The time has come again!
More time, that is. Less travels. More dues.
I was going to post this as the final piece of my recent travel trilogy, in the same form as the previous, but I had no time after Örebro to do else than pack, and eat, and sleep before next day's early departure, so alas, here I am now, at the end of my venture ready to type about my travels!
I'm tired but happy with the trip, and the one before, and the one before that... and a bit relieved it's all over, though at the same time I'm looking forward to making more journeys in the future. To who knows where. Exotic places. Fascinating cultures. To travel, and taste, and savor the world for all it has to offer. Life in the fast lane is not all that bad. For a while. You just need some time to slow down a bit between trips. Take a break. Refill fuel. Get back. Go mad. Like Bucharest traffic.
I haven't moved between countries this much in a long time, but I could get used to a life like this again.
It all started 5:40 yesterday. A dark morning on which I woke at the first alarm clock beep, and was up and off to the airport twenty minutes later. The trip takes forty minutes by car, and I thought I'd use that time to rest (since I wasn't driving), but was too excited to close my eyes at all.
We arrived at the airport in good time, the check in went alright, the counterman didn't give my passport more than a brief glance before I was let through, no hiccups with security (nor at any of the latter airports - though they ogled my passport with uncomfortable scrutiny at most other stops), but the flight was delayed more and more until eventually we'd waited at least half an hour. The gate changed, then it changed back again, and then we boarded.
Our one and a half hour wait in Warsaw was enough to make up for the delay though, and even enough for a quick twenty minute lunch (salmon salad) after we'd finally got through customs. Why do they call it customs? I chose water to drink, and it was served in a plastic bottle that lasted the rest of the day and traveled back home the next as a souvenir. They served the salad with a huge slice of bread as well, which I unfortunately could not eat (Gluten), but I do like that custom. We gulped our final bites, boarded in a jiffy, and on to Bucharest it was.
On the plane they had free tea, water or coffee - I had tea served with an optional slice of lemon, which I've never tried but really liked. Had a couple more of those on the other flights, and they had free chocolate wafer bars as well, so I stashed enough of those for the whole family. All flights went well, though journeying through the various Warsaw and Bucharest security checks and customs took time. It's way easier in Sweden, and I'm not just saying that because I'm Swedish.
LOT Airlines: they're alright. Good personnel, and good service, and half of the planes were good planes with window blinds you pulled up and down (it's usually down and up). The other half was cramped, with unconventional seat lettering. D and F on one side. AC on the other.
We finally reached our final destination, Bucharest, and got out of the airport after at least a half an hour long passport queue, where our contacts were waiting with a sign. They asked if we smoked? No. They had a smoke anyway and looked slightly uncomfortable. Introductions were warm but awkward. Did we want coke? It was light coke so: no thanks, it's alright. Don't you drink coke?! Yes but... not now, thanks. We warmed up during the car ride though, and I had some cold water with pine syrup in the office. Delicious. Maybe one of those by-foreigners unknown local specialties? Wish I could've brought some home.
Back at the airport guards with uzi's patrolled the gates, and we passed by a few police cars on the way, but the overall atmosphere was good. Nature was green, and flora, fauna, people, architecture and run-down roads all reminded me of Costa Rica.
They drove similarly too. We sat in the backseat of a small yellow car, where you could really feel both speed and road bumps, and the traffic was nostalgically crazy. As soon as they slowed down someone started honking, so as soon as the car started it was full speed all the way. Red lights blazed past. Roundabouts in a maze. Swedish roads - even mid-city ones, suddenly felt lame in comparison (back home the car ride from the airport felt unnaturally slow), but our host was sharp and steady and weaved us through it all with commendable skill. My first impression of Romanians: they're a kind, charismatic and patient but passionate people. Happy. Direct. Down-to-Earth. Accepting. Untamed. Fearless. Probably not fun to be around when mad, but not easy to anger, and quick to forgive and forget. Good people with bad habits.
The trip through the city was adventurous. Run-down buildings flashed by, walls covered in graffiti, rooftops rusted, lush vegetation, gigantic billboards; some only rusted pillars and placeholder frames. There were cars everywhere - both in the streets and on the sidewalks, and pompous Gothic stone buildings lined a Boulevard that looked like Paris (so said my boss), and there were monuments, and neighborhoods that crept together in a both cozy, creative and dystopian way (but just a little of the latter when there were no people around). Air conditioning units lined the walls, though somehow it was only 8°C during our visit. There was supposed to be a 1 before that 8. SMHI got it wrong as usual.
We stood up on a terrace roof at one moment while our hosts had a smoke, and they shivered in their sweaters. I had to roll down my shirt sleeves, but I think I managed to keep cool anyway. Double meaning. Don't think I warmed up again until dinner, but it was a nice view. Fun facts acquired during terrace session: they have incredibly fast bandwidth (1000 MBit), low working taxes (3-16%), occasional power surges in summer due to massive use of AC, and the political situation hasn't really changed at all since the revolution, it's just not as open.
I learned a lot, and helped them dispel at least the one rumor that Swedes pay upto 90% in working taxes. At least I don't think we do. Not even the rich people. Think I know what I'll be Googling after this blog...
If I haven't said so yet this was all a business trip, much unlike the two previous. We drove straight to an office, and after a 6-7 hour meeting we had dinner at Hanul Berarilor - Casa Lupescu (basically Beer Inn - House of Lupescu): a castle-like little house belonging to Elena Lupescu, the mistress of King Carol the second. Not sure she has a part in the restaurant part, but he gave her a house, and now it houses a restaurant. An old, pompous place with a story. I didn't get any pictures from the trip, but they did have a picture of their marinated butterfish on their site.
I tried marinated butterfish with mixed salads (as seen above minus the salads - they were both great), [real] honey lemonade [I mean with with lots of lemon, and no surplus of sugar, just like we make it at home] and a selection of homemade ice cream (chocolate, lemon and some kind of melon that tasted like cucumber). My stomach didn't like all the things I ate, but it worked out. Double meaning.
We arrived at the hotel (Rin Airport, four stars, nice place though it's by the airport) some time after ten, drunk on impressions, slept as well and much as we could and caught a free coach to the airport the next day... at 3:40 (2:40 Swedish time). Ugh.
I wasn't sure I'd manage to sleep at all, and wasted precious moments in the bathroom, on a warm shower, and Googling if you could carry sowing needles on a plane, and pondering if the hotel slippers were a one-time thing I could bring with me, or if they were washed between visits, and tinkering with the AC and looking at exotic drinks in the mini bar. The souls of the slippers almost seemed like cardboard, but maybe dry cleaning would work with that as well? I eventually decided to just leave the slippers and sowing kit and get some sleep (pondered leaving just the needle but that didn't seem appropriate), and the bed must've been good because I slept like a log, even with a slightly upset stomach and passenger planes rumbling by outside (I assume) all night.
We met up in the lobby a while before four, and had a breakfast on fruit salad, yoghurt and muesli + smoothie with mystery ingredients (no translation, though I assumed it was vegetarian) on the airport.
Everyone was tired on the plane. The flight attendants were the same ones as the day before, and they looked tired too. I didn't shut my eyes at all the first day, but took every moment to rest them on this one. I thought I'd walk in a haze, but it actually wasn't that bad. Seems you can get by on less sleep than you imagine, and maybe more so when in motion, though if I am feeling it now...
Back at the airport they had Windows XP on the computer terminals btw. I noticed because one of them crashed when I tried toggling through all brands (LOT redirected to Lufthansa, so I skimmed through the rest hoping one of them would redirect to LOT, because Lufthansa was Lufthansa too), and it booted again. Boot screen debug, VPN connection settings and all. If I hadn't been so tired it would've been interesting to study a bit more. LOT redirected to Lufthansa on all terminals we tried, so we checked-in by counter instead.
It was en interesting albeit tiresome trip overall, and with this my recent siege of travel's all done with. For now. How's four train rides and four plane rides to four different locations within the span of just seven days sound? At least 24 hours travel time total, and just this last trip I managed to get in a full 18 work hours - excluding breakfast, lunch, dinner, night, and time to and from the airport. I'm sure a lot of people are on a whole other level, but I'm feeling pretty productive with this.
I brought with me a few mementos too, mostly in the form of hotel shampoo, wafer snacks and empty water bottles, and a couple of airport souvenirs. If we'd had time to go shopping outside the airport where everything isn't hella pricey I would've probably packed the bag with cheap tea and chocolate. Unfortunately no pine syrup since it's liquid - nor any other exotic drinks though they had them in abundance.
I didn't even have a chance to stop by an ATM and expand my limited Euro wealth, though I did exchange a bit of what I had for local currencies via airport shopping and minibar. The change of location was the big thing though. It really was a change! Of scenery, and perspective, and many things but unfortunately not of our cold weather. Only on our first stop by Warsaw did we get some sun.
It's been late nights, early mornings, and back to work today. And I just got back from work to say: I think I'll sleep in a bit tomorrow...