Monthly Archives: August 2015

2500 km under the blazing sun

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”.

Jawaharlal Nehru

We live in such a wonderful world, I just wish I could live 1000 years to see all the beautiful places this planet has to offer. It is such a shame we are on a self destruct mission and we are killing our only source of life. Traveling and discovering has taught me one thing and that is that once we have finished destroying our planet, we won’t have anywhere else to live! A bit like setting fire to your own house and making yourself homeless! I cannot think of a more stupid race than human beings! Anyway, rant over!. Let’s get on with it

Preparation for the trip – Visas – Route & Hotels Saudi Visa

The trip would take us through several countries, fortunately and thank goodness for our EU passports, this wasn’t to be too much of an issue, other than the visa for Saudi Arabia (but that wasn’t much of an issue either). To enter UAE (United Arab Emirates) we found out we could do our visa at the border and the same thing to enter Oman. For Saudi Arabia we used a local company who charged us 150 QR each (approx 36 Euro each). 3 days later we had our visas. The catch with Saudi “transit” visas is that they are only valid for 72 hours. As the drive through Saudi is relatively short this isn’t much of an issue.

Route planning has never been our forte and we tend to leave it for the last minute and rely too much on Waze (phone application which acts as a GPS), however, on this occasion we invested on a map too! We used booking.com to book a hotel in Abu Dhabi (our first stop), followed by one night in Dubai and four nights in Muscat. For the return trip we booked one night in Abu Dhabi and then straight to Qatar.

Money money

We have been very spoilt living in the Eurozone (apart from Bulgaria and the ocassional trip back home to the UK), most of the time, currency was not an issue. However, for this trip, we would have to change Saudi Riyal, UAE Dirham and Omani Riyal! Currently, UAE Dirham and Saudi Riyal is pretty much like for like in value with Qatari Riyal, however, Omani Riyal is 10:1 QR approximately.

Ready to Roll!

Hotels, money, visas and car ready it was time for one last check, make some sandwiches and make sure we had plenty of water with us. Daytime temperatures in the Middle East hover around the 45 to 50, the last thing you want is to have any problems and get stuck in the heat without any water! The plan of action was to leave at 2am, this would mean we would reach the Saudi border nice and early and also it is great to watch the sunrise as you drive through the desert!

Next Part: Doha to Abu Dhabi

 

 

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2500 km under the blazing sun – Doha to Abu Dhabi

Doha to Abu Dhabi (via the middle of nowhere!)

Anytime I feel lost, I pull out a map and stare. I stare until I have reminded myself that life is a giant adventure, so much to do, to see.

Angelina Jolie

Time to Hit the Road 11866443_10207036627372365_8884854624366359547_n

The alarm was set for 1am but by 11:30 I was wide awake and no chance of going back to sleep. Katja was snoring away in her bed and Cathy was fast asleep too. I did a couple of mental checks to make sure we had everything and waited for the alarm to go off. We set off at bang on 2am which is pretty good going. The air was hot and humid as it usually is this time of the year. We were about 10 minutes into our drive when I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to bring the bottles of water which had been left in the fridge overnight. We couldn’t really head on a trip like this without water in the car and having heard that facilities along the road are few and far between, we decided to head back home and pick up the bottles!
Now we had water in the car, we were now heading off into the night. Traffic began to thin out as we were heading away from the city. We had Waze (GPS application on the phone) running as well as a Middle East map at hand. As there’s one way in and one way out of Qatar (as far as I know), we felt that we could rely on Waze (what could possibly go wrong?!). We were driving along the motorway merrily when Waze decided it was time to leave the main road, I sort of unintentionally on purpose missed the junction to give us a chance to check the map too but (foolishly) did a U turn at the next available junction and listened to Waze. We came off the motorway and headed off into the pitch black desert along a suspiciously unused tarmac road. We drove some 20 + km and came across one, maybe two cars. My biggest concern was a camel deciding to “hop” in front of us! Fortunately, this didn’t happen. Eventually after about 1/2 an hour of driving along this pitch black road we came to a section of the road with block forcing us to zig zag and eventually a sign “Switch Lights Off”. Ahead of us were some barriers and what I can only describe as a rudimentary hut on our right hand side. I stopped and wondered if perhaps we may be somewhere we shouldn’t be. A bemused guard surfaced from the hut soon after. Even in pretty much pitch black I could tell this guy was wondering what the hell was going on. He approached my side of the car and at this point we both realised neither of us spoke each other’s language. I tried to explain that I was looking for the Saudi Arabia border. He disappeared briefly and brought out his mate who spoke some English. After taking all my details (from my ID card), writing down my number plate etc etc, he proceeded to tell me that this border post had been shut for traffic for more than 20 years! I apologised profusely while trying to explain that this stupid GPS had brought us this way. I don’t think he cared too much, it was now 3:30 am and he just wanted to see the back of this stupid foreigner who once again relied on technology instead of common sense. We drove back and eventually got onto the right road!

Leaving Qatar 11924266_10207106133229968_607020767675404165_n

We cleared the Qatari border crossing and customs, a few kilometres after driving through no-man’s land, we arrived at the Saudi Arabian border. Cathy had her abaya and head scarf on for this section of the trip. I popped into the male office and had my fingerprints done as well as an iris scan, Cathy and Katja’s passports were checked and soon after I was back in the car. It was now Cathy and Katja’s turn to go to the ladies section and do fingerprints and iris scan. If you are unaware of this, in Saudi Arabia there is full male/ female segregation so you have one office for women and one for men. A few minutes later, the girls were back in the car and we were ready to go through immigration and customs. This was relatively simple and straight forward. The final booth stop was to pay for car insurance for 2 weeks. About 30 minutes after we had arrived at the Saudi border we were back on the road, we were now driving in Saudi!
The section of road between Saudi and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) border isn’t particularly thrilling. Most of it is dual carriageway without a central reservation, this means that every so often you will have cars doing U turns and on a couple of occasions, simply driving the wrong way! What’s interesting to see is that the desert changes as you are driving along, there are a few more sand dunes and wild camels, as a desert goes, it is a bit (but not much) more picturesque.
What really called my attention is that there are hardly any signs of civilisation as you drive along, one big(ish) conglomerate and that’s about it. Oh yes, there’s a McDonald’s and petrol station just before the UAE border!

United Arab Emirates Border

We cleared Saudi Arabia customs and were now about to enter the UAE. We had to park up and walk into immigration office. This is a large and nicely decorated building with lots of counter space and not a soul in sight, other than one person sitting behind the counter, looking a bit bored and then bemused by seeing these two westerners with a kid speaking English. She looked at us and in a friendly manner and voice asked if we were British. Her colleague soon joined her and gave us the forms to fill in. He sorted our applications our pretty quickly and we were soon back in the car. We then had to go through clearance. I was asked to get out of the car and to show them what I had in the boot (lots of presents for Katja’s birthday!). A very friendly guard asked me what was in the bags etc so I whispered into his ear so Katja wouldn’t hear. He found this quite amusing and soon sent us on our way! The final part of our entry into UAE was to pay for car insurance which we did for 10 days. The section of road between the Saudi border and Abu Dhabi isn’t too exciting either. It is also lacking in services too. I think we counted two or three in a near on 400 km stretch! One sign even said “Last Petrol Station for 200 km!).

Eight hours after leaving home we arrived in our hotel in Abu Dhabi, tired but excited and ready to explore.

Next Part: Exploring Abu Dhabi

2500 km under the blazing sun – Abu Dhabi

“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.”

William Feather

Exploring Abu Dhabi

One of the first things that hit us as soon as we arrived in our hotel in Abu Dhabi was how friendly people were. Workers smiled and people seemed genuinely please to see you and to be of help.
The Hotel upgraded our room so we had a bigger room. Even though we had booked for 2 adults plus a kid, there was no bed for Katja but she was more than happy to sleep on the sofa which doubled up nicely as a bed for her. We popped to the top floor and checked out the rooftop pool which was just perfect…but not till later as we had some exploring to do first.
We took advantage of the hotel running a free shuttle to Marina Mall. This was about 20 minutes from the hotel which gave us a chance to look around the city at the same time. What caught our eye was the sense of space and the greenery as well as the higher number of saloon cars as opposed to 4x4s! We arrived at Marina Mall and had a wander. It is a large and very smart mall, less than half an hour after arriving we were out the front door jumping into a taxi. Our driver was a lovely Ugandan driver. We chatted all the way to the indoor Souq. This is a lovely souq with the advantages of modern technology (air conditioning) and all the traditional features to be found in a traditional souq. We wandered around and bought some souveniers before jumping into the next taxi to take us to what was the highlight of our visit….Sheikh Zayed Mosque (grand Mosque). This has to be one of the most beautiful buildings I have been in, the features are amazing, this is well worth a visit if you are ever in Abu Dhabi. There’s a real sense of serenity and tranquility throughout the building, simply breath taking.
After this awesome experience we headed back to the hotel. Our taxi driver must have thought he must have been a formula one driver in a previous life, hitting speeds of up to 120kph. Strangely enough, we arrived in our hotel rather quickly!
We went to our room, got changed and popped to the top floor for a lovely swim. This was followed by a lovely dinner accompanied by a rather large Gin and Tonic. The perfect way to end the day.
 Next Part: Exploring Dubai

 

2500 km under the blazing sun – Dubai

“It’s like Forrest Gump said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates.’ Your career is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. But everything you get is going to teach you something along the way and make you the person you are today. That’s the exciting part – it’s an adventure in itself.”

Nick Carter

Day two of our trip was to head off to Dubai. We woke up relatively early, had breakfast, packed the car and set off on our way. It’s only around 130km or so. This meant we arrived in our next hotel with plenty of time to explore Dubai. Our hotel was conveniently situated within a 5 minute walk from the metro which made things very easy for us. Katja’s teacher from Pre K moved back to Dubai so we had already arranged to meet up with her during our brief visit. We arrived in our hotel, dumped our bags and checked out the pool which once again was a roof top pool. We upgraded to a suite but poor Kati didn’t have a bed to sleep in. We requested a bed or a mattress be sent up to our room. Instead of this they brought a crib. I “politely” explained that she is nearly 5 years old and that a crib is for babies. They very matter of fact picked Kati up and put her in the crib trying to convince me that she would fit, I once again “politely” told them to get lost and that she would sleep on the sofa. It was quite adequate, or should I say, more adequate than a crib!

Downtown Dubai is a conglomerate of high rise buildings, each one trying to outdo the other, that’s until you reach the Burj Khalifa which makes all other buildings look like little lego land blocks!

We bought an all day unlimited ticket for the metro, as Katja was still under 5 at the time, she was free! The idea was to pop to Mall of Dubai which had been highly recommended as it also has a huge aquarium which Katja would thoroughly enjoy. We hoped in the metro and watched the city go by. It is a pretty amazing place, it has a buzz. We got off the metro and walked along to the Mall. This is a fully air conditioned walkway, it takes about 15 minutes to get to it! This places is ginormous, you can probably fit several villages inside this place, there’s everything and anything you can ever imagine, it is mindblowingly massive. We had some lunch then headed off to the aquarium. We decided to meet Katja’s ex teacher in the mall as it would give us more time in the aquarium. The aquarium is unbelievable, well, for something that’s inside a shopping mall, that is! It has a glass bottom boat, a submarine simulator and loads of varieties of fishes, sharks, penguins etc, etc etc.

After the aquarium we met up with Katja’s old teacher and headed to the cheesecake factory where we had……well, you probably guessed, some amazing cheesecakes! After this we had a walkabout and watched some ice hockey and then came across the Power Rangers show (nothing spells 1990’s more than Power Rangers!). Katja wanted to watch this, so we all watched it! After that we headed outdoors and walked to the souq across the road which is in similar fashion to Abu Dhabi, i.e indoor traditional style. We then popped back outside in time to watch the dancing fountain which was truly magnificent! Basically you have water jets pumping to the rhythm of music, it is absolutely amazing and well worth a visit. All this in front of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world).

We headed back tot he hotel, had a swim which was followed by a fab meal accompanied by several Gin & Tonics and then off to bed.

 

Next Part: Driving Dubai to Muscat

 

 

 

2500 km under the blazing sun – Dubai to Muscat

Adventure without risk is Disneyland.

Douglas Coupland

I can’t say we had a restful night, the bar downstairs had loud music blaring till 3am, or I think that was the time I fell sleep! We got up relatively early, attempted to have breakfast but there was nothing which came even close to tempting to eat at that time of the day.We had a long drive ahead of us but at least being Friday, it meant that the roads would be relatively quiet….which they were (remember, weekends in the Middle East are Friday and Saturday). We found our way out of Dubai and soon hit the open road. As we traveled further and further, the desert kept changing and soon became what most people imagine a desert to look like; i.e reddish sand and rolling sand dunes! Just before the border I stopped at a petrol station and paid for our Omani car insurance. This was a very humble little office, the poor guy behind the desk was enjoying a nice peaceful snooze….until I arrived. He was quite surprised to see a Brit driving a Qatari plated car driving into Oman. Not unheard of but not a regular occurrence either.

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Near Oman border

We left the United Arab Emirates and a few kilometres later arrived at the Omani border. This was to be a similar drill to entering UAE. We parked up and entered the building for immigration. This was a bit busier than the other borders but after paying our fee to enter the country we were once again driving through the various booths, handing in bits of paper and hearing that reassuring sound of a stamp on a passport! A smiley Omani welcomed us to their country and we were off!

Once again, the desert changed from undulating rolling dunes to mountainous terrain, and when I say mountainous, I mean mountainous! Not the sort of mountains you may be used to but bare rock mountains resembling a scene you would expect to find in Mars!

The roads in Oman are great and at 120 kph with little traffic it was a pleasure to drive. As we neared the sea the mountains faded into the distance and for some 300 + km we drove on a dual carriageway with roundabouts at regular intervals. What was very different to the other countries we had driven in is that rather than driving through baron emptiness, we were constantly driving along houses and shops, for the entire trip. As we got closer to Muscat the vegetation was amazing. Even though it was 45 degrees, there was greenery, grass and trees, quite remarkable!

We arrived at our hotel (part of the same chain as the one we stayed in Dubai). We went to our room and once again, there was no bed for Katja. I popped down to reception and made my feelings known! Soon we had a mattress for Kati! Now it was time to chill out and enjoy our break, knowing that there was no driving to be done for four days.

Next Part: Awesome Muscat

2500 km under the blazing sun – Awesome Muscat

“Every country I visit, I feel I leave a bit of my heart but leave as a fuller person. “

Mike de Coster-Milman

Our first night in Muscat was relatively quiet, as we were there for a few days, there was no point in rushing all over the place. We settled for a nice swim in the non rooftop pool and then popped to the restaurant for tea. This was (of course) accompanied by several Gin & Tonics which of course helped me to sleep very well. 11935093_10153632363829797_7627835174288278222_n

We had several things planned for our stay. The first one was to visit the Grand Mosque (Sultan Qaboos Mosque). We hopped into a taxi outside the hotel. Our driver, a local Omani who I would say was in his mid 40’s. A lovely, humble, softly spoken gentleman who had been driving taxis for 25 years. A father of 4 kids and proud to have many English friends. So much so that he even told me all their names!. Chatting on our way to the Mosque he mentioned that we could do a 3 hour tour of Muscat with him, we thought this was a great idea and a good way to get to see the area. The Mosque is out of this world, it was an honour to be there, Sayed (our driver) came with us and explained some of the features and a little bit of what happens in a Mosque. We then went to a room where we joined other visitors and had a frank and open question and answer session with the most delightful lady we could have hoped to meet. It was a totally down to earth honest and open chat. This lady was very witty and funny and represented her religion in one of the most humble and sincere way I have ever come across. We were both quite taken aback by this openness. We were served typical Omani coffee, dates, water and biscuits. We left this place in awe of such nice and welcoming people.

After this awesome experience we headed out of town and into old Muscat. At every turn we were just amazed by the scenery, the cleanliness and the incredible surroundings.

We returned to the hotel having had a fabulous day out. We had a swim and then ventured out in another taxi to Souq Muttrah. This is a proper traditional souq. You can spend days and days lost in the labyrinth of little shops and stalls, beyond any shadow of doubt, the best souq we have ever been to. We had some tea in one of the local eateries, I’m not entirely sure what we had but it didn’t kill us so it can’t have been all that bad!

August 23rd – Katja’s Birthday!

One of the reasons why we came was to celebrate Katja’s birthday. We wanted to do something special for her on her day so we had (before we left Doha) booked a dolphin watching and snorkelling trip. The beauty about the Middle East is that you can plan anything as far ahead as you want and you know you will have dry weather! Sayed picked us up at 9 and we were off to Marina Bandar Al Rowdha near old Muscat. We left at about 10am. It was hot and sticky but at least the sea was relatively calm! We searched for dolphins and about 1.5 hours later we found a school of dolphins. These majestic creatures put on a magical show and an enormous smile on Katja’s face! After this, we headed off snorkelling. We anchored about 100 yards from the beach, put some flippers on along with masks and jumped into the warm sea. The clear waters enabled us to see loads of fishes and wildlife swimming below us, a truly spectacular way to end the tour. Annoyingly and stupidly, I left my main camera at home, all our photos were taken using our iPhones which are rubbish for photos, to top it all off, we ran out of memory!!

We headed back to our hotel and then let Kati decide where to go for lunch. She asked to go to MacDonald’s. Fortunately there was one a few kilometres from the hotel, so we did as birthday girl asked. When we were ordering, Kati mentioned it was her birthday. Well, straight away she was given a balloon and bag packed with toys, this, of course, made her extremely happy!!

We headed back to the hotel once more, had a swim in the pool then had some tea. We mentioned that it was Katja’s birthday, without any hesitation, the manager asked us how you spell her name and to wait for a “surprise”

Karma!

After tea we headed off to an amusement park down the road. At the entrance you purchase a card and add credit to it, every ride you go on, they deduct money from the card. Not knowing how much each ride was, I added plenty of credit to make sure we had a fun evening. After going on most of the rides we had had enough and it was now time to go back, it was still very hot and we had had a wonderful day. As we still had (a lot) of credit on the card and we were’t coming back, we decided to give it anyone we found near us. There was a young couple with a kid running around. We thought we would give it to them. We approached them and told them we were leaving and we would like to give them our card which still had some credit. They offered us money which we refused. They were very grateful and got chatting. It turned out that the husband was the operations manager of the hotel where we were staying! He asked for our room number and left it at that. We said our goodbyes and headed off to our hotel, it was now getting quite late (late for us anyway).

At around 22:45 hrs, just before going to bed, there was a knock on the door, much to my surprise, there was a waiter with a freshly baked birthday cake for Katja, courtesy of the operations manager!

happy birthday!

Last Day in Muscat

Our final day in Muscat we took it relatively easy. After all the excitement the day before we had a relatively quiet day. We popped to Mall of Oman to buy some provisions for our trip the next day and decided it would be well worth investing in a proper GPS to make sure we got back without too many issues, especially as we were going back a slight different way. In the evening, we popped out to souq Muttrah to make sure we brought back some souvenirs! after that, it was an early night after tea!

omani mike

Next Part: Muscat to Abu Dhabi

 

2500 km under the blazing sun – Muscat to Abu Dhabi

It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.

Ernie Harwell
Our Middle East adventure had now come to an end, it was time to say goodbye to newly made friends and to a city which has kept a bit of our hearts. None of us wanted to say goodbye, but it was time to head back home. The trip back was split into two parts. Muscat to Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi to Doha.
We set off relatively early as to make sure we had plenty of time on our hands. The drive from Muscat to Abu Dhabi is about 600 km plus border crossing. Confident our new toy (GPS we had bought the day before) will keep us on the straight and narrow we set off. The route we took was different to the way we came as we were heading to Abu Dhabi as opposed to Dubai. We also set Waze (phone application GPS) just as a back up (as well as our trusty map). About 200 km into the drive we hit the first “glitch”, dreaded roadworks and no detours. A roundabout we had to go off at had been replaced by a flyover, meaning the road layout had changed! The GPS wasn’t impressed and refused to recalculate and Waze did what Waze does, it went into a blind panic and self-destructed. We eventually found our way back onto the right road but it cost us about 1/2 an hour messing about. The GPS was happy, I was happy, Cathy was happy….and Katja was totally oblivious at all this as she was busy watching TV in the back. The next stretch of road was fine, no issues, well, not until we reached the Oman/ UAE border. The GPS took as (quite rightly so) to the border with UAE, however, it failed to take into account that this border is for GCC nationals only. GCC stands for Gulf Cooperation Council and is made up of the following countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. We have residency in a GCC country but we are not GCC citizens, this meant that we were turned away at the border and told to go to the “other” border control which is about 5 km down the road. In this area not many people speak English so stopping and asking for direction was a waste of time and the GPS was as useful as a chocolate tea pot. We found a petrol station and Cathy asked for directions. It wasn’t too hard to find. If you are reading this intending on doing this trip, you need to look out for HILI Crossing! Eventually, we found our way to the border. Cathy popped in and sorted out the relevant paperwork, soon after this, we were back in the United Arab Emirates and en-route to Abu Dhabi.

Welcome to Faulty Towers Hotel

This was the last hotel we had booked. If you haven’t watched Faulty Towers, please take a look at the clip below before continuing reading!
We arrived at the hotel which can only be described as a full blown building site. (on booking.com when we booked it said the reception area was undergoing some building work). There were building materials all down the side and it looked like a complete building site! I stayed in the car and Cathy went to check in as well as to ask exactly where were we to park! She emerged (several) minutes later looking quite unimpressed, along with her was a member of staff from the hotel. He told us to give some guy 15 Dirham ( 3.63 Euros) and this will cover parking till tomorrow. After the chap from the hotel had left we unloaded the car, gave this builder the money and thought nothing else of it. The hotel chap came back out to help us with our luggage and to make sure we had put the ticket in the car. What ticket? We told him the builder hadn’t given us a ticket. At this point we realised that the hotel guy was pointing at a parking meter, not the builder and he had told us to put money in the meter! Of course, the builder didn’t understand what was happening, he was quite happy with this free gift. In fairness, they get paid so little, I didn’t and wouldn’t have the heart to ask for it back. Anyway, we paid at the meter, put our ticket in the car and then the fun started!
We paid for our stay but reception didn’t have change, they told us to come and get our change sometime later. Bear in mind we are doing all this in a building site.
We headed off to our bedroom only to once again find there was no bed for Katja. We rang reception who proceeded to send someone with a travel cot. I was losing my sense of humour very quickly at this point and using Katja’s favourite doll explained a carry cot is for a baby. Doll = Baby, Katja = small child. Go away you little annoying man and come back with at least a mattress! This was a bit too much to ask, he turned up with a duvet which he proceeded to put on the floor saying ” yes sir, this is very comfortable” would baby also like a pillow and blanket. At this point I strongly suggested he left the room! We had been on the road for around 8 hours and were quite hungry, let’s have some food. A nice photo of a restaurant on the 15th floor of the hotel looked very tempting so we headed off to the 15th floor. When the lift doors opened, this too was a building site, no sign of any restaurant like the photos on the lift, just a load of Indian workers looking at us wondering what the hell we were doing there! we thought we may as well go to the pub on the first floor. This too wasn’t to be as they don’t allow anyone under 21. Unfortunately Katja won’t pass for a 21 year old. We were then told the restaurant had moved to the 14th floor. Great……Well, not really, this was a makeshift “restaurant”. In fact it consisted of a couple of tables in a bedroom! Not quite what ew had in mind. Having had enough, we headed off to reception and demanded to speak with the manager. The receptionst looked quite used to doing this and took us straight to the manager. I explained our “issues” and he was incredibly apologetic, so much so he went into full Basil Faulty mode. He moved us to a suite and went round the corner and started screaming at people. It was like the scene from Faulty Towers above. I am sure he was shouting at nobody! We moved to the “suite” which wasn’t a great deal better than before but at least had a sofa bed so Kati was OK. Soon after we had a knock on the door with someone delivering a bed. we said she’s fine on the sofa bed. A little later we had another knock on the door with a mattress, we once again explained she was fine on the sofa bed. We then had a call from reception asking if we still wanted a bed for Kati! We ended up ordering room service and hid in our bedroom. In fairness, food wasn’t bad and we survived it. We slept extremely badly as the bed, pillows and everything else was just awful. We got up at 5am and by 6 am we had the car loaded. We popped into the “restaurant” and had breakfast. The kettle in the room didn’t work so we hadn’t even had a coffee. We didn’t dare to touch too much from the tables so we just had some toast and left!
For legal reasons I am not posting any photos of the hotel or mentioning name.
 Fina Part: Abu Dhabi to Doha

 

2500 km under the blazing sun – Abu Dhabi to Doha

Adventure is not outside man; it is within.

George Eliot

 

This was to be the last leg of our adventure around the Middle East. Having done this road only a week before, and being well aware that there’s a serious lack of petrol stations, we embarked on the last 600 km part of our drive with a very full tank and of course plenty of provisions. I was tired from the lack of sleep the night before but eager to tackle the final part of our trip. We headed out of Abu Dhabi and into the desert, a few road changes here and there but nothing too alarming, we managed OK between some common sense and GPS.

We arrived at the border between the Arab Emirates and Saudi, I got out of the car to do the paperwork. Just like on the way in, this was a lovely building with not many people, lots of counter space but only one person working. I attempted to make some small talk but this sort of fell on deaf ears. After checking my paperwork pretty thoroughly and asking all the places we had been she asked for my credit card to pay the departure fee! Anyone reading this planning this trip, the departure fee was 97 UAE Dirham for the 3 of us. Not entirely sure why we had to pay to leave UAE to enter Saudi but not when leaving UAE and entering Oman is a mystery. However, I wasn’t going to start asking! All was going well until I was given Cathy’s passport and mine back but they held onto Katja’s passport, I was told to sit down and wait. The lady behind the counter left her chair and went to a different office to check something with her boss. She then returned to he seat and carried on serving other people.I’m not sure how long I waited, but it sure as hell felt like a very long time. Eventually, someone came out with Katja’s passport. The lady behind the desk called me up, gave me Katja’s passport and we were free to go. I have no idea what all that was about!

Cathy had her abaya and head scarf back on ready to tackle the Saudi Arabian part of the trip. We crossed the border without too many issues and we were once again driving on Saudi territory. We reached the Saudi/ Qatar border after driving past a caravan of trucks which went on mile after mile. They were all queuing to go through customs and into Qatar I guess. The only green light led us to a bunch of spikes on the road and nobody to be seen. We waited several seconds before deciding to reverse and go through a different entrance (big mistake, don’t do this!). As soon as I had done this I upset an officer at the border. He followed me up to the next booth, got out of his car and quite sternly asked my why didn’t I stop! Feeling quite foolish at my mistake, rather than making excuses I apologised profusely for my minor indiscretion. I think I looked so pathetic he felt sorry for me. Crossing back into Qatar was straight forward and we were back home by lunchtime!

It has been a brilliant adventure, one not many people will ever have the chance to do. When you go on a road trip you see and experience so much more, I appreciate flying is the most sensible and convenient way of traveling, but we miss out so much.

Doing these sort of distances in a car with a 5 year old can be daunting, Katja was so well behaved, I wouldn’t hesitate to do something like this all over again at the drop of a hat. The secret was to keep her entertained using a mixture of her iPad to watch TV, a few toys and snacks on demand, She only mentioned  once, maybe twice if it was much longer, and that was at the Saudi/ Qatari border on the way back!

We covered a tad under 1,500 km in total, this included getting lost and detours plus wandering around!

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 13.45.28

 

365 days in the desert

“The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”

Marcel Proust

My father always said that to feel fully settled in a new country, you needed to go full circle and experience its four seasons. Whilst I totally agree on this, Qatar has been (thus far) a very different experience to any other country I/ we have lived in. We have felt settled pretty much since the day we arrived which believe it or not; it is a year to the day. In some ways it feels as if we’ve lived here for many years but at the same time, it feels like if it was only yesterday that we were boarding that Qatar Airways flight from Manchester airport and flying into the complete unknown. It is a big step to quite literally put your entire trust in people you have never met before in a country you know little about. Our experience has been that the team of people who ensured our transition to our new lives in the desert couldn’t have been better. Everything was arranged for us and they did a fabulous job in taking care of us as well as our accommodation. All the hard work was done for us, which is why it has felt like an easy transition.

In many respects it has been a tough year due to health reasons, health issues which are in no way attributed to the country but something I guess comes with age and a less than exemplary diet (in my case anyway!).
So, what have we learnt from our 365 days in the desert? 10644171_10204757717841051_802577830184139823_o

  1. One forgets how to open doors (most doors seem to be automatic), if it doesn’t open automatically, you are at a bit of a loss as to what to do!
  2. One forgets how to put fuel in the car! Having always done this myself, after a year here, I was a bit stumped by the petrol pump when we were back home in July!
  3. There are two settings for water from the tap, very hot or scalding.
  4. If you see a white Land Cruiser, get out of its way! Also applies to several other makes of pick ups and 4 x 4s
  5. It costs more to have 2 x mint teas with 2 x slices of chocolate cake than to fill up the tank in the car!

The desert is a magical place, sunsets and sunrises are dramatic and different every day. The peace and tranquility of camping in the desert is unrivalled by anything else I have ever experienced.
Qatar is a fascinating country in so many respects; we are very fortunate to have this opportunity to experience life in this country. One thing I can say is that it has the best winters I have ever experienced, I really cannot wait for our next winter here.
Here are a few of our highlights from the last 365 days in the desert! 

 

Mike on a Bike Along the Danube

“The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew, and live through it.” ~ Doug Bradbury

In cycling there’s freedom, freedom most human beings crave for. I cannot think of anything nicer than being at one with nature and watch the world go by bit by bit. Just myself and my thoughts, taking it all in, the scenery, the smells, the struggles and the joy of hitting my targets.

Ever since I can remember I have wanted to go on a long distance ride on a bike. I have done this on a motorbike across the UK and down to southern France. Having been inspired (not influenced) by a number of long distance cyclists, I feel it is time I lose a bit of weight, get on my bike and go for it. The Route of the Danube or Eurovelo 6 is a ride which takes you across some of the most beautiful parts of Europe and into lesser known countries. It is a relatively easy route which for a first long tour, I think would be just great.

The plan is to set off on May 12th 2016 and fly to Germany. There I will ride to Passau which is where the river Danube starts. When living in Bulgaria I spent a lot of time by the Danube and on several occasions came across cyclists following its banks. The route will take me from Germany into Austria and then onto Hungary and then into Serbia. From Belgrade I will head to Sofia (Bulgaria), this bit I will do by train. My aim is to be in Sofia by June 1st. From Sofia I will once again head North West and hook up onto the Danube and head east to the Black Sea.

Key Cities Screenshot 2015-08-03 13.21.55

Passau (Germany)
Linz (Austria)
Viena (Austria)
Bratislava (Slovakia)
Budapest (Hungary)
Novi Sad (Serbia)
Belgrade (Serbia)
Vidin (Bulgaria)
Lom (Bulgaria)
Ruse (Bulgaria)
Silistra (Bulgaria)

Back to UK

I am currently debating on how to do this. Yes, there’s the option of flying back from Romania or Bulgaria but the idea would be to time it so I can meet up with Cathy and Katja back in the UK so I may do the return trip as a mixture of trains and riding up to Paris and then catch the Eurotunnel, this final leg of the journey I haven’t planned too much yet.

Training and Equipment

Sheltering from the rain!

I am quite comfortable cycling approx 100 km a day, I can do this now without too many problems (providing I don’t have too many punctures!). However, this trip is a different story altogether as I will need to cycle day in day out. Unfortunately the weather here is too hot to even contemplate cycling so I shall have to content myself with the bike in the gym; we are very fortunate to have a full gym on site! I will start cycling an average of 75km 5 days one 1 day off, this is pretty much the pattern I am hoping to follow.

From Passau to Budapest, there are numerous campsites at regular intervals so that’s not too bad, once you enter Serbia, it seems to be that campsites become less and less so I shall have to do a mixture of cheap hostels and camping whenever I can. When we were in England I picked up a nice Giant (brand) bike along with some panniers. I still need to get some further kit but that can wait until early next year and then start doing some fully laden rides (tent, clothes, cooking equipment etc etc) just to replicate what every day riding will be like. As far as equipment is concerned, it probably works out to be an additional 15 kg on top of the weight of the bike. My program and target is to lose 10 kg (which I really need to) before setting off, this will help a bit towards the extra weight on the bike!