Thursday, March 26, 2020

Holiday 2019 Visitors - The Festivities

So as I mentioned in my last big post, the in-laws had arrived, had a good two weeks to get over jet lag, I'd taken Jim birding, and the kids were now on holiday break. So the real fun began. The break began with two meetings of Santa's helpers. One for the Girl Scouts/Cub Scouts with Santa arriving via a fire truck!

The other was the Embassy holiday party with Santa arriving on a motorcycle (I didn't get the arrival but did snap a photo of the kids with Santa).

Yes, Clarissa is wearing tights with Santa cats on them! You'd be surprised what you can randomly find in the stores here!! I had been waiting for the kids to get out of school to take Ann and Jim to Baladna Farms. I have been once before and it was definitely on the 'you have to see this desert marvel' list!!

We timed it so we arrived in time to eat lunch at their cafe (lots of cheese/dairy dishes), took our obligatory 'in the sign' photo (can you find everyone), checked out the art cows, and then head over for milking time.

What? I'm not supposed to milk the fake cow?

The milking parlor with its giant rotary milking system was impressive as usual.

Next we walked over to Baladna Park, this was the highlight for Clarissa. She may or may not have been asking to head over here the entire time!! For only 10QR (so less than $3), we got a bag of bits of greens and vegetables to feed the animals in the petting zoo. There were overly friendly camels.

What did they call this on Seinfeld? Close talker?

There was a sleepy llama (so adorable!) and well as some white ostriches behind it.

There were some miniature donkeys (which totally sounded like 'Donkey' from Shrek in my head) and miniature ponies. The donkey didn't want its photo taken but the pony gave us some goggly eyed look.

The zebra showed off all its teeth when eating the leafy greens.

Clarissa loved the baby bunnies and I think she fed them half our bag of food. They were pretty adorable.

The teen took the time to entice one of the tortoises over to fence to feed it. Tortoises really need to learn better manners and chew with their mouths shut!!

We then took a ride on multi-person bike. The 6-seaters were all gone so we split into two groups (which later changed after this photo was taken).

Taking the race serious.

Some of us were working hard and others were hardly working.....

That evening we got cleaned up to go out to dinner. We had another set of visitors from the States to meet up with!! Richard's cousin/Ann & Jim's niece and her family were flying to Africa on Qatar Airways via Doha. QA has a deal where you can stay overnight at a number of local hotels for a discount. It adds some tourism dollars to the economy, helps travelers with jet lag, and in our case - let us catch up! We met up a Damasca One Restaurant in Souq Waqif for dinner. 

We enjoyed a yummy and entertaining dinner (we had no idea there was live music and a dancer!). He had on a lighted-skirt like thing that he took off and was spinning over his head (and our heads) while dancing and walking around the restaurant. His vest lit up also. I think Clarissa really liked that flashy style.

After dinner, we set up a time to meet back up the NYC cousins before their flight the following evening (did you recognize the kids from the NYC post! They sure have grown a lot). We obviously met back up at Souq Waqif since that is were they were staying and the best place to sightsee! Sparkly objects everywhere....even Ann and Jim couldn't resist a peek.

Of course we headed over to falcon souq because where else can you see beautiful falcons for sale?

We checked out a couple falcon shops and this beautiful falcon that had likely just had or was waiting for a check up at the falcon hospital.

From a class field trip, Clarissa knew a secret entrance into the horse stables. So we took the walkway less travelled.

Jim met a friendly horse.

We also witnessed a camel fight (None of us had ever seen one of those). The video wasn't very good (just like kids, they stopped the ankle bitting when you hit record), but I got a couple photos where you can tell it's not everyday happy camel happenings.

We headed to the playground a bit and then over to the corniche (walkway along the water). Clarissa and I opted to chill by the pearl fountain while the rest of the gang walked out to the very end of the docks to check out the view of downtown.

Afterwards, the weary cousins headed back for a nap before the flight for that evening and we headed home to get ready for Santa's arrival. For a number of evenings we were playing holiday pictionary-type game. We did Christmas songs, movies, foods, objects, etc. I think the funniest picture that nobody could guess was Clarissa's drawing of a manager waving bye aka 'Away in a Manger'. I have apparently failed as a

Christmas came and went in a flash....some flashes had a bit more energy early in the morning and were unable to stay still enough for a photo., while other flashes could barely open their

If you remember, over the summer, Clarissa and I had picked up fabric and pattern. As you saw, I squeezed in the time to make everyone matching Christmas PJs!

We had the usual chores of grocery shopping for things like cabbages twice as big as your head (luckily we were able to request 1/4 of it), while Ann and Jim were in town (and Jim kindly took care to make sure all our leftovers/goodies got finished off).

We were able to fit in a few more sights and adventures before Ann and Jim's trip ended. One day Richard, Ann and I headed out to Al Zubarah Fort - Qatar's UNESCO heritage site. Jim had tweaked his back on the bike at Baladna and the kids had no interest in old stuff, so they stayed at home. It took us about an hour and half drive to get there.

Al Zubarah Fort and the archeological site at the city nearby is the only UNESCO site in the country. The fort was originally built in 1938 as a Qatari Coast Guard station. 

The fort was built with limestone, coral rock, and mud. It was used for protection and has two floors of soldiers quarters. There was also a deep fresh water well within the fort.

The nearby village (which is what really helps earn the UNESCO designation) has been undergoing archaeological excavation. Al Zubarah (which translates to mean 'sand mounds') has had documentation/history of villages since 1627. This was one of the areas used for pearl diving. So Ann learned all about the country's pearl diving (one exhibits was in the fort and some more in a little trailer). We were told we could walk/drive down to the village and then walk through, but the gate was shut that day. Here's a view of the water from the fort, you can see bits of the city remains poking up.

All in all, it was a great morning. We passed camels, Arabian Oryx and all kinds of interesting scenery on our way.

By this time, we only had a couple days left and our visitors were getting their luggage packed up. There was only thing on their Doha bucket list they hadn't checked off. Due to all the rain, we hadn't gone dune bashing which includes a stop to ride camels. Now Ann wasn't all the interested in bashing dunes, but did want to ride on a camel. I have to admit, I had a great idea! I suggested it to Richard, he agreed it was a great off he and Ann went (since Jim's back was still not 100% he passed again). They drove out to Sealine - where the SUVs head off-road but have to stop and deflate their tires. So while the drivers deflate their tires there are restrooms, Arabic coffee to drink, falcons to hold, and of course...camels to ride.

Ann loved her camel ride! Mission Accomplished! I am in the process of clearing off a spot on the shelf for my favorite person of the day camel

Just like that, our visitors had spent a month taking in the sites, tastes, and sounds of Qatar. I think we did a pretty good job of showing them most of Qatar! I put together this little map that showed them where all they explored. 

A few hours after they left, Ms. Isa Lei started demanding to know where her snack dealer was....apparently even the grandkitty got spoiled!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Holiday 2019 Visitors - The Birds

Our first fall here in Doha, one of our neighbors mentioned he goes birding in the desert, leaving around 5 am on weekends. I was busy with Girl Scouts, the holidays happened, and I never got around to contacting him (and I'm a night owl....5 am really isn't my jam). So I messaged him last fall and asked if he was going out when my in-laws were going to be here. Jim really enjoys the critters in his backyard and I thought he'd get a kick out seeing the birds around here. We ended up heading out on the last day of classes for the kids (and the day before our neighbor was wheels up as his company was moving him back to Texas - so it was one last hurrah for him). He took us out to someplace in the middle of the country (you know it's the middle of the country as you pass a power lines crossroads of sorts).

Our neighbor said the property was some sort of water treatment/holding ponds and that a neighboring farm grew some sort of feed grass and was doing lots of watering (with the treated water from the ponds). Needless to say, we weren't going to jump in and swim in the ponds (and there were plenty of signs warning us not to)!

We saw a lot of white-eared bulbul (Pycnonotus leucotis). It was very overcast, so it was hard to get good photos. There were also a lot of doves mixed in with the bulbuls when we first arrived along some fencing.

A cormorant flying overhead - either a Great cormorant or a Socotra cormorant - it's hard to tell from the photo.

A common redshank (Tringa totanus) - I think.

I think this is our same little common redshank flying off into the construction area.

Flock of cattle egret flying overhead.

It was around here we saw a flamingo! It was flying overhead pretty quickly and I was not fast enough with the focus - so no picture. Our neighbor said that while flamingos typically flock, there is one "outcast" flamingo that is regularly seen solo in this holding pond area. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it!

I think this is some sort of Old World flycatcher.

I just thought the landscape was cool. It's not all sand dunes forever, but there are bits of brush-like plants here and there.

This looks like a black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus).

A whole flock of black-winged stilts.

Cool tree in the middle of a pond.

Some cattle egrets in a tree.

A crested lark (Galerida cristata). Our neighbor said these were easy to identify from their up/down flying behavior around the desert floor.

A flock of some black and white bird.

A flock of cattle egrets hanging out on the irrigation equipment.

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) taking flight.

A small hawk/bird of prey.

So, that was our morning. We got home and had breakfast with Ann and Richard! We saw a good variety of species. I know we saw a few more species than I got pictures of (ie - the flamingo, doves, there were some ducks in the first holding pond, etc). I hadn't realized this when planning it but even though Jim has had bird feeders and likes to identify the birds (and snakes) around his house, he had never gone birding before (majoring in Biology, this is frequent field trip for a lot of classes, so for shorebirds, I can typical identify general categories but we keep moving regions so species identification gets tough without ID books/the googles). Score two points for introducing Jim to new activity in a new country! Woohoo!