Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Istanbul or Constantinople?

Who cares what you call it, just go! Matt and I made the impulsive decision to travel to Istanbul for an impromptu long weekend. (And by last minute I mean we booked the flights and hotel at 2am and were at the airport at 9:30am!) This past Sunday was an Islamic holiday which serves to celebrate the Prophet Mohammad’s ascend into heaven. The religion follows a lunar calendar and therefore holidays and celebrations are not announced until about 24 hours in advance based on the sighting of the moon. Well be got lucky this time and Sunday was declared a National Holiday – remember we work a Sunday – Thursday week.

So we found a last minute combination of hotel points and airline miles that landed us in Istanbul 12 hours later!

It was a great weekend. I had no idea what to expect but was astonished to see how very Mediterranean the culture and climate was. Blue skies, crystal water, puffy clouds and trees, it was a winning combination from the start! The secular state was a stark (and welcome) contrast to living in the Gulf and the people really couldn't have been nicer.

We spend our days being the consummate tourists with visits to the old Topaki Palace where the sultans used to live, the Ayasofya which is the world’s largest cathedral, the famous Blue Mosque, and even haggling in the Grand Bazaar where Matt made a very special purchase – his wedding ring!

I would recommend a visit to this city to anyone. If fact we are already planning our next round as the 2 days went by too quickly. But don’t let me convince you, let the pictures do the boasting!

At the top of the Galata Tower built in 1348

At the park outside of the Ayasophia, the Blue Mosque is in the background

Inside the Blue MosqueOn the terrace at the Topaki Palace, it's the stuff of Arabian nights!Cruising down the BosphorusYeah, I'm the nerd that actually does the audio tours...The beautiful interior of the Blue MosqueWe had a suprise friend join us for lunch at the cafe!The Ayasofya, she is a beauty. The largest cathedral in the world. It was first a church and then a mosque. Ataturk got tired of the squabbing between the groups and made it a national monument for all to enjoy.

The cistern, now that is a beautiful plumbing system!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kicking Back with Keane

It's not every day your sister calls and says "hey what are you doing in an hour, want to meet Keane?" But last week I found myself on the receiving end of that fortunate question! The story that leads us to the asking of that question is even longer, but it goes a bit like this: Lisa's boyfriend's boss downloaded a Keane song from the Nokia website a few months back not really knowing that for every download of a Keane song your name would be entered into a drawing to meet and greet the band before their Dubai show, granted free tickets, a limo to the concert and a nights hotel stay. My sister's lucky boyfriend gladly accepted the package but in order to pick it up someone had to go to the meet and greet, and since he's not the biggest fan he passed that duty on to Lisa, who then called me for back up!

It was all quite easy really, we showed up at the Raffles hotel that morning and simply said " we are here for Keane" and with no questions asked we were taken on to elevator, directed to the room and when we open the door there was Keane, in the middle of a press conference with about 15 Dubai journalists. We first thought, that was easy and then though, why don't we try asking for these things more often!

The boys from the UK were pretty mild mannered and answered all the press questions, but in my opinion, knowing what they "eat on tour" and "how they relieve stress" wasn't really that interesting, so just when the press conference was about to close and they called for last questions, I fronted as a journalist and asked "How do you feel about the comparison of your sound to bands like Coldplay or Travis, without the guitar? Do you find it flattering, or is it frustrating when you've worked so hard to create your own unique sound?"

Whew, that felt good! The answer that followed was about a 5 minute lecture on their respect for their predecessors and a rundown of who has influenced them. It was pretty much the only question about their actual music that was asked. My work here was done.

After the press conference, we had a chance to meet the trio and I got to gush about how I saw them perform at the 9:30 club in Washington, DC in 2006. I think I got an "oh cool" out of the nearly mum threesome, but in any case they were amenable enough to take a few photos with us, not too shabby!

We all gathered later that night for the concert where a great time was had by all!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Saudi Independence Day

I begin today, an anniversary of our country's birth, with an insightful quote: "What better way to celebrate the independence of our country than to blow up a piece of it?". Thank you, Apu from the Simpsons, truer words have never been spoken. Though today, if I were to celebrate in that manner, there *might* be a problem.
While Katie is enjoying the barbeque festivities, and most people in Dubai are either celebrating today or did yesterday (we'll count on Lisa to share yesterday's BBQ), I am stuck doing demonstrations in Riyadh all weekend.

You have to hand it to the Saudi's - they know how to negotiate! "You want our business? You think you know the Middle East from your comfy American chair? Prove it - come meet with us on July 4th and 5th!" Thanks guys - that's very kind. Saudi Arabia already has crazy weekends - the week starts Saturday morning and ends Wednesday around 3pm - so it's adding insult to injury.

But I have it easy - we have people with us that had to fly from the US directly, which made it a July 2nd-July 6th working holiday for them. And no, they tend to frown on fireworks here in Riyadh. Honestly, they still check your trunk and engine each time you drive up to an office building or hotel.

So just remember the favorite phrase: "eat, drink, and be merry - tomorrow, you could be in Riyadh!"