A week before my flight from Bucharest to Sofia on Qatar Airways, Bulgaria reclassifies Romania as a red country with regards to Covid, meaning that I will not be allowed entry. This is a flight I’ve already rescheduled once because I decided to prioritize a hot Bulgarian coworker above time spent in Bucharest.
Not going to Bulgaria isn’t an option.
I look through the restrictions carefully and realize that if I flew directly from the United States, I would be coming from what Bulgaria considers an orange country. They claim to randomly PCR test 5% of the arrivals from orange countries. I have had over 30 PCR tests in 2021. I am tired of PCR tests. So what’s a green country?
The first place that catches my eye is Italy, so I look up flights and see a pretty cheap route through Milan. I look up the regulations from Italy and see that it has a two week ban on red countries, which includes Moldova, where I am at the time this happens.
The next country on the list that catches my eye is France. It’s green according to Bulgaria and Romania. It considers both Bulgaria and Romania green, because they are in the EU, and it lumps them in with everyone else despite them having a serious rate of Covid.
I look up flights to France.
There are two flights from Bucharest to Paris and from Paris to Sofia with a three and a half hour layover between them, which combined are half the price of my original flight, but each over twice the length in time, and with another layover that makes it four times as long in time.
Still, France is the country that gave me my EU Covid Certificate, which has gotten me through much of Europe. Flashing that QR code has me dance across borders and into museums and restaurants. I am grateful to France. It seems like a good omen, somehow. I need to get into Bulgaria. I have a bunch of travel further down the line that rests on me being able to get from Sofia to Belarus. And I can’t give up Belarus. I spent a lot of money and intention on getting a visa to Belarus.
I get a refund for 20% of what I originally spent on the first, direct ticket from Bucharest to Sofia. And then I buy the tickets from Bucharest to Paris and Paris to Sofia. I’m down about $120 in the game from the paltry refund of the original ticket. Still, I’m going to travel from Bucharest to Sofia via Paris.
And then I pray.
A week later I am happy when I am stamped out of Romania. The happiness fades on my chock full flight on Wizz Air.
Firstly, who the fuck names an airline after piss?
Hungarians, that’s who. I think of Hungary and the brutality of their Communist regime during the two hour and forty minute flight sitting on a barely padded seat. I can feel the shape of the metal inside of the seat through the cushion. It’s an uncomfortable ride. I’ve come to appreciate the Airbus line as of late, but this A320 has just been flown too much and too hard.
I play a stupid game on my phone, after not being able to sleep in the aisle seat on a completely full flight. Exhausted: I only got four hours of sleep the night before, and I am annoyed at the blow to my immune system, and this in the time and name of Covid.
I fly to France.
The French scrutinize my passport stamps, and I can see they are looking for a reason to give me a hard time. At this point the Moldovan and Romanian stamps on the first page of my passport cease to seem like a good idea. I don’t like the way the French look through the rest of my passport because I have been in those two countries and these days countries with high rates of Covid leave a stink on one’s passport. I still need to stamp out of here and into Bulgaria, and I don’t want to risk any funny business.
The French stamp my passport with yesterday’s date, which then makes the Romanian stamp out even more egregious, as it’s the latest dated stamp in my passport.
Here we are in 2021, when you can shoot video at thousands of frames per second and have it simultaneously upload to your server, but they can’t tell whether or not you have or have had Covid, and they can’t tell where you have been in the last 24 hours in any better way than looking at the physical stamps on your passport.
Landing at Beauvais airport in Paris I am immediately incensed at the racism. They give this shitty airport to Moroccan, Central Asian and Eastern European flights. It’s full of people that should, by French corporate reasoning, be grateful for the one open cafe with shoddy baguettes filled with wilting innards, wet birdshit on the floor, the lids removed from all the toilets in the bathroom lest these thugs and brown people use them as weapons. Look, you can fly from your shithole country to Paris for $50 if you’re willing to accept being ass raped by the seat for 3 hours and then arriving to the warm welcome of being presumed guilty until proven innocent by a snooty French immigration officer with a bone to pick even if you’re white and have a US passport.
A few people before me in line are a Roma son and his granny. They give them the hardest time of all. But he argues back, in French. At some point she tries to change languages on him but he insists it be in French and reminds her that he is a fucking resident of France even if his granny isn’t.
They eventually let them into the country but force them to take a new Covid test. There’s France for you in one racist but ultimately coldly accommodating experience.
I buy my shitty baguette sandwich and a bottle of water, and in spending Euros on my credit card have my little Schengen experience. That’s what Schengen means to me. Euros. The Plant Whisperer and I call them “Fancy Pesos”.
I use the time and the sticker from my luggage tag for my previous flight to adhere the first two pages of my passport together. It makes them thicker, but there’s an express business visa to Belarus that I have for later use on the backside of the page which masks that thickness, and was also scrutinized by the French. Once the pages are stuck together, my original Schengen entry to Spain is no longer visible.
Neither are the Romanian and Moldovan stamps.
It’s only about half an hour before the gate opens for my flight to Sofia, and I check in and go through immigration in the other direction. The immigration guy clearly thinks I’m pretty and I am then stamped out of France right next to the stamp in given to me by the snooty officer who scrutinized me. But the date on the stamp in, as you’ll remember, miraculously was for yesterday’s date, and so now it looks like I was in France for 24 hours. I smile at this.
Vive la France!
I sit in one of the few metal chairs wearing a mask and trying to get some rest for a few hours, yet being surrounded by French-speaking people puts me on edge because I have some comprehension of the language.
It’s much easier to exist in places where I have no understanding of the language and everything is direct and taken through context. It turns out it’s not actually fun to hear other people’s conversation, most of the time.
This little French airport experience then qualifies me to then get right back on a plane in the other direction, and so I do, and brace myself for…
The Worst Airline In The World.
It’s Ryanair. And I’m insulted by the speed and efficiency at which they do things. It creates an experience no human wants to endure, especially not this human being. Getting fucking corralled alongside my fellow passenger into some awful, cramped, hot space as they then pull in the plane after we’ve already been standing in this holding area for some time.
It’s the way they do boarding. Yes it’s fast, but it’s fucking inhuman. It is literally the way sheep are herded. Irish ingenuity.
And today, the corral is outdoors, and instead of crowding us into some steamy place, they corral us into freezing weather, with a wooden fenced in area on the actual tarmac, getting drenched in jet fuel fumes to the deafening sound of jet engines and watching our plane not pull in until they have most of us outside already. Then they crowd us into an even more dense space as the passengers disembark from our plane right before our eyes.
Remember, the purpose of this trip was for me to get around Covid regulations. Yet still, I would like to avoid Covid and the way that they treat us passenger cattle makes me wonder about their promise to sterilize or even clean the damn plane.
But on we get, all of us seduced by prices. Some of us seduced by the idea of hot Bulgarian coworkers. I grumble at everyone and everything.
Every Ryanair flight I take, I promise it will be the last.
This time I get a few nods of sleep. Somehow I do better at that on the right side of the plane. Also, It’s a 737, and it’s in good shape, despite the interior being the usual basic Ryanair discomfort with a headrest designed to contort one into soreness in the name of some false sense of safety.
When I get to Bulgaria they stamp me in. They do know I arrived from France, but they don’t scrutinize my passport. I get the feeling I could have come in at the right time and just claimed to be in France and it would have worked. Either way – it did work, and they let me into Bulgaria.
It doesn’t take me long to see that Bulgaria is thug energy. It’s mafiaesque. It’s macho and tribal and everything is based on honor, connections, and family. People are smart and capable and been through a lot and have little empathy for those that don’t perform well. I love it. I instantly have a feel for the culture.
And hot Bulgarian coworker is hot.
And I am all goofy and don’t know what to do with myself and we both work hard to impress each other but are obviously impressed by each other and I don’t know whether or how to take it to the next level or even what that level is. I know he ultimately wants different things than I do.
A family, a wife.
I know that I can’t be that for him, but I just want to snuggle up to him and have him teach me stuff for a while. Noticing I have this sensual urge for him that outweighs the accompanying sexual urge lurking underneath, in the shadows. I feel old and awkward not being able to talk about it. But, you know, he is – after all – my coworker. There’s more riding on me riding him.
Plus, I get my period during this journey from Bucharest to Sofia via France. Odd timing.
And so I relax into the Bulgarian way of things, and immediately get high on Bulgarian weed, which isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. Not my first Balkan weed. It gets the job done, kind of like Bulgarians.
Weed is very illegal in Bulgaria, and it takes me some getting used to to have to hide my use again. I realize I’ve become very accustomed to only using in legal places, and am grateful to the hot Bulgarian for taking the risk on my behalf.
And I have just a sip of Rakija, but the journey being what it was I can’t really get into the booze yet.
I need some time to settle from spending nine hours of a day in transit just to get back to basically where I left from.
It doesn’t compare with stowing away on a commercial flight, yet I am still proud I was able to game a ethnocentric system based not on trying to curb the spread of Covid, but on stupidity and xenophobia.
I’ll keep you posted on the hot Bulgarian coworker…
Other airplane experiences: