Friday, January 28, 2011

My Life as a Rock Star

You didn`t know I was famous, did you?  But I’m coming to the conclusion that I must be, and that I have a secret life as a rock star that I’m not aware of.  How else can I explain the kind of attention I’ve been getting lately?

I didn’t come to India expecting to blend in, of course.  There’s no way on earth anyone would ever mistake me for a local, as I’m a good deal taller than most of the women and some of the men, I’m paler than anyone they’ve probably ever seen and I’m the only redhead I’ve seen wandering the streets, including tourists.  And I knew that there would be a lot of people around, wherever I went (I’m not sure you can ever be alone in this country), so I thought I might get a few stares.

I do.  All the time, nearly everyone I pass staring openly (in a way that would be very rude in Canadian society) as I walk down the street.  Small children running after me yelling, “Hello!  Hello!”  Indian men crooning, “Beautiful lady, with smile like a flower opening”.  Women staring fascinatedly at this odd creature who dresses oddly and has very white skin.  (From the number of adverts I’ve seen here for “whitening creams" — that promise to bleach your skin fairer in just 7 days — I gather that whiter skin is a status symbol.  If that’s the case, Irish and Scottish genes put me effortlessly at the top of the heap.) 

What I didn’t expect was the paparazzi.  Men with cameras following me to take pictures as I roamed the Taj Mahal (especially as I sat on the bench with an Irish woman and two Norwegian girls from my group, very attractive women all and two of them blonde).   Parents sending their kids over to stand next to me as they snapped our pictures.  Women wanting to pose next to me as their husbands took several photos.  I’m starting to understand how celebrities must feel. 

And how very odd to think that my smiling face will show up in strangers’ photo albums; God knows what story some of the men snapping my picture will tell their friends (“This is my new foreign girlfriend”? “This is my mail-order bride from Canada”?).

That’s why I think I’m actually a rock star and I’ve just somehow forgotten that fact.  Either that, or I’ve suddenly become much more glamourous and fascinating that I ever seem to be at home; I can’t think of one occasion when a stranger stopped me on the street in Toronto to get his picture taken with me. 

Here, in India?  It’s happened at least a dozen times already, and I’ve been here about four days; a dozen times where they’ve ASKED to take my picture, I mean, and countless more when men with camera phones have blatantly snapped a photo without asking. 

Just the reality of my new life as a rock star.

You Know You’re in India When ...

  • Cows take over the road; in fact, on the ride in from the airport, there are cows randomly wandering across the highway.  And they’re the only thing traffic actually stops for.
  • There are no traffic rules except these:  (1) if there’s an empty space, fill it; and (2) the biggest vehicle with the loudest horn gets the right of way.  Why be constrained by lane markings on the road – if there’s space for a fourth lane on a 3-lane road, just squeeze in the middle somewhere!
  • There are people, everywhere.  Of the billion people in India, approximately half of them will be at Delhi airport when you arrive.
  • If you stop for so much as a moment, or even slow down too much, you are instantly swarmed by people selling at least four different things and small children looking at you beseechingly while begging for change.
  • Everyone expects a tip, however small the action performed.  There’s even a guy in the hotel washroom who turns on the water taps for you, and wants a 10-rupee note afterwards.
  • You may hear any one of the country’s 22 official languages or 1600 dialects while walking down the street.  And everyone thinks they can speak English perfectly even if their accents are completely un-understandable.
  • Everyone, but everyone, stares as you walk down the street.  If you happen to be a blonde or redheaded woman, multiply the level of attention by a factor of a hundred.
  • Public displays of affection between heterosexual couples (the only acknowledged kind of couple) are taboo, but same-sex friends can (and do) walk down the street holding hands or with their arms around each other.  Straight men, too.
  • At moments of high dramatic tension, everyone breaks into song and dance with wide, beaming smiles on their faces.  Wait ... if that happens, you’re not just in India, you’re in a Bollywood movie.
India is stimulation on steroids.  It’s a veritable assault on every one of your senses, as the incessant blaring of horns hits your ears, vibrant colours dazzle your eyes, and intoxicating incense and rotting garbage odours mingle to fill your nose.  Fiery spices assail your palate, and incessant hands pluck curiously at your hair or clothing, or thrust a bewildering array of goods in front of you for sale for “very good price, madam”. 

Delhi wasn’t as overwhelming as I’d expected, but I didn’t see much of it.  I arrived after a marathon 14-hour flight (full of screaming toddlers, so I didn’t sleep much) that was late leaving Toronto and even later arriving in Delhi, and after a convoluted taxi ride that took me on a circuitous route around the Karol Bagh neighbourhood and ultimately to the wrong hotel.  (Fortunately a kind porter at that hotel walked me to the correct one, just a few blocks away.)   

So I had just a couple of hours to spare by the time I arrived at my hotel before meeting up with my travel group; in an effort to be at least semi-coherent later, I opted for a quick nap instead of a walk around the mean streets.  We did all go out to dinner together that night, but to a neighbourhood place that meant we didn’t go into the centre of town.  And we left the next morning on the early train to Agra (6:30, more or less on time by Indian standards), so I didn’t see anything of the place the next day beyond the chaotic New Delhi train station.

But that’s all right; I didn’t come to India for the huge sprawling cities, and quite frankly they scare the hell out of me for the most part; there’s something wrong with 20-million-plus people all living in the same place.  So I’m just as happy to spend little time in them or stay away altogether.

Agra, where I headed after Delhi, is equally chaotic, loud and frantic, but on a smaller scale, and at any rate, it’s not skippable because it’s the home of the Taj Mahal, one of the reasons I came to India  (I’ll tell you all about it in a subsequent post).   Jaipur, my second stop, is larger than Agra but more attractive with its old walled “Pink City”; traffic is the craziest I have ever seen and livestock of all descriptions wanders the street freely, mingling with the rickshaws and motorbikes and careening taxis.  It’s a challenging place to be a pedestrian, but worth a visit to gawp at the spectacular royal palaces and hang out with monkeys at a nearby temple.

I’m now in Pushkar, which is the first place that I’ve actually liked and felt comfortable.  Agra and Jaipur were interesting, and I really liked some of the sights, but the cities themselves didn’t appeal to me much (perhaps I just haven’t had enough time here yet to get used to the chaos and confusion of Indian urban life).  Pushkar’s a lot quieter and smaller, and has a decidedly hippie vibe overlaid on the sacred-Hindu-city thing it`s got going on.  I think I might like it here.

At any rate, I never wake up in the morning and wonder where I am; this could only be India, for good or for ill.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What if I Lived in India Instead?

I found this site today and found it interesting -- pick a country, any country, and it'll display for you a list of statistics about how your life would be different if you lived there.  (Info source, it says, is the CIA World Factbook.)

Here's how India -- my next stop -- compares to home:

If India were your home instead of Canada you would...

have 9.8 times higher chance of dying in infancy
have 2.1 times more babies
use 96.95% less electricity
consume 96.6% less oil
make 91.93% less money
die 14.83 years sooner
spend 97.66% less money on health care  (includes both public and private spending)
have 25.88% more chance of being unemployed
experience 14.64% more of a class divide
be 25% less likely to have HIV/AIDS
I tried out another few countries, just out of curiosity (surprise, surprise, Scandinavian countries and New Zealand stack up pretty well) ... the one that shocked me was our comparison with the US:

If The United States were your home instead of Canada you wouhld...

spend 82.93% more money on health care -- they spend so much more, for a worse system?  (Hmmm, maybe public health care ISN'T so evil as they think.)
experience 40.19% more of a class divide -- this, in the country (US) that thinks it's a classless society
have 34.53% more babies -- God help us, they'll outnumber us even more in future!
have 23.05% more chance of dying in infancy
use 21.38% less electricity -- this surprised me (as did the "less oil" stat below)
make 20.83% more money -- but at the cost of more hours (see below) and worse health care
die 3.05 years sooner
have 9.41% more chance of being unemployed
consume 6.11% less oil
be 50% more likely to have HIV/AIDS
work 4.17% more hours each year
Okay, I'm supposed to be doing more errands in preparation for my trip (I leave on Sunday), so I'd better hop to it.  Talk to ya later!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are? (Part V)

Have I told you about my most recent obsession?  (Aside from endless speculation about flights to and from India, that is.)  I've been kind of interested for a while, but not motivated enough to do anything about it.

Until recently, that is.  Sparked by visits this year to all of those ancestral lands (Newfoundland, Ireland, Scotland), I actually starting poking around a bit over Christmas into my family history.  This is why I'm leaving for India a little later than planned, perhaps; I got sidetracked into delving into genealogy.

My parents both had gathered a lot more information than I'd realized, so I had lots of places to start -- and, as a side bonus, I think I've finally got all my mother's O'Neill cousins straight and know who belongs to which family.  (She's got something like 37 first cousins on that side alone, so it's a bit of an undertaking, particularly when I don't know most of them well.)  Both have a wealth of pictures so I can sometimes even put faces to the more distant generations of my family tree.

But the really cool thing (and what turned my interest into an obsession) was being able to trace backwards and find information about my great-grandparents, and then great-great-grandparents, and even (possibly) my great-great-great-grandparents in a couple of cases.  I'd always thought of myself as mostly Scottish, but it turns out I'm not:  as far as I've been able to figure out, I'm 9/16 Irish (O'Neill, Mulroy, Lamey, Doherty, McVeigh, Lynch, Sullivan, Nolan, and Kelly) , 1/4 English (King, Hefford, Noseworthy, and Hall), 1/8 Scottish (MacLellan and Gillis), and 1/16 Quebecois French (Leclare).  (No wonder I can't tan!)

It's amazing what you can find online; Canadian censuses alone provide a wealth of information, helpfully includng birthdates, ages, and (if relevant) year of immgration to Canada.  So that Dominick O'Neill I'd like to have gone looking for in Ireland?  Born February 14, 1837 in Ireland, immigrated to Canada in 1842 with parents Henry and Ellen and various siblings (the usual large Irish Catholic family).  Still no idea where in Ireland they might have hailed from, but it's enough information (probably) to track that down when I go back to the Irish genealogy people.

The Newfoundland side of the house (Dad's side) wasn't trackable through the Canada census (since the colony stubbornly resisted joining the country until 1949 -- my dad was born British), but there's a wealth of church records, district censuses, cemetary transcripts and other information painstakingly transcribed by volunteers onto a massive Newfoundland heritage website.  Everybody's there, somewhere, and with more time and effort I can probably put together a pretty good picture.

On my mom's side, once her ancestors got here from Ireland (and one from Quebec, by the first name of Napoleon), they helpfully stayed put, largely, in the township of Flos clustered on the concessions around the village of Phelpston.  So they're pretty easy to find -- the above-mentioned Dominick is even buried in St Patrick's churchyard in Phelpston, which I find pretty cool considering he's my great-great-grandfather.  There's a vast number of other O'Neill's there, too, including one John O'Neill who -- just to make future genealogy work more confusing -- married into the other, non-O'Neill side of my mother's family, wedding one Mary Doherty (after the death of her first husband Thomas Lamey), who's my mother's paternal great-grandmother.   I have a feeling once I get all the various O'Neills sorted out that they're all going to be inter-married and inter-related -- Phelpston was a tiny wee town and, well, neighbours had to keep marrying each other because there was no one else around.  I might be related to one of my high school friends, too, since there's a Kelly way back in my family tree.

It's fascinating anyway, and there are tantalizing clues to what were probably very tragic or dramatic stories:  a great-great-grandaunt (or something), who got lost in the woods in rural Newfoundland and was never seen again; a great-grandfather who had to change his name from Hefford to Hefferan because he (a Protestant) married a Catholic girl; a paternal great-uncle who was killed at the age of 24 in the wee hours of New Year's Day on a visit to the UK from Newfoundland; another paternal great-uncle who left home and disappeared, surfacing 60 years later in Chicago when he had a dream that he should call home; a maternal great-uncle who didn't go on the same campaign in World War II that killed his brother because he'd been ill.

Closer to home, as I learned more about both grandmothers, I became even more convinced than I was that both are remarkable women.  My grandmother Lucy MacLellan (born Hefferan) left her tiny village in Newfoundland as a young woman to find a job in a distant mining town, where she later met and married my grandfather; later, when he moved to Ontario for work in a northern mining town, she followed later on the train, with five small boys in tow.  (Brave woman!)  My grandmother Mary King (born O'Neill) left home in Phelpston for the big city of Toronto at the age of 20 (1929) and became a nurse in an age where women didn't, largely, pursue careers.  It's not so hard to do either now, in our well-connected world; but back in the 20's and 30's both of these women had to have a lot of guts to take such a leap on their own.    (And, if genes have anything to do with it, I'm going to live forever:  Grandma MacLellan died just a couple of years ago at the age of 92, and Granny King is still alive at 101.)

I'm hooked, anyway.  In a week or two of casual searching I managed to find a lot of information, so I'm excited to think what might be possible with lots of time and concentrated effort. It's fun, anyway. On hold while I'm in India, obviously ... doubt I will find any ancestors there!  This is definitely my project for 2011 when I'm back to real life in Toronto ... so if you're reading this and related to me, be warned:  expect a lot of questions as I'm probably going to hit you up for family info.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jewel in the Crown

Okay, I've been remiss again about posting.  But time to get back in the habit, as I'm off to India shortly ...

Yes, the so-called jewel in the crown, its nickname from back in the days when the Brits liked to boast that the sun never set on the Empire.  I hear from people who have been there that some of Indian society is still more British than the British (unlike we North Americans who pride ourselves on our separate-ness), so I'm not sure whether they'll embrace me as a fellow colonial or listen to my accent in horror since I don't speak anything like her Majesty Queen E.

You may wonder what the heck I'm still doing here.  Well, for one thing, I had some complications with my original flight plans, as Dubai decided to introduce new visa charges for Canadians.  $250 for a 30-day visa, just so I can stop there for a few days on my way back?  I don't think so.   (Dear Dubai, please don't punish Canadian travellers for your airline dispute -- we really don't have anything to do with it.)

So it was back to the drawing board.  Problem is, given the opportunity to come up with new plans, I was almost paralyzed by the wealth of opportunities out there.  And very conscious of the fact that this is my last hurrah, so to speak:  the last big trip before I have to head back to work on April 1st.  So I wanted to make it count as much as I could!

I started to fall into the trap of thinking that "making it count" meant squeezing in as many places as possible into three months.  So I was dreaming up fantastic round-the-world itineraries with multiple stops in a few continents, which would've left me with only a few weeks in India and limited, rushed stopovers everywhere else.

I came to my senses, but I was still tempted to tack on another country or two.  Maybe Turkey first, I mused, and then Kathmandu afterwards so I'd have done a pseudo Hippie Trail trip (minus the dangerous bits in the middle).  Or, hey, I've never been to western Australia, so what about a couple of weeks there?  Or maybe lounging on a beach in Bali?  Or coming back through Europe and hanging on a Greek island?   I needed an onward ticket to ensure I'd get into India in the first place, so I became obsessed trying to plan the perfect path.

None of them seemed quite right, though, so I couldn't make up my mind for days.  I had just about settled on Bali, but second-guessed THAT choice, too, after going to the travel medicine clinic for my malaria meds and shots; they told me there's a rabies epidemic in Bali (affecting cows, dogs, pigs, monkeys, you name it).  Worse, if you get bitten and need treatment (immediately, if not sooner), it's impossible in Bali and you have to fly to Australia or Singapore.  (There's a rabies vaccine, but it's horrendously expensive and requires a couple of shots at specific intervals that I don't have time for, even if I was willing to pay.)

You begin to understand the kind of tailspin I got myself into.

Well, I've recovered from that particular mania, and I'm keeping it simple:  return flight to Delhi, direct on Air India (fourteen hours on a plane -- oh God!).  I could've stopped in Europe, but cheap options had me arriving in Delhi in the middle of the night, which I didn't want; especially as a lone woman, I think it's smarter to arrive in daylight, where possible, and that applies at least double for Delhi.  I leave January 23rd at about 11 a.m., getting there just before noon on the 24th.  Don't ask me about the time difference, I haven't worked that out yet; suffice to say, I'll probably be completely disoriented by the time I arrive unless I figure out the optimum time to sleep on the plane so that I wake up already adjusted to a new time zone.

I might change my mind later, but my return flight was cheap enough (and not much more than a one-way ticket) that I won't be too bothered about just junking it later and booking something else.

I also decided to do the first three weeks of my trip with a group tour.  I admit to being very nervous about India; despite the fact that I've travelled a lot, I think India is likely to be a whole different league from anywhere else I've been.  Oh, I've been to poor places, with little infrastructure and a language barrier that made travel challenging (Bolivia and Nicaragua especially spring to mind), but none of those places have the same crush of humanity that India does.  (Ask me after a couple of weeks how a girl who likes her own space is managing to cope with never -- literally never, from what I hear -- being alone.)

So I'm hooking up with a group, to give myself the chance to try it out in a way that feels safer and less, um, terror-provoking.  (That's why my flight there isn't earlier; I'm timing it to hook up with the tour immediately, instead of attempting to wander around on my own right away.)  GAP does great tours; they can be the best of all worlds in some countries, where you still get a lot of autonomy about how you spend your days but someone else takes care of the logistics of getting from point A to point B.  After three weeks, I figure I'll be used to it enough that I can strike out on my own without too much problem.

And, hey, if I get there and hate it, I'll just swing over to western Australia or New Zealand instead.  Although the danger of going to NZ, especially, is that I might forget to come home because I love it so much.

Well, at least until my empty bank account reminds me that I need to have a job again.  At least for a while.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

(Actually, that’s a bit of a misleading title as there were no automobiles involved.  Well, one on Skye, but it doesn’t really factor into this post.  Buses, though, lots of buses.)

I’m not a particularly high-maintenance traveller.  This year, I’m especially good at going with the flow; I like wandering around without much of a plan beyond “Oh, I think maybe I’ll go there next”, and when you don’t really have an agenda set in stone, it’s easy to shrug and change your plans to fit what’s possible, even if it’s not quite what you originally set out to do.  A useful ability to have in this epic UK winter, one of the worst and earliest they’ve seen in years.

Things, on occasion, went awry.  Take, for example, Orkney.  My one “must see” on Orkney, Skara Brae (a Neolithic village dating back several thousand years) is shut when I'm there because the roads are impassable in the snow.  Okay, Plan B:  hike around Orkney to see smaller sites (but still very old and very interesting), doing my best not to die of exposure before I get back to the hostel that night.

Successfully accomplishing the not-dying, I hop a ferry back to the mainland and think I might toodle along the north coast over to Durness.  Another detour:  buses from Thurso (the ferry port) to Durness only run once a week (five days from now) in the winter, and — given current weather — in all likelihood won't go at all.  Okay, Plan B:  rather than waiting around a week or two for a bus that may not ever go till spring, hop a bus back to Inverness and then a train over to Ullapool, where I catch a ferry to Lewis.

No particular issues on Lewis, or getting from there to Skye, but leaving Skye, another detour:  I plan to catch the ferry from Skye to Mallaig on the mainland, and from there take the glorious West Highland line down to Oban.  Oops, no dice; ferry cancelled on account of weather (which I discover only AFTER I wait fruitlessly at the bus stop for an hour).  Okay, Plan B:  take the bus over the Skye bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland, and either (a) catch a train from there back up to Inverness (completely the wrong way for Oban, but the most beautiful train ride ever so worth the detour), or (b) get a bus to Fort William and then on to Oban.

No trains running, so bye-bye, option (a).  Option (b) still possible, I just have to wait an hour or so for the Fort William bus.  It’s late, I’m frozen stiff by the time it arrives —but at least it arrives, so I’m on my way to Oban.  About 20 minutes outside Fort William, another detour:  no buses will be going further south that day, as the roads are closed.  My bus will go back to Skye, with any passengers who wish to return and try their luck again tomorrow. 

This causes great consternation on the part of the woman in the seat behind me, who keeps repeating "but I just don't know what to do" — should she go back to Skye for another night (but it's so expensive!), stay in Fort William and get an onward bus tomorrow (but where would she stay?), or go somewhere else like Inverness and down from there (but what if she gets stuck in Inverness? and wouldn't she get home really, really late?)  I finally interrupt her confused monologue and take her with me to the train station, to see if trains were running or not.  She clings to me like a leech all the way to the station (practically next door, but she is terrified about getting lost!) and we get tickets, so she is all sorted out. 

I memorize the streets of downtown Fort William as I traipse around for hours, finally landing in a coffee shop offering free Wi-Fi.  Train does go, eventually, although later than its promised 17:45 departure; I don’t mind leaving late.  At least I’m actually leaving.  (Fort William has no appeal.)

I get off at Crianlarich, where I must switch trains; wait is supposed to be about 20 minutes, but stretches out more than an hour, which I spend trying to stay warm.  There’s a little waiting room, with a heater activated by a push-button on the wall; the heater’s at one end and the button’s at the other, the heater’s on a five-minute timer and I am only warm while standing 6 inches from the heater.  So every five minutes, I dash out of the tiny circle of warmth to jab the “on” button and race back; at least I get my exercise while waiting for the train, but even so I have lost all feeling in my fingers and toes by the time it arrives.  But I get safely to Oban, so all ends well.

Leaving Oban, another detour:  no morning train.  I wait for the noon train, but it is not running either.  ScotRail is putting on a bus instead, but we have to wait a couple of hours while the bus gets driven to Oban and then for a new driver to be found (the first guy has logged too many hours at the wheel).  By late afternoon, finally on our way; another long, slow, treacherous journey.  My seatmate (7-year-old Willow) and I entertain ourselves with a drawing game:  one person draws a shape on the paper, and the other has to turn it into a picture of something.  We spend about three hours doing this, during which time she also questions me incessantly about Canada and tries to convince her mother (sitting across the aisle) to take her there for their next trip.  Eventually we’re in Glasgow and life is fine again for a while.

No problems with bus/ferry combo over to Belfast, or getting from Belfast to Derry on the train.  Deciding to cross the entire country in one fell swoop (Derry to Cork in a day) may be a questionable choice:  it’s not that far, distance-wise, but it’s a convoluted trip and requires changes of buses in Omagh, Longford, Athlone, and Limerick, with tight connections at each juncture.  No issues until the Athlone-to-Limerick leg, when the bus driver goes unspeakably slowly.  He dismisses our complaints with a “it’s the weather” shrug (even though there’s no snow to be seen, anywhere).  We’ve missed the connecting bus to Cork and will now have to hang around Limerick bus station for an extra hour and a half.  But eventually I get to Cork.  

My plan is to go visit Cobh (where I’d learned my O’Neill ancestors departed from) and its Heritage Centre with a genealogy centre and lots of information about the famine ships.  Slight detour in Cobh, as the genealogy researcher is on vacation.  But the helpful girl at the desk copies down her name, email address and phone numbers, and has a long chat with me about what kinds of information are helpful to have as starting points for further research.    I realize just looking for a “Dominick O’Neill” (no birthdate, county of residence or year of departure) might not net me much.  (Or, rather, it will net me far too many Dominicks and I’ll have no idea which is the correct one.).  So I resolve to track down more info when I get home.

Next step in the Irish plan (modified by spur-of-the-moment jaunt to Cork) calls for me to work my way back north to visit some of Sligo and Donegal before reverse bus/ferry trip back to Glasgow.  Unfortunately, “weather” hits Ireland too so — rather than head northwest where (if I even get there) I’m likely to get stuck and unable to get out — I decide to go northeast to Dublin instead.  Easy trip on the train from Cork.

I start to get worried about ever-more-ominous reports of flight problems at Heathrow and think it's more prudent to head back that way instead of more time in Ireland.  No ferry tickets either from Dublin or Belfast available for days, so I book a flight on Ryanair.  I opt to go back to Edinburgh and eke out a couple more travel days before London.

All’s well leaving Dublin, but about halfway there the co-pilot comes on the loudspeaker to tell us that Edinburgh airport is closed and we’ll be diverted to either Glasgow or Newcastle.  Glasgow?  No problem, loads of trains to Edinburgh, where I’ve already booked and paid for my hotel.  Newcastle?  More of an issue; went there once in 1994 to catch a ferry to Norway and have no desire to return.

Of course it's Newcastle.

 Ryanair says they’re organizing a bus to take us to Edinburgh (about two hours’ drive in good weather); we wait around the airport for close to three hours.  I keep hearing “Edinburgh” repeated in an announcement and finally clue in it`s my bus; I can’t understand a bloody word in the Newcastle accent.  The two-hour trip becomes more than four, as we crawl slowly north through a winter wonderland of swirling snow and hail.  I finish my book about half an hour in, and it’s too bumpy to write so I start reading the same book again (even though it’s very bad).  Everybody else sleeping so no one to talk to.  I am happier to see Edinburgh than I’ve ever been to see any city.

Getting back OUT of Edinburgh is a bit of a challenge.  I don’t want to fly (London airports still a mess), so I get a train ticket.  Check the morning of departure and learn that the sleeper trains are NOT going to go; tracks are closed between Peterborough and London so trains on the East Coast line are stopping there.  The ScotRail ticket guy is willing to give me a ticket for the morning train anyway (at the full London-Edinburgh fare), but tells me it’s my own problem what to do once I get to Peterborough, there may or may not be buses from there, he can’t say.  Shrug.

I traipse over to the bus station instead, where I learn that buses are indeed going, but I’ve missed the only morning bus so there’s only the 10 p.m. night bus.  Ugh.  Overnight on a night bus in Argentina or Chile is quite delightful; in North America or the UK it’s pretty dire.

So I go back to the train station, where I get a much more helpful ticket lady this time; she tells me I can go a less direct way to London with a couple of changes of train, and I decide on that plan instead.  I get on the next train leaving for London, which leaves late and runs well behind schedule on the way to York, where I make my first connection for Sheffield.  The train rolls in late to Sheffield as well, but I make a different connection than I’d originally planned (fortunately, lots of trains to London) and head south.  I arrive in London late, but at least I get there.

Finally, it’s Christmas Eve and I head to Heathrow for the epic journey home.  I line up once to use the self-serve check-in kiosk; the printout tells me I have to see a live person.  I line up to do that, for another 40 minutes, and she tells me I’m flying standby (despite having a ticket booked six weeks ago), so I have to go to yet another line and wait to see if I will get a seat.  The security guard keeping order in the pandemonium sends me over to yet another line, where I wait for about 45 minutes (nervously watching the clock tick down toward my flight time); I finally flag down a British Airways person, who tells me I’m in entirely the wrong line.  Fortunately, I’m the first one in the RIGHT line, so as soon as the counter flashes its "Toronto – Flight BA0093” sign, I’m in business.  I get a seat, race over to security and run full tilt to the departure gate.  They’re on the final boarding call for my flight, so I get on nearly last (but not actually LAST, which is good, since the last person always gets glares from everyone else on board for holding up the flight).

Flight home is delightful, with a roast turkey dinner and some good movies to choose from on my personal TV screen.  Oh, and I’ve landed in the middle class (BA has one between business and economy), despite having booked economy, so I get a much larger seat and more leg room.  Oh, and as much wine as I want so the flight passes in a pleasant haze. 

Small hitch when I get back to Toronto, in that my backpack neglected to make the trip with me.  I realize this after about half an hour of waiting at the baggage carousel, when someone new starts making the announcements; apparently they’ve been paging “Passenger MacLellan” the whole time, but my name had been so mangled by the previous announcer that I hadn’t recognized it.  Bag arrives, finally, on Boxing Day and travel mania is over.