Monday, June 28, 2010

Days 0, 1, & 2 - TRAVEL

Notice: that's 3 days of travel listed in that title.

Right as the United Agent, Priscilla, began to check me in at the Pittsburgh airport, she got a notification that my flight to D.C. would be delayed. (If I had checked in before that notice, I could have avoided a lot of grief and boredom.) So the flight to D.C. wasn’t going to leave until 6:30—but I had to make my connecting flight to Frankfurt, which was to leave at 6:59, and there was no way I’d make it.

So my entire outgoing route was changed, and I ended up with connections in Chicago (five hour layover) and Frankfurt (seven hour layover), scheduled to get into Bucharest at 11:50pm. Keep in mind, I was originally supposed to get in at 1:30, and I had to be there by 3:30 to ride to the hotel in Tutova with my team.

(P.S. I am still not convinced that United did everything they could have done to help my situation and, therefore, will be writing to them about it.)

As I waited for my flight out of Pittsburgh, I found a wi-fi connection and looked for flights that would get me to Bucharest in time. I called and texted friends and family frantically, to see if they could help or had any ideas. This is where I have to profusely thank my mom, my sister, Cheryl, Lauren, and especially Terri, who helped me keep my sanity intact throughout this ordeal. Terri contacted other volunteers to get me Mihaela’s phone number, a hotel recommendation for Bucharest, and found me a train schedule for Sunday. She also kept looking for other flights that I could have tried to get on, had my luggage been checked through on the original flight. She put me into contact with Lauren, whose flight was also late, but she ended up making her connection and getting there in time. Unfortunately, it seemed I had absolutely no chance of making to Bucharest in time to meet my team.

When I arrived in Bucharest (after many extra expenses that I will be turning in to my travel insurance people, including a lot of paid internet time to communicate with the people I needed to communicate with), the silver lining was that I had no troubles with my luggage (apart from carrying it all, of course). I went outside to get a taxi, as there was nobody at the information booth to help me NOT get ripped off. I got into a taxi that said 1,39 lei/km on the door, and then the guy started telling me the flat rate is 150 lei. Um, no? I was told to expect around 60 lei for the drive to the hotel. He argued with me, telling me that it was nighttime, the flat rate is 150 lei, and that’s how much anyone else would have charged. (I, meanwhile, was unaware that it cost more to drive at night. Yes, I am rolling my eyes.) I talked him down to 90 lei, which was still too much, but I wanted to get to the hotel.

He dropped me and my luggage off at the Ibis Hotel, right near the train station, and thankfully they had a room for me. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t take payment by Visa, and I didn’t have enough lei to cover the room, so I had to get money out of their ATM. I managed to get my luggage upstairs, called my parents on Skype (yay, free wi-fi in the room!), checked some emails, and went to bed—in a real bed! I had slept a little on the planes, surprisingly, and in the airport, but I was exhausted.

Mihaela had told me in an email to take the noon train to Barlad on Sunday, so I went down to the station (walking distance) at around 10:30. I had no problem getting a ticket for the train, as Terri had sent me the schedule and I wrote down all the information I needed. I just handed the paper over to the lady at the ticket window, she wrote down the price, I paid it, and that was that. Then I found some teenagers who spoke English, and they helped me find the platform where I would board. And THEN I found another teenager whose seat was a row behind mine, and he said I could stick with him and he’d help me get to where I needed to be. He and his mother (?) also helped me get my luggage onto the train.

The train ride itself was fairly uneventful. I’d fall asleep for 15-20 minutes, then wake up. Fall asleep again. Rinse, repeat, over and over, for almost five hours. It seemed like my seat was the only one in the entire car that squeaked, and by 4:00, the man in front and to the left of me kept glaring at me. What on earth did he expect me to do about it? Stand up for the whole ride?

When I arrived at the Barlad train station, a very nice man helped me take my luggage down from the racks and then helped me carry it outside. I looked around for Mihaela but didn’t see her, and I decided to stay in one spot in case we were missing each other. Well, after an hour, she still wasn’t there, so I was debating about just taking a taxi to Tutova. Then I remembered that, while I didn’t have the cell phone number Mihaela had given me (I lost the paper it was written on), I had the other phone number that Terri had sent to me, which was, I guess, her home phone? I found a woman who worked in the station and spoke a little English, and she allowed me to use her cell phone to call. I spoke with Dan, Mihaela’s husband, and explained that Mihaela was supposed to pick me up but hadn’t made it yet. As it turned out, Mihaela had planned for the actual clinic/hospital orientation to occur on Monday, but the head of the hospital, Dr. Delia, was on duty Sunday, so the tour happened then, causing Mihaela to be late.

She picked me up, and we arrived at the hotel in time for dinner, which I quite enjoyed, having not eaten since an hour before I landed in Bucharest. It was pasta with chicken and mozzarella cheese. Then we had ice cream for dessert—yum!

I met the rest of my team mates, and I’m rooming with Anna, who has been here for three weeks. Her family has joined her for this week, and they will be leaving on Saturday. There are so many one-week volunteers! I think we’ll be down to five next week, and then two the week after. I think, for the third week, I’ll be the only volunteer at the clinic. Help! :-P

After dinner, we finished orientation, and then we chose our “baby assignments”—the kids with whom we will be working one-on-one for development in specific areas. This is something I had been thinking about for a few weeks, since I’ve been reading other volunteers blogs and had a vague idea of the children and their situations. I wasn’t able to decide, though, so I was going to wait until everyone else chose and see who was left. After everyone else had chosen, Mihaela asked if I would like to take on Lea-Celine. I have to be honest, she was not a child that I had considered working with. Don’t get me wrong, she’s sweet and I adore her, but she is a handful because she was incredibly clingy last summer, and it seems that that part of her personality hasn’t changed. If you pick her up, you can’t put her down without a tantrum. She doesn’t want you to play with other kids if she’s in the room.

After reading her journal, though, and hearing tips from others, I have an idea of how to work with her. She IS incredibly bright, so I plan to work with her on speaking more-—in both English and Romanian. She also needs to work on walking. She no longer wears her foot brace, except at night, and she can pull herself up into a standing position, but she can’t seem to straighten her legs all the way. It might just be from tension in her leg muscles. There are two physical therapists on the team, so they’ll be giving me some ideas for working with Celine.

Some "exciting" pictures of my travels:

The book I finished while at the Frankfurt airport

Haagen-Dazs Mango Sorbet at the Frankfurt Airport

Breakfast on the flight to Frankfurt

Dinner on the flight to Frankfurt (despite the order of the pictures, this meal came before breakfast)

P.S. I wanted to say something about the amazing awesomeness of seeing the sun set whilst one is above the clouds, but it's simply indescribable. :-)


  1. I'm glad you got to Romania safely! Travel complications stink! Good luck with Lea-Celine! I know you'll do amazing things! Keep us updated!

  2. I am so happy that everything worked out with your travels!! Kudos to the nice Romanian teenager who helped you with your luggage! That is always the scariest part in my opinion! Reading you blog makes me so envious!! Emily will be turning 15 next May and I will definitely be returning (and bringing her along) next summer!

  3. my name is Kristen, I worked one on one with Celine and really made many break throughs with her. I am going back in 2 weeks to specifically work with her again. She is a bit apoiled but needs someone she trusts and loves to teach her she cant always get her way. she has matured quite a bit in my eyes. I hope you are able to to see that too.

  4. HI my Alex!

    Glad you made it through your adventure. It was nice to hear about all the help you received in the country from the various kids helping you with bags etc :)

    Good luck with Lea-Celine - you have a big heart and I'm sure you will do great things with her.

    I bet Pitt has Romanian classes if you keep going back.


    PS - have I told you lately how impressed I am with my little Sis?