ROMANIA : TRAVEL
Adventures in Travel
This being my first mission trip as an adult I had no idea what to expect from the travel. I knew that our flights would be long and I suspected I would not be able to sleep on the plane (true), but the affect on my physical state was a huge question in my mind. Thankfully, the Lord took great care with me.
We arrived at DFW in the morning but did not have a flight until 11:00, so after security checkpoints and finding the gate, four of us opted to have a good lunch instead of relying on airplane food to sustain us. We would not arrive in New York City until evening, so this turned out to be a good plan. And it gave me a chance to get to know Amber, Barbara, and Bill a little better than I did at the time. We laughed a lot over lunch and loaded up on veges and carbs. I appreciated this opportunity to settle a little before beginning our journey.
My seat on the first plane was on the window, so I was able to enjoy the daytime flight fully. And though I was seated next to a woman with a newborn, there were no issues throughout the flight. My emotions welled up at one point as I pondered the magnitude of what we were purposing to do in the week ahead, and I began my journals at this point. I could not have asked for a better way to prepare myself. I had been a little emotional all morning, not sleeping much the night before and then talking with my dad on the telephone just before leaving the house, and this first leg of travel heightened those emotions a little further until I was able to release them to paper and pray for some time. After that, my excitement kicked in.
Our entry to Kennedy Airport in NYC was uneventful for me; my seat was positioned on the opposite side from the city skyline, and though I did see neighborhoods, I have no idea what part of New York I was looking at. I’m still a little sad that I was present in the city and could see none of it at all. We had less than hour in the airport by the time we disembarked and proceeded to our next departure gate, but Bill and I stole a few minutes to catch a little snack-of-a-meal at the Wok ‘n Roll Chinese buffet in the airport. I can’t even recall our conversation, it was so quick, but I do know that these quick meals gave us a chance to become comfortable with each other, and that’s a nice thing to take home with me.
I did take a minute to browse the nearest gift shop, but I forced myself to move past the section of Yankees memorabilia. When I get the chance to purchase NYY stuff, I want it to be from the stadium or the city itself and not within the walls of an international airport. This will change from place to place, of course, but here in this city-of-cities, I want my toys to be associated with my ball club. So I can wait until that day arrives.
Our next leg of travel was over 11 hours, departing under darkness. I had come prepared with a new book about four friends who chose a missional life following college, and I was excited at the stretch of time before me in which to read, but just as I began, my body just wasn’t willing to cooperate. I was getting tired. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for sleeping on a plane, and the next 11 hours did not go quickly. I spent little time in my journals, read only one chapter, then watched the black sky outside my window for much of the remainder of the flight. At one point I attempted to sleep, having an empty seat next to me on which to stretch out, but other than simply closing my eyes and allowing them a break, I found no rest. I think that short time did help my mind settle, but no sleep came upon me. Fortunately, as we drew nearer to our stop in Italy, we came upon daybreak and my body was sort of tricked into a state of wakefulness. I witnessed the most spectacular sunrise I’ve ever seen, and one that I will never see on the ground. Morning was upon me and I was once again excited for the day ahead.
Naturally, there was no extra time in Venice. I did see the Old City as we approached the airport, though the morning was hazy and I had to squint to be sure it was what I assumed it was. It’s hard to be that close to a city of your dreams and not be able to explore it. I have just enough of a taste now to know that I want to return one day and stay a while. Instead, I stood in security checkpoints during our layover. It was here, in Venice, that I discovered my boots set off the metal detectors. Apparently, the four little brads at the top of my laces have just enough metal in them to cause a problem for the screeners. And we weren’t required to take off our shoes on this leg, so I had not realized this earlier. This is a travel note to self for future reference.
In Venice we boarded the Romanian airline for the last leg to Timisoara. The plane was immensely small compared to our last flight, but I fell in love with the craft and its exposed propellers. It felt historic, nostalgic even, and it lent itself to all of my past travel dreams, the ones from the stories I’d read about women who traveled on a whim and had grand adventures around the world. I loved equating my current adventure with these stories of the past. And it all began with a boarding procedure I’d dreamed of my entire life: we were taken from the departure gate to a shuttle bus that delivered us to the airplane at the back of the tarmac. We boarded the plane via exposed ladder, something I’d always seen in movies and had longed to do. It’s not as easy as it looks, especially wearing a long straight skirt and carrying luggage, but it thrilled my heart all the same. I felt like a true traveler.
Entry into Romania was simply a process of declaring your visitor status and satisfying the customs officer, followed by a hope of finding your luggage on the conveyer belt after not seeing it since DFW. I caught a glimpse of my suitcase while standing in the customs line, and I had to laugh at how worried we all had been. I also laughed at the fact that I had carried three days’ worth of clothing in my 30-pound carry-on. I needed to be prepared, but there was nothing to worry over.
After a week in the villages of Romania, I couldn’t muster the same excitement over returning to these flights and leaving behind all I had come to love so dearly. Even returning to the tarmac for boarding was tainted somewhat by the two hours we had just spent inside the airport waiting to check in and then waiting again to pass through security. We had been up since 4am in preparation for a 9am flight, and by the time it arrived I was over it all. I took a seat by myself, next to the window, and spent the hour in goodbyes to this beloved country. Venice came much too quickly this time, but we remained there far too long, as well.
In Venice, the moment we left the Romanian terminal and moved into the baggage area, we saw Jon and Derek head out the doors toward what they called “an adventure”. We later learned that they had decided to spend their short time in Venice exploring the Old City via water taxi. The stories are hilarious, albeit on a very short time frame, and every one of us was instantly envious of their daring spirit.We all played it safe and wished we hadn’t. Especially when our flight became delayed later in the morning due to a – you’ll never believe it – seat belt malfunction in the co-pilot’s chair. By this time, however, I was settled at the gate and unwilling (or not brave enough) to go back through customs, not even for a much-desired gelato, which I had repeatedly stated as a goal when we arrived back in Venice. Next time I’m there, I will do things much differently.
I did spend a bit of time shopping at the airport. I had hoped to find souvenirs in Romania, intending to bring back something “distinctly Romanian, something I could never have purchased anywhere else in the world”, but most of what you can buy in Romania has been crafted in China. Not to mention the cost is too high, even in Romanian lei. Thankfully, my two host families gifted both John and me with treasures from their own homes, which met my desires of bringing back something I could have found nowhere else. Still, I had intended to purchase a calendar from these travels so that I had a memory with each glance, and when that didn’t happen in Romania, I decided to fulfill that desire in Venice. Yes, it was the airport and not the city, but it was a calendar nonetheless. And it features images that will evoke what little I did see of the city, as well as fuel a desire to return. I also found a perfect birthday gift for my mother: a jar of pesto, made in Italy from homeland ingredients. I knew she would appreciate the authenticity like no one else would, and I was right! In this way, my time in Venice was a successful endeavor.
By the time we finally boarded the plane en route for the States, I was alert and energized. I was still uninterested in reading my book (and I never did get past the first chapter), but the in-flight movie saved me. They showed Transformers, a movie I had hoped to see last summer and never quite took the time. This simple, silly filmkept my attention for two hours, and it helped me move past some of my emotions. It’s exactly what I needed at exactly the right moment. For the rest of the flight, I spent much time in journal writing and more time in reflection as I watched the day turn back into night. Again, I could not sleep, but I wasn’t anxious about it. I simply let the day progress and let my mind wander into a quiet state. The Lord allowed me a nice bookend to the first long flight when I witnessed a sunset out of the plane’s window. It still takes my breath away.
Our flight became somewhat interesting when a flight attendant began asking if there was a doctor on board. A bit later the pilot informed us that we were taking a detour to land in Boston for a medical emergency. This concerned many as we had a short connection time in Atlanta in order to make our flight back to Dallas, but we had no choice in the matter. I found it so interesting that half an hour on the tarmac resulted in dozens of cell phones in use and constant chatter in the cabin. People are truly the most interesting species to observe. We could not leave the plane, but ourstay in Boston was short. I enjoyed seeing the skyline just above the building of the airport; this same skyline had been in my dreams as a college student, holding an intense fascination for me. My limited view of the city as we approached and then departed was enough to renew interest in the city. It will return to the top of my list of places to visit in the next decade.
The flight from Boston to Atlanta seemed quick compared to where we’d been, but our arrival sent us into high gear. I was quickly off the plane and one of the first through customs, but I got held up at baggage claim when my second bag (which I’d so intelligently decided to check in Venice) came out dead last on the conveyer. Everyone was gone to the departure gate by the time I finally saw it. Kent, being our faithful leader, waited with me, and then we did the best airport sprint we could (without actually running) to get back through security and on the shuttle train to our gate. In the next twenty minutes, I hauled myself, two rolling bags and dying backpack from one side of the airport to the other. After security, I also ended up carrying my boots instead of taking the time to lace them up. It was time we did not have; the plane was already scheduled to leave before we even got to security. I simply held onto everything I carried and shuffled quickly to the train. During the next four stops, I had time to put myself back together.
We were surprised, after two stops, to find Joey (my church pastor) waiting to board the shuttle train. When he stepped on he told us that he had been rushing from security to our departure gate, on foot, never realizing that the man from our group that he was following had actually boarded the train… two stops before. Joey said he finally glanced beside him and it registered that a train was running there. His comment summed it up perfectly: “I felt like I was on The Amazing Race and had just made the idiot mistake of the competition and lost.”
The flight back to Dallas was filled with mostly our team members, so they were holding the plane for us. Of course, our final stop on the train put us at the opposite end from our actual departure gate, so more rushing was involved. I decided quickly that my legs are not long at all, my stride is too short, and I am certainly too out of shape for this kind of experience. More notes to self for future travel.
Interestingly, by the time I boarded the final plane for home, my body had finally given up. In the end I was awake for 25 hours, so that last hour of flight resulted in a complete surrender of body and senses. Though I didn’t sleep for any length of time, I did doze off for much of the flight – the kind of dozing that results in head jerks as the chin suddenly drops to the chest. Never comfortable, but a bit of unconsciousness nonetheless. And I have to say I was grateful for the short nap. I was bordering on delirious when we finally took flight out of Atlanta.
One short van ride back to McKinney and these travel experiences ended. The Lord protected us at every stage, and I truly enjoyed the adventure. I have a list of things to remember (and change) for my next international flight, but for the most part I was prepared. I did discover that my ears get a little disturbed by the altitude changes – I heard things as if in a well for a good day or more after each flight – and my sinuses do not like cabin air, resulting in the loss of my voice for many days after each trip. I joked that the people of Romania will never know the true sound of my voice. But these two issues seem insignificant compared to the way God protected my chronic digestive problems. Except for one afternoon and a separate evening early in the week, I experienced no serious troubles with my stomach while in Romania. Airplane food did not disturb it, Romanian food did nothing to it. And I cannot thank the Lord enough for this protection. It was my greatest concern, but it had been bathed in prayer for months prior to the trip and throughout my days there, so I had no doubts that I would be okay during the week. And God is faithful, always.
I look forward to the next adventure, with or without long travel, and my lifelong wanderlust has not been diminished one bit. This is one more bit of evidence proving God’s call on my life. How exciting to see where He’ll lead me next!