes will be painless as well.

Fingers, toes, you name it, all crossed …. not much left to cross, is there?
 The inspection at VOSA went well, and all I really needed to do is get the headlights changed, and the fog lights adapted to EU standards. The head lights from a car in the US align on the wrong (or as the Americans would say right side) of the road, and in the UK that needs to be adjusted to suit driving on the left (or wrong) side of the road, and the fog light needs to be changed as well. So there was a 1000 quid trip to Mercedes, and back to the VOSA to get the clearance certificate.

The inspector was ab absolute gem! The lights though changed, were angled incorrectly, and despite the fact that he was not supposed to make any adjustments, he voluntarily did so, saving me yet another trip the the workshop.

Then the next step was to go to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Registration Agency), and actually have the car registered, which was very smooth. I get the permission to make a set of plates, and now I’m driving around in the car. It feels good to drive one’s own car…….
, especially a fully loaded, Mercedes GL 450, petrol (or gasoline), depending on which side of the pond you’re on.

The rush to get the care registered, was driven primarily by the fact that my son, Krishanu, was planning to visit me in the UK, and spend his 18th birthday with me, and I wanted him to get a feel of that mean machine. Come, he did, experience he did, and there is a topic for yet another blog on the live and times of yours truly.

Now I’m one to make comparisons between places I’ve lived in, and I have lived in a few countries. India (the land of my birth), USA in 1978 for a couple of years, Singapore on deputation from work, the Middle East again on work.

Guess what? More memories to document, more blogs……

Moving to London: Circa 2008/9

Living in The Past


This blog has been rewritten, so even though its being published now, it talks about circa 2008/9 or thereabouts.

Moving In

It’s been over two month’s since I’ve been living in London. Being a visitor in the past never did quite give me an idea, what it is like living in London.

The startup wasn’t the greatest if I may say that. Got here OK, flight from Chicago went smoothly, plane landed without any mishap or misadventure, asked for a people carrier telling the taxi company that I did have much luggage, since I’d been living in Chicago for about two years. Their idea of a people carrier and the one I had were different. So apart from that minor squeeze, from the airport to the apartment, things were not so bad.

Should I mention here that the Agency representative, a man from Mars, called Donald Mars, didn’t show up to hand us the keys, and escort me to the apartment as promised? But we got there all right, comdeered the keys from the concierge, entered apartment, so maybe I shouldn’t make such a big deal about this no show.

We’re renting an apartment, well the company is. The apartment is great, great view, great location (few minutes from Canary Wharf), overlooking the O2 Dome.

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About half and hour from Central London. The City Airport in my back yard! The doors and windows are well insulated from external sound, so the sound of planes landing and taking off is minimal and not a disturbance.

Minor Hurdles
 – House Hunting & Settling

At this point I may want to mention some “minor” hurdles. The letting agency we are dealing with seems to have a “Caveat Emptor” attitude (I’d been warned by my boss but didn’t heed), except that for some strange reason when you draw that to their attention, the get all upset!  Apparently, they seem to think, and so does the landlord of the apartment, that it’s perfectly normal to let a property out (especially an apartment) and not give the tenants a mailbox key! So having said that let’s list a few of the other minor hurdles I alluded to. Still don’t have a mailbox key that works, the main sliding window in the living room is broke, the doors in most of the rooms swing shut and really create a big bang every time.

Nice en suite bathroom complete with walk in wet shower for the master bedroom, but minus shower curtain. Bit of a damper to swipe the wet floors each morning, especially since morning is when we have the most time on our hands, don’t we?

Interestingly, some furniture mysteriously appeared, which we had not seen when we took a look at the apartment. It’s rather nice to get stuff that was not promised, except that based on the furniture and apartment set up at the time of the viewing, I shipped all my furniture over from the US. So you can well imagine the situation with having excess furniture at home. It’s a large penthouse but still ….

Now some in the company, in particular my then boss, a Mr. Smith, let’s say, called it a “chick magnet”, and not without reason, I might add. Location – check, interiors – check, penthouse – check, snob neighborhood – check, fancy car – check.

I guess it didn’t help much, that I kinda adopted this swag, and parked my showoff car bang outside the Crowne Plaza, which is literally across the road from the apartment building.


I guess there were regulars at the Dockland Bar & Grill, and seeing me get into the car, and observing my swag, asked around. My friends, the barkeep, the manager, the waiters & waitresses, when asked, just pointed to the penthouse and were known to comment, need we say more. All I am willing to confess, is that I did get many a slip or bar napkin passed on with names and numbers.

Now that I’ve said a lot about the living conditions, and some may violently argue that I have not said quite enough, let’s leave the narration to some other blog posts.


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