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Darren and me

My friend Cindy asked to see a photo of Darren and me. Here it is! We took this photo on our 14th floor balcony in Abu Dhabi on the last day of our trip. I hated to leave this sweet man behind in the Middle East, but he has a job to do and I’ll see him again soon. Seeing him half way around the world was a treat.

Home sweet home

I’m back in the U.S. I got home late Thursday night. The long flight from Abu Dhabi to Chicago was just over 14 hours. I spent the time watching five movies—Water for Elephants, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Limitless, Something Borrowed, and Green Lantern. I couldn’t sleep much, so the movies passed the time. I had a whole row to myself, which made the trip more comfortable. 

I felt good yesterday until about 5 p.m. I took naps on and off until 10 p.m. I was up until 1 a.m., then slept until 5 a.m. Today, Saturday, I feel sad and out of sorts. The trip abroad was such a good experience that I wasn’t ready for it to end. 

On a side note, the weather at home is great. It’s fall and I’m relieved to be out of the 100 degree temperatures. It was raining the night I got home and I was never happier to see water. What a beautiful sight—rain and clouds. Two things I hadn’t seen in a month.

 

Thorough check-in

I’m at my gate for my flight. I had the most thorough check-in and it was a neat process. The entire gate is enclosed in glass. To get in, I first had my documents approved. Check. Next I went through another security line right at the gate—xray and scanners and all. Check. Then I got in a third line where they checked me in and gave me back my ticket stub. Check. Now I have a seat and wait. It’s pretty cool. I’m praying for an empty seat next to mine on the plane. Everybody cross your fingers.

On the way here, the flight time was shown on my itinerary as 13 hours 55 minutes. It ended up being a 12-hour flight. The flight home is shown as 15 hours 10 minutes. I’d be grateful for anything under 14 hours. I’m getting more excited to step foot into my little house tonight.  

Empty plane

A quick note about our flight from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. The plane was enormous – I’m sure at least 300 seats. There were maybe 40 people on the entire plane, including the crew. If that flight had been in the U.S., it would have been cancelled for lack of capacity. We had to photograph it to show how strange it looked. 

The coolest part about this flight—the outdoor camera. We had a take-off and landing view from the front of the plane. It was too neat. I’ve never seen that before. 

 

 

A day of gluttony

Wednesday was a day of luxury. We flew from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi in the morning. We rode in an Audi A8 from the airport to the Beach Rotana, where this whole journey began. Back to our fancy hotel. We checked into the hotel upstairs in the lounge. While we finished checking in we had a couple of cappuccinos. The sales director, Halim, with whom we had dinner a few times, booked our room for us. He upgraded us to the corner suite on the 14th floor. Our room had a vestibule, a dining room, guest bath, living room, and separate master suite. It was unreal. The bedroom had windows wrapping the corner of the building. Our balcony was long and wrapped around the corner as well. Talk about luxurious. I was almost speechless. 

After we got our things settled, we went downstairs to have lunch at the buffet. How I will miss the buffet. This time I made sure to try things I had not had before. We overindulged in desserts. There were these little bird nest desserts. From what I can figure, it was shredded phyllo dough with a sugary, cheesecake-type filling, dripping in honey. Absolutely delicious. We tried several other new pastries, also, including the dessert of the day—hazelnut fig pudding.

After lunch we took a two hour nap in our suite. Then we went back to the lounge for more coffee. I had a latte this time. We talked and laughed about how gluttonous we were being. But it’s not often we have days like that. To stretch out our limbs, we went for a walk through the mall. I bought a fancy pair of sunglasses. Darren is all about sunglasses right now and we found a Giorgio Armani pair  I could not resist. My indulgence for this trip. 

We met Halim back in the lounge at 8 p.m. He wanted to know how we liked our room. =) He’s a very good man. We told him he was very generous and thanked him profusely. We chatted for a while, then I excused myself to go call my sister. She lost a very good friend this week and I needed to hear her voice. When I got back to the lounge, Halim expressed his sincere condolences for the loss of Sammy. He said some very sweet things that elevated my respect for him. 

When we got back to our suite for the night, Darren ran me a bubble bath in the jacuzzi tub. It was heavenly. He put a good squeeze of bubble bath in the water and the jets made tons of suds. It was kind of funny—like one of those overflowing washing machine scenes from a movie. When the suds started going over the side of the tub, I emptied the water, crushed some of the bubbles, then filled the tub again. Ahh.

This morning, Thursday, October 13, room service delivered breakfast at 5:30 a.m., courtesy of Halim. We took another private car back to the airport at 6:15 a.m.. It’s time for this wonderful trip to come to an end and for me to come home to the U.S. Darren’s plane has already left for Bahrain. He’ll be home before my plane leaves Abu Dhabi. Right now I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my gate to open. I really need to just walk and stay upright until my plan boards. I’ll be sitting long enough then.

Goodbye, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. It’s been a wonderful month.

 

 

Monday’s report

Monday – my first day of the second part of my vacation. I slept in a little bit, then I re-shot some photography outside using one of Darren’s lenses. I learned some things on Sunday’s photo shoot that made me want to recapture a few villa photos. I think I get to bring home the fancy lens from Darren. He says he doesn’t use it here. It’s a great lens, but it’s heavy and it’s huge compared to my camera. It’s a funny sight. I would gladly get used to it, though. 

Darren worked in the morning, then he came home around lunch time. We hung out for about three hours, then we went back to base together. I sat in his cubicle with him for a little while, then we worked out. Keeping up with a Navy SEAL who works out twice a day is not an easy task. I’ve run on the treadmill three days in a row now. I’m proud of that, but I would probably give myself at least a day in between at home. AND I’ve been running 30 minutes at a time. At home I could barely make 20 minutes. So being here has helped my running quite a bit. It’s motivational when you are working out on a Navy base with lots of muscled men. I can’t look like a wimp!

I showered in the women’s locker room after my run. Darren got cleaned up in his locker room, then we walked down the street to The Dome. This is the restaurant we visited on Sunday with the great coffee. I had a small latte this time. It’s still the best latte ever—I have now confirmed that. For dinner I had spaghetti with roasted eggplant, red peppers, and zucchini, with a drizzle of olive oil and a shot of red pepper flakes. My poor mouth was warm and tingly from the red pepper flakes, but it was really tasty.

I’m starting to get sad about leaving Bahrain and Darren. Today is our last day in Bahrain. Tomorrow morning we fly back to Abu Dhabi. That’s a nice, short flight and we’ll get to spend the rest of the day at the Beach Rotana hotel where this whole adventure started. Thursday morning Darren goes back to Bahrain and I head home to the U.S. Sigh. Bittersweet.

Sunday fun

It’s been a great day so far. We went to breakfast at a restaurant called The Dome. I had the best latte of my life, served in a tall glass. I also had french toast with cinnamon, maple syrup, berries, and a dollop of mascarpone.

After breakfast we went on a little driving tour around Juffair, the part of town where Darren lives. I took photos out the window of the car. It was too fun. We’d drive until we found something cool, then I’d roll down the window and photograph it. Mostly we were looking for architectural details, which are my favorite. We also found a little water inlet with some old boats. There were some great things to see. I learned more about photography from Darren as we went along. My photos are getting better.

After the photography outing, we went to a local grocery. It was a small store, but it was packed with great foods. We bought smoked salmon, tomatoes, spinach leaves, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar. For lunch we ate the salmon on crackers. I made a little salad with a bed of spinach, sliced tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, and a drizzle of my homemade balsamic vinaigrette. It was delicious!

After lunch we worked on my photos from our drive. Here are some of my favorite shots from today. Click any photos to get a larger view.

Birthdays in Bahrain and Mishawaka

October 8. Happy birthday, Mom! Happy birthday, Darren! I love that two of my favorite people share a birthday. 

There is a birthday party in Bahrain this afternoon. Darren invited all the chiefs. We’ve got 20 pizzas on order and lots of beverages on hand. It should be fun. It’s quiet in the flat now, but it will be full of laughter and stories and “I love you, man”‘s in a little while. 

We went to the NEX for supplies earlier. Frozen fruit for smoothies (it’s Darren’s new passion, to make smoothies), plates, cups, etc. Darren has a backpack I like to call the “magic backpack.” I’m amazed by how much he can fit inside. At the store he put two half-gallons of milk, two half-gallons of juice, and eight bags of frozen fruit in his backpack. Unreal. It’s like a trick backpack. 

We went to a friend’s house to borrow a cooler. The friend lives on the 20th floor of an apartment building. The views from that apartment are incredible. You can see a good deal of the Arabian Gulf and how it wraps around and into the city. I also didn’t realize how big of a city Manama is. It just keeps wrapping around and going on. The downtown part is much larger than I first thought. It seems less chaotic than Abu Dhabi, though. I like it here. Don’t worry, family, I’m still coming home this week. =)

Fueling up

A quick note about getting fuel in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. All gas stations are full service. An attendant fills your tank and washes your windows, all while you sit in your car in the air conditioning. Did I mention you keep your car RUNNING the whole time? It seems crazy. In America there are signs about turning your car off. I didn’t even think you could fuel a car while it was running. But, oh yes, it’s exactly how it’s done here. It’s too hot to turn off the car and cut the air conditioning. When the car is full, you pay and tip the attendant and you are on your way.

And the price of gas? Roughly $1 per gallon, give or take 20 cents.

Driving and parking

I have to talk about the driving and parking in Bahrain. It’s plain dangerous. I don’t think anyone has any kind of formal driving training. People change lanes on a whim, even if some one is there, even if it means crossing three lanes at once. People speed, tailgate, swerve, don’t use turn signals, think stop signs are optional, and are just out for themselves. It’s crazy. I haven’t seen an accident yet, but I have to believe there are multiple accidents daily. There have to be. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Jackie, my sister, would have a heart attack driving around these people. Suddenly American drivers look like angels. Abu Dhabi is the same. We got passed by several cars going over 100 mph. Insane.

Parking. There is a parking lot near the base where we’ve parked a couple of times. It’s all sand, not paved, and no lines. So you can imagine people park in all kinds of crazy ways. They block lanes, park people in, make their own spots, etc. To compound that, the lot is full of boobie traps. There are random holes everywhere. Like a bulldozer dug a hole, put the sand in a pile next to it, and drove away. There must be 20 of these holes all throughout the lot. And they aren’t marked. No cones, no warning tape…nothing. Though the middle of the lot is a trench—also not marked. If your car went into any of these holes, it would be disaster. At night the holes are almost impossible to see. It’s kind of laughable.

When we parked in the lot last night to go to the NEX, a man came over and asked if we wanted our car washed. Mobile car washing is a full-fledged business here. Even in the mall parking lots, there are little mobile car washing units. You leave your windshield wipers up if you want your car washed. Darren has a guy who’s turf is up and down the street out front. He washes Darren’s car one a week. He rides around on a bike with a five gallon bucket. I imagine he gets his water from random spigots in the area. He’s making a living, though.