August 7, 2012

There and Back Agai... Wait, Just There.

Don't I look so modest?
You know that feeling when you've had 23 too many Starburst jellybeans and it's 3 AM?  Or when you order an espresso and think, "huh, that's small... I'll get another."  And then you race around like a 4 year old with a sugar high until you crash like that narcoleptic dachshund on YouTube?  The past 48 hours have been something of a whirlwind - that weird combination of being compeltely exhausted and experiencing everything for the first time left us feeling like we had made one too many trips to Starbucks.
(Andrew's Note:  By whirlwind, I think she means shamal.  We're going to do this in two posts, partly to increase your daily level of suspense and partly because the past 48 hours have been something of a shamal.)

Fig. 1A - A Shamal in Riyadh

Our flight from Houston took us through Frankfurt, Germany.  Getting our bags checked was a barrel of fun because we had failed to notice the 18lbs per carry-on rule.  We tried to convince the check in attendant that 35lbs wasn't too far off from 18 lbs.... (it's what we tell Won Ton to help his self esteem).... She didn't appreciate our creativity in rounding up.  Lame.  We ended up having to check both carry-ons as luggage.  And that ain't cheap kids.  (Not to mention spreading your suitcase on the floor to repack stuff in front of the rest of the world.)

Business Class
Having never flown on business class legitimately (meaning the one time we were slightly late for a flight and they had nowhere to put us but in Business Class) becomes embarrassingly obvious in about the first 35 seconds on the plane.  We should probably back up at this point and mention that we got to fly on the Lufthansa Airbus A380-800....the largest plane in the world... Which had, coincidentally, arrived in Houston a day before we left.  We were one of the first flights for the plane.  Thanks Aramco.... ; )  Anyway, it was pretty obvious who the Aramco people were almost immediately, and specifically the Aramco teachers.  Picture business men and women reading the Wall Street Journal.  Then picture Andrew and I.... We were literally taking pictures of how many different ways you could move the chair flat or upright, posing in every position.  Every few minutes we would be interrupted by a stewardess asking if she could offer us some champagne or wine or a hot towel.

We're screaming on the inside.
Why yes!  Of course I need those things, this adjusting of my seat is really tiring me out.  Between that and the Ambien, it was quite an enjoyable flight.  (although the peasants in economy were entirely too loud and I could see some of them through the partition.  Honestly.)

Terrible picture.  Wonderful seat. 
Having gotten used to this type of treatment, we immediately headed for the business class lounge once in Franfurt.   And this time we tried really hard to act the part.  Buffet breakfast and lunch with all assortment of drinks?  Yes.  Free wifi?  Yes.  Spotless showers for your use?  Yes.  A sleeping room?  Yes please!  The only thing that might have given our status away is that we were the only ones not having a deep conversations over Skype about the stock prices going down...that darned Tootsie.  After relaxing for 6 hours, we boarded one more plane headed for Dammam, Saudi Arabia.

We've never had a shower this nice in our house...
I slept a bit more on this flight.  I think Andrew had some kind of a nervous breakdown... poor husband.  (Not a nervous breakdown, just a bit of reality.  I was thinking that all this would finally hit me when I set foot in Saudi, but it turned out to be when we were boarding the flight to Dammam.  The flight to Frankfurt just felt like a fun vacation trip.  As I sat at the gate watching some other people get on, I started feeling like I was now flying very far from everything I know.  I wasn't just seeing Saudis getting on the plane- there were only about 1/3 nationals maybe - but a combination of that and a smaller plane and much less English made me feel like I was flying with an express purpose to go to a foreign place.  We did have the same kind of seats, however, and it was distracting to play with the seat controls and finish up "The Avengers".  After stewing in my own thoughts for a while, it got better.  By the time I got off the plane, I was good to go.)

The husband's mental health notwithstanding, approaching Saudi Arabia at night is like no other experience I've ever had on a plane.  There are very few lights, you get the feeling your plane is about to land in the sand.  Just a bit creepy.  We made our way through the airport to imigration where we stood for about an hour in a silent line.  Actually, there were probably 6 lines, all about 40 or so people deep, single file, and completely silent.  We were ushered into a line with many other Caucasians... Kind of like it was the Aramco line!  Officials in immigration would randomly get up and leave in the midst of processing people, and not return for 20-30 minutes.  If you had no flexibility or patience you could have gone batty.  (Some of you who know may be wondering, "How the crap did Allison stand in an inefficient line for an hour without A) causing an international incident, B) offending a large part of the Saudi population, or C) killing me", the answer is: she did great!  Well done wife!!)  ***Sigh***  MEANWHILE... our line was like the party line.  Eveyrone was freaking out about how cool business class was.

 (We managed to get through baggage claim and found all 6 of our suitcases unscathed.  We then went to the dreaded Baggage Screening line, where they will search every ounce of your stuff and arrest you for possession of an Advil and.....OH WAIT, we breezed right through!  They didn't even look in our bags!  What were all those weeks of stressing for?!?)  W.T.G. Aramco, W.T.G.  (For those of you just joining us, that's an Allisonism for "What the Goat".  Incidentally, the rules for the Ras Tanura beach state very clearly that goats should not be slaughtered on the beach.  Not kidding.  More on that next time.)

One of the cooler things that happened is that once we were done being processed, we were met by the superintendent of Aramco schools as well as a few of the principals-- Keep in mind it's almost midnight at this point.  The superintendent actually gave me a batch of homemade snickerdoodle cookes "made fresh a few hours ago by my wife"... Yes please.  Our driver then took us to Ras Tanura, our new home along the beach.  (Luckily the cab driver had a Suburban, so there was just enough room to cram the three of us and our bags.  After a RATHER BRISK drive, we managed to get to Ras Tanura.  It was pitch black, but the drive was interesting... you could see exactly where the interstates were going in front of you because it's just a loooooooooong snake of street lights for miles, and no pesky buildings to obstructs your view.  When we got near Ras Tanura, the lightpoles started having neon colors on them :-)  At one point, the driver turned off his lights and slowed down for a checkpoint.  We got a little nervous, to be honest.  Turns out that the checkpoint is nothing more than something to make people slow down a little, and he turned off his headlights because that's the custom when you come up to gates and things so the workers aren't blinded.  Perceptions... : )

I'll post MUCH more on Rast Tanura and our awesome new home next time... Jet lag is getting to me and Andrew starts work tomorrow.  Which means I'll be up making him breakfast... don't laugh punks.

(I'll let you know how that goes...........................



And.... just to make you come back... here is a preview of our next post...

: )

Iran is to my left


  1. All so exciting! Business class is awesome - managed that one time on a flight to Madrid. Can't say I was in too big a hurry to get off the plane. What a journey so far! Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. I'm so glad that everything has gone/is going smoothly for the both of you! Hopefully I will get a chance to Skype or something will ya'll. :)

  3. Allison Abbott8/7/12, 9:47 PM

    That I'd crazy fascinating! Can't wait to hear more!!! We love y'all and again are so happy you 2 made it safely!!!

  4. Wow, what an adventure! You two have such an incredible story-telling ability that your posts are always hilarious (you're welcome, Andrew! :)
    I had to cry when I saw you standing on that beach wearing your Gwinnett Young Singers t-shirt! I cannot imagine such an adventure....(my wedding on Mt. McKinley in Alaska pales to the stories that I look forward to as you continue your new life!!!)
    Keep them coming!
    Love you both....

  5. Amazing! ! ! ! What an amazing beginning to an incredible journey ...only less dogs, cats, bears... That was a disney movie, right? Anyhow..... So so happy you guys are there safe & sound. Andrew, you and I are so much alike in the way it hit you ...reminded me of my first day at St. Olaf, except slightly cooler & closer.. And everyone was blonde... aaaaanyhow, one thing I vividly remember is mom sending me a care package of snickerdoodles & feeling a little more like I had a piece of home. I cried when I read that about you guys getting snickerdoodles after arriving! Please tell them thank you for channeling mom through a batch of cinnamon sugar yumminess :)

    Love you guys, so proud that you have made it this far! Good luck on your first day Andrew! --allison, I want to hear all about the Ina-style breakfast you whipped up :) --Adrienne

  6. Lindsey Livingston8/7/12, 10:42 PM

    thanks for posting!!! What an amazing beginning to your new life. Business class and snickerdoodles... can't get much better than that ;) Love you.

  7. Okay, so far so good, doesn't look like you are sweating yet! Allison you still look cute, how about checking into some of that Hogwart's fashion! Skip the wand tho. I can't wait to hear how breakfast goes!

  8. Isn't it so hard to imagine going back to "steerage," after Business Class? I have my friend who works for Virgin Atlantic to thank for that glorious experience over and over. So excited to read of your adventures. Wahoo!

  9. I'm LOVING following along on your journey over. I just want to know if your pooches are going to get the same first class treatment on their trip over:)