Category Archives: Travel

Self-portraits in the Third-Life

Cloud Gate (aka the bean)

Cloud Gate (aka the bean)

It’s been more than a while since I have drafted anything on my blog, and I like to think that there is good reason for that.  My wife and I have bought a house, are expecting a baby, and have just completed a strenuous 6-month intensive Spanish-language course. What did I do to celebrate having survived some of the most wonderfully consuming months of my life? I decided to ditch town (thank you sweetheart) for a weekend and head to Chicago to meet up with some of my closest friends before we have a baby and move to Honduras.

Life has a way of pushing and pulling you in directions that lead you further and further from your closest friends of yesteryear.  First you graduate college, the place where many these friendships form.  Being that it is somewhat rare for “young professionals” to stay in the city where they graduate — at least for very long — inevitably, you find yourself on opposite sides of a country nearly the size of Europe.  Soon you realize that the real world has prevented you from maintaining these friendships in a meaningful way, since doing so means trekking across France, Germany, all of Eastern Europe to Moscow to reach them, and with the notable exceptions of bachelor parties, weddings, and chance encounters, the 15 days or so most young people get off a year is just not enough to provide time to meet up with these close friends with any regularity.  Or is it? Continue reading

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TLA’s Best of Bahrain

My colleague and former office mate runs a blog called Two Crabs.  It’s a professional operation he’s got going on over there.  Book recommendations, a travelogue, thoughts on work life, the blog is a real powerhouse among Foreign Service blogs.  Just before his departure from Bahrain, he posted an exhaustive list of just what the title of this suggests post suggests: the best of what’s out there to do in Bahrain.  There is no way to top that, but as I reread his post I realized we differed on as many of our opinions about this little island as we agreed upon.  This is not the first time my colleague and fellow blogger has been featured on this blog.  Perhaps you remember Peace Out Man, where I semi-roasted my brother-in-bureaucracy.  Here’s my take (with minor variations to the original work) on his epic project:

Presenting the first (and not necessarily last) TLA Best of Bahrain Awards!  TLA is off to new horizons, to lands unknown, but not without first imparting a little of my less than expert institutional knowledge gained spending over 22 months on this rock on the Western edges Persian Gulf.

RECREATION

Best Friday Brunch: Meh…  If I’m really honest about it, I didn’t much care for Friday brunches.  It was overpriced, over-boozed, and overrated.  You end up spending half the day eating and drinking, and then you end up unable to do anything with the rest of your day and to kick you’re able to enjoy a headache that lasts well into the next morning.  I can think of better ways to spend my Fridays.

Best Beach: Al Dar Island is an under appreciated spot with great views (albeit mostly of oil refineries) and good times.  It’s nice to grab a beer and food and lounge on a beach cabana.  We wanted to rent one of the overnight cabins with some friends but never got around to it.  Honorable Mention: There is a little public beach down on the south western coast called Al Jaza’ir that was a lot better than friends described, and my wife and I sat on a piece of cardboard (it’s more ground up seashells than sand) and ate cheese, salami, and crackers one afternoon.

Al Dar Island

Al Dar Island

Best Tourist Attraction: Qa’lat Al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is by far the most spectacular historical monument in Bahrain.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to five forts on the seafront and ruins of civilizations that date to times B.C.  However, the most striking remnant of the past is the Portuguese-constructed fort whose minaret-shaped turret is hard to forget.  It is also a great place to people watch, as Bahrainis of all stripes converge there each evening (especially in the fall and spring) to enjoy the walking paths, ride their horses, and dip their feet in the waters of Persian Gulf.  Honorable Mention: Another newly-christened UNESCO WHS, the Pearling Pathway, traces its path through the northern island of Muharraq.  It is difficult to find and hard to follow, but for the adventurous traveler, it is worth the time and energy.

Qa'lat Al-Bahrain

Qa’lat Al-Bahrain

Most underrated tourist attraction: The Manama Suq is a fun spot to frequent if you live in Bahrain, but if you wind through the suq, passing all the gold and trinket shops, as well as the tailor shops and remittance brokers, you will finally reach the intersection where a number of the most important Shi’a religious centers face each other in a perpetual stand off, unwilling to give any more sacred ground to the others.  It is the site of the most fervent of the bloody Ashura processions each year, and the crossroads of an uprising.  Make sure a protest is not planned for your visit.

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Vietnam: The Interview

Hanoi
Hanoi

When my colleague asked me to draft up something for Vietnam for the embassy newsletter, I was excited about the prospect.  The trip had been worth documenting, and I had a dozen ideas of different things I might write about.  But as I am nearing the end of my tour, I found little time to spare to dedicate to the project.  Then I was struck by an idea that was fresh and interesting, and probably better than anything I would have written myself.  I could interview my wife, who accompanied me on the trip to the land of Ho, and get her perspective.  It had been around two months since our trip and I realized it was probably the perfect time to capture her thoughts on Vietnam, while they are still fresh, but she has had time to process them and decide which ones will be part of her long term memories.  Ever the diplomat, she agreed and so, without further ado here is the totally impromptu interview:

(Begin our only very slightly edited [to protect the innocent] interview.  Thank you my dearest wife.)

Q: Is there anything I can get for you?

A: Yes, you can move those [decorative vases I put in dumb location where our cat could knock them over].

Q: OK, can we do that after the interview?

A: Yes.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.  I know you have a busy schedule.

A: I do.

Q: I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about your trip to Vietnam.

A: …(silence)…

Q: OK, nothing to say about that then?

A: (laughter) I’m very happy to talk about my trip to Vietnam.  It’s one the best trips I have ever taken.

Q: Great.  Save all the Vietnam stuff for the interview.  So, Vietnam: how long were you in Vietnam?  What were the cities you visited?

A: We were in Vietnam about nine days and stayed initially in Hanoi.  Then we took a boat trip out to Ha Long Bay before returning to Hanoi for the final days.

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Oh Man, Oman

A building that befits Jasmine.

When I was younger I thought Arabia must be a land that resembled something of a cross between Aladdin (the Disney adaptation) and the epic scenery of Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia. Yet, upon my arrival in Bahrain, I found it to be radically different from that vision. In fact, most of the places I have visited in Persian Gulf have been significantly less fantastical and although some retain elements that are traditional, much of what I found was sterile and modern. Places like Doha and Dubai evoke a sense of modern decadence and delusion, with their tall glass phallic symbols and dusty surroundings devoid of color and yet full of asphalt and artificial light. In the sole Arab country I have visited outside of the Gulf, Jordan, the countryside and squat buildings reminded me of a poor European country, and even the remarkable historical landmarks like Petra and the wondrous natural beauty of the Dead Sea transported me to a very un-Arab world (I did not make it to Wadi Rum, made famous by Lawrence). Oman, was the first place where the imaginations of my childhood were realized. Continue reading

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10,000

That, my friends, is the number of miles I have driven on an island a little more than three times the size of Washington DC. In a year and a half I have traversed a distance equal to driving across the state of Texas more than 11 times! It’s no small feat, especially considering that nearly all of the island’s population is concentrated in the northern third of its territory and due to security concerns more than half of that area is not recommended for exploration.  Thankfully, the gasoline is so wonderfully subsidized that it’s practically free.  There is some solace to be found in this seemingly crazy number of miles traveled over the course of a year-and-a-half by motor vehicle: it is actually a very small amount of miles to be traveled over the course of a year-and-a-half by motor vehicle.

The Tree of Life: the jewel of Bahrain’s deep south.

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The Bahrain-Doha Connection

So close, yet so far away.

Living life as a diplomat has its perks.  Living life as a diplomat married to another diplomat has its challenges.  The biggest challenge has been the distance.  Ok, disregard the fact that you can practically throw a paper airplane from Bahrain, where I’m posted, to Doha, where my wife is serving the last months of her tour, because it takes a lot longer to get from Bahrain to Doha than you might expect.  We did the math on the time it takes to get door-to-door: about two and a half hours on the front end, 30-45 minutes flying/riding the bus to the airplane, and an hour and a half on the back end (if immigration goes smoothly).  That adds up to a minimum of nine hours for the traveler to get to and fro on each visit.  I’ve gotten a Saudi Visa and driven the route that takes you across the King Fahd Causeway Bridge to Saudi and then up the Qatari Peninsula to Doha.  Believe it or not, it’s only about an hour longer on average (and that’s including a funny interaction with a Saudi border guard in which he asked me what I was transporting in a taped up box and, not knowing how to say Christmas decorations, I told him “Christian things”).   Continue reading

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