I Wish I Had a Date

My life currently revolves around dates. I’m in the process of ridding my apartment of its contents and have pickups scheduled for the next two weeks. As part of our clearance process, there are steps that must be taken so we can produce the necessary paperwork to have our resident visas canceled. Yesterday, a representative from the gas company stopped in to check the gas line so I could obtain clearance for the first of several utilities. Mind you, I never had a gas connection since I chose electric appliances, but the tech had to drop by to verify anyway.

Just as I suspected...

Just as I suspected…

Next, I’ll wait for my resignation request to move forward, which I submitted on March 8. Rumor had it that all requests would be processed by June 15, but dates don’t seem to mean all that much here so it’s still in limbo. Inshallah, I will receive an email next week so I can begin the multi-step exit process. If all goes according to plan, I’ll clear out of my apartment on June 30, shack up in a hotel for six days, and fly home on July 6. All of this is tentative right now, so we’ll see. I wish I had a date.

I will, however, tell you what kind of dates do matter to the people of the UAE- these babies:

I would be remiss if I didn’t explain the importance of dates in this country. Bedouins harvested, used, and sold dates long before the United Arab Emirates was formed. Nutritious, abundant, and easy to pack for traveling, dates have sustained Middle Easterners for more than 7000 years. Rarely will we attend a meeting without being offered chocolate and dates. Generally wherever there is coffee or tea, dates are nearby.

150-plus varieties of this fruit, which grow on the date palm, are found in the UAE.

Add to that the dozens of variations in which dates can be doctored up, and it’s borderline mind-blowing. Pass a kiosk in the mall and this is what you’ll see:

Dubai even hosts a Date Festival every year:

One of my students (she doesn’t speak much English but she smiles a lot) brought me a container of dates from her grandfather’s date farm.

d1

She had an English-speaking friend tell me that they’d last for months on my kitchen counter and I should eat one every day instead of sharing them. Now, if they were wrapped in bacon (so haramadan!) that would’ve been one thing, but I did end up sharing these with anyone and everyone who stopped over.  In the past two years, it’s definitely one of the nicest gifts I’ve received while here.

Now, the third type of date is something I may need help with, so all you Chicagoans need to flip through your Rolodexes and hook me up with your best catch starting July 6. Inshallah. That may be a taller order to fill than getting me out of here. Yet, after meeting so many people and having such a great time, I’m sure when I return I’ll wish I had a date. And I’m a much more tolerant human now. Really.

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Mahna Mahna (A Fractured Fairy Tale)

Once upon a time, there was a Princess who wore an imaginary crown and traveled the world whenever her busy schedule allowed. Due to the Al Isra Wal Miraj holiday, the princess planned a weekend getaway. It’s always fun to visit a kingdom, she thought. I don’t know why but it makes me feel special, even if I’m only wearing an imaginary crown. And with that, she hopped over to the island of Bahrain for the weekend.

Once arriving at the capital city of Manama, the princess took her first of four overpriced taxi rides to the hotel. Hmmm, why does the meter show one price but with a push of a button the fee doubles?  the princess wondered, but it turns out she couldn’t get a straight answer to that question for the rest of the weekend.

I know! I’ll just walk to the souk instead of getting ripped off again.  And with that, the princess adjusted her imaginary crown and ventured out toward the popular shopping venue, armed with enough dinar for her usual paltry souvenirs.

It seemed lovely at the time

It seemed lovely at the time

I wonder if all eyes are upon me because I’m a princess, she questioned.

“No!” a voice boomed. It was a military man brandishing an AK-47. “You’ve completely disregarded the dress code of this country. Exactly who do you think you ARE?”

“OMG, sorry, sorry, sorry! I’m a princess, and didn’t realize I couldn’t make up my own rules in life. I guess I should’ve given that more thought during my three-minute packing session.”

“Away with you!” the man seethed as he waved his weapon in the air. “Everyone! Leer at this slut until she returns to her hotel!” And so they did, and the princess slunk back to the Sheraton with her eyes fixed on the ground while the gazes of many burned holes through her exposed knees.

Back in the safety of the hotel, the princess spotted other tourists who were also inappropriately dressed, and she instantly felt more at home. I think I’ll just chill at the bar and forget about this afternoon’s unfortunate string of events. Sipping her 42 dirham vodka tonic, she was approached by a regal-looking man dressed in white.

“Foolish lady, why are you in this bar? Can’t you see this is a popular hangout for certain men? Who do you think you are?”

“I’m sorry,” the princess winced. And she adjusted her imaginary crown before slithering back to her room.

Well, at least I booked the hotel club lounge for my stay. I’ll head over there for snacks and happy hour, the princess reasoned as she tried to lower her anxiety level without the aid of a Xanax.

This is super-enjoyable, the princess cried as she settled into a comfy chair, armed with an appetizer spread of spring rolls, quesadillas, and a nice glass of cab, her elixir of choice.

Then all of a sudden, the princess heard a blood-curdling scream. What the…? She looked at the other club patrons but they were as puzzled as she. Then… in bounded 4-year old Mariam (aka the human tornado) screaming with arms flailing, followed by five other members of her family. Noooooo, lamented the princess. Don’t set this crew up next to me!” Surely the waiter could see the princess’ imaginary crown. He wouldn’t dare do such a thing… or would he?

For the next hour, the princess witnessed the systematic unfolding of Mariam’s meltdown. The cookie assortment, orange Fanta, and hot chocolate only fueled her ability to snag ice out of the community bucket bare-handed, manhandle every stir stick at the bar, and rearrange plates and bowls that her family had no intention of using. In fact, they seemed unfazed by the whole lengthy show. After the room had been successfully destroyed by a half dozen sugar packets dumped on the table, chair, and floor, Mariam’s family departed, probably to wreak havoc in the pool area (even though it was outside operational hours). The cleaning crew immediately descended upon the destruction and proceeded to tidy up the mess.

After the vacuum was turned off, the princess muttered, “Why was SHE allowed to do those things while I’ve been ostracized for EVERY misstep I’ve made today?”

“Because she is a princess,” one of the workers answered matter-of-factly. “And you… well, you must be a teacher here on a long weekend. We can spot your type a mile away. You often confuse where you live with who you really are.” The waiter smiled, brought over the bottle of cab, and filled up the princess’ glass.

“Thanks. Can I take this to my room?” she asked.

“Certainly, “ the waiter responded. “And, hey, don’t forget your imaginary crown.”

 

(Cast photos below)

All Good Things

I’m condensing four events into one post because they all ooze happy, happy, happy (and I’m lazy and super-far behind on everything.)

  1. It’s raining again in Abu Dhabi, but not the wet stuff- just babies, babies everywhere! One of our co-workers moved to Dubai before her little guy was born, but I’ve been fortunate to meet the rest of the new Abu Dhabi newborn crew. They don’t have UAE citizenship, but I think they’re still higher up on the food chain than the rest of us.

Ben was born in February, so mama Dagmar has recently returned to work.

Her maternity leave was perfectly timed with Katie’s, who gave birth to baby Alya the week before Dagmar returned.

Our wonderful Maeve and Carl recently became first-time parents and lucked out with little Julia. Sleep-deprived and questioning everything they knew about life, they asked me if I had ever gotten rest when my kids were young. Not one to mince words, I spat out a definite “no.” I mean, maybe 18 years from now you’ll catch up, if you’re lucky. We live in the same building though, so if they’re smart they’ll call me to babysit sometime before mid-July, when the offer expires indefinitely.

Get this one: Forget about the woman who just pushed a baby out of her; the UK folks use the term “wetting the baby’s head,” meaning the birth is celebrated with a drink (how odd for these people). Once again, I’m the clueless American who went with the flow in the moment and Googled it later. I was like, “Why? Is it because the newborn gets spilled on?”
We all sent toasting pics to Carl & Maeve the night Julia was born and then met the proud papa out at The Tavern the following evening for an official celebration.

Sometimes this place is so indescribable that normalcy is a breath of fresh air. I’m thankful for social media, so even after we go our separate ways I’ll be able to watch these tykes grow up!!

  1. Spring Break- Jenna was able to visit in late March. Since she was only here for a short time, we opted out of repeating the local attractions that we had hit the first time around. Instead, she was intent on frying herself on Saadiyat Beach; mission accomplished in about three hours. Another highlight was convincing her to come to work, her claim to fame being she’s the only visitor who has been able to share the school experience with me.

Kate & Brandon’s Engagement on 4/23/16

Brandon did a spectacular job with the proposal. A number of friends were in attendance, along with Jenna and three of Kate’s besties from home. I was Skyped in at 4:30am and was able to watch a small part of it on my phone. In this crazy world we live in, it’s comforting to know she is loved and respected by a wonderful man and that they’re ready to forge a path in life together. And the pictures speak volumes about their happiness level.

  1. Kate’s Graduation 4/30/16

As I type, my sister has me Skyped into Kate’s graduation ceremony. Jackie, her husband John, and my parents are in attendance and I’m sure a good time was had by all at the celebration dinner last night. I’m so incredibly blessed to have watched my girl grow into a phenomenal adult and know that only good things are in store for her.

 

I’m beyond thankful for social media for keeping me connected to my world back home. I was actually going to get dressed and put on some makeup so I looked presentable at the ceremony, but Kate caught me off-guard a few minutes ago. So the tears have already begun to flow. I’m now quietly sobbing my way through Pomp & Circumstance and hope the connection holds up while she walks across the stage, not that I’ll be able to see by that point.

Congrats to all and thanks for making my world a whole lot brighter!

The Four Muscat-eers

Right next door to the UAE, the Sultanate of Oman lies on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

Since it’s always good to befriend the neighbors, Joe, Bettina, Craig and I opted to hop on a 45-minute flight and spend a few days in the capital of Muscat over Spring Break. For various reasons (single, American, female, no work permit) I’m not allowed to enter some of the Middle Eastern countries, but Oman welcomed us with open arms.

We set up camp at the Crowne Plaza, and by that I mean once we arrived, we never left the place. Instead, we enjoyed the sun, sand, and the refreshingly beautiful mountains.. It was a bit hazy, just like AD has been the past few weeks, but still a nice change of pace.

We happened upon a stingray- the first one I’ve ever seen outside of an aquarium.

Photo: Bettina

Photo: Bettina

Unfortunately, the poor guy was stuck upside down in high tide. We weren’t sure if he was injured and didn’t get close enough to find out. The beach area was also rife with crabs- those little scramblers can send a chill down your spine (Nature Girl at her finest).

It was a relaxing few days of R & R. Luckily, husband & wife guest bloggers and professional campers Andy and Danni took an excursion to Oman over Christmas Break and have finally put the finishing touches on their post/novel. Not much of a camper, in my next post I’m happy to present through their words and photographs the breathtaking side of Oman, which most definitely did not include the food-and-drink-inclusive Club Floor plan at the Crowne Plaza 🙂

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

What, you ask, could possibly have occurred today in Abu Dhabi that incited more pandemonium than a Trump rally back home in the States?

If you live here, you know exactly what I’m referring to. Yes, it rained. And for the first time in any area I’ve been in at any given moment, it rained for more than ten minutes. I think at work we got close to an hour’s worth. A thundershower (can you hear 700 girls screaming about that?) complete with lightning (more screaming).

On the rare occasion that it rains, the students will bolt out of the classroom and into the courtyard. I’d say 70% of the courtyard is covered by a beautiful metal roof, and 15% on either side is open above. I’ll have to take a photo one day, but the teachers were told to delete any photos taken today, so I can’t post them and still expect to have my job tomorrow.

So cue a substantial amount of rain, and the girls immediately tear out to the courtyard. Most of them just stand there and talk while they get soaked to the bone. Some splash, others kick up water, many hug; we even saw a game of ‘Ring Around the Rosie’ (yes, this is high school.)

Fast forward about fifteen minutes and signs of flooding appear.

Because it’s the desert, the sewer system leaves something to be desired. Someone in administration bellows (in Arabic) over the crackling loudspeaker, and one of my students informs me that they’re all supposed to head to the canteen. For safety reasons? Why would they want 700 soaked teenage girls corralled into such a small space? Another 15-20 minutes later, most of them have splashed over to the canteen; the English teachers aren’t sure why, but it frees me from teaching a double period, so I’ll play along.

I’m standing outside the door with several other teachers who were smart enough to decline the order to go inside and monitor the students. I peer beyond the glass door into the open bathroom and spy a layer of bubbles covering the floor; the girls have obviously found a way to amuse themselves despite being detained. After a worried comment to administration, my work is done. But before anyone remedies the situation, the soapy water has oozed out into the canteen.

Slip-n-Slide!!!!!!!

Chaos ensues. After several injuries (shocking, I know) the girls charge the door, probably so they can wash off outside in the newly-formed puddles. When the canteen is officially declared too dangerous to house the girls, they’re eventually funneled back into the classrooms. The few that didn’t dart back to the courtyard won’t sit in their seats for the remainder of the day because they’re wet, cold, and uncomfortable, which couldn’t have been foreseen by any of them, right?

Though the damage has been done and the girls weren’t bused home hours before as they should’ve been, the final bell rings twenty-five minutes early. The teachers are told to stay until 3:30, but that’s ok because it gave me time to write most of this post.

Hamdulilah, this day has finally come to an end. I had to take a secondary route home from school because some of the ramps and underpasses are currently flooded. But I’m home now and have the evening to relax. Calgon, take me away. Oh wait, my bathtub stopper was never installed. It probably would’ve been smarter to stay at work and just bathe on the canteen floor.

Two Sisters

We’re short-staffed at work, so everyone’s been swamped lately. I’ve even been tackling work duties at night and on the weekends, which I haven’t had to do in quite some time. There. That’s my excuse why my post detailing my sister’s visit is long overdue.

After a year and a half, I wasn’t sure Jackie would make it to the UAE, but the plan finally came to fruition. Since she was only here for a week, we charged full speed ahead from day one. Yes, I ran my sister ragged, but there were a million things I insisted she “needed” to see in order to better understand my life as a desert-dweller.

 We began with the good stuff- sun and sand at Saadiyat Beach,

followed by a sunset pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque.

We taxied to Cooper’s for trivia and scored a 4th place “victory.”

Day 2: After a stop at Heritage Village, a great place to buy souvenirs,

we hopped over to Emirates Palace.

Unfortunately, the gold ATM is still out of order. I was disappointed because Jackie’s probably the only visitor I’ll have who would’ve actually contemplated making a purchase (gold shoes would’ve sealed the deal.)

Next, we headed across the street to Jumeirah at Etihad Towers for afternoon tea.

Food here often looks better than it tastes, and this was no exception (“If you ever wanted to make a prawn sandwich that tasted like nothing, you’d make this.”)

But the hot and cold teas were both good and, BONUS! we found a mirror in the lobby that made us look like toothpicks.

We wound down the afternoon at the prosecco bar at the Intercontinental, my home away from home when I first arrived in Abu Dhabi.

The following day I insisted that we hit up the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, which showcases Emirati culture past and present. But to be honest, it’s all about the people-watching.

Later in the week, we “Mexican brunched” ourselves at El Sombrero. She had several hours to meet and chat with my amigos; from here on out she’ll know who I’m talking about and why I love them all.

We ended the week with a stop at Mushrif Central Park because I was hell-bent on her leaving with the quintessential falcon photo.

Disappointed that there wasn’t a handler in sight, we were lucky enough to spot an owl (which, blame it on my blindness, I assumed was a falcon until I got up close and realized I was mistaken). Still, super-cute… we’ll take it.

The following day, it was time to have one last chicken shawarma and say good-bye until July. Not my strong point, I kind of drop-kicked her out of the car at Dubai Airport. I told one of my friends on the phone the other day when she asked how happy I’d be to return to the U.S- yes, I’ll be happy. But I must say, after the first six months in Abu Dhabi, the insanity here became my “normal,” so there will be sadness along with an adjustment period back to my former life. I’m thrilled that I’ve hosted a few friends/relatives over the past year and a half because they’ve shared some of my UAE experiences. They’ll agree that it’s good living in Abu Dhabi and the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet are absolutely awesome, just like everyone back home.

Don’t Let Me Down

I haven’t posted in a few weeks, the reason being that although I’ve attempted to find cool happenings to chronicle, nothing has panned out. Couple that with some ridiculousness that has gone on here recently and all I can blog about right now are the little disappointments in life.

Miracle Garden, Dubai
Sounds spectacular, doesn’t it? We drove to Dubai last September and found Miracle Garden closed for the hot summer months. I put it on the back burner until we cruised over there last weekend. What could potentially be an absolutely stunning display of flowers (below is the entrance; it looks nice, right?)

is just the wildest mix of oddities imaginable.

The Butterfly Garden is right down the road (calling it a street would be giving it too much credit). It’s expensive and no better than Miracle Garden. Plus, I’m kinda scared of butterflies in bulk, and there are TONS of them dive-bombing everyone in a relatively a small space.

Scarier than it looks!

Scarier than it looks!

My car
So I bolt out of work last Wednesday (as I do daily) to find I have a flat tire. As a renter, I was under the impression that the car company offered complete service. No, I must call emergency roadside service. They tell me I’m too far out of the city but can call another company for a tow- except I don’t need a tow. I resign myself to changing the tire, messy business in the desert, and drive home like the angry bitch on wheels that I’ve always aspired to be. The rental car company sends a guy to my apartment building to pick up the flat tire, but instead of repairing and returning it the following day as agreed, they’ve deemed upon inspection that I’ve misused the tire and need to purchase a new one. No, no, no, that’s not how this scenario’s gonna play out. So they pick up the car to check out the other tires and leave me with a junker of a Mitsubishi Lancer- all scratched up, so I appear to be a terrible driver (when we all know I rock). It also lacks bluetooth, so my fave podcasts are piling up while I’m stuck with Kenny & Daisy in the morning. Day 7, tomorrow, my car will be returned because it has been determined that I did NOT misuse that singular tire after all. I mean, I can careen around a three-lane roundabout with the best of them, but two tires simultaneously on the ground is my minimum. At least ‘til I get that car back tomorrow.

Work
One step forward, two steps back. Unfortunately, if I elaborate on that I might not have a job to report to every morning so I’ll leave the details for private conversations. I just think everyone should take a short minute to feel sorry for me. Shukran.

Apartment
I received a text from building management that my bathtub stopper has finally been installed and the work ticket has been closed. I call and explain to a woman that although I’ve been periodically calling for a year and a half, no one has showed up to install the stopper. She responds, “We just close out all the tickets after a certain period of time.” Oh, ok. If we could all resolve our issues in that manner, this post wouldn’t exist.

Apple Music
Disastrous. I signed up for a 3-month trial and the next thing I know all my playlists have disappeared off iTunes. Do they have any idea how many years I spent creating those? And I still can’t even find half my songs; I guess they’re in “the cloud.” The cloud better hope I never come face-to-face with it, because I will make it cry.
To top it off, as of yesterday Apple TV only offers streaming music stations to Apple Music subscribers. Come on, have you heard the radio selection over here?? But until Apple Music is “fixed” to my liking, I won’t pay a dirham (or even a fil, for that matter) for their service. Luckily, there’s a radio app that I familiarized myself with yesterday. Seems ok, once I accept the fact that it’s not commercial-free. Duh, maybe that’s why it’s free, you think?

When you break it all down, there’s really not too much to be disappointed in after all. Let’s be real; we’ve all dealt with way worse things in life. It’s just that in Abu Dhabi, when things go wrong they take ten times longer to resolve than they would at home. The voice of reason is non-existent. You want to squeeze the life out of the wrong people most of the time. Admittedly, the WTF factor does help to create a few laughs, though. Like when my buddy Jordan texted our group to ask how to wash rice. You’re washing rice, really? WTF? I can only respond that I’ve never washed rice, but I wash eggs ever since I bought one with a feather stuck to it. Now that seems reasonable! Or how Shannan’s apartment is more like an indoor waterfall- that’s a serious WTF. Or when Bettina got stranded in Isatanbul without her luggage and was proud that she found some granny panties at the “gift” shop to tide her over- that’s a Bettina WTF. Or when Ashley… oh, Ashley. She’s just a walking WTF (in a good way, AJ). It all contributes to the laughter, and sometimes it’s all we’ve got.

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly in Madrid

It’s not easy to condense a week-long  vacation into a blog post. But since most of you take vacations and don’t report every detail to me, I’ll return the favor. I met the girls in the Madrid airport and we spent our first night in the Nuevo Madrid Hotel, eating (our first of several) Iberico ham & Brie sandwiches in bed, for lack of anywhere better.

Girls in hotel lobby

Girls in hotel lobby

The following day, we met my sister Jackie and my nephew Louis at the Madrid train station to ride the high-speed train to Barcelona.

My best Christmas surprise was that the girls had dug my beloved elf Buddy out of storage and brought him to Spain. He was super-scared to ride the train at first but later admitted it was an enjoyable few hours. He’s growing up so quickly!

For the next several nights, we stayed in a 3-bedroom apartment in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona. Here’s our awesome view:

I chose this place because of the location and the fact that many reviewers complained about other buildings sporting a heinous number of stairs but no elevator. I was aware that the elevator would be small, but thought “better something than nothing.” It was beyond claustrophobic, more like a dumb-waiter, but we were able to send our luggage up and down and Jackie and I could use it at night to avoid climbing the stairway to heaven.

Other highlights:

  1. Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona. Construction began in 1882, was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, and resumed in the 1950’s but its completion isn’t projected until 2026.

Typical "Berg Girl at a museum" expression

Typical “Berg Girl at a museum” expression

2. Tio de Nadal- While waiting for our entrance time to Sagrada Familia, we wandered the nearby streets and repeatedly saw this log everywhere but had no clue what it was.

Jackie said it was some kind of local tradition. Well, it turns out that his name is Tió de Nadal and he’s a present-pooping log. I’ll briefly explain, but this shit’s hard to believe.

 

In the Catalonia region of Spain, Tió is brought into the home on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and is “fed” each day and covered with a blanket to keep warm until Christmas Eve. On December 24th the children hit poor Tió with a stick so he can crap out presents for them. While at the Barcelona football team’s stadium, Camp Nou, we witnessed some children hitting Tió and, lo and behold, when the blanket was lifted gift bags for all the kids were pulled out from under him. Magic.

3. There was more to Camp Nou than just witnessing Tió-abuse. I wouldn’t even have gone here if Louis wasn’t with us, but we ended up spending more time at Camp Nou than any other attraction. There was no match being played, but my sis and Lou had already attended a Madrid game before the girls and I arrived in Spain, so we just toured the stadium. Memorabilia fills cases in multiple rooms and lines the walls; we were also able to go into the stands. Super cool. Thanks, Lou! Next time, just buy the jersey outright. Lesson learned, I hope.

 

 

4. Gúell Park- Located on Carmel Hill in Barcelona. Carmel Hill is one big hill, I tell ya. The street we climbed had an escalator running up the middle for the last two blocks.

The park surroundings are very gingerbread-like.

Antoni Gaudí designed this park, as well as Sagrada Familia.

(This part’s for Jenna only: Gaudí, Gaudí, Gaudí, Gaudí, Gaudí! Enough??)

Lots of buildings, sculptures, and mosaic work. The girls were on a mission to find the salamanca, which means lizard for those of you who find that my level of Español surpasses yours :).

5. Flamenco Show: Not to knock my sis for planning many of the activities, but Kate, Jenna, and I agreed to dub this event “toe-tapping, knee-slapping, chest-pounding, hand-clapping, finger-snapping, greasy-haired fun.”

By the time we trained back to super-crowded Madrid, I was wiped out. We shopped, ate, stopped for coffee,

Enjoying your Starbucks, Janet?

Enjoying your Starbucks, Janet?

and meandered through a Titanic exhibit. Oh yeah, we also visited the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain’s contemporary art museum. Always cool to see some Dali and Picasso works, but we spent most of our time re-naming the questionable sculptures.

We also consumed gluttonous amounts of gelato, sangria, and churros with chocolate.

Louis enjoyed the seafood paella and lobster slightly more than Kate did; I think it was a little too close to its original form for her liking.

I concluded the trip with a chilly day in Rome (the girls had taken my winter coat back with them), walking around, seeing the sights on my own. Accidentally ended up at Eataly too, a nice surprise. I confirmed that even though my Spanish is terrible, my Italian is worse.

On deck: a month of Trimester 2 at work before my sister visits! No days off, but I have a few weekend activities to anticipate. I also plan to visit a few nearby countries that are just a short, inexpensive plane hop away. It’s now or never, as I’m entering the home stretch of this journey. I think I need some churros and chocolate to wash down that bittersweet pill.

Hasta luego!

 

Message in a Bottle

“Where should I send your Christmas card?” LOLOLOL. The three easiest ways I can think of are to put it in a bottle and drop it in the Persian Gulf, throw it out of an airplane at 35,000 feet, or secure it to a falcon and hope for the best. Abu Dhabi has neither an address system nor regular mail delivery. In fact, a year and a half after moving here I still don’t know what street I live on. Truth. We receive bills via text message and either pay online or at the mall. Luckily, I’m able to pay most of my bills right across the street.

I recently read with interest an article about Onwani, the Abu Dhabi address system that’s set for completion in December 2015. Wait… it’s already December, and it looks like there’s still a ways to go. Granted, numerous street signs have been installed in recent months.

However, there are still many streets with multiple names or none at all. Buildings are slowly being assigned numbers. A friend’s building now has an address or two; yes, there’s a different number on the back than the front. Mine has none. Like we learn as youngsters, one is enough for everyone and it’s not fair to exclude. Hopefully this will all even out soon. For now, we navigate the city using GPS and plugging in coordinates, building names, or a landmark near our destination, winging it by sight when we get close.

On the bright side, I never come home to a pile of junk mail.

So please scan and email me your card or send it to my condo back home and I’ll come home to a nice Christmas in July. I really do love all the holiday cards and family photos though, so don’t cross me off your list! I’ll hopefully have a nice family photo by next week to post on FB and Insta that will act as our card for this year. Meanwhile, I’ve amassed some photos of Christmas in Abu Dhabi. They’re not all pretty but most are, and it’s been really nice to celebrate the season these past few weeks.

Tree at Beach Rotana

Tree at Beach Rotana

Life-size gingerbread house

Life-size gingerbread house

Obviously for someone on the naughty list

Obviously for someone on the naughty list

??

??

Tree at Emirates Palace

Tree at Emirates Palace

Friends Ciara & John hosted a fun Christmas dinner last weekend

Friends Ciara & John hosted a fun Christmas dinner last weekend

And now begins our two-week break. Many people have already left to explore new places or visit friends and family at home. Happy and safe travels! I won’t be checking in while vacationing with the fam in Spain, so now’s the time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy 2016- peace, love, health, and happiness to all!

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Istanbul is a peninsula bordered by the Bosphorus Strait, Sea of Marmara, and Black Sea.

The Bosphorus runs through the city and forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia. It’s fun to cross the bridges several times a day knowing you’re flipping back and forth between two continents. Yes, I’m that easily amused.

The Sultanahmet area of Istanbul (named after Sultan Ahmed) is home to most of the historic sites including Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and the Basilica Cistern.

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Istanbul's largest surviving Byzantine cistern (underground)

Istanbul’s largest surviving Byzantine cistern (underground)

First built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, Topkapi Palace is where sultans of the Ottoman Empire ruled until the 19th century.

The vast indoor/ outdoor complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art with massive courtyards lined with intricate hand-painted tiles and ornate interior living quarters, all surrounded by battlement walls. Craig proved to be not only an excellent travel partner but also a perfect second set of eyes. I break out my readers a thousand times each day, so when I have someone who can read to me I put them to work. I also don’t meander through museums; I get the gist of things and move on. We’d walk up to a display at Topkapi and instead of reading the plaque, Craig would say, “Staff” (instead of Moses’ staff, as it turned out to be) and move on. “Dagger…. Picture… Saucepan…” and so on. Good enough for me. Check that off the list and move on.

As Istanbul is 99% Muslim, there are thousands of mosques scattered throughout the city. We learned that mosques with more than one minaret are royal mosques; the Blue Mosque was built by order of Sultan Ahmed about 400 years ago and has six minarets.

More important, this mosque is where we met our first Turkish friend, Arend. Arend’s uncle owns a rug shop, as do millions of other Turks. It’s his job to lure tourists into the store, so he first offered us a tour of the Blue Mosque and then invited us to have coffee/tea with his uncle. We obliged out of curiosity and it turned out to be a good decision. We spent about a half hour or so with this guy (nicknamed John Travolta by his friends because he has sold Turkish rugs to many famous people). He asked about our lives, told us about his shop and answered every question we could think of about rugs. Because Turkish rugs are made using a double-knot, they appear to be a particular color from one direction and another shade from the opposite. He had two employees bring out more than a dozen rugs and they’d unfold them on the floor and turn them so we could see both hues. Even when we said we didn’t want to buy anything, he took us to the rooftop of the shop for some aerial photos.

There was some water falling from the sky (oh yeah, that’s called rain. The word slipped my mind since it’s not in my vocabulary these days) so we cut the visit short. As we left, he invited us back to the shop later for wine. We never returned because there was too much to see and do. Still, we ran into Arend every day and he’d greet us by name each time.

After realizing how much larger Istanbul is than we anticipated, we signed up for the Big Bus Tour which included a 3-hour boat ride on the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. For those planning on visiting, the red line bus tour is a much better option if you’re only choosing one. The blue line buses are set up to run every hour or so, but with the insane traffic they often fall behind and you can get stuck waiting at a pickup point forever (ok, at least over an hour). One of the redeeming stops on the blue line was the Pierre Loti coffee shop. We took a cable car up to the top of a graveyard hill and enjoyed some tea along with a beautiful view.

Even in a bustling metropolis, the people still know how to relax.

Even in a bustling metropolis, the people still know how to relax.

The second stop we made on the blue line was the Spice Market. Good thing I snapped a few photos at the entrance because the streets of the market were wall-to-wall people and there was no way I could’ve taken my camera out once we were in the thick of things.

We continued to eat and drink our way through Istanbul. Craig commented that we never had a full sit-down meal, which is true. The closest we came was this pizza, which was delicious (yay for available pork products).

You can find a food cart about every 50 feet. There are two main types with either bread items or roasted corn and chestnuts. Of course we tried everything.

I verified that roasted chestnuts still suck and taste like the acorns we used to eat from our oak tree.

I verified that roasted chestnuts still suck and taste like the acorns we used to eat from our oak tree.

Most restaurants have a takeaway section in the front; we sampled many a doner kebab, which is similar to the shawarma we eat in the UAE but without garlic sauce.

One really cool thing about Istanbul is how cats and dogs roam freely around the city. They’re not strays; most of the dogs have an ear tag. Every single one of them was well-behaved. I wasn’t sure if I should feed the cats but from their appearance it looks like many do, so I shared a tiny bit of my lunch with four feline friends.

After exhausting Sultanahmet by day, we’d head over to Taksim, where crowded streets offer a mix of modern stores/restaurants with souks and local shops.

Yep, ordered up a plate of this stuff, too.

Yep, ordered up a plate of this stuff, too.

Istiklal Street was probably the most pedestrian-packed street I’ve ever walked. Christmas decorations added to the vibrancy of the area.

Didn't eat here since Shake Shack's in Abu Dhabi, but I "may" have screamed when I saw it.

Didn’t eat here since Shake Shack’s in Abu Dhabi, but I “may” have screamed when I saw it.

Although a huge fan of Istanbul’s public transit (metro, tram, ferry, bus), at the end of the night we’d take a taxi back to our Sultanahmet hotel, the Aren Suites.

Suites, ha ha.

We all know that a $55US room isn’t really gonna be a suite, right? But it was cute, clean, and cozy. Yeah, super-cozy.

The staff was phenomenal; they oriented us upon our arrival, circled landmarks on a map, and arranged for our transfer back to the airport. Breakfast was also provided daily. Below is a pic of one of the three tables. I didn’t think to take a photo until the last day and there were too many guests eating at that time to play the “rude American,” so you can’t see the whole spread. There was also a carb table (breads, cookies, coffee cake) and a scrambled egg/sausage/coffee/tea/juice section. All delish.

As always, it’s sad to leave a place when you just got your bearings and have met some of the friendliest people in the world. But no complaints here, because I have another vacation coming on the heels of this one. In fact, I exchanged my leftover lira for euros in the airport.

Good bye, Turkish lira- such a bargain!

Good bye, Turkish lira- such a bargain!

Can’t wait to meet my sis, nephew, and daughters in Spain in two weeks! Whose life am I living anyway??

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