The Ugly Side of Travel

Big news: Daniel took a job! He was feeling a little antsy in Chișinău so he started looking for remote work in February. It took a little while, but a pretty amazing position opened up for him. Now he works for a health care software company based in NYC. He’s been at it about two months, and recently he had his first solo work trip to America.

I could have gone with him on that trip. But I’ve already begun to recognize the limited time I have left in this part of the world, and I didn’t want to give up extra weeks. Also work trips are boring. (Side note: I totally cried the morning Daniel left and wished that I had gone with him.)

So I decided to stay in Eastern Europe. However, Chișinău…by myself…for 10 days seemed far too long. Tugging at the back of my mind was a promise I made to Daniel’s family in Romania that we would be back to visit them. So I made my decision: while Daniel was in America I would go for a little family visit in Bilca.

There is no easy way to get to Bilca

Remember when I told you the grass is often greener for me here – especially in regards to transportation? Well that is 100% the case for my journey to Bilca. Knowing that I would be traveling alone, I figured it was not a good idea to take the bus. Taking the bus means buying tickets in person in Romanian at both the bus station in Chișinău, Moldova and the one in Iași, Romania. (There isn’t a direct route from Chișinău to Suceava.) Also, the trip by bus takes 8ish hours when all is said and done. And the buses don’t necessarily have AC. Factoring in all those variables, we instead decided that I should buy plane tickets. It felt extravagant by Moldovan standards. But by American standards, the tickets only cost $178. Not bad.

The trip was supposed to go like this: 30ish minute taxi to Chișinău airport, 1 hour flight to Bucarești, another 1 hour flight to Suceava, and then a 75 minute ride from Suceava to Bilca. Easy, right?

Yeah right.

To be fair, the trip started off well. Although the small prop plane was a little bumpy, it did give some fun views of the Moldovan countryside.

View of the plane from the bus that drove us out on the tarmac. In Europe we almost exclusively board planes by staircase from the tarmac.

Even the București airport wasn’t so bad….though transferring meant I literally had to leave secure part of the airport, walk from the arrival sections to the departure section, and then go back through security. Also the AC in the entire place was rather pathetic and the outside air temperature was in the 90s F.

But all that isn’t so bad. The worst of it came at the end of the one hour long București-Suceava flight as we were beginning our descent into the Suceava airport. We were going down, the houses were getting larger, all was going well…..and then…..suddenly we were going up and everything below shrank into the distance.

What happens when you travel without your anti-anxiety system (ie spouse)…

The post 9/11, hyper anxious part of my brain went nuts. THIS IS NOT RIGHT. I was like a prey animal on the serengeti, stopping suddenly at the waterhole to crane my neck around and look in all directions for the source of danger.

The flight attendants gave no indication that anything was wrong, but my beating heart assured me that there most certainly was. It took several minutes (full of crippling anxiety) before the captain finally got on the overhead speaker and informed us that a thunderstorm had prevented us from landing in Suceava and that we would be returning to București.

Two things happened: I almost burst into tears of relief AND I fully realized that travelling is stupid without Daniel. I have to admit that it took me a while to scrape myself back together into a normal person.

The plot thickens

An uneventful hour later we landed in Bucureșți…which is where the true madness occurred (not just the fake insanity in my own head.) The airline bused us back to the airport and then left us in the terminal without updating us. There was not a single overhead announcement. If you wanted to get any information then you had to stalk the young girl behind the Tarom desk, pouncing on her as soon as she was available. [How quickly I transitioned from anxious prey to aggressive predator.] The only information I ever got out of the girl was that the thunderstorm had passed but the original pilot had maxed out on his flying hours for the day. Therefore we needed another pilot.

Of course all this is par for the course when it comes to airplane travel. Delays, cancellations, long waits….if you have flown enough times then you certainly have experienced these things. The real challenge was not the delay itself, but rather the tangled web of communication that followed.

What happens when your spouse is also your translator….

Daniel’s family in Romanian is unbelievably generous. They never even batted an eye when they heard that their niece-in-law (who barely speaks Romanian and who they’ve only met twice before) was visiting for one week without her husband (the actual blood and language connection). They decided that Daniel’s uncle would drive the 75 minutes from Bilca to the Suceava airport to pick me up. So Daniel’s uncle was already waiting for me in Suceava when my plane turned around and made its way back to Bucureșți.

Upon arriving back in București, the scenario went something like this: I tried to get information from the airline employee, translated it into Romanian as best I could, wrote it in a facebook message to Daniel’s aunt, who then called her husband (Daniel’s uncle) to update him as he waited at the Suceava airport.

We were a comedy of errors. I felt horrible for inconveniencing them….especially as this whole scenario was unfolding at 8 PM at night. They, meanwhile, felt awful for me as an American stuck in a foreign airport. They kept advising me to make a scene and tell people I was American so that I would get better treatment.

Did I mention that this all occurred on Daniel’s very first day in the office in NYC, making him MIA in my great hour of need?? (I told you, travelling without Daniel is no fun.) I did find a good venting replacement in the form of Daniel’s sister. Thank you Elizabeth for keeping me company through what’s app!!

Just keep smiling and soon it will be over

Ultimately, everything worked out. It always does, doesn’t it? We stayed in the Bucureșți airport for 3 hours until finally re-boarding our original plane with a new pilot. I landed in Suceava after midnight, and Daniel’s relatives scooped me up and drove me straight to their house in Bilca. They never once let me feel bad about all the delays, and they let me sleep until 10 AM the next day. Truly the Crasneans are wonderful people

A little tangent about the Suceava Airport

I realized that the Suceava airport is the smallest airport I have ever been in. I was once a passenger in a small 5 or 6 seater plane that landed on a grassy field in the Bolivia….but I don’t think a grassy field truly counts as an airport.

So Suceava takes the cake for me on that one. And to give you just a little flavor of it’s size, I have two videos for you below. The first is of the only baggage carousel in the entire airport. I think it might only hold like 10 bags at one time.

And in fact, the domestic departure terminal is just one gate (if you can call it that). There is a glass door similar to one you might have leading to your back porch, and that door opens straight to the tarmac. It remains locked until an airline employee opens it right before boarding. Then that same employee tears your ticket by hand. There is not a single screen or computer to update you on the boarding status or even to scan your ticket as you exit the gate.

I wanted to take a picture of the gate, but I was too sheepish. I did, however, get a video of the tarmac.