Snow, Ice, and Getting to Romania…

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Snow, Ice, and Getting to Romania…

Eastern Europe, here I come…or so I thought. A third Nor’easter resulted in a cancelled flight, which I did not know about until I appeared at the airport. And no, I did not receive an e-mail about it, United Airlines. I wouldn’t have shown up at the airport had that happened.

But, enthusiasm undaunted, I blithely accepted an alternate arrangement, even though I was told that I would have to clear customs in Munich before proceeding to Bucharest. I was less happy when I noted that I had only fifty-five minutes between flights. When I contacted United about plans if I missed connections (this, after interminable time on hold while watching my cell phone battery flash “low”), I was told that if that happened, I could take the next flight out. That it was nine hours later didn’t seem to bother the representative.

Then a kind Lufthansa rep actually took the time to find (or sent a minion to find) my checked bag and reticket it on through. Things are looking up, I thought. Stay positive. Which I did. Throughout the flight, while the toddler in the seat in front of me screamed for much of the eight hours. Those hours of meditation seemed to pay off for me, as I sent tonglen to both child and parents.

Arriving early, I made my way, not exactly easily, to Terminal One, Munich. I found the gate number– for my cheat sheet told me that my Tarom (Romanian Airlines) boarding pass would be issued at the gate – and attempted to clear security. I had my passport. But security required a boarding pass. The guard sent me to ticketing. When I arrived there, it was closed. A sign said that staff was now at the gate aiding passengers. I must admit that I thought of Joseph Heller – I needed a boarding pass to clear security, but I could only get a boarding pass if I cleared security.

So, good old Terminal One, Munich – grey in contrast to the glitzy Terminal Two –may lack shops and perfumeries, but it does have a visible Information Desk. There I was in luck, because the representative took pity on me, called, then paged, the Tarom gate, and an agent came sprinting to get me. Still no boarding pass, however, since, you may remember, the boarding pass is issued at the gate.

What she said to the security patrol, I don’t know. I think her tears may have worked – and he, looking decidedly glum, waived me through. A race to the gate, where, boarding pass issued, I made that flight. Now I was always sure that eventually I would arrive in Bucharest, and I have to thank these lovely women who worked so hard to help me arrive there.

And arrive I did – to ice and snow. Bucharest, my first look at Romania.

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The next morning, still ice, still snow, I learned much about Nicolae Ceausescu, the last leader of Communist Romania, how he progressed (or regressed, really) from a popular leader whom people believed worked for the betterment of the nation, to a megalomaniacal egomaniac who tightened the noose around his people, cutting them off from any kind of contact with those outside the country. All the while building monuments to himself on an unparalleled intensity.

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While balancing on an icy square, our group met with Egmond, who participated in the Romanian revolution when he was only a young boy. He told of the hatred of the Romanian people for Ceausescu, along with his wife, Elena, and the consolation they took from their executions. Ceausescu built, as a testament to himself, a parliament – the second largest building in the world, it is said.

There was much to see in this historic city. I noted the demonstration that was happening in one of the squares, a protest against the rising cost of gasoline.

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And an outdoor market, now holding its own against supermarkets, the latter needed to show that the country is ready for the EU.  But on this cold, snowy Saturday, vendors and buyers gathered to sample skins, honey, bread, meats, and, of course, slivovitz!

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Soon we bused to Constanta, an ancient port on the Black sea. We viewed Roman artifacts, some more than two thousand years old, and, astoundingly, right out there in the elements – rain, pollution, weather, continuing to take their toll.

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While in the museum, I was delighted to see, and it wasn’t a mirage, a tableau of World War I soldiers and nurse walk across the square. That they were re-enactors didn’t bother me a bit!

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So, the start of my trip, with its kerfuffles, segued into days of seeing years and generations of history become real to me. Tough times for these people – then and now, as they work to adjust to a totally new economy. Some will benefit, but I feel for those who will be left behind.

Next week, another hard-times country: Bulgaria.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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You Can’t Go Home Again, but if you do…..

oak_park_mapThomas Wolfe is right. You can’t go home again. But just in case you do, be sure to take a map.

Our train trip included a return visit to Chicago where we had lived for ten years. We stayed in Oak Park. I knew that town and loved it, though Ernest Hemmingway described it as a town of “wide lawns and narrow minds.” (Well, Mr. Hemmingway, I do think that you are wrong).

And now we were visitors. But I was heartened when someone came up to me and asked for directions. Aha, years living in the sweet climate of North Carolina had not softened me. Here someone took me for a native!  And directions I gave; how to get to the Lake Street el, not too difficult a task since both my questioner and I could hear the rumble of the local. I sent him on his way, and smiled as I found yet another outdoor café where I could sit, drink coffee, and delight that Oak Park, and, indeed, Chicago are now even better than when we lived here. Downtown Chicago, where people still make eye contact, still smile. Nice to remember that about the Midwest.

When I learned that our hotel had no laundry facilities, I blithely inquired the location of the nearest laundromat. “Oh, just a few blocks away, a five minute walk,” the clerk said, and gave me the address. I planned my early morning jaunt, even skipped my requisite coffee thinking that I’d take it while I waited for my laundry to dry. With my green print Vera Bradley tote slung over my shoulder, I happily headed out, taking Harlem Avenue so that I could experience the early morning traffic and the aroma of diesel from the few buses that hadn’t been converted.

I remained upbeat after ten minutes because, I thought, well, his five minutes and my five minutes may not be the same. When I crossed Chicago Avenue I began to feel a bit hesitant. When I finally looked at my watch. I saw that I had been walking for 55 minutes. I was feeling much-less-than-a-native when I stopped someone to ask how far it was to Madison.

“Oh, honey, you’re a long way off.”

“I’m walking the wrong way, aren’t I.”

She nodded and put her hand on my shoulder. I laughed. “You know, I really should have brought my map.” She just shook her head.

I turned around, faced south, headed, finally, in the right direction. It started to rain, my shoes gave me blisters, but when I finally reached the laundromat, it felt like home.  But for all my other visits, I did take a map.