Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tour of Middle East Airports


We recently went to London for a conference. We took the boys and were met in Heathrow by our friend, a former KAUST neighbor who, with his wife and three kids, has relocated back to the U.K. He collected our children and headed home so that Hayden and Logan would have friends to hang out with and activities to do which would be far more satisfying than residing in a hotel for three days. It was a successful but exhausting conference, and we enjoyed watching the activities of people strolling up and down the streets in Kensington. We appreciated the cool, bracing, and sometimes wet, weather for its vast difference from Saudi.

Towards the end of the conference, we visited our friends and collected the boys. As we prepared for our returns trip to Jeddah, we were grateful that we were traveling with only carry-ons, since our layover enroute was brief. We returned to Heathrow and, after enduring the most excruciating bag search of our lives, were finally free to head to the gate of our Qatar Airlines flight to Doha and then, we thought, the connecting flight to Jeddah. Our flight from London was about 20 minutes late in leaving, causing some concern since we were supposed to have only one hour layover in Doha. We landed in Doha, went to the gate, and soon discovered that all ten of us from London trying to make the Jeddah connection would be prohibited from accessing the flight, though it was still on the ground. Tempers flared and voices raised - the flight to Jeddah left without us. We were shuttled into another line with many other people who had missed flights. Eventually, we were booked on another series of flights the following day. We were escorted to a new line, processed for a temporary visa for Doha and requested to sit and wait for a shuttle to the hotel, where we were able to sleep about two hours before a too-early wake up call for breakfast and a return shuttle back to the airport where we again waited for a flight - to Abu Dhabi! We endured another three hour layover and, ultimately, got on our final flight to Jeddah, arriving fifteen hours later than planned and missing another school day!

Since we spent a good deal of time in each of these airports, I did observe some things. Flights from Doha, Qatar, head to every continent on the planet except for Antarctica. Who would have thought? You can fly from Doha to Melbourne or Hanoi, São Paulo or New York; you can fly to China, several locations in India, Bangkok, several destinations in the United States or Europe. In Abu Dhabi, we discovered that there are rolling carts available for people to push their bags around which are large enough for Logan to be pushed around by Hayden until the airport staff prohibited it. Oh, the things you can learn ... 

In the end we made it home safely and, I suppose, that is ultimately what matters most.

Thanks for reading. More news to come ... bike races, kids' triathlon, future plans!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Christmas traditions


After trying to write more often and keep up on the often mundane and occasionally interesting details of our lives, I suddenly realized once again that weeks had gone by, and I had not written a blog posting. Since I last wrote about receiving my glorious and fast Felt road bike, I have been trying to ride two - three times per week, often in the dark early morning hours when virtually no one is on the road except for fast-driving security officials arriving - perhaps late - for work.

We spent our fourth incredible, festive Christmas holiday in Seefeld, Austria, at Beck's Hoamatl. We have rented the same cozy apartment for four years and are welcomed each winter by the embraces of the owner and her adult daughter. They always provide us a large bowl of fruit and bring out all of the items that we have intentionally left in the past - mugs, puzzles, a game, and old magazines. We have been so blessed by this relationship and, despite our lack of German, we have developed a relationship with them that makes it feel like home every time we go. The snow and skiing were as fabulous as ever, better in some ways, and the food was scrumptious. We eat out at a few favorite restaurants but cook our favorite, often pork-oriented, meals at 'home' most nights. We always rent our downhill equipment from Modern Ski, located perfectly at the base of the ski hill in town. The owner and his staff welcome us each year and get us fitted for gear for the ten days. Each morning we collect our gear for the day and each afternoon we return it, exchanging the equipment for small tokens which will allow us to collect the exact same set of equipment every day without having to lug it all the way home each night. It's a perfect set-up. We rent our Nordic equipment at Norz, right on the start of the Nordic trails, again welcomed by the owner and a young guy named Remo who generously gets David and me the classic or skate gear we want every day.

 The boys took some downhill lessons, as usual, and they each competed in a ski race on the last day of lessons. We skied together some days and with some KAUST friends who were visiting Seefeld on some other days. At the end of our stay, Hayden and Logan humored us with two days of Nordic skiing; they showed their true competency and strength on skies when they were strong enough to ski to a nearby village for lunch - about 5 km away. We were so proud of their developing abilities and their positive attitudes to 'give Nordic a try' again after their jumps and thrills on downhill skies. When we were in Seattle, we used to go cross country skiing nearly every weekend in the winter at Kongsberger ski club, but the boys have gotten more into downhill skiing these past few years.

We played Ticket to Ride, enjoyed cozy fires, exercised each and every day with skiing and lots of walking, slept deeply, bought a Whoopi Cushion (which provided the boys lots of laughs, of course), and embraced the refreshing winter cold!

When the boys are in lessons and David and I have completed our cross country ski, we occasionally go to Sauna Welt for the afternoon. We soak and lounge in saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms, resting rooms, and pools. It's a luxury we enjoy usually once per trip. I miss Seefeld more this time than usual, perhaps because we are uncertain whether we will get to return again. Nonetheless, our four years there have provided traditions for our family far from home and, I suspect, will be the trip the boys remember longer than any other.

Thanks for reading!