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Around the US in Two Months – Part 2

Around the US in Two Months – Part 2

Have you been to the States? I know I have

First, before talking about the different states I visited, I will mention here some signs telling you that you are in the States.

  • If Soft drinks are refillable (bottomless as said in UK) EVERYWHERE .. you know you are in the States.
  • If the food serving is HUGE … you know you are in the States.
  • If you get so confused because it’s the world cup and you call it “football” but no one calls it that .. you are in the States.
  • Where majority of the people are nice and friendly .. That’s in the States
  • When you need to calculate the actual cost of your food + standard tips everywhere, you are in the States
  • When you find everything in one country, nature, fun, craziness, etc.. it’s USA.
  • When you hear country music, people saying Howdy, and eat Steak all the time… you are in the States.. ooh wait no, you are in TEXAS
  • If there are more restaurants than the number of people, you are in the states. lol (not to that extent)

Anyways, these are enough; you are free to add more below.

Now, a brief description about each place I visited

Texas: My main stay was in college station. I was able to visit Austin, Houston, and San Antonio.

I already talked about college station in the previous post. Austin is my favorite as there is a lot of good places to visit and enjoy. Houston is a big city and very crowded. San Antonio has the amazing six flags which we enjoyed and had a lot of fun. I recommend Texas but NOT during the summer.

Boston & NYC: My visit to Boston was short (just few hours) but I had the chance to meet some of my great friends and also to walk by the Charles River. The view was amazing. I took then the bus from Boston to New York. Maybe, just maybe I didn’t like NYC because of the weather at that time. However, it was nice to visit the famous attractions like the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Empire State Building, Columbia University, Rockefeller Center, and of course the breath-taking times square. I also have to admit that my mind can never forget the taste of the fresh bagels I had in NYC. I moderately recommend NYC and Boston.

Colorado: What can I say? Just wonderful. This is basically the best experience for me in the United States. We had an amazing time rafting and then driving up the rocky mountain. As they say there, I MADE IT TO THE TOP. If you are going to the US during the summer, the place you should not miss is Colorado. I highly recommend Colorado during the summer.

Miami: Great beaches, nice food, cool people, and a rich Latin culture. Highly recommended.

Las Vegas: If you are expecting a big city because of the movies you watched, you are mistaken. Las Vegas is basically just one street, the Strip. But wait, that doesn’t mean that Las Vegas is boring. You can enjoy and have a lot of fun shopping, gaming, attending shows, and so on. I recommend Vegas but for two days maximum.

California: As they say “save the best for the last”. I said above that Colorado is the best, well when it comes to San Francisco it is a tie. You can walk for hours in San Francisco and you never feel like stopping. We drove all the way down to LA along highway 101 and I’m out of words to express how great it was. We stopped at many spots and hoped the time would freeze so we can enjoy the scenes forever. Some of the beaches I enjoyed were Venice, Santa Cruz, and Laguna. I didn’t like Laguna at all, but I loved Venice so much.

So, there you go, a brief (maybe long) summary of my travels around the US. I met great people, went to nice places, and had an incredible time. Thanks to my travel buddies Tamim Mourad and Anas Qasmi.

Around the US in Two Months – Part 1

Around the US in Two Months – Part 1

Alright, so I just made it back from the US. How was it? It was great.

As part of my degree, I was to do a summer internship during the past summer. Among options around the world, I got accepted in Texas A&M university in College Station, Texas. Now that might not be the best location to spend your summer given the hot weather there, but it was a good university to do a useful research.

After getting done with all troubles related to getting my visa, I took a flight from Jeddah to Frankfurt, and then to Houston. It was a long flight, but expected. I stayed 4 hours in Houston airport .. you know, to get my name “cleared” and to be approved to get in the United States (even I went through a lot to get the visa). I took another flight to get to the city where I am about to spend 2 months, College Station.

At first sight, it was depressing, very hot, few people on the street, few shops, flat, and quite, but then I got used to that. People are very nice and friendly though which made my stay a bit enjoyable. Now, I was thinking that College Station is just like any other modern city where you don’t need a car to get around, and by God I was mistaken. I arrived on Friday, had a quick meeting with my adviser and then I went out trying to find an adapter for my phone charger. I had to walk for two hours under the sun to get that. Why? Because I had no phone, no taxis (unless you call), and no buses (no buses after 6 or in the weekends). The next day, I woke up early to get the bus to the super market and it was not a pleasant experience at all. Even with the buses you have to walk a lot to get from one area to another, hot, sunny, and too many small plastic bags.

Anyways, I started working on a computer science research project with a nice team that helped me a lot and I learned so much from them. I met also some nice people in the department, dorm, and the rec center. I even participated in a soccer league that we didnt win 🙁 , but it was so much fun.

That’s about it as far as College Station is concerned. Did I do some traveling? Do I have more stories from other cities and states? Indeed I do. I will follow this post up with another one for all the travels I made. Thanks for reading.

Days in UK ep.3 Final

Days in UK ep.3 Final

First day of school was very exciting. Regardless of me getting lost in the city and not knowing where I should go, I was amazed by the style of the academic buildings. Some of them are very traditional old buildings and some of them are new and modern. In both cases, they were all clean, well furnitured, and taken care of. We had a nice day of orientation where we got introduced to the different logistics and regulations. During that day, I met a lot of international students, because we all share the same case, which is studying abroad for one or two semesters.

University of Manchester
University of Manchester

At a later time of that day, the international society made a nice dinner/party for all exchange students, and it was a blast. I met people from all over the world, and the overall atmosphere was very friendly.

The Main Building
The Main Building

I will not bore you with the difficulties I faced during the first week, because when you have 80,000 students to register in the same time, it’s not a very pleasant experience. I decided the courses and met with the advisor to approve them. I had 4 courses; advanced algorithms, concurrency engineering, artificial intelligence programming, and employment and organization. I enjoyed these classes, but the tricky thing was there was no course work. The 100% of your grade depends on the two-hour exam at the end of the semester. This could be good and bad, good because you get to spend a lot of time having fun, and bad because if you don’t prepare well you lose everything.

Manchester is a rich city of everything. You find history, industry, entertainment, sports, trips, restaurants, diversity, and a lot of other things. In addition to Manchester I had the chance to travel and visit most of the important cities in UK. Starting with Oxford and its amazing university, then London with its very famous museums and clock, and the beautiful nature in the highlands and Wales, then Scotland with its intense history and stories, and many other cities and destinations I was lucky enough to visit. What is a good trip without good friends? I was also lucky to have great friends during these trips and we had so much fun.

Big Ben
Big Ben
Edinburgh
Edinburgh

After so much traveling, the time came for the final exams. That means if you were not preparing during the whole semester, you should lock your door a month earlier and study and that’s what I did. One month was full of books, papers, and notes and Al hamduallah I managed to do well in my exams. I had also few days after the exam to enjoy which I used to travel around a bit again. It was very sad to say goodbye to everyone I knew there, because I made a lot of good friends that I will always miss. But hey, there always has to be a goodbye sometime. To sum it up, before I go to UK I had a shock related to my placement, and I was not very happy with UK placement, but to tell the truth, I enjoyed a lot and learned a lot. My UK experience was a very enriching and enlightening one and I thank God first then everyone else who worked hard to give me this opportunity including (not only) my scholarship advisors Iffat Saadeh and Victoria Hayes.

Note: If anyone is interested in visiting UK and has any questions about where to go or what to do, please don’t hesitate to contact me mostafa815@gmail.com, and I will be more than happy to assist with what I can. Cheers Mates

Days in Egypt

Days in Egypt

“Mustafa, where are you traveling this vacation?”, “Umm, maybe Egypt.”

This segment has been repeated so many times that my friends are sick and tired of it. They were like, give it up man, you are never going there.

Finally, I made it last week. I decided that I am going to Egypt no matter what. ^_^

Everything was last minute, we booked the flight tickets 4 days before the flight, and I got my re-entry visa just one day before.

My dear friend Tamim went with me and it was a great trip.

We left Jeddah on Tuesday early evening to “Burj Al Arab” airport in Alexandria. When we got to the airport, we were kind of shocked to be honest. It’s an international airport but it is as small as any bus station here in Saudi Arabia. We took a taxi from there to Alexandria train station “Sidi Jaber” and then to Cairo. At around 11 pm, our friends were waiting there and we had a nice dinner by the Nile. I stayed with my old high school friends while Tamim stayed with his brother. The next day, in the early morning, we went to visit the Pyramids. I was surprised that they are near the city; actually the area was part of the city itself. From the pictures we have seen, and movies, I had the idea that they are in the middle of the desert. Anyway, we got there and started walking and taking pictures. The weather was very nice, sunny but not hot.

dsc01930

After that, we went to an area called “Al Tahrir”. This area is very similar to those you would find in England.

T1

How can you go to Egypt without trying traditional food? .. right, that’s what I said. We went to this nice place for “Kushari” which is called “Thom and Basal” (that means Garlic and Onion in Arabic). It was one of the best “Kushari” meals I have ever had. The next plan was to go and visit the traditional areas in Cairo. After a short rest for about an hour, we went to the old downtown. You can visit the two most famous places “Al Husain”, and “Al Azhar”. We walked there, visited the two mosques, bought some souvenirs, and of course had tea in the famous coffee shop called “Al Fishawi”.

d1

d2

What a long day ha? The next day, we decided to take the boat to visit a town called “Al Qnater”. The boat took around 2 hours to get there, and then we walked around the village. The area was nice but the people were not very friendly.

a1

When we got back, we had to rest for a while then I went out with friends to sit by the Nile and have some food. The view was mesmerizing and the weather was very nice.

The next 2 days were spent in Alexandria and we stayed in a nice hotel for the first day and in a crappy hotel for the second day. We visited the famous places in Alexandria like the Library (which was really huge and neat), King Faroq’s Palace and “Al Muntazah”. Alexandria is a more organized city than Cairo but both were fun.

Funny side notes:

I was wearing short sleeves during the whole trip, and there were mixed emotions regarding that, some people felt sorry for me, and some felt angry with me haha. The funny thing is I was not cold at all.

Normally when you eat a big meal, you feel like sleeping. When we got back from the Pyramids and had the big meal of Kushari, my energy got all back and I was ready to do anything. Compared to my state before the Kushari, I was a dead man. 🙂

We almost wrote a book of jokes about the second hotel we stayed in. It was one of the funniest nights ever.

Days in UK ep.2

Days in UK ep.2

After the exciting arrival that I had (check the previous ep here) I decided to explore the new city. One funny thing happened is that I rushed and bought the beddings from the housing office and later on I found out that it was 20 GP cheaper outside. Don’t always trust the housing offices. Speaking of which, here’s a picture of where I lived.

The outside of the house
The outside of the house

The inside
The inside
The inside (2)
The inside (2)

Anyway, the first thing you normally do in a new city is trying to find the most important places such as restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, mosques, etc. I was not very lucky at first because when I got out I took the wrong direction which led me to a “nothing-there” area. I walked for 20 minutes and I didn’t see a single store. You can imagine all sort of things came to my head, “omg, is this how I’m going to live for the coming 5 months”, “oh no, is this Manchester? Or I’m in the wrong city?”, “are you kidding me?”. During these scary comments, hooray I found a grocery store. It was actually just 3 minutes away if I took the opposite direction. So I went there to buy some basics e.g. water, tissues, but unfortunately it was closed. Now for a guy coming from the Middle East where stores close at 11 pm or even 12, I found that strange because it was just 8 pm. Did I mention that it was freezing cold? And did I mention that I love cold weather? I guess not.

I came back after an epic fail of not eating or buying anything. I threw myself on the bed and thinking is this really it? Or I just didn’t manage to search in the right direction?

On a side note, there were 3 other students from KAUST who are staying with me in the same house. When I say the same house I mean the same building because our house was a dorm system where each student has his own room. Each room has a bed, desk, closet, sink, and a chair.

Luckily, after talking to these students, I found another way to go and find stores. It was completely the opposite. When you go out of the house, just take left and keep walking for about 7 minutes and there’s a street called “curry mile”. This street has three main advantages; great food, stores open till late, and most of the food is Halal.

The Curry Mile
The Curry Mile

I walked the whole street, and then I decided to eat. Believe it or not, the Kebab I had there was THE best Kebab I’ve ever had. The restaurant is called “Abdul’s”. I will not bother you with what I bought that day, but I bought a lot.

After getting familiar with the areas around me and where I can get my stuff, it’s time to get ready for the real thing. First day of university.

–to be continued

Days in UK ep.1

Days in UK ep.1

Few years back, this kid was looking through the window of a restaurant in Al Madina Al Monawarah and wondering: Am I going to make it to Jordan? How does that country look? And how is it to live there? Yes Jordan was the first country I ever lived in besides Saudi. Days went by, years have gone and this same kid is now a grown up man and waiting his flight to go to London then Manchester. The first BS semester I had in Jordan taught me a lot of things and I thought I will not learn more but it turned out to be very wrong. With every single station I pass by I learn new things. After spending 4 and half years in KFUPM, I was given a chance to go to UK for a study abroad program managed and sponsored by KAUST.

Almost time to take off, saying goodbyes to the family, shaking hands and hugging, kissing and before you know it I am in the plane. It was a nice flight, not very tiring. We got to London and a KAUST advisor, Victoria Hayes, was waiting there patiently to show me how to get to Manchester. I took the train which took 3.5 hours to get to Manchester. Oh, on a side note, I had the hugest suitcase you can ever imagine.

Once I got to Manchester Piccadilly station, I took a taxi to where I am supposed to stay for the next 5 months or so. That first step in UK, taking a taxi, was confusing because many people told me to give a tip and some others told me not to. Anyway, I gave the taxi my building number and suddenly we are in the middle of many look-alike buildings. I got off the car, dragged my huge suitcase and waited in the rain for few minutes. Looking here and there, I saw bunch of students (they looked like students) and they opened a door of one of the buildings. I got inside hoping that this is my building (buildings were not numbered). FAILED. I got out, tried to call Victoria and ops, I don’t have a British sim card to call. I sent her a text hoping that she will get it, and in the middle of that desperation moment, a guy shouted my name (later known as the wooden) and welcomed me to the apartment.

It was a nice small room and it has everything a student would need. Please note that up to this moment, I could not observe any of the British traditions or any cultural differences because I was dead tired and just wanted to sleep. I prepared my bed, and ZZZzzzZZ.

It’s a mix of excitement, worry, anxiety, and adventure what I felt after I woke up. I wanted to explore the new city yet worried how to deal with these people. I wanted to go out and keep walking with no guide, but what if I’m short of money. As it’s not the first city I go to by myself, and as I said Jordan taught me how to discover a totally new city, I decided to get dressed and let’s start WALKING.

— to be continued