Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I'm back home. Here are some thoughts that I put together during quiet travel breaks on the way home.

The trip to Bucharest should have taken about 9 hours….if you want to arrive by 5:30 PM, you leave by 8:30 or so….or that’s what I thought at least. With a Romanian colleague and driver, our trip started not at 8:30 (as we had agreed the day before) but more like 10:45….we had to make a few stops in town to pick up a few things for the Romanians. I do understand this. Transportation, when under individual control, is a scarce resource. People just aren’t as mobile as they are in the US. When you have a car at your disposal and you’re just supposed to be home by the end of the day, you take advantage of this personal taxi.

Of course, the American in me would have gotten up early and run those errands so we could have hit the road by 8:30 or 9 AM at the latest. We even stopped to buy some braided bundles of “special” red onions. Coming back, I lost count of the number of horse drawn wagons I saw. Easily, there were more than 50...loaded with wood for winter, crops or stone. Or, simply transporting people from one place to another. Driving at night can be dangerous and not because of horses and wagons but because of poor road conditions and fool hardy drivers.

It was almost 9 PM by the time I was in my room at the Hilton. So much for my plans for an early evening and good night's sleep before getting up at 5:30 AM to be ready for my 6:30 pickup.

Why is Romania being admitted to the EU? Even the Romanians wonder. Most seem to say the country should just take advantage of the offer and not worry about it. Still, there are probably some very tough economic times ahead. I’m not sure the EU can strong-arm the Romanian gov’t into taking decision economic actions that will be needed. After all, look at the reluctance of the French. My Embassy driver to the airport, as I tried to bait him to comment on EU membership, just kept silent. I think that's a telling comment.

I asked him about a meal from McDonalds and whether he and his wife ever ate there. No he said…the food is nice but it’s too expensive. This from a guy who has what is usually a plumb job…good benefits and pay….and McDonalds is expensive. A meal for one person could easily cost $4-7 in Bucharest. That's about the same as in Peoria--which means in their economy it is expensive. Even when I dine at McDonalds, I have a tendency to get the $1 double cheeseburger and a $1 drink. I eat a few fries from my kids' Happy Meals because they never finish them--and I avoid taking in too many extra calories. My driver did tell me he liked KFC better, though he usually didn’t go there either.

My flight today started really well. TAROM airlines, the official airline of Romania, does code-sharing with Air France and Delta. As luck would have it I was on a TAROM flight from Bucharest to Paris. They couldn’t issue my boarding pass for Paris-Atlanta but I didn’t worry. The TAROM flight was to depart at 9:25. They actually closed the door at 9:17 and pushed back minutes later and we were in the air by 9:29AM. WOW! That’s effiecient. Or maybe we were just lucky that day. The plane was clean and the flight attendants were friendly. I couldn’t ask for more. Well, how about a seat in Paris for Atlanta? Apparently there was some sort of computer snag and about 20 people didn’t get seats, though they were in the computer. Again, go figure. I have a seat now….it’s 47E….a middle seat on the VERY LAST row. Probably the worst seat on the plane because it's a middle seat and doesn't even recline. I’ve never had this sort of seat before. To top if off, CDG is a MESS. I’ve never seem such a goofy, comical and sad organizational situation. I took a bus from the TAROM fight to the terminal….another bus to get to another terminal….still another bus, after a security check, to get to the gate area my flight would leave from. I like the French…I think we’re more like each other than any other people. The French are just as prideful and full of themselves as are Americans. Of course, there are differences in the objects of our pride. I’m drafting this while I wait to depart. (It's almost T'giving and I don't want to sound ungrateful for what I have in life. I am so blessed with family and opportunities.)

Speaking of McDonalds: Apparently U.S. kids have decided they’re too good to work at McDonalds in the summer or at other times. There is a guest worker program that, last year, allowed about 6,000 college students to travel to the US for the summer and the Romanian kids can stay until after Labor Day because of their school terms start later. All they have to do is prove they’re students and will return to school after the summer. I met the father of a student who spent his summer in Vermont, working at McDonalds, and then he and several buddies bought an old Toyota for $700 and toured the US. They spent most of their money but had a wonderful adventure. I don’t recall how they disposed of the car.

I keep telling my Bradley kids they should do something like that in Eastern Europe....it's cheap and safe...and offers a lot of adventure opportunities.

I made notes this morning about comments I wanted to include in my next entry. Included was the observation that I sleep pretty well on airplanes. I hope this stays true. I’ve had very little caffeine today and I’ll get a glass of wine with dinner. I’m praying that the Air France flight attendent will be able to find a better seat for me. (She does...I move to 43A, a window seat and I'm seated next to a nice French guy and enjoy conversation with him.)

Luggage: As usual, there wasn’t much to buy on this trip. How many icons can you buy? Or perhaps little carvings?

Update from Tuesday morning: My luggage spent extra time in Paris....finally reaching my house round 8 AM Monday. My son was elated to see the Pokemon cards I brought him--this was the fifth or sixth trip where I've looked for the cards. My daughter and wife liked the chocolates.

Enough for now.