Sunday, July 01, 2018

A Picture a Day. June 2018

The world continues to be crazy around us. Pain, and heartache. Pain for the sake of pain. Malice. Wickedness. Un-humanity ... Every day. Sadness and desperation. The awareness that evil is happening is too raw, too vivid, too real. And yet lots of us, me included, seem to be silent spectators, watching in disbelief. I wish we did more. I wish I did more. I wish I'd save at least one soul ... 

While all this is happening, time does not stand still. Summer has come and it's undoubtedly here, in all its glory. Simmering days and cool nights in the mountains (if you're lucky enough to get there, like I was). Hot dogs on the fire and evenings on the patio, with Gypsy perking his ears up for crickets and frogs. Roses bursting with color and smothered by bugs ... 

In this whirlwind of a world, I, once again, bury my head, of sorts, in the beauty around me, hoping and being grateful that at least there is some beauty still to be had. Still to be watched. Still to be shared. As I share with you now, my photo journey during the past month. 



Ever since I can remember, one of the things that says "summer" to me are mushrooms. Click this picture to see the whole album for June. Enjoy the ride! 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Back to Nature


We've replaced the dry, Rocky Mountains air of the desert with the watery, hot, buggy and muggy air of The South. The kind of air you see in a photo, like a light white film between all the other elements. It's material ...

We've replaced the snowy rocky peaks with miles and miles of lakes, hiding underneath green lush brush, behind tall, straight-up, squeaky pines …

We've replaced the multi-color carpet of summer flowers on mountain pastures with tons and tons of mushrooms from so much rain and humidity …

We've replaced the harsh, hot red rocks with soft, wet, green moss …

We've traded the million star-studded sky, a glorious carpet in the dark night of the desert, for the hundreds of earthly sparks of the lightning bugs over the thick, green, forest floor … Traded wishing upon a falling star for wishing upon a firefly …

We've traded scarceness of the swirly and crooked junipers, the fragrant and harsh to the touch sage, the cactus for the abundance of pine trees, stocky and bulky oaks, for sub-tropical fig tree-like thickets, and so many more species of plants, bushes, and trees than I care to remember …

We've replaced the dry and hard hidden desert trails winding up and down mountain cliffs with clearly pathwayed pine needle-covered trails winding around lakes …

We've replaced the trout in the rare stream with turtles in every lake that we walked by …

We've replaced the cool night breeze and cross-winds in our camper, from both windows being left open at night, with the noisy air conditioning unit. Windows tightly shut this time – no escape from humidity otherwise, not even at night …

We've traded the desert dust in and on our shoes with itchy bug bites and burning welts …

But the beans tasted just as sweet and the sleep was just as deep as ever. Just like with every camping trip before, our batteries are recharged, and we're turning back to our routines with the same amount of peace and gratefulness and awareness that life could be simpler and yet so rich.

We're camping in NC. It's definitely not anything like camping in The Rockies. But that's just it: it's just a different experience, and by no means a lesser one. This is what here is now, and we're taking it in wholly: the breathing of the land, the vibrations of everything that's alive and ready for a new year in the wilderness, the closeness to quiet, and God is still the same, in whatever dialect, and whatever the latitude.

If you want to know what's important, what is really, truly important in this world, go and speak to a tree, or a hill, or a star, or a star-like bug. Or better yet: speak not at all, but listen. Get lost and lose judgment. Just take everything in. Let nature in and allow her to awaken your senses. There is so much to learn! I can promise you it will not always be comfortable, but it always be worth it.



Click the picture for the whole album of the latest camping trip, exploring Holly Point Campground and Durant Nature Preserve in NC

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Uitandu-ma in Urma cu 20 de Ani


Observatii dupa ultima revenire in tara …

Tocmai ma intorsesem dintr-o vizita in tara, dupa vreo 3 ani de absenta, cand cineva a scris, disperat si neconsolat pe Facebook, ca nu “s-a schimbat nimic.” Ca “tot aceleasi elemente conduc tara” si ca furtul, minciuna, penuria de tot felul sunt inca la putere. Banuiam ca se refera la faptul ca nu s-a schimbat nimic de 29 de ani de la Revolutie, ceea ce stiu sigur ca ar fi un ne-adevar. Inteleg ca sunt inca multe persoane in locuri inalte care lasa de dorit in ceea ce priveste moralitatea, loialilatea fata de electorat, si chiar si pregatirea profesionala, dar a spune ca “nu s-a schimbat nimic” mi s-a parut eronat. “Nimicul” e o masura enorma, in absentia.

Cel putin nu am vazut fapte concrete care sa sustina aceasta declaratie in ultima mea vizita in tara, sau mai precis in Iasi, orasul meu natal.

Stiu ca multi vor citi aici si nu vor fi de acord cu mine, ci cu persoana de pe Facebook care mentinea status quo-ul romanesc. Dar va spun sincer din experienta mea de privitor din “afara” de mai bine de 20 de ani de acum, ca lucrurile s-au schimbat. Si chiar s-au schimbat mult si inspre bine. De la cosurile de gunoi si bancile care abunda strazile din orice cartier, pana la zambetul mai des, mai benevolent al iesenilor – s-au schimbat multe. As vrea din suflet ca cei din tara sa vada acest lucru si sa continue sa propagheze aceasta schimbare.

Mergand prin Iasi mi se pare ca merg printr-un oras in care numai scheletul e cel al orasului in care am crescut. Dar carnea, pielea, muschii, arterele de sange sunt noi si vibrand de viata si posibilitati!

S-au schimbat strazi, cartiere intregi si tot ce tine de urbanistica – statii de tramvai, autobuz, chiar configuratia strazilor e schimbata in locuri pe ici - pe colo. S-au schimbat pana si numele unor strazi – ma temeam sa dau numele strazilor la soferii de taxiuri ca nu stiam daca le cunosc pe cele cu care am crescut eu. S-au construit poduri peste Bahlui (ca Podul Cantemir) si s-au reparat altele (ca fostul Pod de Lemn). Bahluiul in sine, desi tot murdar, e alt rau decat cel pe care mi l-aduc aminte din copilarie. Iasul e mai curat, mai modern, mai deschis decat il situ de 40 si ceva de ani de acum.

Zona Palas a vazut o dezvoltare enorma in ultimii 3-5 ani cel putin. Ceea ce s-a creat acolo, nu numai ca si urbanistica, dar ca si mediu de cultura si agrement pentru ieseni e o schimbare in bine din multe puncte de vedere. Si iesenii pentru prima data intr-o perioada mult prea lunga, sunt mandri de schimbarea aceasta. Se opresc in drum de la servici la o inghetata, la o bere, la o intalnire cu prieteni si colegi si se bucura de viata – ceea ce eu nu mi-aduc aminte sa o fi vazut prea des nici acum 10 ani! Parcurile din Copou au avut, de asemenea, parte de o revitalizare completa – sunt la fel de atemporale ca si pe vremea anilor mei de facultate, mustesc de istorie, dar poarta noi haine de curatenie si de comfort.

Mai sunt locuri vechi si daramate prin Iasi, totul nu este renovat, dar aceste locuri sunt mai putine ca altadata si sunt mai mult marturie a istoriei orasului mai mult decat o marturie a delasarii conducerii. Si munca inca va continua, din cate mi-am putut da seama.

Cineva a avut nu numai banii dar si vointa de a face aceste schimbari, ceea ce spune mult, mai ales pentru un oras din Moldova unde timpul cateodata sta in loc decenii de a randul.

Am fost surprinsa ca peste tot se plateste cu un card bancar la fel de des ca si acum 3 ani cu bani cash. Am mers de data aceasta de multe ori la alimentara si am observat ca la fiecare om care platea cu bani cash (parintii mei inclusiv) erau patru sau cinci care foloseau card pentru plata. Din punctul meu de vedere, aceasta este o schimbare extraordinara in modul de a privi si organiza viata de zi cu zi: cand oamenii au incredere in banci si folosesc carduri in loc de banii pusi la saltea se sare imediat in alt sistem de valori unde timpul (mai ales) si convenienta se masoara altfel. Pentru mine, e un indiciu clar ca lucrurile s-au schimbat si au evoluat, nu involuat.

Am avut nevoie de un hotel in Bucuresti in drum inapoi spre State: am rezervat hotelul langa aeroport pe internet, prin Orbitz. Cand am ajuns in aeroport am dat telefon la hotel si au trimis taxiul hotelului (shuttle) sa ne ia de la aeroport si sa ne aduca la hotel, pe gratis. Acelasi shuttle fara plata (si cu aer conditionat) ne-a dus inapoi la aeroport a doua zi. Doamna care a raspuns la telefon cand am sunat hotelul sa ii spun ca suntem ajunsi la aeroport si asteptam sa trimita taxiul a fost draguta, politicoasa si serviabila.

Mi-aduc aminte cand mergeam la Costinesti vara si nu puteam face rezervari dinainte la hotel si cand ajungeam la mare ne cerea bacsis intai pana sa ne dea o camera, desi aveau camere libere. Civilizatia pe care am gasit-o in ultima noastra vizita in turism si comert e la ani lumina departare de acele vremuri.

Am fost enorm de surprinsa ca nu mai trebuie platite bacsisuri si mite ilogice pentru a obtine un serviciu de la cineva. Cand am ajuns in Iasi ni s-au pierdut bagajele intre Bucuresti si Iasi. Personalul de la aeroportul iesean a fost un exemplu de profesionalism si cumsecadenie. Chiar daca au durat mai mult de 24 de ore si doua excursii pana la aeroport sa le recuperam, nu a trebui sa platim bacsis ca sa vorbeasca lumea cu noi si nici “sa le trecem prin vama.” Totul a fost profesional si foarte eficient. Amintindu-mi de ultima data cand mi-am reinnoit pasaportul in tara (acuma 18 ani) cand a trebuit sa platesc mita ca sa pot sa il obtin (desi era dreptul meu de cetatean roman de a avea pasaport in ordine), mi s-a parut ca sunt in alta tara acum, si nu tot in Romania. Mita si bacsisul fara nici o logica, mita dezumanizanta care iti rade in fata ca esti mai putin decat un om, e ceea ce m-a impulsionat cel mai mult sa plec, si ma bucur ca lucrurile s-au schimbat din punctul asta de vedere. Nu sunt naiva, stiu ca din pacate ele mai exista la multe alte servicii, dar traiesc cu speranta ca incetul cu incetul vor putea disparea din viata de zi cu zi a romanului.

Poate ceea ce m-a surprins cel mai mult nu au fost faptul ca se gasesc in magazine aceleasi produse pe care le gasim noi in afara, si ca restaurantele au menu-uri mai laborioase si diverse decat orice restaurant la care am mancat in SUA, dar faptul ca lumea exista coeziv cu aceste realitati. Nu se mai spune “ei, dar la noi nu sunt ca la ei” (adica 'in afara'), se spune ca “acuma este si la noi de toate, dom'le”.

Pe vremea mea, adica inainte de 1998 cand am plecat din tara, era o disctinctie clara intre ce e posibil inauntru si ce e posibil in afara. Liiceanu vorbea de limite reale si ireale. Ei, asta era o limita foarte reala in trecut. Acuma simt si vad clar ca linia diferentelor intre cele doua lumi este mult mai estompata. Am asistat din afara si prin ochii familiei mele inca ramasa in tara la estomparea aceasta de ani de zile de acum. Dar anul acesta lucrurile au fost si mai clare. Aducerea Romaniei la numitor comun cu Europa nu mai e o realitate de neimaginat, dar acum pare mai mult o realitate accesibila tuturor. Si asta a fost faptul frapant si decisiv in a spune ca intr-adevar lucrurile s-au schimbat.

Oamenii isi permit, cum spunem noi, sa accceseze aceste schimbari. Am vazut lume mai multa in restaurante, la gradini de vara, la magazine ne-alimentare decat am vazut vreodata. Si oamenii sunt mai calmi, mai zambitori, mai afabili, scot un ban din buzunar cu un zambet pe buze si nu cu o grimasa in care e impietrita frica zilei de maine. Pentru prima data in 20 de ani de cand ma reintorc in tara am vazut multi tineri care au copiii mici si sunt fericiti, nu intristati de povara zilei.

Strainii spuneau imediat dupa 1989 ca romanii au uitat sa zambeasca. Anul acesta am vazut mult romani nu zambind, dar si razand copios, tratandu-se la o bere rece in mijlocul unei saptamani calduroase la o gradina de vara, sau asteptand nepotii de la scoala pe banca din fata blocului. Tot se vorbeste despre “ce e de mancare” mai des decat “ce citesti” dar mancarea e azi intr-un context de petrecere si de adunare cu cei apropiati si nu de supravietuire.

Candva, cineva, undeva, intregul popor, a schimbat multe in cel putin ultimii 20 de ani. Cand locuiesti cu cineva zi de zi nu iti dai seama ca imbratranesc si cat de mult se schimba. Dar va spun eu sincer, din observatia mea de semi-turist: s-au schimbat multe in Romania.

O sa spuneti ca da s-au schimbat ca lumea merge la munca in Europa si are bani. Si asta e, cu siguranta, un lucru trist, inca. Dar simplul fapt ca putem merge in Europa si face bani fara a fi persecutati si fara a ne pierde identitatea e o schimbare enorma. Tin minte in anii dinainte de Revolutie cum guvernul iti baga familia la inchisoare daca aevai rude in afara, sau orice dovada de legatura cu cei din afara. Sigur ca s-au facut toate cu multe sacrificii, dar ce se poate oare face in viata fara ele?! Fara a renunta la anumite lucruri si a vedea progres si a caladi o viata mai buna?!

Oricare ar fi motivele schimbarilor, sunt schimari in bine si in frumos si bine de salutat. Ca orice progres, nu vine fara sacrificii si fara durerile de rigoare ale re-invatarii a unui nou cod de viata. Un lucru pentru care ma rog si pe care il sper din suflet este ca cei din tara sa fie constienti de aceste schimbari si sa continue sa le sustina. Revolutia e inevitabila, si mersul inapoi in istorie nu mai e posibil, oricat de mult ar incerca cei rau intentionati. Eu zic ca toti cei din tara trebuie sa fie mandri ca au sarit peste decenii de istorie si au ajuns departe intr-un timp relativ scurt, iar sacrificiile lor isi vad clar roadele in mai bine. Pentru fiecare zambet nou, pentru fiecare copil abia nascut, pentru fiecare cumparatura din placere si nu din obligatie fiecare roman din tara ar trebui sa fie mandru.

Stiu ca viata e altfel la tara si Romania ramane o tara majoritar rurala. Stiu ca aceste progrese nu sunt vazute egal in toata tara. Dar cred ca tot ceea ce s-a realizat pana acum ar trebui sa fie un exemplu bun, acea proverbiala linie argintie la marginea unui nor negru care promite existenta soarelui, care sa promita tuturor celor din tara ca se poate si mai bine. Ca lucrurile, cu rabdare, cu bani, si conducere de rigoare, se pot schimba, si se pot schimba in bine. Si speram ca peste ani aceste realizari sa infiltreze cu adevarat toate colturile tarii, oricat de indepartate.

Sper ca toti cei din tara sa gaseasca aceasta dorinta de a evolua in bine in tot ceea ce isi propun si in tot ceea ce realizeaza, si sa fie constienti ca schimbarile in si mai bine le sunt numai lor in putinta. Numai lor in mana.

Friday, June 08, 2018

The Death of a Bright Star

There come days in my life where it gets dark. Really, really dark ... I am sure I am not alone in this. I am sure many of us have days where we lose something - a dear person, a dear pet, an ideal, a dream, a little bit of health, a hope ... 

Today is one such day. After reading about the death of Anthony Bourdain, a man who, in my opinion, defies labels and definitions, it got really dark. 

My husband and I were talking and we both feel like we've known him on a personal level. We had the luxury of seeing him live a few years back in Salt Lake City and I am so happy we got that chance! He was so real. He was so honest. Heart on his sleeve, he called what he saw what he thought it should be called. He had little concern for how he was perceived, and he was unapologetically honest, and truthful to himself. Or so we thought ... 

I have been collecting his books for years, but I have to confess that I am yet to crack one open. In a world that has so much stuff out there, on all the feeds I follow, I have been following his shows, his blog posts, his articles, his facebook feeds. I have been keeping his books for that one day, when I will work less and read more - like a treasured keepsake that you might only bring out once a year for the holidays. 

Once you get him, I think it's hard to kick the habit - so I have been able to conveniently get a healthy helping of Bourdain through various media sites, and through CNN. 

He had such an eye for the ordinary, and such a gift to make it extraordinary. He is one of the geniuses of story-telling, which is secondary only to his honesty. He peeled reality like an onion, to get to the bitter-sweet-spicy core of it. 

He made you feel, and smell, and taste (mostly) with him. But most of all, he made you feel the humanity in everything he followed. I think, ultimately, he loved people, the more obscure, the more troubled, the more underdog-like, the better. Nothing was ordinary to him. As it shouldn't be, for nothing is random in this world, and beyond! He called your senses to pay attention and not miss the big miracle that the world around you is. He was all about awareness, most of all. And understanding, secondly. 

I had to stop from my busy day and record this. My mind just stopped. My heart breaks for his family, for us all, for the world in general. How no one can prevent such sudden and sad deaths is still beyond me ... 

Rest in peace, Chef! I am saddened that I won't be adding to my book collection anymore, which is the only thing I have left to "hear" you again ... 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

A Picture a Day. April and May 2018

What a whirlwind of two months!

After the winter which was way too long and unusually cold for The South, we finally watched everything come back to life: the trees, the many blooms, the creatures, ourselves ... 

We flew across the world and visited friends and family ... We visited places close to home. And sweeter than anything, we took in the world around us, at our door step. 

We're lucky and blessed and so grateful. 

Enjoy my journey during the past two months. In pictures. 



A carnivorous pitcher flower at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC.
Click it to see pictures from April and May, starting with April 1st. 

Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Longest Trip


I have not written one of these in a long while. Part of it is, I guess, that we have not had this much un-luck with the airline business for a while and part of it is the fact that about a year ago we stopped flying altogether for about a year. But let me tell you: it caught up with us during the most recent trip to Romania, and back.

Grab a long cup of something. We'll be a while!

It actually started with the trip to Romania, first. We made it to Iasi, our final destination there, but our luggage did not. We filed a 'lost luggage' claim in Iasi for both our suitcases, but they could not tell us where they were tracked last. In the US they can tell you almost instantly when the luggage was last scanned, what airport, but in Iasi they told us it takes up to three hours for our claim to become actualized in the computer system and for them to get an answer back.

They called us from the airport the next day to tell us that we need to come and pick up the luggage, and that it had made it to Iasi, finally. They could deliver it to us, but they would have to open it to ensure there is nothing illegal in the suitcases (for customs purposes, since we were coming in from a non-EU country), and they do not recommend us not being there when this was happening. Plus, being a Saturday, they could not deliver it till Monday to us. Their delivery system does not work during weekends. (forget that people travel, the airport is open during weekends, and people lose luggage, but … delivery not working. OK!)

So, we go to the airport, to find that only one of our bags had made it to Iasi, but the other one had not. We ask why but they could not tell us. They tell us that the other one is in Bucharest, and it will be shipped most likely with the next flight (in 2 hours) and we should come back for it.

As those of you who follow our Facebook feeds know, my uncle is some sort of a big shot for the Romanian airlines, TAROM, in Iasi. So, he made a couple of phone calls after this episode and found out that they could not send both suitcases at the same time because the weight of the plane was at the limit, and our suitcase had to be left behind, as it did not make the overall plane weight. One suitcase. 50 lbs! Threw off the entire plane weight. All right!
We drove back to the airport for the second time that evening and collected the second suitcase. I was just grateful that everyone there was very kind, patient and really helpful and we did not even have to bribe anyone.

After spending two weeks in Iasi with my parents and seeing some friends and family, we were scheduled to come back home on May 4. I spent a whole weekend trying to book this trip, because it was close to impossible to find connections that made any sense at all. Due to various reasons, we did not book this trip way in advance, like I normally do. We booked it about a month and a half (barely) before we flew. So, the number of really good flights, with layovers that made any sense in airports where you do not risk being blown up was really limited. One of the connections we kept finding was through Dulles, Washington, DC and that was one of my biggest requirements to not go through that airport, as it is hell! Especially for international flights, it is hell! (as a fun fact, the three letter word for the Dulles airport is IAD. Those who speak Romanian know that spells “hell” quite clearly).

Another major requirement was that I did not want a 12 hour layover anywhere else. But a compromise had to be made, and I finally did book our trip with a 9 hour layover in Bucharest, on our way back to The States.

So, on May 4th, we got up around 8 AM and packed to leave Iasi and return home. Our flight from Iasi to Bucharest (serviced by TAROM) was scheduled for 7 PM. After that, we would sleep at a hotel in the airport and be back at the Bucharest airport at 6 AM the following morning to fly to Paris (serviced by Air France) , and then from there directly to Raleigh-Durham (serviced by Delta). That was the plan. But plans as they come are made to be messed with.

My big shot airline uncle calls us around 12 PM the day of our departure and says “hey, did you guys receive a confirmation from your airline/ booking service or whatever that you have been redirected to fly through Frankfurt tomorrow, before you get to Paris?” I had received a confirmation ONLY from Delta about the flight from Paris, that it was coming up and it looked on time and that I need to prepare, bla bla bla, the usual. I told him “no, we did not receive such a confirmation”, and where in the world is he getting Frankfurt from?!

Mom already knew from the radio that Air France is on strike and their flights are grounded but did not think that we were going with Air France, so she had not told us anything. She also ran into one of their strikes before and TAROM serviced the flight instead, as their partner, so she was thinking TAROM might take us from Bucharest to Paris, since Air France was on strike. But nope, TAROM had no available planes, evidently, and the flight from Bucharest to Paris now became two flights: Bucharest to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Paris through Lufthansa. This would put us in Paris before the Delta flight to Raleigh-Durham, since we had a 3 and a half hour layover there and had some time to kill. This is why I usually like layovers between 2 and 4 hours – to leave enough room for changes, delays, and airline whimsy-ness...

Thank God for nosy relatives in high places, I guess. If it were not for my uncle searching our flights for our return trip simply out of curiosity and being a flying geek we would not have found this out till we got the Bucharest the next morning. Not that knowing in advance helped in any way really, other than giving us a new perspective, and real expectations. We were to thank God and curse airlines and airline services several times during what it was to follow. But let's not jump ahead.

The flight from Iasi to Bucharest was uneventful, except for my backpack beeping when it went through the security belt in Iasi. They asked me if I had electronics in it. I said “sure, I did.” I had a camera, a couple of power banks, an MP3 player, chargers, etc. They opened it and scanned them all separately. This was news to me, that electronics might get you in trouble at the check-in line, but there you go. You live and learn. Or fly and learn, rather. I still don't know which of my electronics beeped or was the problem. My iPad was already in a bin by itself, and my husband had a camera and a phone in his backpack, but his didn't beep. I also had batteries and power banks in mine, and he didn't. Who knows?! They never tell you.

We had to pick up our luggage in Bucharest, because they do not check it to your destination from Iasi, for some reason. We picked them up there, and went to our hotel for the night. The hotel stay was lovely, to have a place where you could at least stretch for a bit. A million times better than the dirty chairs in the airport, for sure. We did not sleep much those few hours in the hotel, but the quiet, and relative cleanliness of the hotel was nice.

The next morning, we were in the airport at 4 AM, to check in for our flights that day. Because my uncle told me we are flying Lufthansa from Bucharest, we knew to go to their counter to check in first. As my booking company never sent me a confirmation from the flights that day, I would not have known that I was to show up at the Lufthansa counter, and I would have shown up at Air France. No idea if anyone would have been there to even redirect me, since the company was on strike and all. Like I said: thank God for nosy uncles!

We board the flight in Bucharest, after checking in our luggage, passing through security and passport control. Our luggage was tagged to go through Frankfurt-Paris-Raleigh. We were given tickets from Bucharest to Frankfurt, and from Frankfurt to Paris, but they could not give us tickets for the Delta flight. They said they cannot access that system and we should get boarding passes in Paris, when we get to the gate. Lufthansa is not a Delta partner. This happened before, so this was not a surprise really. The luggage was tagged, as I mentioned, all the way to the destination, in Raleigh.

After boarding the flight to Frankfurt in Bucharest, the Captain came on almost immediately as the scheduled time was up and said they are having to reboot the computer of the airplane as they are seeing some errors, so the lights will go out and the air will stop briefly in the plane, as the computer would reboot. So, they did that, then we waited for another 20 minutes or so after that. He came on again to say, “Well, we rebooted the computer, but that didn't fix it. So, now, we are calling a technician to have them look at it and try to fix it.” How does one fly with a broken computer is beyond me and why do you find out that the computer is broken after you have loaded your plane with 100+ people?! The Captain also said “I cannot tell you how much longer this will be, we put an order in for the technician and we have to wait for them to come.”

We waited for another hour or so. People started getting antsy. We had 45 minute layover in Frankfurt, and we knew if we waited any longer we would not make the flight from Frankfurt to Paris. I started looking online (thank God for turning on our phones for the International Data plan, so we could do this!) to see if there were any other flights from Frankfurt to Paris that day that would possibly get us to Paris in time for our Delta flight to Raleigh. There were two more flights that would allow us to still make the Delta flight, so I was hoping the computer will get fixed so we can make it.

The technician came and spent probably 10-15 minutes trying to fix the computer (after waiting for him for half hour or so). The Captain came in again on the speaker to say that the technician could not fix the computer so now they have to replace it. So, they will put an order in for another computer and once they replace it, we'll be good to go, but that he doesn't know how long that will take.

All in all, we waited for the computer to be replaced about two and a half to three hours. We missed all of our connections from Frankfurt to Paris and at the end of this wait we knew we could not get to the Delta flight we had book out of Paris and directly home. In all likelihood, there is no other flight directly from Paris to Raleigh, NC, so we knew we were in for some major rerouting …

You have to understand a thing or two about some of the airports in Europe. I am not sure why they all do this but they do: instead of parking their planes right on the terminal gates, they park their planes sometimes miles away from the airport building. This was the case with the Lufthansa flight in Bucharest: there was nowhere to go. We all sat in our chairs and waited for up to three hours for someone to fix the computer of the plane. The thoughts everyone had about flying with a possibly not OK computer are the stuff of nightmares, I am sure.

While we waited, the head steward came to almost everyone on the plane to reassure everyone that everyone will be rerouted and everyone will be on a different flight by the time we get to Frankfurt. He also said they will obtain the rerouting information and will share it with everyone so that once people get off this plane they will know where to pick up their next connection. This was true: he came on the speaker and told everyone who was supposed to fly to wherever next where they were being rerouted – what new flight number and what new destination. During this entire crazy day, the staff on this Lufthansa plane were definitely the most considerate, patient and thorough people out of everyone. When we heard our redirection information, we were not sure what direction we were going to be rerouted in, but we had some flight numbers and times that we could see on the airport monitors.

Before we even got off the plane in Frankfurt, I went on a Lufthansa website and put my reservation number in. My uncle said no matter what happens with the rerouting of the planes, my reservation number will always stay the same. And he said if they keep rerouting me to go to any site of the airline I am with (in this case Lufthansa) and my reservation should show all the legs of all of my flights. He was right. We went online while we waited and we knew that Lufthansa had rerouted us and we were no longer going through Paris. We were now going from Frankfurt to Washington, Dulles (yeah, you're allowed to sigh, just like I did – well, I did more than sigh), then from there to Raleigh. There was a Frankfurt-Dulles flight at 12.20 and we were allegedly going to make that.

We found the gate for the Dulles flight (at 12.20 PM). As nice as the airplane staff was before, the gate staff was just as rude and abrasive. The new flight was now going to be serviced by United Airlines. The people at the gate were a mixture of American (United and TSA) and German (Lufthansa) people. They were all crass and inconsiderate.

We got boarding passes, as our boarding passes from Bucharest were no longer valid, of course, and then we were put in groups, according to what group we would board with (1 through 4). They were yelling at people to get into their own queues, and everyone had to be in a queue, not on chairs, or anything. They were nowhere near boarding, but they needed everyone standing in the lines for each group.

They called my name and an American gentleman said that I was “selected by the TSA to be thoroughly searched.” They took me behind these removable walls and two women met me. One of them requested that I put my carry-on bags (a backpack and a purse) on a table and open them. She asked me if I had any electronics. I said “yes”. She asked me what kind. I told her and she wanted to see all of them. I pulled them out and she swiped them with a blue wipe, and then she put the wipe on a machine and she saw something or other on a computer screen. She told me I was OK. Then, another woman asked to see my shoes. I took them off and she bent them and twisted them every which way. She told me everything was OK and I was cleared.

I was livid with frustration. The TSA apparently needed this from me! The TSA! This is after the same institution took my money to “pre-check clear me” for all of the flights they have authority on! I paid $90 and waited for 6 weeks for them to check my records and decide that I am safe on every flight, but now … I was somehow showing up on their machines that I needed to be searched! I was thinking they need to write a filter for this random search software that excludes the people they already decided are OK, but you know … too much to ask!

They started boarding, but being in one group or another proved to not matter. Boarding was completely random and completely different for everyone. There were three lines for boarding and they kept shoving everyone, no matter what their group was, into all three, equally: one line was not even manned: you'd walk through it and you'd scan your boarding pass yourself, the second one was manned and they would scan the boarding pass for you. A third line was manned by a TSA (or some sort of American authority) that asked you if you bought anything in the airport, if yes, what, if your luggage was with you the whole time and whether anyone gave you something to carry on the plane. Then, after you passed this person, another person scanned your boarding pass and let you on the plane.

Well, no, not on the plane, but on this corridor that ended in a lot of stairs. So, after this crazy boarding process, we were all shoved in this hallway and then down these never ending stairs (not escalators, stairs!). There were no windows to the outside and we were not sure where we were going. Someone asked under his breath “are we boarding, or are we being drafted or traded?” We were all tight like sardines standing on the stairs and people with rolling carry-ons were cursing because they had to carry them down these stairs.

After that, they put us on buses to take us to the plane. We drove a long time – seemed like 5-6, maybe more miles, far from the airport and we came to a United plane. There, we were given instructions how to board, as they were boarding from the front and the back of the plane at the same time. No one had a clue where to go, they were yelling at us again but we were all like chickens with our heads cut off, going back and forth just trying to get somewhere on that damn plane! It was mayhem!

We finally boarded and tried to settle down. If you have flown overseas before you know that those planes are huge. This plane had three seats on the right, four in the middle and three more on the left. So, for each row you have 10 seats. The plane was packed. It was going to be a 9 hour flight to Dulles, so everyone had lots of things to settle with: books, tablets, laptops, eye patches, blankets, neck pillows, etc. A family with two small children had car seats, bassinets, many shoulder bags. We all took a while to settle down.

Too preoccupied with all of this, we didn't realize that we were way past our time to take off. We were delayed again. No one told us anything. After about an hour or maybe more, one of the stewardesses came on the speaker to say “Ladies and gentlemen, we are working on an issue, so this is why we have not left yet. I just wanted you to know that we're working on something.” That was it. Then, after another 30 minutes or so, they started bringing out snacks and drinks. Someone asked the flight assistant “are we leaving any time soon?”, the answer was “nope!”. Someone else asked “are we going to have to leave the plane?”, the answer from the stewardess was “that would be the best case scenario.” Umm … we were all stunned! (reminder: at this point, we're on a United plane, all staff American).

After about two and a half hours on this plane, the Captain comes on and says “folks, we got a problem with the water draining system and we called a crew to have it fixed. However, they have not fixed it in a way that would allow us to take this plane up in the air, so for this reason, we are going to take everyone off the plane and rebook them to other flights. This plane is not going anywhere today.” This was like adding insult to injury: after keeping us cooped up in there for close to three hours (again, miles from the airport, we could not be outside of the plane), we were told “no soup for us!”

We waited another 30 minutes since this announcement for the buses. People were getting antsy about wanting to leave and the same stewardess who came on earlier saying “we're working on something” said “folks, we are literally waiting on the buses to arrive to take us back to the terminal. You must understand that we're sharing these buses with all the other airlines, so you need to be patient.” Got it! A large cup of patience coming right up! Especially while across the world from where you need to be and no idea how to get where you need to be. Sure thing!


The darn buses slowly arriving to pick us up from the airplane


You thought you could just exit the plane and wait for the bus on the pavement, but think again: we were policed everywhere  .... 


.... and standing on more stairs, waiting for our turn to move. All packed tight.

The buses did come and off we went to the terminal again. At this point, it was a little after 3 PM (the flight was supposed to leave at 12.20 originally). We had to walk up all those steps again. Again, people with huge carry-ons had to haul them upstairs all by themselves. No idea whether there was an elevator anywhere. There was no escalator or ramp for disabled people, that we could see.

We went to the United service desk, because I kept searching our rebooking online and we had not been rebooked. Lufthansa had rebooked us before, but United was not rebooking anyone. So, we went to their service desk to be rerouted. The very rude lady yelled that she is closing the office for the day, and we needed to go to gate Z19 which will reroute everyone. We went there and there was a flight boarding and people in line for that and then all of the people on our flight too. There were hundreds of people in that line. I was thinking we might be there till next day JUST to get to the counter.

In the meantime, the airport looked like it was shutting down. All stores but one were closed, and all the gates seemed to be closed, except for Z19. We overheard someone that they rebooked themselves from the United app. We're not normally United flyers, so we had to download the app, and with our reservation number, we rerouted ourselves to the next flight to Dulles – luckily there was a second one there, and then one last flight of the day in Dulles to Raleigh. Maybe, just maybe we might make it home that day! We still had to stand in line and get boarding passes, but we knew we were on that flight.

We bought some snacky food at the only store open next to our gate and waited for the second flight to Dulles. At this point, we felt desperate. If this last flight would not work out, then what?! We would have to spend the night in Frankfurt, then the next day go who knows where? And where would our luggage be by this time, being rerouted so many times?!

We repeated the crazy boarding process again (standing in line with your group), and I got re-flagged again by the TSA to be “thoroughly searched.” I went to the search people to be searched again, and I had the boarding stub from the previous flight saying that the search happened (they put a sticker on your boarding pass when you pass and they highlight it with a marker) and showed them I already did that. They said I was OK, then, and no need to go behind the mobile walls for searching again. I was paged and called back at the podium twice after this, because I was showing up as “random search” still. I kept going back to the search people and they kept telling me I am OK, but they never cleared me in the computer. After three times, I think they finally cleared me.

We finally boarded the second plane to Dulles and the flight was already delayed by almost an hour. We waited on the plane for another hour and a half. If everything had gone smoothly, we would have had a 2 hour and 40 minute layover in Dulles. Since we were again being delayed (this time, we were not sure why, no one told us anything), our layover was more like an hour and a half now. We were hoping that they will make up time since it's a 9 hour flight, but flying against the stream is always slow.




One of the most maddening things was to not know what gate any of these flights were leaving from, when you're already pressed for time. Notice the only delayed flight is the United Airlines one and there is no gate assigned (only a letter, "Z", but no gate number  - it could be one minute or 12 minutes away from this screen). 

We eventually took off and we did not make up all of the time. We landed in Dulles with a layover of exactly an hour since we left the plane. Since we had to clear passports, and then find our luggage, clear customs, drop off our luggage, pass security again, find our gate for Raleigh, we were 100% sure we were not going to make this last flight home, at 10.35.

There is no way to rush through passports control and filling out the custom forms! You're behind tons of people who may be doing this for the first time. It's confusing and there is no help. Lots of these people didn't speak English. We were behind all sorts of folks.

Not only this, but the customs and passport control people were closed for the day in the terminal where we landed and we had to board buses again to be taken to the main terminal. Again: if you have planes coming in from overseas, why close the customs offices?! And if you have to close them in one terminal, why do you land there? Land in the one where you have all the services working. I know, I am asking for logic! Silly me!

After the passport control and filling out the customs information, we rushed to the baggage claim area. An angel of a gentleman asked us where we were flying next, and we told him Raleigh-Durham. He said in a rush “great, we're holding up the plane for Raleigh-Durham so you'll make it.” I did not believe that was true, but then the same announcement came on the speakerphone and listed several destinations for which they were holding planes for people on our flight. I thanked God again.

We finally made the flight to Raleigh, the last of the night, but only after being taken again by bus to probably the same terminal where we landed from Frankfurt to begin with. The irony of it all.

When I was in my seat in this last plane to Raleigh, completely breathless from running across the airport to catch it, I just started crying uncontrollably. I was trying all day to be brave and composed and calm, because there was no other way to go through all this otherwise, but at the end I lost it. It felt good to cry. And through this whole ordeal, our bags made it this time! They had the wrong tags on them (originally routed through Paris), but they made it!

All in all, the trip from when we boarded the first flight from Iasi to the time when the last flight landed in Raleigh took 36 hours (with a few hour break in the Bucharest hotel). We had been awake for 48 hours, not counting the time in the hotel where we hardly got any sleep and the very poor sleep we get on a plane. We started the trip on May 4th. We entered our house on May 6th. This will make for never forgetting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo! Definitely the longest trip of my life.

If there was one thing I learned during this whole thing was: always have a working phone everywhere in the world. There is a lot you can do on a site or on an app nowadays (like rebooking your own flight to avoid standing in crazy lines) and even without wifi, you can do it over the data plan. You'll pay later, but it's worth it. The second thing a phone does is keep you sane! You can stay in touch with your support system (relatives, friends, your social network) to take your mind off the craziness around you. I would not have made it with just one good cry otherwise.

I have friends who pretty much live in airports for their jobs. I could not imagine running into these problems everyday and getting to a point where they would feel “normal”. I felt frustrated, angry, dirty beyond belief and very helpless through this whole process. I love to travel, but not at this kind of cost …

Safe skies, everyone. And I wish you all at least one angel like we had to save your days, when things do get tangled!

Monday, April 09, 2018

Sweet Reminders …


I remember when Aa. proposed to me. I had no idea he was going to propose, but he had picked this place on top of a mountain, in Utah, and he wanted to propose to me there (I think it was called The Bear's Overlook). We tried to drive to the spot, but the road was barricaded because of winter. So, we found this side trail and took it to see what's out there, and we found the most amazing mountain valley, loaded with red rock that grew out of nothing, an eerie, breathtaking spot, quite out of this world, called The Devil's Kitchen that we had never heard of before (http://wander-world.blogspot.com/2009/12/proposal.html). It ended up being the most perfect spot for our engagement and proposal and it will always be a beautiful reminder that life is part plan, part happenstance, and part magic, and in the end perfect.

Today was my birthday. I think for the first time in a long time, I had no plans for it. I woke up quite cranky this morning and quite sad, like I usually am on my birthday, and with no plans. I wanted to make the plans as we went. We ended up with a full day and a lovely one at that.

The one thing, again, that reminded me that we're seldom in control and yet this is not all bad was how our dinner plan came to be. Or rather lack thereof.
For dinner, I did not have any special cravings and I had no place picked out. But I said “well, if I have to have one dish it would have to be trout (which is sometimes close to impossible). So, we found a restaurant downtown Carrboro that had it on the menu. Aa. said if he must have one thing it would have to be tiramisu for dessert. Well, the same restaurant that had the trout did not have the tiramisu on the dessert menu. But, because I have the most perfect husband and because it was my birthday, he said “well, we'll go, it's your birthday. You get the trout.”

As we walked in and Aa. scanned the Specials board, he pointed to the dessert special. And yep, you guessed it: it was the tiramisu.

It is a small thing. I know. It is maybe so insignificant to most of you. But it speaks volumes to me and I needed to hear this. Especially today, when I am once again, like we all are once a year, at our big crossroads.

Lately several things have off-railed for us, it seems. Some things seem out of control and dragging our lives in weird and painful directions. I have been wanting so painfully hard to be back in control. But today I was reminded: we're not. We seldom if ever are. We need to let go, and let be … and wonderful things will come and wonderful outcomes will happen. We just need to loosen those reins a little bit and leave room for the magic and the coincidence. Que sera, sera … right?!

Let's just hope I remember this next time I want so desperately to keep everything and everyone in line. Let's hope …