It may astound you to discover that not only can you catch a flight using Tarom or Lufthansa at Bucharest airport, but you can also enjoy a dose of time travel. Obviously, I do not mean actual time travel. That would be a rather ridiculous notion. However, taking a flight from Otopeni is something of a schizophrenic experience. It blended the ultra-modern and developed with an antiquity, chaos and squalor that I thought would have been confined to the last century.
In getting to Otopeni we had driven through Bulgris, across the Danube and up to Bucharest in 40 degree heat. Without air-conditioning in the car, we were sweltering. Therefore, I was looking forward to stepping into the icy blast of the terminal building to check-in for my flight. Sadly, when we arrived we found that the temperature inside was scarcely different from the baking sun outside. We attributed this to the rather limp performance of the air-conditioning and the huge amount of people crammed into a frightening small area. Built during Communist times the terminal and the check-in area harked back to a time when international flights were not so common in Bucharest.
Thankfully, there were electronic machines to ease the check-in process. However, after using these I still had a long queue to drop my bags at the desk. This queue was a particularly unpleasant experience as I was constantly having to stay vigilant in order to stop other travellers stealing my place in line. Once I was checked-in we decided to for a drink (it needed to be a cold one). However, the cafe was awful. There was no a/c whatsoever and the drinks were very expensive (3 Euros for a small iced-tea). There was also no partition between the main part of the cafe and the smoking section, which meant second hand smoke drifted through.
After our uncomfortable drink, I bade farewell to my girlfriend and her family before battling my way through the crowds to Passport Control and the Departure Lounge beyond. After handing my passport to a rather grumpy police officer, I moved through to departures. The two areas were separated by just a small flight os stairs, but in comparison to what had gone before it was like ascending to heaven. The departure lounge was clean, bright spacious and, best of all, beautifully chilled. As I sauntered in to the duty-free area, I could not quite believe the contrast I was seeing.
I had about 90 minutes before I needed to board my flight and I passed them serenely in Otopeni. First, I stopped by the food court, which bore no comparison the cafe outside, and enjoyed a rather nice sandwhich. Next, I headed to the coffee shop (which was operated by the chain Gloria Jeans) for a delicious cup of coffee. The, I did a little duty-free shopping, picking up some very reasonably-priced after-shave. As I boarded my plane I could not help but ruefully shake my head at my experiences in Otopeni. It really was like stepping between two worlds.