Monthly Archives: December 2014

Happy New year

Happy New Year

Katja and I will be several thousand feet up in the air as from tomorrow morning so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2015.

We are being picked up at 01:30 from home. The first leg of our journey is a brief flight to Abu Dhabi where we have a 4 hour wait before boarding the next flight which will take us to Brisbane after a fuel/ change of plane stop in Shanghai. We land in Brisbane at 09:40 local time on new year’s day. We have a hire car waiting for us at the airport, from there it is a one and a bit hour drive to our final destination.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

We wish you all the very best for the coming year.

Mike, Cathy and Katja

Advertisements

Kind People

One of the interesting things about travelling and living in a variety of countries is interacting with people, be it as a long term friendship or as a quick brief encounter.

One of the things that has really caught my attention here is how strangers can be extremely kind. Kind for no reason and not wanting anything in return. I have three examples from recent weeks which have highlighted this. I must say I have not experienced this in any other country…..so far.

1) Bike Shop – I bought my fat bike from a local bike shop. After a few weeks of heavy use it needed the gears adjusting plus the front breaks were sticking. After around 45 minutes working on the bike, it was ready to go, when I asked how much, I was told not to worry about it. I returned a few days later with a puncture, once again, this was done free of charge and no matter how much I argued for them to charge me something, they wouldn’t accept a penny!

2) Children’s Play Area – We took Katja to the mall to buy her a couple of things for our flight to Australia, as we had some credit left on the card for the kid’s amusement park we took Kati in and let her have a play on a few things. As we were leaving she spotted one of the machines that you put credit on and it has an arm that you have to try and fish a toy from it, no idea what they are called but they are actually quite addictive! Anyway, Kati wanted a toy from it but after several attempts it was clear I was getting nowhere quickly. Out of the corner of my eye and to my left, I could see a lady (in full Qatari dress) using a similar machine next to me (this one had small footballs). This lady was obviously luckier than me or was better skilled at it. She managed to get a ball in a couple of attempts. She then called Kati over and very kindly gave her the ball!

3) The zip! – For her birthday, Kati was given an Elmo bag which she absolutelyElmo adores. She was very upset and sad when the zip on it broke. We took it to a shop in the mall and asked if they changed zips. The lady looked at it, called her colleague and told us to come a bit later as they weren’t sure of they could do anything. We came back about an hour later and he presto, the bag had a nice new zip. When I asked how much, they wouldn’t accept any money for the repair, they just smiled and said that’s OK sir, hope your little girl is happy!

Ever since arriving in Qatar we have encountered numerous acts of incredible kindness (some from strangers who we have never seen again, others from people who we are proud to call our new friends!

As my final entry for 2014, I shall leave you with this final thought:

“We should give as we would receive: cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.”

—Seneca

 

Singing Sand Dunes

During these holidays we seem to have done more than any other holidays and had a load of fun. Camping, days out and a trip to the Singing Sand Dunes, next part of the fun is Kati and I traveling to Australia, leaving tomorrow night.

As one of Qatar’s must visit sites, the Singing Sand dunes are located approximately 45 minutes from Doha, by the time you fight your way through traffic it’s more like one hour! To make it more fun, we traveled in a convoy of 9 vehicles, not sure how, but we all got there pretty much at the same time! earlier in the day, I went with someone to collect wood from the same site where we had collected wood from before. On these outings, a camp fire is a must!

I must admit I was a bit skeptical that we were leaving at 15:00 hrs as it is very rare that   you actually leave on time, plus fighting your way out of D town would make it a very late arrival. I was proven very wrong by those organising it who had been there before. That was the perfect time to leave as by the time we arrived, it had cooled down enough to climb the dunes, have a camp fire, have food and then head home. Timings were perfect!

We arrived to be greeted by a chain of enormous dunes and because it was a weekday, only one other small party of people in the distance, apart from that, we had the place to ourselves! Kids (and adults) had plenty of fun climbing to the top. I had been out on my bike earlier on and done 30 km which all of a sudden felt like an unwise thing to do before attempting to climb this monster! As we made our way to the top (which is a darn side steeper than it looks on the photos) you could hear the sand move and make a peculiar humming noise (hence singing sand), the more you made the sand slide, the louder the hum.

Made it to the Top! SSD

We made it to the top, this was the perfect opportunity for a family pic! The views from the top are simply breath-taking, especially when you can sit and watch the sun go down. As you can imagine, you can see as far as your eyesight permits you, it’s a mixture of undulating dunes in one direction and simply baron countryside in the other!

Dining al Fresco!

As the sun gave way to a beautiful half moon, we all settled to chat by a camp fire. We gave all the kids a luminous band which meant that we could see them in the darkness and relax a little. Rather than a BBQ, someone had collected a wide selection of yummy food including Shawarma,  Hummus and lots of other gorgeous middle eastern food! Once all goods were consumed, out came the marshmallows and the hot chocolate! Once all goodies had been consumed and the wood ran out, we all started clearing up and packing up.

One thing I would like to say (not my words) please, please, please, whenever you visit and enjoy any outdoor areas, be it in Qatar or Timbuktu, make sure you take nothing more than memories and only leave footsteps. TAKE YOUR RUBBISH HOME!

Singing Sand Dunes!

First Christmas in Qatar

You live and learn, as I’ve said on several occasions; every day’s a school day!

We have had a mostly pleasant Christmas day, I shan’t bore you with the finer details as to what we had for lunch (roast beef, sprouts, Yorkshire pudding, honey-glazed carrots, shallots, and a lovely fruit salad for dessert!), oops, I just inadvertently did, but as I said above, we have learnt a valuable lesson.

OK, before I go much further, let’s go back a few, if not several hours back, mainly to around 1 am. This was more or less the time in which we were summoned to Katja’s bedroom (when I say we, I refer to the Royal we); Cathy went through to find out what all the fuss was all about. Katja was awake and very excited about Christmas (I am sure MANY other parents can understand this). However, she was too scared to come through to our bedroom as she was worried Santa would see her and she would have no presents. So; Cathy spent the rest of the night in her room, being woken up at regular intervals being asked “was that noise father Christmas? – at one point, even I was woken up by a sudden loud noise which was nothing more than a bottle of Fairy liquid falling into the sink following a sudden gust of wind (the kitchen window was open).

05:30 – Good time to open presents

With her dog from Santa!

With her dog from Santa!

Anyway, 05:30 arrived and Kati could no longer contain her excitement. We had packed a pillow case with little pressies (Kati’s Christmas stocking is in our shipment, currently in Dubai) so we improvised by using a pillow case. She had asked Santa for a dog with a lead so she can walk it (she misses Sophie like crazy, Sophie was our dog who is now living with a friend of ours in Spain and is being spoilt rotten). In addition to the dog she had loads of little gifts such as books, colouring books, pens, hair clips etc, etc etc. We spread opening presents throughout the day; starting with presents we had bought her. Then as we Skyped with Grandma in Spain, she opened Grandma’s present during our Skype call and the same thing again with Nanna and Poppa, Andy and Tim in England. The lesson we learnt is that for next Christmas, we will not buy her toys we have to assemble ourselves. Virtually every toy we bough had to be assembled, so you can imagine, it is now 18:30 and I have been assembling toys (with Cathy) since 05:30 am. Please, please, please, don’t get me wrong, we are so fortunate to be in the enviable position to be able to give our little girl so many toys for Christmas that it gives me something to complain about when it comes to assembling them. She has been such a good girl for the past few months,ever since arriving here really. Our famous shipment has been delayed and delayed, she has had very few toys since we arrived here; some people have been ever so kind and shared toys with her which has kept her going. It was beautiful to see her face light up as she opened her presents, I have never seen her so excited, I thought she was about to explode! Lesson learnt today has been to make sure when we buy pressies for Kati, they come assembled!

We have just watched the Queen’s speech and are winding down from what has been a mostly enjoyable day. Tomorrow we are out with Doha Joy Rides for a bike ride around Aspire Zone.

As the year draws to an end, I shall leave you with the following though: “Christmas gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the important things around us — a time when we can look back on the year that has passed and prepare for the year ahead.” — David Cameron

Take care of yourselves and each other.

Merry Christmas

Season’s Greetings from Qatar!

We would like to wish all our family and friends all around the world a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year. May it be a year in which all your dreams become reality and you get all you ever wished for.

DSC05441

 

 

Mike, Cathy and Katja xxx

Camping on Purple Island

One (of the many) way to make me happy, is to send me a text out of the blue asking me if I want to go camping. Too right I do (and I am speaking on behalf of all three of us). A couple of days ago I received a text asking if we would like to go camping, of course, we said yes, straight away!

A few days ago I received a text asking if we would like to go camping. Being lovers of the great outdoors and enjoying every bit of the Qatari winter, we jumped at the opportunity to spend some time under the stars but also to make new friends. we have only just come back from our last camping and we enjoyed it so much, we were keen to go out again.

On the Sunday we met up to collect some wood (after all, you can’t go camping and not have an open fire!). We are blessed to live in what perhaps can be deemed to be the world’s largest (and fastest) building site, all we had to do is drive a few hundred yards and chuck some wood in the back of the car.

We met up on Monday at 12:45 and headed out of Doha direction Al Khor to stay on Purple Island. Having done a little research, the island received its name from the dye from snails which can be found locally (this I read on some blog or another). It took around 45 minutes to get to our destination. We left the cars in the “car park”, it was more like a patch of desert; the remainder of the trip would have to be done by foot, it was only between 5 and 10 minutes from the car. The fact that the main area is only accessible by foot is the best and perhaps the worst part of it. When I say worst, I mean that very loosely as it just adds to the fun, but as when we go camping we tend to go over the top with what we take, meant that we had to do several trips to the car and then the same again when we packed the car. Being inaccessible by car is the best bit as it means that you feel safe as there aren’t any 4×4’s tearing around the place and kids can run around, play and feel safe. To reach the island you need to cross a couple of fords (and I don’t mean the cars!), at low tide, this is no major problem, however at high tide it means getting your shoes wet! We visited the island December 22nd, arriving at around 13:30 and the tide was low, when we tried crossing it the next day at 07:00 hrs it was knee deep (but the water was very pleasant). Trying to get the tents up was “fun” as it was pretty windy, fortunately, the wind died down so it wasn’t too bad. We then went out to explore this beautiful area. Basically, Purple Island is where the desert and mangroves (swamp) meet the sea. The area is green and full of wildlife, even for an ornothologically (I know there’s no such word) challenged person like me, I was amazed by the variety of (feathered) birds! we spent the evening chatting around the camp fire while the kids played happily, I would call that a win, win situation. When you live in a city like Doha, one of the nicest things one could wish for is to see the stars and lights at a distance, a chance to see some greenery and some wildlife, a place where you can get away from it all, somewhere you can feel complete peace and tranquility; this is certainly a great place which comes mighty close to all this!

Once the last bits of wood burnt out we headed to our tents, the sound of nothing was quite deafening but beautiful (this was interrupted by the occasional plane and a helicopter at 05:00 hrs). We all got up fairly early and re-lit the camp fire with some bits of wood I had found. It was sad to leave this place after such a short visit, but great to know it’s on our doorstep and accessible whenever we want to go back!

Kati said that her favourite part of the trip was telling made up stories in the tent in the morning watching the sunrise.

Purple Island Camping Trip

Happy Holidays

Our travel plans have been a bit disrupted as we couldn’t sort out visas in time, originally, the plan was to go to Australia for the holidays, then this became Oman and eventually we decided to stay home altogether instead!

No major drama, the season is about family and about having a good time together, be-it as part of a large family gathering or small!

Thank you for your interest in our adventures, I look forward to writing a lot more in the coming year as we continue to discover this lovely country and do a quite bit of overseas traveling.

2015 Travel Plans

We will be kicking off 2015 in mid air, our next trip is on 31.12 which will see Kati and I traveling to Australia. We leave Doha at 04:00 hrs on the 31st and arrive in Brisbane at 09:00 hrs on January 1st. I am really looking forward to seeing family who I haven’t seen in many, many years since leaving Argentina in 1991. It will be a big family gathering to celebrate Grandma’s 90th birthday! We arrive back in Doha January 16th and then hopefully traveling to Sri Lanka as a family January 29th (another change to our travel schedule). I am traveling to Bulgaria in June for a few days before returning to Doha and traveling back home to Oswestry in June as a family for five weeks. Back to Qatar for a few days before travelling to…… for a couple of weeks before the start of the new school year at the end of August.

My final thoughts as the year draws to an end

It’s been a sad and bad week for the world, too many innocent lives lost by “people” committing inexplicable vile acts of violence which repulse me to the core. However, one mustn’t lose sight that we live in a beautiful world where a small percentage of the 7 billion people who inhabit this planet commit inexcusable acts. The world is a beautiful place where most humans are peace-loving people who just want to enjoy life, be happy and lead fulfilling lives. Never complain about getting older, this is a privileged denied to many.

Whatever you do during the holidays, may it be whatever makes you happy and feel fulfilled. May 2015 bring you all you ever desire and be a great year for you.

With Love from all of us;

Mike, Cathy and Katja in the Middle East!

 Highlights of 2014

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Camping in Qatar

Autumn/ winter time is peak season for those who enjoy the great outdoors and camping. Supermarkets are full of camping gear (at very reasonable prices).

We discussed the idea of going camping with a few people on Thanksgiving and then had a couple more people join in. Including someone who had been camping in Qatar before. We agreed to go Thursday 11th December, the person who had been camping before was to be the leader as he knew where we were going. A couple of days before hand Cathy had a chat with people and we all sorted out what we were bringing as well as a meeting point etc etc. We met at the small mall near us at the agreed time but due to a few delays we didn’t get to leave until 16:15, this meant that wherever we were heading to, it would be dark by the time we got there but that wasn’t a big problem.

We made our way out of Doha towards Dukhan, as soon as we had cleared the roadworks we were on this fabulous 5 lane motorway pretty much all to ourselves! Light soon started fading away. We arrived in Zekreet at around 17:15 hrs (pitch black). We quickly set out to pitch our tents and get everything ready. In total we went as a convoy of 4 4×4’s, I will come to some useful tips in a bit. There were 3 tents, 2 x people sleeping in one car and one person sleeping under the stars. As we were pitching our tents (including mattresses, pillows and duvets) the person sleeping under the stars set up the camp fire. In no time we were all set and ready to enjoy our beautiful surroundings. We had stopped on the edge of a desert track near a permanent camp-site on the beach (some safety tips on this later).

In no time we were cooking a wide variety of food we had brought with us, we had the camp fire, BBQ, disposable BBQ and a gas stove all on the go. After a hearty dinner we sat around the camp fire chatting and playing games until late in the night. Whilst doing this we could see the most amazing moon coming up, starting as a red(ish) colour and then turning bright white, it was simply awesome.

As the fire died down you could feel a chill in the air plus it was quite windy too; we went off to our tent (Katja fell asleep a bit earlier) to try and get some sleep. The way we had arranged it worked out quite well. We were using a cheap tent we bought from Carrefour which is single skin. This led to our first minor inconvenience. Due to the high humidity, everything inside the tent felt damp! The wind really picked up and the tent was flapping all over the place which kept us awake most of the night! The girls in one of the other tents ended up “sleeping” in their car.

We got up at around 5am (note I didn’t say woke up), the wind was still blowing but not as badly as before. We heated some water for coffee and tea as well as made some fried egg sandwiches. We were privileged to watch one of the most beautiful sunrises we have ever seen.

People were soon up and about, due to our laxk of sleep, we decided to head back home in the morning. Katja enjoyed playing on the beach with her bucket and spade and thoroughly enjoyed her first camping trip (she was the only one that slept). We absolutely loved the trip (even if it was a little short), so much so we are now planning the next one, hopefully with many more people!

Tips

I’m sure there are dozens of tips which people can add, however, these are my tips from our experience:

1) Travel as a group
2) If stopping near a track or a road, park your cars in a way that they protect your tents from driver’s who may not see you.
3) If camping near a track, set out your emergency triangles a short distance from where you are to warn drivers.
4) If you take children, make sure they have a luminous arm bracelet or similar, the area is pitch black and children can get lost easily.
5) Take plenty of rubbish bags and make sure you leave the place as you find it or even better than the way you find it. All these areas are simply stunning and people’s left-overs ruin it for everyone else!
6) Enjoy and experience this magical place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fat Man on a Fat Bike in Doha

Ever since I can remember I have loved cycling, I went through a spell in my life in which even though I still loved cycling, my bike seemed to be a mere ornament in our cluttered garage!

My Love for Cycling on my bike

My love of cycling and bikes has been quite varied. I have had racing bikes, mountain bikes and motorbikes (I loved my ZX9 Ninja). As I grow older or more “mature” (sort of), I have once again rediscovered my deep love of cycling, and I mean human propelled as opposed to a nice big engine. As a child, I used to cycle miles and miles, at one point I even had my bike confiscated by my parents as I had been seen riding like a lunatic (this was very true too). I restarted my cycling in Bulgaria. I used to love going for nice rides around all the various parks. Starting in Lozenets, across South Park, along Vitosha Boulevard, past the city centre, the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexander Nevski Cathedral and down to Doctors Gardens, that was the easy bit. The harder bit was cycling up to Eagle’s Brigdge and across Borisova Gradina, eventually ending up by the TV tower and then back home. In Spain, things were a bit different. My beloved mountain bike of course came along with us. Riding out from Monda along the road to Guaro, then back (except for the time I had a blow out on the way home without a spare inner tube and had to walk back several KM). Geographically, Spain was very different to the nice parks and avenues I used to enjoy in Bulgaria.
Cycling in Doha 

Katja Busy Cleaning Her Bike

Katja Busy Cleaning Her Bike

Ever since the weather has cooled down to humanly bearable temperatures, I am cycling more and more.Around where we are there aren’t any green parks and tree-lined avenues but that’s what I have a big fat bike for! Driving here at the best of times is; shall we say; not what we may be used to in other parts of the world, if you own a big SUV then you stand a chance, if you drive a small car then you have to pander to bigger road users. Of course, cycles do come very, very, very low in the packing order, I think skateboards are perhaps below cyclists! Hence why I tend to stick to either riding around the compound or going out on Friday’s when people are off work. There are a number of parks and places where we could go, but I haven’t bought a bike rack (yet) so I am restricted to areas around here. I must admit, I LOVE my bike rides around here. especially the ones as the sun goes down. There’s something magical about sunsets in this place It is truly spectacular. The rough terrain is no issue for the bike and its big fat tyres, the big fat bloke pedaling, that’s a different story!
I sincerely hope that my love for cycling rubs off on little Katja, Cathy is sort of take it or leave it (even though in England we used to love cycling along the tow-paths along the Shropshire Union Canal, which we did on a regular basis). I am really looking forward to going along on one of Doha Joy Rides runs, there’s one planned for later on in the month, it will be nice to meet people who enjoy cycling too, it will be a good chance for little Katja to come and hopefully if our shipment arrives as planned (and the bike is still in one piece) Cathy will come along too!