Friday, December 23, 2011

Planes and Parrots

A few random thoughts on my recent ramblings through Europe.

- Yes Virginia, there is a Wizz Air. I flew the low-cost carrier with the distinct moniker from Dortmund, Germany to Cluj, Romania and back. I even picked up an official inflatable toy Wizz Air plane for my kids (available for purchase during the flight). While the base fares on Wizz Air may appear to be low, they nickel and dime you to death by charging you for everything and anything they can. It starts with a “ticketing fee” to book your flight. Hard to see how you could avoid that one. If you want check bags you can pay in advance or pay even more at the airport. If you print your electronic ticket yourself, there is no charge. But if you wait and check in the airport, they dock you ten Euro. Want to sit in an exit row? There’s a fee for that. Want to board the plane early? Pony up partner. If you think US airlines have gotten chincy by only providing peanuts and pop on domestic flights, consider that on Wizz Air you get nothing unless you pay for it. I was surprised that the bathrooms weren’t coin operated. It’s also reassuring when your plane touches down and half the passengers break into applause as if a safe landing was far from guaranteed.

- I didn’t think it possible, but the surly, dismissive attitude of Delta’s flight attendants appears to have become even more widespread among their ranks. Look, I know you’re job’s not always easy at time, but if you really don’t have any interest in you know, serving your customers (the people who after all allow you to have a job), then maybe you should get into a different line of work.

- Bulgaria is to Romania as Iowa is to Minnesota. Hungary is to Romania as Wisconsin is to Minnesota. Okay, that analogy is far from perfect. But I did find the attitude of Romanians toward their neighbors to be interesting. There’s no lack of bad blood between Romania and Hungary and while we often tend to minimize or overlook historical grievances, they appeared to still be very fresh in the minds of the Romanians I spoke with. One Romanian gent in particular who was usually quite good natured about everything, informed me a serious tone that one thing you don’t joke about is Hungary. Bulgaria on the other hand did seem to be a regular object of ridicule and derision. But not as a rival to Romania as Hungary was. Instead they regarded it as a place that was so backward and behind the times that you actually almost felt sorry for the poor souls who lived there.

- We often hear that Europe has been secularized and that Christianity-which was once the continent’s civilizational foundation-is in such a decline that it risks disappearing within a few generations. Sure there are a lot of beautiful and historic churches in Europe, but now they serve mostly as tourist attractions or museums to a bygone era. So it was refreshing while strolling the streets of Amsterdam (the unofficial capitol of libertine hedonism) to stumble upon the Church of St Peter and St Paul:

De Papegaai is the lesser of the two parochial churches in the St Nicholas Roman Catholic parish in Amsterdam. The church is dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul; its name "De Papegaai" (The Parrot) comes from the time when Catholic churches were hidden. The church is on the busy Kalverstraat and invites people in for quiet, as well as celebrating Sunday masses in Latin and with Gregorian chant.

The church’s entrance off the bustling pedestrian street is discrete and easy to miss (probably owing to the days when it was hidden). Once you get inside you find a quiet and beautiful old church that’s remarkably well kept up. And as the Wikipedia article notes, it’s still an active church with regular Masses. Perhaps Christianity in Europe isn’t quite dead yet after all.