The train arrives in Brasov arrives on time – 7:15 am. According to the on-line package trace, my package is held at Brasov Postal 3. Unfortunately, it’s unclear exactly which post office is Postal 3, so I’m going to Postal 1 to see if I can track everything down. Plan A (which is followed by plans up to about E), catch the 9:30 am train back to Bucharest, gear in hand.
I have to get to the post office by 8:00 am when they open. Wait, one of the other post offices is almost in path. I should check it on the way. Nope, Postal 9.
I reach Postal 1 at three minutes to 8, and head to the window that previous experience taught me would have my package. A quick check, and I’m told the package is indeed at Postal 3. I ask where to find Postal 3, and am told she doesn’t know.
Doesn’t know? You’re the POST OFFICE, and you don’t even know where the post offices are?
I ask again, more insistently, and am directed to Window 8. There is, of course, no one actually at Windows 8, just a button for a bell to summon the supervisor. I ring the bell, receive no response, wait politely for a couple of minutes, ring the bell again, wait a couple more minutes, and still no response.
I knew I didn’t like Windows 8.
I don’t have time for this. There’s only a few post offices, I can check them faster than this.
I flag down a taxi and direct him to my next best guess for Postal 3. As we head that way, I carefully watch the meter (Romanian taxis having a reputation for vastly overcharging). Upon arriving at the next post office, the taxi driver carefully points out the nearby taxi point, and drives off.
9 am? They don’t open until 9 am. No indication which post office. This office looks too small and unimportant. If I find this is it, I’ll just come back.
Another different Internet search turns up another Postal 3 near the center of the city, near Postal 1. I walk to the taxi point, and tell the driver I want to go to Postal 3 at this address (and point to the location on the GPS). He tells me that is a tax office not a post office.
Perfect, the package is held up to pay taxes, that’s likely why no one knows where it is.
The driver takes me to the office, and I head inside. At the first desk I explain that I’m there to pick up my package at Postal 3, and am asked in return if I own a business. I re-explain what I want, and am told to wait while she checks.
Checking. good sign.
She returns, we discuss again, and again she wanders off, only to return and takes me to another office, labeled Information Technology, and quickly discusses with those in the office.
OK, at least now I’m on familiar ground.
They speak English, and I explain. They let me know that this is not Postal 3 – why would I think it is? I show them my phone, and they say that information is wrong, and look up Postal 3. After asking if they can show me where Postal 3 is on my GPS, I’m told that’s too hard, and to follow him. We wend out way through the office, past multiple people and doors, out to a car, and off we go. En route, I’m told he’s seen on TV (on their version of Candid Camera I presume) where tourists make crazy requests and they film what happens. I laugh, and tell him I’m just a crazy American tourist. We pull up at a building clearly labeled Postal 3.
We’re at Postal 3. We’re at Postal 3. Arg, it’s past 9 am.
We park illegally, and he explains his mission to the police officer nearby, and escorts me into the post office, where he proceeds to explain what we need to the person at the desk, who waves us next door. The door next door is locked; they don’t open until 11 am. Wishing me luck, he heads back to the office. I tell him to watch for himself on TV.
I am NOT leaving without the package. I am also NOT going to make my flight.
As I wait, I’m clearly not the only person expecting the office to open earlier; people keep showing up, trying the door, reading the sign, and then leaving. I wander off to find a market, having not eaten since McDonalds at 2 am.
Got to get back to be first in line.
People begin to queue up about 10:30. I engage some in conversation, and explain my story.
When cycling from Paris to Madrid, I crossed the Pyrenees on a small pass, and the border crossing point was closed. When I went to board my plane in Madrid, back to Paris, they noticed that my passport didn’t show how I entered the country, and were quite upset. As I tried to explain, in broken Spanish, exactly how I got to Spain by bicycle, we went back and forth. Finally, a passenger behind me, fluent in English and Spanish, helped out if only to ensure he managed to get on his own flight.
I planned to apply that lesson. If I ran into language problems, hopefully someone behind me in line would help, if only to further their own agenda. By the end of our conversations, someone volunteered to help if I ran into problems.
Plan successful. Now I need the office to open!
The office opened exactly at 11 am, I headed to the desk, and explained I needed to pick up a package. She can’t find me in the system. She asked for the note that the post office provided when normally delivering a package, and I explain why I would not have one, prompting her to rummage through a nearby stack of paper, where she eventually finds a piece of paper with my name on it, heads into the back room, and returns with my package.
My package, she has my package! I have my package!
Houston, we have touchdown.
Control, we have the package (insert Mission Impossible Theme music).
She hands me the package and directs me to the adjacent Customs desk. The Customs Officer asks my permission to open, opens the box, stares wonderingly at the contents, and asks what the contents are. As I try to explain, and fail, from across the room comes my volunteer, rapidly explaining my story. The Customs Office ponders a minute, and tells me I can go.
I can go? No import taxes? No crisis that I don’t have enough Romanian cash to pay the import taxes? It’s 11:08. I have to go!
Thanking everyone profusely, I head for the door, package clutched in hand, and head to the nearby Taxi pickup point.
No taxis. How do I get a taxi? Wait, that guy just jumped in front of me and took my taxi! Well, that’s how to get a taxi.
My instructions to the taxi driver are simple. Train Station. As we arrive, I pay the driver, carefully making sure I leave the taxi with my package, and head to the associated bus terminal.
Bus, or taxi. Bus or taxi.
I inquire about a bus to Bucharest, and am directed to a nearby assemblage of mini buses, one labeled “Bucharest”. Jammed full of people, the bus a cacophony of people purchasing tickets. I open the passenger side door, sit down next the driver, and request a ticket. He sells me a ticket, and I clamber into the back of the bus, still clutching the package. It looks like every seat is taken.
I can stand or the entire two hours to Bucharest, no problem.
Arguments break out. I think the normal process is everyone sits, and then pays for their ticket, a process I just circumvented. The driver works to sort things out, and loads luggage in the back. Unsure of my status, I do not hand him the package as I stand there in the bus. One of the passengers gestures for me to get out of the bus.
Things settle down, and I understand that he wants me to get in the front seat of the bus, along with him, as we’ll be wedged there. Fine. I sit, package in my lap.
I’m on the bus! I might make my flight!
We depart the bus station at 11:30 am. As we head for Bucharest, I track our progress on the GPS. Traffic is terrible. We get stuck behind tractors, held up for construction multiple times, and the small roads packed with cars make progress poor. No way are we going to be at the airport at time.
Why are we pulling over. Someone’s getting off? Someone’s getting on? We’re functioning like a normal bus. Are you kidding me?
The closer we get to Bucharest, the better the roads get, and the faster we go. The driver pulls out a tablet.
The driver is using a GPS? He doesn’t do this all the time?
On major highways, we’re finally making progress. Then we pull over, the driver gets out, and instructs everyone they can get out.
A rest stop? People are ordering drinks? If I can find a taxi, I could just take it from here. No taxi in sight. Why is everyone just standing around now?
Finally back on the road, the driver keeps checking the GPS. I pull out my GPS, and point to the airport. “Airport yes” he replies. I don’t know if we’re going to Bucharest, and then to the airport, or the airport and then Bucharest.
We’re pulling into the airport.
I grab my package from the back, leap from the bus, and rush into the terminal. I still have my boarding pass (from the day before), so I need only to head directly to the gate.
There’s no gate indicated on the boarding pass? The gate isn’t on the flight panel?
I head to the ticket counter, and the associated line. Getting the attendant’s attention, he reviews my boarding pass, and scribbles onto it, Gate 13.
13? Not a good sign.
Security in Bucharest works like Security in the US, you wait along with everyone else. We all shuffle forward towards our destiny, which might include me not making my flight.
My package is larger than the approved suitcase size, I hope it fits through the scanner.
My package goes into the machine, and I make it through the scanner unscathed. Security stops the conveyor, and starts reviewing the image in front of her.
What’s in the package that’s a problem?
The attendant pulls the person in front of me out of line, and we stop while they dig through their suitcase to find the offending item, which they hand to someone on the other side of Security. My package exits the machine.
Past security, I decide to grab a bit to eat, having only eaten a banana from the market hours ago, and about 45 minutes until they stop boarding. Food and package in hand, I head to the gate.
They’re not boarding yet.
I finally have the time to open the box, review the contents, repack everything into the panniers, and toss the box, bringing my contents to regulation size. We pull away from the gate on-time. The flight, train, and walk back to Simon’s uneventful, I work on repacking everything until I collapse, falling asleep on Simon’s couch.
In the end, for all of those who asked what I would do if my gear was lost or stolen, the solution remains the same, if entailing a bit more effort than I envisioned. By the time I returned to Vienna, my travel path was
tram > train > plane > train > train > post > post > taxi > post > taxi > post > tax office > guy in office driving me > post > package > taxi > bus > plane > train. Total travel time was from 1:45 pm to 6 pm the next day.
Bucharest, the city I never planned to visit, and indeed intentionally planned to avoid, I visited three times.