Saturday, February 28, 2009

National and Liberation Days in Kuwait! My Second Weekend in Country (February 25, 26, 27 and 28, 2009)

Ah the joy of a four-day weekend! Sure feels nice to rest and recreate after a stressful week at work (albeit a three-day work week!!). Wednesday was Kuwait National Day and Thursday was officially celebrated as Liberation Day - the 18th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait (in February, 1991) following the Iraqi invasion of August, 1990. Seems like every Kuwaiti was driving around in their flag-draped cars. On Thursday, I 'celebrated' with a meal out (a new Chili's restaurant in Salmiya). Naturally that was preceded with a visit to Starbucks for a decaf Americano and some time spent sitting outside enjoying the weather and engaging in some pleasant people watching. On Friday, I went to the new Avenues mall (opened a little over one year ago - reference an earlier posting last year) and viewed the progress of this ever expanding mall. This place is STILL under construction and new stores are being opened within what is now Kuwait's largest mall. FYI: A Dean and Deluca's fine food store is now open (New Yorkers will recognize this place!!!). First stop was Carrefour for groceries. Then, breaking with tradition [and responding to a follower's comment that I should explore other coffee houses - besides Starbucks], I chose to visit Columbus Cafe (see picture below). Their decaf coffee was acceptable and the store's location made for a nice opportunity to view the local shopping crowd. After coffee, I had my driver take me to the new Movenpick restaurant (I described this place in an earlier posting) where I had an excellent Friday buffet. [Total cost with tea and cover charge was approximately 17 KD. At $3.45/KD, that comes to about $59 USD!] The only sad note to this otherwise fine weekend were the car accidents we encountered on the return trip to Al Zour along Highway 40. There were at least three wrecks - two of which I've shown below. I share these photos not to embarrass my hosts but to emphasize to all visitors in Kuwait to DRIVE CAREFULLY! The road sign - see photo below - says it all!!!

Signs like these popped up all along the major roadways here in Kuwait in honor of National Day. The photo shows the Crown Prince (left) and the Amir (on the right).
I shopped here in Friday (when traffic is the least!). Avenues is now THE largest mall in Kuwait.
A pleasant enough alternative to Star****s!

Shopping for tea at Carrefour (a so-called hypermarket) - plenty of choices!!

After the main course of the Friday buffet at Movenpick, I ventured over to the dessert area and found this chocolate display!! The vase is made entirely out of chocolate!

A sobering reminder of the need to remain vigilant and exercise extreme caution when driving in Kuwait!!!

This car wreck cause a huge (1 km long) traffic jam along Highway 40 - a major north-south roadway.
My favorite road sign - it says it all!!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

First Weekend in Kuwait (Feb 20 & 21)

Too much to do and not enough time to get it all done!! I am lucky to have managed to get into town this past weekend at all! My colleague is a workaholic and worked the entire weekend. Me on the other hand - slacker that I am - needed my time off and after a rather stressful Thursday at the office, well, I simply wanted to get away from it all. Friday was devoted to my weekly grocery shopping followed by a visit to one of my favorite restaurant venues - the Crown Plaza Hotel in Farwaniyah where I had the Friday seafood buffet. Sadly, service was spotty but at least the food was great. I had my usual Hammour fish - excellent local fish from the Arabian Gulf. On Saturday I ventured into Fahaheel, stopped by Mr. Bank (aka the ATM) and got more cash (exchanged about 735 Dirhams left over from my last trip to Dubai for 51 Kuwait Dinars). Then to my favorite 'bootleg' DVD shop where I purchased Mall Cop, Rachael Getting Married and Gran Torino for 1 KD each (ca. $3.75 USD). On the way back to camp, I stopped by Starbucks where I was saddened to learn that the local Starbucks nearest our Al Zour camp is not likely to reopen!! Here is the latest scuttlebutt: the Al Zour Starbucks - which was open for only two (2) months - was promptly closed by the local authorities for what appears to be a licensing issue. Word on the street has it that the licensing authorities want to squeeze the current owner to give up the franchise and hand it over to them so they can operate it! I've heard that similar shenanigans often occur in other countries, namely, that when a business gets successful and makes money, someone squeezes the owner and makes him give it over to them. Awful way to do business. I will keep everyone posted as to what happens on this issue. Yeah this is all a tad melodramatic but, hey, that is what passes for news around here!!

Today is Monday and we have a three-day work week. Wednesday is Kuwait National Day and Thursday is Liberation Day (or is it the other way around??). Since Friday and Saturday is the normal weekend, that means I have four days off!! Yippee!! (Boss: If you read this, don't worry, I will work at home over the long weekend .... promise!)

On the way home from Wafra: Sheep and goats have the right-of-way!

A herdsman does his job, moving his flock across and then off the road as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kuwait Redux - February 2009

Seems like I was just here! Amazing how time flies ...

Flight 628 from Frankfurt arrived in Kuwait about 30 minutes late because of the need to deice our plane prior to departing Frankfurt. Otherwise, we had a smooth flight. I arrived at our company's camp site in Mina Al-Zour (about a 30-minute drive north of the Saudi border) at 10:30 pm - extremely tired of course. I unpacked a little and crawled into bed at midnight.

The following day (Tuesday, Feb. 17) was my first day back to work here in Wonderful Wafra.

And so it goes ... more 'fun in the sun' in lovely Kuwait!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Up, Up and Away .... Again!

Well, the day is finally here! Weather permitting (today's Houston weather is cloudy with a chance of showers at flight time - just hope it's not too heavy to cause any flight delays!) I should be starting my next sojourn overseas. I shall keep you all posted once I arrive at my half-way point. I tried to fly Emirates 212 non-stop to Dubai but sadly Emirates has priced themselves out of the market. They wanted over $8,500 for a round-trip business class ticket as opposed to Lufthansa who is asking for $5,900. What with all the economic bad news around the world and our company's recently imposed restrictions on international travel, I chose to be a 'good corporate person' and have selected the "cheaper" air fare - which means I must break the trip up with an overnight stay in Europe. Ah well, as long as the Europe weather is A-OK, I can put up with the extra hassles (changing planes, etc.), I suppose.

One of my biggest gripes about long haul flights is that I cannot sleep on board an aircraft! At all! I wonder how many of you readers encounter the same problem I have?? No matter how hard I try (I put on blinders, use ear plugs, recline the seat, etc.) I simply cannot nod off to sleep. The result is that these terribly long international flights become rather debilitating for me. I usually arrive very tired! Fortunately, after a good night's rest, I am usually "go to go" for the remainder of my onward journey. Someone once said that "getting there is half the fun". Well, to that all I can say is "Baloney"!!! For me, the fun only starts AFTER I arrive, get some badly needed rest and THEN I can start to enjoy myself in my new surroundings.

Sometimes I find myself sharing the thoughts of a fellow blogger, Cheryl, who writes in her blog, Confessions of a Twenty Something Year Old, the following passage which I shall repeat here (if that's OK with you, Cheryl?):

"Being an expat rules. Granted, I pretty much live out of a suitcase all year round, spend more time in hotels than hookers, experience food poisoning more times than I care to, and can never really buy anything new because having an overweight suitcase at the airport is just a huge pain in my ass, and not worth the struggle at all; but for the most part, it's awesome. Who doesn't love traveling, learning new things, eating new foods, getting kicked by donkeys ...
But the best part about being an Expat is the opportunity to meet people..."

But, I must confess, although these overseas flights and all the associated hassles may not be that truly "awesome", being able to travel around to new places is a definite bonus to my life. (Not counting the jet lag, separation from home, family and friends, etc, etc, etc.)

Ah well, off I go again .... Wish me luck and a smooth and on-time journey!!!!
RECENT UPDATE (Monday, Feb 16): Well, I made it half way. So far, so good! I arrived Sunday morning on time - German efficiency rides again!. This Monday morning - after a reasonably pleasant night's sleep with badly needed rest - I awake to find a light cover of snow (about 1 - 2 cms depth) and very cold temperatures - about 30 deg F. I hope this little snow does not delay my onward flight. Lufthansa's WEB site lists my flight as still being "on time" so I shall keep my fingers crossed! Breakfast here on the 9th floor "Tower" lounge at the Sheraton Hotel (adjacent to Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport) was complete and very satisfying - getting me ready for the final leg of what I hope will be a smooth flight to my destination.