Monday, January 31, 2011

I Will Have to Visit Egypt Some Other Time

I am on my way out of the UAE - by early March.  I haven't traveled the Middle East while living in Abu Dhabi for almost a year now, as I would have liked.  I had planned to visit Egypt (Cairo and Alexandria) in mid-February to see its antiquities from the glory days of Egyptian civilization.  I was going to finalize my plans for plane tickets and accommodations by the end of this week.  I had already researched what sites to see and which tours to take.  It is not to be.

Due to the recent and still ongoing public demonstrations and protests against the regime in Egypt, and the concern of escalating violence, I had decided to forego the trip.  I don't think I have any other choice.  Most travel into Egypt have been restricted, and a lot of effort is now in place for several countries, including the US, to get their citizens out of Egypt.  I have other cities in the Middle East (Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, Amman in Jordan, and Muscat in Oman) I would like to visit, but with the uncertainty around the region, it probably is best not do it at this time.  I may just venture a little further out and visit Istanbul again, instead.

Speaking of further out -- I am scheduled to leave UAE after the first week of March.  I will be reporting to my new job in Seattle on 14 March.  I may have (I am hoping) about a week in between.  I am planning to stop and visit either London, Rome, Oslo, or Stockholm, on my way to Seattle from Abu Dhabi.  I have not been to Oslo or Stockholm, but early March is not the best time to visit these northerly latitude locations.  It has been more than 12 years since I visited London and Rome; it is time to revisit either of these locations.  Weather-wise, Rome has the edge over the other three cities during this time of the year.  Right now, Stockholm is my first choice, with London coming in second.  Selection will depend on flight schedule, ticket price, and hotel price.  If everything works out right, I should have about a week to explore the selected location which would allow some time for day trips outside the chosen city.

I have received the official offer (in writing) from Seattle District Corps of Engineers.  I am still awaiting my PCS (permanent change of station) orders from my current employer since they will be paying for the expenses on my way out.  Until I get this paperwork, I can't do anything as far as getting my household goods shipped and scheduling my flights back to Seattle.  In turn, I am not able to finalize any travel plans on my trip back to Seattle.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Walking Around the UW Campus

It has been awhile since I graduated from the University of Washington -- June 1987.  That is more than 23 years ago.  Every once in a while, I will visit the U-District and  walk around the campus.  The campus is well laid out and picturesque.  There are a several viewpoints, including a scenic view of Mt. Rainier looking out towards Drumheller Fountain.  When the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, a walk thru the Quad is stunning.  But my long lasting memories of UW are the times that I am walking across the campus during a cold, wet day.

And so it is, on a cold, wet day this past December that I treaded across the campus of UW.  The sun peeked out every so often, but for the most part, it was gray and overcast, with light sprinkle now and then, during my 2+ hours walking around campus.  I have noticed all the gradual changes in the campus-- the renovated and expanded Electrical and Computer Engineering building, the new Physics building,  the renovated Allen Wing of Suzzallo Library, the new Gates Hall Law Building, the new Paccar Hall, and the renovated Sieg Hall.  I am sure there are a lot more changes that I have not noticed.  There is ongoing construction in the Husky Union Building (HUB), new business school facilities in place of the old Ballmer Hall, a new underground rail station near the Husky Stadium and University Hospital areas, and an upcoming Husky Stadium renovation.  So there have been quite a few changes since I left, and few more changes in the near future.

But even with these changes, it has the feel of the UW campus I remember.  Red Square, surrounded by the Suzzallo Libray, Kane Hall, Odegaard Undergraduate Library, Meany Hall, and the Administration Building, is still as wide open as before.  The broken obelisk, the high rising pair of garage ventilation towers, and the red brick landscape still dominate the area where students would congregate as soon as any semblance of sunlight appears.  The Quad has not changed -- the cherry blossom trees may be 23 years older but they still dot the area along the criss-crossing pathways.  The outdoor Sylvan Grove Theater, tucked and hidden away, with its four prominent ionic columns still provides a tranquil location to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday college life.  The Husky Stadium is as imposing as ever.  The Mechanical Engineering Building has not changed a bit since I was a regular occupant eons ago.  Unfortunately, the ME department has not found a big time donor such as Gates, Allen, Ballmer, or a host of local corporate giants as the other departments have, to renovate the building.

Friday, January 21, 2011

When Pigs Fly

The first day of this year, I was walking around Seattle Center and Pike Place Market in Seattle to enjoy the sunny day and take pictures.  I saw the following scenes:

A bronze sculpture of a piglet with wings, located just outside the entrance of the Pacific Science Center:

I saw the following later that same day at Pike Place Market.  A group of pigs decorated like a herd of reindeers ready to take Santa Claus to deliver Christmas gifts.

So, pigs do fly?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

I live right next door to an architectural wonder -- the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  It was opened about three years ago.  Finishing work is ongoing on the outside grounds (fence, entrance gates, landscaping), but the mosque and its courtyard are essentially complete.  On a previous post, I include photos of the mosque from afar as I was exploring a green strip around and under a major highway interchange near my apartment  --  I had not had the chance to visit the mosque for a tour because it is closed for public tours on Fridays, which is typically my only day off in Abu Dhabi.

The first Saturday that I was back in Abu Dhabi on 8 January, I did not have to be at work.  I took the day off.  I visited the mosque just before noon. Non-Muslims are usually not allowed inside mosques.  The Sheikh Zayed Mosque opens its doors to the public on certain hours from Saturday thru Thursday.  Tour guides, young volunteer Muslim scholars, offer insights about Islam religion as well as provide information about the mosque and its construction. The weather was perfect, with blue skies and comfortably cool temperature.  I took the tour first and then I explored on my own for a couple of hours after the tour in the early afternoon.  I came back later that evening to take nighttime pictures.

The mosque is definitely a great place to visit.  The mosque, including the covered walkway with anchored towering minaret at each corner and its courtyard within, is quite stunning.  True to its name, it is a grand place.  On the day of my visit the entire mosque was brilliantly white set against the blue sky.

I took almost 600 photos.  I am now having a tough time selecting which photos to include here and on my flickr page.  My flickr page photos can be accessed on the following site:  Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Jan 2011.  I will let the following photos speak of the mosque's magnificence.  Click on the photo to expand view.