Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

All through the book, the one question that kept pestering me was, ‘What kept me from reading Bill Bryson for so long?’ Seriously, I cannot figure it out. But then, I’ve done it before as well. I kept away from Harry Potter. No idea why. Just stayed away from it. And then when I did read one, finished four books in four straight nights. Sigh! But better late than never, right?

I picked up this book on a lark, as this was the only interesting book I could find in my apartment complex’s library.

After living in England for twenty years, Bill Bryson moves back to America, his home country. He finds himself a stranger in his own country. The book is a compilation of articles that he wrote for a newspaper about his experiences in America.

I found it extremely funny and loved his sense of humour. A lot of his sentiments, I could identify with because when you move back into your home country after some years abroad, so many things seem different. The things you enjoyed and cherished might not even be part of your new experiences. The reverse culture shock that is part and parcel of moving back to a place after spending time away from it. Having gotten used to the British way of life and terminology, he struggles to remember/find out the American equivalent of things. His British wife and children, though, seem to love America while he seems to be the one having the most difficult time. Rediscovering America with it’s joys and it’s trials, all the while poking fun at himself and others around him, it was a fun read. I chuckled through the book.

Some of the chapters, though did seem dated, after all , this book was written in 1999. Some chapters about computers for instance remind you that this book is of another time. But for most part, it is Bryson’s style of poking fun at the things he observes that stands out. The sentiments and the humour, I have to say, are timeless. Reading the reviews of the book, I realize that this might be one of his not-so-great books. If that is indeed true, I can’t wait to read his other books.

Holiday Tales – Part 2

The start of our trip was memorable to say the least.

We had an early start at 5 in the morning. Our flight was at 8.40 am and we were driving to the airport instead of taking a taxi as we usually do. We reached the airport parking with just about enough time but to our surprise, had a tough time locating a free parking spot. Even the airport parking in the country is almost full!

Just as we managed to get our luggage out of the car, we spotted the airport shuttle.
Missing it would mean having to wait for another 10 mins in the cold. Not a very attractive option. So we raced towards it, managed to get on it, just in time. Just as we reached the terminal, husband asks, ‘Do you remember me locking the car?’. We had left the car unlocked! I was sure that it would be safe – who in their right mind would go around that huge parking lot for an unlocked car? If thieves were so hard-working, they would not be thieving! Husband thought that he could run back after we check in, just before security check.

Check in went off smoothly, and we rushed to Security check to figure out it were crowded. Well, lets just say that ‘crowded’ would be an understatement. We could not see the end of the line. It extended right out of a hall, into the exit. It was the longest queue I had ever seen in an airport. And this is not even one of the huge airports. Guess lots of people had the same plans as us. The last term break before proper winter set in  was to be made the most of.

Then on, the flights were uneventful. We even managed to banish worries of the unlocked car.

Finally we reached Athens after a five and a half hour in flights and airports. Athens looked bright and sunny. The mere feeling of warm sunlight is so refreshing and comforting.

Now, normally, on all our trips, I would have planned what to do next. I would have done the research on the best mode of transportation to the hotel. This time, I was busy with other stuff, and somehow managed to forget to check out all these essential details. So I asked a lady at a shop at the airport, the best way to reach the city. ‘The Bus’, she said, ‘No Taxi, taxi big money, take bus’. She even told me which number to take.She seemed horrified at the idea of taking a taxi. Husband was a bit cynical, he wasn’t sure if we should do something like this, on our first day, with all luggage.. But finally, we decided to give it a try.

So off I went, trying to figure out where to board the bus, and get the tickets and stuff like that. In any foreign territory, I am the automatic info-gatherer. I talk with my hands and eyes, and get info. Husband gives up immediately if people don’t understand him 🙂

So I locate the ticket counter, who tells me, ‘Not here, there’. We searched for the counter, but every other counter was closed. Finally, we managed to get the tickets, and boarded the bus, when it dawned on me, that we had no idea how we would know where to get off. So I went around asking. There was no driver in the bus, at that point in time, so I asked others travelling with us. All of them had no clue. Most were tourists themselves. It made me worry if I had taken the wrong decision in taking a bus. Finally the driver came on, and told me, ‘Don’t worry, next metro, sit down’. That made me feel slightly better.

Of course, it was not to last too long. The bus started stopping, and we were still clueless about where we were. We were worried that the driver might forget about us. What if we landed up somewhere else? Finally we saw some people board the bus who looked like locals. So I mustered up courage and asked them. One man, turned and asked, ‘You Indian?’, I replied in the affirmative, and that had him smiling broadly,’ Don’t worry, sit down’!

Finally with no other advice coming our way, we decided to just enjoy the ride.

Now at this point, I have to tell you, that Athens felt a lot like Bangalore with a lot less traffic. The weather was gorgeous, and we were having fun soaking in the atmosphere.

Finally, we managed to reach the city centre. We wanted to take a taxi from here, but our new Greek friend refused to let us. Too expensive, he said, and insisted that that we take the bus. He was going the same way, and said would guide us. Have to say something about this man. He was so very friendly, went all out to help us. Would not take no for an answer, and was so very expressive. He managed to communicate beautifully with hand gestures, facial expressions, and even his tongue 🙂 to show displeasure when he was talking about the Greek economy.

While we were waiting for the next bus, our eyes and nose started itching. Apparently that was due to the left over tear gas, that was used a few days ago during the protests. There were several signs that this beautiful city had been through some turbulent times recently. Despite all that the people, seemed so cheerful and friendly.

To cut a long story short, we took another bus, and got off where he asked us to. The hotel was on the other side of the road. Untl this point, our bus ride had been comfortable and fun. Now started a real ordeal. Crossing over the street with our luggage was no mean feat. There were steps and lugging the suitcase up and down was a pure torture for poor husband. I could not help much, my hands being full with our hand luggage, and daughter to keep track of.

This was also the point that we realized that when a Greek says ‘Five minutes’, he means it just like we Indians do. It is more than likely to be 15 mins. The driving was quite similar to India as well, the pedestrians had to move out of way of the cars.

It was a huge relief to reach the hotel, after escaping speeding cars, huge, dangerous looking stray dogs, and endless asking of directions.

That trek to our hotel was probably the most scary bit of walking I have done. All we had energy for to hit the pillows and sleep…

to be continued…