This past weekend we took a quick trip to Bahrain. Our first excursion outside the Kingdom since moving here. It was bliss. We aren't allowed to leave the country until several steps of paperwork and permitting are finished and we have our multiple entry/exit visas. We got them all at the beginning of last week so the timing was perfect. Our group was having a district conference on Friday in Bahrain so we were excited to be able to go and make a weekend out of it.
Glenn came home early from work on Thursday the 13th and our driver arrived to pick us up at 3. Since we just have a rental car and most rental car companies won't allow you to take them out of the country, or require a lot of paperwork if they do allow it, we hired a driver to get us to and from our hotel for the weekend.
Bahrain is a little island country off the coast of Saudi. They seem very proud of the fact that, in contrast with Saudi, they are a "free country". No muttawa. No enforced wearing of the abaya or prayer times. Women can drive. Pork products aren't illegal. Alcohol isn't illegal, which is a big reason why some expats love visiting. Not a huge perk for us, of course. But it was a very different feel being able to walk around abaya-less.
King Faud Causeway connects Saudi to Bahrain. Depending on the time of day it can take hours to get across and through customs. We were lucky and didn't have much trouble.
The causeway is an amazingly long bridge and in the middle is a little man made island that has several windows where you go through customs and they stamp your passports. On the way back into Saudi, they search your cars for contraband. Some people try to sneak in pork products or the like. Alcohol will get you in serious trouble. You'll be fired and deported without a second thought.
We checked into the Intercontinental and got a taxi to City Centre Mall to find some dinner and try to catch a movie. It was an immense mall. Tons of very nice stores and so many that I was familiar with. I often walk through the malls here in Saudi and think that there are just so many shops I don't need to go in. The shops I'm familiar with or look enticing to me are few and far between. Not so in City Centre. I recognized many more stores and just wished that they weren't so expensive. They have a lot of the same stores and then so much more, but everything is easily twice as much as it would be at home. We had dinner and got to see Big Hero 6. It was a fun movie but I honestly think the boys were more excited about the caramel popcorn. It was so nice to go to a movie theatre again. This movie theatre had little food places outside where you could order "concessions" to take in. But here they had concessions like crepes, frozen yogurt, and gourmet popcorn. Not too shabby.
The boys were bushed that night and slept pretty well. I forget how fun it is for kids to sleep in a hotel. Even a couple of days after we got home Finn keeps asking, "And after this night, we will go sleep in a hotel again?"
Friday morning we took a taxi to Ric's Kountry Kitchen. We'd heard they have great American breakfasts so we had to give it a try. I thought of my dad, looking at all the western decor. The Duke was watching over us as we ate.
Or how about one of these?
Yeah, me too. Lucky for me, I get these cute boys for every Christmas! I am one lucky lady.
The most amazing experience of the weekend was witnessing Friday prayer time while out shopping in the market. Right before prayer time we heard the call to prayer and everyone started closing their shops, gathering their prayer rugs and finding a place to pray facing Mecca. People lined the alleys in rows facing their building and we happened upon one street that was facing the right direction and it was full of rows of people who removed their shoes, and prayed together. It was an incredible sight. That level of dedication to their faith and God was awe inspiring. Our boys asked what was happening and we explained that they were saying a prayer. We asked them to fold their arms and be reverent while they prayed and they both, for the first time in who knows how long...maybe ever, were absolutely silent. Watching in reverence as the crowd of men prayed together for a few minutes. Standing, bowing, and repeating words in unison. It was beautiful.
At one point, after passing several little toy booths and listening to the begging and whining, Glenn told them they could each pick a small toy if they would be good for the rest of our shopping trip. It worked fairly well. And while not our best parenting, the cheap bribe was totally worth it in my book. Tate ended up with a rubber chicken that makes the most delightful squawking noise when he squeezes it. Finn decided he needed a blaster that also made noises. Oh well. They were thrilled.
We found a few treasures, including some really fun fabric for future dream sewing projects for me, and a few Christmas gifts, and then went back to the hotel for some quiet time before we had to get ready for conference. Conference was in a conference room in the hotel and it was a pretty cool experience too. Our little district was made a stake which means our branch was made a ward. It was pretty powerful to be a part of such a momentous day.
After conference we changed our clothes and headed to the mall again to find somewhere to eat dinner. Then we wandered around a bit until we found this huge kids entertainment section. They had rides and games and a huge padded playground. We paid a few dollars and let the boys run around in there for about an hour. It was a MUCH needed physical outlet for the poor kids. They'd been told to be quiet and hold still for much of the day and it made my heart smile and my face smile until it hurt watching them chase each other around and have so much fun being the physical little beings that they are.
I hope we can find someplace like this to take the boys once in a while in the summer in Saudi. They need to really move once in a while and it will be impossible to do outside for months during the summer.
After a little research we decided to spend our last morning at the Bahrain fort. We thought it would be a fun place for the boys to be able to explore and climb around. It was a beautiful day but got really hot really fast.
Touring the fort was free and included audio tours. The boys both loved searching for the next number to type into their little audio tours. Then they'd hold them to their ears and repeat occasional words that the funny British voice said, allowing us to catch bits and pieces of information along the way. Tate would type in a number and he'd mutter, "Three distinct building periods? One hundred soldiers, but it soon held hundreds more!" It was so darling and kept them very happy. Like their own little treasure hunt all over the fort.
After the fort, we stopped back at the cafe next to the museum and got some cold drinks. We were all so hot and sweaty but had a great time exploring together.
The taxi picked us up and we went back and wandered around the market a little more. Glenn discovered some exotic food to try. The boys and I were a little wary, not being able to understand what was in them made us more nervous than it did Glenn. So after a little wandering we hit up a fast food place on our way back to the hotel where we met our driver to take us home.
It was a fantastic weekend. The boys did surprisingly well being on the go so much and thrown into completely new situations. Glenn and I came home so happy that it had gone so well and excited to do it again soon. Once these little ladies come and we figure out life with them around, we're excited to figure out how to travel as a family of 6. Holy smokes, we're going to be a family of 6!