Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Visiting Rob in Bahrain

Last Wednesday (Oct. 31) I left the States for Bahrain to visit Rob. After the Dubai visit was cancelled, they decided to pull into Bahrain instead. Definitely not the hotspot that Dubai is, but Bahrain is definitely neat in its own right.

Since I didn’t get my ticket until two days before I left, the routing was not easy. I left Norfolk and flew into Detroit, where I had a seven hour layover before flying to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I laid over for three hours before boarding a flight to Bahrain, but we made a stop in Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) before reaching our final destination. All told, it was about a 30 hour trip. The only thing that made it remotely bearable was that I got upgraded to Business Class on the Detroit-Amsterdam flight (through much flirting and joking on my part, but it finally paid off!)

The travel truly wasn’t too bad. The flight from Amsterdam to Bahrain was interesting as we flew over Iraq for much of it. The flight path took us over Baghdad, and I’m pretty sure we witnessed an explosion of some sort in the city. We also flew over the oilfields of southern Iraq (at least, that’s what I’m assuming the orange lights were!)

Upon landing in Abu Dhabi we had quite the interesting experience. We were wheels-down and just about to hit the runway when the pilot suddenly aborted the landing and ascended again. It was a little nerve-wracking as the whole plane figured we were having a problem with the landing gear, but it turns out that we were ‘too close’ to another plane on the runway. We made the second landing attempt with no problems…whew!

But enough about my adventure in getting there! I got to the hotel at about 2:00AM Friday morning. Rob wasn’t scheduled to get off the ship until Friday afternoon, so I was able to sleep in for a while. Thank goodness! The hotel was literally right outside the gate of the US Navy Base in Bahrain, so he was able to walk there as soon as he got off the ship. There was a “Hail” that evening at the Officers Club for the new CO of the ship and a couple other new officers. That was fun, as I was able to meet everyone from the wardroom, not to mention some Australian Naval officers who were visiting as well. :-)

I had been warned about how crazy people get during the first night in port, and I got to witness it in full effect! Some serious drinking went down at the Officers Club, which carried over to the nightclub at our hotel. Let’s just say that not too many people could remember all the events of the night before (myself included!). But I’m sure it felt good for the guys to blow off some steam after a month or more at sea.

The rest of the visit wasn’t nearly as crazy. There aren’t a whole lot of tourist sites in Bahrain, but nonetheless it’s a fascinating place. You could almost describe it as a mini-Dubai. The architecture of the new buildings is cutting-edge, and it’s been very westernized. We didn’t run into a single person who didn’t speak English. Literally. It was easier to communicate and get around in Bahrain than in some parts of Europe. All signs were in both English and Arabic. There were more English channels on the TV than Arabic ones.

We twice went to the Seef Mall, which is as modern of a shopping mall as you’ll find anywhere. All the upper-end stores that you might find in London or New York were represented there. The food court featured MANY American fast food joints, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, and even Papa John’s. The Cineplex in the mall featured both Arabic and American movies. One movie that I was surprised to see playing was “Knocked Up.” I’ve not seen it yet, but I’ve heard it was so raunchy that some Americans walked out of it, so it was surprising to see it playing in a Muslim country. It’s obviously pretty liberal, though, as far as Muslim countries go. Apparently many Saudis treat it as a playground, almost like Vegas…an escape from the very rigid lifestyle they live at home.

On Sunday we visited the “Gold Souk,” which is supposed to be the place to go to buy jewelry and other goods. It wasn’t busy at all, so we were hustled by every merchant in the place. It got a little uncomfortable after a while, so we decided to leave. About 10-15 minutes after we left, I started feeling really, really itchy. Apparently I had an allergic reaction to SOMETHING at the souk (the fake Coach bags maybe? Or perhaps some of the cleaning supplies in the toilets?) Whatever it was, I broke out in hives in a HUGE way…all over my face, neck, chest and back. We immediately went back to the hotel so I could jump in a bath and lather myself in Benadryl cream, but that pretty much ruined the rest of the day. Some of the hives were nickel-sized and didn’t subside until the next morning. I’ve had that problem at the gym on the base at home, but this is the first time I’ve broken out in hives somewhere else. I don’t know what causes it, but it’s VERY annoying.

The whole point of the trip, of course, was to see Rob, and we had a great time together. It’s so nice to be with the one person that you feel most comfortable with and with whom you can talk about anything. We both enjoyed Bahrain immensely, and talked about the possibility of him transferring there once spouses are allowed there again. (Right now it’s an unaccompanied tour, but that’s expected to change in the next couple years.)

The visit was painfully short (only 3 full days together), and now I’m off to Morocco for the OpSmile mission. Another adventure awaits!

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