Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back in Country, Welcoming 2009

After a brief but very nice stop at my inlaws' home in Westborough, Massachusetts, Shirl drove me on New Year's Night to Logan Airport in Boston, where I caught the late flight to Amsterdam on Northwest Airlines (aka KLM, Delta, etc.). It was a good flight, though 100% full, thanks to an extended delay or cancellation by Air France of their flight to Paris. A full 757 lives up to its nickname, "cattle car," heavy and smelly, but effective in providing transportation for live mammals.

My seatmates were San and Apse, a young Indian couple. After a chat, we all got a few good hours' sleep on the flight, and arrived only a bit late into Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. That was a good thing, for my Malev flight to Budapest was scheduled for departure only 50 minutes after my scheduled landing. As I finally deplaned from the aft fifth of the cattle car, I had only 30 minutes to make the transfer. But Schiphol is a very fine transfer airport, and provides a special "early departure" line at Passport Control for people in my situation. I arrived at my gate on time, having walked from E concourse to the far end of C. Malev was just deplaning its incoming passengers, so we (there were a few others from my plane headed for Budapest) had plenty of time, as it turned out. Waiting with us was the U.S. Fencing team, on their way to Budapest for a bout. I must remember to Google "U.S. Fencing" and see how they did there.

So, at 2:30 PM on January 2 I was in Ferighy airport, Budapest, only to discover that my checked bag had not made the transfer at Amsterdam, and would be arriving later in the afternoon. I got the airline to agree to forward it to Cluj, and, as my bus to Cluj-Napoca, Romania was not scheduled to leave until 11:30, decided to forget the $25 fare I had already paid, and see if I could find an alternative way of making the 7-hour trip home, so that it wouldn't cost me 16 hours.

Perhaps Hertz had a Cluj car that needed to get home. Hertz couldn't have been more friendly in informing me that I could rent a car one-way to Cluj for a mere 595 Euros, provided I returned it on the 3rd. That's over $800. I didn't feel the time saving justified that, especially since I would have had to do the work.

Malev, the Hungarian Airline had a flight that evening, a fifty-minute ride, for about $350. No, thanks. I resigned myself to the wait. There was a plus to this outcome; I was able to retrieve my checked bag at 5:00.

On one of the terminal's uncomfortable, wobbly, and chilly steel benches, I waited. During the wait I made two fine discoveries: some really good Hungarian goulash soup at the snack joint, and Bonnie. Bonnie is a 50-ish Bulgarian woman who was returning home from her recent job helping with the children of relatives in suburban New York, to get a divorce from her husband of 24 years. Her next flight wasn't until midday on the 3rd, so she had over twice as long a wait as I on that godawful bench. So we talked, to kill the time. She was a very nice person, though a bit sad, and clearly strained by the difficulties she was going through.

Bonnie is a cook for and caregiver to her relative's two small children. I told her of my love of cooking, and we proceeded to discuss ciorbas and bean soups and borscht. Thanks, Bonnie, for the variety, for after making ciorba de fasole on my first night home yesterday, today I went to the market, bought more ingredients, and made myself a cabbage soup with onions and broccoli, flavored with smoked pork and spices. Both were excellent, and of both I have goodly leftovers for the week to come. I gave Bonnie my business card, and hope that she contacts me, for I consider her a friend.

At 11:15 PM I went to curbside, for I was not sure where the Orangeways bus would be stopping, and I surely did not want to miss it. It was cold and windy. I was glad I had on longjohns under my jeans. But 11:30 came and went. Three other Cluj (Kolosvar, to them in Hungarian) passengers were waiting with me, so I was confident that I was at the right place. Then 11:45 went. At midnight, a NEMETH TRAVEL bus roared past us, and stopped at Terminal 2B, about 100 meters to my right. On its side was written "Cluj-Napoca, Romania," in clear script. I hardly hesitated. "A bird in the hand," I said to myself. I headed immediately toward that bus, reaching it just as the driver was about to close the luggage compartment. I asked if he had seats available. "Do you have a reservation?" "No." "Okay, I can take your to Cluj." We talked currencies, and settled on $30 US. I paid. Theo loaded my bags.

As I boarded, I saw the Orangeways coach arrive at the other stop. No matter. I was committed. I sat toward the rear, on the right hand side of the bus, just ahead of a man who appeared to be asleep, and just behind another sleeping figure. The Orangeways bus rolled by, and left the airport, headed, as I knew, to Cluj via Debrecen, somewhat out-of-the-way, but by divided highway for the first 100-or-so Km.

When we departed, our driver took the direct route that I had driven in Klaus on September 18th, as I first approached Romania and my first night in-country, at Oradea, in the Hotel Iris. I felt I was in familiar territory, and quickly fell asleep. After a few hours, the man behind me awoke, and our encounter deserves a second posting, all it own.

1 comment:

Rather Dashing said...

It is great to be able to picture you in all these places meeting so many great folks.