The first time I traveled outside India was in December 2006. My flight from Mumbai to Toronto had a four hour layover at London’s Heathrow airport, making England (UK) the first foreign soil that I stepped on.
London looked beautiful at dawn; my favorite time of day to watch the interplay between light and shadows. The sun had just risen but the streets and buildings were still illuminated by light bulbs. Just before the plane landed, I saw buses orderly parked at the central bus station which conveniently connected the airport to the city and to the hotels near Heathrow. The highways (M4 and M25), running along two small lakes, were dotted with little cars that appeared stationary. Soon the runways appeared, the plane landed and I had officially arrived in a new country.
A whiff of cold air swept through the jet bridge as the passengers walked from the aircraft to the terminal. It’s winter, there’s snow… I reminded myself. Soon I was inside the terminal chasing the ‘Flight connections’ sign that ended up at the massively crowded baggage and security check point. It took me about 30 minutes to clear the checks because (as usual) I happened to stand in the queue that was the slowest (I think).
Since there was no terminal change involved, I had almost two hours to kill in the passenger hallway. There was a duty free zone and an isle leading to a bunch of booths manned by female executives drenched in makeup and sporting a fake ear-to-ear smile that I only associate with toothpaste commercials. I imagined these were agencies booking reservations for the numerous hotels Heathrow was surrounded by or promising a holiday across the Atlantic by booking cheap flights to Orlando, Cancun or Caribbean and sun destinations.
I felt I was in some exotic place – everything was written in English and there were white people everywhere. The announcements were in an accent that I had previously heard only on BBC or back when I was learning English by watching sitcoms like Mind your Language and Yes, Minister.
Which was the first foreign country that you visited or transited through?