Friday, January 21, 2011

Richard and Roly's Excellent Adventure

When we found out that Dan's parents were coming to visit us for a couple of weeks over Christmas, our first thought was, Yay!  Our second thought was, Better find out what there is to do in this country besides minor hockey and (major) shopping!

You are more likely to find these two grandparents teaching the kids the finer points of blackjack and zip-lining than knitting or playing checkers.  So it was with determination that we set out to show them all the sights of Doha while at the same time tiring them out so extensively that they would want to go to bed before us.  But since only half of the couple seemed to be suffering from jet-lag, this was difficult to do.  We gave it an honest try:

Boxing Day Madness at the Souq Waqif - Well, not really, but we did go on December 26th.  We spent a couple of hours in the morning strolling through the souqs, and we all made some small souvenir purchases.  Richard was the bravest, settling on a ghutra and ogaal, the head attire that you will see most Qatari men wearing in public.  After a very good yet simple lunch at a Lebanese restaurant in the souqs, we headed to...

The Singing Sand Dunes - Seriously.  About an hour's drive outside of the city, we explored these dunes on foot on a very windy afternoon.  We discovered that the dunes don't actually sing, but make a distinct vibration as you run down the slopes.  Future visitors can expect to have Jacob introduce them to "The Farting Sand Dunes".

The Inland Sea - We hired two drivers with a tour company to drive us (in their Landcruisers - we felt so, well, National!) to the Inland Sea.  When we ran out of highway at Sealine Resort, we stopped to ride the camels-for-hire.  Our journey continued for about another hour through the dunes until we reached the Inland Sea.  From this point, we could see the mountains of Saudi Arabia across the sea, one of which looks eerily like the Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay.  We continued back to the tour company's camp, where we spent a relaxing day and had a nice lunch of kebab, rice and dal keema prepared for us.

Dhow Cruise - No visit to Doha would be complete without a boating excursion on the Gulf.  We made arrangements for a dinner cruise on a traditional dhow boat.  Four other families joined us, all friends that  moved to Doha in August as well.  We set anchor just off Al Safliya Island, and the kids (and some of the adults) dove off the boat for a swim.  Following a dinner at sunset, we cruised back to Doha with a view of the nighttime skyline.

Al Khor and the Mangrove Forest - We took a morning drive to Al Thakira, where we went to see a mangrove forest.  In doing so, we found a great spot for future kayaking.  We then continued back to the community of Al Khor, where we had a pleasurable lunch by the pool.

The Pearl - This area is a series of manmade islands in the Gulf, about a five minute drive from our house.  It is a neighbourhood of wealth, and in amongst its waterfront condos are some very high-end retail locations, the Ferrari dealship and the Giorgio Armani store among them.  On New Year's Eve, we took a stroll at The Pearl, passing the private yachts on our way to The Chocolate Bar for ice cream.

Turkish Cuisine - In our continuing efforts to make Richard and Roly experience food from every country in the Eastern Hemisphere, we chose a great Turkish restaurant, Harput, to go for Dan's birthday.  Thankfully, I had been there previously with my good friend A.G., who is originally from Turkey, so I could point to items on the menu with reasonable confidence when it came time to order.

And They're Off! - We saved our much anticipated drive out to the camel racetrack, about 30 minutes outside of Doha, for our visitors.  There were no races on the morning we went, but the camels and their riders were training, which was probably even more fun.  The track itself is a 10 kilometer oval (who knew that camels are middle-distance runners?), and we were able to drive inside the inner oval and watch the groups run by.  We could never have imagined seeing so many camels in one place - there were literally hundreds of them.  Evidently the riders have had their pictures taken once or twice, as they smiled and waved every time they saw a camera pointed in their direction.  I'm sure I even saw a couple of camels flash their pearly whites.  When we had seen enough of the camels (and really, can you ever?), we headed to...

Zekreet - This little sojourn brought us close to the west coast of the peninsula of Qatar, and took about another half hour more, where our goal was to find Film City.  This location is a former film set for a TV series, which was left intact.  Unfortunately, we had to give up our search, but after some more research when we got home, we now know how to get there for our next visitors.

Professional Tennis - The ATP Qatar ExxonMobil Open began January 3, so we headed down to stadium to take in the action.  It was especially exciting for us to watch as Nick was a ball-boy for the tournament, and his grandparents got to see him work a couple of games that night.  (More on Nick's experience in a future entry.)

Roly and Richard also got a tour of the hockey rink, the kids' school and the Museum of Islamic Art.  We took some time to hang out by the pool, explore the compound by foot and bike, and play daily games of Settlers of Catan or The Farming Game.

Our doors are always open, and you can customize your Adventure with the Lemoings to suit your tastes.  Don't be disappointed - book now!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Raising Iowa

"The next time I have to give something away, I'm going to choose something without a face.  I get too attached if it has a face."

These profound words were spoken by Ben, after picking out a toy for the White Elephant Christmas gift exchange at school.  Ben then spent an agonizing evening and early morning coming to terms with the imminent loss of this little creature which he had personified.

While my budding vegetarian is prone to attachment of inanimate objects, it's even more intense for living things.  On our recent trip to Oman, he developed a love of camels that would rival Romeo and Juliet, or at least Brangelina.  Their bad teeth and high-pitched growls notwithstanding (the camels, that is), he took one look at those long eyelashes and turned into a puddle in the sand.

And so, it was without much question or debate that we decided to get him a camel for Christmas.  For obvious reasons, erecting a stable in the back yard for a real one was out of the question.  Instead, I embarked on a search for the largest stuffed camel I could find.

Piece of cake, right?  Not quite.  Considering that we live in the heart of Arabia, it is surprising how hard it is to find a stuffed camel.  But after searching the city over, I finally found one at Hallmark, and it was the biggest, saddest looking creature you could ever imagine, with huge doe eyes and a scruffy mane.  Dan took one look at it and said, "That's the most pathetic looking camel I have ever seen.  He's going to love it."

And he does love it.   Ben had previously been on a website with a cartoon camel that said, "Iowa", which is kind of what a camel sounds like, oddly enough.  So, Iowa has become a member of our family, and he was even part of our most recent family picture.  Now I just have to find a way to break it to Ben that I'm not springing for a plane ticket to Canada for his new little buddy this summer.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Beige Christmas

Having been residents of Alberta for the last number of years, we were used to living through the occasional brown Christmas. This year, of course, we experienced our very first Beige Christmas.

In past years, we've watched as some family and friends have opted to spend Christmas in a tropical location. But greater than our desire to spend the holidays amid the snow and bad driving conditions was our desire to be 'at home', no matter what the weather. If "Home is Where You Hang Your Hat", then Doha is definitely our home for hat-hanging purposes, but it doesn't hold any of our memories of Christmases past. For the Christmas of 2010 we were hit with the double whammy of being away from home AND not having to shovel our walk. We were so fortunate to have Dan's parents, Richard and Roly, come to Doha. Their presence was like a gift of home, and having them here made us all feel much less homesick.

The morning of December 24th, we took a leisurely stroll along the Corniche, which allowed us some unique photo ops for our guests.  As Nicholas had minor surgery on December 20th (nothing serious, just the aftermath of a Boy vs. Waterslide incident this past summer where his toe was collateral damage), he joined us on crutches.  The hospital had only elbow crutches in his size, so it was like having our very own Tiny Tim!

Sometimes when you're presented with the inability to carry on with certain traditions, you have to make new ones.  And so it was, since I wasn't allowed to make my traditional Christmas Eve ham in this country, that I made the only other suitable thing:  reservations.  We enjoyed a really nice Christmas Eve buffet at the Ritz-Carlton, and the kids even got their picture taken inside the full-size gingerbread house.

The boys helped us get an early start to our Christmas Day, and after presents and a big breakfast,  we went to the French language mass.  Ben and Jacob even went swimming that afternoon, even though the water was "freezing" (21C, if you can believe the bulletin board at the pool - I think we're turning into wimps).  This was all capped off by a great turkey dinner (I was even able to get a Butterball!).  I'm puzzled by Roly's lack of her usual sense of adventure, as she decided not to risk smuggling a tourtiere into the country, so we had to do without.

I hope that you all had a Merry Christmas with your families, and that the New Year is filled with good cheer!

Friday, January 7, 2011

There Will Never Be Another Tonight...

On Dec. 16, the winter of 2010 felt just like the Summer of ‘69.  No, I wasn’t running around in diapers and sprouting teeth.  That Thursday night, one of my favourite Canadian rock artists came to Doha and performed on stage live at the beach at the InterContinental Hotel.

I’m at risk of dating myself here, but some of Bryan Adams’ albums from the ‘80s were the soundtrack of my high school summers.  I kept up with him through the ‘90s, and while I haven’t purchased any of his new material in a long time, I still consider myself a fan.  So when our Canadian friends suggested we all go, we thought it would be fun.

The venue was amazing – the stage was right on the hotel beach, with a view of the Doha skyline off to the left.  We positioned ourselves about five rows back from the stage, and I stood in my bare feet in the sand during the concert.  Adams has been putting on acoustic performances on this tour, but here he mixed acoustic with his standard style.  For 51, he looks and sounds remarkably youthful, and when he played “18 ‘Til I Die”, we kind of thought he may have been prophetic!

Of course, I have no video record of this event as that would be highly illegal (wink, wink).  But I'd be happy to share what I accidentally recorded on my camera when I see you all in person.