Archive | August, 2010

Goodnight, Sleep Tight…and what comes next?

16 Aug

I crawled into bed with my eyes already half shut.  I had been waiting for this moment for hours, and couldn’t wait for the pillow to cushion my head and the blanket to wrap over my body, enveloping me in a deep, gratifying sleep.  After 3 hours of sleep the previous night followed by an early morning wake up call to finish packing up my bags and sealing up my entire life in Greece, the last thing I needed was a plane delay to push my arrival into Bucharest way past midnight.  Not to mention the 45 minutes I spent sitting on a curb outside the Romanian airport waiting for the hotel shuttle to sweep me away to my evening’s abode.  And then of course my inability to work the shower that apparently required more than the standard pull of a lever or turn of a knob.  Claire decided early on she would forego the shower in place of some much needed zzz’s, but with a day’s worth of heat and sweat and grime and stress clogging my pores and weighing me down, I needed to wash off.

But it was worth it.  I crawled into that bed in the darkened room, freshly clean, and drifted easily into sleep.  Morning came too soon, and the last thing I wanted to do was abandon the covers and embrace this new day.  Yes, I was aware that I only had a mere 5 hours in Romania before shipping out to Croatia, but I was ready to exchange that small window of sightseeing time to stay in bed.  It was comfy; I was comfy in it; what more do I need to say?  But alas, how many more times was I going to be in Romania?  So I got up, splashed some water on my face, packed up my bags, ate the free breakfast that was provided for us by the hotel as compensation for the delayed shuttle arrival (inconvenience pays off on occasion), and headed out to tour the Palatul Parlamentului, or Palace of the Parliament as we English-speakers would say.

The Palace is on the outskirts of Bucharest, but the taxi ride there provided us with a tour of the city and the surrounding parks and gardens.  Bucharest was, surprisingly, pretty.  I wasn’t really expecting much, so I was shocked when I liked everything I was seeing.  It was definitely more orderly and more groomed than Athens, that’s for sure.  After realizing how charming the city actually was (or at least seemed through the taxi cab window), I kinda sorta wished I had more time to spend in Bucharest to wander around the city and experience all it had to offer.  But with such a short amount of time, we took the advice of friends who had previously visited this Eastern European locale and went to the palace.

Built  in 1983 by the then Communist leader of Romania, it is one of the largest buildings in the world, 2nd only to the Pentagon (according to our tour guide).  Made entirely of Romanian materials by Romanian manpower, it is quintessential Romania, packaged into a building.  To make it simple, it was huge.  Beyond huge.  Like, why-on-Earth-does-Romania-need-this-building-at-all huge.  And it wasn’t very attractive.  Sure, it provided some great views, and it was essentially cool to see, but it wasn’t picture-worthy.  Which was good, considering pictures of the interior are not allowed unless you pay for picture rights in advance.  Which they don’t tell you until after the tour begins and someone starts to take a picture.  Which causes a ruckus among the assorted tour members, who all can’t understand why they can’t take pictures.  Which I don’t understand since I don’t really get why these people want to take pictures of these ugly barren rooms anyway.  But the uproar made for some entertainment, especially when a man took a picture later in the tour and this Spanish bitch of a woman who spoke no English (on the English tour…her boyfriend translated everything loudly as the low-speaking Romanian tour guide attempted to speak to the rest of us) flapped her fan dramatically in front of her face and screamed inside the palace, a working parliament building nonetheless, tattling on said man…in Spanish…to the Romanian/English-speaking tour guide…who didn’t really care to begin with.  Apparently her boyfriend paid for the picture-taking rights, and God-forbid anyone who didn’t pay takes one measly picture.  Really?  Really?

There weren’t really any other highlights of the tour.  It was nice to see the palace, and as a student I got in for free, but with a monotone tour guide and nothing really too amazing on view, it’s all just a blur to me now, and I don’t really feel like reading the Wikipedia page to refresh my memory.  I do remember perfectly, however, the cab ride that took forever to get back to the hotel, the anxiety that continued to build up in the back of the cab as I grew more and more sure that I would miss my flight to Croatia, and the relief at making it to the airport just in time.  Phew.

And so that was Romania.  I’m glad I experienced it, seeing as how I never would have otherwise set foot in the country, and seeing as how I will probably never again return.

Oh, and remember that wonderful night of sleep I got in the Romanian hotel, seemingly the highlight of the Romanian leg of my trip, according to this post?  Yeah, well apparently I wasn’t the only thing to crawl delightfully within those sheets.

And that’s how my body turned into one big bed bug feed-fest.

Awesome.

Strike Up The Band

13 Aug

During my final week in Athens, I wanted to soak up the sun, savor the fresh food, and appreciate the language, the people, and the culture that I had attempted to adopt over the past year.  I did not want to spend every waking moment tracking strike updates and wasting my coveted phone credit talking to airline representatives.

Ahh, the pleasures of Greece.

Most countries that rely heavily on tourism would cater to tourists, especially in the summer months when said tourism skyrockets, and especially when their economy is flushing itself down the toilet.  Not Greece.  The Greeks are of the opinion that when their country is going bankrupt, the best thing to do is strike.  More specifically, the air traffic controllers, without whom flights cannot enter or depart the country, decide to strike.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, when your country relies heavily on tourism, the best thing to do is clearly to prevent these money-spending tourists from getting into your country.  At least you’re holding the ones trying to get out captive within your borders.  OK, OK, so maybe they will then be spending all of their time and money changing flights and sitting at the airport rather than eating mousaka and happily smashing plates, but it’s worth a shot, right?

To get back to the main point of interest (re: me), while I should have spent the last few days in Greece enjoying my time and preparing for how much I would miss the country I came to call home, I instead spent the remainder of my time frantically trying to get out of the country.  Nothing makes you want to leave somewhere like the prospect of being stuck there forever…with no place to live…and no baggage since it’s being shipped home…and no money since it was all spent on the hotels and flights and traveling plans you will now not be experiencing since you will still be in Greece, with no place to live, and nothing to wear, and no money.  I think I’m getting slightly redundant.

Let me break it down for you.  I had a flight out of Greece on a Thursday to Croatia, with a 2 hour layover in Romania.  The flight was to leave at 11am.  The air traffic controllers called a strike on Thursday, to begin at 11am.  Dilemma #1.  The airline stated that in the event of a strike, they would rebook me on the next available flight out to my destination.  My destination being Romania (since that is where I was technically going from Athens).  Where is Dilemma #2, you wonder?  The next flight out of Romania to Croatia was 4 days later, the exact day, mind you, that I was to be leaving Croatia.  I’ll let Shakespeare take it away: Ay, there’s the rub.

So what’s a girl to do?  The airline can’t officially cancel any flight until the strike is officially called.  Yet it constantly remained “potential”, despite it being obvious that it was absolutely going to happen.  And so I had to keep calling the airline.  And calling the airline.  And calling the airline.  In between phone calls, I vigorously searched the web and discovered a flight scheduled for Romania on Wednesday night, the night before my original departure date.  In talks with the customer service reps (who, by this point, had become pretty solid friends of mine) I learned that unless my flight was officially cancelled, I would have to pay a fee for switching my flight.  I made a judgment call.  I knew this flight wasn’t going to see the clouds at 11am on Thursday, and so I decided I would change my flight, regardless of fee.  Fortunately Elena (customer service rep and current bosom buddy extraordinaire) let me hold off and track the strike, guaranteeing that she would book me no matter what, but would not put it into the system until the strike was officially (or not) announced and my flight was cancelled, so that I wouldn’t have to pay the fee unless necessary.  Luckily, the strike was eventually officially called, my original flight was cancelled, and I was rebooked sans fee.  And this is how I came to leave my last day of work early, frantically pack and clean out my room, and spend what would have been my last night in Greece sleeping in an airport hotel in Bucharest, Romania.

Greece, if you were a frat guy, you’d be king.  You sure know how to get what you want from a girl (my money, my heart) and still avoid having her spend the night.

I’ll miss you.*

*This, in fact, is not sarcasm.  I really will miss Greece.  A lot.  I’m already battling constant cravings for Greek honey, feta, and beetroot salads, and the simple channel click to reveal “My Life in Ruins” or “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” causes slight separation anxiety.

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