Baggage Handler Accidentally Causes $6M In Damage

ellenm1, Flickr

A baggage handler told the The Sun he is “mortified” after a simple error caused more than $6 million in damage to a British Airways plane.

The news outlet is reporting things went horribly wrong as an Airbus A320 plane taxied on the runway at London Heathrow Airport. Having just finished loading the plane with luggage, the baggage handler accidentally left his scanning gun – a device used to scan the barcodes of suitcases to make sure the correct luggage is put on the plane – on the aircraft’s engine cover. Within moments, the gun was sucked into the engine, and the results were apparently disastrous. After hearing a loud bang, the pilot aborted takeoff and evacuated the 150 passengers on board.

According to The Sun, nobody has been suspended over the blunder – not even the baggage handler who made the six million dollar mistake. The airline, however, is investigating the incident, which could have been much worse if it had happened after takeoff. The plane has already been repaired, and the passengers made it to their destination of Bucharest, Romania, about three hours late.

[via news.com.au]

Weekending: Veliko Tarnovo


The best part of expat life for me are the travel opportunities, especially when living in Turkey, conveniently located where Europe meets Asia. Expat travel takes on a new twist as you seek out the new and unfamiliar as in any new destination, the newly familiar of your adopted home city, and the old and familiar of your original home city. You luxuriate in the things your expat home lacks, compare versions of similar foods and drink, and wonder where you’d hang out, what you’d cook, and where you’d buy groceries in this foreign place. I recently took a week-long trip to Bulgaria (read about Sofia here, and I’ll finish up with the Black Sea town Varna) and fell in love with the country’s old architecture, young creativity, and most of all, the prices.

The place: Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Veliko Tarnovo (also called Veliko Turnovo, so I’ll simplify as VT) is smack dab in the middle of the country, dominated by a 12th-century fortress, hills aplenty, and the Yantra River (a Danube tributary). Once the Medieval capital of Bulgaria, VT boats a bevy of sights and lots of daytrip possibilities. After the country was liberated from the Ottoman Empire, Sofia became the capital, but VT remains a popular tourist destination and a point of pride for many Bulgarians. Other than the spectacularly Soviet Interhotel (don’t be fooled by glam interior photos, the exterior is an eyesore from another era – see above on right), VT escaped much of the communist architecture of Sofia and retains a historic small-town feel.

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  • While I found Sofia to have the best prices of any European capital thus far, VT is even more budget. I stayed in the boutique Studio Hotel for 45 Euros a night, and ordered local wine in restaurants for 2 leva a glass (and that’s for a 250 ml pour, a third of a bottle!). Two people can hit the town with 40 leva (under $30 USD) in their pockets and come home with change to spare. Real estate signs advertise houses in nearby towns for 10,000 Euros, making you contemplate a rural Bulgarian life.
  • Endless people-watching fun. For a hill town of 70,000 people, the ladies sure know how to dress. On any given weekday afternoon, you may see women in 5-inch stilettos, miniskirts, skin tight jeans, or revealing dresses. The girls may look like they are on their way to a Jersey Shore nightclub, but more likely destinations are a university class or their grandmother’s house. Additionally, ’80s fashion is alive and well in Bulgaria – I spotted mullets (for women), big hair (for men), neon colors, high-top sneakers, and vests everywhere. An entertaining afternoon can be spent at a sidewalk cafe marveling “Did you SEE what she was wearing?!” with your travel mates.

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  • While VT is a charming place, it feels like a one-horse town after a few days of wandering the same streets up and down. The historical sights are lovely to see but small and a tad overpriced (6 leva for a quick tour of a church feels a bit extortionate when you realize it could buy you a meal or get you nice and tipsy). One upside to the tiny museums is few crowds, even in the height of the tourist season. Visiting the weirdly wonderful State Art Museum as the only patron while little old ladies followed me around, turning on and off lights, was a highlight of the trip. The (almost) nightly Tsarevets fortress sound and lights show is fun to see at least once, though I thought it could be improved with more lasers and the Beverly Hills Cop theme song; visiting the fortress by day is a little disappointing and best enjoyed as a scenic view.
  • Another downside to the small-town feel of VT is limited food options. More cosmopolitan Sofia offers sushi, Indian food, and modern Bulgarian; coastal Bulgaria boats seafood galore; VT has traditional and not-terribly-exciting Bulgarian food (which can be a good or bad thing) and pizza. This means a LOT of meat and after a few days, I was literally dreaming of salad. Also: be careful with drinking tap water. Although, opinions are divided on whether or not it is safe to drink, I was sick every day I drank tap water in VT until I discovered the CDC advises against it, and was much improved after switching to bottled water. One favorite place to eat and drink: the Malkiya Inter cafe is eclectically decorated with antiques and musical instruments, buzzing with locals celebrating birthdays or watching football, and serves tasty and cheap drinks and, of course, meat.

Getting there

Centrally located, travelers can fly into Sofia or Varna and bus or drive from there, about 3.5 to 4.5 hours. Bulgarian buses are cheap, comfortable, and clean, and have the added feature (not sure if its a good one) of playing raunchy Canadian comedies with Bulgarian subtitles; I saw the dreadful National Lampoon’s Going the Distance and the “Dan Ackroyd needs a paycheck” White Coats. Trains are available as well but slower and less reliable, though they can connect you to Istanbul and Bucharest.

Make it a week

After a few days in VT proper, rent a car and explore the central Balkans, stopping at Arbanassi for architecture (you can even hike from VT) and multiple monasteries. VT can easily be combined with trips to other major Bulgarian towns, small villages, or even neighboring countries like Romania. If the weather is good, head out to the beach for my next Bulgarian stop, Varna on the Black Sea.

Read my previous Weekending trips from Istanbul here.

Amazing Race 14: Romania is simply gorgeous

Going to Bucharest, Romania from Salzburg, Austria doesn’t seem to be that difficult–unless you’re Tammy & Victor who were on the first flight out–that plane had engine troubles and returned to the airport–or Brad & Victoria who decided to take a gamble and fly to Amsterdam for an earlier flight possibility. Instead, they missed their connection. For everyone else, the trip was smooth.

What I noticed during this episode of Amazing Race 14 was that as teams criss-crossed each other, often ending up at the same place at the same time, they seemed to enjoy each other’s company. In my opinion, this is making this season’s race more fun to watch. I mean, my goodness, who wants crabbing in Salzburg? This episode also was a chance to take in Romania’s beauty while seeing how the show would tie in Romanian themes.

When the teams left Salzburg, they headed to Munich on the train with the goal of flying to Bucharest. The train trip was a piece of cake. Except for Victor & Tammy and Brad & Victoria, the flight was smooth as well. Because of their flight’s engine trouble, Victor & Tammy ended up on the second plane instead of being the only team on the first plane out.

Once in Bucharest, the first stop was the gymnastics hall where Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci trained. Here one member from each team donned a leotard to learn parts to three routines: balance beam, parallel bars and floor exercises. Tammy had a time of it. Poor girl. She couldn’t do a cartwheel if she tried for a hundred years. Her somersaults weren’t much better. Luckily, she didn’t have to be perfect. I sympathized. I can’t even touch my toes. Never have been able to and never will.

One of Tammy’s problems was that she was so focused on how their first place status was gone that she wasn’t able to concentrate. As a metaphor for life, it’s hard to stay balanced if you’re not balanced.

After the gymnastics routine, it was off by train to Brasov, the town where the castle made famous by Dracula is located.

In Brasov, at Biserica Neagra, also called the Black Church, the teams found the clue to their next task. There were two from which to choose. One of tasks involved loading up a bunch of miscellaneous belongings, mostly junk, on a gypsy cart and hauling it to another location to unload it. The other task, hauling a coffin downhill and unlocking the chains to open it in order to get to the old wooden framed tablets inside, was at the grounds of Bran Castle of Dracula fame. To complete this task, each tablet was impaled Dracula-style on a stake in order to find the next clue. As the wooden tablets were impaled, blood spurted out which made for an unusual exercise.

At the gypsy settlement, while the teams struggled with their loads, gypsies looked on or did tasks similar to what one might see in a circus. Some played whimsical instruments. Gypsy life sure looks like fun. At least it does if the Amazing Race helps organize it.

The gypsy cart loading was a bit problematic for Mel & Mike because of Mel’s groin injury and the fact that the goods included part of a car and huge tires. But this father and son duo kept their good humor which helped.

Amanda & Cris had a minor setback when they couldn’t find the fanny pack with all their money and passports, but instead of freaking out too badly, they found it where they had unloaded their cart. One reason they were able to find it so quickly was Amanda’s calm demeanor. While Chris freaked out, Amanda said things like, “We’ll find it.” This helped maintain focus.

Victor & Tammy continued to have issues that kept them falling behind because of their interpersonal dynamics. Victor took them up the mountain in search for the coffins on the wrong path. No matter how much Tammy told them they were going the wrong way, he wouldn’t listen. Their game turned into Victor’s power struggle. Eventually he stopped pushing against reason and they headed back down the mountain to find the right trail. Unfortunately, one of the keys to the coffin came off as they dragged it, but Tammy kept calm giving them enough focus to find the key in the leaves. If I were this pair, I’d feel badly that a camera person was filming my every move.

This time it was Mike & Mel to arrive at the Pit Stop first. Their first place win granted them a trip to Costa Rica.

Brad & Victoria’s side trip to Amsterdam cost them. Brad, covered in red goo from impaling the tablets, and Victoria who was still smiling even though it was dark, took their elimination in good spirits. When they lost, I was thinking “You guys are going to love Thailand.” Ko Samui is the site of this year’s Elimination Station. Of course, it would be more enjoyable without having to lose a race in order to get there.

This episode made Romania look like an accessible and beautiful place to visit. An afternoon of wandering along cobblestone streets edged with architecturally interesting buildings would make for a visual treat. The mountains look perfect for hiking, particularly if you’re not on a race. Plus, The Pit Stop was at Villa Panoramic overlooking the castle. Not too shabby.

Photos from Amazing Race Website.

My Bloody Romania: Bra

Dateline: Bra??ov, Romania

Why is it that the top two tourist destinations in Romania have virtually no signage to assist the, you know, tourists? Seriously, this mystery has kept me up at night and driving in maddening circles during the day, cursing the mothers of city officials who are apparently still diverting their sign budgets to keep apartments for their mistresses by the Black Sea.

Let’s start with Bucharest. First off, this hellhole is one of Europe’s worst capital cities, so anyone coming here for a pleasure stay is either vastly ill-informed or they’re giving it a pity visit, because their plane landed here and they had no other choice. Bucharest has minimal satisfying activities, it’s expensive (by Romanian standards) and there’s an army of thieves and pickpockets freely roaming the streets including the armada of illegal taxis that still bafflingly operate with impunity, despite repeated declarations by officials (via live-feed from their Black Sea villas) to crack down.

Bucharest has exactly zero signs directing people to such vital locations like important plazas, the train station or the airport (until you’re just 2km short of the bloody thing and planes are roaring overhead, where they’ve posted a no-brainer sign pointing straight on – nice effort jackasses). On the contrary, if you, say, want a Big Mac, there’s thousands of signs blanketing the city clearly pointing the way to the nearest McDonald’s, with distances and GPS coordinates just for good measure. Say what you want about McDonald’s, at least they understand the simple concept of ‘If You Point to It, They Will Come – Faster’, while Romanians still largely adhere to the perennial ‘Find It On Your Own, I Don’t Care If It Takes You All Day. Do You Have A Cigarette?’.

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Braşov, hands down Romania’s primary tourist city (without the advantage of an airport, I might add), is only slightly better. Once you’ve penetrated through the industrial and commercial zones, a few signs have been nailed to posts in randomly selected intersections pointing the way to the center, but getting this far takes a significant amount of luck and trial and error since there are no signs directing people from the E68 highway. I know this as indisputable fact, as the Little Vampire and I just drove the entire length of Braşov’s outskirts three times searching in vain for signs, speculating on what kind of BMW the mayor bought with his sign funds.

Well, future Braşov visitors, here’s a hard-earned tip for getting to the center of town: when approaching the outskirts, look up toward the south (better yet, have your co-pilot do this, as taking your eyes off traffic in Romania for even a second is guaranteed to lead to disaster) and locate the tacky Hollywood-style ‘Braşov’ sign propped above the city on Mount Tâmpa. All you have to do is home in on that thing until ‘Centru‘ signs start appearing.

Once in central Braşov however, it’s all gravy. This is tourist ground zero for a reason. Easily the most scenic urban area in the country, Braşov also happens to be an excellent staging area for castle tours, day hikes, and increasingly ill-fated ‘bear-watching tours’. I’ve lost count, but I think at least three tourists have been killed by bear attacks in the Braşov area this summer, with several more injured. Meanwhile, these outings – usually consisting of a ride to the local trash heap to watch scavenging bears feed – are creating the illusion (for the bears) that humans = food. I don’t know about you guys, but when I go somewhere expecting food and find nothing (say, a flight from DC to San Francisco), I get a hankering to disembowel somebody. Obviously, I’m of the opinion that bear tours should be avoided. If you wanna see giant, hairy, dangerous animals rooting for scraps, tour the US Senate during appropriations season.

I’d been to Braşov before, wandering the pedestrian-friendly center, slowly circling the massive Black Church and, as I did on this visit, enjoying some of Romania’s best non-Romanian cuisine.

I’m not normally the kind of jackhole that travels 10,000 miles just to eat at the local Hard Rock Café. I love Romanian food, but seriously, after weeks/months of the same stuff every single day, sometimes you just want a hamburger. Or in this case Mexican. I haven’t found anywhere else in all of Europe that does Mexican as well as Bella Musica in central Braşov. Chips with salsa, prepared the way that Buddha intended, and a shot of ear-smoking ţuică arrive after you order and it just gets better from there. Fajitas, burritos and excellent cuts of beef are available at reasonable prices. And, yes, they do Romanian food and they do it well. There’s a ‘ciorba de pui a la Grec‘ (countryside chicken soup, Greek style) on the menu that aroused me more than the first time I saw Michelle Hunziker topless.

I’m gonna be frank, with limited in-town time and yet more foul weather, I didn’t spend much time roaming Braşov on this particular stopover, but even quickly driving through town served to remind me that Braşov is well worth its notoriety. Even better, there’s a somewhat competitive budget accommodations industry here, making this one of the few cities in Romania where a decent hostel stay is attainable. We stayed at Rolling Stone Hostel this time around after a grimy, malodorous stay at another hostel during my last visit, which, despite the already-dated review in the current LP, has free internet/WiFi and reasonably priced castle tours.

Like most popular cities, it’s probably best to avoid Braşov in July and August, otherwise, this remains a must-visit city on any Romanian tour

Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, co-authored the current edition of Lonely Planet’s Romania and Moldova. Visit his personal blog, Killing Batteries, for further amateur food reviews and more references to Michelle Hunziker’s killer bod.