Monthly Archives: January 2015

Our First Winter in Qatar

“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get”.
Mark Twain

Winter!!! IMG_0923

As I sit behind my desk feeling quite smug about being able to wear shorts and T-shirt pretty much year round, I can’t help but feel a tiny bit sorry for our friends in Spain who are currently experiencing a rather chilly winter, this includes snow not a million miles from where we used to live.

It’s a little bit strange living in a country where winter doesn’t really exist, after all; so far the lowest temperature we have seen has been 12 degree and that was yesterday morning. In having said that, 12 degrees does feel quite chilly (but not cold enough not to wear shorts). One theory behind why when you live in hot climates you tend to feel the cold more is that in the heat,your blood thins and this leads to feeling the cold more (anyone care to correct me, please feel free to do so!).

Winter in Qatar is pretty much opposite to most other parts of the world. it’s a season in which we get to enjoy the great outdoors and do things you wouldn’t do in the summer due to the extreme heat.

Canoeing in the Mangroves 10615439_10205456283504756_6213885034611703528_n

Last Friday (the day after we arrived from Australia), a group of friends and us went canoeing in the mangroves near Al Khor. The water was cooler than in summer (of course) but you could hardly say it was cold. We set off from Al Khor marina and drove through the desert for approximately 30 minutes. we reached an area where there were several Qatari campsites as well as our location for launching the canoes. Cathy took Katja on one, the idea was she (Katja) goes out with one and comes back with the other. As is the case in most parts of the coast here, the sea was lovely and flat, ideal for canoeing. We headed towards the mangroves and canoed around the canals enjoying the wildlife which can be found within this relatively fragile eco-system. we reached a point in which we all stopped for a rest as well as a paddle in the shallow waters. After this, we headed back to our starting point and had a picnic on the beach. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable way to spend a winter’s day in Qatar!

Looking at the forecast for next week it looks like daytime temperatures are on the rise once more so no need for us to get our winter clothes out just yet, daytime temperatures by then end of next week are back up to high 20’s!

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Australia or Bust

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

– Mark Twain

This is my first post of 2015, as I have been otherwise engaged I haven’t had much chance to write until now. First and foremost, may I start this new post by wishing you and yours a very happy new year, and may 2015 bring all you desire and wish for.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, this trip was to be very different to all other trips I have undertaken. It seems that travelling separately is a bit of a family tradition as Cathy and I rarely fly together. Not because we are members of the Royal Family or because we are privy to some unique secret, it just simply happens that we travel separately but meet up in the same place. In the past decade or so, I can count on one hand the number of times we have flown together, and believe me, we have done a lot of travelling in the past ten years. It usually ends up with one of us going ahead of the other or me driving to places, no matter how far (no, I am not scared of flying!). The big difference on this trip was that I was to fly on my own with Katja, something I have never done before.

Run up

The run up and preparation for the trip felt like an endless and at times stressful task, visas, tickets, car hire, packing etc, etc, etc. We learnt from our mistake but if it helps anyone else great. When I applied for our visas we initially filled in a 600 form from the Australian Immigration website, we paid some money for the visa, I can’t quite remember the amount but it was fairly cheap…..however, a much quicker and simpler (not to mention FREE) option would have been to fill in a 615 form. This form is available for certain nationalities, it included me as a Brit and Katja with a Bulgarian passport. It is also far quicker too. I had several conversations with Immigration in Australia and it was a very helpful lady who happened to mention it. Other people I had spoken with had told me to get copies of loads of different documents and then to have them legalised and failed to mention this much simpler system. This resulted in me ending up with two visas! Anyway, the latest one cancelled the earlier one so no real harm done. Car hire wasn’t too stressful, however, beware as if you haven’t hires in Australia before, they do have some “quirky” excesses on their policies. I ended up paying over the odds for this as I paid a daily excess reduction which worked out at 29$ (Aus) per day, multiply by 14 and it gets quite expensive. This is only to reduce your excess, not to eliminate it! A cheaper way to do this is to take out travel insurance to include excess protection (I wish I had done this!). 10 days before the trip, we popped over to the relevant department (I can’t remember the name of it) to organise my exit visa from Qatar. we arrived at this place and it was packed, so we decided to head to the airport instead. This was the first time we had been to the airport since we arrived in August. We went to the immigration department where we submitted our paperwork and voila, a few minutes later I had my exit visa. It was at this point that I realised it was only valid for seven days. Three days before departure, we did the same run again!

The Trip IMG_0423

The purpose of the trip was to meet up with family to celebrate Grandmas 90th Birthday. It was also an opportunity for the family to meet up. There were members of the family whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 25 years.

D day arrived (New Year’s Eve) final checks done, it was time to hit the sack and try and get some sleep, the next time I would be in a bed would be in Australia in a couple of days time. Having done my final check as I walked to our bedroom, I stabbed my little toe on a dining room chair. I am not the first or last person to do this and I am sure you will agree with me when I say it hurt rather a lot, so much so that I hardly slept that night. 00:30, time to get up, time for a decaff cup of coffee, a pint of water, a shower (one last check to make sure I haven’t missed anything) and then time to wake Katja up. We had purposely put her to bed as early as possible to get her to have some sleep! She woke up all excited, I added to her excitement by giving her a new doll whom she was to look after during the trip. 01:30, Jamaal is outside and waiting for us. We made it to the airport in approx 30 minutes. When we arrived, the place was packed, people everywhere, queues which were hard to decipher what airline they were for as well as where they actually ended. Something I understood and realised very quickly is that when travelling with a cute four-year old, people become humans and incredibly helpful. Kati helped by pulling one of our hand luggage cases while I pulled our main suitcase. We checked in without any problem, nobody was interested in all the additional paperwork I had printed out (permission from the mother to travel etc, etc). We went through security fairly quickly and took the obligatory super-sized teddy bear photo. At this point I noticed my shorts felt quite big and to my horror realised I had forgotten my belt in one of the trays at security! We went back up and fortunately I was reunited with my belt, preventing any embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions!

FlightS IMG_0440

Our first flight was to Abu Dhabi. We waited in the departure lounge and soon boarded our flight. The flight was only 45 minutes but even though it was literally take off, reach cruising altitude and land, they did provide us with breakfast! We landed in Abu Dhabi some 20 minutes early which I really didn’t want as we then had a near on 4 hour wait. However, free Wifi and a children’s play area made the world of difference. Katja had great fun playing with some Pakistani kids as I chatted with their parents, not long after, it was time to board our next flight. This flight would take us to Brisbane with a short stop in Singapore. As we boarded the plane and found our seats I took my shoes off and noticed that my poor little toe which I had stabbed the night before had turned a weird shade of black and blue and was still incredibly painful. We were lucky to be towards the back of the plane where there are only two seats so we had plenty of space to make ourselves comfortable. As day turned to night we tried getting some sleep, but due to several passengers coughing and spluttering it was quite hard to do so. We just covered our heads with our blankets and hoped we didn’t catch the plague from our fellow passengers. As we were landing in Singapore after an rather uneventful flight, we were reminded that bringing drugs into Singapore wasn’t a good idea as this is usually punishable by death. We were then told that we all had to disembark and take all our belongings off the plane as it would be refueled and cleaned. We disembarked and followed instructions as to where to wait. As I checked my watch, it was New Year or thereabouts. After a rather short wait we were back boarding our plane, but not before going through further security checks etc etc. Once back on board we took off for the final leg of our journey. Kati slept most of the way, I sort of snoozed and chatted with a Serbian guy sitting near us. As night turned into day, it was time for breakfast and get ready for landing.

Welcome to Australia!

We landed in Brisbane bang on time, queues for immigration were as to be expected quite lengthy. I had my wallet with all my visas and paperwork ready for inspection, however, when it came to the crunch, they weren’t interested in any of it as it was all on the system. We went through immigration without any issues and were soon in arrivals looking for the car hire company. Again, they weren’t interested in any of my printouts and in no time I had the keys for our “sexy” red Nissan Micra! One last thing I had to do was to get an Australian SIM card. Again, this was done effortlessly at the terminal. I had an excellent deal in which for 30$ (for 2 weeks) I had unlimited calls and texts as well as 500mb daily of internet. This was ideal for using my GPS on the phone as well as uploading photos to social media!

Throughout the entire journey, I cannot emphasize enough just how good Kati IMG_0439had been, she was an absolute super star, well behaved, helpful and polite throughout the entire journey. She had taken it upon herself to be the custodian of our pull on hand luggage while I took care of our rucksack. She did a brilliant job the entire trip. I can honestly say, hand on heart, I was incredibly proud of her. This was a big relief for me as in these sort of circumstances it’s hard to predict how a four year old will behave.

We flew with Etihad and It was a real pleasure to fly with them. Their cabin crew were excellent, polite and helpful at all times, I would definitely recommend them and would fly with them again should the opportunity arise.

Anyway, we were now on Australian soil, time to relax, have fun, discover new places as well as spend quality time with the family!

Discovering the Sunshine Coast

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

Wow, a new country and a new place to explore! Having become accustomed to sand and dust, it took a little bit of time for my eyes to re-adjust to beautiful greenery all around. It wasn’t just my eyes that took a bit of time to adjust but also my ears and nose. The smells in the air and the sound of birds and nature were simply amazing. As well as all this, it was beautiful to see rain and to smell freshly cut grass. I love winters in Doha, please don’t get me wrong, however, one really does notice the lack of smells such as rain and freshness of unpolluted country air as well as (natural) sounds of wildlife such as birds. I instantly fell in love with the Australian countryside (In this part of it anyway).

Being close to Coolum Beach meant that we had access to some awesome beaches IMG_0453 as well as lovely playgrounds. Kati seemed to favour playgrounds over beaches which suited me fine as I am not a huge beach fan, I sat in the park and chatted with some of the locals while she played. we took several trips to Maroochydore as well as a drive up and down the coast. Our exploring fun suffered a bit of a glitch on the Wednesday as during the night, Kati crept into my bed (we were sharing a room) and I could feel she was burning up. I had noticed on Tuesday she was coughing and sneezing a bit, her normal pattern is to develop a high fever not long after. Fortunately I had medication with me to deal with all this. On Wednesday she seemed fine so we went out for a drive and popped into Emundi Market but left soon after as it was heaving and Kati wasn’t feeling great. We returned to base, she had tea and went to bed. It was a long night as her fever kept creeping up within a few hours of taking medication, night turned into day and the fever continued (all normal pattern for her, so I wasn’t desperately worried). I kept her in all day Thursday and by the evening her fever wasn’t quite as bad. By Friday morning it was gone.

During our brief stay, we visited as many places as possible as well as of course spending quality time with the family. here is a highlight of our favourite places:

Ginger Factory – Yandina

The Ginger Factory was pretty much literally on our doorstep, hence why this was a great starting point for our adventure.
For more information visit their website: http://www.gingerfactory.com.au/

Underwater world Sea Life – Mooloolaba

We took a run to Mooloolaba to Sea Life, Kati had already been to Blue Planet on the Wirral (UK) and enjoyed it. It was fabulous, kati (and I) had a terrific time there. There’s an amazing selection of fishes, Sea Horses, Sting Rays, etc, etc, etc.

Australia Zoo

I don’t think any trip to the Sunshine Coast can be complete without a visit to Australia Zoo. This place was amazing, even if it is a bit of a shrine to the late Steve Irwin. We had a chance to watch the crocodiles being fed as well as Kati feeding the Kangaroos.

We left Australia with a big smile on our faces, not only had we had a great time seeing family, we had also had a chance to discover a tiny little bit of this massive and fascinating country. Some of the memories I brought home from Australia are:

  • Excellent Customer Service
  • Friendly and Welcoming People
  • Amazing Wildlife
  • Most Wildlife would like to kill you
  • Outstanding Natural Beauty

To Conclude

My father went to Australia in the late 80’s, I can remember him being incredibly enthusiastic about the place as he fell in love with it. I went there with his words echoing in my mind. I loved the place (the little we saw anyway) and I can totally understand his love for Australia, after all, what is there not to love? At the same time, I must admit that it’s not a country I would necessarily choose to live in (not at the present moment anyway). As strange as it may sound, it felt unadventurous and too perfect, everything is there and done for you. I feel that where we are in life right now it would not be the sort of adventure we are after. I only went there as a visitor, however, one is always looking for the next move and really feel this is not the place for us as it lacks in the excitement we are looking for. I can’t wait to go back with Cathy one day.

 

Australia back to Qatar

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”
Lin Yutang

Time to Say Goodbye IMG_0828

After a magnificent 14 days in Australia, it was time to head back home. Believe it or not, during the two weeks there, I didn’t visit an Australian pub, the final farewell was a great opportunity to rectify this. We met up for a fantastic pub lunch in which I indulged in some lovely pork, well knowing that the next time would probably be several months away. After a hearty meal, it was time to say good bye. I am not great at saying good bye, hence what it may sometimes feel a little cold and possibly uncaring is just the way I deal with things. It was time to hit the road, and along with my traveling companion, we made our way to Brisbane where we had a hotel near the airport booked for the night.

Brisbane

Thanks to Google Maps (I’m afraid I ditched Waze) we found our hotel with great ease, it was basic but so was the price! Considering I enjoy an adventure and uncertainty, I don’t like leaving things to chance, so after dumping our luggage in the hotel, we took a quick trip to the airport as a trial run. It was a simple run of just over 3 miles taking under 10 minutes. I tried to find an Etihad office to see if we could sort out some window seats but to no avail. You can only check in online 24 hours before the flight. Cathy had kindly done so exactly 24 hours before the flight but she couldn’t get us any window seats.

We returned to the hotel and asked at reception where the restaurant was, only to be told there was none. However, the lady suggested a couple of different take-aways who would deliver to the hotel and once I had decided what to have she would ring the order through for us. We opted for an Italian. We showed the lady at reception what we wanted and cheekily asked if they would also bring me a couple of beers……..which they did! We had our take-aways delivered to our room within 45 minutes along with my beers, it was at this point I realised I didn’t have a bottle opener, however, the car keys did the trick and without causing any damage to bottle or keys, I had a nice cold beer. Knowing full well we had a long and tiring trip ahead, we had an early night.

Confused in Brisbane! IMG_0847

I didn’t sleep all that well and woke up relatively early. I was incredibly confused when both my phones notified me that they had updated the time. This left me wondering whether my phones or the clock in the room where displaying the correct time. Not wanting to risk it, we got up and headed to the airport (no kettle in the room so no coffee!). We arrived in the airport, returned our “sexy” red Nissan Micra (in the same condition but with considerably higher mileage then when we took it) and headed into the terminal. I have seen my fair share of airports in my time but must say that Brisbane International Airport isn’t one of the most passenger friendly airports. It was at this point that I realised how early we had arrived. Chatting with someone at a cafe it turned out that Optimus (mobile network) had suffered a glitch during the night, resulting in all phones on their network to change the time by one hour and people left right and centre had been left completely confused arriving at work an hour early. We now had 4 hours to kill. By the time we went through security etc, etc, time soon went and it was time to board our chariot for the long trip home.

The Long Trip Home

Doha, 12,304 KM

Doha, 12,304 KM

We were waiting at the gate which had been printed on our card but this changed so we made our way to the other gate. Boarding seemed to take longer than on the previous flights but there’s no point in pushing your way in as we will all get there at the same time! (I can never understand queue jumpers when boarding planes, seats are allocated and you are all in the same plane, why the rush?). We eventually boarded and took our seats. The lady at Etihad’s check in desk had done her very, very best to try and help us with window seats but to no avail. We were in the middle row, I had the corridor seat and Kati was next to me, next to her was an empty seat and then a very nice chap from Sudan who was heading home for a visit after living in Australia for 10 years. We took off a few minutes late but in the scheme of things, it didn’t really matter all that much. We landed in Singapore where we once again had to disembark while the plane was refueled and cleaned. it was a chance to catch up on things and use the free Wifi in Chengi Airport. Approximately an hour and a bit later it was time to board again. We had the same seats but different neighbours and Kati lost the free seat next to her to some stuck up woman. Before we even took off from Singapore, kati was fast asleep, I woke her up an hour before landing in Abu Dhabi! We disembarked in Abu Dhabi, this time we only had a little under 3 hours till our next flight. We made our way to our departure lounge hoping our flight would be on time. Fortunately, the lounge was pretty much next to the play area, so Kati entertained herself until it was time to board our final flight. Our final leg of the journey was also uneventful and only took 35 minutes. we landed in Doha at 02:55, (that’s 26 hours after leaving hour hotel room in Brisbane). We were greeted by an incredibly long queue for immigration. After a long and patient wait, we were through! Our suitcase was waiting for us at the carousel which is always a big bonus! We made our way out to be greeted by Jamaal who was waiting for us. We arrived home at 04:00 hrs, Cathy woke up and we had a catch up on things. Kati decided she was rested enough to go to school, which she did.

It was nice to be back home and to sleep in my own bed, however, I am looking forward to our next trip…………………