Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
The plane was rocked violently on the tarmac at Dulles by a freak storm. The ten passengers and crew that had managed to board were wide-eyed, praying that the shaking of the Boeing 767 would stop soon and the boarding would resume. My husband was still in the terminal with the rest of the passengers. Lightning and wind gusts were so intense that boarding had been temporarily suspended.
The seven and a half hour flight to Zurich finally took off two and half hours late amid scary dark clouds and soul-rattling sudden altitude drops. Fortunately, as we reached a cruising altitude of 39,000 feet, everything calmed down and we settled into a routine of getting up, stretching, bathroom trips, and watching movies for seven and half hours. I can’t sleep on planes; all my limbs go numb rather quickly.
Once we arrived in Switzerland, we were greeted by a huge, modern, and empty airport unlike any airport in the U.S. Bored, with no Wi-Fi or book to read, I started looking for interesting things around me. I was not disappointed. The vending machines were selling Cannabis Tea for 3 Swiss francs a large can.
I bought a Swiss Army knife which would prove quite useful in the next two weeks and a couple of magnets for cousin Dragu which set me back almost $50 because the dollar was so weak against the Swiss franc and the credit card company had to get their lion’s share of exchange charges for generously allowing me to do business with them.
A huge chocolate bar was calling my name. Who goes to or passes through Switzerland without buying the biggest chunk a chocolate one can find, an act of sheer visual greed since nobody can bite into the gargantuan bar without the help of a good knife.
We finally arrived in Bucharest the next day, almost 21 hours after we started our half way round the globe trek. But the entire flight time was only nine hours and 10 minutes. The Otopeni Airport seemed shinier – the international terminal had been completed since I was there three years ago.
We were elated that our luggage had made it and all suitcases arrived with us. A shower and clean clothes would become a reality soon. We headed to the Avis counter to claim our mid-sized car, a black, sporty, and spotless Ford Mondeo running on Diesel. We would find out soon enough that both gasoline and Diesel cost over $6 per gallon but the nice bonus was that attendants pumped the gas, a service that is lost in most states today. On the bright side, three years ago, Diesel was over $10 a gallon, and bio Diesel was $11 per gallon, so $6 seemed like a bargain.
For Romanian roads and the few designated parking spots, this Ford Mondeo was quite a large car, but it was just big enough to accommodate our luggage in the trunk, out of sight of potential thieves.
To mitigate for the lack of legal parking, intrepid Romanians double- and triple-park on sidewalks everywhere. I’ve never had to dodge traffic and cars on sidewalks in the U.S. but in Europe, it is common. Because many drivers carelessly blocked the exit of private garages, some owners posted signs that they would slash tires of anyone who obstructed their car exit and they meant it.
The engine purred nicely but it shut off every time we stopped in traffic. This feature paid homage to the environmentalist wackos who want to save the planet from a non-existent anthropogenic global warming, while endangering the lives of drivers who must press the accelerator hard before the engine roars again to life and the car can move. The sport transmission feature certainly helped when climbing the Carpathian Mountains and when managing hair pin curves.
The drive to Ploiesti flashed before my eyes long-ago forgotten memories of places, names, bridges, creeks, and fruit and vegetable stands lining up the main highway. Beautiful potted plants were decorating the fruit-laden trays. The May cherries were ripening just in time. The road was better paved and traffic police was seldom in sight. The GPS kept alerting us of electronic speed traps instead. James would tell us in a punctilious and robotic British accent to slow down. But nobody minds the speed limit as traffic rules are just laughable suggestions that no drivers take seriously.
We arrived at Ana’s house in the town of Ploiesti 50 km later, after getting lost numerous times, with the GPS telling us to go on non-existent roads, dead-ends, and closed roundabouts. With few traffic lights, we were in roundabout hell until we managed to learn the secret yield system, the meaning of hand gestures, and verbal cursing clues. The whole town was a construction site as the city planners had decided to dig up at the same time all the tram tracks and replace them with newer, more modern ones, paid for with EU funds.
Light rail, trams, trolleys, and buses are certainly encouraged and imposed in most towns by the lack of parking for individual vehicles. And pay garages are not adequate in size. Any way elitists can remove people from their cars and put them into public transportation like sardines, money is no object, while they personally jet around the world to locales ordinary humans can only dream of. Their private planes, yachts, and huge homes apparently can leave a huge carbon footprint – do as they say not as they do.
The town was dustier, dirtier, and more polluted than I remembered it. We drove by Brazi Refinery were my Dad used to work, now called Petrom. It was surrounded by green fields and the air appeared much cleaner than the air in town.
Ana’s three-story villa was even cozier; her daughter had made some wonderful changes to the décor. Our room was slightly hot so we opened the windows to the city noise and smells, loud gypsy music piped from speakers across the street, the trolley buses running all night, the incessant barking of dogs, and the cock-a-doodle of a time-confused and pesky rooster.
We slept fitfully that night but were glad to be horizontal, even on a mattress whose coils were stabbing us in the back every time we moved. But the price was right; our accommodations were free and came with unconditional love of my Romanian family and Ana’s spectacular cooking.
A huge herd of stray dogs, at least thirty “maidanezi” as the Romanians call them, were having a major street fight right below our window around 3 a.m. I was home again, welcomed by the warm embrace of my family but missing tranquility and our home in Virginia.
To Be Continued
A Freak Start to an Amazing Trip
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015