Posts in Travel

The trip back ‘home’

I’m back to the US after a hectic 20-hour trip from my parent’s place in Amman to our apartment in Maryland. The 13-hour Royal Jordanian flight from Amman to Chicago was long — way too long. I was — and still am — suffering from a nasty cold that left me coughing and sneezing for the duration of the trip. It was truly awful. As for traveling RJ, everyone on the plane was animated as usual. For some reason, the concept of reading on the plane is practically non-existent amongst the majority of RJ travelers. As a result, everyone was quite sociable and chatty, making the idea of taking a nap almost impossible.

Anyway, enough ranting about Jordan’s national carrier. The best thing about traveling with RJ is that everyone on the plane claps upon landing. Quick question: Is this only a Jordanian tendency? Don’t get me wrong; I really like it. When arriving at Chicago’s airport, the immigration official there told me "welcome home." That was when it hit me. I left home to go back home! This is my existence nowadays. I live in limbo, with my heart divided between two different places. It’s really an overwhelming and -– sometimes — trying existence!

Meanwhile, here in Maryland, the spring is just wonderful. The weather is very pleasant and the cornucopia of spring colors is simply breathtaking. Yes, I’m really glad to be back.

If I were to evaluate the two weeks I spent in Jordan, I would say that they were simply wonderful in every sense of the word. The most important thing for me was the quality time spent with my family. As for my assessment of the capital Amman, it seems to be doing really well. Money seems to be pumping into this city, as it becomes more cosmopolitan by the day. Construction is taking place literally everywhere. Brand spanking new projects are mushrooming up all over the place and the talk of foreign investments is continual.

Even my friends who mange their own businesses in the city seem quite content and optimistic. They assured me that new projects are being handed to them all the time and that their business is booming. However, everyone was complaining about the hike in gas prices in Jordan. I was shocked to realize that nowadays filling my old Kia Pride with gas requires double the amount I used to pay only a few years ago.

During my visit, I could not get myself acquainted with all the security checks taking place all over -– an aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Jordan last November. One shocking and unusual scene was finding a security guard in front of our church on Easter morning. I asked my sister about the unusual scene and she told me it was nothing compared to last Christmas when a number of police cars were parked outside the church during the service. It was really sad to realize that churches are among the potential targets in Jordan. Churches, of all things; churches that are attended by no other than Jordanians themselves.

Anyway, on a totally different subject I’m glad to announce that I returned armed with all the goodies that make life worth living: Baklava, Turkish coffee, Jameed, Arabic spices and nuts. Happy times await!

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.