Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Crowne Plaza, Kuwait City…Take 2

09 October 2007

Woke up again at 6am and convinced my body to stay in bed till 0730. I just stayed in last night and watched a couple of movies and some news. I did have the ribeye steak at the Ribeye Restaurant here. It was alright, but not as great as you might expect for 8KD – somewhere between $24 and $32 US. I’ve cooked better at home.

Ate a nice breakfast and then caught up with my email and laid around for a bit. Finally decided that I needed some physical activity, so I put on my gym shorts and went over to the gym to do some elliptical. That was pretty good and the machines are better kept than at the Balley’s I used to go to back home. Also took in a little steam, so I was all relaxed by the time I hit the shower.

With Ramadan going on now, I almost feel guilty if I even think of lunch, so I skipped it. If you don’t know, during Ramadan the Muslims aren’t allowed to eat, drink (even water) or chew gum from sunrise to sunset. Nothing is supposed to pass their lips. Americans have gotten scolded and berated for even drinking water in their cars on the highway during Ramadan. Best to adapt to the culture and try to understand where they are coming from. You actually can eat as a non-Muslim, just not in public. It is considered inconsiderate, ignorant and very bad manners to do otherwise.

Went down to the lobby to read for an hour this afternoon while housekeeping cleaned up the room. Then came back up to grab my book and swimsuit and head down to the pool for a bit. Not trying to get burned, but just a little bit of sun to maybe try to blend in this “farmer’s tan” I’ve got from running. I’m all tanned in the face, neck and arms up to the sleeves, but white as a ghost everywhere else! I’m thinking I won’t even get close to blending it in till it fades some this winter and I go on the cruise in Feb/March.

The hotel is nice enough and everyone that you speak to in Baghdad really talks it up, but I think I enjoyed my stay at the Hilton more. There were more shops, a bigger area to just wander, nice spa and it is located on the beach. The only real advantage the Crowne Plaza has is that it is within 20 minutes of the airport. The pool is nice and they have two nice restaurants plus the house restaurant, but it isn’t as posh as you might expect for the money or for Kuwait. The Hilton’s facilities, I thought were a bit better. Just my opinion, but should I have the opportunity to have to stay in Kuwait longer again, it will be at the Hilton.

Just got done with dinner. I decided on sushi tonight to boost my bored attitude. Worth every penny. They had a buffet open for the first hour. That and a mixed plate of grilled beef, chicken, fish and vegetables and I was in pig heaven. I ended up spending about $38 which was more than last night, but at least I felt like I got my moneys worth and I enjoyed it.

Got to talking to another American there after I heard him say he worked in southern Iraq. Turns out he has worked for several companies over there for the past few years. It isn’t too unusual for contractors to jump around between contracts. After all, as much BS as the company will spew about their dedication to Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet, it all comes down to the money. If you got a heartbeat (and a clean rap sheet) you’re good to go. Contracting companies are more concerned about having something with a heartbeat in country so they get paid for that day for that warm body. That’s why they don’t allow us to do LWOP (leave without pay). No warm body, no green in pocket for that body.

Anyway, had a very nice conversation. He just got back from a tour of Oktoberfest at Munich and then Amsterdam. He also had to convince a buddy of his from the States to make the trip to Europe. He wanted to go to Thailand, but his buddy could only be convinced with Europe. So we got to chatting all about Munich and A’dam.

Well, all repacked, checked in and ready to go. All done but getting out of bed in the morning.

Resting (and Restless) In Kuwait

08 October 2007

Just a quick blog to let you know that I made it to Kuwait on Sunday night. Hadn't slept in over 24 hours, so I was pretty wiped out. Thankfully, the flight was uneventful this time too. I managed to eat some KFC before crashing hard.

I ended up assigned to a tent that was packed to the gills with people and only upper bunks available, so I cheated and slipped into a different tent that was intended only for L3 translators. Got woke up about 3am to screaming Iraqi/American interpreters "talking" to one another. This culture is too weird sometimes. These people always scream at each other and sound like their pissed off at one another and wanna rip each other’s heads off, when in fact, they are just being social and just over-exuberant in voicing their emotions! I’ve seen this even in the chow hall, so it shouldn’t be *that* much of a shock to me.

Woke up at 0600 with all my jetlag still going on (jetlag from working mids all this time and not sleeping for 24 hours. My poor old corpse doesn’t know what time or day it is!) Showered and went over to the chow hall for some breakfast and had the chance to catch some of the football scores. The Bears actually surprised me. I saw Favre's speach to the media and he looked like he was gonna cry. I kinda teared up myself just watchin him at breakfast. :( Chargers walked all over Denver. Saw a couple of other scores, but didn't see any games.

The visa only took 12 hours and 3 KD (Kuwaiti Dinar) to process. Called British Air to see if they could put me on an earlier flight out to A'dam, but they said that my ticket is a non-refundable/non-changeable ticket. If I'd known that, I'd of not booked on BA. Never had any problems with Lufthansa/United. I'll have to watch that in the future since with the reliability of flights out of Baghdad, you never know when you’ll have to push flights back or make changes.

I'm sure that you're probably surprised to hear that I had had enough of that living like a friggin "nomad in a tent" crap for one night to last me a lifetime and checked into the Crowne Plaza just outside of the airport. I can't change my flight, so that means that I'm here till my flight to A'dam on Wed morning. And since I had my passport and approved visa, I was free to leave the base. Nice hotel. I'm just getting ready now to have a nice steak dinner. I was thinking about sushi, but I may do that tomorrow night.

I did lay out at the pool for an hour and read too this afternoon. I'll say that it is a whole lot more humid here on the Gulf than up in Baghdad. 100 degrees with 80% humidity is hot after Baghdad's mild 99 with 30% humidity.

May go out to the souks (pronounced sooks like boots) tomorrow since I have time on my hands tomorrow. Don't worry, no more rugs for now...unless it is a really really really good deal. Maybe I can finally get a picture of that sheep's head at the butcher that has been skinned but they've left the eyes in with the teeth and gums all showing like some horror flick promo. Really gross, but a pretty captivating thing to remember.

Monday, October 08, 2007

In Kuwait Again

08 October 2007

Well, in Kuwait again. I'm enroute to meet Phil in Amsterdam and then home to Chicago for a couple of weeks. I wasn't expecting to take so many days, but when I found out that I had days left from last year that were not charged as vacation and as medical leave (which all of it should have been charged as medical leave!) I figured I need to burn up some days or lose them.

Can you think up any better way of burning up days than in Amsterdam and then at home? I sure can't. I've got big plans for the next 30 days. But first, a commercial interlude in Kuwait to get jacked around by their new visa system which involves contractors coming into and out of the country to now part with 12 bucks each way to their treasury. The U.S. Government isn't paying them enough for the pleasure of us to be here. They now have to squeeze more money out of us for the pleasure of acting as a visiting force in their country. So I now have the luxury of lazing around for a day or so while the Kuwaiti's screw around with my visa to verify I'm not a migrant Indian roadworker in their country illegally!

We ought to just pull out of Kuwait and do everything through Qatar and eventually our NATO allies...Turkey. Once the UN thing gets going, flights from Qatar or Turkey would be much easier and cheaper than this clusterf*** of a mess we have here in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti's haven't been all that accomodating as of late and seem to be tiring of our extended stay. Who can blame them? We pushed out the Iraqi's over how many years ago. How much longer are we going to remind them that we gave them back their country? When is the debt paid back to us? Kind of like Danny Kaye reminding Bing Crosby of saving his life in White Christmas. How many times can you milk it to make them feel guilty and allow you to have your way with their country?

Couldn't get a flight out of Baghdad on Monday, so I left on Sunday and will try to get an earlier flight to Amsterdam if possible before my scheduled flt on on Wed if the visa comes back early. Usually, Brit Air flights are overbooked, so I am still debating whether to get a hotel room in Kuwait City for a night or continue my wonderful stay in the tents at the LSA (Logistical Support Area) at Ali As Salem until my departure. Kind of nasty though living in a transitory tent with ten or twelve others on bunks that are old and ratty and the lights are on 7X24 with god-knows how many sand flees living in the tent with us and how much drool from how many people who have occupied those bunks and NOT put down sheets. Not the Hilton by any stretch of the imagination.

Phil has never been to A'dam (hell, I just got him to Munich last year and London the year before) so I figure six days should be a good start. I already told him that we have to go to the Van Gogh Museum and to the Hard Rock. As many times as I've been in A'dam, I've never been to either one. I have to take him to the Heiniken "Experience" as well. We'll be staying in a very nice B&B (Bead and Breakfast) called the Seven Bridges Hotel. This place is nicely appointed in antiques and Oriental rugs in a nice canal house location in the Eastern Canal area. http://www.sevenbridgeshotel.nl/ Tripadvisor.com and the Top 10 Amsterdam book make special mention of this place, so I have high expectations.

I'm hoping to pay a visit to my Dutch friends in Arnhem, but R in India at a shooting competition with the Dutch Army and A has a badmitton tournament that weekend. Might just take the train out for a quick visit as it is only a 45 min train ride. Their daughter is a real riot and I love her just as much as my own nephews and nieces. She actually reminds me of her uncle (R's little brother) when he was that age, so we know where she gets it from!

After that, we will just wing it on what else to do. I'm thinking I would like to do a dinner show at the comedy club Chicago Boom, also well written about. And of course, we will have to see the Red Light District and take in some of the clubs. Also have to take him to the Bull Dog; one of the most popular "Coffee Shops". He still can't believe that they actually have shops that are so open with the soft drugs...with a menu, mind you! Not that we'll partake, but speak up if you want a t-shirt. Who wouldn't want to be sportin a t-shirt from the Bull Dog?

We arrive back home on the 16th, and I'll be in Phoenix from Mon-Thurs the next week. So I'm open Oct 17th-21st and then from Oct 26th-Nov 1st. I leave for London on the night of Nov 2nd. I'm meeting my buddy that I grew up with who now lives in NY, in London for the weekend. He is in London for a budget meeting that week, so he will stay over in London till Tuesday and fly back to NY when I fly to Kuwait. I'm pretty sure we can find something to keep us busy in London!

BBC news had an article about the Chinese Teracotta soldiers being on display at the British Museum while I'll be there, so I would really like to give a go at getting tickets to that. Wouldn't mind catching a show either. One place I will absolutley force Brian into is the Texas Embassy. Great TexMex food and drinks right next to the Canadian Embassy in Trafalgar Square! It is a required stop in my book.

That's all for now. I'll let you all know if the plans actually worked out as the vacation progresses.

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