The 3 Kings’ Parade

Growing up, I remember reading a story in school entitled The Gift of the Magi. It was about the 3 wise men, or kings, who visited the baby Christ in the manger where he was born, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.bird

In Spain, this is a big deal. Three Kings’ Day, or Epiphany, as it is more popularly known, is a public holiday. The previous night is celebrated by way of a massive parade in most cities and towns. In Barcelona, the Magi arrive by sea, in other cities it is not uncommon to see them arrive by airplane or helicopter. The Honey Bee and I really enjoy attending the parade, and not just for the tons of free candy (more on that later). You see the kings are more or less the equivalent of Santa Claus in Spain. Children write letters to the kings asking for gifts. It is not uncommon to see them in the mall asking children whether they’ve been naughty or nice. You get the general idea.

paradeThe Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (Kings’ Parade) is a grand affair with a lot of floats and a couple of thousand active participants. Each king has his own float and armada of follower floats all themed based on where that king hails from. There are numerous dance troops all dressed in themed clothing dancing to thematic tunes belted out from the larger speakers also moving with the parade. Each king is also accompanied by numerous messengers that entertainingly move alongside, either on foot, on stilts, or on roller skates suspending large nets (sort of like butterfly nets) that hang over the 10 people thick crowds allowing children to give their letters to the kings.flying

Other highlights include beautiful balloons of all types, some shaped like massive dolphins and dragons, and others like extra-large candy. To top it all off, the parade ends with massive trucks and double-decker buses raining down insane amounts of candy on the crowd through the use of air cannons. It never ceases to entertain watching the children trying to grab as much candy as they can, accompanied by parents scrambling to ensure their kids get enough. The next day, if the children have been good, they receive what they had asked for in their letters.

Like any other year, this year’s parades throughout the country were not without controversy. The most interesting ones include:

  • In some places, for the first time King Balthazar was played by a non-caucasian, instead of a caucasian with a painted face
  • For some parades, women dressed up as men to play the role of the kings
  • Some towns decided not to use animals for the parades
  • A town well-known for its food chose to have chefs play the role of the kings
  • Budget cuts in Barcelona resulted in less candy being distributed than previous years

parade 3
From start to finish the main Barcelona parade probably lasted over 3 hours, weaving through the streets of Barcelona. Also worth pointing out is that, within each city, there are numerous smaller and less spectacular parades that run through their respective neighborhoods.

Feliz día de los reyes!

To feel the air of India…

Today’s blog post doesn’t really fit into any category of blog posts. However, just because I know you’re going to love what I have in store, I categorized it as a personal finance entry. Why? Because once you’re done reading, you won’t want to waste your money, or risk your life flying this airline.

Most Indians are already well versed with Air India, India’s national carrier. There is a common derogatory phrase that goes: To feel the air of India, fly Air-India. I’ll leave the interpretation up to you. The company, which is owned by the government, has been running in financial losses ever since I can remember, and has received multiple cash infusions or ‘bail-outs’ over the years. Multiple attempts at returning to profitability have been unsuccessful. But today’s post is not really about the company’s finances either.

In the past few days, I have noticed the airline receiving quite a few mentions in the media. Sometimes for sad incidents, sometimes for serious but how-in-the-world-did-they-let-that-happen kind of funny incidents, and other times for downright stupid incidents. I decided to investigate this. A quick google search brought up so many incidents it was hard to choose. Heres a selection of the top 10 chronologically, going backwards. Click on the related date to read more about the incident:

1. December 2015: This one is downright unfortunate. An airline staffer on the tarmac was sucked into the plane’s engine while he was performing his duties because the co-pilot mistook a signal for engine start and activated the engine.

Bus2. December 2015: A shuttle bus carrying the crew for another airline crashed into an Air India plane that was preparing for take-off. To give due credit, this time the airline was not at fault. It seems the driver fell asleep at the wheel while driving on the tarmac that was full of planes that were either parked, landing or taking off!

3. July 2015: A suspected rat sighting on a plane bound for Milan forced it to turn around after 2 hours of flight and return to Delhi. Rats pose a serious threat as they can chew through wires and damage internal controls. Apart from this incident, the news article also mentions 2 other rat related incidents. If that doesn’t engender confidence, I don’t know what does!

4. June 2015: While the airline claims this was a media hoax and its official position is that this was never Lizconfirmed, I found enough specific articles about it to warrant a mention. Apparently, a passenger onboard a flight to London spotted a Lizard on their in-flight meal tray. Hmmm…I wonder if he was a vegetarian.

5. September 2014: A flight to Hong Kong had to make an emergency landing at Kolkata Airport because passengers reportedly complained of smoke inside the cabin. That’s one interpretation of the phrase I mentioned at the beginning.

6. July 2014: This one takes the previous incident one step further. A trans-Atlantic flight from New Jersey was forced to return after one of the engines caught fire. Apparently the pilot “could see flames shooting from it.” All I have to say is thank God they spotted the problem early on, instead of when the flight was half way across the Atlantic.

7. November 2013: A flight from the Middle East was forced to land soon after take-off because one of the doors was not properly closed. Apparently, as soon as the plane was airborne, a warning light went off in the cockpit indicating that one of the aircraft doors was open. How can someone not close the door properly, especially when their life depends on it?

8. October 2009: This one is my second favorite. The cabin crew got into a fist fight mid-flight with the pilots over sexual harassment. The fight started in the cockpit, and spilled into the cabin for all the passengers to see. A pilot and a flight attendant suffered bruises as punches were thrown. Talk about live in-flight entertainment!

9. May 2009: This one was clearly not the airline’s fault, but worth a mention anyway. After the aircraft was fully boarded, the ground crew started the process of retracting the aerobridge. However, instead of retracting, they extended it further causing it to smash into the aircraft door, resulting in serious damage.

10. May 2008: This one is my absolute favorite. It perfectly embodies what I mentioned earlier about how-in-the-world-did-they-let-that-happen kind of funny incidents. A domestic flight started moving before closing the plane’s door. Apparently the captain ordered push-back (the aeronautical term for towing the plane to the main taxiway) from the parking bay while the flight was still coupled to the aerobridge. Fortunately, the plane’s second door was closed. If it wasn’t, “both the doors and the aerobridges would have broken down, rendering the aircraft immobile.”

That’s all folks! I hope reading this article will make you think twice about the airline you choose to fly. Remember, the cheapest option is not always the best one.

Bringing in the new year…

This time, to bring in the new year, we did things slightly differently. Due to some, let’s call it logistical confusion, neither one of us ended up making a booking at the trendy vegetarian restaurant in Barcelona where we have indulged in a rich 7-8 course gourmet meal every 31st of December. To be honest maybe I subconsciously “forgot” because I had grown tired of the same ritual every year.

Some last time minute scrambling for a reservation at a couple of other well-reviewed restaurants did produce some results, but honestly I don’t see the value in paying even close to the same amount for a dinner that comprises more than 75% seafood. Readers will know from my previous posts, I am not particularly fond of seafood.

So, this year we decided to change things up. Just like when we were kids bringing in the new year in India, we ordered up our favorite pizzas and drinks and ate to our hearts’ delight. A not so special mention goes out here to the pizza chains here that apparently choose to close at 4PM and skip out on all the business that is associated with new year celebrations. On the other hand, kudos to them for not chasing the moolah and choosing to celebrate that day. Fortunately, The Honey Bee discovered this at 3PM and we were able to pick up the pizza in advance.

This followed by a visit to the Plaza de España, where we watch a packed spectacular outdoor performance followed by fireworks and a countdown to the new year.  This was accompanied by the traditional doce uvas de la suerte (the 12 grapes of luck), which consists of eating a grape with each of the 12 bell strikes at midnight on December 31st – not as easy as it sounds. According to tradition, it results in a positive and prosperous new year.

What we didn’t like about the celebration this year, was that amidst all the lights and fireworks, something seemed lacking in the atmosphere compared to previous years. Maybe it had something to do with the much shorter and lackluster performances, or maybe it was the wild drunkenness, loud outbursts and rowdiness from a number of groups of youngsters. However, we chose to look at the positive side and make the most of our evening.

And so amongst this thriving crush of humanity, we bid adieu to 2015, giving thanks for all the wonderful things that came with it. At the same time, we welcomed 2016 with open arms to celebrate the hope that the new year deserves and represents.

Happy New Year!