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Traveling with Bush: Bling, strawberry juice and goat brains?

  • Story Highlights
  • Lighter moments surface on President Bush's trip to the Middle East
  • Bush accepts jewelry that some in the U.S. would describe as "bling"
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice enjoys her strawberry juice
  • Reporters curious if Bush can stay awake for late-night meeting with Saudi ruler
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Ed Henry
CNN
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Ed Henry is a CNN White House correspondent traveling with President Bush during his eight-day Middle East trip.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Who knew that President Bush loves "bling-bling," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice finds strawberry juice just dandy, and some White House journalists like to munch on goat brains?

Oh yeah, and did you know there's some good-natured wagering among the press corps -- as well as some of the president's staff -- about whether Bush will be able to stay awake into the wee hours in a meeting with the night-owlish Saudi King Abdullah?

These are just a few of the lighter insights gleaned during Bush's eight-day trip to the Mideast, which has been heavily focused on trying to lay the groundwork for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before he leaves office.

This international trip has been meatier than usual, especially given Bush's other key message: rallying Arab allies to stand together to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Video Watch what's on Bush's agenda in the Middle East »

But like any of Bush's other trips, there's plenty of levity that makes it a little easier to deal with sleep deprivation, jet lag and the far distance from home.

(Example: There was plenty of substance when the president visited China a couple years back, but the anecdote everyone seems to remember was when Bush finished a statement and turned to leave an ornate room -- only to find that a giant door wouldn't open and he was stuck with reporters. The stunned/bemused look on the president's face was priceless.)

Upon his arrival Sunday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Bush was presented with a gigantic bit of jewelry -- the kind of piece known by the slang term "bling" in the United States. It was a "Zayed Medallion," basically a humongous gold necklace long enough that it could be draped over the president's shoulder, according to a pool report by Richard Johnson of Fox News Radio. Video Watch Bush's arrival »

The elaborate, gaudy jewelry was crafted by artisans with a medallion at the bottom and an 18-karat gold chain with more than 200 rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

Then there's Rice's beloved strawberry juice. During a stop Monday in Dubai at the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, Bush and his entourage were offered various kinds of fresh juice. Rice jumped at a glass of sumptuous strawberry.

"It's my favorite thing, I learned on my first trip here," Rice told reporters, taking a sip from a bendy straw, according to CNN colleague Hala Gorani, who has a sharp eye for detail.

The juice made Rice so happy that she even engaged in chatter about one of her passions, the National Football League playoffs. "I'm not going to the Super Bowl this year," she said of the game that will be played next month in Arizona. "It's too far." (She'll be a bit busy trying to broker Mideast peace and such).

For the media, it's fun to sample the local fare, whether it's strawberry juice or the hummus that's been ubiquitous on every stop of this tour. But some reporters traveling in the press pool with the president seemed stunned to find "goat brains" as part of one buffet in Dubai.

The brains were described as "mushy and kind of bland" in a pool report by the Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva. He recounted that one photographer tasted the brains and "declared that he felt smarter now, though was washing them down with some chocolate." (How would you like that for Valentine's Day?)

There have been plenty of other funny images on this Mideast trip. Bush arrived Saturday in Bahrain and was presented with a large saber to wave around on the airport tarmac. Bush seemed to enjoy his Luke Skywalker moment. (But is saber rattling the right image for a president trying to convince the world he wants to bring stability to the Mideast?)

The new buzz here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is about Bush's Monday night meeting at King Abdullah's palace. Reporters jokingly have started betting on whether Bush -- who wakes up early and hits the pillow early, too -- will be able to fight off sleep at the 9 p.m. meeting with Abdullah, who wakes up late and works into the wee hours. Video Watch Bush's arrival in Saudi Arabia »

"What do you think, how long is it going to go?" a reporter asked a senior administration official Sunday in Abu Dhabi.

"Well, we'll see," the official said cautiously.

"We have a wager, hence the giggling," a reporter shot back.

Another reporter persisted: "You think it could go pretty late, though, right? I mean. ..."

The official was careful again. "You know, this is a matter of great sensitivity, and I don't really want to be wading in. ..."

By now, the room was full of laughter. So the official finally said, "But if someone wants to offer me 10 percent on the side, I could see what I could do."

Pesky reporters still wouldn't let up Monday morning aboard Air Force One.

En route from Dubai to Riyadh in a briefing with national security adviser Stephen Hadley, one reporter asked, "Is this the latest meeting that the president has ever had?"

"It's in the evening," a second reporter ventured.

Another reporter pressed: "The latest at night?"

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"It sort of depends on which time zone -- are we on Washington time?" Hadley asked. "Are we on Saudi time? I don't know."

Here on Day Six of crisscrossing the Mideast, believe me, everyone on this trip can relate to that statement. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About George W. BushSaudi ArabiaUnited Arab EmiratesMiddle East Conflict

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