Sunday, December 7, 2014


Dear Friends & Family,

By the time you read this Doug and I will have been living in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) for almost 14 months. As it stands now, we'll be returning to the U.S. sometime in late Spring/early Summer 2015. I have this feeling that once I'm back in Hoboken and unpacked, it will feel like that "dream episode" in the TV series Dallas - as if we'd never been away at all. As if those almost two years in the UAE were all a dream....

It's been an amazing 14 months. In that time we've lived in three places: one downtown apartment for 3 weeks, then an apartment in the 50-story Sama high rise with views of the sparkling Arabian Gulf, and since May 27th in a lovely, bright and spacious apartment on the new NYU Abu Dhabi campus located on Saadiyat Island. Saadiyat Island is being developed as the cultural center/island of the city of Abu Dhabi with the Louvre Abu Dhabi opening in the Fall of 2015, followed by the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Doug was brought in to get IT up and running on the new campus by the move in date of June 1st. Things were not in good shape (understatement) when he arrived, but he and a dedicated team were able to pull it off. There is still much to do with challenges every day, but as I type this  the students are finishing up classes for the first semester on this new campus , so his main mission was accomplished. 

As for me, since I initially thought our stay would be less than a year I had no plans whatsoever to find a job. I wanted my time free to explore. I've never lived overseas before, and I'd traveled only a little, so I wanted to take full advantage of this unexpected and unanticipated situation. After awhile, however, I found myself needing to find a way to fit in, to participate, to be part of the NYUAD community. I wasn't content to just be an observer. Call it luck or being in the right place at the right time or whatever, but a part-time job with the Office of Community Life came my way. For those of you who knew me in Ithaca, the job is pretty much what I did at St. Paul's minus the religion: helping new staff, faculty and their families find their way around Abu Dhabi and their new campus home; making connections between individuals and among families; organizing and running programs, events and tours for all ages. For example we have a weekly Coffee Morning that brings people together at a different cafe every week for casual conversation over breakfast - simple and fun. On the other end of the spectrum, we are in charge of the Annual BBQ which will involve hundreds of people - not so simple but still loads of fun. We also empower and help people to organize their own groups, be it a book club or a dinner club. Most of you will know what a perfect part-time job this is for me. I've met SO many wonderful and interesting people from all over the globe, and I most definitely am involved and participating in the NYUAD Community! 

In spite of our busy-ness, Doug and I made a commitment to travel as much as possible while in this region. Abu Dhabi is centrally located with many fascinating destinations only a (relatively) short flight away. Thus far we've traveled to:

Muscat, Oman - You can drive to Muscat through the Hajar Mountains, but we chose to take the 55 minute flight and maximize the time of our weekend visit. This is one of our very favorite places - more "old Arabia" with low-rise buildings, crenelated rooflines, blue-tiled minarets, and beautiful views of rugged mountains on one side of the long and narrow city and the Gulf of Oman's turquoise waters on the other. The people are warm and friendly, and we plan to go back for another visit before heading home to the US.

Istanbul, Turkey - we went here for 5 days and loved it. The city has thousands of years of history spread out over an area larger than NYC. We stayed in the old section of the city, just below the Blue Mosque and the Hage Sophia. We strolled cobble-stoned streets, sampled lots of Turkish cuisine, shopped (I splurged on a genuine Turkish carpet), visited historic sites and took a boat ride up the Straits of Bosphorus. The highlight, though, was rendezvousing for dinner with our Hoboken friends, Mary Jo and John, who were in the city for a week. 

Spain (Seville, Grenada, and Mallorca) - In June Doug was super busy on the new campus, so I spent two weeks in Spain with my NYC friend, Mary Catherine. We spent a few days in Seville, and then we took the train to Grenada where we toured the breathtaking palace/fort of Alhambra. The second week we flew to Palma on the the Island of Mallorca where we boarded a 50' sailboat and took off for 7 days of sailing around the island. There were ten of us in total on the boat, so we all sailed and cooked in the galley and kept things ship-shape. We sailed about 4-5 hours a day, and then we'd find a small town where we could moor or drop anchor, then we'd explore or go swimming or just hang out. I learned to sail and I didn't get seasick - both huge accomplishments. 

Kathmandu, Nepal - In November I somehow talked Doug into going to Kathmandu for a long weekend. I'd heard this was the best time of year to go, and I was seeking "green" and relief from the hot and humid summer weather of Abu Dhabi. The country is very poor, the city is noisy and dusty and dirty with all manner of people, vehicles, and animals in the streets, but what a fascinating place! We explored Hindu temples including the Monkey Temple (which was home to hundreds of monkeys), Buddhist stupas, and we even drove up into the foothills that overlook the Himalayas. Our driver, Gurga, was charming and friendly and had us laughing. It was a trip unlike any other.

We've also gone on local weekend getaways: 
Qasr al Sarab, the most luxurious, amazing resort we've ever stayed at, located in the Liwa Desert nestled in huge, rust-orange dunes. Breathtaking. 
Bab al Shams, a desert resort located outside of Dubai. Among its many amenities are three pools, all of which have a different temperature. In the UAE you don't heat your pools - you cool them down. Seriously. 
Arabian Nights Village is a very family-friendly place, so my office, Community Life, organized an overnight trip there. We had over 40 people sign up, including young families with babies, which I thought was great. Unlike the other resorts, this place caters to an overnight stay only and offers an Arabic BBQ under the stars with sheisha (water pipes), belly dancing, and oud music. Guests can ride camels, go "dune bashing" in 4x4's or simply relax pool-side. Doug went dune bashing, and I stayed pool-side. 

For me the highlight of 2014 was having our son, Jeff, fly out for a 10-day visit over the Holidays. Instead of buying him "stuff" for Christmas, we gave him Adventures: an all-day trip to the Rub al Khali (the Empty Quarter) where we all went dune bashing, kayaking in the mangroves, a day trip to Dubai (went to the top of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, and explored Old Dubai), visited the Falcon Hospital (fascinating!), toured the Grand Mosque, and walked around the city. It was so much fun exploring the country with him.

I was also thrilled to have my friend, Linda Swanson, fly all the way from San Francisco for a week-long visit at the end of January. It is no small thing to travel that far, so I was beyond happy and grateful that she did this. She is my "birding friend", so of course we had to spend a day birding which we did at the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary smack in the middle of Dubai at the head of the Dubai Creek. We saw hundreds of birds: flamingos and spoonbills, ducks, herons, cormorants and all manner of shore bird. We saw a marsh harrier, but that sighting was eclipsed when a spotted eagle swooped down and landed amongst some reeds. He stayed put for quite some time, so we were able to get a nice, long look at him (or her). I took Linda all over Abu Dhabi, but her very favorite place was the Falcon Hospital.

More recently Doug's colleague and my friend, Laura, visited from NYU (NYC). Her visit overlapped with a visit from Doug's brother, Bob, so all four of us took a full day to explore Dubai. One day Doug and Bob went to the Formula One races on nearby Yas Island followed by a Who Concert, so Laura and I met up for dinner at Hakasan at the Emirates Palace. That place is amazing!

I've left out a lot, but this is enough to give you an idea of our 14 months in the UAE. If you want more details and lots of photos, you can browse through my other blog entries if you like. 

For Christmas we'll be in Denver at Leah and Jorge's house, and Jeff is flying in as well. I am SO looking forward to being together with "the kids"!  After Christmas Doug and I will return to Hoboken - he'll be staying for just a few days, but I'll linger a few days longer and am hoping to catch up with many of my friends.

Doug and I send you our love and best wishes this Holiday Season, and we hope to see you in person this coming year,

Kathi (scribe) and Doug

Monday, September 15, 2014

Birthing Pains

Marhaba Week has passed, the traditional week of "welcome" for the freshmen, and we're two days in to the second week of classes. Everyone involved with this new campus knew going in that we'd have growing pains. It's a large and complex project, after all. But I don't think anyone anticipated just how rough things would be. We're not having growing pains - we're having full-blown labor pains. With no anesthesia either.

I haven't posted much recently because along with the rest of this campus, I have been busy. I've not been sleeping well. I fall asleep thinking about what happened during the day and what I need to do when I wake up, and then I wake before the alarm goes off and immediately start planning my day. And I'm only dealing with the "fun stuff"!

There are people like Doug who are dealing with operational issues which include such things as getting the A/C to work properly (some spaces are too warm and others are like an ice box); water (pipes have broken around campus causing minor flooding and some damage); and doors seem to randomly lock or unlock (today, for example, I cannot open the refuse room door). These problems will be taken care of over time, of course, but some people are getting a bit cranky. 

Many of the classrooms were not quite ready for day 1. Or day 2 or 3.....  A/V equipment not available or not working; lights that are motion activated, which is a good energy saver but annoying if you're teaching a film class and can't turn them off; and so on. 

Of greatest concern has been the discovery of mold in a number of the faculty and staff residences. Families have been moved to a nearby 5-star resort while their apartments are being checked, cleaned and repaired. Some people have been out of their homes for a few days, but at least one couple I know has been in the hotel for a month, and even though it is a luxury resort and they are very patient people, "it's getting old" as they tell me. So there is a lot of frustration going around. A lot. 

It's interesting to observe everything that is swirling around me. But then again I am not just the Observer anymore, I am part of this. My twice-weekly stint at the OCC desk has put me front and center to hear and deal with people's concerns.  I also sit on the NYUAD Campus Advisory Committee, and boy do I hear a lot there! I chat with people in the campus restaurant, along Broadway (the walk that runs the length of the campus), and at the weekly Community Life Coffee Morning. Everywhere I go people are buzzing with stories about things that aren't going exactly right, from the simple and absurd to the very serious. The tone ranges from apoplectic, to frustrated but hanging in there, to calm and resigned.

And in all these venues I also hear the positive and lots of it. For every person who's staying at the Park Hyatt and tired and upset, there is the person such as Jessica who wrote me yesterday that "it is just what a tired mother needs" and then went on to list housekeeping taken care of, half a dozen roses in the room every 4 days, free gourmet meals, child care, and a lovely beach with turquoise waters. For every person whose classroom is problematic there is a person who speaks with enthusiasm about their students and coursework. 

And of course there are all the feelings that fall in between, which is the majority, and that includes me. 

Some of my best friends roll their eyes at my Pollyanna attitude at times (I will confess she was a childhood heroine, so I take that as a compliment), and yes I am unabashedly positive..... most of the time. Because I choose to be. I don't see anything good that comes out of being cranky and miserable - it's just a downer and solves no problems whatsoever. But even I have had my moments of frustration and just wanting to get away for a bit. Not far away. Just away. Off campus. Off the island. The generators that were promised to go away in June still thrum loudly beneath my windows (and they've multiplied from 3 to 5 since I've been here), and I've had a heckuva time figuring out who-does-what when it comes to my job with Community Life, resulting in my running around in circles and wasting time. So yes, I've had my share of frustrations.

But I AM a positive person, and I do believe that once this campus is fully birthed things will settle down, we'll get down to the business of educating bright young minds, and faculty and staff will settle into their offices and be able to work and then head home afterward to a comfortable apartment just minutes away. The pool will be open, the restaurants and other retail venues will open, the gardens on the High Line will be in bloom, and temperatures will have cooled. Tempers will have cooled. 

I have no photographs for you today. This post isn't about images so much as about emotions. Color them mostly red and orange.

Birthing is painful. It's not easy, and more often than not there are surprises. But the process does come to an end, and then once things have settled and healing takes place (including getting some sleep) then comes the fun part. Then we get to watch what we've birthed begin to grow and learn. And grow and grow and grow. 

Then we'll have some growing pains. But for the moment, friends, we're still in heavy labor at NYUAD. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

I'VE LOST TRACK OF THE DAYS: Marhaba Week - and the curtain is poised to rise

This morning I don my sunglasses, pop my iPhone in my purse, and head out for a stroll around campus. The first year students are trickling in today, but by tomorrow they will be here in force for Marhaba Week, a week of orientation for them and their parents to this new campus and the city of Abu Dhabi. Marhaba means "welcome" in Arabic. There have been four Marhaba Weeks in NYUAD's short history, but this coming one, which starts Monday, will be the first on the new Saadiyat Island campus. After years of planning and building and no small number of growing pains, THE day is almost here, it feels like the day before Opening Night to me.

I can't help it. It's because of my recent years associated with actors and the stage in NYC that when I think of this experience at NYUAD the metaphor that naturally comes to me is "theatre". For me this beautiful new campus is an enormous stage. The sets are the classrooms, the library, the arts center with its three performance spaces, the research center, the conference center, the dorms, the dining venues and even the Starbucks kiosks (let us not forget them!). The "set designers" and builders have been busy all Summer putting the finishing touches on everything in the residence halls, the administrative offices and the classrooms. Lastly the final props are being put in place: desks and chairs in the classrooms (I can see them through the ground-level windows), banners welcoming the students, plants in entry ways, and even welcome mats. 

Now all we need are the players - the students and faculty - and tomorrow they arrive in force.

I head down the elevator in my apartment building and am ready to go out the front door when I hesitate. I walk over to the Children's Play Room, hold my card key to the lock and enter. Lily, a Director in the Office of the Vice Chancellor, had stopped into IKEA a few times and picked up toys which I'd placed about the room a few weeks ago. I take a few minutes to straighten up and move the little elephant sit-upons so that they look like they are playing with the toys. I don't know if the children will notice when they come in, but it amuses me to add this touch of whimsy to the room.

"What are you waiting for? Come on in!"

"What's happening outside?"

When I open the door to the outside the hot air and humidity envelope me, but my sun glasses do not immediately fog up. Good, the humidity is relatively low today, emphasis on the relatively. I glance at the plexiglass on the light wells protruding from the shrubbery. When Doug and I came home last night from dinner at a local restaurant I observed a crew of workers washing them, and today they do indeed sparkle. 

My apartment building, the West Apartments, is to the right. The entrances to all residences are on the High Line level (shown). Below the walkways and gardens throughout the campus are classrooms, offices and meeting rooms. To bring in natural light to these interior spaces the architects designed light wells such as this one to the left. They are open at the top, so birds fly down to the trees in the courtyards below. A very nice touch in my humble opinion.

I walk along the High Line and come upon workers doing last-minute fixes - tiles lifted on the walkways so they can access electrical cables; off-loading materials into The Campus Center where the future and much-anticipated Markeplace is still under construction. As I stroll along the winding path I admire the plants and shrubs which have matured considerably since I moved in just 2-1/2 months ago. In another lifetime I would have been a Landscape Designer, so I appreciate that the plantings are not just visually attractive but that species were selected to provide a lovely and soothing rustling sound when the breezes blow. And there is always a breeze blowing. The shrubs and trees also attract birds, and I delight in observing small flocks flitting from tree to tree and hopping along on the lawn. 

For some reason the phrase "shimmering in the heat" floats into my consciousness, so I walk until I come to a place where I can peer between the buildings to the city in the distance. Sand and turquoise water separates the campus from downtown Abu Dhabi, and the skyline is blurred in the humid haze. They definitely do not shimmer. I decide "simmer in the heat" is a better phrase for this part of the world, at least during the Summer months.

Several staircases lead down to ground level, and I always opt for these rather than the elevators - part of my stay-in-shape agenda. I step down onto the Central Plaze under towering palms brought here from Egypt. Stands have been placed here with "Marhaba Week" and "Marhaba 2014" on them. I see a small crew washing windows, and a small sidewalk cleaner is busily humming its way along the main entrance.

The main entrance to the campus sweeps up from the street and is flanked by two cascading water features. I am so tempted to put my toes in there, but I am sure the water will be anything but refreshing. I stroll down the walk toward the newly-opened Welcome Center which sports a veritable forest of banners out front. There is no missing it, which is the point. I pull out my iPhone to take a photo and the guard moves to step out of frame. I walk up to him, extend my hand and introduce myself and ask if I can take his picture.  His name is Stephen, and he is happy to tell me about the Welcome Center and his role there. Students are already arriving, he says. 

Stephen in front of the Welcome Center

I walk across the entrance to the new campus bookstore and pull on the door. It is locked, and I am not surprised. I'd hoped for a peek, but I imagine they are scurrying to get the place ready to open this coming week. This book store will be considerably larger than the one on the interim downtown campus, so I am excited to see what it will have to offer. 

I didn't bring any water with me today, so with the heat starting to get to me, I decide to walk to the Campus West Restaurant. I know it is not yet open for lunch, but the Starbucks kiosk operates all day. 

I do love my iced skim mocha, hold the whip.

The campus is still quiet, and it's not yet lunch time, so the West Campus Restaurant is mostly empty. I walk up to the Starbucks kiosk near the front door and order my iced coffee. Over the Summer the barristas have learned to mix the drinks, so in no time it is ready and I plunk down my fourteen dirhams.

14 dirhams ($3.81) will buy you a Starbucks iced mocha. 

I've seen this barrista before, but I've never really chatted with her, so I introduce myself and ask her name. "Memory" she replies. "Memory. I've never heard that name before. It's just beautiful" I say, and her face lights up. The people who work on this campus are so nice and friendly. They come from all over the world, and when asked they love to tell you about their home country and what brings them here. This may sound corny but I think it's really true - I get such a sense of pride from these people. Each in their own way feels like they're part of the team bringing this campus together. To return to my theatre metaphor, they feel that they're part of the ensemble, and they very much are.

I walk out the door and decide to head back to the apartment but not by the most direct route. I walk up a staircase, past some student residences, and through the gardens in front of the West Apartments. A flutter of wings catches my attention, and as I draw closer I see the shiny white patches that identify this small flock as white-cheeked bulbuls. I pull out my iPhone, but I cannot get close enough to take a photo before they flit off. Indian House Sparrows, pigeons, and common mynas are always present, but the bulbuls are a bit more shy. 

I pull open the front door to my lobby and step into the cold. After walking outside it is a shock to come inside. I see a new guard at the front desk, and since I've been on a roll meeting new people on campus I stop, extend my hand, and introduce myself. His name is Collin. I remark that I imagine a lot more people have been passing through the lobby recently as staff returns to campus, and he says yes, but that I am the first person to stop and say hello. He says most people just walk by, and he is so clearly happy that I've stopped and said hello that I resolve to be even more intentional about greeting people, not just here but wherever I am. 

I sit now at my desk and mull over the morning's walk. I feel very calm, much like I do the day before Opening Night. When the work's been done, and the stage is set, then you can take that deep breath and be ready for when the curtain goes up. 

To be continued.....

Saturday, July 12, 2014

DAY TWO HUNDRED FIFTY FOUR - A Quiet Morning "In Command"

It's Saturday morning and I am sitting at a table in the main foyer of the NYU Abu Dhabi Campus Center. Behind me is a large TV monitor which scrolls through campus announcements: the Iftar and Suhoor schedule (the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast and the pre-dawn/pre-fast meal), the IT Walk-In Center hours, and upcoming community events such as tonight's FIFA third place play-off which is being televised in the Conference Center. The table in front of me is full of hand-outs: the shuttle bus schedule, a campus map, a list of resident services and more. The only people out and about appear to be the workmen who get much of their work done in the evening and morning hours before the heat of day. The sun glares outside the full wall of windows in front of me, and the palm tree fronds in the courtyard are dancing in the hot breeze. Beyond the towering palms I see the city skyline. The humidity has not yet set in for the day, but once it does, the skyscrapers will disappear into the haze. 

The OCC table in the Campus Center. Behind the partition is an office with phones.

This is Transition Time for the new campus. There is a summer-long, very orderly schedule for moving offices over from their temporary downtown location in Abu Dhabi out to Saadiyat Island. Residents are moving here at the same time as their offices so that they don't have to manage the commute between downtown and Saadiyat. And while all of this moving and setting up is happening, the workmen continue with the finishing touches to the campus. Daily I see progress being made as I peek through windows and wander through corridors and into rooms. Two days ago I heard water splashing and was delighted to see the falages, the water features on campus that are inspired by traditional Arab irrigation "ditches", were being filled. 

The view from my OCC table as people work on what looks like wiring above the door. You can see the main courtyard beyond. The palms were grown for several years in Egypt before being transported and planted here. 

For the Summer transition time it was felt that NYUAD should have a place to handle questions in person and on the phone because surely there would be questions and lots of them. Everything is new here. Everything. The idea was that many questions could be answered on the spot and the rest would be directed to the people or office that could provide assistance. It was named the Operations Command Center, OCC for short, and volunteers were recruited from the NYUAD staff. And so here I sit in my very official NYU purple polo shirt, neatly embroidered with the new NYUAD logo on the front and the words Operations Command Center on the back. 

But..... it's Saturday morning and it's quiet. Many people are away on vacation - this is the perfect time to leave this hot and humid country for cooler, greener places. And I assume the rest of the people are relaxing at home or have headed out for brunch or shopping. I am supposed to have a second person working with me today, but there was a schedule conflict and she couldn't make it. Just as well. If I have any problems Doug said he'd come down and help me. 

Finally one young woman stops by my desk looking for the Fitness Center. It's upstairs, I tell her and give instructions on how to find it behind the gymnasium. We introduce ourselves and when I learn Brittany moved here just this past week, I offer to share any and all tips I have with regard to settling in and finding things. 

Then Joe appears. He's the consultant-person who designs all the office layouts - a really nice guy.  He needs help geting a taxi. so I call one for him. As I watch him stride down toward the front entrance I cross my fngers that the cab actually finds him. Most cabbies still haven't a clue as to where NYUAD is located, so I am forever giving instructions over the phone. "You're coming from the city, right? Take exit 11 and then bear right. No, I'm not calling from the St. Regis. This is NYUAD. It's new. Go in the opposite direction from the St. Regis and you'll come to a guard booth. Pass by and continue to the front entrance". 

One of the guys from the IT Help Desk walks over and calls me by name. Oh dear, I can't remember his name! He wants to know where the men's prayer room is located. I know the women's is to the left of me around the corner, so I guess the men's prayer room is to my right and around the corner. He heads in that direction, and I tell him to let me know when he returns if he found it because this is something I realize I should know. 

It's quiet again. Across the courtyard I see workers carrying ladders. The only sound is the hum of air conditioning. Two and half hours down and the same yet to go. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

DAY TWO HUNDRED TWENTY SIX - Heading off to Spain!

I am very fortunate in that Doug has no issue with me taking Girl Trips. Not that I think he should, but I have known women over the years who needed "permission" from their husbands to go someplace or whose husbands resented the time they spent with friends and/or family. Doug and I have never had that kind of relationship. We spend most of our time together, but we both think it's healthy and natural that we do some things apart, either on our own or with friends. 

Still, taking a two-week trip to Spain is stretching it! Especially since I'm leaving on our 40th Anniversary.

Here's the thing - we knew in advance that he'd be very busy this Summer getting the NYU Abu Dhabi campus all set for the Fall when students and faculty arrive in force. The campus had a "soft opening" on June 1st, and we're all working out the bugs. The "hard opening" will be at the end of August, and Doug wants to be ready. We knew months ago that our Anniversary Celebration would be delayed till September or even October. 

So when the opportunity came up to meet up with my friend, Mary Catherine, in Spain, Doug could not have been more enthusiastic. "Go, go!" he said. And so I am going. First to Seville and then to Granada for a few days. The final week we depart from Palma, Mallorca, on a 50 foot sail boat with 8 others, and we'll sail around the entire island, mooring at a different port every afternoon so we can explore. 

This is the kind of sailing yacht I'll be on, a 50 ft. Bavaria. I've never done anything like this before! I'm excited and nervous all at the same time. 

I take nothing for granted. Not my family. Not my friends. Not the amazing opportunities that have come my way. I am blessed.  

I shall return in two weeks or so with Tales of Spain!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

DAY TWO HUNDRED TWENTY - On Being a Very Willing Guinea Pig

There was never any question that we would be one of the very first people to live on the new NYUAD campus, and in fact we were the very first. Doug's mission here was to get the campus IT network up and running by the June 1st opening date, so he wanted to be here before people started moving in to be sure that all was working as it was supposed to work. We were to be the IT Guinea Pigs. As it turned out, we (quite willingly) became guinea pigs for much more.

One of the many challenges with this campus is that while it was under construction, no one but the contractors could have access to it. So while you knew that thus-and-such a system or doo-hickey or gadget or appliance or whatever was supposed to be in place, no one actually knew for a fact that it was till they were here and looking at "it" with their own eyes. There was not a lot of time to test things out. Mere days.

While Doug deals with all the campus technology, I have been dealing with the more mundane perhaps, but very important issues of "livability." Just how does one get along on this campus? Where is everything? How do I get to the parking garage from my apartment, for example? Or even more basic, how does one dispose of one's trash????

Our trash chute. Seriously, have you ever seen one like this with all the buttons? 

On our first day here I stepped out in the hallway in search of the trash room, or Refuse Room as it is called here. I opened a door and found this. Now I am used to a simple chute - you pull the handle, drop in your trash, and away it goes - but instead I found this.  I pulled the handle - it wouldn't open. I pushed some buttons (which were NOT labeled at that time), and they lit up but the chute still did not open. Stymied I left my bag on the floor but felt very guilty about it. I also didn't see any bins for recycling and wondered what, if anything, was recycled on campus because it's not universal in this country.

I looked up the email for the Help Desk and sent an inquiry asking about the garbage and recycling. About two hours later Louise, the manager in charge of housekeeping, was at my door with laminated signs in hand. My inquiry prompted her to make signs and labels which she put in each refuse room. In her very strong Irish brogue she explained how the chute works: green is for plastic, white for paper, and black for general refuse. If I have plastic to recycle, I press the white button on the right. A red button remains on while the chute shifts down in the basement somewhere and lines up with the proper bin. When the green light goes on I can open the door and drop down my plastic. Then if I have regular refuse, I press the black button, the red light goes on (door cannot be opened) and about 10 seconds pass while the chute chugs along and aligns with another bin. The green light goes on, I can open the chute, and there you go. Honestly, if Louse hadn't shown me how the thing works, I never would have figured it out, and I am quite sure most other residents would have been equally baffled.

One of my happy discoveries in our new apartment is that it has an excellent quality stacking washer/dryer. The real deal. Not one of those funky combination washerdryer machines like I had in the previous two apartments and which took half a day to do a minuscule load. I got in the habit, out of pure necessity, of taking all my laundry - clothes, sheets, towels - to a local laundry where they did it quickly, brought it right to my door, and it cost very little. Here on the campus I can now do most of my laundry, but I have decided I am done with washing and ironing Doug's shirts and trousers. So I pulled out my handy manual, looked up laundry services, and noted that a pick-up/drop-off service is available or laundry can be dropped off at the convenience store before 5:00 pm daily with a 72-hour turnaround.  

I am being very intentional about doing as much walking as possible these days especially since the campus is a pedestrian campus - no vehicles are allowed. And it's just so pretty out - I love walking and taking in the landscaping and seeing what there is to see. So I pulled out a large plastic bag and loaded in a bunch of Doug's shirts and some of my tops which needed dry cleaning, and off I marched to the temporary Convenience Store. 

I walked in and was greeted by the two, very friendly clerks, but when I presented my bag of laundry I could see their eyes widen. By the glances they exchanged, I just knew. 
"I'm the first person to bring in laundry, right?"
"Yes, Madam," (accent on the second syllable) the young woman replied. Then she shooed her assistant outside so he could call their manager on his cell phone and find out what to do.

The female clerk pulled out an order form which was half in English and half in Arabic, and we scrutinized it together. I could see it was the usual form listing shirts, trousers, t-shirts, skirts, and so on, but it looked like you could have shirts washed and ironed or ironed only..... but it wasn't entirely clear. The clerk also knew nothing about payment - could I pay on the spot if I wanted or only upon pickup? This did not surprise me because when we first went to the campus dining hall, the cashier was clearly learning the ropes as he consulted his chart for every little item. And the people at the little Starbucks kiosks are still learning how to make their drinks. It's a learning experience for everybody on campus, and everybody who is here (well, most everybody....) is being very patient and handling things with good humor. We're all in the same boat together. We figure the goal is to work out the kinks and glitches as much as possible over the Summer so that everything is up and running smoothly by the time the faculty and students arrive in mid-August. 

Finally I wrote down all my contact information and left my bag of laundry with the two clerks. I told them I'd stop by this afternoon and find out the story. I trust by then they will have spoken with their manager and learned how to handle a laundry drop-off. I know some people can be cranky and impatient (I've encountered enough of them in my lifetime!), so I am actually happy to be the first person to bring in laundry. I'm not in a rush - let them learn the ropes with me. I'm sure when the next person comes in bearing laundry, they will handle it quickly and professionally. 

I think for everybody who chose to live on campus over the Summer - and it was a choice - that this is part of the mission, one of the points of  being here. Yes I do get frustrated now and then, but mostly I am having fun trying out things, and seeing how they work. When I chat with the other residents here, we share stories and we laugh. We're all very willing guinea pigs. 

And fussbudget that I am, I think I make a darn good one. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

DAY TWO HUNDRED FIFTEEN - We move into our new apartment on the NYU Abu Dhabi campus

Thursday was moving day. The movers arrived as scheduled at 9:00 a.m., and I had everything except the items in the fridge packed and ready to be loaded onto their truck. I could not get out of this place soon enough! Living in an apartment of boxes is not fun.

Our old apartment at Sama Tower - all is packed and ready to go!

Doug was frantic with meetings and getting all the IT "stuff" ready on campus, so the move was left to me. Once everything was out of the apartment, I got into our little rental Jetta and took off for the campus and what would be my first look at our apartment. You may recall that I'd seen the floor plans but not the actual furnished apartment.

It's kind of funny sometimes how you get an idea in your head and then things turn out completely different from what you expected. Case in point: I envisioned the movers carting over my boxes, dropping them off, and then I'd have all afternoon to myself to unpack in a focused but leisurely fashon. I saw it as a Zen kind of day, actually. But in fact when I walked into the apartment I found a small army of facilities guys making adjustments to the blinds in the windows. Moments later a maintenance worker came in with a step ladder and began patching a small area above the kitchen island. Apparently there had been a leak (repaired), but now the ceiling needed patching and painting. I barely noticed this chaos because to my chagrin I saw NO furniture - not a stick! After the workers left more people started stopping by - the guy in charge of the furniture (it was on its way), a cleaning crew who told me they would provide a complementary cleaning (I told them to wait till the next day when my boxes were unpacked), the guy in charge of the facilities team making sure all was well and who handed me an enormous 3-ring binder with emergency contact numbers, manuals for all the appliances from the fridge to the toaster, and even take-out menus. 

Yet another person dropped by with the Welcome Basket shown above which contained Tide, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, garbage bags, tissue, toilet paper and more. Nice touch. By the end of the day I estimate a good 50 people had breezed in and out of the place. My day was anything but Zen, but it turned out to be fun, exciting, and beyond anything I could have imagined. Everybody was incredibly friendly, welcoming, and they bent over backwards to welcome us and make us feel at home.

Doug and I were literally the first residents on the campus by several days. He wanted us to be his IT guinea pigs so he could be sure the WiFi, phones, and TV were working in the apartments before other people moved in and, well, freaked out.  We turned out to be guinea pigs for the Facilities people too and in a fun way. They wanted us to let them know if we found any issues so they could make corrections in the other units too if needed.

I worked like a crazy person and unpacked almost all my boxes before I hit the proverbial wall. The furniture was delivered and set up, and I made our bed so I could fall into it and sleep. The next day the unpacking was complete. Now I need to decorate - hang pictures, buy accessories like toss pillows, and I definitely need a tree of some sort in my sun room of a living room. 

More pictures will follow when the place is together, but this will give you a sense of our apartment...

In this shot the place is still a mess as I try and figure out where to put things. The new apartment has an open-concept layout as did the Sama apartment, but the cabinetry, the appliances, the finishes, well everything is so much nicer. The quality is excellent, and there is such attention to detail such as under-the-cabinet lighting, and the dishwasher that is faced with a cabinet door so it "disappears".

Doug didn't realize we had a dishwasher till I opened the door and showed him.

Now I've cleaned the place up, and I am standing in the living room with my back to the window. The door on the back wall is our front door, and the double doors to the left open to a small room with a stacking washer/dryer and enough extra space to store things like my vacuum, mops, and step ladder. The cabinetry in all the rooms goes to the ceiling, so I absolutely need that step stool! Out of frame to the left is the hallway which leads to two bedrooms and two full baths.

The view of the kitchen from the hallway. I like the little bookcase on the end of the island. See that thick, white notebook? That's the one with all the appliance manuals and information. And you thought I was exagerrating ;-)

I really need to figure out how to take a better picture of the living room/dining room. Even though the light-filtering shades are pulled down, the light is still strong enough that it back-lights my photo and makes things look dim. Trust me, with all those windows, I have plenty of light! As for this room, I have already purchased a replacement coffee table (yet to be assembled) as Doug hates this one, and I am in search of an area rug. One was provided but it was in shades of brown and black, and I really want something different. I have yet to hang pictures.

Looking down the hallway: the master bedroom with en suite is straight ahead, the guest room/office is on the left, and the second full bath is on the right.

Here's a corner of the master bedroom, and you can see the hand-tied rug I purchased in Istanbul. 

Each bedroom has this desk area, but there are no drawers. It's the one very puzzling omission to the apartments as far as I'm concerned. In any case, I decided to use the smaller desk area in the guest room for my home office space and am using the one in the master bedroom as a vanity. I repurposed the empty gift basket to hold my hair blower and curling iron.

The guest room is almost as large as the master bedroom, but the closet space and desk area are smaller. That is not a problem for me at all. As for the desk, I bought a 2-drawer unit from IKEA which will slip under the counter/writing surface (still needs to be assembled). I bought a small book case as well which I assembled all by myself, and you can see it to the right of the photo.

We have two full baths, each of which is larger than any bathroom we've had ever. The sink and toilet area look the same for both. This is mine (the en suite).

I claimed the en suite because of this. I dearly love to soak and relax at the end of the day. And boy this tub is deep!

Doug's bath (the one off the hallway) has a large shower stall plus a small linen closet. Opposite the linen closet is a very wide and very deep closet where I've stored a whole host of things including our suitcases.

And that's the tour! Like I said, now I need to accessorize and add some character to the place. But it has great bones, and we already feel very comfortable and at home. 

Next time, I'll walk you around the campus......

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

DAY TWO HUNDRED EIGHT - Antici-pay-ay-shun!

"This will be my last time here", I told my manicurist at Marshmallow, a salon two blocks from my Sama Tower apartment. "I'm moving to the new NYU Abu Dhabi campus on Saadiyat Island", I added by way of explanation. I didn't want her to think I was dissatisfied with her service, but driving all the way to the center of Abu Dhabi for a manicure doesn't make any sense. 

After years of hearing about the new NYU campus under construction on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, and then being in the U.A.E. for the past eight months for the final push to meet the June 1st deadline, it's hard to believe that the campus is finally done and we'll be moving there in two short days. 

There are boxes in every room, not just these few.

Once our May 29th move date was confirmed, I started packing. Boxes, tape, wrapping paper and bubble wrap were dropped off by the company handling the campus move, and I just dug in. Mentally and emotionally I am already in our campus apartment, so I needed to do something physical, something tangible, to make the move feel real. Packing was all I could do, so I did it. 

There is still a lot of mystery involved with this move. Unlike 99% of the people moving from Sama to the new campus, I have not seen our actual apartment. When residents were bused out two months ago for a final look at their apartments, Doug and I had not yet been assigned a place. There are two apartment buildings for faculty and some staff, and we didn't even know which building we'd be in much less which apartment. We settled for peaking into open doors, and if an apartment was empty we walked in and looked around. This was helpful because the apartments all have the same floor tile, cabinetry, appliances, and bathroom fixtures, so I got a good "feel" for the place. And it was a good feeling: new and light and bright and open with clean, modern finishes. 

Finally a few weeks ago I was presented with some apartment options and was able to make a selection. We'll have two bedrooms and two full baths, so my offer to come out and visit still stands. Guests are most welcome! The living area has an open floor plan, so I'll be able to cook and entertain and not be hidden away from guests in my kitchen, and that's a feature I like. And.....drum roll..... I'll have an honest-to-goodness stacking washer and dryer, not another one of those tiny, pretty much useless, washer-dryer combo machines. The window you see in the living room is flloor-to-ceiling, so the room is flooded with light. 

Floor Plan - plenty of room for the two of us

Like our Sama Tower apartment, the new place will be furnished, and that's where the remainder of the mystery lies as I have no idea what to expect. It will be new, but that's all I know - not the color(s), not the style. The furniture pieces shown are for a suggested layout only and do not necessarily represent what will be provided. So, yes, it's a mystery. I will walk in the door on Thursday and hopefully be pleasantly surprised. Needless to say I am holding off on buying accessories until I see what I have. 

So stand by! If all goes well I will move in Thursday and spend maybe spend two days unpacking what I have. Then I'll be off shopping for all the little things that personalize a home. I want to make it mine for the time I am there. I know right where I'm going to put my new Turkish carpet, you may be sure ;-)

My next blog will be a photo tour of the apartment and a walk around the new campus. I can't wait to share it with you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


One of the best things about living in Abu Dhabi is that it is a perfect launching point for visiting a whole host of other countries. While perusing the travel section in a local book store I even found a book called Short Breaks From and Within the UAE, and a recent Time Out Abu Dhabi magazine included an insert with a similar theme.

I have found these to be very handy guide books

The book includes a map with Dubai at the center and circles radiating outward, the last circle representing a flight time of 5 hours. In one hour or less I can be in Muscat or Doha, in two hours I can be in Kuwait or Western Pakistan (think I'll pass....); four hours would get me to most of India, Egypt, Jordan (Petra is on my List), Israel and Lebanon; and five hours takes me all the way to the Seychelles and Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal, Georgia and Kenya. And five hours travel time also takes me to Istanbul.

Some places in the world call to me solely by the exotic sound of their name: Marakesh, Zanzibar, Kathmandu, Santorini, Casablanca. And Istanbul. So when my Hoboken friend, Mary Jo, told me that she and her husband would be traveling there in May I knew I had to get there too. I didn't want to crash their vacation, but I thought how cool would it be to "rendezvous in Istanbul". 

Turkey is fairly large and shares its border with a LOT of countries

A few months later Doug and I were seated in the extra leg-room section of an Istanbul-bound Etihad jet across from an Armenian flight attendant. At takeoff we encountered some mild turbulence, and our attendant, firmly buckled into his jump seat, exclaimed nervously, "What's that?!?!" When we landed 4-1/2 hours later in even more turbulence, he muttered, "I hate this!"  Doug and I exchanged amused glances because in all our years of flying, we've never encountered a flight attendant who was a nervous flyer!

On the approach to Ataturk International Airport I got a wonderful view of the city. It is the only city which straddles two continents, and it is enormous. It has almost twice the population of New York City but nowhere near the density because of its sheer size. I could clearly make out the Golden Horn, the Straits of Bosphorus, and the Marmara Sea. Dozens of freighters dotted the harbor, and ferries, tour boats and pleasure craft left wakes as they criss-crossed the waterways. 

The Weatherunderground web site predicted highs in the mid 60's all week, so I'd packed long-sleeved tops, sweaters and a jacket. I had to bundle up in the freezing cold jet, but once I stepped out of the airport I was greeted by gorgeous blue skies and absolutely perfect temperatures. I shed my jacket and breathed in air that was clean and sweet and green. Green! 

Ataturk International Airport is out of frame to the left. We followed the shoreline along Kennedy Caddesi to the old part of the city, the Sultanahmet, which is in the center of this map

Our driver sped along Kennedy Caddesi on the way to a little hotel I'd found on TripAdvisor, the Hotel Sari Konak. When we got to the Sultanahmet the driver turned off the highway onto a narrow, winding cobblestone street, and to my delight we wound our way up and down and all around, passing shops with windows that beckoned, full of colorful tiles and carpets, jewelry, handbags, and ceramics. The streets were filled with people which the van narrowly missed, but they seemed nonplussed. Cafes were everywhere, all with outdoor seating. I was entranced! Alas poor Doug missed all of this as his attention was on his cellphone because work "issues" had arisen, and he needed to deal with them.

Exterior of the Hotel Sari Konak

Check-In Desk - It felt so quaint to get an actual key instead of a card key

Doug on his laptop within minutes of setting foot in our room

The Hotel Sari Konak turned out to be a charming little place, and once we checked in Doug pulled out his laptop, planted himself in a chair and got to work. I emptied our suitcase and wandered up a winding, marble staircase to the rooftop where I'd been told I'd find a bar and lounge area. I wanted to see what there was to see. 

TripAdvisor did not steer me wrong - we were indeed very close to the famous Blue Mosque. And in the predawn hours when the Call to Prayer was broadcast from all 4 minarets, I was reminded of our proximity ;-)

Sari Konak is on a corner. This narrow street leads uphill to a Bazaar, the Blue Mosque (minarets just visible to the upper left, and the Hagia Sophia out of frame to the right. Our first evening in Istanbul we dined at the restaurant with the white awning. 

Rooftop porches, restaurants, bars and lounge areas are very popular in this neighborhood. The Marmara Sea is in the background.

This is the street below our hotel room window. 

As I walked around peering over the sides of the rooftop lounge, I thought I was all alone. Then a lovely young woman walked up to me and asked me if I'd like something to drink. "Why not?" I thought. She suggested a Turkish wine, and in the spirit of experiencing all things Turkish I said sure. "Hmmmm", I thought and then asked, "Is there wifi up here?"

It did not take much persuading to convince Doug to bring his laptop to the roof. I figured if he had to do work, at least he could do it outside and with a glass of wine. That is not a Happy Face, is it? As I sat sipping my wine I noticed movement on the roof behind Doug's head......

and to my dismay I spotted two large, fluffy Seagull chicks wandering on the roof right near the edge. I guess this is where they were hatched. I was fearful they'd pitch off the roof, but when we left 4 days later they were still there. I didn't know gulls would roost on a rooftop. 

I felt like I was back in Hoboken when a cruise ship went by. 

Once Doug got things sorted out with work, we went out to explore our neighborhood, the Sultanahmet, the Old City. Think of it like the French Quarter in New Orleans - the quaint, historical part of the city. 

My first impression as we walked along the streets was that it was Alive! Just bustling with tourist and shopkeepers and "regular" people. The streets were narrow, yet somehow large buses made their way by regularly. The buildings were mostly 4-6 stories high and built side-by-side. The shop windows were so enticing with beautiful displays, window boxes dripped geraniums, ivy wound it's way up stone walls and trailed along terraces, and in front of every restaurant and cafe stood a man inviting you to dine within. I felt like I was in New York's Little Italy!

Even though Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, alcohol is served in most establishments. This is very different from the UAE where you only find alcohol in resort restaurants. This sign had me laughing and thinking of my Happy Hour Friends back in Hoboken. 

I had in mind to find the hotel where my friend, Mary Jo, and her husband, John, would be staying.With  map in hand we wandered the streets, but I could not spot it. Finally a shopkeeper came over and asked if he could help. "Ah yes, the Hotel Empress Zoe. Go down this street, take a right and then a left and then another left and it's right there". Seemed simple enough. An hour later (or so it felt) we wandered by the same store again. The shopkeeper called out cheerfully, "Did you find it?" and I admitted sheepishly that I had not. "Come come come come!" he said, and off we went down the street, Doug trailing with mobile phone in hand. We went right, then left and then left again, and we found ourselves in front of a stone building almost buried in ivy. The sign was faded, but there it was under the ivy. My shopkeeper waved and headed back to his store as I walked in the door of the hotel. The concierge waved me in, and even though I was not a guest he ushered up a winding set of stairs to visit the rooftop garden. "It's a beautiful view" he said. 

The staircase opened up onto a terrace. Below I saw this abandoned structure which I later learned was part of an old bath house. 

The terrace had two levels, so of course I went up to the top. 

Perched on the rail was this bird, one I've never seen before. He looked sort of like a crow and cawed like one. I sent the photo to my friend Linda, and she idenfied it a Hooded Crow - Corvus cornix pallescens

By now it was dinner time, and Doug voted we return to a little restaurant we'd passed as we first left the hotel. The gentleman at the entryway had modestly described it as having "some of the best food in Istanbul". I liked that because he didn't say "THE best" which would immediately have made me skeptical. 

I wouldn't say the name was the most imaginative, but the place was cozy

Doug decided to order a lamb shish kebab - this is the country that invented them after all - but the waiter suggested something a little different. Clearly he felt shish kebabs were cliche. His recommendation was a "stew" that was prepared for two in a clay pot, and we could choose either lamb or chicken. So lamb it was. I thought the dish would be prepared in the kitchen and then presented to us when done.

But it turned out to be prepared table-side! Out came a small table which was set up behind me, and next thing I knew flames were shooting up around a foil-topped clay vessel. Everyone nearby paused in their eating to watch. It was quite the spectacle.

After several minutes on the fire the cook placed a thick cloth over the foil and inverted the pot.

Then he briskly tapped the pot all along the circumference, breaking off the bottom.

Our plates were already in front of us with a small salad, couscous and roasted potato. Our cook poured the contents of the clay pot onto these plates. 

Doug's Happy Face has returned!

I just loved the whole preparation process - such an unexpected treat! And the dish was absolutely delicious. 

Halfway through my meal this pretty cat appeared. Clearly she was the Restaurant Kitty. The waiter told me she'd recently had a litter of kittens which were out back. She didn't make a scene of begging - she just sat and looked at me with those huge, light blue eyes waiting for me to do the right thing. So I did. I fed her morsels of lamb. 

DAY TWO: For our first full day in Istanbul we'd booked an afternoon lunch cruise up the Straits of Bosphorus. Our concierge advised us we still had a little over an hour until the shuttle picked us up, so he told us to "Go see the Basilica Cistern. It's not on any tours, but you will like it. Go! Go! Go". So we went.

On our way we walked through lovely Sultan Ahmet Square. On one side is the Hagia Sophia and on the other is the Blue Mosque (above). As you can see it was an absolutely perfect day. 

We spotted this sign with no problem.

Here is the entrance - pretty nondescript. One could easily walk by it and have no idea of what lay beneath your feet. 

The Cistern was recently restored

We walked down a long, steep staircase and found this. The lighting was low, a moody kind of music was softly playing, and we could hear and feel water drip-drip-dripping from the ceiling.

A wooden walkway followed the perimeter of this cavernous space. To our surprise there were numerous fish swimming in the water below. They had to have come via the aquaduct from the cistern's source, a forest 19 kilometers away. The place was just plain eerie. 

One of the mysteries of the cistern are two column bases carved in the likeness of a Medusa head. Where they came from originally and why they were placed in the cistern upside down is not known. 

One of the strangest sights was this small cafe in a corner of the cistern. I looked up and noted that this was the only spot that had plastic sheeting on the ceiling. I'm guessing not many people would want to dine at the little cafe tables with water dripping on them and their food! 

A tour company shuttle picked us up at our hotel and drove us through the city to the harbor. I loved the juxtaposition of this ancient aqueduct with the busy highway. 

We boarded our boat and waited 30 minutes for all the other guests to arrive on their respective shuttles. One of the crew glanced apologetically at his watch, commenting in heavily accented English on the traffic. Then he shrugged his shoulders, smiled and declared, "We wait for Istanbul!" 

Doug loves the water and being on a boat. I knew this trip would relax him for sure. You can see the Galata Bridge behind him.

We traveled up the Straits of Bosphorus towards the Black Sea. Along the shore we saw palaces, marinas, expensive water-front homes and hotels, charming towns, and several forts. This fort was built centuries ago to choke off Constantinople (now Istanbul) from the Eastern trade route. Now concerts are held on the grounds. 

Just before reaching the Black Sea we went ashore at a small fishing village. Well it maybe it was a fishing village at one time. Now it is primarily a tourist stop-over with lots of little shops and cafes. We strolled into a tiny bakery, lured by meringues in the window - Doug loves meringues. The shopkeeper picked up an almond cookie and ripped it into pieces, placing large chunks in our hand to sample. And then he did the same for a coconut cookie. We ended up walking out the door with a bag of all three kinds of cookie. 

The view as pulled away from shore

On DAY THREE we signed up for a all-day tour of the Sultanhamet. Our guide was a lovely and vivacious young Turkish woman. The first stop, just steps from our door, was the Hippodrome, the site of chariot races many centuries ago. 

At one time there were dozens of obelisks marking the course, but today only three remain. This one came from Egypt by a special barge. It was no easy task to load it up and get it to the city, but once they off-loaded it, there it sat on the shore for 70 years before it was finally transported up the hill to this spot. 

Our next stop, just a short walk across the square, was the Hagia Sophia, probably THE most famous landmark in Istanbul. Inaugurated by Emperor Justinian in 537, Christians worshipped in this "Church of Holy Wisdom" for almost 1,000 years. After the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century, the church was modified to become a mosque with the addition of four minarets, 8 wooden plaques in the interior with calligraphic inscriptions, fountains and tombs. Today the Hagia Sophia is a museum and open to the public.

The interior space is vast and under constant restoration and repair. In this photo you can see one of the large, round wooden plaques that were hung in the nave when the church was converted to a mosque. 

Next we headed to the Cagaloglu, or the Bazaar Quarter. Here you can find upscale shops and galleries as well as the sprawling Grand Bazaar, a warren of covered narrow streets and alleys that literally covers acres. But first we stopped at Istanbul Handicraft Center for an informative presentation on Oriental carpets. 

Now I have always been fascinated with Oriental carpets but also intimidated - so many kinds and from so many countries, different materials (wool, cotton, silk), hundreds of patterns and designs, machine-woven versus hand-tied, chemical dyes versus vegetable dyes, knots per square inch, and on and on - overwhelming! So when our guide told us about this stop, I was thrilled.

We were first offered something to drink - a very Turkish thing to do - and then the presentation began. All the carpets in this house were hand-tied, and after a demonstration in the actual construction of a carpet, assistants brought out carpet after carpet after carpet and unrolled them before us. I was fascinated to see how the intensity of the color changed depending on the angle from which you viewed the carpet. 

So yes, I bought one. This is a 4x6 Turkish carpet, a Bahtimari (denotes the town of origin) and the pattern is 1001 Nights (as in 1001 Arabian Nights). I was able to carry it home in a snazzy little carry case (provided), and it will go in one of my bedrooms. 

After I paid for the carpet, Doug and I headed to the Grand Bazaar. We did not stay long. After my carpet purchase, I figured I better not buy anything more. For a long time.....

We wandered back to our meeting place in front of the carpet store, and I bumped into the gentleman who sold me my carpet. Such a nice guy! I learned his wife is from White Plains. Small world. 

After our much-needed lunch break we walked to the the Blue Mosque, and I learned that this name was coined by tourists because of the blue Isnik tilework which adorns the walls and ceiling. It's real name is the Sultan Ahmet Camii. As with all mosques, the floor is carpeted, so we had to remove our shoes.

And women had to cover their heads. If you didn't have a head scarf, one was provided at the door.

By now it was late afternoon, and we were weary. Our last stop was the Topkapi Palace  built between 1459 and 1465 shortly after the conquest of Constantinople. It served as the royal residence for the Ottoman sultans. And yes there was a harem!

The palace was not a single structure, rather it was a series of courtyards containing several pavillions. And lots of lovely gardens! Talk about location..... the palace sits right on the corner of Istanbul where all the waters meet. In this photo the Golden Horn is to your left, the Straits of Bosphorus are in the middle, and the Marmara Sea is to the right.

Lots of beautiful flowers!

Weeks before we left for Istanbul I'd made plans with Mary Jo to meet her and her huband, John, for dinner. My friend, Mary Catherine, who had visited Istanbul several years previously, suggested Imbat Restaurant, saying it had gorgeous views and delicious food. 

The lighting is not great in this photo, but here is Mary Jo and Doug.

This is the cold mixed mezza appetizer which was served with a variety of bread.

John got some kind of lamb dish which came came on a little "heater"

It looked pretty good to me! I do love lamb.

I think John and Mary Jo got better photos - this one is pretty dark. When MJ sends me one of hers, I'll replace this shot, but in the meantime you can get a sense of our surroundings. Just lovely.

After dinner we strolled back towards home. We took MJ and John up to our hotel's rooftop for an after dinner drink. The moon was rising, and it was a lovely way to end the evening. 

What's the only thing better than spending your vacation in Istanbul? Sharing part of it with friends. 

DAY FOUR - the Sari Konak provided a little breakfast buffet each morning, and this, our final day, we sat outside in the tiny garden. The garden is nestled below street level, and ivy and flowers cascade down the stone walls. Birds sang in the trees overhead, and honestly, I could not have felt more relaxed. 

I don't know if I'll every get back to Istanbul because there are still so many other places I want to go and explore. We saw only a fraction of this amazing city, and I am grateful for that. But if you ever, ever, have the chance to go to Istanbul, leap at the chance. Grab it. Don't let it pass you by. You will love it. Promise.