Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sonoma County, California - Vacation, Gravenstein Apples, Redwoods ... and More Vineyards!

Vacation Time!! Thanks goodness for vacations! Especially after a three-week business trip to the Middle East, this respite could not have come at a better time! The same family who invited me to stay at their home in Sebastopol, California (located in California's Sonoma County - a.k.a. "Wine Country), did so again this year and so I was blessed with another week in "Paradise". (For a glimpse of my vacation visit here last September, 2008, click here.)

I arrived on August 22. Although I had to depart this past Saturday, Aug. 29, I was still able to cram in as much as I could handle in six restful days of apple hunting, wine tasting, sightseeing and pleasantly cool daytime temperatures and even cooler nights. (I had to wear my sweater and jacket every morning much to the chagrin of my hosts!) Now that I have returned home, I will endeavor to post as many of the photos I was able to capture (using a Canon 50D digital SLR camera) over the past week. For now, however, I will leave my Loyal Followers with these preliminary photographic treats and will add more comments and pictures as the work week progresses:

On Wednesday (Aug. 26), I drove the 50 miles to Muir Woods Redwood Park and also managed to visit a park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge - probably THE most photographed bridge in the world (and why not!).

While in Sebastopol, I had a successful scavenger hunt for the world's BEST apple - The Graventein Apple! I collected over twenty pounds (10 kgs) of the most ripe Gravensteins I could find from two major apple growers in Sonoma County. By the way, not only are these apples great for eating right off the tree, but they make excellent apple sauce! There is a lot I feel I need to say about this little humble little apple but will leave those comments for later this week. Trust me, there is a story to tell about the Gravensteins that I believe my followers will appreciate!!

Muir Woods - perhaps the best known of the redwood parks in California. Located in Marin County, this park is just a few minutes drive north of San Francisco and well worth a visit. (Caution: arrive early in the day as the tiny parking lot quickly fills up to capacity!!)

What makes Sonoma County what it is today more than anything else, are the hundreds of vineyards. I love visiting wineries and tasting some of the finest wines Northern California can produce (rivaling those of France in my humble opinion). Turns out there is a connection between these grape vineyards and the apple orchards that is worth a brief telling and I shall do so in a few days.
Enjoy the pictures ... there are many more soon to come!
(PS: This post marks my 101 posting for The Traveling Chemist! Many thanks to all my Loyal Followers!!)
Replies to COMMENTS:
John: Wow!! Finding that quote about the Gravenstein apple was really cool! Many thanks!! By the way, there is a Luther Burbank museum and farm in Santa Rosa, CA (population: 155,000).

Saturday, August 15, 2009


It's been a relatively "short" trip abroad as international trips go - only about three (3) weeks in duration. Still, it's always pleasant to be on the plane that carries me HOME! It must have been the fact that I was extremely busy throughout the entire period having only a few opportunities to sit back and relax (save for those nice weekends).

A view of the River Rhine as my flight takes off from Frankfurt Airport on Thursday, August 13.

Typical view of the departure area of Terminal "C" at Frankfurt Airport. Planes from everywhere going who knows where.

There is something special about these mechanical flight boards, with each and every one of the individual lines flipping over and over as they change the various numbers and letters. I suppose one day they will replace this huge board with a fully digital display. Still, it's always special (for me at least) to stand and watch this contraption for a few minutes, viewing all the many cities and places that people are flying to. And my flight home is one of these!!

And here is my flight to home - sweet - home! The door to the aircraft was closed on time (about 10:30 am) but we took off about one hour late (an allegedly "minor" mechanical problem). It was "wheels up" at about 11:40 am; we finally landed in Houston about 35 minutes late at 2:30 pm Central time (published arrival time was 1:55 pm). Not bad considering.

A display in the departure lounge of Gate C15 reminds one of all the many time zones we frequently must cross as we scurry about from one place to another ... and that gives rise to that dreaded physical affliction - JET LAG! (I am suffering that now!)

A classic Mercedes on display at Frankfurt Airport (this one was parked in one of the shopping areas located somewhere in-between Terminals "A" and "B").

In case you think the Traveling Chemist only eats at five-star restaurants, well guess again!! Most of the work week I prepare my own sandwiches. About once or twice a week, however, I venture over to what I call "Le Mess Hall" (shown above) and indulge in what I assure you is strictly average fare.

A typical menu at Le Mess Hall in Wafra Field.
That's it for now. Until next time .....
Replies to Comments:
SearchingSoul: Excellent quote and very appropriate! And, as always, thanks for taking the time to read my blog and for your comments. Us fellow travelers know what being away from home is like and, even though we usually enjoy the new horizons our many trips may offer us, how sweet it is to return!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Last Weekend in Kuwait (Aug. 7 & 8)

Well, time sure has flown by! I've been here in Kuwait for almost three (3) weeks and it is almost time to return to home-sweet-home! But I managed to squeeze in one more nice weekend. I liked my visit to AVENUES last weekend that I chose to return again on Friday (Aug. 7). After the usual weekly grocery shopping, I ventured over to the new ENGLISH TEA LOUNGE (near the east end of the mall) with the hope of indulging in some nice tea and biscuits. However, I was rather disappointed when I read on their menu that there was a minimum per person charge of 6 KD (ca. $21 USD!!). Mind you I like fine tea but in view of the fact that it was almost time for lunch, I decided to pass this place by and instead opted for a decaf Americano at Dean & Deluca (see last week's post for details) for only 1.2 KD!

The new English Tea Lounge at AVENUES mall (near the intersection of the 5th Ring Road and Hwy 55).

After leaving the Avenues mall, we drove along the 5th Ring Road and passed by these water towers. Water is often considered to be more valuable than oil here in the Middle East and so it is no wonder they make these towers rather attractive.

I arrived at the new (3 years old) Holiday Inn in Salmiya at about 11:45 am and there I met a good friend for lunch at the hotel's Chinese restaurant - Tang Chao.

A rather attractive wall mural adorns the entrance lobby of the Holiday Inn.

This is where I had lunch on Friday. Cost for today's meal at Tang Chao was about 10 KD ($35 USD) per person.

Across the street from the Holiday Inn is a very distinctive looking mosque.

Have you ever seen a pink building before??!! Well I have now! (This unusual building is located near Fahaheel.)

Another interesting looking building.

The temperature gauge in my car last Thursday afternoon! The outside temperature was 50 deg C (or 122 deg F)!!! Now that's HOT!!

One of the cats I have been feeding chicken finally got up the nerve to come close enough to me to allow me to snap a nice picture of him lounging right outside the door to my apartment.
Replies to Comments:
Dan (& all the Other Followers Who Can't Believe It's Really 122 deg F!!): YES ... Kuwait (and the rest of the Middle East) really is HOT in the summer time!! Takes a lot of getting used to and staying properly hydrated! I wear a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses and SPF 85 sunscreen when outdoors (usually for periods that do not exceed 15 minutes).

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Well, I suppose it is a rather sad chapter in the life of all of us cofeee addicts! I have left several earlier posts about the closing of our local Starbucks in Al Zour (click here for a reference to that earlier post). A friend has informed me that this store is likely to remain closed FOREVER (or until a new owner is found!). According to the local scuttlebutt (i.e., the expat rumor mill), this store was apparently operated by someone who had a bogus (not real) franchise license from Starbucks and was therefore closed by the local authorities. The store is still there but the name and logo are now covered over. Sigh! At least there is another Starbucks within 20 minutes from Al Zour.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Second Weekend in Kuwait (July 31 & August 1)

Time certainly flies by! So much to do and not enough time in which to get it all done. Thank goodness for the weekends. This last weekend (remember - over here our weekend is Friday and Saturday) was pleasant and relaxing.

On Friday I revisited AVENUES - Kuwait's newest and largest shopping mall. As a former New Yorker I was most pleased to see a new store has just opened (10 months ago actually) in the Avenues mall: Dean & Deluca ... New York City's gourmet food store!! This store originated in Manhattan and has sinced spread throughout the USA and apparently around the world as well. Caution: prices are quite high but it sure is nice to splurge a little and buy a few trifles to make life away from home just a tad bit more enjoyable.

The outside of Dean & Deluca is hard to miss at the AVENUES mall. By the way, the entire Avenues shopping complex is still under construction with new stores being added every month!

Part of Dean & Deluca includes a cafe. A tall decaf Americano costs 1.100 KD ($3.85 USD).

Fresh bread is made daily - including bagels!! Can you imagine - fresh bagels in the Middle East!! Now that is what every New Yorker needs!!!!

Lots of specialty teas are available (at a pretty price, of course!).

After my shopping was complete, a friend coaxed me to try a new restaurant in Mahboula - a town about 45 minutes norht of our Mina Al Zour camp. The restaurant was called Al Noukhaza - basically they serve a seafood buffet. Turns out Al Noukhaza also serves the seafood buffet at the Crown Plaza Hotel - a place I have been to and posted about on prior occasions. Having this new resturant nearer my place of residence is sure nice and I was grateful for making the effort for trying something new. All thanks to my friend Tony!
On Saturday (August 1) I had my haircut (3 KD). The rest of Saturday I spent relaxing at home and cooking up a chicken dinner and watching two of the DVDs I purchased a week ago ("Up" and "State of Play").

Last week they swept up the sand in front of my bachelor apartment and now the sand is absolutely clean and free of debris.

I spotted this view in a window above my favorite Pakistani tailor's shop in Al Zour village.

If you ever think your job 'sucks', well, here is a job for you! These guys come by every week and suck out the contents of the cess pool located behind our eight apartment units. Hold your nose .....

Last - but not least - I now have two (2) more friends visiting my apartment in addition to the black cat whose image I captured in my last posting. Once I fed them some chicken pieces, they keep returning day after day!
Postscript: I finally slew the bureacracy monster. With my insurance certificate in hand, I secured a company car (a Toyota "Prado") and was thus able to return the rental car for which my company had been paying about 21 KD/day ($75 USD/day).
Reply to Comments:
Nichole: Thanks for the comment! Yes, despite what many of my fellow Americans may think, Kuwait is indeed a pleasant place in which to work. As I often tell my friends, if you are an American who must work in the Middle East, Kuwait is probably the second best place in which to work! (The first is naturally Dubai - a true playground for adults with some money to spare! Just bring a credit card!) By the way, from what I read in the most recent posting from your blog, it would seem we have two things in common: we both like to travel and Houston is our home!
Searching Soul: Yes, the Islamic weekend revolves around Friday which is the Muslim Sabboth Day. Some places (Saudi Arabia) also have Thursday off. However, recently, most of the GCC states (including Kuwait and the UAE) have adopted Friday & Staurday as their weekend days to be more in sync with our Western work week schedule.
As for those cats, I figure that since life in the desert is so harsh, at least I can offer these fellas some chicken treats once in a while. Unfortunately, they are so cautious that these cats only briefly (and slowly) approach me, grab the food and run away to a more private location in which to devour their tasty delights.
Steve: Congratulations on your daughter!! And deepest condolences on the loss of your Mother! We both shared a deep loss last month: our mutual friend, Russ, and of course your Mom! Like you said in your blog, Heaven now has some more angels!