Thursday, September 20, 2018

Eid-al-Adha Staycation

In late August, the Embassy (and almost all of the country) shuts down for Eid-al-Adha. It translates to Festival of Sacrifice and occurs in August (the actual dates shifting year to year as the Islamic calendar is a lunar based calendar). Mr. Wiki also tells me that the festival is in honor of Abraham's attempt to sacrifice his son to show that his love for God came before anything else. The Eid-al-Adha holiday lasts for the three days of festivities!

For us, our HHE had arrived in port the day before the Eid holiday began. Our fingers were crossed in vain during that one business day in hopes everything would clear customs AND be delivered. So we had lots of days off, no car, and not much to do. Given we had just arrived, we hadn't even given much thought to taking a trip out of the country (like many expats do we quickly discovered). So we went shopping at IKEA, watched movies, went to the pool, played some Uno and some more Uno....luckily having gone to the Intercon Natadola Bay so many times in Fiji, at some point we had decided to upgrade to their Ambassador Membership. It gave us late check outs, early check ins, room upgrades, free water and snacks, and every year we get a complimentary weekend night. So when you book one weekend night, you get one free. So for the weekend after Eid, right before school started, we opted for a little staycation and headed to the West Bay beach in Doha and stayed at the Intercon here.

We had booked the standard two beds in a room, but our free upgrade came in handy (and it was busy that weekend) and we ended up with a 2 bedroom suite! It was huge! Bigger than apartments I had just out of college! The kids room had a lovely desk with a view where Clarissa contemplated how she would someday have a job with a desk having a similar view!

I had a chance to stick my toes in now the other side of the Persian Gulf (recall Richard and I visited Dubai).

We all jumped in the water. It was nice and warm!!

As you can see by her grin, our fair weather snorkeler liked the water temperature. It was a sandy beach with nothing to see (though none of our snorkel gear is here yet). Mason and I took turns and swam out to the rocky little spot you see in the back of the photo. There were a few more fish swimming around there. Past the floating line of bouys, there is a decent drop off and jet skiers were seen zipping around behind there as well.

The first evening, Richard and I walked around hoping to find a good spot to get some 'sunset glimmering on the skyline' photos but the beaches are all private so we were limited to just the Intercon property and did not find any good vantage points. We did find a resting bird on one of the buildings that was quite photogenic.

The next day was more of the same....beach and pool time! They had a Jenga game in the Ambassador's lounge (which had free nibbles and drinks) we hung out there a good bit too.

What you can't tell from these photos is how HOT the sand is! (I know I know, comparisons get annoying) On our Fiji weekends, I'd kick my shoes off on arrival and not put them on again till we were getting in the car (sometimes not even then). have to wear you flip flops right up to the water's edge! It is was that hot....if my 'crazy hippie feet' - as Richard calls them - couldn't even handle know it was hot (Cap't Dainty Toes was completely out of luck).

We'd managed to make do with snacks we'd packed and the Ambassador lounge nibbles the first day. We had a fun poolside lunch the second day. On our second evening, we opted to eat at one of the restaurants on site. Clarissa was sold on the idea when she saw the chocolate fountain at the dessert section! At the entrance, they had some interesting art work. Hanging from the ceiling was a huge 4-story jelly fish. Below it looked a giant brain coral head. Cnidarians represented!

We also thought it was interesting and thoughtful that on the ceiling in our room, there was an arrow indicating the direction of Mecca. Saves a bunch of calculating when trying to determine where to place your pray rug.

Our last morning, we hit the pool one last time before getting cleaned up and heading home. We had laundry to do and the kids had New Student Orientation the next morning. I give her an eight for attitude! Getting outside early beats the crowds though!

I did walk down to the beach and get a little artsy with the sand and city skyline. I started at the far end and had to move down a bit after the different shots to get "fresh sand" (especially after a wave would take a letter or two).

It was a nice break from the everyday and the emptiness of our house. Richard and I even had the chance to squeeze in badly needed massages! We also now have information about getting day passes to just come to the beach occasionally!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif translates to "standing market" and has been a staple in Doha life for more than a hundred years. The market was renovated in 2006 (I think due to a fire), and while the traditional architecture was maintained the alleyways are a bit bigger allowing merchants to be able to do more than just stand due to smallness of the area (hence the name standing market). Richard and I have been a couple times. We went one evening for the annual Date this isn't a festival of people out on dates, but a festival surrounding the annual harvest of dates. They were selling freshly harvested dates (yellow and red ones).

Though, we made the evening a bit of a date night since the kids did not want to come. There were signs in Arabic with information about the yellow and red dates, given we could not read Arabic we just enjoyed the photos. Some research on the googles, tells us that yellow dates tend to be sweeter and red dates have little to no sugar (apparently making them good for diabetics). Though both pack a powerful vitamin punch! The dates were sold in boxes of dates and given we enjoy the occasional date we feared they would go bad (get too dry) if we bought them in such a huge quantity.

Across the street from the Souq, is the a place nicknamed the Spiral Mosque (technically called Sheikh Abdulla BinZaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center but sometimes referred to as the Al Fanar Islamic Culture Center). It is a lovely landmark mosque in Doha and it offers non-muslims educational tours/courses on the Islamic faith. We have not been yet, but plan to go.

The lighting that evening was also wonderful for capturing this dome shaped minaret that is part of the souq. Minarets are towers/beacons that send out calls to pray five times a day. (You can also see the downtown skyline beginning to light up in the background).

In our wandering around the souq, we happened upon an artists centre. It is where not only artists can work and you watch, but they also sell their artwork. All the way through this studio per say were beautiful glass lanterns. The picture just doesn't do them justice (and there is a good chance we will end up with our own glass lantern chandelier before we leave!).

A few weekends later, we heard about a company offering tours (Coming Up in Doha) of the above Spiral Mosque as well as the Souq. I signed up for the Souq Photowalk and Richard signed up for the Falcon Event.

The Photowalk goes over some of the basic elements of design as well as take you to spots within the Souq to practice them out!

Why do I need elements of design class you ask? Didn't you take photography in college? Well I did and it's been a "couple" years. So I thought it would be a good refresher. Refresher, for what? Well I've decided start selling some of our better shots to the different stock photography companies. Fiji provided me with so many beautiful sunsets and scenery, as did the Caucasus mountains from our time in Georgia (and all these regional travel opportunities we have embarked on). It seems so silly for those photos to just sit on our hard drive and gather metaphorical dust. So instead of just this blog, I am sharing the photos with the of this writing, I have already had 3 images sell....for a whopping $0.25 I have made $0.75 more than if I had left them on the hard drive! The only hiccup we encountered is Richard takes some good shots too. So we have set up a business partnership, where I'll do the majority of the work (editing, uploading, managing the business/taxes portion) while Richard will contribute the occasional great shot! Given most companies have a minimum amount you must sell before payout, if I set us up to each have our own upload accounts it might take forever for payouts, but by combining into a business it streamlines everything. All this also provides me a job/career that I can take from post to post as we move. In addition to the stock photo sites, we I have set up our own personal website (ie if you have ever seen a picture and thought, I would love to have that on my wall, you can order a print for yourself directly from the website). You should check it our new partnership logo to get there!

You see what I did there....Next Stop, sounds like f-stop (a photography term) but also plays on our blog title. It takes time to go through old files to find the hidden photo gems, but I'm slowly starting to add countries we've visited and photos we have taken....anyway, back to the topic of this post. The Souq Photowalk was a great opportunity to get some Doha material, freshen up skills (as well as sneak in a little tour of the Souq). We obviously went to the spice market section of the souq (hmm, scratch and sniff photos....wonder if those are doable).

A ton of colors and textures to photograph! This reminded me, we really needed some cinnamon so I got a small bag after taking this shot!

We also went to the fabric section of the souq. You can not only just purchase fabric but also be measured to have something custom made. In addition to shop after shop of fabric in Souq Waqif, I've heard there is also a fabric souq in town.....shhh, better not tell Richard when I go ;)

This one alleyway, had another great angle of the Spiral Mosque. The local Qatari even stopped and smiled for the group of 10-15 of us taking photos. I missed the shot of him smiling, but here he is chatting with his hamalis for the morning. The hamalis wear red vests and can be hired to follow behind you with a wheelbarrow helping with your load.

After this, we stopped in some air conditioning (our tour was at 9am and it was a scorcher that morning) and for a chat with a Qatari in a majlis (place of sitting). This was actually the first Qatari I had officially met. According to World Population Review, there are approximately 2.7 million people living in Qatar, but less than 15% of those are Qatari (aka a lot of foreigners here!).

The kind man spoke of his job in Qatar and then fielded questions from the group. We had some fruit salad, tea, and other delights to nibble on. Afterwards, we headed back outside. It was here that I made the company's facebook page!

I found this neat building with Arabic carved into the side. I'm curious as to what is says, but still think it was a neat design. I have picked up (and Clarissa "taught" me) that when reading/writing Arabic you go from right to left.

Right after taking this, a woman asked if her son could have his picture taken with me. It struck me as odd, given there are so many expats....maybe I was just that much sweatier (or my lovely neck scar peaked his interest...he was probably about 10 or 11). I obliged and she took the photo on her phone, so sadly I do not have a copy. There are also lots of other neat metal craft colors/textures to be found at the souq.

As well as, old Arabic Coffee pots.

After the tour ended, a lovely cooling breeze picked up. It felt wonderful and afford me this great shot of the Qatar flag.

I then crossed the street (well actually it took several street crossings) to get over to the Pearl Monument.

The Pearl Monument sits right on the harbor. It is a giant oyster with a pearl inside. The monument is reminiscent of the country's history as a major pearl trader. There was no water in the fountain that morning...though I bet it much prettier when there is.

The Pearl Monument sits at the Dhow dock. A Dhow boat is an Arabic boat that was traditionally used for fishing or commercial transport. Dhow's have one or two sails, so today these boats have been replaced with much more efficient engine powered boats, but are still used for leisure/tourism activities. Taking a harbour cruise on a Dhow is definitely on our Doha bucket list. Here is a large group of Dhows, proudly flying the Qatari flag, moored in the harbour.

That evening, Richard went to the Falcon Event. He learned all about falconry in Doha (ie we can't afford to even buy a falcon...not that we would, we really like Isa and don't think they would be a good match).

He told us all kinds of interesting information and the rest of us will likely go to a later event. We know that you can not cabin carry cats/dogs on Qatar Airways flights...but you can cabin carry falcons! We have not seen one yet, but that should be interesting if we ever do (Richard learned the falcon will get it's own seat)! Richard even got to hold a falcon!

We will probably post many more images from Souq Waqif as there are so many alleyways and hidden gems all around. I foresee many more trips there during our time here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Our next adventure has started.....

So I worked hard and got all caught up on the blog about the fun we'd had during home leave and training, then all our household effects (HHE) from Fiji arrived and we were swimming in blogging took the backseat. We have a little more HHE coming from the states (we didn't use all our allotted weight despite buying lots of hand carved wooden artwork). Our supplemental HHE is set to arrive in country later this week (not sure how long customs will take) and our car just arrived and is waiting on delivery/plates. So I thought I would take this little lull to update.

I had put some fabric I picked up in Fiji and my staple gun in our UAB (air shipment) and covered our kitchen chairs. Beyond the regular wear and tear, we will be charged for damages made to the embassy furniture we are issued. So kids + light colored seats + food.....covering was a natural decision (we had put a towel down on Clarissa's chair at our last post, but she's too big for that now).

Before Khaki & After Dark Brown w/Green Palm Tree Pattern

It's been hot here....duh Deb you live in the desert. Oddly enough, it is not like the "dry heat" in the hot deserts of US Southwest. We have humid desert here. So at bus stop time (ie early am), temps are usually mid-90s (mid 30sC) with 50-70% humidity...which makes it feel like 110-120F.... It is like stepping into an oven when you walk outside. Speaking of more easy-bake oven for me!  Our oven is American size!!

We keep hearing that in about 1.5-2 months the weather will cool down and be wonderful. Waiting for that! In the mean time, we've gone to the neighborhood pool (which cools the water).

This is not quite half of the pool. It is great that a large portion of it is covered and there are wonderful views as it is on the roof of the neighborhood clubhouse.

Richard and I have both done some tours of the Souq Waqif (standing market)....I'll give those their own post. The company that did the tours offers lots of other fun things...we are just waiting on the weather to cool down a smidge! As you saw Monday, we had a fun little photo shoot with Isa and some American Girl glasses....while this one is not the most focused I think it portrays her feelings towards the photo shoot.

Another way to entertain ones self in stifling heat, is to head to the mall. To which there are plenty to choose from. We've gone to four different ones so far (some multiple times, as a grocery store tends to be attached to the mall). The mall that go the most "whoa's" so far has been Villaggio Mall. When you step inside, it suddenly feels as if you are in Venice, Italy....complete with a canal and gondolas. So naturally, we had to take a ride!

There are little bridges you can cross over the water and ceiling is painted blue with fluffy clouds. We spent hours there and when we walked outside to complete darkness it messed with our

We had to take care of some cell phone/internet business. So we found our way to that shop. What should happen to right around the corner from there? Gondolania Theme Park ....a theme park/carnival inside the mall!!

Kids were amazed to see the bright lights and rides...and since we had an afternoon to pass....we said why not and went on in to ride the rides!! Clarissa had fun driving a pink swan around a little lagoon while Mason and Richard went on a full fledged roller coaster (you can barely see some of the track going along the building facades as well as past the entrance).

Both kids rode on a little "under the sea" lazy river ride. We then rode the bumper cars, I think we did those two or three times in a row....super fun. We ran into each other a lot, but culturally we weren't sure how it would be taken to ram a complete I just said to Clarissa we were racing

Clarissa and I rode on the ferris wheel (here's a not so flattering selfie but it shows how high up it went and all the fun below us).

While we were on the ferris wheel, Mason and Richard rode the 'drop ride'. We happened to stopped near the top to load/unload people while they were we had an awesome vantage point to shoot a little video. There are the only two on the right hand side of the drop.

As I mentioned, we don't quite have our car yet (it arrived in country around midnight last night...not that we've been stalking it or anything). So we've mastered Uber (even let Mason Uber home from school one day), we are enjoying life with food delivery (there is an app called Talabat that allows you to order from practically every times it takes longer to decide where to get your food from than it takes to actually get said food!), and finally we have been busy with all the start of the school year events from new student orientation, meet the teachers, back to school night (just learning about the curriculum/grading methodology), and back to school coffees.....wooh! I get tired writing all that and thinking about all the things we've gone too. For the middle school new student orientation, they talked to everyone, then the middle schoolers went off for a tour while us parents got some more talking, finally we got a tour. Given Clarissa's orientation was right after the middle school one, she was with appears she took a bit too much pleasure invading Mason's locker.

So nothing out of the ordinary here....just getting up, going to work/school/unpacking, and then doing it all over again. Same routine, just a different country!