Thursday, July 31, 2008

A journey to Sakhalin: one step closer

Well, to say the least, it has been a very interesting week.  Shane is now on his way home from Yuzhno (YEA!).  I spoke with him on Monday and he had been told by the HR department in Sakhalin that our visas were going to be delayed and that our move would not be able to take place until October or November.  Apparently, there is a quota for how many work visas are issued in Russia each year, and this year's quota was met in May.  For some reason that is still unknown, this was not communicated with us until this week, 1 month before we are scheduled to be there.  So now the scrambling begins.  There is talk of moving us to Japan or Houston for a few months until it all gets settled.  Shane would have had to work his new job from one of those places.  Not fun.  While I would have loved to be home to visit family and friends, the whole thing would have been hard on my son, my dogs, and my husband (he would have had to work hours that would coincide with Sakhalin, which is 16 hours ahead of Houston), not to mention living in a hotel for 2 months!

It all turned out to be unnecessary stress on all of us.  Today we find out that we are getting our visas after all.  Shane is going to get something called an "advisor" work visa, since the quota on those has not been met.  Our LOIs (letter of invitation) should be issued next week, and then all we have to do is go and get the visas put in our passports.  So it looks like the move is on.  Full steam ahead!!

What an idiot

What a way for a country to be in the news!  This guy should really look into using his brain more often.  Couldn't he have just flown in special parts, oil, mechanics, or whatever else might be needed to service this car?  Click here for the story.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Playdate with Ella and Alex

Today Adam and I went to Gill's for lunch and to let the kids play.  Adam loves going to Ella's house, and when we get close, he always tells me which way to turn to get there.  I remembered to bring my big camera, since Shane has the little one with him in Sakhalin.  The kids played well together and I got some great pictures.

Adam and Alex on the slide

Alex riding his car

Ella on her tricycle

Adam riding in the car



Gill and Alex

Adam and Ella

Adam and Ella


Their own Indy 500

Here we go again...

The dreaded Sheremetyevo Airport

Okay, so remember when I said that we had all of our flights to Sakhalin sorted out?  Well, I was wrong.  Now that Shane has travelled through the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, he has no desire to do it again.  He said there wasn't a luggage cart in sight, and getting around the airport was very cumbersome with just 2 bags, not to mention 6 and 2 large dog crates.  It is also worth noting that this airport won a not-so-good award in 2007 - The Poopy Airport Award.  Yes, I'm serious.  As if all of this wasn't enough, our layover in that airport is only 2 hours, and according to Shane, that is not enough time to get all of our bags and the dogs through customs and on to the Federal terminal in time for our flight to Yuzhno.  So now we are at Plan C, which is to try and go through Tokyo, Japan, and get on the company charter plane to Yuzhno.  I called the Travel office in Houston to set it up, but we are waiting to see if   we can bring dogs on that flight.  We know some people that moved to Sakhalin 2 years ago and brought their 2 labradors with them on that flight, but that was 2 years ago, so who knows if the rules have change.  If we are not allowed to bring the dogs on this flight then we will be forced to go through Moscow, but we will probably have to stay the night since otherwise we wouldn't make our next flight.  Stay tuned...

An afternoon swim

Adam and Catrina

Adam and Robert

Playing in the pool

Adam and Robert

Splashing around in the kiddie pool


Yes, it's freakin hot here.  But Sam and I decided to take the kids down to the Red O and let them paddle around in the kiddie pool.  After 4:00 pm, the whole area is shaded, so we weren't completely melting out there.  The kids had a good time, and the water was nice.   

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Maya and Tilly's last visit

We have houseguests again!  This time it's our old buds, Maya and Tilly.  They are staying with us one last time while their Mommy and Daddy are in Houston waiting for Baby Girl Ray to arrive!  Stephanie is due to have a C-section on the 24th, so we will all be anxiously awaiting baby pics!

How to know if you are moving to the middle of nowhere

Shane is now in Yuzhno, the place that we will soon call home.  It took him longer to get there than it normally does to get to Houston (30 hours!).  He flew from Doha to Moscow with stops in Bahrain and Istanbul, and then flew on to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk from there.  

He had a 9 hour layover at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, most of which he spent sitting on a bench waiting to check in for his flight to Yuzhno.  Shane said the airport didn't look like it had been renovated since WWII.  They also apparently allow smoking in the airport lounges, which is pretty disgusting.  It's kind of hard to relax when you don't even have clean air to breathe.  One can only far behind are these people, anyway?  

So are we about to move to the middle of nowhere?  Well, probably.  I had always thought that my hometown was in the middle of nowhere, but now I am starting to rethink that.  Here are some clues:

1.  When Shane asked the transfer desk where to go for his flight to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, their first response was "Why do you want to go there???"
2.  When trying to arrange flights from Doha to Yuzhno, we have found that there are only 3 ways on to the island, and one of them is a Chartered flight.
3.  When you tell people where you are moving, their response is either "Ewww" or "Where?"
4.  More people have heard of Doha than Yuzhno (frankly I had never heard of either one before moving out here).
5.  When you arrive at the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk airport, you get off the plane and walk to the terminal.  No need for a bus when all you have to do is walk 50 feet!

Despite all of this, I get the feeling that Shane is happy to be there and away from Doha for a while.  He said he was actually cold and needed his jacket.  It is probably in the 60's, which is a stark contrast from 115F!  He is taking pictures, so I will post them when he returns in a few weeks.  

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reservations for 5 - Doha to Sakhalin

Okay...crisis averted.  Buster gets to come with us after all.  It basically took all afternoon to get it all straight, with the help (well, kind of) of the company travel guy.  He managed to book the dogs on one leg of the trip at least.  We are now traveling from Doha to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, and then to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk via Moscow on Aeroflot.   One good thing about this:  we will be able to get the dogs out in Frankfurt and walk them around before our flight to Moscow.  Let's just hope it all goes smoothly and we all have a good trip.  Insha'Allah...

It must be love: A journey to Sakhalin, Part 2

It has been a full day already, and it is only 11 am.   Actually, I was ready to pack it in this morning at 7:30.  Now that we finally have our flights reserved for our move, we can book reservations for the dogs.  I called Lufthansa and booked them all the way to Seoul, South Korea (via Frankfurt).  No problem.  Then I called Asiana Airlines to book them on the flight between Seoul and Yuzhno.  The first lady I spoke with said we didn't have confirmed tickets, that we were waitlisted.  After speaking with the EM Travel person here in Doha, he said that was crap and that we did have tickets.  So I called back this morning.  Well, basically, they only will ship pets (or anything else for that matter) up to 32 kilograms.  That's fine for Bailey, she only weighs 26 kg crate and all.  But Buster weighs 35 kg with his crate.  They told me I couldn't bring him, I would have to ship him.  Well, that would be fine if the Russian Federation would let us do that, but they won't - they require that all pets are brought in as accompanied baggage.  So now we are back to Square 1, as they say.  Our next option is to fly through Japan, but EM Travel cannot issue us tickets on the airline that flies from Tokyo to Yuzhno (they say it is a budget airline, go figure).  All that's left is to fly through Moscow, which we have been told is a big hassle, but aside from sending Buster back to Liberty, it's all the option we have left.  I located flights from Frankfurt to Moscow and from Moscow to Yuzhno on Aeroflot, a Russian airline.  I called an agent to ask about bringing pets and if there was a restriction.  She didn't speak real good English and I don't speak any Russian, but I did manage to get that it would be fine, that the would put them on the plane as baggage, no matter how much they weigh.  Hopefully this will work out.  At least we know EM Travel can book us tickets on Aeroflot, as that is the route that Shane is taking for his business trip.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Space Bag commercial

Have I mentioned that I love Space Bags?  I don't know how I moved to Doha without them.  Since we are moving to a wintery climate, if one would call it that (some still insist we are moving to Siberia!), we have purchased clothing and bedding to keep us warm.  In order to fit it all in our air shipment, I purchased Space Bags at home and brought them over with me.  All of this stuff (and maybe more) should fit into our air shipment boxes, so we will have all of our winter clothing when winter arrives.  We are not sure how long our sea shipment will take, since not many people go from Doha to Sakhalin.  All they can tell me is that it takes 8 -10 weeks from the USA.  Hopefully they won't send it there first :D  Cooler temps will probably hit Sakhalin in early October, so we want to have all of our stuff before then.  It is so different having to prepare for cold weather.  Having only lived in TX and Doha, I have no concept of a real winter.  I have a feeling I will figure it out soon enough!

This is the "before" picture
My "after" picture

Monday, July 14, 2008


The humidity is here.  I had thought that it wouldn't show up until August, but I guess not. Back are the days of foggy windows and eyeglasses.   Notice the 'feels like' number...and it's 7:30 pm.  

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Driving around Doha: common sights

On our journey to the fabric souqs, I got out the camera and took some videos.  We had hoped that some of the things that we see on a daily basis could get caught on tape.  However, it was a pretty boring day as far as the driving was concerned (a good thing, actually).  There were a few small things that happened, like people trying to move into our lane while in a roundabout, but overall nothing too crazy to report.  I will post a few of the videos on my Google video site once I have sorted through them.  I also took a few pictures of things that we did see in terms of crazy parking and high-traffic areas of town:

A common sight in Doha - a guy washing someone's car in a parking lot (costs about 8 QR)

The crazy parking around the banking district

A look down Electricity street (oddly enough, where most of the tailors are located)

A lovely parking job in front of Designers Tailor

Look how close he got to that car!

Fabric Souqs

I rode with Gill to the fabric souqs today.  She needed some fabric for a few shirts she was having made, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to take some pictures of the area since we are moving next month.  There are tons of shops selling all kinds of fabric.  Mixed in with the fabric shops are tailors and accessory shops selling things like buttons, zippers, and almost anything else you would need.  Most of the fabrics range from 15 to 30 riyals per meter.  Gill bought several meters of silk fabric and a few meters of linen for a total of 140 riyals.  I have no idea what that would cost at home, but Gill said it was a lot cheaper than New Zealand where she is from.  

Saturday, July 12, 2008

No parking? No problem!

With all the new construction and building going on in Doha, there is little room left for parking. Most parking lots are minuscule considering the number of cars on the road and the number of shops opening up. Basically, when there isn't a proper place to park - people basically just stop their cars and get out. Double and triple parking is more of a rule here than an exception, despite the threat of parking tickets and fines. For those of you who don't know, if you have parking or moving violations on your car's record, you are forbidden from leaving the country until those fines are paid. I know of people that have been turned away at the airport because they didn't pay their fines. Despite all of that, the number of people double and triple parking has not decreased, it has only gotten worse. I see it all the time - 4 lane roads turned in to 2 due to people parked on either side. And my personal favorite: people parking in the middle of the road over the median. People do it here as if it is a proper parking spot. This is a picture of the road near our compound during prayer time (note the mosque at the end of the street). I just have one question: Are these people getting parking tickets????

Today we went to eat at Ric's, a popular place to get "American" food. We usually avoid this place because of the parking situation (there usually isn't any open spaces) and because there is usually a long wait. With all the expats gone for the summer we took a chance and went there for lunch today. We found a spot with no problem, but we noticed a few cars parked behind other cars in the parking lot. Not unusual. When we returned after eating, we noticed that there was a car parked behind us, but not enough to prevent us from leaving...but as for the poor saps in the two cars it was blocking...I don't know. I went to take a picture, and was going to get a view of the whole parking lot, but there were Arab men mingling around and were motioning for me not to take a picture of them (don't get me started on that one). So all I got was the shot of this one car (there were quite a few) that was behind us.

He can work that thing better than me...

Adam is a whiz on Daddy's iPod touch. I still have problems with it, being that I don't use it very much and am not really good with touch screens. He has no problem...he finds his cartoons without any help from us. He is so cute sitting there watching them. This will be a must have on our trip to Sakhalin next month!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hanging out with the Plunketts

Catrina found a quiet place to sit...

...but that didn't last long!

Emma's getting big - she is 7 months old!

Catrina, Adam and Robert hanging out in the recliner

The kids played on this chair almost the whole time they were here.  Catrina was sitting there by herself, but the boys couldn't let her have any peace!  They were really cute all sitting together.  We will miss them terribly when we leave :(

My chocolate cake

Every now and then, I get a wild hair and decide to try and bake something.  This time it was a flourless chocolate cake.  I haven't had flourless chocolate cake in a long time, and it sounded good when I saw the recipe.  However, we don't really keep desserts in the house since Shane doesn't really eat them and I really shouldn't eat them.  Every time I bake anything sweet, I always end up giving it to Sam and her family.  They came over this afternoon to try it out, they all seemed to enjoy it.  Once Shane has a piece tonight, I will take the rest to their house tomorrow!  

Indoor play

Adam shooting a ball gun

Adam and Robert on a car ride

With the weather heating up, taking the kids to the park is not a routine event anymore.  Most of the shopping malls have indoor play areas for kids, so it gives us an alternative to outdoor play parks.  I met Samantha and her kids at Fun City, our favorite indoor play area.  I didn't get great pictures because the kids were up in the top area shooting the ball guns.  When we went to leave, they took an interest in the car rides outside.  Overall a fun time!

Medical clearance, embassies, and crazy flights...a journey to Sakhalin

With our move date getting closer (the packers are scheduled on August 20 and 21), we are trying to get through the list of things that need to be done to make it all happen.  

First up, passports and visas.  We had to have our passports renewed, since there was less than 2 years on them (and the Russian Federation recommends that there be at least 3 when applying for residence status).  This delayed the processing of our LOIs (letters of invitation) until this week, since the new passports have different numbers than the old.  Our trip to the American Embassy was less than thrilling, as there is as much security there as there is at the Pentagon.  It didn't help that during our first visit, Adam turned off the x-ray machine while our stuff was being searched and scanned.  Needless to say, when I went back to pick them up, I went alone!  We have also been to the Russian Embassy a few times, but at least it doesn't take up as much time.  Basically, you walk up to the door, ring the bell and tell them what you want - and they let you in.  What a difference!  Shane now has his visa for his upcoming trip to Yuzhno (he leaves on July 19th), and all of the documents needed for his Work Permit have been submitted, so we should only have to return one more time:  for the single-entry visas for our move.  

Next, there is the series of medical testing that we must go through to get clearance to move.  At least having it done in Doha means that the test results will be ready by the next day, and in some cases, the same day.  We are all finished with that except for me - I have to go in to redo a test that got messed up.  

I mentioned that Shane is going to Yuzhno in a week or so.  When he sent me his flight information, I wondered if they got him enough layovers.  He is flying from Doha to Manama (Bahrain) to Istanbul (Turkey) to Moscow and then finally to Yuzhno.  On the way back he is flying from Yuzhno to Seoul (S. Korea) to Hong Kong and then back to Doha.  What a trip!  I just hope he doesn't lose his bag with all those changeovers!  (Knock on wood) Our trip in August should be a little easier, but not much.  Since we have the dogs, we are having to fly Lufthansa to Seoul, South Korea via Frankfurt, Germany, and then on to Yuzhno from Seoul.  Not a piece of cake, but better than his July trip! 

That is all the information I have for now.  Stay tuned!