This will be an interesting one. This one also confirms that I really am a nerd. Originally, the main objective of my eastern adventure had been to sample the Qatar Airways service between Bucarest and Sofia, which is operated with an A 320. But then when it came down to planning the trip, the prospect of trying out a combination of a new type with a new carrier got the better of me. And so, instead, I booked TAROM.
Of course it’s pouring with rain here in Bucharest. I mean, what is it with me and the bad weather? I feel like I’m being stalked. In Montreal it was agonisingly cold, with temperatures around -17 degrees Celsius, while back home in Basel apparently the weather was quite pleasant. Everybody at ICAO kept telling me it was exceptionally cold. Oh really…?
And then there was Portugal and the Azores, where it rained more or less nonstop for an entire week, from the moment I arrived on Sunday afternoon until I left again the following Saturday. Everybody kept assuring me that this was really quite unusual for Lisbon and the Azores. Well, whatever. And actually Poland wasn’t much better either, although at least there it only actually rained once. But still, the weather was not pleasant.
Worse still, I’m waiting to be served at reception to check out of my room. The guy in front of me is just checking in. He’s talking to this other guy and I over hear him saying ‘…so yes, I just arrived from Sofia…at least it’s much warmer here in Bucharest, but apart from that the weather was pretty similar to here…’. Well that’s just charming.
The problem with Bucharest in the rain is that it’s nearly impossible to avoid getting wet. If you walk too close to the buildings, you end up getting showered from the faulty drains splashing and splattering all over the pavement. If however, you walk too close to the edge of the pavement, you end up getting sprayed by a passing car. The potholes they have in Bucharest quickly turn the city into a lake when it rains.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Departs from: University
Frequency: Every 10 to 15 minutes depending on traffic
Journey time: 30 to 40 minutes, again depending on traffic
Fare: 3.5 Lei one way
The bus to the airport can be rather crowded if you board at one of the intermediate stops. So if you don’t fancy standing for 40 minutes in heavy, stop-start traffic, then perhaps a taxi is more for you.
Location: Ground floor
Facilities: Self-service check-in
Counters: Dedicated SkyPriority counters
I managed to do online check-in the evening before. The only problem is that you can only print the boarding pass, there is no Tarom App yet and no SMS with a weblink to the boarding pass, not matter what the Tarom website tries to tell you. So upon arrival at the airport I head straight for one of the many self-service devices. The machine even recognises my passport, only to inform me however, that I have already checked in. Yes, I was aware of the fact, thanks.
So eventually I have no choice but to head for one of the SkyPriority counters, where a grumpy but very friendly ground agent re-issues my boarding pass together with an invitation to access the Tarom Business Class lounge.
Location: On the second floor, above departures
Type of Lounge: Tarom Business Class lounge
Facilities: Toilets outside the lounge, cold and hot drinks, in terms of food there are only snacks to nibble on, like crisps or salty peanuts, and yoghurt
Internet: Free wifi (with password)
Access to the lounge is only granted if you are holding a lounge invitation for that particular day, so although you may not need to make a stop at one of the check-in counters, if you want to access the lounge, you have to.
The lounge itself is in the ceiling of the terminal building and offers some excellent views of the ramp and of the arriving aircraft. I like the design and layout of the lounge, but the food and drink options really are very limited. Eventually I get hungry, so I exit the lounge and get myself a sandwich from one of the many shops in the food court one floor down.
Priority Boarding: NIL
Our flight will be boarding from gate 28 today, which is one of the bus gates. The load is pretty light and there are only 23 passengers on the bus as we make our way to the aircraft, plus a further passenger with impaired vision, who is brought to the aircraft separately ahead of the other passengers.
Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: 7A, later moved to 2A
The cabin on this bird is in pretty good condition. With the light load I decide to move forward from 7A to 2A, which is the bulkhead row on the left side of the aircraft so I have an unobstructed view. There is only a row 1 on the right hand side of the aircraft, which faces row 2. I’ve only ever sat backwards on a plane once, that was on a BA Boeing 747-400 from JFK to Heathrow. I thought it was rather cool.
There are two cabin crew on today’s flight. A woman who is in her late thirties I’d say. She’s very professional, polite and friendly. There’s something very charming about the woman, despite her somewhat stern expression and the tightly pulled back hair she wears in a pony tail.
The other cabin crew is what appears to be a pubescent boy and quite frankly, I think he really couldn’t care less. Except perhaps for the young lady on 3F. Sometimes I really wish I spoke more languages. Quite obviously he knows the young lady, or at least he’s trying to get to know her better, as in way better. Which is okay, it’s just that he seems to have forgotten there are a few other passengers on board as well. Apart from that, I find it all just a bit disconcerting. I mean, this guy looks as if he doesn’t even shave yet, which makes it seem all the stranger that he should be so obviously trying to chat up one of the lady passengers. I think I’m getting old…
Welcome drink on the ground: NIL
Towel before the meal: Towel served with the meal
Pre-meal drink: NIL
Delivery: In a plastic bag
Appearance: Neat and tidy
Type of meal: Snack
- packed cheese sandwich
- packet of salty peanuts
- apple juice to drink
Much to my surprise, Tarom serve food in Economy Class on this flight. I wasn’t actually expecting to be given anything. The meal is served in a neat opaque plastic bag for you to place all the rubbish in. I kind of like the idea, it looks very neat and tidy.
The cheese sandwich is rather tasty, and contrary to my expectations the bread is not stale or rubbery. The packet of peanuts is rather substantial.
Of course it’s raining when we arrive. What else when I’m travelling. I think Sofia must be surrounded by some quite high hills or mountains, but with the low clouds you can’t really make out anything.
GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport: Hotel shuttle
Departs from: Arrivals
Frequency: Upon request
Journey time: 15 minutes
Fare: Complimentary, depending on the room type
In Sofia I’m staying at the Radisson Blu, which is right opposite the Nevsky cathedral. If you advise the hotel in advance they will come and pick you up at the airport. I’m staying in a junior suite, which has the airport transfer included in the rate.
I quite like the hotel. My room has a large balcony overlooking the square and the cathedral. If it were sunny, you might even be able to sit outside and enjoy the view. I know, you can always dream…