Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Just over 150

With just over 150 days before my next decade passes, I am contemplating how I want to mark this point in my history. Many people create a list of things they must do before they are 30. I looked through some other lists for inspiration, but was less than inspired. Some of the things I have done and the rest just seemed lame.

I am on a reading kick, so for fun, I am going to read at least 30 books for the year, ending on my birthday. Almost halfway there. But talk about lame, that is not how I want to mark this next stage :) Just a fun little competition to bring me back to the 1st grade where I beat Jason and the rest of my class to read 100 books. Of course, I heard a rumor that Jason C. was reading over 100 books, so on a mission, I read 200 books by the end date and won a hamburger watch. Trust me, it was all the rave in 1988.

I digress. I remember when I entered my 20s; leaving my teens as if through a painful door. I cried. I thought I had to say goodbye to my youth, the days of being a child. In some ways, that was true. I had entered my "trying twenties."

However, during my 20s I did and saw so many spectacular things and really lived. In no particular order.. I traveled to Asia, South America and the Middle East for the first time. I suffered my first broken heart. I studied in Spain and Mexico. I lived in Europe. I got married. I had my first real job. I saved a lot of money on a small salary. I lived in DC and NYC. I ran 5 marathons. I learned two foreign languages. I became an aunt, twice. I gained a family in another country. I graduated from college. I had the best boss and the worst boss. I drank too much, I earned too little and I had a blast.

I don't want to slowly, begrudgingly shuffle through the door of my 30s with tears coming down my face but rather, I want to come crashing through it with enthusiasm and joy.

So, with just over 150 days, I am going to mark this occasion into the next chapter.. someway. I just have to figure out how. Stay tuned!

My Impressions

If I had to sum up my week in the Emirates to a few paragraphs, this is what I would tell you. Yes, the Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi specifically, are a clash of modern with the old. The newly constructed buildings are toeing the line of reality. Things don't seem real there. Everything at first glance is shiny and new. The buildings, malls, metros.
Burj Al Khalifa World's Tallest Building 
Burj Al Arab World's Only 7 Star Hotel 
Emirates Palace cost US$3Billion to construct this hotel

But then, you also see the old, sometimes crumbling, buildings. The shops that have been around for years that are outdated serving local cuisine or trading local products that have been beaten down by the sand and sun.
Old Dubai

The people. Nicholas and I were surprised at how generous, warm and kind the people are there. The men are extremely chivalrous. Never would a seat on the metro or bus not be offered to a woman if a man was seated. Doors were held open. People smiled and were happy. We had many occasions of having a meal in a local restaurant and when realizing the waitstaff spoke no English, we communicated with  pointing, smiles and hand motions like you would anywhere in the world. However, I always felt like we were really communicating and understanding each other. Our last meal in Dubai, the waiter/owner treated us to a local dessert just because.

The start of the sandstorm

The weather. It was HOT. Super hot. After a couple of days, we would say things like, Wow, it is only 96 today? It feels great out! The sun was constantly beating down and the only escape from the heat was to slip into a shop with air conditioning or to find a palm tree to stand under. No joke, the shade felt so refreshing. Although they don't get rain or snow storms, they do experience sandstorms and we happened to be traveling from Abu Dhabi to Dubai when one hit. It was crazy. People reacted just as if it were a torrential downpour or a blizzard. Because it is, just with sand. Visibility disappears and everyone on the road puts their flashing lights on. 

Spice Shop

The food. I was in my own personal heaven. Upon sitting, there were olives placed in front of us at most places. We drank fresh pomegranate and watermelon juices. Giant barrels filled with pistachios, spices and other nuts lined the store fronts. Hummus, baba ganouj, shawarma, pita, naan, etc, was served everywhere. We stayed near the fish market in Dubai and I fell in love. The stench almost caused an immediate gag-reflex but once you adjusted, the mountains and varieties of fish blew my mind. I fantasized what it would be like to live there and come to the market and buy the local fish for dinner. For someone who loves to have a cocktail or glass of wine with dinner, I did not miss alcohol once while I was there. Sure, we could have had a drink if we went to a hotel bar, etc, but why would you and miss the local scene?

Fish Market

Directions. In the UAE there are no street addresses. At first, I thought each place we were staying was trying to be discreet, but I soon realized that no buildings are numbered and addresses are given in the way I would give them to friends. "Yep, we are just down the small side road off of the plaza. Tall white building next to turnaround. Above the makeup shop." This is how we were told directions. When we stayed in Abu Dhabi the last night, we were told it was one of two rose-colored buildings, the one closest to another landmark with a light fixture store at the bottom and with a doorman whose name is Abbas, if during the day, or Abubkar at night. Trust me, it is not always the easiest way to maneuver new cities, but it sure made it interesting.

Mosque at sunset

The customs. Although it was strange not hold hands with Nicholas or steal kisses from time to time, and to have to wear much more clothing than I would during a Swiss summer, let alone walking the streets of a desert, you adjust. I could not believe the women wore their traditional black dress and head scarves in the intense heat. And, I didn't find it fair that the men got to wear white... I even had to dress fully covered to enter the Mosque, while Nicholas got to keep his street clothes on. Trust me, it is just as hot as it looks.

That was a camera smile, underneath I was dying of heat
Notice who is showing some arms here...

But that is the joy of traveling and trying new things. If you are lucky, you get a tiny glimpse into what life for others is like. When you suddenly understand something that you never grasped before. At the end of the day, we found that we shared much more similarities than differences. In fact, I couldn't help but compare it to the US. We felt right at home in the middle of the desert.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Doggy dog world"

Yoshi's old contest photo- still tied for the cutest dog ever with Saki ;) 

Nicholas and I recently discovered the sitcom Modern Family. I have heard a lot of people talking about this show for a couple of years, but I never checked it out until recently.

One of the reasons I love it, is that the show doesn't go for the cheapest laughs and at the end, there is always a touching recap or moral.

Another reason I love it, is one of the characters is Colombian. There are several things that she does or says that remind me of my life with Nicholas :) Before getting into it, I give her and Nicholas a lot of credit for speaking a second (3rd, 4th...) language at a near native level. One episode we saw, Gloria, the Colombian, is talking to her husband and asking him what words or phrases she mispronounces or gets completely wrong. He lists a few right off the top of his head. The first one he says, she wrinkles her nose and argues with him.

Gloria: "It isn't a doggy dog world?"

Jay: "No, Gloria. It is a dog eat dog world."

Gloria: "Oh..."

Simultaneously, I hear Nicholas say "Oh..."


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Too soon

On my way home from my run this morning, I saw this sign in front of the book shop:

The 2012 agenda books are out already... Wow, did this year go by super fast, or what?!

My address is...

Way to go Cleveland :)

I saw a lot of development taking place when I spent a month there in February. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance is doing a great job!
Live by the sun, Love by the moon.
Paris storefront. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bakdash Booza

notice the heart shape and all the layers I am wearing? 

Forget about gelato and Ben and Jerry's, they've got nothing on Arabic ice cream. The one we had is a Syrian variety from a famous shop called Bakdash. We found this in the Dubai Mall and we were drawn to the sweet shop because of the pounding of the two men at the store front into metal tins of some sort. (See the crowd peering in the front of the shop?)

Curiously, we wandered over to see what the commotion was all about. After the men would beat out a short rhythm, the one guy would reach into the large steel tin and pull out a sticky concoction covered in pistachios. We watched as a few women were buying it and eating it with small spoons. It looked like taffy.

We leaned over the counter and asked what it was. The guy told us it was Arabic ice cream. We immediately ordered one to taste and the show started again. Turns out, they beat the ice cream in the tin. After a few minutes, the ice cream is brought out and cut with a large, sharp knife. The man shaped ours into a heart, how cuuuuuuute....

The texture was so different and it tasted amazing! If you go to the Dubai Mall go to Arabesq Sweets and have the Bakdash Booza. Or better, if you are in Damascus, go to Bakdash. And don't share, get your own :) YUM!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Information overload

I have so much to write about our trip to the Emirates that I fear what I am coming up with is closer to a novel than a blog post. As Mark Twain said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." Once I figure out how to dial back everything I want to say, the posts will come. For now, I just need more time :) 

Monday, October 17, 2011


I headed to the UAE for the week to take advantage since Nicholas was there for a big conference. I spent a couple days in Abu Dhabi, then Dubai and back to Abu Dhabi before heading back to Geneva. What an amazing trip!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I love this bridge in Paris.

It is covered in locks.
Couples come with a lock and attach it to the bridge. 
Mark their names and date. 
And lock it. 
So that their love will last forever. 
Eiffel Tower in Background

Paris. Part II Daniella's visit

7:00am came too early and we struggled to get up and out of the hotel room, but by 7:30am we were checked out and on our way to the parking garage to get the car. Except the garage was closed... We couldn't figure out how we were supposed to get in. We checked our ticket and there it clearly stated "Closed on Sundays." How did we miss this when we parked??

We called Daniella to let her know we were going to be late and then tried to figure out what to do. Nicholas could take the train back so he could be to work on Monday, I would stay and drive the car back when the garage opened the next morning. Our great Sunday drive through France was going to be off and disappointment settled on us. Nicholas also realized that we had locked his laptop and work bag in the trunk the night before, so he would be unable to work. 

Suddenly the beautiful and magical Paris turned ugly. None of the cafes were open. I was without caffeine and food. Why did everything close on Sundays in Europe? And why in the world was the parking garage in the center of Paris closed? Ugh, normal, civilized conveniences are extraordinarily rare on this side of the pond. 

We trudged back to our hotel to use the internet and see if we could find anyone that could open the garage. Once we were there and told the front desk clerk what happened, he insisted that there must be some way into the garage. Nicholas had been on hold for 40 minutes trying to connect with the garage company and I frantically scanned their webpages to find any information. 

We finally both just sat in the lobby- hungry, tired, un-caffeinated and unsure what to do next. Just then, another couple from the UK came to check-out. Nicholas leaned over and whispered, guiltily, that they were going to have the same issue. I asked how he could know that and he said he had recommended the garage to them when they arrived on Friday after us! 

I was thrilled! At least it wasn't just us. If there was another car, surely someone would have to open the garage. Nicholas got up and explained to the man what had happened to us and that we were going to have to figure something out. The guy, also named Nicholas, told Nicholas that he was able to get into the garage late last night to grab a coat, after it was closed but he did not speak French so couldn't understand the man on the intercom...

We both exclaimed that Nicholas spoke French and would be able to communicate if the guy would only show where this intercom was. The two guys went off and I sat with the wife. She was young and it was their first time to Paris. They had driven almost 12 hrs to get here. They would have to leave soon to make the ferry back to England. I started to feel better and better as she started to feel worse and worse. I just knew that the guys would get the car. 

The two of us caught up and got to know each other when we started to hear loud beeping from the street. She looked and asked if that was our car. I glanced but didn't see the car and honestly couldn't remember what rental car we had, so shook my head and said "No." Then another car was beeping and I asked her if they had a VW. She jumped up and shouted "Yes!!" Then, I ran to the door and realized Nicholas was waiting in the street for me. We both grabbed our bags and ran out the door. 

Two and a half hours later than we had planned we were on our way to pick up Daniella and get out of Paris!! Never had I been so excited to leave the city :)

And our adventure continued... 

Paris. Part I Daniella's visit

A couple of weeks ago, Nicholas and I rented a car and drove after work on a Friday to Paris to see his little sister, Daniella. We ended up hitting Paris traffic, so we arrived in Paris quite late. After checking into our hotel and grabbing a light meal at a cafe near the Madeleine, we called it a night and got up early the next day to meet up with Daniella and her friend.

Both Daniella and Diego had completed the same medical program in Colombia. They are clearly good friends and it was a comfort knowing she was traveling around Paris with a big, teddy-bear type. After sharing croissants and coffee we separated for the afternoon. Daniella and Diego off to see more sites in Paris and Nicholas and I off to meet some of his old classmates for a lunch. It was great to see everyone, especially my Akane!!

After lunch, we went window shopping and then for a long walk enjoying Paris in the fall. Finally, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for dinner with the soon-to-be doctors :) Diego had invited us to a beautiful restaurant that his family owned and had told us that we were their guests that night. Awesome! While getting ready, the fire alarm in our hotel went off. Hair soaking wet from my shower and random clothes thrown on, we went downstairs to see what was happening. We were told someone smelled smoke (probably someone smoking) and the fire dept was coming... great. We were about to be late meeting D&D and we were not even close to being ready. We decided it was best to just leave than wait around and waste time. All seemed fine at the hotel, but we didn't want to go back upstairs in the off-chance there really was a fire.

So off to a beautiful dinner in Paris with wet hair and old clothes. We were a sight for sore eyes... D&D showed up in a dress and a suit... we were clearly under-dressed. Once we got to the restaurant I nervously looked over the menu, realizing that it was a good thing we were the guests that night, otherwise there was going to be a lot of ramen in our future :)

The meal and evening couldn't have been nicer. The food was delicious and it was fun spending an evening out in Paris with Daniella and Diego. We ended the evening quite late and told her that we were going to pick her up at 8am sharp so we could head out early to see two sites on our way back to Switzerland, with a stop in Burgundy for dinner at one of our favorite cafes. After taking a midnight stroll with Nicholas to see the city lit, we called it a night...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lying awake

Wrote this last night in bed:

Tomorrow I start meeting the women for my project. I am so excited that I am just lying awake. Will they have interesting stories? Will they be comfortable with me and open up? Will I be able to make something of all of this? Those are the three questions that keep running through my head. 

My notebooks are out. My pens are ready. Phone/recorder charged. Just need to sleep. 

I read somewhere that all projects are fun at the beginning. There is excitement at the potential and unknowns. But it takes hard work to follow through. Successful people know when to follow through and also when to let go. 

However this turns out, I am happy I gave myself the chance to do it.

Fast-forward, I have completed my first interview and am about to run out the door for my second! 

The first interview could not have gone better! Mags is a charming Scottish woman with fiery red hair and a wonderful personality to match! I came home so charged that I knocked out my first draft on her interview. Out the door for round 2! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

“Enjoy the little things, 
for one day you may
look back and realize 
they were the big things.”