Tuesday June 16, 2015 (Asia, India, Planning)
First thing’s first: we have our credit card back! After checking back into the restaurant where I was fairrrly sure I left it yesterday morning it was found under the cash tray. What a relief: getting a replacement credit card shipped to you from Canada to here would be more than a bit of a hassle. Sandra has now enacted a policy wherein she will endeavour to ask me “Do you have the credit card?” after completing any given meal. This plan should work swimmingly!
Last night we checked out Jurassic World 3D at the AMPA Skywalk Mall here in Chennai. Kumar took us on a serious drive up there. It was probably thirty minutes via tuk-tuk, but time passes quickly when you’re ripping between the surrounding traffic on these auto-rickshaws!
We had a small scare when we arrived and the cinema looked pretty busy. We wandered up to a ticket vending machine and tried to purchase two tickets to see the show. SOLD OUT. Ugh. We have already agreed with Kumar that he’d pick us up in another 2.5 hours and now we can’t see the movie. But just to verify, we hop in line and try to buy some tickets from a real human being. We slowly creep up to the front, ask for the tickets… and it… seems to succeed? The girl wanders away while I’m trying to pay. Other people are snapping up tickets while I begin to panic that our window of opportunity is closing. But she eventually returns, hands us the tickets, and a cursory investigation shows that they’re indeed for the correct film and showtime. Let’s go!
We line up for the film along with the rest of the swarming crowd. As we’re about to enter, a random local tells us that we actually need to buy a coupon to get the 3D glasses. Apparently theatres in India will allow you to go see a 3D movie without actually providing you with glasses? So I hop back to the snack bar to grab two pairs for us. One dollar later, they’re mine! Back into the theatre. We check the tickets to see if they’re assigned seats, and sure enough we’re in Row R, Seats 1 and 2. I wander deeper and deeper into the theatre checking the letters. A… B… I slowly realize we’re at the back. THE back of the theatre. And then I spot Sandra in the corner. Not only are we in the back, we’re right up against the wall. It seems we've gotten the last two seats possible! How thrilling and inconvenient at the same time.
The movie commences… but somehow the theatre is only about one third full? I ask my neighbour what’s going on – the show is almost sold out. And if it’s not, why the heck did we get these seats? "Where is everybody?", I ask him. “It’s India!”, he laughs. People just kind of stroll in to the movie when they feel like it. And sure enough, a solid 45 minutes into the film a guy wanders over to take a seat in our row that was still empty up until that point. Weird. The movie was… decent. I’ve gotta admit I had trouble dealing with the 10-15 cell phones that were active throughout the show in various areas. People picking up the phone and having full conversations, people browsing Facebook, and people just talking to their neighbours throughout. Rage… building! Not the same movie-going culture we’re used to! And then about an hour into the film comes… THE INTERMISSION! Which is apparently a very common occurrence here. But this isn’t a four hour Bollywood epic, it’s just a two hour film? Hey, why not toss in a twenty minute intermission? So yeah: going to the movies was a bit strange.
Today has mostly been focused on organizing the next couple of legs of our trip. The current plan is to head to Pondicherry for a couple of days, then to Madurai, and then fly off to Sri Lanka to check it out. Do us a favour and check out the weather forecast for Sri Lanka on Google. Last time I checked it looked like this: Thunderstorms for days, baby! I guess the temperature is at least warm? Ohh you monsoon season! Apparently it can be a little better in the north and east of the country? Serves us right for travelling during monsoon season. Drat.
We’ve been staying at the Savera Hotel here in Chennai. And we need to talk about the music here. The elevator puts out some super-sweet jams – traditional Indian music. It sounds really incredible and it’s way more pleasant than North American muzak. Really makes me feel like I'm travelling. I'm sure to the locals it sounds corny and boring, but I definitely elevator dance to it. The music scene definitely takes a turn for the worse when you enter the restaurant for breakfast, however. It’s all alto sax covers. On a loop that lasts about twenty to thirty minutes. The same music every single day. I have no idea how the staff manages not to go completely insane. Now when I say alto sax covers, you might think of something cool like “WHAM! - Careless Whisper”. Here’s a small sampling: "Toni Braxton - Un-Break My Heart”, “Elton John - Can You Feel The Love Tonight”, “James Blunt - You’re Beautiful”. You get the idea. And on some horrific occasions, this musical misstep infects the elevators also. Within those confines, I heard two (again, alto sax) covers of, no joke, “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night”. So it’s Christmas in June here in India!
Now for the biggest news of all: I think we’ve finally made our last itinerary change on the Aeroplan ticket! We have a return date home: we’ll see you just after 8pm on December 21st in Toronto!
I’ve been pretty stressed out the past couple of weeks trying to determine how the heck we’d get home. I will bore you with the details in a separate post sometime on how this “Around the World Reward Ticket” actually works. You know: the ins and outs. Suffice it to say that only after starting the journey do you know if you can make it home anywhere near the date you’d like. The last time we switched up the itinerary, our return date was November 27th. I was expecting that reward inventory would open up on Air New Zealand in the month of December. But time kept movin’ and inventory kept… not opening. After some discussions on frequent flyer chat boards (FlyerTalk), I realized it was pretty unlikely that any award seats would open up from Air New Zealand during the month of December. This is very bad. How do we get home?
As I saw it, we had two options. The first was to stick basically with our existing itinerary, but then skip the existing November 27th flight home from Auckland. We’d just miss the last leg of our reward trip and then pay for a separate revenue ticket to get us home. However, it looked like that’d cost us about 1500 CAD per person. Ouch. So much for the free(ish) ticket around the world, right?
Option two was to move the Aeroplan Reward Itinerary to fly through Asia instead. If we could find an airport in Asia with a cheap flight to New Zealand, we could just send ourselves through there and buy a separate return ticket from there to New Zealand and back, returning just before we would leave for Canada. If we could get the price significantly below 1500 CAD per person we’d be saving money this way.
And I found it! Bali! I did a search on Google Flights (which can be pretty helpful at times) and found a ticket in the time range we wanted that was less than 750 CAD per person. And the airport in Bali (DPS) had lots of available Aeroplan reward inventory to get us back home in December. After one and a half hours on the phone with Aeroplan, I think we’re sorted. There were a few heart-attack inducing moments:
- When I tried to book the ticket that was supposed to be 750 CAD on Virgin Australia’s website, only for it to show that the cost was actually north of 1000 USD. NO! I searched for the flight through Kayak, and managed to find a link to book the same(ish) price ticket through eDreams. And unlike crazy Virgin Australia, eDreams showed me the correct price. Booked it.
- Then realized I had possibly made a huge mistake. I had now booked the revenue ticket without actually confirming that the Aeroplan itinerary would go through. If there was some issue with the routing I wanted when talking to Aeroplan, I would have already shelled out the cash on a ticket to New Zealand from Bali that we could no longer use. Oops. Call Aeroplan immediately.
- Waited on hold for a good 25 minutes with Aeroplan. Explained the itinerary changes we wanted. Everything was good... up until the trip home. The first problem was that the routing I’d been looking at included a Premium Economy flight on Air Canada from Tokyo (NRT) to Toronto (YYZ). And Aeroplan wouldn’t allow me to take that flight (even though it shows up on the web search) because we only have an Economy Around The World Reward and not Premium Economy. Note that there’s no actual way to search for Economy-only options on Aeroplan’s website, so you have to be very, very careful. My heart sank.
- “But you can go on the 21st of December”, said the agent.
- “Oh wait, that flight goes through Frankfurt, so you’d be crossing the Atlantic twice on your ticket, which isn’t allowed.” My heart sank again.
- “OK, you can route through Tokyo again on the 21st also.” Yay!
- “One minute while I check something.” I wait in anticipation.
- “So... you can’t actually take that flight because it connects through Bangkok, and you’re already using that city as a stopover so you can’t connect through it again.” Oh God.
- Then, the miracle: “But there’s another routing here that goes through Beijing.”
- We’ve done it! A bit of wrangling later and we have a valid itinerary taking us through Bali and getting us back home just before Christmas like we always wanted. Success.
We just received the confirmation of the itinerary via email. We can breathe a sigh of relief.
Tomorrow morning we hop on a bus to Puducherry, India (formerly known as Pondicherry). It’s a French colonial settlement, so we hear they’ve got croissants and stuff. Sounds good. Maybe we’ll celebrate with a glass of wine. What a weight off of our shoulders! Party hard!