Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Proposal Story Part II

Working for an international oil and gas drilling service company has afforded me many opportunities for international travel, and whenever possible I try to arrange for Andrea to come along or meet up with me so we can see the sights. I figured that in order to keep the proposal a surprise, I would be best to do it on one of these trips. They are usually last-minute, and Andrea would expect me to be hooked up with work most of the time. All I had to do was wait for the right trip. I wanted it to be someplace far away (because we like going to far-away places), yet someplace fun and interesting.

That said, this winter at my company's annual management meeting, it became apparent that I would need to visit our Middle East districts this spring, and I had my first inkling of a place to propose. I had heard of Ski Dubai, a massive indoor ski resort in the desert in the United Arab Emirates, which seemed like the perfect place! We both really enjoy skiing (Andrea especially), and it is in a far away, exotic place that neither of us have ever been to.

I spent the next few months working out plans for the trip, which would include a few days each in Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Turns out that for various reasons, Oman and Saudi Arabia would not be possible on this trip, so the trip was shortened to just include Qatar (where I would need to visit some key customers) and the UAE (where I would hold a meeting of field coordinators from all Middle East disricts). As the discussions progressed, it became apparent that our North Sea division coordinators could stand to have a meeting as well, so meetings in our Holland office (about 20 mins drive north of Amsterdam) was added to my itinerary. Suddenly, I had a new idea: a European proposal!

Proposing in Europe (and in particular, Holland) had some significant advantages: First and foremost, I have been to Holland before. I know my way around the country, I have friends (work associates) there, and I thought it more "Western" so I could find things I wanted on the internet. (It is hard to even find a good map for cities in the Middle East.) I decided that this would be my new plan, so after haggling with the home office for time off before my meetings, I started to make (secret from Andrea) plans to get engaged there.

I called Lyda, our office manager in Holland, and searched the Internet for ideas. I Googled everything I could think of: Holland+Tulips, Holland+Canal Cruise, Holland+Castle, Holland+Cheese, Holland+Windmill, Holland+Romantic Stuff, etc., and started making a list of ideas. Somewhere along the way, however, I came across the city of Brugge, in Northern Belgium. Various travel websites listed it as "the most romantic city in Europe," or "the Venice of Northern Europe." Intrigued, I set about learning more about Brugge.

According to what I read, Brugge is a an old city (many 12th and 13th Century buildings) that retains much of its old world charm. Its city center is a UNESCO World Heratige Site, which in my experience designates it at least as a place worth visitng. Best of all, Brugge is only a few hours drive from Schipol Airport in Amsterdam!

I began a more directed search on the city of Brugge and found a place called the "Lake of Love" in Minnewater Park. "Hmm," I thought, "Can't do much better than the Lake of Love!" Google Earth was not too much help in scoping out the lake (see for yourself: N: 51.198808° E 3.224369°), so I resorted to looking at peoples pictures and descriptions. I decided after some searching, that this would be my spot, and looked for a hotel in the area. To my delight, I came across the Die Swaene hotel. The reviews were all top notch, and there was availability on my dates, so I booked two nights. My plans were set for the Brugge proposal, but just in case of the unexpected, I decided to set up a few back-up plans.

I booked two tickets at the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, as my first alternate plan. I decided that we could walk amongst the beautiful tulip fields until I found a quiet, secluded spot and I would pop the question. Luckily for me Brugee worked out instead. As it turns out, the tulips in Holland only bloom for a few weeks a year, and they are a MAJOR attraction. The gardens were quite busy, and it would have been rather difficult to find a secluded, yet romantic place there. I might have been able to sweet talk us in before the opened (I heard that for special occasions, they will do that), but I doubt I could have got Andrea up at 5:30am for tulips anyway! The tulips were amazing, by the way, you can see our pictures in the travel section of the gallery.

Wanting to be extra prepared, however, I decided to plan a second alternate proposal as well. I reserved a private table for two on an evening candlelight cruise through the canals of Amsterdam. The cruise line was highly recommended by Lyda, and had good reviews. Best of all, the cruise passed underneath Amsterdam's Skinny Bridge. They say that if two lovers kiss while passing under the Skinny Bridge, they will be true lovers, and will stay together forever. So, as alternate #2, I decided a kiss while passing under the bridge would be followed with an engagement ring! Even though I had already proposed, we still kissed while passing under the bridge, so we should be set in the "true lovers" department.

All the while, I kept Ski Dubai as my last resort backup, although I was never fond of the idea of carrying the ring through customs in unfamiliar countries. We still went skiing as planned, although in retrospect had I needed to propose in the Middle East, I think that the Majlis Al Bahar resturant at the Burj Al Arab would have been my first choice. The Majlis Al Bahar is located on the Jumeirah beach looking on to the hotel. We had an outdoor candlelight dinner on the beach, set against the waves of the Persian Gulf crashing on the shore. This was much more romantic than Ski Dubai, which was located in the Mall of the Emirates. (Not a bad mall, as malls go.)

All said and done, I am sure glad that the first option worked out. By now, you've no doubt already read Andrea's version of the day, but I still plan to post the proposal from my point of view.....


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