45 Hours

It’s 4 AM. Could barely sleep 5 hours because of the stress of the last 6 busy days. Having met around 11 friends during my short visit to Cluj and a weekend seminar of psychotherapy did had an impact on me. And now, here I am, preparing for another challenge: the flight to London.

Cluj was white. And it was lovely. The same Central Park greeted me while I crossed it during the weekend. I had a sense of achievement after these busy days. But now it’s time to move on.

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6.30 AM. I look at the land slowly disappearing beneath the plane. It’s exactly the same day when, 2 years ago, I was departing to France. Now, on the very day, I’m off to the UK. Another adventure.

I arrived at 8 AM. In fact, we traveled much more time, but the UK is 2 time zones behind. Luton Airport, an old friend. I look a little puzzled around me, searching for the signs to the shuttle bus or the train.

“Are you lost, sir?”

I’m a bit surprised. Nobody ever asked me this in the entire Europe. I think: “not all who wander are lost”, and turn my eyes to a lady standing next to an office. I ask her where I can buy a ticket to London St. Pancras. She readily shows me the way. I think: “Kind people!”

I always think about the pancreas when I say St. Pancras. Peculiar names they have… The black guy at the ticket office sends me out, at the entrance of the airport, where the bus awaits. I get out only to find a huge parking space. I stop a little, not knowing where to go. Then, my eyes adjust to a sign at one meter in front of me. I couldn’t see the tree because of the forest in front of me. On the pole it wrote: Shuttle buss, Bay 1.

There isn’t any water here, I ask myself. What bay? Then, I get it. Bay means platform for them. It feels sooo British…

The driver is very kind. Explains everything I ask him, but in a difficult accent. 10 minutes later I’m at the railway station to London. Where to go? I remember: “When in doubt, go with the flow!” So I do what the crowd does. And here I am on the platform waiting for the train.

In St. Pancras I look up and I see a train sitting on the roof, suspended above the main level of the railway station. It looks familiar. Then, I recognize the French TGV and then I read on a sign: Eurostar. That’s the train that goes beneath the water to reach Paris. I vow to take it one day.

I get to my appointment 3 hours earlier. In general, in the UK, people try to their best to advertise what is old. Old buildings, old design taxi cars, old streets. Quite repulsive. On the contrary, when you get inside, you find luxury and comfort.

It’s 10 degrees outside, sunny but windy. What to do for 3 hours? I begin to walk along Euston Road, to get to “feel” the people, the Londoner’s pace. Tight roads, crowded cars. Skyscrapers.

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At some point I look at the building next to me and I say “Hey, I know this! This is Madame Tussaud’s!” I look at the absent crowd in front of it. 5 years ago it was impossible to get inside without proper reservation weeks before, now it’s only the door keeper but I don’t have time to waste on it. And it is sooo close to me… I touch the wall so as to make sure it’s real. It is. Some other time… maybe…

Baker Street. Main underground crossroad. I remember that I nearly got lost 5 years ago there. Now I smile to the entrance to the Underground and I return back towards St. Pancras.

I notice there is a park to my left. I look at my phone: 2 more hours to wait. I get into the park only to see with the corner of my eye a cat jumping on the green grass. I take a second look and I notice that this cat has a long fluffy tail. My God, it’s a squirrel! Then, another one! They’re coming towards me and I begin to hear in my head something like “the attack of the mad squirrels”. I calm down and, instead of giving them food, I take photos.

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It’s cold. I ask the receptionist to let me stay inside. I wait for 2 hours in total. I smile to the Sun protected by the windows.

St. Pancras again. 2 more hours to wait. Lunch. Walking and exploring. The train back to the airport.

Luton Airport is a safe place in case you’re tired of the big city. But staying in it a total of 7 hours, not doing anything, is a tormented experience. I visited each and every shop, I read all the signs on the walls, I entered everywhere I was allowed to enter. I read the free Daily Mail newspaper available there. It was absolute torture. Then, I saw the flight pane: the flight is delayed to 22.45.

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Got in touch with the airline guy who explained the airplane had trouble taking off from Bucharest. Worried and stressed, I started to wander through the airport like a ghost. At some point I see on the pane that they began a counter: 88 minutes until gate opens. And I begin to count with them.

Slowly, the airport shuts down. The shops are closing, even the toilets are closing. I look at the workers of the airport and begin to envy them. I still have many hours ahead before going to bed.

The flight pane is stuck at “one minute till gate opens”. That minute transforms into 15 minutes on my watch. Agony. Finally, it’s Gate 3. I look at the sign above me: “it takes 10 minutes to reach Gate 3”.

People are running. It’s a wild race to get to the gate. I keep calm. We’re there in 2 minutes. Just on the time to see the plane parking in front of us. Then, we see the passengers from Bucharest getting out of the plane. Then we see the technical preparations for the new flight. Then… then… then we spend another half an hour waiting and waiting and waiting…

The flight to Romania takes 4 hours. I’m approaching the 24 hours mark without sleep. Hallucinations dance in front of my eyes. There are moments when I can’t hear the plane’s engine next to me and I know I’m falling asleep. But I can’t sleep. I jump out of sleep every time I begin to lose control. At some point I open my smartphone and look at various images on it until it slips out of my hands. I understand I can break it, so I put it back in my pocket. I want to scream. I want to make a panic attack being confined in that plane chair, with little space for my feet. But then I think that, if I’m having a panic attack, we might end up in Budapest, to the nearest hospital, so I force myself not to run completely mad. I meditate. I use Reiki techniques. I use self-suggestion and self-hypnosis. Nothing works. But I somehow survive. We almost crash-land on snow, in Bucharest.

Otopeni Airport in Bucharest is deserted. It’s 4 AM. I’m now awake for 24 hours. I take a taxi to the Northern Railway Station, this meaning 30 minutes by taxi. The capital city is devastated by snow. Mountains of snow, taller than humans. We race at 90 km per hour on slippery roads. The driver is frenetic. I am calm. I simply don’t care. I want to sleep.

The railway station is surrounded by snow. I climb a mountain and feel the snow entering my shoes. This wakes me up. A gypsy prostitute asks for a cigarette. A child-beggar asks for money. 2 guys over there are evaluating me. I try to push myself to look bigger and stronger. And I look back at them with the most sadistic smile I can display. If they come to me, I will roar. They look elsewhere so I enter the station.

“All trains are cancelled until further notice. The snow is too big. I can’t sell you any ticket!” I look bewildered at the ticket seller. She watches me with empathy.

Solutions!?

None.

I remember that I lived in Bucharest. Deep in myself there is the flexible and opportunistic brute that can live in the capital city… and thrive… I begin to swear. I do this until I regain mind balance. I need to find a hotel and I know where to find it.

I get into a petrol station I know, just opposite the railway station. They never close their business at night. I ask the name of the hotel; they show me where it is.

“We can’t offer you a room, sir!”

“What?”

“Well, you have to wait until 7 AM to book a room, because otherwise you have to leave the room at noon.”

I look at my watch. 5 AM. 2 more hours to wait. I’m allowed to stay on an armchair in front of the hotel’s reception. Thanks God I’m not in the cold of the night!

I sleep exactly 4 hours. I’m dizzy and I’m losing balance, but I go back to the railway station. In this part of the country it was declared “red code” because of the bad weather. The Army is working to clear the roads.

“Your train will leave Bucharest at 13.40.” I feel as if a ray of divine light has touched me. I check-out from the hotel. The price was double. I stop at the petrol station and enjoy a coffee. Frequent blackouts plague the gas station. It takes them 5 minutes to give me that coffee because the coffee machine needed electric power to work. I remember I’m in the freaking European Union of year 2014…

40 minutes before the departure of the train, I enter the rail station, knowing that the train usually arrives there 30 minutes before departing. I enjoy the 10 minutes before the arrival of the train checking my e-mail near a free Wi-Fi internet spot. Then I get on the freezing windy open platform. At the end of those 30 minutes of waiting in cold, and thinking of the green grass in London, it comes the announcement: the departure is retarded by 20 minutes. The mob gathered on the platform begins to quarrel. People are dancing on one foot then the other to prevent the freezing of their toes. At the end of the additional 20 minutes waiting period comes another announcement: 50 more minutes of waiting! I feel I’m going to explode. I want to kill the bosses who are sitting in their warm offices while a mob of hundreds of people are freezing in minus 10 degrees. A rumor is spreading quickly in the crowd: there aren’t any available coaches in Bucharest central station, so they’re borrowing some from nearby stations. This was lately confirmed by the train manager… in a privately soft voice, recognizing his inability to change the situation. Then I see the train coming into the station. It is as if God is coming down to Earth. I can’t feel my fingers and my toes. And I don’t know my name.

It’s 9 PM. Galati railway station. The end of the World. Beyond it there is absolutely nothing. It’s the infinite Russia. I’m swimming in snow. The public transportation service does exist, but it can barely reach the rail station. I begin to walk, as it’s faster. The city is like a war zone.

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It’s 1 AM. I can hear the blizzard roaring outside. It’s 45 hours since I started my journey. I struggle to fall asleep. Images and voices are dancing in my head. I’m calmly telling to myself that they are just normal hallucinations due to extreme stress and fatigue. I see the guy who was standing in front of me in the train back home.

“I’m living abroad for 5 years now.”

I’m asking him if he’d like to return to Romania one day. He looks into my eyes and I tell him that I myself have lived in France and I know how it is to live in 2 different worlds simultaneously.

“I would never return”, he says it firmly.

“Why?”

“Here in Romania it’s darkness! … It’s pitch-black!”

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