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Doha – A View From Above

12 Jan

The view from Olaf’s office. His office has a balcony (which does not belong to him but to the many pigeons that have chosen to make it their home). The view is of Ramada traffic signals, so-called because there is a Ramada Hotel on the corner. It is however, more commonly known as cholesterol corner due to the large number of fast food restaurants in the area. It is a perfect place to direct people to when they need to meet with you in your office as it is central and everyone knows the area. Just don’t step out onto the balcony!

Inspired at Aspire

29 Nov

 Whilst people who live in countries that receive a fair amount of rainfall may not fully appreciate a public park or green spaces within the city, most of the expat desert-dwelling  community remain besotted with them. We live for the greenery that a holiday will bring. One of the MOST impressive things about the desert country of Qatar is the greenery that continues to spread across the city of Doha.  This is the main road, Al Waab Street, that runs past our compound.  I find the well-maintained, grass-covered centre island and sidewalks wonderful. It instantly lifts my spirits and makes me very happy to be here when I drive down this road, in the fast lane, taking photographs through the window and chatting to Luka all at the same time!

After being housebound for the last few days, cleaning, sorting and generally trying to make our house feel like a home, Luka and I headed out for a spot of grocery shopping and some adventure this morning. We found Aspire Park, part of the world-class Aspire sport facilities and stadia, a mere 10 minute drive from our house. The Aspire Tower served as part of the sporting facility for the Asian Games in 2006 and has subsequently been converted into a hotel.

 This park was not yet built when we lived here 4 years ago and had me smiling like a Cheshire cat all morning. It feels a lot like the parks you find in European cities and reminds me a little of Hyde Park in London, just not quite as many trees.

The ducks are real. The sound of birds chirping in the trees: playing through the speakers located throughout the park – uh, not so much!

It is a spotless, well-policed park and a great place for a run, bike ride or long walk during the cooler months. We played some football and Luka used the opportunity to ride his scooter whilst I sat on the grass with a recipe book completing my shopping list before hitting the supermarket just next door.

I think that the winter months will find us spending lots of time here. It’s just perfect for quenching our thirst for all things green.

A new kind of ‘normal’

14 Nov

When we first moved away from South Africa 6 years ago, I remember how very strange this new country of Qatar felt to me. From the moment I got off the plane I was struck with how different everything and everyone looked, how bizarre the guttral-sounding Arabic language sounded  even though I come from a country that has 11 official languages. I can recognise the smell of an airport in the Middle East immediately without knowing where I have landed. My senses were completely overwhelmed by this new land. I remember so well the  exact moments where, waiting in my car at a traffic light watching people crossing the road, I would be struck with how bizarre it was that I was living  HERE, in this of all places in the world. It was not a negative, “I don’t want to be here’ feeling just an amazement that my path had brought me here. 

The wonderful thing about being human though is that we adapt to new situations faster than we realise. Before you know it, your sense of normal has shifted. The fact that I can hop into a car in any country in the world and drive no matter what side of the road I need to use without any fear or apprehension is now normal. Our 3-year-old thinks it is normal to fly halfway across the world a few times a year. For a few years in my life it was normal to make my own beer and wine in the kitchen and leave it to ferment in the pantry.

Living in Saudi Arabia really challenges your ideas of normal, so much so that you can begin to lose touch with your roots. To a certain degree you can forget what it is that you enjoyed doing, seeing, watching, listening to as you have little or no access to those things in such a restrictive country. 

Now that we are back in Qatar, my perspective of the country is a little different. We have only been back 4 days so this may be a little premature but I find the place so much prettier than I did before. I am in awe of grassy parks with rolling green lawns, the sea, well-maintained curbs, beautiful wide new roads to drive on, and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors outside of compound walls. On Saturday we went for a stroll on the corniche (Doha’s waterfront). It was quiet and peaceful, the sea was like glass. We passed joggers, kids on bikes, fishermen, couples strolling, activities that are not easy to partake in, in Saudi Arabia. You take your life into your hands trying to jog in an abaya. I have tripped too many times just walking along a pavement to even attempt to run. How my ideas of normal have shifted!

Here’s the corniche on a quiet Saturday morning. It’s pure bliss…

 

Glorious, glorious

17 Aug

We woke up to the MOST glorious day, yesterday.  It was by far the best day, with regards weather, since our arrival 3 weeks ago. The morning air was cold and fresh against my face as I stepped out on to the balcony with my coffee but there was that wonderful stillness that precedes a beautiful day. The sea was like glass

And the sun was just starting to gently warm the city, waking up beneath the mountain.

We had planned a day out, leaving at around lunchtime so that Luka could have his midday nap in the car on the way to our destination. We wanted to take the scenic route and our lil’ darling is not all that interested in scenery or driving! However if we time it correctly, he snoozes in the car whilst we get to enjoy the drive and talk…to one another. There are only so many times I can read ‘The Gruffalo’ in a 40 minute drive without becoming one myself! 

With a beautiful morning ahead of us and nothing pressing that needed our attention Luka and I hit the beach. The morning was far too good to be spent indoors. Being a weekday, there were not many people on the beach except for a few people strolling with their dogs and the usual collection of SUP’s (Stand Up Paddlers) – Cape Town’s latest surfing trendoids.

Time on the beach follows a well worn pattern with young Luka.

 We begin with collecting pebbles, shells, stray crab legs, seaweed…

and throwing it all into the water (for the fish to eat, apparently)…

The distance between the child and the water gradually gets shorter, so the pants get rolled up…

and the boy goes in.

Its 2 hours of bliss for a 2 year old. Nothing in the world could make him happier. The bonus…it’s free and I get just as much joy chilling on the beach and watching him play as he does running amok.

Looking back through the pics I took, I found this one which freaked me out a little. How grown up is my boy! The sea swallowed up the 2 year old and spat this teenager out in his place.

Back from the beach feeling tired (Luka) but contented we hit the road. We headed to Hout Bay, a quaint harbor town along the coast, for a seafood lunch. The scenery along the way is spectacular. Houses built into the mountain on the left, overlooking the sea on the right.

It’s not all summery, sexy multi-million dollar houses though. The reality of living in South Africa is that there is high unemployment and wide-spread poverty and in this case the rich and the poor don’t sleep very far from one another. Below, an informal settlement, where families live in shacks built from sheets of corrugated iron, timber and anything they can gather together. Where fire, rain and wind threaten to take the little that they own on a daily basis. It’s weird how the site where this large settlement has developed looks almost romantic and picturesque as it is situated in such a pretty spot, at the foot of a mountain in amongst beautiful natural vegetation.

But on to lunch

and a great view from our sundrenched spot on the deck.

We took a stroll around the small harbor after lunch

Bumped into this BIG guy swimming lazily in amongst the boats

and finished up with an ice-cream on the beach.

Cape Town’s not too bad for a little city at the bottom end of Africa, huh?

Riding the Fastest Rollercoaster in the World

15 Mar

We managed to get out of Riyadh and over to Abu Dhabi and back again over the weekend without any problems. There was very little protesting on Saudi Arabia’s planned ‘Day of Rage’, thankfully. The big, talked about event in Riyadh this weekend… a hailstorm and heavy rain. Woo hoo!

The highlight of our trip to Abu Dhab’s; a visit to Ferrari World and a ride on THEFASTESTROLLERCOASTERINTHEWORLD!

I am not a big fan of theme parks. A holiday spent queueing for rides at Disney World or any other huge theme park sounds like a nightmare to me. Holidays should be spent swimming and playing cricket on the beach or something similar. But a chance to ride the BIG ONE had me jumping up and down in excitement and fear simultaneously.

Ferrari World is impressive. Like everything else in the modern Gulf states, it’s BIG.

We were advised to start out riding the little guy to warm up. Two rollercoasters that run on tracks next to one another, racing their way around at a mere 95km/h. The little guy just served to get the butterflies going for the big one.

Olaf and our friend Nic hit the big guy, known as Formula Rossa, first whilst Luka and I watched. Watching doesn’t ease your fear AT ALL. I had seriously sweaty palms just watching. The boys came back revved up (pun intended) and sporting new mohawk hairstyles! I handed Luka over and headed in. As I got into the queue, they were looking for one person willing to go without friends in a spare seat available for the next round. I quickly volunteered as I was going to do it on my own anyway. I soon realised that I was in a group with 3 middle-aged British men who had clearly already had a very busy morning(or possibly a very long night). As we were about to set off one of them uttered, “Well, I’ll probably be sober after this ride” NICE.

Let me just mention, before we begin, that this sucker accelerates from 0-240km/h in 5 secs and takes you 52 m up. Whilst getting dressed that morning I did take a moment to consider this information and what I was wearing given the days’ planned activities. I wore a simple, fitted, cross over top. Nothing that was low-cut or loose so that I would have absolutely no wardrobe malfunctions along the way.

There is no build-up of anticipation on this ride. You have absolutely no time to prepare. One second you are still and 2 seconds later you are travelling at triple digit speeds. You are completely unable to comprehend anything at all… except, of course, if your ‘safe’ top just blows wide open! Three seconds in and I take my hand off the handle bar to close my top as I have a strange, drunk, Brit sitting next to me. Not a good idea, feel like I am going to die, so quickly put my hand back down. At 240km/h you can’t even turn your head to look at the person sitting next to you so I’m not really sure what was going through my head but I was clearly determined to protect my modesty at all costs ( think I’ve been living in an ultra conservative country for far too long). At some point. probably about 4 seconds into the ride, I look down to see how much of myself I am exposing just as we are about to hit our first steep uphill. The force of the acceleration keeps my chip firmly stuck on my chest all the way up, I was absolutely unable to lift my head for about 10 seconds. After the initial shock to the system, it’s really good fun and well worth the fear it generates before hand.

Watch Felipe and Fernando (two Formula 1 drivers testing it out).

There are not that many rides for little people under 1 meter tall. Even family friendly rides require children to be over a meter tall but those that we could, we did a few times over. Luka drove me around Italy 3 times, he’s very considerate that way;-)

 

 

Cool and the Gang

27 Feb

Two days ago Luka attended the birthday party of a little friend named Rafael. It was a great little party; creative, intimate and personal. Because Rafael had just selected a handful of friends it remained calm and peaceful throughout – awesome. As the party was drawing to a close a few of the kids plopped themselves down on the rocks to enjoy the ice-lollies that they had just been given. In a completely unprecedented move, we managed to get most of them to sit in this same spot for a group photo. Seriously, to get 2 children, under the age of 3, to pose for a single photo is a miracle so a group this big was a feat of great magnitude! Due to the sheer amazingness of it all the Mommies surrounded them, all with cameras and mobile phones in hand snapping pics of the little suckers like paparazzi on speed. I think the kids just sat, glued to their rocks seats, because they actually couldn’t see anything due to flash photography blindness.

Here’s ONE of my pics of the little darlins’. I got about 20 000 more (one has to take advantage of these opportunities, ya know) so pop me an email if your tabloid newspaper would like to buy one of my other copies;-)

The King Returns

26 Feb

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah arrived back in Riyadh on Wednesday amidst much fanfare and celebration. He has been out of Saudi Arabia for 3 months, spending time in the US where he underwent back surgery. The city of Riyadh has been decked out with flags and massive banners for the last week in preparation for his return. Apparently people (and throngs of security personal – who are, of course, also people!) lined the streets as he drove from the airport to his palace, many of them waving and dancing as he passed by. Celebrations continued late into the night. The sound of screeching tires and horns being honked could be heard until the wee hours of the morning and the festivities culminated in a day off for schools and government institutions today. I took a few pics whilst we were out on the bus on Thursday morning. Every available signboard, flag pole and overhead bridge was adorned with photos and banners of the King.

 

With all the protesting and upheaval currently underway throughout the region, it is not really surprising that he has returned. It is probably in his best interests to be home during this time of uncertainty. In appreciation of the unprecedented joy and happiness shown towards his recovery, the king announced a series of benefit measures for his people amounting to a cool 36 billion dollars!

Despite this very kind gesture, which is obviously in no way related to threats of protest here:-), news channels are reporting about plans for protests in the near future. Saudi’s are fairly subdued folk and it seems that for the most part King Abdullah is well liked by his people so we do not anticipate too much trouble in these parts but we did stock up on a few extra food items today and are keeping some extra cash on hand just in case.