Vienna, Austria

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Oh, man...this is one city that I have already planned a return trip to this summer.  Two days was no where near enough to see the sites...of course, our main reason for the quick side trip from Budapest was to see the Christmas markets.  AND, to see the Lipizzaner stallion show at the Spanish Riding school.  
We sure had a rough start on the way there though.  We bought our tickets and didn't realize till we were on the train that we had 3rd class seats.  Meaning, NO seats.  Matt had to stand for 2 hours while me and the girls sat on the floor.  It was awful.  Safe to say....the minute we got off the train we upgraded the return trip to first class!
Got to our hotel, they upgraded us to a nice roomy suite and set off to find dinner.  The weather was cold and there was a small layer of snow on the ground.  Ate at a fantastic Austrian restaurant that the hotel recommended and then sought out the Christmas markets.  I wanted to see everything all lit up!  We managed to make it to two different ones before the girls had enough.  Indulged in the local hot wine and just really enjoyed the sites.  It was so beautiful!  But, then the rain started, and it was cold...and wet.  We grabbed one of the horse carriages to take us back to the hotel.  It was fun and I wish the weather would have been a bit better for photos.
The next morning we needed to get to the horse show.  It was a Sunday...and not much was open.  Of course.  So, we ended up doing what most American tourists would do...we ate at McDonald's.  
Found our way to the arena and settled in.
Thank god we spent the money to get reserved seats.  Otherwise, it was just standing room.  80 minutes of the girls standing to watch horses.  Yeah, that would have been fun.
The girls enjoyed the show for the most part...I mean it's hard for them to grasp the concept of the degree of difficulty of the moves these horses were performing...but me?  Oh my, I was in second heaven.  The horses were gorgeous.  It was so wonderful.  The arena just took my breath away.  It was magical.
Afterwards we wandered around to another Christmas market.  Up some of the streets and just tried to take in the sites as much as we could before we had to catch our return train.
The train ride back was awesome.  Big comfy seats, wine, snacks...it was all good this time!
But, we really didn't get to see much of the city at all...and I've made it so we will return in August.  Can't wait to get back.  It's an amazingly beautiful city.  :) 

Spanish Riding School

Saudi Toys...

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A friend of mine's son got this toy for his birthday...and I just thought it was too funny not to share!  
*I have a video, but the link isn't working...hoping to get it up and running!  check back in day!!


Saudi Life: Guest Post #2 "Avoiding Abaya Meltdowns"

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New guest post...
I must say, I remember when I had to buy my first abaya!  I was terrified that the arms were too short or the length would be too short and I get in major trouble.  Wasn't even sure if it could have color at all!  But, well, we've moved on from there...this is a great story about life in the abaya...for the expat that is...

"One very important article of clothing for any female over 11 is the abaya.  I found out the hard way that is is very important to put some thought into acquiring this garment before it is put into use.
My husband purchased a beautiful abaya for me prior to my arrival in KSA.  While I found no fault with the visual appearance of this garment, it was seriously lacking some practical aspects.
First of all, it had snaps, not gripper snaps but little sew-on snaps down the front of the garment.  I discovered that any time I moved those darn snaps were popping open.  Here I am trying to get out of an SUV to go shopping at the Dana Mall and I am compromising my modesty by unwanted snap popping all down the length of my abaya.  My shopping companions wanted to know if I was OK, I told them no, I was suffering from an "abaya meltdown".
To avoid abaya meltdowns it is important to remember a few things when purchasing an abaya.  First of all, make sure that any fasteners are adequate.  Gripper snaps are good, zippers are better, and there are some models that just pull over your head.  No meltdown is possible with that model! Next, make sure that whatever you get is going to be comfortable when worn over your regular clothes.  While most of us don't want to look like we are wearing a Hefty trash bag, you need enough room to be able to move comfortably.  Finally, I found I needed to think ahead about what I was wearing underneath my abaya to make sure moving could be accomplished with a minimum of binding.  Cotton fabrics were less desirable than jersey simply because the jersey clothing items didn't catch under the abaya.
Some ladies have multiple abayas that they use for different events that they go to.  One of my friends has a "dive abaya" that she wears when she goes scuba diving.  She isn't crazy about the fabric, but it is sturdy and it has zippers in the front and in pockets.
Another of my friends simply wears her abaya as a "dress" when the weather is stiflingly hot (and it often is).  I would just make sure the fabric is sufficiently opaque  as to not create a scene anywhere.  I have often contemplated wearing my bathing suit under my abaya but never found an appropriate occasion.  Most of the time during the summer when I had to wear it I would wear a light, sleeveless jersey top and a jersey or chiffon skirt underneath.
Hope this is helpful!  If you live in the Arabian homes you can ask Azam, the bus driver, to take you to "Lady Street" (not the real name!!!!)on Sunday or Tuesday to go abaya shopping.  Many of my friends have more than one and some are really quite beautiful.  Just remember, trying it on can be an issue although my friends and I have gotten shopkeepers to model some for us if we figured he was the appropriate size! "

traditional Saudi abaya's (photo from The Economist)

abaya's found in a shop...lots of variety!  (photo from Susie of Arabia)


Bratislava, Slovakia

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If you have ever watched the movie "Euro Trip" I know you are raising your eyebrows at the title of this post.
When my husband said he just HAD to go to Bratislava while we were in Budapest, I told him he was crazy.  There was no way I wanted to go there!  Of course, then I Googled it and saw that naturally the movie company took the worst area of Bratislava for the film.  
This city is beautiful.  Well, at least on the one side of the bridge.  If you look across the bridge you will see the definition of Eastern Europe.  Box apartment buildings, one after the other.  However, where we visited for the day...well, it was just lovely.
We took the train from Budapest (2.5 hour ride) and got there around mid morning.  After the first train ride we took to Vienna (where we had to sit on the floor), Matt made sure we were good to go on this one.  I loved that we got a private cabin...I felt like I was on Hogwarts Express!  lol (okay, yes, I'm dorky)  

So, we get off the train and realize we had no idea how to get to the castle (which is what I really wanted to see).  We were going to take a taxi, but Matt balked at the price.  So we wandered down to where the buses were.  We must have looked like a bunch of lost puppies because a lady finally asked "do you need help?"  Thank god for someone who spoke English.  She told us which bus to get (which was the same one she got on) and she got off with us as well.  She even walked us all the way to the other bus stop and told us which one to take.  There really are good people in this world.  

So, we found our way to the castle, though we ended up on the backside somehow and had to find our way around to the entrance.  

The castle itself is nice. It's not like going to see some of the monster palaces around Europe, but it has a long history!  The area of the castle hill has been inhabited since around 600BC.  In 1811 the castle nearly burnt to the ground.  It was restored around 1953.  They have photos of the fire and bits of the castle that was salvaged.  Matt and I enjoyed touring it, but the girls were pretty bored.  (not much decoration or anything)  But, they loved the climb up the steep stairs to the top of the tower! 

After the castle visit we wandered through the streets.  Found a great little restaurant for lunch and the food was incredible.  As was the Slovakian wine!  :)  When lunch was done we continued to meander through the town, hunting for souvenirs.  

We made sure to stop at the sculpture of the sewer man coming from the drain...two versions of the story of the sculpture  1. he was hiding during the war and now its safe for him to come out or 2. he's just a guy who likes to look up ladies skirts.  Slovakia humor.  ;) We stayed long enough for the Christmas decorations to come on. (and for the girls to whine about how tired they were of walking)

We took the late train back to Budapest.  All in all, it was a great day.  I'm so glad my hubby insisted that we go.  And I'm glad I got to visit a place that is part of my family's heritage!


Saudi Life: Guest Post #1 "Things I have learned in Saudi"

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So, before I start posting about my trip to Budapest, I wanted to get this new addition to my blog started.  
This blog has really helped people who are moving to Saudi and particularly Yanbu.  But, I realized that all the information is coming just from me.  From my perspective.  I've decided to start adding Guest Posts.  I've asked fellow expats to send me stories about living here.  Good or bad.  We aren't going to sugarcoat anything.  We want those people with enough guts to even consider moving here to truly know what is in store.  I find that it will help those families, men, women, etc. to be able to transition better.  
Therefore, I'm happy to post my first Guest Post.  This is a friend of mine who lives in one of the compounds.  She's got some great info on here and I thank her for taking the time to write this up!  

  "I've been meaning to do this for awhile now.  Staci inspired me to write about some of my experiences here (good & bad).  So here's my list.

1.  Have a LOT of patience. Things do happen here, but at a much slower pace than expected.
2.  Everything is imported except for oil, sand and camels.
3.  Diving & snorkeling in the Red Sea is THE best kept secret  – there are world class
reefs here.
4.  Boredom is taken to a whole new level, you have to find ways to occupy your time or you will go crazy.
5.  Translation of the word “inshallah” – means it is Allah’s will.  What it really means to an expat – not likely to happen!
6.  Driving rules of the road are merely suggestive.
7.  Shopping is it’s own adventure.  You are always searching for a particular item, but 
instead find some familiar treasures and stock up, as you don’t know when you will ever see those items again (think Costco syndrome).
8.  Picture the most ugliest tackiest clothes you can imagine. They are here in Saudi.
9.  Accept the fact that there is no pork or alcohol here.
10.  Stupidity is universal.
11.  Most conversations between expats will involve them talking about their next trip out 
of kingdom.
12.  Blond people stand out in a crowd.
13.  I have eaten so much chicken here I am ready to start clucking & sprouting feathers 
(refer to #9).
14.  The sunsets & sunrises here have the most beautiful colors.
15.  Fish watching should be a sport (see #4).
16.  The most important items you own here are your passport and your laptop.
17.  It is a very bad day when your Internet and air conditioning both quit working.
18.  There is nothing like fresh pita bread & hummus.
19.  Few expats know only one language (sadly I am that 1%).
20. Doritos in Saudi taste like……..Doritos.
21. Your schedule revolves around when the next prayer time is, or you will be locked out 
of whatever store or restaurant you are at.
22.  Thursday & Friday are considered the weekends here. That means Saturday is the new Monday and Friday is the new Sunday.
23.  Everyone owns at least one carpet. 
24.  The locals start wearing winter hats & mitts in October….I’m still wearing my shorts 
in January (Hey, I’m from Canada – don’t judge me).
25.  You know how many time zones there are between here and your family back home.
26.  Saudis are nocturnal ‘cause it’s usually too hot in the daytime.  That’s why they sleep 
in the afternoon and are up most of the night. 
27.  Jewelry, shoes & abayas can be tried on easily in stores. Other clothing items? Not so much.
28.  Ramadan. Enough said.
29.  Everyone here understands Facebook, YouTube, Amazon & Apple.
30.  It is a unique adventure that is hard to explain unless you live here.

Feel free to comment or ask questions, we'll be happy to respond back to you! 

Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Dolmabahçe Palace

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Wrapping up Istanbul...

Of these four places, I would have to say that Dolmabahçe Palace and the Topkapi Palace were my favorites.  The mosques were beautiful and impressive...but well, I like the glitz of the palaces.  We weren't allowed to take any photos inside Dolmabahçe.  They have a 4 ton chandelier in one of the rooms...it was incredible.  The palace is amazing too...totally decorated and preserved.  Although, we had to stand in line for almost an hour and a half to get in.  The Turkish holiday didn't help matters any.
The blue tiles throughout the Topkapi place are amazing...such bright colors after all these years.  
All in all, it was a really wonderful trip.  The girls were treated like rock stars...every where we went men and women fawned over them.  Something about little blonde headed beauties.  It really was incredible.  I thought the Saudi's were bad, but in Istanbul, my girls were treated like real princess'.  Pretty cool.  We loved spending time with my hubby's parents...and we miss them very much.  Istanbul was a very interesting place...I'm not sure if I'd make a second visit, but I'm really glad I went and got to see such amazing buildings and places.

Topkapi Palace- The Harem section

Topkapi Palace

Hagia Sophia

Topkapi Palace

Photos of Blue Mosque

Dolmabahçe Palace

Topkapi Palace


Istanbul, Turkey

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Okay, I am so far behind its not even funny.  We just got back from two weeks in Hungry and I haven't even posted about our trip to Istanbul back in October!  Sigh...full time job and blogging are not mixing well.
Anyway...I want to make sure I document all that we are doing while on this crazy ride, so I don't want to skimp on anything.
This first post (of 2) is just going to talk a bit about our trip and show photos from all around Istanbul.  The second post will have photos of the mosques, palaces, etc.

So we arrived late to Istanbul and the hubby's parents were waiting anxiously for us.  Grabbed our bags, found our driver and off we went.  Found that the apartment is up a super steep hill with 5 flights of stairs.  Oh yeah, my mother-in-law loved me for that one!
Got settled and headed out for a nice dinner near the Galata Tower.  

Over the next 9 days, we hit up every major tourist site in Istanbul.  Mosques, palaces, Spice and Grand Bazzars...we hit the ground running each day.  Did some serious walking, managed to use the public transit and just had an all around great time.

At one point we took a boat out to the Prince's Islands and took a horse drawn carriage ride...which was really fun and it's a beautiful place.  I imagine in the spring its just gorgeous.  Reminded me a little of New Orleans. 

We happened to be in town when they were celebrating their independence day and so there was a great spirit in everyone, fireworks, and flags everywhere!

The Cisterns were a favorite of everyone...there was just something cool and spooky about the undergrand water hole.  Loved the lighting...

We ate good food, had some nice wine...I even tried the local drink Raki...which was beyond disgusting...oh my.  We did find a great sushi restaurant!  (hey when you live in Saudi you get pretty excited about those things!)  :)

The city is huge, with both the European side and the Asian side...and there is such a mix of good parts and bad.

So, below are some shots from around Istanbul.  

The Cisterns

Princes Islands

Turkish celebration

Princes Islands

Spice Market

Spice Market

Grand Bazaar

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