By the time you read this, I will be on route to glamorous Chișinău, which is the capital of Moldova (but of course you knew that).
This is the first part of my journey to the European Championships in Bucharest, Romania.
I’m very happy to by flying through the night via Chișinău, taking off at 00:40 and arriving at 08:15 in Bucharest – it’s a much better route than the last time I flew there.
That was for the 2009 European Senior Championships, the third I had coached at. Capital Strength was still just an 8 year pipe dream and wouldn’t materialize for another 4 years. I was the only official travelling and as a result I had to be there for the Verification of Final Entry meeting which happens a couple of days before the competition started.
This meeting was important, because back then entries were sent in by post. Between handwriting and the language barrier, it was easy for mistakes to be made and for athletes to be put in the wrong weight class (imagine an 85kg lifter mistakenly registered as a 105kg lifter due to poor handwriting – it’s happened) or lifters mistakenly attributed with vastly inflated entry totals (“250kg entry total? They must mean 350kg…” – that has happened too) which they would have to open within 20kg of.
After the Final Entry meeting, nothing could be changed, so I had to be there.
This posed a bit of a challenge. In 2009 it wasn’t so straightforward to get to Bucharest from Dublin. Aer Lingus offered direct flights to Bucharest on Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s, but if I flew on the Friday I would arrive three hours too late for the meeting. If I flew on the Wednesday I would miss an extra two days of work, which (unfortunately) was not an option.
My flight plan for my Bucharest adventure would instead involve getting the last flight out of Dublin to London Heathrow with Aer Lingus on Thursday night; Heathrow to Paddington Station; Paddington to London City Airport; a night in London City Airport; a red-eye flight to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam; and a flight from there to Bucharest, arriving (eventually) at 4pm, three hours before the meeting started. What could possibly go wrong?
The Odyssey started well. I shared a taxi to the airport with a friend who was flying to Sydney to spend a fortnight with his girlfriend. We had a pint to gether after we got tthrough security and his flight left just 30 minutes before mine so I didn’t have much time to kill in Dublin. My flight to Heathrow was uneventful and landed in time for me to catch the last train heading to London City Airport. So far, so good.
My first setback occurred at five to midnight when I arrived at London City Airport to be politely told by the security guard that the airport was closed for the night. Closed? But it’s an international airport! This I wasn’t prepared for.
Being polite and asking if there isn’t *some* way around the rules has gotten me out o a lot of predicaments and this was no different. After surrendering my travel documentation as a security measure, I was eventually allowed into the airport for the night.
London City Airport, situated in the middle of the city’s Financial District, is a fine airport, but a tiny one. I *now* know that it is closer in size to Knock Airport than Heathrow Airport, where I was used to travelling from when I flew through the UK. All shops were long closed and I was one of only three travellers in the entire airport. It was as empty as the office blocks that surround it.
After a sleepless night on a hard seat, I jerked awake from a brief doze at 5am to the heaviest fog to hit London City in many years. The financial district looked like it was set in a Sherlock Holmes novel.
All flights were delayed for at least three hours. I wasn’t panicking just yet; my flight didn’t leave Schiphol until 1.30pm, so as long as I left London city by 10.30pm, I could make my connection.
At some point during the following three hours of pandemonium, endless queuing, incessant shouting, misinformation and sheer panic, it became clear that I wasn’t going to leave London City on time. We eventually took off at 11.15, and despite our pilot making the flight in record time and despite running hell for leather to the departure gate, baggage be-damned, I had missed my flight to Bucharest by 30 minutes.
Time for a plan ‘B’ – begging by phone. Thankfully after an hour of trying the organizing committee (no answer), Romanian Weightlifting Federation (no answer) and the IWF head office in Bucharest (answer!) I blagged the mobile nnumber for Nicu Vlad, the RWF’s president, former record holder and an Olympic Gold Medallist.
Nicu was not answering his phone.
Many, many attempts later, I finally got through to Nicu’s personal assistant. Despite her broken English and my non-existent Romanian, I eventually managed to convey my predicament. Though I sensed she thought me a simpleton (a reasonable enough assessment I had to admit myself) she agreed that I could phone in the final entry and that I would be met in Bucharest when my new flight landed. Relieved, I went to get myself some food.
When I finally checked into my hotel room in Bucharest at 2am on Saturday morning, I noticed that I had a voicemail. It was from my friend in Sydney. He’d been there for four hours.
Geography is not my strongest point, but I’m fairly sure you should be able to get from Dublin to Bucharest faster than you get from Dublin to Sydney – travelling through the night via Moldova should, in theory at least, be much easier! Time to board…