Category Archives: Foreign Travels

How we ended up traveling the world

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
Anonymous.

Have you ever had that feeling that there’s more to life than working 9-5 to buy a new car, a bigger house or to be able to afford a better holiday next year? That there’s more to “living” than yearning for those two weeks a year in which you can escape from it all?

Back in 2002, nearly 15 years ago, we came to that exact conclusion. No, we weren’t wealthy by any means, we had jobs we enjoyed and a good circle of friends but felt there’s far more to life than the life we had. We had both traveled before we met, I had spent most of my life in South America, Cathy had traveled in Europe and been to India during her gap year.

In the mid to late 90’s, my parents had settled in Spain, on the Costa del Sol, and had repeatedly mentioned about coming to see them. In the late 90’s we decided to give it a go. We hopped on an EasyJet flight from Liverpool to Malaga, hired a car and started exploring. We liked what we saw. Our visits became more and more frequent, from once every couple of months to virtually every weekend. We found block booking tickets gave us a much better price so we started block booking flights. On a couple of occasions we even jumped in the car and drove through France and down to the Costa del Sol, yes, we did this several times totally unplanned and for just a few days. The drive through France down to Malaga can be done in a little over 24 hours driving continuously.
During one of our trips we decided that enough was enough, we had to make a decision as to where to live. It was now getting quite tiring, flying out on a Friday night and coming back late Sunday evening.

First Attempt!

In mid 2000 (I think), we made the decision to move. That’s it, we are leaving. Great. Then we remembered we are not fabulously wealthy, we need jobs to go to. Yes, Spain was a lot cheaper than the UK in those days but we still needed to live! Cathy made contact with an international school near Cartama, Inland Costa del Sol. This was a new “international” school recruiting teachers and as it happened, they were interviewing in London. We drove to London, it was a cold, wet miserable day. The interview was in a London cafe,  all I can remember is going for a long walk in the rain and doing quite a lot of window shopping. When I went back to the coffee shop I met the person interviewing Cathy. A stereotypical Brit living in Spain, too much alcohol (probably), too many cigarettes (probably), skin so tanned it had turned into leather and generally showing severe signs of lack of moisturiser or sunscreen. Cathy was offered the job on the spot. Hmmm, not quite what we had planned. Strangely enough, we were prepared to move etc, but all of a sudden it all felt very real. We realised that upping sticks, selling up and becoming Nomads takes balls, balls the size of a mid-sized continent. We were 26 years old, had good jobs we enjoyed, owned our own house, had a couple of nice cars and not a bad lifestyle. We had started off with nothing and had worked hard to achieve what we had, would this be one of the most stupid and irresponsible decisions we had ever made? What if it didn’t work out? All these questions and doubts reared their ugly heads. We decided this was too much of a gamble, not enough security. Cathy (quite embarrassed) turned the job down. After this, our trips to Spain were drastically reduced…..temporarily……and not for long.

Sorry!

Late 2001 we decided that enough was enough, we either do it properly or we just get on with life. Cathy approached the same school again and very humbly enquired about jobs in the school. Explained our change in circumstances (more than circumstances it was a mind set). Amazingly enough, she was offered a job on the spot! And so, life as an expat began…..sort of. We handed in our notice at work. Sold our house…….in one day! This was soon followed by our cars and my beloved motorbike, our furniture and whatever wasn’t sold, we gave away. In the UK, we were now homeless. In Spain, my parents had sorted everything out for us. They had found us a nice rental finca (house in the countryside) with an almond field on the outskirts of Alhaurin el Grande, approximately 10 minutes from Mijas Pueblo, where they lived. They also found us a 4×4 which we bought without seeing. In May 2002 I headed off to Spain to pick up our new car (new to us anyway) and to see the finca we had rented. The house was modest with two bedrooms, a yard and the famous almond field, ideal for parking the cars. It was approximately 20 minutes from Cathy’s work. I drove the car back to the UK to pick up our belongings (or what we had left) as well as our most precious cargo, Sashah, our beautiful German Shepherd.

Sashah

Sashah

Cathy had to finish her contract while I headed back to Spain and set everything up.
Summer 2002 was amazing, it was all we had hoped it would be, but all good things come to an end. And it was time to settle into a normal routine. OK, the routine was get up, work, home, G&T’s on the terrace surrounded by olive trees and our almond trees, watch the sun go down. Go to bed, repeat next day. Except at weekend which meant doing the same but having a BBQ during the day, open house where friends would come and go or go to the beach. Not a bad lifestyle really. My background had been in mobile telecoms and mobile phones. So I had set myself up importing mobile phones and accessories and supplying local shops. My Spanish wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it was when I was younger, and Andalucian Spanish is as different to the clear and crisp Castilian I speak. A bit like English is to Russian! OK, perhaps not quite as bad as that, but it did cause me numerous problems. Including having to have my father come as translator…..several times! The school wasn’t quite as expected, this included Cathy and other new teachers having to actually carry and put together all the furniture for the classrooms. Having to put up with parts of the school being a building site with workers coming in and out of her classroom while trying to teach, some of them smoking at the time! My business idea wasn’t doing to good either, it was becoming increasingly frustrating and wasn’t making as much money as I had on my forecast. We then had to deal with Spanish bureaucracy, including having to buy and put in our own telephone post if we wanted a landline. As the days turned into weeks and into months. The weather started changing and getting colder. Living in a house that has no heating, no damp proofing and very little insulation; even in a mild autumn day feels cold and damp. During one of my ever increasing number of trips back to the UK, a friend of mine asked for my honest opinion on how things were going for us in Spain. He had been out to visit us there, as had many others. My answer wasn’t probably the one he was expecting. My answer was, it’s OK but truth be known, we are struggling. He mentioned in a casual way, “why don’t you come and work for me?”. Something which I sort of dismissed but in the back of my mind made a lot of sense. The novelty factor had worn out…..well and truly. By November we were pretty miserable and homesick. My father had always said, “it takes a year to settle in, once you go past that 12 month probation period, things get easier”. Towards the end of November we had made our minds up. We are going back to England, we are going back home! The sooner, the better. Cathy spoke with a contact of hers and was offered a temporary contract in a small rural school on the Welsh border. I spoke with my friend and accepted his job offer.We got very drunk celebrating our impending return to blighty! Soon after, I popped back to Oswestry, sorted out a house and bought Cathy a new car so we had everything ready for our return. We made sure Sashah had all her vaccinations up to date and her doggy passport was all up to date and on New Year’s day 2003 we embarked on the drive back “home”. We arrived in Calais several hours ahead of schedule and parked up waiting for our ferry. It was a cold, wet and windy day. We arrived in Dover late at night. We drove through miles of roadworks and cones in the drizzly rain and heavy traffic in restricted speed zones. Eventually we arrived in our new house. A lovely modern four bedroom detached house with a garden in Whittington, just outside Oswestry. It was nice buying all new things for our new (rented) house. Friends were keen to hear from us, many of them pointing out that they “knew” we would be back within 12 months. Some were happy to see us fail, some were just happy to see us and have us back. We didn’t see it as a failure, we saw it as “glad we tried it”. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and we decided to pop over to Spain for a visit. Spanish economy was booming. Cathy had had her contract extended, after a short period working for this friend of mine, I went back into mobile phones and to the old company I had left only a year or so earlier! In many ways, life was back to normal. We even put in an offer on a house which was accepted but as it was in a new development it was going to be a long completion. During one of our ever increasing number of trips back to Spain I could see more and more real estate agencies opening on the coast and lots of business being done. The purchase of our new house in Oswestry was going extremely slow, in fact several months after signing the agreement there was no sign of anything being built so we decided to pull out. The developer offered us an extremely good deal on a part exchange property on the Welsh border, so we just went for it. In the middle of all this, we were once again traveling to Spain for weekends very regularly. One Friday afternoon, I was at my desk in my office reading the Sur in English (costa del Sol newspaper) online. There was a job being advertised for a property consultant to work inland in a new office. Must be bilingual. OK, my Spanish wasn’t quite as good as it once was, but they didn’t need to know that. This was a real estate company run by Brits who themselves hardly spoke Spanish. I rang the number, spoke to a gentleman who was most interested in what I had to say. He invited me for an interview. We agreed to meet up in Villanueva de Algaidas, near Antequera, North of Malaga city the following weekend. I went home and approached the subject with Cathy. We talked late into the night and made a decision. We are going back to Spain, but this time there would be no going back, or should that be; coming back? The following Friday we headed off to Spain, picked up our hire car from our usual place and on Saturday morning we drove to Villanueva de Algaidas. I met up with the office manager who then suggested we met up with the director of the company that afternoon, in Mollina. We met up and soon after I was offered the job.

Deja Vu!

We headed back to the UK very excited with our decision. It was now time to hand in our notice at work, get rid of the various bits and pieces; but we proceeded with the purchase of the house. I headed off to Spain in May 2004 with all our worldly goods. Sashah, our German Shepherd was transported to Spain in a doggy taxi as I didn’t have enough space in the car. Cathy was offered a job in an international school East of Malaga city, this meant a 200 km round trip but it was a good school and the roads were amazing. She bought a new car (yes, brand new) which we still have, 12 years later. June 2004 we completed on our house in Wales, I flew back for a weekend, Cathy and I redecorated it, put new carpets and tidied the garden and put it back up for sale. It sold within 6 weeks. Work was good, life was good. In 2005 we decided to rent a finca on the outskirts of Antequera to make it a bit easier for Cathy’s job. I moved jobs and opened a new office near home along with a colleague from the company I worked in previously. Business and work were great!

Finca in Antequera

Finca in Antequera

It was 2006 now, we had been in Spain for two years, housing market was still booming and showing no sign of slowing down. I became increasingly involved with commercial real estate such as hotels, developments etc etc. I was also traveling to Morocco on a very regular basis as it was becoming a property hotspot. By now we had moved to Alhaurin de la Torre, on the outskirts of Malaga to be nearer to the coast. This enabled us to cover a bit of the coast as well as inland areas. We decided this was the right time to buy something in Spain. We went, we saw, we bought. Three weeks later, or so, in May 2006 we had the keys to our house in Spain. A very old school house in need of massive renovation!

IMG_3064

In 2007 I visited Bulgaria for the first time, for two weeks. Cathy joined me six months later. During that time I was commuting between Spain and Bulgaria.  Nearly six years later and having adopted a little girl from a Bulgarian orphanage we returned to Spain. We made further renovations and then took up the opportunity of working in Qatar. By then my career and work was mostly internet based, something which I had been working on for a long time to enable us to continue traveling. Early 2016 and after 12 very good years (with many ups and several downs!), I parted company with real estate to concentrate on other projects. From Qatar we ended up moving to Madagascar. A fascinating country which we are eager to explore as much as possible.

In Conclusion

During the past 14 years, we have explored and traveled extensively, though there are still loads of places we want to explore! Being in many of the countries we have lived in, has made traveling so much easier. We have had a chance to visit places most people would never get a chance to see. We have covered many, many countries and places, but always feel we have only just scratched the surface.

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Some of the countries/ places we have visited since 2002

Some Common Questions we are asked.

Q) Would we go back to Blighty?
A) Maybe…one day.
Q) Do we regret leaving the UK?
A) Not at all!
Q) Has it been plain sailing?
A) No
Q) Where’s home?
A) Wherever our little family is together
Q) Which is your favourite country?
A) We don’t have one, we love aspects from each country we have lived in, particularly our friends.
Q) Would you go back and live in a country you lived in before?
A) Probably not. For us, life is about memories, by going back to a country we have lived in previously, is like trying to recreate memories. We have tried it twice, once going back to the UK in 2003 and then again, moving back to Spain in 2013. It wasn’t the same as how we remembered. People change, places change, and more importantly, when you travel, YOU change! Travel changes us as individuals. Our perspectives and our priorities change.
Q) Aren’t you worried about your daughter’s education?
A) In as many words? NO! Katja is receiving the best education money can buy. Not just by being educated in international schools but also by seeing the world. Her passport which was only five years old, was virtually FULL, with stamps in every page. Stamps for each country she has visited. She is an extremely confident and sociable now 6 year old. She has seen parts of the world most adults can only dream of. She has mixed with royalty as well as played with kids who have nothing, she even voluntarily gave them her bucket and spade (Sri Lanka 20015). As far as schooling is concerned, she is where she should be as a 6 year old. She is receiving the type of education money cannot buy. She recently celebrated her birthday. This is the pretty impressive bit: 6 birthdays in 5 countries (Bulgaria, Spain, Qatar, Oman and Madagascar) in 3 continents; how’s that?!
These are the usual questions, if you have any other questions you’d like to ask, please feel free to do so!
I could, quite literally write for days and days…… but I won’t. One day I will sit and write on a regular basis and put together a book with all our stories and adventures……

British Nomads

Madagascar 2016

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The Long trip to Madagascar

”I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” – Bill Bryson

Oh how I love this quote. It really does describe that feeling of not having a clue what’s going on down to a T!

The Long trip home!

Ready for the long trip to Madagascar

Ready for the long trip to Madagascar

Home is where our little family is, it isn’t a physical place as such, it is the sense of being together. It makes no difference as to what country or continent that may be.

Having spent a considerable length of time back in the UK, it was time to leave. All our suitcases were packed and ready to go. Mentally, we had been ready to go as soon as we found out we were moving to Madagascar! Our shipment had already been collected so the last part of the move was for us to leave the UK. Something which turned out to be far more difficult than we had originally anticipated! Mike (Cathy’s dad) and Tim (Cathy’s brother) had very kindly agreed to give us a lift to the airport. We were travelling with three x 22 kg suitcases and three x 8kg items of hand luggage. We had spent time meticulously rearranging and redistributing stuff in our cases to make sure we didn’t go over the 23kg allowance. Just as a useful tip; we always have our bags wrapped at the airport. not only does this protect our already pretty battered cases, but it also protects you from anyone placing any unwanted items in your case. There have been several incidents in which packages have been placed in peoples’ cases! We arrived in Manchester Airport in plenty of time, our first flight was at 15:50 to Heathrow, where we would then board the next flight at 18:50 to Johannesburg followed by the 10am flight to Antananarivo and there we would board the fourth and final flight to Toamasina which was a charter flight.

As our flight departure time grew closer and closer, all the board kept saying was that there would be a further update in 15 minutes, then in 30 minutes and so on. 15:50 hrs (departure time) came and went and still no sign of any gate.

Nobody around!

Nobody around!

Of course, we went to the passenger help desk but as you can see, there was nobody there. We tried to contact British Airways but there was no answer either. Manchester Airport did reply to my tweet….. eventually and there was soon someone there. Of course, they were absolutely mobbed. By now we were getting the distinct feeling we will be missing the rest of our flights. We were then informed that the plane from Heathrow to Manchester had suffered from some technical issues on take off and that our flight wouldn’t leave until at least 7pm (10 minutes after our flight to Johannesburg was due to take off). As this was British Airways cockup it was for them to fix it. There were no other flights to South Africa that night and no other connecting flights to Madagascar available so they booked us for the night at the Radisson Hotel in the terminal. They also paid for our evening meal too (shame it didn’t include drinks). We left departures area being escorted by a BA rep and had to collect all our luggage which had already been checked in, we felt like criminals who weren’t allowed to board their flight! We then had to wait a further 45 minutes while he sorted something else out. Before we left, BA’s representative assured us that they had now rebooked us with Air France for the next day and that we should pop into customer service the next afternoon to collect our tickets. Exhausted from doing nothing other than wait and argue with incompetent idiots, 7 hours after arriving in Manchester Airport, we were on our way to the Radisson Hotel some 500 yards from the terminal! We had a nice meal and headed off to bed.

There was something in the back of my mind which told me not to trust the guy from BA, so relatively early I walked back to the terminal to collect our tickets. The first person I saw was extremely rude and told me that this was British Airways, why am I trying to get tickets for Air France. After patiently explaining our predicament, she told me to go to their customer services desk. There, I was told that they had no details of any tickets for us and that the rep hadn’t rebooked us on any flights. While I was there, other passengers from the same flight as ours were having the same issue! After arguing my point that as BA had messed things up, they needed to sort it out I was then told that OK, we can get you some flights but on separate planes! Not quite believing what I was hearing I asked for a supervisor as I was getting quite tired of this idiocy! Eventually a supervisor found us new flights via Paris and on to Johannesburg. As the flights had been booked differently, It was BA’s responsibility to fly us to South Africa, not Madagascar. We also faced a different problem. Apparently, there’s only one flight per day from Johannesburg to Antananarivo, and that is at 10 am which is the exact time our new flight was due to land. Cathy and I have British Passports, Katja has a Bulgarian passport.  As Brits, we can get visas on arrival, unfortunately, Katja on her Bulgarian passport can’t. This meant we would have to face a 24 hour wait in the terminal upon arrival. Not much we could do about it. We informed school we would be arriving two days late and explained the situation in South Africa. I decided to go and have a long relaxing bath before we were due to head to the airport for our second attempt at 3pm. About 45 minutes after I had got in the bath and was starting to drift off to sleep, Cathy told me that we had been sent new flights and we had to rush off to the airport. Our new flights were from Manchester to Paris with Air France, then Paris to the Seychelles via Air Seychelles Airways and then on to Antananarivo with Air Seychelles. We rushed to the airport, checked in our 3 x 22 kg suitcases which weighed a tad more as they were wrapped but where still within our allowance and went through all the motions once again. This time we were a bit more successful as we boarded the plane to Paris and took off. here’s a video I took taking off.

 

We landed in Paris and made our way to the Air Seychelles non existing office and eventually to the gate which acts as their customer service/ check in desk and picked up our tickets. We boarded the plane on time (I know, shock horror!) and made ourselves comfortable for the 10 hour flight. The plane had bits of trim coming off, seat covers which didn’t really fit any more but quite frankly, we were glad to be on our way out of Europe! We took off on time and it was a pretty uneventful flight….. just the way I like them! Not even a couple of stiff Gin & Tonics could help me sleep as it was pretty cramped so it was a bit of a long night. Landing on the Seychelles was pretty spectacular. I only wish I had had a window seats as I can’t find the correct words to describe the beauty that I could see out of the window. We landed in what can only be described as a glorified bus station and were soon boarding our next flight to Antananarivo. Funnily enough, this was a brand new plane! For this part of the flight, I did have a window seat, here’s what taking off from the Seychelles looks like!

The flight from Seychelles to Antananarivo is only 2:25 hrs so in the scheme of things, it is just a quick hop really. We landed in Antananarivo a little earlier than expected where we were greeted by a member of the meet and greet team which took us out of the long queue for immigration and straight to collect our luggage while he took care of formalities. Bag one arrived soon after, this was followed by Katja’s seat and our second suitcase. However, after approximately 45 minutes, it became very apparent that our 3rd suitcase had gone walkies! Our meet and greet chap took all the details and told us to leave it with him. Our suitcase did turn up……eventually……. 11 days later! BUT, as we had had it wrapped, it was just a bit battered but other than that intact, and all our contents with it!

The meet and greet chap introduced us to a taxi driver and we had our first experience of living in Africa!As we left the terminal it was packed with people, some waiting for passengers, other there to beg. Someone helped the driver for a nano-second with our case, of course, this meant he should get paid for it! As we attempted to close the doors of the car we had hands trying to stop us from doing so in the vain hope they would get some money from us. We did eventually close the doors without breaking anybody’s arms or fingers and we didn’t pay either, in fairness, we didn’t actually have any Arirary anyway, just US Dollars.

Our fourth and final flight was on a twin prop charter plane, we took off a bit late as we were waiting for a couple of people to arrive, we had 14 passengers (I think) which is all it could take. Here’s a video of us taking off from Tana en-route to Tamatave (French) or Toamasina (Malagasy).

We arrived in Tamatave and landed in a landing strip near the compound. We arrived to a very warm welcome, introduced to our driver and taken to our new house. We had a bite to eat and went to bed. It had been a long trip which worked out to be 53 hours from start to finish!

It’s lovely to be home!

 

 

 

 

Last Few Months in the Desert

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

I think this quote by Anais Nin is pretty much spot on with our take on life. We travel, not to arrive but just to see what’s around the corner. Traveling and opening yourself to a certain amount of discomfort by living outside of your comfort zone opens doors which you had never even imagined where there to start off with. It is a way of life in which you get to know new people and new places as well as yourself. It is a journey of self discovery in which one can reflect on life as well as one’s achievements and learn from your failures. What are we in search of? No idea, but I’ll let you know when we find it. Are we running away from anything in particular? Not really, we have done this long enough to realise that whatever unhappiness, problem or baggage you carry, it will follow you wherever you go. So, why do we keep on moving? We (as far as we know) only live once, we live in a planet which we treat as if we had somewhere else to live once we’ve finished destroying it. There are some amazing places to discover, some wonderful people to meet and so many friends we’ve no met yet. We have been given a tremendous opportunity in life, a chance to explore, to wander and to discover, it would almost be irresponsible to not grab this chance with both hands and make the most of it.

I think the next phase in our lives is going to be the most fascinating chapter. A chance to live in one of the most exciting countries on the planet, where 90% of the wildlife cannot be found elsewhere. WOW, simply WOW! We are ready to embrace the challenge and to get on with it. The transition period in which one knows you are planning on moving and the actual move itself is the most exciting and also the hardest time. Not wanting to wish our lives away we count the days and hours until our new adventure, and what an adventure that will be! Yup, we are on serious countdown, last night we booked all our flights so we now have concrete dates. I am off to the UK on a course from 12th April until 14th May. I return to Qatar to finish some formalities including cancelling my RP (Resident’s Permit) and then on 2nd June, I head off to Bulgaria and then onto the UK where I will meet up with Cathy and Katja on June 22nd. We will then head off to Madagascar on July 21st after a break in the UK, including a week in Wales. Last year we stayed in Cardigan Bay and loved it so much, we will be going back for the week. We will then do a quick detour and head to Cheltenham to meet up with friends before heading back to Oswestry.

In the mean-time, life just goes on, get up at 04:40, work, home, early night and repeat and let’s have a weekend in between.

Over the past couple of weeks we got to see two different friends from Bulgaria. One was here on business, whilst the other was stopping in Doha for a couple of days to see us. Then we also had the chance to meet up with a friend also from Bulgaria but currently living in Saudi. We went to the Singing Sand Dunes and did the usual touristy things.

That’s pretty much it for now, watch this space for our next update……

 

 

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

 

 

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