Wow, 2011! All right. This year has a good feeling to it already. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Gara de Nord, Bucuresti, December 27, 2010

I am indeed back home although the truth is I wasn’t away for very long at all – less than 24 hours in fact. The Woman and I flew to Bucharest early on the 27th of December but then something urgent came up and we had to turn around and immediately return to Cluj.

Sadly, this means no pictures of me drinking fancy drinks on the beach in Spain but the good news is we managed to rebook our tickets for later (without paying any extra money). I guess Romania wasn’t quite ready to let me go!

So there we were, sitting in Otopeni Airport and suddenly we had to make our way into the city and figure out how to get back to Cluj. I started to laugh because all of a sudden my book (or more accurately, the information inside it) suddenly became of immediate, practical use.

It was super cool to realize we literally had all the necessary information, including how to get some snacks in the airport (and not pay airport prices like an 11 lei coffee – jesus!), which bus to take to get into the city, how to buy all those tickets (and what they’ll cost) and which bus (Rom: autocar) or train to take to Cluj.

Surreal. I think my favorite part was the gypsies on the super crowded 62 troleibuz (with steamed up windows that were impossible to see through) staring at me using my GPS to know which stop to get off at. Hey, it works, exactly like I said in my book!

It snowed almost the entire day everywhere in Romania on December 27, from Cluj all the way down to Bucharest. We ended up taking the DN7 route home (via Pitesti, R-Valcea, Sibiu and Alba Iulia) and it was amazing. It’s been a few years since I was on a long road trip in Romania with an automobile and it was great to be “back in the saddle” again.

A few impressions:

  • If you don’t speak Romanian, negotiating and understanding how to ride an intercity bus in this country can be damn difficult. I definitely need to write a full post on this.
  • Ramnicu-Valcea is a town that is pretty as a picture. It was always a little jewel of a town but it looks even nicer than it did a few years ago. The sweep of the river as it abuts downtown (Rom: centru) is simply beautiful.
  • The people of Pitesti are incredibly nice. Years ago my friend got in a minor car accident in Pitesti and so we ended up spending a few extra hours there. I thought the people were nice then and it was great to see it again. The autogara looks like a refugee camp though :P
  • There are way more motels in Romania than I remembered.
  • I don’t know if it’s the “criza” or what but people in this country are eating one heck of a lot of pretzels (Rom: covrigi).
  • Every town we passed through has pretty lights and decorations. With the soft winter snow it makes this country look like a fairy tale.
  • Cluj has an absolutely gigantic neon blue “Christmas” tree at its southern border. Woah!
  • Literally 100% of the people, both male and female, reading newspapers on the bus were reading “barfa” or gossip papers (like “Click!” – NSFW).
  • Otopeni is a sparkly set of buildings with modern shops but it is a disgrace in the way it is operated.

And last but not least, it sure is good to be home ;)

It’s time for me to address the operators of Otopeni because these guys seriously are missing the boat.

To begin with, I understand that prices are going to be expensive. There’s an old joke that goes, “There once was a man SO rich that he drank a coffee at the airport.” So I expect and “understand” that you’re going to charge 11 lei for a coffee. I get it. However the 5 lei on top of that for Wi-Fi is criminal.

Stationing a guy armed to the teeth and sporting an AK-47 five meters in front of where I’m spending 11 lei on the said coffee is just wrong. It makes it feel like we’re entering a prison camp. I am sure proper security can be achieved without this, fellas.

Letting people push heavily-laden baggage carts 90% of the way through the corridor between terminals and then arrive at three steps with no ramp or elevator is frustrating. Having an airport worker sit there and literally yell at people to turn around and park their trolleys is just offensive.

The sole bookstore in the airport selling guidebooks has books on Tunisia, Singapore and Costa Rica but not one about Romania.

The sharks patrolling the arrivals hall who hound you to take their taxi need to be removed. One guy literally approached The Woman four times until I went over to him and told him to step off.

If you lose your bag (I didn’t but I had to pull my bag off the flight to Spain and so it ended up in the “lost luggage” office) you have to find a tiny intercom mounted to a wall and then SPEAK INTO IT with someone who barely speaks English. Ridiculous system especially as there’s a man literally on the other side of that wall who isn’t doing anything.

Where is the “Welcome to Romania” office operated by the Ministry of Tourism (or some other branch of the government), with maps and helpful people who will welcome you to this country and assist you? Oh that’s right, it doesn’t exist. Just armed men with guns and taxi sharks strutting around.

And so what, right? It’s only the biggest airport in the country where millions of people come here for the very first time.

And those fancy magnetic card readers on the bus? Guess what? No one, including Romanians, can figure that thing out. We literally had an “all-passenger palaver” as we collectively figured out how to use the damn things. There’s a fancy GPS-enabled TV screen showing us all kinds of stuff but never once explaining how to use the card readers.

On the plus side:

A baggage handler I met outside was the most helpful person in the entire airport. He told me exactly which bus to take to get to the autogara we needed.

The lady selling bus tickets at the airport was extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

TAROM, as always, was flying chocolately goodness and definitely helped us out.

So there we go, back home the same day we left. And don’t be concerned for my/our sake as the outstanding issues which brought us home are under control and being addressed. I’m sure you’re curious but it’s of a personal nature.

And since I had already planned to be on vacation, I stayed off the internet and slept as much as I wanted and just relaxed. The Woman and I went for a little walk the other day (in Gruia Cartierul Minunilor) and she took lots of awesome pictures, some of which you can see on Facebook.

I used her camera to take the picture of Gara de Nord above. It was bitterly cold and I would’ve taken more but my hands were shaking too much. It was, however, quite nice to use the free wi-fi and buy food at normal prices.

It’s a new year and there’s going to be some new changes around here. I’ll get into this in more detail soon because I want to briefly talk about one project in particular.

It’s obvious that the most effective way to change the wider world’s perspective on Romania is through English-language footage. What do I mean? I mean a TV show (Rom: film serial) in English (or primarily in English) that’s about Romania. No starving orphans, no gymnastics – something entirely new.

Many years ago I had the good fortune to study film and television, up to and including how to storyboard, how to frame camera angles, how to rig sound and lights and how to edit. A local television station allowed us to use their equipment and we shot and produced several pieces.

I understand what makes “good television”. I know that there’s an incredible gulf between a Romanian who has seen images and footage of America (and England, etc) for years and an American who literally has never seen a single image from Romania. The field is wide open.

When the weather gets warmer, I plan on shooting some good television. Depending on resources, it may be a rather simple affair that ends up getting broadcast on YouTube (or something similar). I’m an ambitious SOB so I’d like to produce a “real” television show for a major network but hey, one step at a time.

With the right software, a decent camera (or two) and sites like YouTube, it is possible for ordinary people to get footage “out there” in the public’s eye. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Without getting too much into specifics, my ideas are definitely inspired by this Spanish show:

Un fascinante recorrido por la España rural y sus gentes, y que sirvió a Labordeta para descubrir a la audiencia parajes escondidos, costumbres y tradiciones casi olvidadas, personajes y formas de vida ancestrales, o una fauna y una flora ricas en especies.

There are plenty of Romanians who could (and sometimes do) produce such footage but it’s in the Romanian language. My language skills may be muddled at best but I speakee the Engrish and therefore can “translate” this country, culturally and linguistically, for the rest of the world.

I’ll save more details for later but I will add this – if you don’t think I’m going to have a horse and carutza (with a radar detector), you haven’t been reading my website long enough :))

I think it’s going to be a lot of fun!

PS – During some of my “relaxing”, I used the power of Google Books to read through lots and lots of other people’s books about Romania. Without naming names, I sure saw lots of very well-researched books with lots of facts but most of them were quite boring.

PPS – The American Civil War? :P


20 Comments Add yours

  1. Michael says:

    You know, I was wondering about the pretzels. I’ve been here less than a year and a half, but — unless I’m crazy, which is entirely possible — the number of pretzel shops in centru has nearly doubled.

    Fortunately, I’m a New Yorker. We love pretzels. And the pretzels in Cluj are better, generally speaking.


  2. Adrian says:

    5 lei for Internet access is not so bad. Many large airports charge $8-9 for the same service.


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