Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Be Prepared To Rough It

Sometimes I surprise myself by being prepared. As my children will tell you, my memory is not the best in the world and often time I forget to prepare for events.

However, I was prepared yesterday and did not even know 7 months ago I would need to be prepared.

I packed an angel food cake mix in the shipment that came with me to the Middle East.

Every time I go to the grocery store, I look in the cake mixes to see if they have angel food, but they never have.  Thank goodness I was prepared!

You may or may not know this, but our family has a tradition of angle food cake baked fresh and served on your birthday.  We even have a funny story about how this became a tradition in the H family.  Once at Christmas, I videotaped my dear mother-in-law telling my husband how this tradition was started when he was a young boy. Now that BSB is expecting her first baby and Tudy is no longer with us, having this videotape is even more valuable.

Family traditions are very important to us.  It gives us a foundation to know where we came from, and to realize how much we care for each other no matter what happens in our life.  Family is always there.

Yesterday was D’s birthday and I baked my special cake that traveled 7,000 miles for this one day. Not much of it is left this morning.
I guess I should have taken a picture before it was cut.  It may not be pretty, but it was tasty.
The big challenge baking an angel food cake was getting it to bake in our oven. The oven is not even close to being accurate for temperature. You have to guess if it is the temperature you need. On top of that, the temperature marked on the oven is in Celsius not Fahrenheit. 

I purchased an oven thermometer that helps, but the temperature can easily spike over 425 if you turn it up too high and then drop to 200 when you turn it down just a little bit (Fahrenheit).  Every time I bake in the oven, I have to watch the food very carefully or it will burn.  Burning food is a specialty of mine because I tend to be distracted while I cook so watching the food becomes an even bigger challenge. (All my kids re laughing at this. – I always burn the bread at holidays because I am not paying attention to it.)

I invited a few of our US friends to join us for dinner and we walked to the Ritz for a wonderful evening in their special restaurant, Primavera.

The Ritz is all lit up for both Christmas and Bahrain National Day which is December 16.
Palms outside the Ritz.
It was a lovely evning. The restaurant overlooks the beach and pool area of the resort. They have used their wine collection to create some of the walls inside the restaurant. The walls of wine can be opened to select your wine.  I guess you would say the restaurant is a large wine cellar.  It is very impressive.

Our wine was excellent.  And, at the end of the dinner the wait staff serenaded D with “Happy Birthday to You” and a special bottle of Moscatel Ora for dessert.

A birthday toast.
As we left the restaurant they gave the ladies roses.  It really was quite nice -- pricey, but nice and certainly a great way to celebrate D’s birthday.

After dinner, our group walked back to our flat and ate cake with vanilla ice cream (another tradition). The cake was well worth the challenge. And, I am extremely glad I was prepared. 

Another tradition carried on for another year  --  even in the Middle East!


Scottish Pub Crawl Without Boots

My boots are in storage in Delaware.  Who would have thought I would need them while I was living in the Middle East.  But, I sure wish I had them now.

We just spent 4 lovely days in Glasgow, Scotland.  Lovely is not referring to the weather. My hands and my feet nearly froze every time I went out. It was 48 degrees Fahrenheit or 9 degrees Celsius with scattered showers.

They spared no cost for the decorations at the Glasgow airport.  Really??? What were they thinking?
D had business in Glasgow so I tagged along.  It was great fun even though there was only 6.5 hours of daylight each day.  Sundown is at 3:45 in the afternoon this time of year.  That took a bit of getting used to.
Street scene at 4PM.  Shopping was in full swing.
This pic is of a street named West Nile.  WOW!  Didn't they name a virus after this street?
Our hotel was in the heart of the City Center and only a couple of blocks away from D’s office so we could walk everywhere.  The first day I walked for almost 5 hours.  It was awesome and I found a plethora of wonderful sights.

Not sure these painters would make it for safety at D's company.
The city was all decked out for Christmas with strolling musicians. There was a full band on one corner.  Here are a couple of videos of all the merry making.

Every night there were holiday parties going on all over the city.  All the restaurants were completely booked and this caused a bit of a problem.  On our last night, D and I camped out in a pub.  We had pints of ale with fish and chips for dinner.  It was a lot of fun.
We gave these two guys the award for the WORST Christmas sweater.  These kinds of sweaters were all over the place but these two were proud enough to model them for us.
Came all the way to Scotland to drink Virginia beer????
Ale available on every corner!
Our self portrait inside the Anchor Line spirits house. This was the by far the nicest bar we visited. 
One of the highlights of the trip was a climb to the top of the MacIntosh Lighthouse. 
Dusk (3PM) from the Lighthouse Tower designed by MackIntosh.
One of the Tea Rooms we visited designed by MackIntoxh.
Looking down inside the MackIntosh Lighthouse.

We were leaving the hotel at 4:50 AM (we had a very early flight home) and a group of ladies were just coming in from their party.  I asked what they were celebrating and they said, “It is Christmas of course.”  I guess I have never seen this much celebration in advance of Christmas.  The cabbie even said it slows down for New Year’s Eve. 

We had a lay over in London’s Heathrow for just a bit on the way home but we did not leave the airport.  As I was sitting in the British Airways Lounge, I thought once again how lucky I am.  The lounge overlooks the runway and a large number of the planes sitting at their gates. What an amazing life to travel and enjoy our global community.
MackIntosh in the airport.  He was everywhere.
Inside structural details of Heathrow as seen from the British Airways Lounge.  It was very impressive.
Reading the London newspaper, it occurrs to me maybe the US crime rate is not so bad after all – the London paper was like reading a tabloid filled with the most outrageous crimes.  WAIT – I am reading a tabloid.  It just looked like a real "news" newspaper.

A big snowstorm is coming in behind us. Thank goodness we won’t be in Scotland then. Now we are on to our way to our 6.5 hour flight back to the sandbox. Everyone here in England has on boots, but mine are no where to be found.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not So Safe

Have you ever done something and then thought, “What was I thinking?”

Yep -- me, too!

(If you said no to that question, you are in denial.)

I had a passport challenge recently.  My current visa for Bahrain is only a tourist visa and good for 2 weeks.  I have to renew it frequently.  I was going to be leaving for Saudi Arabia (that is another blog) and thought I had enough time that I would not need to renew it before I left.

However my visa was one day short and did not realize it until the day before it expired.  I called up the “Mr. Fix It” for D’s company and arranged to meet him at the Bahrain office to sign the documents and give him my visa so he could get an extention.

Unfortunately, I did not take into account it was morning, the busiest time of the day for traffic in that area of Manama.  I could not find a parking place anywhere so he had to come down to the street and meet me.  I parked in a taxi lane hoping to not get kicked out.

Sharing the street with vendors with carts.

The Taxi Stand in the shadow of the Rolex dealer.

Other than feeling a bit boxed in, it all went fine and my passport made it’s way to being renewed.  

My next commitment for the day was to drive to a printer and help with a book being published by the American Woman’s Association.  The person I was meeting had given me directions coming from the opposite way and it was clear to me that the road I was on in Manama lead directly to the printer.

It would be much shorter if I just went down the road I was already on.

Road leading to the printer.
With my GPS turned on and directions coming from the phone, I took off for the printer.  However pretty soon it was apparent I had finally found the area of Manama that I did not want to be in.

Black flags of the political opposition were flying all around on the buildings and beside the streets. There was Arab graffiti on all the buildings.

I did not stop to take pictures.

I did not stop to look around.

I did not even turn my head and look at any of the people on the sidewalks who were clearly looking at me.

I drove as steady and fast as I could out of the area.

The blonde lady from the US knew she was in the wrong place.

This was history repeating itself.

Once, over 30 years ago, D and I were driving through Los Angeles. He asked me to give him driving directions to get to the downtown area as directly as I could. He wanted to see the tall buildings. Looking at buildings is often part of any vacation we take.

This was before MapQuest or Google Maps.  I had a paper map and I buried my head in the map giving him directions – two blocks then turn right, one block then turn on this street, so on.

D stopped at a stop light and asked me (my head was buried in the map), “Brenda, look on your map. Is there an area called Watts located close to where we are?”

I carefully studied the map and answered, “Yes, 2 blocks to our right.” I looked up to see burned out cars and buildings that looked like they had been blown up in a war.

For those of you are too young to know, there was a huge riot in LA in the area called Watts.  We were in the very heart of Watts.

We carefully locked our car doors and drove off as quickly as we could.  Two young kids in a new car with Kansas plates was a tempting target and we were getting lots of stares from people on the sidewalk.

I had that same tight feeling in my gut as I drove through Manama on my way to the printer.  I tried to think of what a great story it was going to be, but all I could think about was all the grief my son was going to give me when he found out about this adventure.

I survived again and I will have more adventures.  But, I have definitely seen the “not so safe” side of Manama.


Sorry there are not many pictures for this blog.  I am sure you understand. ☺

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rain in the Middle East

Today I am not in Bahrain.  I am in Saudi Arabia (SA) securing my Iqama.  An Iqama is residence permit that allows me to go to Saudi with D. His office for this area is in Al Khubar, SA, just across the causeway from Bahrain.

There are several reasons I might need or want to go to SA.  If D has a problem, I could go and help him.  Or, the best reason is we want to go diving in the Red Sea off the western coast of SA.  (yippee) Another benefit of having my Iqama is that I can attend meetings of the American Woman’s Association in Al Khubar and meet the ladies living here.

There are some great photos on this site.

To complete my Iqama process, I will stay here in Al Khubar for a week (in a hotel) while the Saudi government processes my application.  The Iqama process was very complicated and detailed.

Prior to this trip to Khubar, I had already spent 2 months working on the process. There were two physicals, one in the US and one here in Al Khubar. While I was back in the States for the first physical, my passport and the results of that physical (along with extensive blood work), a multipage form and several other documents were submitted to the Saudi consulate.  After that first application was approved, they issued a permit for me to come to Al Khubar and apply for the Iqama.

Working on my Iqama is exciting, BUT THE BIG NEWS is that it rained in Bahrain.  We have an engineer from Virginia staying in our flat in Bahrain while he is finding a villa to move into.  He sent me a picture of our balcony with ¼” of rain!  Woo Hoo!

This is the first rain I have seen since May.

The chairs on our balcony have big (water proof) cushions.  When DT sent me this picture of water draining out of one of the cushions, I almost fell out of my chair laughing  He has finally found a practical use for the bidets in all our bathrooms. I think he has cushions draining in all four bidets.

Putting the bidet to good use.

Here I am with DW getting ready to go into Saudi.  We are wearing our abayas.  Women have to be covered up at all times in public in SA.

Getting ready to enter SA.
I was very excited to have the opportunity to go to Saudi Arabia.  I have known only a few people who have visited Saudi. It is a very unique destination. However, it was a bit of a let down when the first site we had of Saudi Arabia was a MacDonald’s restaurant.
My first view of Saudi Arabia.
Our husbands driving on the causeway.
Al Khubar is a much bigger city that I thought and so far we have not seen any areas that look old or run down. Our hotel is wonderful and the food is GREAT.

View from the back seat of downtown. Women don't drive in SA so our husbands are in the front seat driving us into SA. 
Typical row of older buildings.
Employee parking lot is all sand.
View from D's office.
Orchids in my hotel.
Last night we were invited to have dinner in the home of one of D’s architects from the office.  It was lovely and exceptionally interesting. We met his wonderful wife and two daughters. All of the people here are welcoming and friendly. This family was exceptional and it was a memorable evening.

On the way home, IT WAS RAINING with lightning and thunder.  Typically it only rains for about one week a year here so the water drainage is not as good as we might have in the US.  The water was quite deep on most of the roads.
The first day we were here, DW and I discovered a new grocery store down the street from our hotel.  It was probably the nicest grocery store I have ever been in.  It is called a Hyper Mart because they also sell all kinds of things including clothing.

The amazing thing about this store was that the selection was so in depth for some items.  There was an entire wall of honey, one aisle of bar soap and a huge display of toothpicks in every imaginable design or color.

Tooth picks of every variety.
Whole cakes 
Pieces of cake.
Tea pots.
More tea pots.
Bar soap.
Feta cheese. 
More feta cheese. I am not sure what I am going to do when I go back the US.  The feta cheese over here is better than anything I have ever tasted in the States.  Saudi feta is also my favorite when I am shopping in Bahrain. Now I can see why.  Obviously they love feta cheese.

Baking flat bread.
You can find all kinds of services in SA. This building offers skin care, laser treatments, plastic surgery and obesity care. With all the sweets and cakes they sell, they have an obesity problem in Bahrain and SA. You can find very few sugar free foods or drinks.
I think they are trying to make it perfectly clear this is a family entrance to this restaurant.  Women can only enter through the family entrance for most restaurants and banks.

The family entrance to this restaurant is off to the right.  Many restaurants the family (women) entrance is hidden or behind the building. And, sometimes it is hard to find. 
So far, it is a very enjoyable week and SA is nothing at all what I expected. However, neither was Bahrain. So I guess all my preconceived ideas of the Middle East need to go out the window.

Our driver parked on the sidewalk when we went to the clinic for second physical exam. Because DW and I are women, we had to have a driver everywhere we went. It was nice because we would not have been able to find our way around.
View from one side of the balcony for our hotel room with rush hour traffic heading home.
Construction is not fast in this area.  D says this is the main road through Al Khubar. It has been under construction for over two years.
Today I am in search of a Starbucks Coffee Shop.  We have seen them as we have been driving around so I know we can find one close to the hotel.  I want to buy a mug from SA.  I hope they have SA mugs.  I buy one in every country I visit.  It makes for a great collection of memories. There will definitely be some good memories of Saudi Arabia.

I think I will go on Google Maps and plan a trip to Starbucks.  Another adventure! Woo Hoo!


Here is a video that was taken on the dash board of a man who is just driving around Al Khobar very early in the morning before there are people or cars on the roads. He does not take you down any of the narrow roads in the older part of the city. He goes from the suburbs to the city and along the major arteries.

In the US we have a drug store on every corner but in the Middle East there is a Mosque on every corner. There are lots of traffic circles and speed bumps along the way.  This is all very normal for SA and Bahrain so you can get a sense of what it is like to go on the roads -- BUT WITHOUT THE CRAZY TRAFFIC.  When there is traffic, it is very dangerous.