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Thursday 18 October 2018

These are a few of my favourite things #TheBlindList

For OCD-ing middle-aged moms, planning is everything. Surprises are just rude shocks. How boring, right? Yeah, I thought the same about my mom and now my kids think the same about me. 
Time and again my family tests my patience with their not-so-helpful attitude on every holiday we've taken. No one volunteers to help with researching the travel itinerary, the flight or hotel bookings or anything the holiday would include. Add to that woe list, giving me wrong dates of availability, that leaves me at my wits end when they realize the folly a couple of days before we depart for the holiday...arrghh!
That's it! I've had just about enough of this "holiday" planning! The weather is wretched and I am having a blessed moment putting my feet up on the couch mulling over our last annual vacation wherein my lazy family decided yet again on "simply chilling" at the resort while the rest of the group tour went on a mad rampage all across Malaysia. 
If only things were different...The cuckoo clock cheeps three times and I wearily stretch my toes.
Ping! There goes the email alert on my mobile. Must be some promo mail, with the approaching festive season. Hmm, it's a mail from DCT Travels, must be one of those innumerable sites I checked out for our last holiday. Half-heartedly I click open the mail and my jaw drops as I skim through the mail. I read the mail again and then once more. In a daze I call my husband, "Hello, you'll never believe what I am going to tell you! I just won an all expenses paid 7 days, 6 nights holiday!! I was the 100,000 th visitor on their website it seems! But the holiday is for just one person, me. Isn't that just awesome?....Where to? Let me read the mail again and call you back." 
As I go through the mail again, I realize it does not mention the destination. But, hey...wait a sec...what is this under the *Terms and Conditions*? It says that the holiday destination is to be a surprise and I have to agree to ask no questions about the destination other than those relevant to my travel requirements. Now, I am feeling really stupid! What kind of scam is this? Maybe I'll be robbed or kidnapped or worse! Just my kind of luck.

The phone rings, it's an unknown number. I answer,"Yes, speaking. Hmm, yes, I received the email. How do I know this is not a prank? Oh, I wasn't aware you have an office in Mumbai. Sure, I'll visit. And yes, I'll get my passport along. Thank you so much!"
As I get off the call from the rather nice sounding Neha, I can feel the adrenaline rush. 
I browse through the website of DCT Travels and check the customer reviews. Wow, all 5 star reviews! Nah, that could be fake! Only one way to find out. I'll visit their office which is surprisingly not far from my place.
The sweet girl Neha from the tele-call is there to heartily welcome and congratulate me. We are comfortably settled in with coffee mugs at her station and she asks me to fill out a questionnaire based on which they will customize my holiday. Besides the usual routine personal details I need to fill, there are questions that make me think.
They ask me questions like, what are my dream holiday destinations, my expectations from a holiday, stay preferences, food I love and so on!
Phew!! I am done answering all the questions and inadvertently it has been a journey of self exploration for me, I never knew I've been craving for a perfect holiday!

It is a fortnight since that meeting, the days have blurred past in a rush of packing, repacking, checking documents, visiting visa office, arranging for stuff to be handled at home in my absence and so much more. 
Other than the fact that my destination is somewhere in Europe, DCT Travels hasn't still revealed my travel itinerary, they just wink and tell me it's a #BlindList
I really wonder where I am going to be whisked away and honestly? It is literally a blind date that I am risking! I am praying this surprise doesn't turn out to be yet another rude shock!

I am at the airport, it is 12.00 a.m and the family is here to see me off on my maiden solo journey to God-Knows-Where! I am feeling terribly excited and a bit crazy as well! 
I wave goodbye to all and amidst tight hugs and last minute reminders to keep my phone charged, I am off! Off on a blind date to someplace I have no clue about but something tells me it is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime memory that I am about to make!

I am at the Lufthansa airways counter (I don't know why but I've always loved the exotic-sounding name of this airline). I am headed to Paris!! 
As I flash my ticket and passport, the cheerful Lufthansa executive smiles broadly at me. He informs me that my ticket has been upgraded to business class!!! Omg, this is so amazing!
I dazedly walk with my backpack to the business class lounge to wait it out in style till my flight is called.
A blissful flight cocooned in luxury and pampered by the delightful in-flight service, I am quite liking the way things are proceeding! They even have authentic Indian vegetarian gourmet food that I love!
At the Charles de Gaulle airport, I am received by a DCT travels executive and deposited in a waiting luxury car. I am informed that my destination is now just an hour and half's drive away.
I am eagerly peering through the window and helpfully assisted by the chauffeur who points out the various beautiful monuments and sites we are passing by. Mon dieu! The city is simply enchanting! We are now out of city bounds and traversing beautiful countryside, there is a river, La Seine, I remember from my French classes!
Finally I read a board saying "Bienvenue à Giverny". I am at the home of the brilliant Impressionist artist Claude Monet at Giverny from where he created some of his most amazing paintings of Water Lilies amongst many others. I remember mentioning in the DCT travels' questionnaire that I adore Monet's art and that I would love to visit his inspiration.

I am booked into...wait for it... a castle, called Chateau de Reves. The chateau is run by an old couple and thankfully they speak English though heavily accented which I find extremely charming! I am shown up to my room which done up in tones of pale rose and moss green. I am in love with the floral wall paper, the lacy curtains and the old, heavy period furniture including a canopied bed! 

Everything about Giverny is so adorable. The cobbled paths, the old buildings with soft faded hues, several chateaus from a bygone era, beautiful shaded pathways with tall poplars and trees I don't know the name of, tiny corner cafes fronted with glass displays of mouth-watering croissants....ahh, my senses are on an overload and my phone camera is in a tizzy to capture all the wonderful sights I am beholding!

After a good night's sleep and a sumptuous buffet breakfast I am all set for the day ahead. Imagine my surprise when I behold Neha at the reception waiting for me! She tells me she'll be with me all through my holiday! Woohoo! I love the idea of travel sans the worries of planning and logistics! Travel to explore has only been a myth to me so far!

Neha and I visit the Monet home which is every bit as beautiful I imagined it to be, and everything is so impeccably maintained! The grounds, the Japanese bridge, and THE waterlilies, they are simply out of this world!
I have taken my sketchbook on this visit and I spend a lazy hour trying to capture the famed lily-pond sipping a glass of chilled French wine accompanied by a cheese doesn't get any better! I am totally letting my hair down!

Neha informs me that we'll be taking a flight late evening to our next destination and smugly informs me that it will be a surprise too! I can't wait to find out where we'll be heading next!

You could have knocked me down with a feather when I hear that we are headed next to Salzburg, Austria!  I try to remember the number times I've wished to visit the rolling hills where the epic movie, "The Sound of Music" was shot. I am already humming,"These are a few of my favourite things..." Exploring the world is soon going to be my motto in life!
Salzburg is nothing short of picture-postcard prettiness! 
The air itself is invigorating and people seem to be thriving on it! Everywhere I see apple-cheeked happy folk with ready smiles filled with warmth. It doesn't matter that I can neither speak nor understand most of what people speak here. The place is alive with music, theater, culture and so much fun!
I am almost crazy ecstatic when I visit the Villa Trapp - The Original Sound of Music family home. Like a giddy teen, the lines,"I am sixteen going on seventeen.."are on my lips!
We take a trek on the hills where the blockbuster soundtrack,"The hills are alive..." was shot and indeed, my heart wants beat like the wings of the birds!
A delightful evening at the famed opera has me gushing and overwhelmed! This kind of enriching experience, visiting all these amazing places and doing all the stuff I have only dreamed of!

My guide and new best pal, Neha tells me that our next destination involves a train journey, the Euro-rail. We are now headed to England! We arrive to a dull, grey, drizzly London. I think I recognize most of the places the taxi passes by, thanks to all the scores of English movies I've watched. I am excited to recognize Picadilly square, the London Bridge, the Thames, the London eye, Westminster Abbey and all those iconic colonial structures.
I beg Neha to tell me where we are heading and she tells me it is to the English countryside. The place that inspired poets and writers to pen the most famed literary works! Dorset, Cornwall, Devon, I come!
The natural beauty of the English countryside takes my breath away as do the quaint cottages, the multi-hued heather, pretty blooms, beautiful sandy beaches and the nippy, crisp air! It is small wonder that those literary giants were inspired to pen down such marvelous prose and poetry. Why, I think if I stay here a bit more, I'll find myself drafting my own best-seller book of poetries soon enough! I visit a field of golden Daffodils at Cornwall and I am at a loss of words at the feeling of pure joy that envelops me when I see what inspired, "The Daffodils" and "The Solitary Reaper" by William Wordsworth.

My happiest moment is when I am given the keys to a lovely little fairyland-like cottage, with its own white picket fenced garden, thatched roof and a tiny attic room with round windows, in Devon! This is nothing short of a fairy-tale! Can it get any better? Oh yes, it gets better when you have a picnic by the roadside after a long bike trail! Neha has arranged for a packed hamper of dainty cupcakes, buttery scones, strawberries and cream, tiny cucumber sandwiches and of course chilled bottles of lemonade! The unforgettable Enid Blyton, I am living yet another dream! 

My mind runs through the last few days' happenings...and I am smiling away loopily! So many incredible moments, exotic, quaint and beautiful places that have blown me away. People and places that I have only read about...I am really so glad I agreed to go on this blind date with #TheBlindList. I came openminded, expecting nothing, and what a revelation the world has been to me! #SayYesToTheWorld and it opens up unlimited possibilities! I never thought traveling the world could be so fulfilling!

I settle down under the tree on the little blanket that Neha has thoughtfully spread. What with overindulging myself with such decadent treats and the overall feeling of bliss, makes me a little snoozy. 

There is a ringing sound...I ignore it, it must be some passing cyclist. The ringing persists and refuses to go away. Unwillingly I tear open my eyes from the stupor and come face to face with my son holding out the phone to me.
Oh, no!! What's this? Was it all just a dream? Was that my trip to Wonderland?
I accept my phone and answer the unknown number calling me,"Hello?" 
"Hello ma'am, this is Neha calling from Dreams Come True Travels...."


This post is my entry for the #TheBlindList contest from Lufthansa India in association with Indiblogger.
All the places mentioned are real though I have never visited any of them...yep it's a fictional trip, but one close to the heart!

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