Misadventure but Great Story

Bucharest Travel Blog

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I love traveling. It is fun, eye opening, mind expanding. Well it is always the latter two, but not always the former. Part of the experience of traveling is to expect the unexpected. Sometimes that can mean finding a great restaurant where there should not be one, or sometimes it can mean thinking you may die in an unmarked grave far from home. Not from terrorism (this is a lighthearted blog after all), but from lack of planning, or even the best laid plans. Every trip has a disaster. I expect it now. But you know what, it makes a great story afterwards, which people always enjoy hearing again and again, so maybe I was wrong, travel is always fun... even if the reward is much later! One such story that is a friend and family favorite is bus trip from Transylvania to Bucharest.
My best friend Tom and I went to Transylvania to follow the footsteps of Vlad the Impaler, the real Dracula. We are a strange duo. Anyway, after flying into Bucharest and spending sometime exploring it and the surrounding area where he made his mark, we took a train to Brasov, Transylvania. The 3 hour train ride was beautiful, but hot and slow. It was summer and there was no air conditioning. We would open windows to enjoy the fresh breeze only to have someone shut the window on us. Trying not to argue with the locals in English and be the ugly Americans, we would just find an empty area and then open the window there, until someone closed it. We kept doing this throughout the train.
It was like an annoying game that we didn't quite understand the point of. After a few days visiting beautiful Transylvania we decided not to take the train back to Bucharest but a minibus that was advertised with Air conditioning, comfortable seats, less travel time for $5 more. Sounded great, as it was another hot sunny day! We got on the full minibus and enjoyed the cool air, that is until the bus started moving. Then we noticed the vent went quiet and the digital thermostat in the van slowly creeped upwards. We eventually realized that the air was not coming back on. Maybe the driver was trying to save gas money since it was a long ride. I was angry since the bus was advertised with AC. We asked the driver to open a window. He didn't quite understand english, but with our bad mix of english and romanian/spanish (the two are similar) he understood and opened his window a crack... for a minute! The hot sun was blazing us through the big windows. Funny how I was happy about them, the better to see the lovely mountain scenery I thought, not realizing how effective they were as a cooking element. As only the front windows opened we begged the woman on the passenger side to open her window. She did for a very brief time and then said something in Romanian which we didn't understand. (We figured it out later) Frustrated I just kept glaring at the thermostat creep higher and higher, 35, 36, 37 Celsius. But then relief. The van made a pit stop for a quick drink and bathroom break. We had been on the road for over an hour and this building was in the middle of nowhere. We had 10 minutes. I went to a refrigerator and pulled out a nice bottle of warm water and headed back to the bus. Tom was not there. Nervous about the bus leaving without him, l looked for him. He decided that he wasn't going back on. It was too hot. He would just wait for the next one. As we were 100 miles from nowhere, I mean kilometers, and the next bus was only God knows when, might be hotter, and we didn't have tickets for it, I implored him to get on the bus. The poor man had lost his mind. I don't remember if I dragged him, but he got on and then proceeded to hate me for bringing us back into our hot coffin. Incidentally he did buy a coffin in Brasov the day before, so I suppose he would have rather been in that one. Did I mention we are a strange duo? He kept snapping at me as I watched the thermostat climb. Great, crazy best friend, sweaty close strangers, bus smelled like bad salami, and no air. At one point he berated me for not even sweating. That is when I snapped back. I do not excel in many physical activities, but sweating is my forte. I can sweat playing pinochile in the cold. It's what I do. But not then. When did he know me not to sweat? When I pointed that out to him he shut up, or did he? 39! Next thing I know we are in the outskirts of Bucharest. He snapped at me for "sleeping". Told him I think I passed out from heat stroke! That gave him pause. The driver stopped. I didn't know where we were but I saw a Metro station. I love Metros! I am very comfortable on them. I figured it was our only hope of survival. I asked the driver for our bags and he argued with us. In all fairness he was watching out for us, we were 1/2 hour from our stop. We kept demanding our bags and I told Tom to follow me. He didn't know where we were but he was just happy to be out of that death box on wheels. We entered the station and I figured out we were only 10 minutes away from our hotel! The metro was very modern. Clean, digital displays, efficient. We were saved... until the modern metro opened its doors and a hot blast of air emanated from the car. At that moment I realized God hated us. When we got out and got our bearings above ground we looked at our map and found that we were on the same street as our hotel. We both were rejuvenated that our long hellish journey was near an end. We kept walking down the street until it came to an end, but no hotel. We checked the map over and over and it clearly showed the street continuing. That was it! Now it was my turn to lose my mind. Exasperated, I sat down on a stoop, with my luggage and insisted that the map shows the hotel on the street where I sat, so I was sitting there until it showed up. Perfectly reasonable I thought! Tom was dumbfounded by my behavior. It made no sense. He kept reminding me that I am very good with directions, that I need to focus, that I got us this far, but the hotel was not just going to magically appear before us. No avail. I snapped. I was done, and just made myself more comfortable on the stoop. 2 police officers passed us and he wanted me to ask them in my bad romanianspanish for directions. I thought that silly since according to the map the hotel was where I sat. Thankfully when he went up to them they spoke English. They looked at the map and just laughed. According to the map I was right, but the map was wrong. Ugh. They knew where our hotel was and gave us directions. Tom and I hated each other as we walked to the hotel. We both thought the other one nuts. When we saw the hotel we were elated. Then some man ran to us, said something in Romanian and grabbed our luggage. Were were confused, and frankly, too weak to care. We hoped he worked for the hotel, but at that point were pretty ambivalent about the incident. When we arrived I asked the attendant for our room. She told me there no vacancies. I looked at Tom and it was as if she said I killed his cat. I thought he was going to melt right then and there. I argued with her and showed her the reservation. She just misunderstood me. She thought we were walk-ins. Everything was fine. Then the man showed up with our luggage. I just started to sob uncontrollably. Both of us were recounting the horrors of the day, and the young attendant put her hand on mine and said everything is good now. We were shown to our room and were beyond excited that it was freezing! We both stripped as fast as we could, threw ourselves on our beds, and just let the cold air hit us everywhere. Eventually we showered and felt like new men. With the room we were given coupons for the hotel restaurant which specialized in local fare. Normally when I travel I love to explore the city and find a cool off the beaten track place to eat. Hotel restaurants tend to be too touristy. Tom asked me where I wanted to go. I showed him the coupon and said DOWNSTAIRS! He was very surprised and asked if I was sure. He was happy I replied with a hardy Yes. I had enough adventure! Days later, we found out from a couple of Romanians that the reason we could never seem to get any kind of air on the train or bus, was that you can catch the Devil in a draft. So they shut everything that causes a strong draft. Maybe next time we rent our own vehicle!
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photo by: tm16dana