Christmas in Qatar

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The sun may be shining brightly, but there is plenty of reason to feel festive over here in Doha, if you are willing to make a bit of effort.

After complaining about how un-Christmassy we were both feeling in this hot Muslim country last week, Rich and I decided to go on a hunt for a Christmas tree to help make our flat feel a bit more festive. 

We quickly discovered that Christmas had come to Doha after all, it had just been hiding down one of the aisles in Carrefour.

As ever, they had gone for a very classy and minimalist display...

We all know that when choosing Christmas tree decorations, it helps if you put on a festive hat to get in the mood

And of course, dressing in matching Christmassy colours helps you to get into the swing of things.

When we got home, we couldn't wait to get the tree up and start decorating, with the soft sound of Michael Buble crooning some Christmas classics in the background.

We even managed to track down some advent calendars so we could officially start the countdown to the big day...

Now, in order to complete the Christmas cheer, all we needed to add was friends.

This week, we were invited along for a festive meal at Hayley and Ian's flat. 

Gary and Donna had brought along a personalised Christmas tree decoration for each of us. I loved my little bear with a heart which is now taking pride of place on my tree!

And Hayley and Ian seemed pretty chuffed with their decorations too.

The most Christmassy thing we saw that evening was the huge gingerbread house that the hotel had erected in their cafe.

"Excuse me, am I allowed to help myself to some of this?"

Later in the week, I headed out with Julia Keys, Rachel Gray (Richard and Andy's wives), Nicky, Lianne and Jess for a girly dinner at a seafood restaurant in Katara cultural village. Everybody's upcoming plans for Christmas were the main topic of conversation.

Some of the girls are staying out here over Christmas, and while some have family coming over to visit, others are spending the day itself with friends. Something I've really started to notice over here is that because you're such a long way from home, the good friends you make quickly become your extended family. You share a lot more things out here, and that includes your turkey on Christmas day.

We finished off the week with a proper Christmas gathering at ours, complete with Christmassy games in the form of Who's In The Bag? and charades. 

Jason McAteer, Rich and Nicky (AKA 'Nicky's Team') clearly didn't take the game that seriously at all...

And our team ('Yes Nigel') soon discovered that their competitive (read cheating) ways meant that we were in with no chance, so resolved to just have a bit of fun.

This didn't stop Luke from getting into the zone every time it came to our go of course.

All in all there were some excellent acting skills displayed. Take it from me, if your various football punditry, reporting, producing and hairdressing careers fall through, there is definitely a place for you all on a West End stage.

This morning, I woke up with a bit of a fuzzy head, feeling very happy.

You CAN have a good Christmas in Doha, you just have to seek it out and make sure you get into the spirit of things.

All of this Christmas spirit has set us up nicely, because tomorrow we are flying back to the UK, for friends and family and mulled wine and carols and Christmas markets and cold and hopefully snow!

I'll tell you all about it on our return.

When opportunity knocks...

Monday, 9 December 2013

Since I arrived here, I have seen Doha as a place of opportunity. But unlike London, where opportunity lies around every corner, here you have to look for it and be ready to grab it with both hands as soon as it comes your way.

This has been a busy week of new opportunities.

Yesterday's came in the form of WAKEBOARDING with Nicky and Lianne.

As most of you will know, I am notoriously bad at anything that involves too much strength and agility. Netball, sure. A bit of light swimming, cool. Hoisting myself out of the water, bracing every muscle in my body and keeping my balance as I am dragged along at 60 mph by a speed boat...not a hope in hell. Still, like anything, I was more than willing to give it a go, and to have a good laugh at how terrible I was compared to these two seasoned professionals.

Look at how graceful N & L are on the water:

"Look, it's so easy I only need one hand!" 

When it came to my turn, feeling emboldened after half a beer (it doesn't take much), I jumped into the water with my excellent coach Lianne, attached myself with a bit of difficulty to my board...

And after falling off a couple of times, proceeded with this really glamorous, squatty technique...

until I found the strength (and courage) to heeeeeaaaave myself out of the water. Wobbling down the causeway, before I inevitably wobbled too much, lost my balance and toppled back into the sea, I felt 3 minutes of absolute, pure and utter joy. You probably can't see it in these pictures, but I am definitely grinning.

I think this photo of Nicky photobombing me sums up the fun we had that afternoon perfectly.

It was even almost worth the all over body-ache which has slowly crept up on me today. Who knew that you use muscles in your ARMPITS to Wakeboard?!

Earlier in the week, I'd experienced another first in the form of a Harley Davidson themed brunch at the Grand Hyatt hotel. Bikes and brunch may sound like a slightly strange mix, but the combination of good music, great food, fun people and a really laid back vibe made for an excellent day out.

Holly had been invited along by the General Manager, Christoph, and following my awesome experience at brunch last week, I was all over it when she asked me if I would like to be her plus 1.

We were seated on a table with Christoph, his wife Rachel, their two children and a bunch of their friends, and within seconds of sitting down, we were immediately welcomed into the friendly group.

Holly and I had let the side down a little by not fully embracing the biking attire, but we still got stuck in with the best of them.

Once again, the food was amazing

But it was the fun and laid back party atmosphere that really made this brunch. We weren't at all surprised when Christoph told us it had won Doha's brunch of the year in the Time Out Doha restaurant awards for several years running.

We finished the night with a few drinks in the bar upstairs and more than a few new friends.

Forget Time Out, Friday brunch in The Grill at the Grand Hyatt has the Holly Chubb seal of approval.

The only other food I had this week that came anywhere close to rivalling the Grand Hyatt's was on Wednesday in the form of Luke's infamous homemade tuna flan. 

Gordon Ramsay eat your heart out.

After dinner, we settled in to play some serious Trivial Pursuit - Genius Edition no less.

Great preparation for Christmas in the ultra-competitive Bagley household!

Nicky wasn't at all bitter about losing.

If all this wasn't enough, this week we have also taken in some culture at the Museum of Islamic Art...

Been to visit our new, fabulous neighbours down the road...

And squeezed in some much-needed R&R.

It's been a crazybusy week, and the one coming up is set to be just as busy. 

Gimme more.