2015: My Year in Review

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best year of my life to date. I celebrated some huge milestones, grew personally and emotionally, as well as in my career and made some monumental life changes that will shape my life for forever more. Looking back, I can't believe that I managed to cram so much into 12 short months. To be able to enjoy so many wonderful moments in such a short space of time is frankly incredible, and I want to thank everybody that has been involved in helping to make 2015 the most memorable year yet!

My Top Highlights

*Marrying the love of my life on a beautiful July afternoon in Hathersage, and celebrating with our family and friends at Chatsworth House.

*Embarking on the trip of a lifetime across Italy for our honeymoon, as well as several shorter holidays, including a surprise visit to Oman for Mr Sunshine's birthday

*Finding out that we were expecting our first child while in London at the end of our honeymoon

*Seeing our baby wiggling around on a scan for the first time, and later discovering that we are going to be having a little girl

*Receiving lots of visitors from the UK and building some new, lifelong friendships in Qatar

*Moving into a new, larger apartment and beginning to furnish our daughter's nursery

*Feeling happier and more fulfilled in my career than I ever have before. Managing to get several articles published in local and regional press, and visiting Jordan to help open a football pitch and launch a football for development programme

*Enjoying several trips home to England, and realising that despite life changing, my closest friends and family are always going to be around.

2015 in Numbers

2: The number of hen parties my friends organised for me (one in Qatar and one in London)
130: The number of friends and family that came to celebrate our wedding with us
1: The number of publications that featured our wedding. There was a beautiful article on our wedding on Style And The Bride
27: The number of weeks I was pregnant for in 2015
90: The (approximate) number of times I was sick in my first trimester!
5: The number of countries I visited this year, for work and for pleasure
5: The number of times Mr Sunshine and I flew into Heathrow Airport
5: The number of important age milestones that were reached in my family this year. My half sister Bethany turned 18; Mr Sunshine, his twin James and I turned 30 and my mum turned 60 in close succession
3: The number of my close friends that got engaged
2: The number of times I was asked to be a bridesmaid
3: The number of my close friends that got married
4: The number of my close friends that announced that they are pregnant 
3: The number of my close friends that had babies
744:  The number of Instagram photos I posted @polbag
27,320: The number of Instagram likes I received
134: The number of blog posts I wrote
197: The number of different countries that visited my blog this year.

Blog Achievements

Now is the time that I look back at the blogging resolutions that I set myself at the beginning of the year to see whether I managed to meet any of them! Despite the inevitable decrease in the quantity of posts I've been able to write since I became pregnant and work ramped up a gear or two, I feel pretty happy with how Follow Your Sunshine has evolved.

-I gave my blog layout a complete overhaul and underwent a redesign, with a little help from the wonderful Envye, which is run by one of my favourite bloggers and Instagrammers, Dana Fox of The Wonderforest.
- I attended a bloggers' photography workshop, and made an attempt to improve the quality and consistency of the photos I post.
- I became a lot more organised with my blogging schedule, as well as organising my life around the events that I attended and things that I wanted to promote. This involved opening myself up to lots of exciting opportunities such as restaurant visits and hotel stays, but also learning how to say no to certain opportunities when they arose because they didn't fit with my brand or because I simply didn't have the time to do the project justice!
- I reached some new follower milestones on the blog as well as across my social media channels, which are small but significant to me. My blog viewing stats went through the roof around our wedding and the announcement of my pregnancy. It seems that while you lovely lot like to read about food and travel, you absolutely love those personal posts (which is great for me, because they are my favourite posts to write)!

My 10 most popular posts of 2015:

1. Our Wedding Day: This One's For You
2. Pregnancy Update: My First Trimester
3. Pregnancy Update: Week 13
4. So, I Have Some Exciting News...
5. 6 Things That Change When You Live Abroad
6. Our Wedding: The Ceremony
7. Top 6 Fine Dining Restaurants in Doha: #4 Antica Pesa and Toro Toro
8. Our Wedding: 25 Things I've Been Thinking About
9. Our Wedding: The Reception
10. Top 6 Fine Dining Restaurants in Doha: #6 La Mer

What This Year Taught Me

- Finding out that you are going to have a child really is as wonderful as everybody says it is. Your whole life will change in an instant.

- Your friends and family make the world go round. Don't take a single one of them for granted.

- Sometimes it's not where you are, but where you're going that matters.

- Hope and faith can get you anywhere. Sometimes holding on to the fact that your fate is in the hands of something or someone bigger than you can really help.

- Soulmates exist.

What's next?

Our little girl is due on the 28th March 2016. Until that point, I will be wrapping up and handing over some important things at work before I go on maternity leave, finishing off our nursery and pursuing a few exciting blogging opportunities before I get too large to move!

As great as 2015 was, I know that 2016 is going to be even more life changing for us, and I can not explain just how excited I am about us becoming a family of three. I feel like I have been destined to become a mummy for my entire life, and I can't believe that it's finally about to happen!

Not long after our little one is born, we will be heading back to the UK for two important weddings: first Rich's brother James and Inger Johanne in June, and then in July, one of my best friends Romana is marrying Arthur, where I will be joint maid of honour. At this point, Mr Sunshine and I have decided to stay in England for a while and I hope that we will get the opportunity to catch up with our nearest and dearest properly, and to introduce everybody to our new arrival.

From there on out, I think it will be a rather quiet year for the Sunshines...well, if you count sleepless nights and endless nappy changes as quiet!! We are both using up all of our leave time for when the baby's born, so no quick hops over to the UAE or Christmassing in the UK for us this year. And luxury holidays will definitely be out of the question!

Nevertheless, I've never started a year with such excited anticipation for what is to come, and despite being desperate for March to come, I'm going to make a conscious effort to enjoy every last moment of my pregnancy up to that point.

I hope you'll join me on the blog as I continue my journey!

Thanks again for all of the support, I couldn't do this without you. Wishing you all the best for a very happy end to 2015, and a great new year to come,


A Festive Stay at the Doubletree by Hilton

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

No matter what was achieved in 2015, every one of us has something to celebrate. A new home, advances in jobs, steps taken in relationships, or simply just getting through the year and looking forward to better times ahead...we all deserve to treat ourselves, and this is the time of year to do it.

Rich and I were feeling that way when we checked into the brand new Doubletree by Hilton in Doha Old Town for the weekend. We were coming to the end of the most action packed and life changing year of our lives, and it was time for us to wind down and celebrate. 
If treats are what you're after then you'll be more than content with the friendly faces that welcome you at the reception desk and the warm-from-the-oven cookie which is offered on your arrival. 

But the best gift of all comes when you enter your room. A spacious yet cosy space looks out across the Corniche over the stunning skyline of West Bay. 
Sweet treats, soft furnishings and plush bathrooms add an extra level of comfort. 

And the large, comfortable beds adorned with squishy pillows that allow you to siiiiink in slowly are just too good to resist. 
You probably won't be surprised to learn that this scene lasted all of five minutes after our arrival, for a huge leap into the depths of the covers was just too much to resist. Mr Sunshine and I were absolutely shattered: I was getting over the flu, was getting bigger by the day and had a busy week of preparing for a work trip to Jordan ahead of me. Mr S had just worked a six day week with a couple of extremely late nights and was pretty much a dead man walking.
A 'Sweet Dreams' experience was just what the doctor ordered.

To add to the feeling of bliss, the staff had organised a specially-tailored massage for me. In my room. Yes, I didn't even have to walk the ten paces to the spa which was just down the corridor from our room on the top floor. Things don't come more festively-decadent than this!

My masseuse Kristine was an absolute star. Having been pregnant not so long ago herself, she knew exactly what was needed to help me to relax and unwind, and the spots to target on my back and neck which were suffering the most.

One hour and one head, back and foot massage later, propped up on pillows on the glorious bed, I could have gone to sleep right there and then. But our stomachs were gurgling. 

Open restaurant is a terrible place to go if like me you like all food and you're terrible at making decisions. The concept is simple: anything goes, and a fusion of cuisines and flavours await you on the extensive menu. 
We, as always opted for a little bit of everything, which we couldn't even come close to finishing. But this is what you're supposed to do at Christmas after all. 

The food was well presented but it wasn't ground breaking. Actually, it wasn't remarkable in the slightest. The ambience of the restaurant wasn't upmarket or 'five star' either. However, the staff were absolutely wonderful, the food was served promptly, and if you are looking for a quick bite to eat in a relaxed and friendly environment, then I think you would really like this place.

Finally, it was up to the roof for a cheeky nightcap (mocktail) before retiring to our blissful bed for some Sweet Dreaming. 
Pure Sky Lounge is a beautiful space, and the view is truly breathtaking. A real hidden gem for any of you wishing to drink and chat the night away while listening to laid back music. Even on the last day of the week before the new work week began it was heaving. 

I can honestly say that I was fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Our Sweet Dreams experience had begun...or had it?!
You really couldn't make the next bit up. At sometime in the night, I guess around 2.30am, we were rudely awoken by the teeth-clenching sound of clanging bells. At first I thought I was dreaming, but it soon became apparent that it was the fire alarm. And it wasn't stopping. We hurriedly got dressed, and walked (waddled) down the 13 flights of stairs to the ground floor lobby, only to be told that everyone was being sent back up to bed. Someone had just been smoking in their room. I don't entirely blame the hotel for this, but when the alarm blared again at 6am, after I had only just managed to get back to sleep half an hour before, I might have cursed it a little under my breath.

My own alarm awake me with a start at 7am. Bleary eyed from the disrupted night, I eventually tore myself from that gorgeous bed. I was late for work, had no time for breakfast and was in a rush to check out, but being handed another warm cookie to munch on in the taxi brought a smile to my weary face once more.

Mr Sunshine's view:

Would definitely recommend this hotel due to its location, views of the stunning Doha skyline and friendly service. I think that a hotel should really be judged first and foremost on how well you have slept and it was with a large slice of irony that we were invited to try out the hotel's 'blissful' mattress only to be woken up twice in the night by fire alarms! The hotel staff were of course entirely blameless and offered a sincere apology in the morning, as well as another warm cookie which I wolfed down on the spot. A quick stop to their breakfast bar and a few cappuccinos later, I felt ready to take on the day, albeit a little bleary-eyed and lacking in conversation! Oh well...as Oscar Wilde once said, "only boring people are brilliant at breakfast".

We were guests of the Doubletree by Hilton this time, but as always all views are my own

Pregnancy Update: Weeks 21-23

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


It's been a while since my last bumpdate because I've been battling with a horrible bout of Doha flu and the effort it has taken to turn my laptop on to write a heartfelt post was just too much for me. More on that in a minute! Because I haven't shown you my progress for a while, I think you might notice quite a bit of a change this week! My tummy definitely became rounder, and my tummy button is definitely almost out now. Do you think I look like a proper pregnant lady yet?!

We went for another scan last Thursday, and the doctor said that our 'little' girl now weighs 500 grams (just over a pound!) and is a foot long. And she's growing by the day!


In the last week, mainly flu. Headaches, sore throat, hacking cough, running nose, temperature. You name it I've had it. Flu is always nasty, but flu when pregnant is the worst. I was really worried that the little one was going to be affected by it, but a check-up at the doctor and a quick scan put my mind at rest.

On a much nicer note, the little kicks I've been feeling have continued to get stronger and more regular, and I feel like I fall in love a little more every time I feel them. A new thing I've noticed over the past few weeks is how much she seems to love Adele. If I turn Hello up to full volume, she does a funny little boogie in my tummy, with feet kicking and arms flailing. She's obviously inherited her dad's dance moves!!

What I've been eating

I have experienced a huge increase in my appetite over the past few weeks, which has been satisfied by lots of lovely meals out.

How I've been feeling

Very mixed emotions over the past few weeks. We moved into a new flat with a second bedroom and we have started to decorate the nursery. I can't tell you how excited I've been picking out furniture and soft furnishings for our little girl's future bedroom! It's turning into a lovely space, and I can't wait to share in with you in due course. I have also booked myself and Rich in to a positive birth class in early January which teaches you all the skills required for a calm and natural birth. I have been reading a lot about this recently and have made the decision that as far as I'm able I'd like to avoid any interventions. Let's see how long this lasts once I actually go into labour! Rich and I have also started investigating important things like which hospital I'm going to give birth in and which consultant will deliver our baby - positive and exciting decisions which are starting to make giving birth feel all too real!

The other side of the past few weeks has been less than cheerful. Illness always puts a dampener on any good mood, and I've struggled with horrible fatigue. This has been made even more difficult by an incredibly busy time at work. Last night we had a big event in Qatar and now I'm currently sitting in an airport in Amman, Jordan waiting to board a flight to Aqaba for another event tomorrow and while I'm super excited about it I'm also desperate for a break. Bring on the Christmas hols!!

What I've been wearing

Slouchy t-shirts a size or two larger than my usual size have become my new best friend.

This gorgeous embellished t-shirt is from Ted Baker.

Products I've been using

I've finally found a face wash which is delicate enough for me to feel comfortable using while pregnant, yet strong enough to remove my make-up at the end of the day. Hoorah! This Body Shop staple is a real winner, pregnancy or no pregnancy and my face has never felt so soft since using it!

I have also continued to use my stetch mark cream and mother's balm on a daily basis, and so far no stretch marks. Touch wood this continues.

Baby bits

I don't want to give too much away because I will be doing a full nursery tour post shortly, but my friend Donna gave us a gorgeous bassinet with rocker which was used by her little one Lachie. It makes me go a little gooey every time I look at it. There will be more on this and the rest of the nursery in early Jan!

Link of the week

There are heaps and heaps of links that I discovered on my sick bed over the past week, so I'll be trickling these over to you as time goes on.

For now, here is by far the best maternity wear store I have found to date: https://www.isabellaoliver.com/uk

Thank you Isabella Oliver. Yes ladies, you can look good pregnant!!

Final words

If there is one thing that I've learnt since being pregnant, it's that all the smallest hardships are worth it. A million times over. Even a severe bout of Doha flu.

5 Things To Do In London At Christmas

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Out here in the desert, Mr Sunshine and I have been busy recreating all of the Christmas-mood enhancing traditions that help you to survive the festive season in Qatar.

However, we haven't put our heart and soul into it in the same way that we did last year, because for a few weeks now we have had leave booked in to head home for the holidays. In two weeks today, we will be up in the skies and en route to our favourite place in the world to celebrate the Christmas season: London!

To help myself get into the festive spirit, I've put together a checklist of things we must do while we're in the English capital in order to get the best out of Christmas.

1. Visit the West End and Mayfair

Show me anywhere on earth that feels more Christmassy than this area of London and I will eat my (Santa) hat! Beautifully decorated shops and streets, twinkling lights and even fake snow falling on Oxford Street make the Christmas shopping experience in the West End and Mayfair a rather special one.

2. Have afternoon tea

Sure, this London tradition can be done at any time of year, but many hotels put on an extra special Christmas afternoon tea for December, with special Christmassy treats accompanying the usual sandwiches and scones and live choirs and piano music playing festive tunes in the background while you eat. The perfect way to catch up with family while indulging in the way you should indulge at Christmas.

My favourite Christmas afternoon teas this year are the new Ventian dining room, Celeste at the Lanesborough.

And of course, The Ritz.

3. Go ice skating

London has a plethora of ice skating options that open up to the public every year around the end of November.

I partricularly love the rinks that are bordered by beautiful old buildings and decorated with pretty lights. Somerset House is a must, but book well in advance because places fill up very quickly. But my personal favourite is the rink outside the stunning Natural History Museum.

4. Go to a Christmas market or fair

There are many well-known markets that pop up around this time of year, such as the South Bank Christmas Market and the More London Christmas Market. However, it's worth checking out some of the smaller, less mainstream offerings in the capital, including the Monocle Christmas Market in Marylebone and the Fair Christmas Fayre in Regent Hall, Oxford Street.

However, there is one Christmas fair in particular that's on everyone's minds at this time of year and that is Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland. If you're looking for ice skating, shopping, eating, drinking, games, prizes and entertainment all in one spot, this is the fair for you. Don't forget to book your ticket online in advance!

5.  Wrap up warm and have a wander

Finally, one day don't make a plan. Pop on your scarf and hat, take a train somewhere central and simply walk around, soaking up the unique Christmas atmosphere of the capital.

Just don't forget to stop for a warming eggnog latte to keep you going.

I am posting this as part of the monthly travel link-up. To join in, simply head over to Kelly's, Rebecca's, Emma's, or guest host Ayla's blog at Mrs Ayla's Adventures to link up your post on a festive season theme before the 7th December.

A Weekend at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski, Doha

Friday, 4 December 2015

There aren't many hotels in Doha quite like the Marsa Malaz Kempinski. Mr Sunshine and I had a little snoop around just before it opened at the beginning of this year and were wowed by the architectural splendour and opulence of the place. It really is a hotel fit for a Sheikha.

Since then, twelve months have passed by in the blink of an eye, and the hotel has rapidly become our most frequented venue in Doha. But why?

Allow me to explain by taking you on a little journey through a weekend of socialising, eating and relaxing, all within the four walls of this very special hotel.

In Doha, the weekend starts on a Thursday evening. Mr Sunshine and I have generally worked hard all week, and with his changing shift patterns and my long working hours, we have barely seen each other. This calls for a date night, but where to go? It has to be somewhere with a casual and relaxed vibe as I'm shattered and don't fancy making too much effort (plus I've just sifted through my wardrobe and I can't for the life of me find a nice dress that will fit over the ever-expanding bump). It would be a bonus if the restaurant had an outdoor terrace so that we can take advantage of the cooler weather. Maybe some live music and a bit of soul to get us in the mood for the weekend. And it goes without saying that the food has to be top notch.

There is of course, one restaurant in Doha which ticks all of these boxes: the Spanish restaurant, El Faro at the Marsa Malaz.

It's the perfect Thursday evening venue because it oozes casual chic, with its cavernous space and polished concrete floors...

Punctuated by tiles shipped in by the restaurant's Spanish owner from his very own home! It is this kind of personalisation and attention to detail that makes this space extra special.

I particularly love some of the old-school touches within the space of the restaurant, such as this authentic Spanish antique oven, sitting solitary on one wall below a painting, like a perfect piece of art in a gallery.

A stark contrast to the bespoke graffiti wall opposite which runs the whole length of one side of the restaurant. There are little nods to Qatari culture and the restaurant itself in the artwork, although you have to search a little to pick them out.

We stopped to admire the enormous, well-stocked bar, and the more intimate tapas bar next door.

But this cool winter's evening called for a seat on the open air terrace outside.

Apart from the relaxed and funky vibe, here are the reasons why I think El Faro makes the perfect Thursday evening spot.

There is always live music and entertainment, which changes on a regular basis so that you always see something new. We were lucky enough to come on a night when these talented guitar players were strumming their stuff.

The set 'Paella - Chef's Choice Menu' is slightly pricey at QAR 900 for two people, but it is sure to get you into the spirit of the weekend, as the price includes a whole litre pitcher of Sangria to accompany your food.

Or your Sangria can be made with alcohol-free wine if you're that way inclined.

This degustation menu, designed by inventive Head Chef, Raul Cobb takes you on a journey around Spain, starting off in Catalonia with the restaurant's special take on Pan Catalana: toasted sourdough served with special tomato and aioli sauces. Moreish to the extreme.

The tapas-style appetizers are a veritable Spanish feast. From gazpacho and mixed croquettes, to Patatas Bravas and Gambas Al Ajillo, by the time you have finished this wheel of tasty treats for the senses, the cobwebs you have built up over the week gone by will be completely blown away.

But it's the main event, the paella, which El Faro is really known for. Usually one pan of paella is shared between two, but we were kindly given two to sample. We opted for the seafood paella, which was perfectly cooked so that the rice was just beginning to stick to the bottom in a nice crust, and the 'Fideua', which is a vermicilli seafood paella, an old Spanish dish first invented by a group of fishermen, who far out at sea ran out of rice for their paella and had to resort to using the noodles they had left instead.

Both were delicious and filling. Perfect Thursday night fayre.

It was the huge selection of Spanish desserts that really got us in the spirit for the weekend however. Thursday evenings through to Saturdays are all about sharing special moments with your loved ones...and there isn't much I'd rather share than a basket of steaming Churros and numerous other tasty delights.

We sat in the breeze long after the last dish was scraped clean, enjoying the lilting sound of the guitar, before sloping off to bed. The weekend had truly begun.

Now those of you that live in or have visited the Middle East will know that Friday over here is all about brunch. And I'm not talking about simple Eggs Bene and a Bloody Mary here folks, I'm talking a full-blown, all day, all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink affair with extensive buffets and usually some music and entertainment thrown in for good measure.

I was excited, because this Friday, I was returning to brunch my little socks off for the first time since my birthday back in September. As Mr Sunshine got ready to head into work as he always does on a Friday, I flung dresses over my head until I found one that fitted, slapped some make-up on and headed back to the Marsa Malaz to meet some friends at Sawa.

Outside on the terrace when I arrived, chefs from each of the restaurants were already cooking up a storm, and I spotted a familiar and delicious-smelling pan of paella sizzling away. 

A little walk around revealed that there were in fact a huge array of different cuisines to choose from.

For someone that enjoys food as much as I do, this huge selection is a little overwhelming, and having glanced at the feast of options inside the restaurant too, I decided that the only way forward was to opt for a little bit of everything. This is after all, what a Doha brunch is all about - eating as much of as many different things as you can until you feel sick, pausing to let it go down and then starting again.

Meanwhile, my friend Gerald had opted for a different tactic. Cutting out any indecision about where to start, he was found at the dessert table, filling his plate with sumptuous cakes and creamy dessert pots. "Life is too short not to start with dessert Polly', he explained. I think we all need to take a leaf out of his book sometimes!

We all sat back and chatted away into the afternoon, them supping on their limitless cocktails and sparkling wine, me on a pretty awesome mocktail.

It was the perfect place to catch up with friends while indulging in a few Friday treats. We all deserve a little spoiling on a weekend after all.

Saturdays are often far more chilled. Mr Sunshine works late on a Friday, and we tend to indulge in a long lie in, often not emerging from the flat until the early hours of the afternoon. By this point, we're usually ravenous, and once again begin the debate about where we should go to find food.

This particular Saturday, our thoughts turned once again to the Marsa Malaz, where the sumptuous Cafe Murano had launched its Golden High Tea, to much local acclaim. Of course, as dedicated Brits, we are never ones to pass up the option to try a new afternoon tea. So back to the hotel it was once more for a third and final time that weekend.

Prettily served, on not one but TWO separate stands, this afternoon tea is delicate yet decadent, traditional but with a twist, and absolutely delicious. I particularly enjoyed the soft sandwiches which you could tell had been freshly made just moments ago.

And the buttery scones, which were a little dry but tasted so buttery that with some clotted cream and jam it really didn't matter that much. 

Saturday afternoons are all about sitting back, chilling out and taking your time so that you're fully relaxed for the week ahead. This includes taking your time over the difficult decision of choosing which tea you would like to accompany your scones. Thankfully, Cafe Murano has provided a little vial of tea leaves next to every description so that you can have a little sniff so that you can be confident that you're making the right decision. This part of the afternoon tea process is quite important to us Brits, and we need to get it right!

It's just a real shame that there's no decaffeinated options for us preggos on the menu! I had to make do with my water instead.

The tiny petit fours, balanced carefully on their silver ferris wheel were the real highlights of our afternoon. Each was delicately flavoured and was decorated with a little touch of gold to remind us that this was no ordinary afternoon tea.

Cafe Murano is no ordinary cafe either. Traditional Arabic motifs and furniture is adorned with modern hints to Murano, and modern art; a special and interesting touch.


As we scraped the last crumbs from our plates, and prepared to leave, we stopped by the counter in the centre of the room. It would have been rude to leave without asking for a selection box of sweets and chocolates to take away...it might have been Saturday evening and the sun was going down, but the weekend wasn't over just yet.

We were guests of the Marsa Malaz Kempinski on these occasions. However, as always all views are my own.