Monday, July 31, 2006

Still standing... in Bucharest

So let's see... after arriving BACK in Bucharest around 1am, I was somehow still slightly surprised to walk through customs and out the door and see that I really and truly was in Romania again, only 20 hours after I'd left. I dragged myself to a cab and stared out the window with a combination of exhaustion and disbelief as we approached my street. Oh well, I'll get away next weekend.

Saturday morning I woke up to the familiar sounds of my neighborly construction workers and the gypsy lady outside doing her call for scrap metal. Ahh, home sweet home. I spent the weekend lazing around, working on a screenplay, reading, meeting friends here and there, running in the park, and trying to stay out of the heat and away from the mosquitos. I failed miserably at the last part.

Tomorrow and Wednesday I may not be able to post anything because I'll be out of the office on a cat food shoot. Woo hoo! But, as promised, some photos of the light show (aka electrical fire) that occured outside my window Thursday night. Like adventure? Come to Romania!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Huelgas = Lame (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Munich airport)

It all began at 5am, when my alarm clock went off just 3 1/2 short hours after I went to sleep. You see, last night was happy hour night on the terrace at the office, and then I met up with an old friend of Diego's who lives here in Bucharest. So my alarm went off, it was still dark out, I stumbled into the bathroom and started getting ready to head to the airport.

I made it on time and saw a beautiful sunrise en route, got on my flight to Munich and had a very uneventful first leg of my journey. Upon arrival in Germany, I was stopped by a beefy customs security guy who was SUCH a stereotypical German, I laughed at first when he stopped me. We had just been talking about fake Romanian cops on the plane, and I thought this was some sort of prank. But no, he was for real, and he demanded my passport and pointed me to a metal desk. Then it went something like ZIS:

Guard: Spreken-ze deutsche?
Me: No.
Guard: Vhy are you een Munich?
Me: I'm on my way to Barcelona.
Guard: You live in Bucharest?
Me: For two months.
Guard: Vhat do you do zhere?
Me: Advertising.
Guard: (Angrily) Vhat ees dat?
Me: Uh, I'm making TV commercials.
Guard: Oh, zat ees mahketink.
Me: Yeah, sure.
Guard: (getting more and more confused) But vhere do you live?
Me: Bucharest. For the summer. But I am a Spanish resident. (I stupidly pull out my residency card, which he grabs and stares at for a long time, holding it like it might be dipped in anthrax.)
Guard: VHAT EES ZAT???
Me: My residency card!

He looked at me, my passport, me, my passport, me, my NIE card, my bag, and me one more time and then said, very suspiciously, "You can go."

And off I went, out one terminal, into another, through security (again?!) and to my gate were I had 2 minutes to check my email before it was time to board my flight. I stupidly thought to myself, this will be my shortest layover in a German airport EVER!

Got on my flight, took some pictures of the mountains out the window , and was halfway to Barcelona when the pilot made a way-too-long announcement in German. At the end of which, the German guy next to me said, "We're going back to Munich!" The English version of the announcement was much shorter, but basically he told us that we couldn't land in Barcelona because they were not allowing planes but couldn't provide a reason, and we couldn't land at any nearby aiports because they were all "full."

So I saw this view twice!

So at 11am, when I should've been landing in Barcelona, I landed in Munich again. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn't be questioned by any more burly passport control agents because I didn't know how I could explain my answer to the question "Where are you coming from?" with the answer "Munich" in Munich. Fortunately, I didn't run into my angry friend again.

And ALSO fortunately, when I went to pick up my bag at baggage claim (they forced me to check my tiny little rolly bag!) I ran into my friend Kerstin, the entertainment lawyer I met with the week before coming to Barcelona. She was trying to get back to Barcelona for a meeting, but was having no luck. At least her flight didn't ever take off!

The baggage claim board. Have you ever seen the city you departed listed as your arriving city? I haven't!

Kerstin kindly offered to let me stay at her apartment here in Munich and then headed back to her office since she couldn't fly till tomorrow anyway. Most flights to Barcelona were cancelled and those that weren't yet were overbooked. So I went to stand in three very long lines, details of which I will not get into. Lines are lines. And they don't get faster if you have a hissy fit like the guy in front of me. My god, I thought his head was going to explode. It was in the first line that I learned that the reason for our midair turnaround was not terrorism or a plane crash as I had feared, but a ground crew strike. They apparently blocked off the whole airport somehow and wouldn't allow any planes to land. Impressive, though incredibly annoying.

I also heard some very interesting stories, though my midair re-routing was by far the most exciting according to the crowd reaction. A woman in front of me had flown all the way from California to marry Angry Man, who had flown in from NYC. Well I guess it "didn't work out" (that's what she said anyway, when he was off fuming elsewhere) and so they were headed back early to their respective homes in the US. Considering the circumstances, they were awfully nice to each other, if a tad... formal.

Another guy from Norway was supposed to drive with his son on a roadtrip through eastern and northern Europe. Somewhere in Poland, their old Mercedes broke down and needed a completely new engine. The poor guy had to call to get an increase on his credit card limit and then the German autoshop where he took the car refused to accept his card. Verboten! Cash only. He had even booked tickets on a car ferry to take them from northern Poland to Oslo! But today he had to book two tickets home in order to wrangle up some cash and leave the car behind in the meantime. That's what we call a major bummer.

So several hours and many options (do I stay in Munich with Kerstin, go to Frankfurt to see Huy, or just go back to Bucharest and try again next weekend?) I ended up with option 3. Option 1 would've been cool, but Kerstin would be leaving - if the strike is over - in the morning, and option 2 only left me with 1 day in Frankfurt before having to leave very early Sunday morning.

So I changed my flights to next week, booked the next flight to Bucharest - 9pm! - and busted out my trusty Powerbook and hit up the airport wireless for some entertainment. Oh and I realized I hadn't eaten yet. But this time it was 3pm in Munich, 4pm in Bucharest. So I went to some German airport restaurant (if I'd had enough time to go into Munich, I would have!!!) and had "meat loaf." Which in reality is "flat hot dogs." Anyway, the pretzel was good. And the mustard.


Soon after, my laptop battery died and I moved to a nice cozy, empty hallway with a cold, clean, hard floor and one single outlet in the wall. Jackpot! I sat there and started sending out some emails letting people know why I was not in Barcelona where I was supposed to be and then decided I should move toward my gate. I went around the corner and found... PASSPORT CONTROL!

Fortunately, this guy was more blase and really didn't mind that I'd flown into Munich TWICE this morning. So now I'm at another cafe because I decided maybe I should get something mildly healthy to eat, since I have no idea when my next meal will be. And, voila:

Nice, huh? So now it's 8pm, I've spent a total of 14 hours "en route to Barcelona" and my trip won't be done for another 5 when all is said and done. It will take me this long to get to California for my high school reunion next month! Now that trip doesn't seem so bad!

You see, the key to surviving a miserable travel experience is the following:
1. Laptop, with wireless internet access
2. Semi-decent food
3. Early-onset delirium

And if you're lucky, 4) run-ins with random friends!

Next installment - the electrical fire outside my window last night and my first reflexology appointment, where a woman figured out that my left eye is way weaker than my right (true!) simply by touching one of my toes. Rad!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Serbian Presidents and Insect Bites

With great fanfare, this was the scene outside the office window yesterday. No, I'm not recycling old photos. Last time it was the Czech president, this week... Serbia! Woo hoo!

And now for the more fun part. I was bitten by what seemed like a mosquito while I was in the mountains on Friday. What started off as a small normal-looking mosquito bite appeared actually to be three small bites the next day. And by Sunday, I had developed a small blister in their place. On Monday the blister was pretty large and by yesterday it was the size of my thumb. If you are grossed out easily, don't look at the pictures. But if you have any clue on these matters, please tell me what the heck bit me and whether I need to worry about this!?!?!


(That's my thumb!)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Shooting in Romania

So here's what I learned from my four days in the mountains shooting the pate commercial. No matter where in the world you go, film crews and shoots are the same. You have the same long drives, the same mosquitos on location, the same characters... For instance there's always some guy who is obsessed with Star Wars. Always. This is a rule. If you're putting together a film crew and you've failed to include a rabid Star Wars fan among the technicians, go back and start again. It's very important.

In fact, the only real difference between shooting in Romania and shooting in the US is the craft services (what normal people call "catering.") In the US you have to deal with all of the Adkins-obsessed celebrities. But then again, they'd probably be pretty happy on set here, because it's all meat and cheese and there's no fruit and no bowls of M&Ms. Hmmm... no wonder so many films are shooting over here these days....

Without further ado, some photos.

Day 1:

Early start (6:30am at a horse corral)

Still shooting horses at 8am

Afternoon: Sheep wrangling

Real shepherds in makeup

Headed for craft services!

Evening: still getting pate beauty shots

Are we done yet?

Day 2: A coworker and I spent the morning in the town of Sibiu (the photos are posted on Flickr) and then joined the crew later.

Old ladies
Keeping an eye on the proceedings
Romanian dancer
Finally, we wrapped and on Sunday we drove back to Bucharest. It was a LONG, HOT drive and I was happy to see my apartment and my very own potholes on the street. Potholes sweet potholes!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Photo link

I got back last night from my four-day adventure in the mountains and have done plenty of work editing photos today, but simply cannot be bothered now to post them here. It takes way too long. BUT I have posted a lot here and will put up more tomorrow.

The power has gone out in the office a couple of times today and with it the internet connection, and I can't bear to write an entry only to have it vanish in a flash. Or in darkness.

So, more tomorrow. I promise!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Off to the mountains

Today (or, more precisely, in an hour) I am going to the town of Sibiu for a shoot for a pate commercial. I'm looking forward to visiting a part of Romania I've never seen and I plan to take plenty of photos which I will post in order to "shock and awe." More importantly, I hope to eat lots of Romanian pate, but hopefully not the pate that is being used for the "pate beauty shots." I've never seen anyone accidentally eat the product during a commercial shoot, but I imagine you get sent to jail without passing "Go" and without collecting $200.

Sorry for the Monopoly reference. And the Bush reference. I am obviously demented lately.

Anyway, the point is that I probably won't be posting again until Monday morning, and for this I apologize in advance. But I can promise it will be worth the wait!

In other news, it is scorchingly hot here lately and the construction seems only to occur during the cooler hours of 9pm to midnight and 6-9am. This morning some guy was throwing metal from the 4th floor of the building site down to the ground, where it was hitting more metal. Trust me when I say that this is no way to wake up in the morning. Hopefully this weekend the hotel will be quiet and peaceful and as a result I won't mind starting to shoot at 5am. In fact, I'll be quite accustomed to being awake at that hour, since I seem to have reset my body clock to some time zone in Mongolia.

And speaking of Mongolia... I don't usually comment on the number of hits this blog gets per day or the places the hits come from, but today I was impressed to see not only the usual USA, Spain, Romania, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, and Brazil hits, but also South Africa, Kuwait, Taiwan, and New Caledonia. NEW CALEDONIA???? What is that?! And this brings me to something else... you can learn a lot about geography from keeping a blog.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Especially those of you in New Caledonia, where I think it's probably already Friday by now. TGIF!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Whoever it was who told me a month ago to change my picture (what was wrong with it anyway? It was cool!) owes me BIG TIME.

I think I have now spent (I mean WASTED) a total of 14 hours on the stupid profile photo and finally... FINALLY I have a new one up. And if you don't like it, Mr. Anonymous Drive-By Photo-Hating Comment-Maker... TOO BAD!

I also think Marc's Blogger woes are contagious and I never should have linked to him!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Domestication of Noelle

Last night after work, I decided it was time to take care of some stuff at home. I did my first grocery shopping since my arrival, vacuumed the dusty mess in the kitchen made by the construction next door (I left the window open to cool the apartment), washed some clothes, and cleaned my room.

Such domestic activities left me with a headache, so I decided I'd call it a night early and get some sleep. Knowing the construction would be starting at 7am anyway, I figured I could get up early and go running. What I didn't know is that sometimes in Romania construction also starts at 10PM.

I was lying in bed, trying to read a book suggested by my econ professor, when I heard a horrible grating noise that sounded like a combination of someone trying repeatedly to start an uncooperative truck and someone dragging a tarp full of bodies down the street. (Yes, I have an overactive imagination.) Over and over, every few seconds, I heard this noise. I figured it would stop eventually and it did, around 10:30. But then it started again half an hour later, along with what sounded like wooden planks being dragged and dropped. And then hammering!

So I went out on the balcony and looked down to see guys working on the building next door. Indeed, dragging and dropping long wooden boards. On top of that, a gaggle of teenagers was hanging out on the benches on the edge of the park, yelling and laughing. I momentarily considered taking out some of the overripe tomatoes that are in my fridge and chucking them at both the construction crew and the teenagers, but then realized I probably didn't want to deal with the resulting retaliation. So I just trudged back to bed and pulled my pillow over my head. This partially blocked out the kids, but not the hammering and drilling, which came through the wall. Oh well, can't win 'em all, so they say.

I don't know what time the noise finally stopped, but I do know that it had started up as usual at 7 this morning, so I dragged myself out of bed and into my running shoes and forced myself to run around the neighborhood for a while. It was painful, but at least I was away from the construction!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bucharest Weekend

I spent my first weekend in Bucharest after two weeks in Romania, and I have to say it was quite nice. It seems that, much like NYC and Barcelona, all the city folk head out of town on the weekends (either to the beach or the mountains) so it was pretty quiet here. No construction next door in the mornings, and no gypsy ladies calling for scrap metal. Well, not on Sunday anyway.

The parks were the only places that were very busy, and both Cismigiu (near my house) and Herastrau were loaded with families enjoying the nice weather. By 5pm the cars were back and the city was more lively and, even though it was nice to have had some peace and quiet for a couple of days, it was also nice to see the city bustling again.

Some photos:

Cismigiu Park

A Coca-Cola advertisement

The fountains at Piata Unirii were at full blast

Herastrau Lake

Friday, July 14, 2006

Death by Happy Hour

Yesterday was another beautiful day in Bucharest, and perfect for the weekly office happy hour on the terrace. Unfortunately I was too busy drinking Tuborg and playing basketball to take any photos, so you'll just have to believe me when I say it was a killer time. The only problem (which wasn't really a problem at all, at the time) is that it extended to 3am.

And this, too, would be fine if I could've slept in a bit like normal people do under such circumstances. But unfortunately, the construction doesn't stop, nor does the crazy gypsy lady refrain from her weird morning yodel about metal scraps, just because Noelle has a bit of a headache. In fact, it turns out that I don't need an alarm clock here because the drilling and hammering starts next door (actually, in the wall next to my bed) at 7am. And if I manage to sleep through that, the yodeling starts precisely at 8am. Even on the weekends. I guess gypsies don't really pay attention to what day of the week it is. Or what time it is, evidently.

Anyhow, I have recovered and all is well. I have a project to work on (cat food - my favorite!) and another ad was approved last night, so that means another shoot to go on next week. And if the weather holds, it looks like it'll be another sunny, beautiful weekend.

Unlike when I took this picture, two days ago in the rain. My building, with the one under construction on the right:

And on a sunnier day, the view from my little balcony:

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Confusion and Rain

Don't let the previous posts fool you. Romania still isn't always a tourist's paradise. An explanation...

1. Last night I tried to buy new turf shoes since I left mine in Spain and was planning to play soccer this week. I went to a sporting goods store and four different shops in a major mall (Adidas, Nike, Puma, Lotto) and no one carries shoes smaller than size 40! I'm a 37 or 38. Mission One of yesterday, failed. Fear not, I will prevail, even if it means importing my shoes from Spain!

2. Mission Two of yesterday was to check out Lipscani Street, which Lonely Planet claims is THE happening street for cafes, bars, etc. So I thought I'd walk down it on the way to the mall and find a cool place for a coffee or a beer after my shopping expedition. Instead all I found were bridal shops and empty, crumbling storefronts. Confusing. And kind of depressing! Particularly when it started to rain. Hard.

Anyway, today a coworker explained that the cafes and bars aren't actually ON Lipscani Street, but on the streets around it. A fine detail Lonely Planet fails to mention. So tonight after work maybe I'll try again.

3. Mission Three was to find a particular movie theater not too far from my house (and, incidentally, very near Lipscani) which plays old films from all over the world, including the US. When I checked the schedule last week, they were playing really cool stuff, like Chinatown and some old westerns I haven't seen. Good news is that I found it (FINALLY! Mission accomplished!). Bad news... they are currently playing mostly non-American old films. Normally this would be cool because, well, I like foreign films. But the problem is that they have Romanian subtitles, and my Romanian just isn't that good yet, so I need to stick with the American, British, Spanish, or even French movies for the time being. And this week's schedule didn't have many. Oh well, maybe next week. At least I know where the theater is now.

So yes, Romania is full of beautiful and unexpected sights and surprises. There are plenty of cool things to do and see. But there are still drawbacks... I miss my big American sporting goods stores! Maybe I should open the Bucharest branch of Paragon Sports...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Monday on the job

This is what I saw after I arrived at work yesterday morning - the Romanian president was welcoming the Czech president. Just another day at the office!

Around lunchtime I went to Mogosoaia Palace for a shoot for an Israeli bottled water commercial.

And finally I walked home around 8:30 and saw another lovely sunset over the river.

Black Sea weekend

Some photos from the weekend trip to the Black Sea resort of Mamaia.

The road to Constanta

A Romanian village

Sunflowers, one of the two major agricultural products of the area (the other is corn)

The road to Mamaia. Hundreds of people stand along this road flashing car keys and I realized that they were all standing in front of cars of various ages and makes, trying to find buyers.

Street soccer

The "Welcome to Constanta" sign

On the road

The Black Sea - the resort at Mamaia


Black Sea sunrise