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Travel adventures continue as we reach Romania: Ed O'Connor

Posted 8/29/18

As continued from my last column regarding our trip to Europe …

Finally, with Madrid in the rear-view mirror, Romania was just a four-hour, 1,300-mile flight away.

Oops — not …

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Travel adventures continue as we reach Romania: Ed O'Connor

Timisoara, Romania
Timisoara, Romania

As continued from my last column regarding our trip to Europe …

Finally, with Madrid in the rear-view mirror, Romania was just a four-hour, 1,300-mile flight away.

Oops — not quite.

Our plane taxied onto the tarmac but pulled off on a side runway. We watched as jet after jet took off. What’s up? The flight attendant (formerly stewardess) announced that there would be the ubiquitous 20-minute delay … then another 20-minute wait … then more.

After an hour, the disgruntled captain emerged from the cockpit and told us the problem. The French air traffic controllers union was going on strike. That meant that we could not fly over French air space and a new route had to be planned.

France would be a beautiful place — if it wasn’t for the French. As usual, if there is any way to ruin something, get the unions involved. They could screw up a one-man parade.

After a two-hour delay, we were finally airborne. The destination? Timisoara, Romania. We arrived at 3:10 a.m.

The Timisoara airport is smaller than Harrisburg International. We did the security and passport boogie again. Now we needed a taxi to get to our Airbnb.

It should be no problem at an international airport, right? Not exactly! After all the passengers were picked up by waiting friends, family, taxis and other transportation modes, we were the only ones remaining — and there were no taxis.

Alone in an airport. Did you ever have the feeling that you were in the Twilight Zone? Remember the TV show?

An hour later, Olga was able to flag down the only cab available. And “yes,” the driver knew the address where we were staying. And “yes,” although the currency was the Romanian lei, he would accept the equivalent in Euros.

Check-in time at our apartment rental was 9 a.m., but I had contacted the owner before we left and told him that we would arrive in the wee hours. Not a problem — he would leave a key in a lockbox outside the apartment and gave us the box combination. We could let ourselves in.

We reached our rental at 4:20 a.m. It was cold — 48 degrees. We found the combination lockbox, entered the numbers (whoopee — it worked!), opened the box and … no key. Now what? We had the landlord’s telephone number but lacked one thing — a phone we could use in Romania. Four and a half cold hours sitting and shivering outside before we could occupy our flat?

At 5 a.m., Olga saw a lady and approached her to see if she had a telephone. The woman literally ran away as if Olga were a mugger. One half hour later, a man came walking by. Fortunately, he spoke English. Olga explained our plight. He called the owner and told him that we were outside the apartment and would he come and let us in the property?

In five minutes, the owner/manager was there. Unbeknownst to us, he lived in the upstairs apartment. We were ushered into the place; the heat was turned on and a profuse apology was proffered. He thought we were coming the next day.

After an almost 48-hour odyssey, we arrived at our destination.

The one-bedroom, bath-and-a-half apartment was modern and very nicely equipped: king-size bed, air conditioning, laundry with a dryer (very unusual for most of Europe), and fully equipped kitchen including dishwasher, (again not the norm). There were no amenities lacking.

A few hours sleep and off to start city exploring. First, we went to a small corner grocery and bought some food until we could find a larger market. Then, it was a 30-minute jaunt to center city where we found a tour agency and booked a walking tour of the city for the next day.

A 20-minute walk from our apartment was the largest mall I have ever seen. It had two parking levels and four shopping levels. In the mall there was an incredibly huge supermarket that also sold appliances and electronics

“How big was it, Ed?” Well, it had 46 checkout lanes. The main aisle was as wide or wider than Route 441. I have never encountered a larger selection of produce or seafood anywhere. The selection in the beer and wine department rivaled most any distributor or Pennsylvania state liquor store (how nice … not state controlled). That’s how large it was.

Like the gang on “Gilligan’s Island” (remember the TV show?), we went “on a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour.” Many people spoke English, and our tour guide was no exception.

Timisoara has a population of 320,000 and a rich history that dates back to the year 1212, so there was much to see, do and learn.

Our guide received a call then asked us if we would mind being interviewed by a TV station. We accepted and the Channel 24 crew arrived and did their thing.

The city is the cultural hub of Western Romania and in 2021 will be the cultural capital of Europe. Many buildings are being renovated for the yearlong event. This year is the 100th anniversary of Romania.

Walking in center city is a treat … no traffic for about a four-block radius. Museums, churches, hotels, former palaces, shops, boutiques, stores, bars, restaurants and outdoor cafes line the pedestrian only streets and plazas, creating an inviting atmosphere.

We returned back to our apartment by walking through the botanical gardens. With the exception of the first day, the weather was very hot, mostly in the 90-plus degree range. We decided to find a bench in the gardens and rest a bit. A gypsy approached us for money. When I refused, she put a curse on me for bad health.

The following evening, we went to a chamber music concert held in the art museum. The concert room was hot with no air conditioning, fans or open windows. Near the end of the concert, I passed out from the heat and three men picked up my chair and carried me out of the hall.

Olga thought I was dead, but I came around after cooling down a bit. She swore it was the gypsy’s curse. The following day I recouped in the apartment’s air conditioning.

Next time — more Romanian adventures.

Your gypsy cursed pal … Eddy O

Ed O’Connor, a former resident of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, is an expatriate living in Cuenca, Ecuador.