Early last week, I had simple plans. I was going to take a job-related flight to Athens, spend the night, eat some olives, drink some raki and continue on the next morning to Heraklion to do more of the same. These were plans I was perfectly content with and which I entertained up until the moment I arrived, bags packed, boarding passes in hand at the starting point for this journey, Miami International Airport.
It was here that I was claimed as yet one more victim of the ash cloud of 2010. Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport was one of the few European airports still receiving and dispatching flights, but Delta Airlines, in what appeared to be a fit of frustration, threw up their hands and declared "Fuck it! No flights to anywhere in Europe. Period."
Thus began my unexpected detour through the Middle East, in an ultimately successful attempt to eventually reach European shores.
We were quickly routed to New York's JFK, where we boarded a direct flight to that lesser known Emirate, Abu Dhabi. It happened so quickly, I wasn't even able to try and contact my UAE friends (sorry Sans and MAI east folks, this is what happens when you are woefully unprepared for schedule changes). We arrived groggy and foggy, but still pretty convinced there was a big purple alien aircraft parked across the road from our hotel, the Radisson Blu. A little X-Files investigation (read: a question to our cab driver) revealed that we were looking at the Yas hotel, a stunning structure plopped down smack in the middle of a Formula 1 race track.
We crossed an elevated bridge that connected the road and the hotel, but had to stop mid-way to admire the fact that we were now hovering above the race track itself. I am sure if I knew a single thing about racing, Formula 1 or otherwise, I would have been even more impressed, but total ignorance aside, this was undeniably pretty darned cool. Maybe not 'missing out on olives and raki' kind of cool, but still...
It was the hotel itself that impressed me most. A visit to a Guggenheim exhibit on the work of Frank Gehry, years ago, left me with an appreciation for innovative architecture and this fit right into my list of "ooh-aah" worthy buildings. Some follow-up googling showed that there was a connection between the two. The hotel was designed by Asymptote Architecture, but some further digging reveals that the "Grid-Shell Building Information Modeling Consultants" was done by none other than Gehry Technologies.
We had only enough time for a quick stroll through the hotel, which I suspect was modeled after the 80's era Future-land pavilion at Epcot Center, and an over-priced beer on the terrace before heading back home for an early wake-up call for the next stop on the "Are we in Europe, yet?" tour.
The view from the rear of the Radisson Blu hotel in the morning...
and the one from my hotel room (if one stepped out onto the ledge, which I don't really recommend).
Soon, we were in Kuwait City, Kuwait and we were exhausted. The combination of a 13 hour trans-Atlantic flight, a giddy late-night romp through a cool hotel and a near total lack of sleep tend to do that. But...we were in Kuwait, so we snuck in a quick nap and set out to find out how much hummus one human being could eat before taking on the shape of a garbanzo bean.
We wandered through the streets and souks, searching for things that were not meant to be. I wanted to find that highly elusive landmark, the Kuwait Towers, and I probably would have had a good chance had I not mixed up the names and asked for the Liberation Tower, instead. We did find the Liberation Tower, over and over again. It is the tallest building in all of Kuwait and depending on which website you visit, possibly the world's tallest telecommunication tower. Sadly, on this day, it was also 372 meters of closed. We understood that it was only open a few days out of the year, but nothing I have read online corroborates this information, so I am chalking this up to a communication breakdown (which is surprising, because we found the kind and helpful Kuwaiti people to have almost uniformly excellent English.)
As night fell, we went in search of a restaurant my friend and I had been to four years ago. We had no name and only the vaguest of directions, but through luck and perseverance (mainly luck), we eventually made it to the desired location. Only, it was a lot less desirable this time around. It was now a construction site, cleared for what appeared to be a new highway. There were still a few restaurants in the area that had not yet been bull dozed, so we resumed our quest for the perfect hummus...this after the waiter burst into fits of laughter when I asked for a vegetarian dish.
In the end, we never did find the Kuwait Towers, although I have included a couple of photos from a previous visit to prove they do exist, and the great restaurant we remembered is no more. But I am writing this blog entry from my hotel room in Leipzig, Germany after a brief layover in Bucharest, so the eventual goal of reaching Europe was successfully achieved with no shortage of excitement along the way. And get this, Leipzig is hosting a "Greek day" today, so guess where I am going? In search of olives and raki, of course.