Anniversary celebration in New York City

With Ms. LibertyThe husband and I made a pact two years ago to put expensive gifts aside and celebrate our wedding anniversary with a trip. Last year our trip was to Dubai where we spent three "eventful" days exploring the wonders of the ambitious emirate. This year, though, our anniversary coincided with the weekend making an opportunity to visit the city that never sleeps: New York.

What can I say? We had a blast. Although this was not my first time in New York, I still could not get over how vibrant and lively this city is, not to mention its beauty. The skyline itself is simply breathtaking. I could stare at it for hours and never tire.

Our schedule allowed us to spend one full day in this great city, so we set our clocks for 12 hours: 8:00 am to 8:00 PM. It was a stretch but we did it and enjoyed it to the utmost. The day began with a trip to the Statue of the Liberty where we got the chance to venture inside the statue and not merely gaze upon it outside. Post-9/11 procedures stipulate booking tickets in advance (either online or by the phone) in order to get inside Lady Liberty. Otherwise, enjoying the statue from the grounds below is all you get.

Ellis Island Immigration MuseumBeing inside the statue and listening to the park ranger’s historical briefing was engaging. It was fascinating to get acquainted with the history and architectural make-up of this world famous monument — a mini Eiffel Tower is inside her.

Leaving Liberty Island, we took the ferry on to Ellis Island where we toured the Immigration Museum and enjoyed it tremendously. We heard compelling stories of various immigrants that made it to the US in the early 1900’s seeking a better life. It was fascinating to see some of the belongings they brought with them from their home countries. One amusing item that drew my attention was a set of tweezers left by a Syrian couple. I also enjoyed seeing currency dating back to the Ottoman Empire. The exhibition is truly top-notch and definitely worth a visit.

Central Park pondAfter spending over two hours learning about the lives of early immigrants, we made our way to Central Park where we took a trip aboard one of NYC’s famous horse carriages that provided a beautiful tour inside the mammoth, lush park. It was so much fun. The park was buzzing with life; packed with joggers, bikers, lovers and writers. No wonder this location is a favorite spot for a myriad of movie makers.

After Central Park, we went to Times Square, where I got overwhelmed with the sights and the sounds of the place. One unusual scene was a performer right in the heart of Times Square: A topless (wearing pasties) young woman calling herself the "Naked Cowgirl"!

We closed out our day with a fabulous dinner at a Cuban restaurant in Times Square called Havana Central where we enjoyed ribs and of course … mojitos! I ♥ New York.

A trip into the ‘Deep South’

Nocalula FallsWe returned last night from a wonderful road trip into the Deep South where we visited Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina. The whole purpose of the trip was to visit my sister and her family and spend some quality time with them. We had a wonderful, wonderful time. Every minute we spent with ‘La Familia’ was memorable and will be cherished forever.

The kids were just so wonderful as usual. They keep getting cuter by the day. I can never get enough of them. One of the highlights of our visit there was getting the chance to ride a Sea Doo on the Gadsen River. We cruised on the river for maybe 40 minutes and got a chance to see some of the most wonderful sights I have ever seen in my life. For a while there, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Smokey Mtn HubbyDriving back to Virginia, we stopped for a night in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains and what a sight it was. The mountains lived up to their name, as they are indeed smoky, particularly with the light rain.

The town of Gatlinburg itself was buzzing with life. It had entertainment of every imaginable sort. I could not believe what I was seeing as things looked like a mesh between Las Vegas and Disney Land (Please bear in mind that I have never been to either of these places).Killing Bear and me

Leaving Gatlinburg we drove through the Smokies to North Carolina, where we stopped in the Indian reservation of Cherokee. It was intriguing. I had never quiet grasped the concept of an Indian reservation before visiting this place. In addition to hopping between tourist shops, we got to chat and take pictures with a Native American man by the name of “Killing Bear.”

Of course, I could not keep my mouth shut and had to ask him one million questions about his native language, the reservation, and if I could pass as a Native American, something he affirmed. One of the interesting things we saw were signs written in both English and Cherokee. Now, isn’t this neat?

I believe this trip will wrap up our touring for the time being, as we’ll soon head further north to pursue job opportunities. This trip has definitely given us enough of a boost to help us take the career world by storm. We are very hopeful and excited about the coming days.

All things Virginian

On our way down the Skyline DriveFor the past four days or so we have been touring around Virginia with Dad and Mom T and I must say I have laid eyes on some of the most beautiful sights in nature that I have ever seen. The Shenandoah Valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains are just stunning. Everything looks like a postcard. I really couldn’t believe I was actually walking around amongst these extremely beautiful sights.

And yes I’m still seeing and experiencing new things on a daily basis and I love it. Here is my list of observations for this post:

For those residing in the US, can anyone answer this little dilemma of mine? Why are public bathroom doors so short? I mean, why does everyone have to see my legs when I’m doing whatever I choose to do behind those closed doors? I feel it is an invasion of my bathroom privacy somehow. Am I the only one bothered by this? I wonder.

Glen Burnie gardenAs I understand it, any trip to the US is not complete without a visit to the one and only Wal-Mart. On my first visit I saw some things with which I was unfamiliar. First was an almost blatant display of obesity. Oh my God! I have never seen people that obese in my whole life. I kept looking at one woman while trying to decipher what I witnessing. Then I decided to stop before I made a fool of myself. I saw people packing extra weight in places I never knew people could carry fat, like on their back for example. Somehow, this made me feel good about my weight.

Another interesting sight was the Mennonites. When I first saw a woman with a small cap on her head I thought it was some form of fashion statement. But when I saw a second woman with the same white hat, I knew something was going on. Luckily, the husband was there to provide me with the answer.

I’m now in the process of Americanizing my accent. While in London I spent some effort Anglicizing it but it didn’t really work out. Let’s see if my efforts pay off this time. The first thing I’m working on is pronouncing the word "water." Instead of saying "wa-ter," which I guess is the British pronunciation, I’m trying to say it the American way: "wa-der." I guess I still sound weird but I will keep trying none-the-less.

That’s all for now. More to come as time allows.

Thoughts and observations

View from the Empire State BuildingSitting here in Jeff’s old room in his hometown of Virginia, I have a myriad of thoughts dancing around in my head. I guess, in a way, I’m just trying to grasp what I saw and experienced in the past three days, which constituted one of the more exciting and eventful times of my life. I have so many stories to tell and observations to spell out; however I will share what I think were the ones with the most impact.

When we first landed in JFK airport in New York, I was extremely tired, jet-lagged and very agitated. I was a bit worried about the immigration procedures that I had to go through at the airport as this was my first visit to the US. I approached the counter and told the officer that I was a new immigrant while pointing to all the paper work that I was carrying around. He looked at me and said with a smile "Congratulations." That was an ice-breaker and extremely welcoming. I never thought I would be greeted in this very amicable manner. That was my very first introduction to the United States and what a pleasant one it was.Enjoying a 'Cosmo' in NYC's Scout bar

For the past three days I have been experiencing a very strong feeling of Déjà vu. Everything around me looked and felt very familiar. In a way I felt as if I was re-experiencing some sort of a past life. Of course the only explanation for this is the one and only Hollywood. I have seen so many American movies in my lifetime, something that made this country and its people very close to my heart. It was freaky in a way but a great example of the power of the imagery.

While sitting in a diner in Times Square, enjoying a New York burger and thinking about how far I was from home, an image popped up on the TV inside the restaurant that managed to ruin my bliss at that time. It was a picture of the one and only Zarqawai. I couldn’t believe it. There I was in New York, so far from all the craziness in my part of the globe, but still haunted by this bloodthirsty lunatic who happens to hold the same type of passport I carry.

At that moment, I just wanted to hide, especially after hearing the infamous sentence: "the Jordanian-born terrorist." But instead of hiding, I chose to continue eating my burger pretending that I was just another New Yorker on my lunch-break. It worked; no one around me noticed my deep sense of shame.

A piece of advice to any one visiting New York: Don’t miss the Blue Man Group show. It was — in every sense — out of this world. It was a clever two-hour performance of fantasy, music and artistic genius. Without a doubt, it was the best performance I have seen in the entire 28 years of my life; simply breathtaking!

That is it for now. More thoughts are to come, as time allows.

In the land of milk and honey

A boat passes the London EyeCurrently in the land of milk and honey, we are now in the city that never sleeps, New York. Before I begin babbling to no end about how fascinating this city is and how enchanted I am by what New York has to offer, I will go back in time three days ago and talk about our brief visit in London.

The picturesque BarnesIt was just perfect. On our way here, we decided to stop off in London, a city that occupies a special place in my heart. We stayed three days with my very good friend Pilar in Barnes (right), which is probably one of the most picturesque suburbs in the city. We had such a wonderful time and Pilar was just the most perfect host. She dined us and she wined us, taking us all over the place.

A moment in Times SquareAmong some of the places we visited was Madam Taussaud’s Wax Museum, the London Eye (the main image on the left), the Tate Modern museum, Leicester Square, Millennium Bridge and Richmond. Although I lived for a year in this city back in 2002 during my Masters, I just can never get enough of it. It always pulls me back.

Now here in New York, things cannot be more exciting. From Time Square (on the right) to the Empire State Building, Central Park and Rockefeller Centre, I feel I’m in one huge, long Hollywood movie. I can’t believe I’m actually here wandering the streets of a city I’m so familiar with thanks to myriads of New York-based films I’ve seen.

Anyway, I will write more about the Big Apple when I beat this jet lag. Yeah, it is bad. I can’t seem to adjust this stubborn body clock of mine. Today we have a day of excitement ahead of us including a Sex and the City Tour. Yes, I’m a huge — and proud — fan of this show. I will write more as time allows.

A trip north

Zubara FortWe had a very nice day today with Amal on a half-day trip to the north of Qatar. The excursion began at 9:00 am when we were picked up by a driver from Qatar International Tours who took us to our first stop of the day: Al Khor, Qatar’s second largest city. There was nothing much in this sleepy city besides a beach and a museum. We were amazed to see how little development had occurred in the second largest city when compared to Doha. Somehow it made us feel grateful to live in the Qatari capital.

We continued our trip north and stopped by Zubara fort [seen here], which was built in 1938 for military purposes and used against the Brits and Bahrainis. This was followed by a stopover at some excavations nearby. We then made our way further north to the last point in Qatar before the sea: al-Rowais, where we stopped for lunch at a traditional Qatari house. We also got to visit a high-end tent Majlis (complete with pool table and A/C), which is where Qatari men hang out.

The falconerThere we had a nice chat with a young Qatari man by the name of Ali about traditional marriages here. Amal and I asked him about the Qatari marriage tradition of not seeing one’s spouse until the wedding night. Ali had no problem with it and fully respected it, saying his parents have been happily married for thirty years now following the same tradition. After our brief chit-chat, Ali took us inside an adjacent house where he raised falcons. He insisted on us holding the birds and taking pictures with them. This was loads of fun. Those falcons are just fascinating creatures.

All in all we had a great time. It is a trip I would highly recommend to anyone visiting or currently residing in Doha. It is always refreshing to see Qatari landmarks besides air-conditioned malls and five-star hotels.