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Hotel/Accommodation, Middle East, Qatar, Travel

Staycation at the Westin Doha

May 22, 2017

Staycation at the Westin DohaBack in December, I won a free night stay at the Westin Doha. The Westin Doha is a newish hotel in Doha and it is not in the area where most of the hotels have been built. In the past few weeks, I have read a few negative reviews regarding events and a few of the restaurants. Since the voucher was going to expire and I am about to leave, I thought I would give it a try and have a staycation for one night.

The Room

When you enter the room, you are greeted with a panoramic view of the whole room, including some of the bathroom. After I noticed the open layout of the room, the next thing I noticed was the soaker tub that looks out over the room. I couldn’t wait to get it and soak for a while. It seemed like you could see the television from the tub. Watching a movie from the tub sounded like a great idea. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the tv from the tub. This was due to the divide between the room and the bathroom. Seems like a huge design flaw.

Staycation at Westin Doha

Staycation at the Westin Doha

However, the rest of the room was pretty great. My room was a deluxe room with a pool view. The room was quite large and had a king sized bed. The Westin Hotel is known for its beds and it did not disappoint! Thick carpet with a beautiful design extends throughout. Heavy blackout curtains block out the Middle Eastern sun perfectly.

Staycation at the Westin Doha

Staycation at the Westin Doha

The usual amenities are present, such as a desk and a beautiful cabinet with the mini fridge and coffee and tea. For all the Brits out there, yes, there is evaporated milk for your tea! What was great was there were plenty of international plugs for all your devices. One complaint was that my room was right by the elevator and everyone is loud getting off the elevator. Not really the hotel’s fault, but the door could have been sound proofed. The other issue was that they had lights on sensors so when you get out of bed at night, you can see. Great idea, but they took forever to go off and one time it went off when I was moving around in the bed.

The Food

The restaurant I had heard good things about was Sabai Thai. It is a small restaurant set back from the hotel. Unfortunately, you have to go outside to reach Sabai Thai, which during the summer in Qatar it could be an issue. When entering there was a Thai woman playing a traditional Thai instrument that had a lovely sound and was so much better than the loud music some place blast in restaurants.

I did not order a starter as I wanted dessert. For the main course, I ordered, Gai Phad Med Mamuang. This is a stir fried chicken dish with cashew nuts, spring onions and chili paste. It was served with steamed rice. The dish was light and flavorful and they asked how spicy I wanted it. I said light since I wasn’t sure how spicy light would be. I could have gone with the medium. For dessert, I ordered my favorite Thai dessert of Mango Sticky Rice. Theirs was probably the best I have ever had! The mango was really ripe and the coconut sauce was not too sweet.

Staycation at the Westin Doha

Staycation at the Westin Doha

In addition to good food and atmosphere, the service was great and never had to wait for anything.

The Service

When I called to make the reservation, I had to email them the voucher, which seemed odd, but I went with it. After I emailed it, everything went smoothly. They even asked if I want to book any spa treatments and asked for my SPG number for points. This service was the same when I arrived. Someone greeted me when I entered and escorted me to the check-in desk. While checking in, I was brought a hot towel and a juice.

About 15 minutes after I arrived in my room, the front desk called to make sure I was happy with my room. While I didn’t call them for anything during my stay, I am sure it would have been quick and efficient. Upon checking out, I was also given great service. There was only one person checking people in and out. Another staff person saw me waiting and quickly went to a desk to check me out.

Overall, I really enjoyed my stay and if I was in Doha longer, I would be going back for another staycation. The pools are huge and look amazing. I also wish I had more time to explore the menu of Sabai Thai.

Have you stayed at a Westin? What was your experience?

 

 

 

Egypt, Europe, Greece, Italy, Middle East, Packing, Travel

My 2016 Year in Review

December 19, 2016

I know the general consensus from the world is that they would like 2016 to be over. While I agree some awful things are happening in the world, I would like to focus on the good things of 2016. This year I am going to tell you all the good things, not just the travel things. Here is my 2016 year in review!

January

As usual, I was looking to plan a trip right when I returned from my trip home. I quickly decided, with the help of my Mom, to head to Egypt in February! Not sure why it took me so long to decide to go there as I had wanted to go for a long time.

February

My trip to Egypt was the second week of the month, and I loved every minute of it. Seeing the pyramids was an experience I will never forget. It just baffles me that humans made them. Sailing up the Nile was another experience that I truly enjoyed. I can sit and watch the water go by for hours and not get bored. Not only that I got to see the sun set and rise over the Nile. Here is the video from that day.

 

I started working out with a personal trainer. This set me up to lose four clothing sizes over the next several months! If you follow me on Snapchat, you probably saw lots of snaps of me on the treadmill and pictures of the sunrise over Doha.

March

One of my friends invited me on a Dhow boat cruise, which I had only done once before. It was a warm day with great company. I met new people and watched the lights come on in Doha as the sun went down. I also took one of my favorite photos of the year that day!

 

April

A paper I wrote was accepted to be presented at a conference, and the conference just happened to be in Slovenia! Slovenia is by far the most beautiful country I have been to so far. I got to see much of its beauty because I drove from Ljubljana to Radenci, where the conference was being held. Not only was it beautiful, but the food was also amazing. Most of it was local, and you could taste how fresh it was.

I treated myself to a staycation at the W Doha. Staycations may become my new obsession! I felt totally relaxed after the stay, and there was no stress of having to travel anywhere.

SONY DSC

May

May was a month of prepping. By now I had lost all the weight and desperately needed new clothes. I was heading to Italy for a month at the end of May and had nothing to wear! Not that I am complaining. A good friend went with me to try on clothes, and it was a good thing she did as I would have left with clothes slightly too big because I wasn’t convinced yet that I had lost so much weight.

At the very end of May, I left for a month in Italy. Believe it or not, this was for work. I was taking a course on bookbinding and bookbinding restoration. The first weekend though was spent with my friends in Italy. They just happen to live close to the course and it was great to start of my trip with them. They live in a small village and when I arrived the Infiorata was happening.  Such a neat experience.

7 Unique Italian Things to do During a Summer Visit to Italy

June

June stands out as one of the best months as I finally discovered Florence! The second weekend in Italy, I headed to Florence for the first time despite having been to Italy twice before. I fell in love right away. So much so that I went back the next weekend. I enjoyed just walking around and looking at all the amazing architecture. It was like walking through an outdoor museum.

GPSMyCity

The fourth weekend I was in Italy, I spent it exploring more of Umbria. This was when I discovered the lovely towns of Assisi and Gubbio. I recommend you drive to these towns to see the wonderful Umbrian countryside.

July

Right when I returned from Italy there was a holiday in Qatar and headed to Oman. Every summer Oman has a monsoon season which, as you can imagine, is rare in the Middle East. For three days I didn’t see the sun!

 

August

In August, I need to attend a conference in the United States. I decide to combine the work trip with a visit home. This time I decided not to take a direct flight from Doha to Dallas. I wanted to fly business and the only way I could afford it was to fly American Airlines with a stop in London. Even though I prefer to go direct, the layover was short and it was nice to get a break from the plane.

I spent about a week with my family. I did my usual see doctors and get a haircut routine. It is always great to spend time with my family even though it was short.

The conference I attended was in Atlanta, and one of my good friends lives within driving distance. I hadn’t seen her in 3 years, and she volunteered to drive down for the day to see me! We spent a day catching up at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens seeing the Chihuly Exhibit.

 

September

The sailing trip up the Nile in February inspired me to find a sailing cruise for later in the year. So I headed to Greece the first week of September to sail the Greek Islands for two weeks.  I know you may be wondering, why haven’t I seen a post on Greece yet!? They are coming, I promise. I took several blogging breaks this year and happy to say I think it has improved the blog post quality and I am motivated again.

 

October

I hadn’t planned on going anywhere in October, but I found a conference I wanted to attend. The conference just happened to be in Florence! I was thrilled. The conference was being held in the Uffizi Gallery Library. While most of the time was spent at the conference, I got to stay in my favorite Florence hotel. I also got to wake up in Florence on my birthday!

November

While I didn’t travel anywhere in November, I had three Thanksgivings! It was great to catch up with old friends and make new ones. One of these Thanksgiving was an invite to the Four Seasons Doha to taste their Thanksgiving buffet. It was a beautiful meal offered at their Italian restaurant, El Teatro.

December

The first weekend in December, I was invited by the Intercontinental Doha the City to enjoy a staycation! The room offered a stunning view of downtown Doha. I really enjoyed watching the lights come on as the sun went down from the couch.

InterContinental Doha the City

Now I am back home again enjoying time with family. We are having the usual crazy Texas weather where it is 70 during the day and then drops 50 degrees in one day. My parents have a fireplace and I am loving the fire. Christmas celebrations at our house include getting presents and stockings from Santa. Our Christmas tree has a train around it and elves climbing the side.

This will be the last official blog post of 2016 as I will take the rest of the year off to enjoy being with my family before heading back to Doha.

What was your best memory of 2016? Share with us in the comments.

Middle East, Oman, Travel

Unexpected Salalah, Oman: The Jewel of the Middle East

November 14, 2016

Salalah, OmanGreen is not what you expect to hear when you hear someone talk about a country in the Middle East, but it is when you speak about Oman. Especially, if you are talking about Salalah, Oman during monsoon season. Yes, I said monsoon season! You may even be wondering where Salalah is at this point. Located in the southern part of Oman, Salalah is about 200 kilometers from the Yemen border. It is perfectly safe to visit, as the border with Yemen is far from anything that is happening there.

Salalah, Oman

Even though I had seen pictures, I wasn’t quite convinced that this lush green oasis existed in the harsh Middle Eastern landscape. Since it is a short two-hour flight from Doha, I decided to visit right at the beginning of Khareef (monsoon, but literally autumn) season. In the city of Salalah, it is greener than Doha and Dubai, but not lush. There are more trees and many banana plantations. Once you leave the city, it gets greener and greener as you head into the mountains.

Salalah, Oman

Mountains are the other feature that astonished me. Most of Qatar is quite flat, and I know that mountains exist in the Middle East, but I always thought they would be small and not very impressive. I was wrong! The mountains are part of the reason that Salalah is so green as they catch the moisture and increase the rainfall in the mountains. As you can see from the pictures, it was misty and raining most of the time. So green, mountains and camels mixed together make for an unexpected trip to the Middle East.

Salalah, Oman

What to do in Salalah

Frankincense Museum and Al Baleed Archaeological Park – These two sites are next to each other. You pay one fee per car, and it gets you into both. The Archaeological Park is an excavation of a settlement that dates back to 2000 BC, and they have done an impressive amount of work to uncover the village. The museum covers the history of Oman and the region with a focus on shipping.

Salalah, Oman

Salalah, Oman

Al Mughasayl Beach and Marneef Cave – While you can’t swim at this beach during monsoon season as the waves are too rough; you can visit the blowholes. The mountains meet the ocean here, and small blowholes have developed. Stand on the grates covering the blowholes and get soaked. Go very early in the morning before the huge crowds show up!

Salalah, Oman

Wadi Darbat – One of the most spectacular sites in the Middle East. First, you head up the Dhofar Mountains and drive through winding roads at about 20 kph because of the thick mist. Follow the signs for Wadi Darbat, and you suddenly head down into a valley. The valley opens up to what at some times is a flowing river. You can walk through the Wadi, but be careful you don’t slip and fall, like me! I am still paying for that fall. (Hint: wear appropriate shoes!) You might want an umbrella.

Salalah, Oman

Salalah, Oman

Salalah, Oman

Go north to Mirbat – Yes, this is not Salalah, but you should see the abandoned house here. These houses are built in the traditional Yemeni style but are in disrepair. It is a great place for photography. The houses are built right on the natural bay and have calmer seas than at Al Mughasayl Beach. The nearby castle might be worth checking out but don’t go on a Friday as it is closed. (You would think I would know this by now!)

Salalah, Oman

Salalah, Oman

Salalah, Oman

Meet Friendly Camels – There were more camels in Oman than I have ever seen in Qatar. This camel was very interested in us and wanted to get really close. I, on the other hand, was hoping to keep a safer distance.

Salalah, Oman

Salalah, Oman

How to get there

Fly to Salalah! From Qatar, there is a two-hour direct flight. If you aren’t coming from Qatar, you will probably have to layover in Muscat or Dubai. However, the flights from these places are very short. You can drive from Muscat, but the drive is very long. Once in Salalah, I recommend renting a car to explore the area. Everything was an easy drive, and most things had good signage.

Middle East, Qatar, Travel

Weekend Escapes from Qatar

January 25, 2016

Weekend Escapes from Qatar

This post is especially for my Qatar readers! I know that school holidays are coming next week and for some spring break isn’t far behind. You may be looking for some places to get away for the breaks or for a weekend away since sometimes you feel the need to get out of Qatar and not just out of Doha. While Qatar is a peninsula, sometimes it feels like an island. You can only go to Fuwairit Beach or the Inland Sea so many times. Maybe your kids are off, but you aren’t? Here are some of my picks for a quick weekend getaway from Qatar!

Kuwait – 1.5-hour flight from Doha. Now is the perfect time to visit Kuwait if you can get away quickly. From March 17-19, the Taste of Kuwait: Kuwait Food Festival is happening. If you need to get away and have children, Kuwait is a great choice as they have The Scientific Center. It includes an aquarium, an IMAX theater, and a dhow harbor. It’s even open on Friday afternoons! Be sure to schedule your visit during feeding time of sharks or rays! The shopping is also great, and it’s cheaper than Doha!

Weekend Escapes from Qatar

Istanbul – 4.5-hour flight from Doha. The hardest part about this trip will be deciding what to do first! The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are not to be missed. They are beautiful architectural wonders. My other favorite thing was to visit the Harem at Topkapi Palace. There is so much beautiful tile to see. For shopping most people head to the Grand Bazaar, which I recommend for the experience alone, but the real shopping treat is just behind the Blue Mosque at the Arasta Bazaar. It is a bit more expensive but more authentic and smaller if you have kids in tow!

Weekend Escapes from Qatar

Jordan – 3.5-hour flight from Doha (to Amman). While there is tons to see in Jordan, I highly recommend going to Petra first. This is especially true if you haven’t seen Jordan before and have little time. I spent a day and a half in Petra and really wanted more time. The ruins just never end. I recommend getting a guided tour for a few hours, as there isn’t much signage. Then you can explore on your own. On your way to Petra, you can stop at the Dead Sea. My other favorite stop was at Mt. Nebo. It offers amazing views of the Dead Sea and the Jordan River valley. If you are going to drive in Jordan, check out my tips for driving there.

Maldives – 4.5-hour flight from Doha. If you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation, then look no further. Pristine beaches and a variety of price points to suit each budget are to be had depending on which resort you choose. You will have to take a boat from Male to reach your resort, but then you can spend the rest of your trip in your bathing suit! You can go diving, snorkeling or get a spa treatment. Make everyone jealous with your amazing tan.

Salalah – 2-hour flight from Doha. This is very close but about as different as it gets! Mountains and green forests await you as well as beautiful beaches. You won’t believe you are still on the Arabian Peninsula. For the history buff, there is the Museum of the Frankincense Land. At the museum are ruins of Al-Baleed. Al-Baleed was the home to the port of Zafar where frankincense was shipped to India. There are lit walking paths that are open till 8 pm. Be aware the museum is closed every day from 2-4 and only open from 4-8 on Thursday and Friday.

Egypt – Be like me and head to the pyramids. While I don’t have kids, I do have to work during Spring Break, so I am heading to Egypt a few weeks before. The weather is cooler and will make hiking around in the desert much more pleasant. You can book a tour for Cairo and beyond. There is even a direct flight to Alexandria if you fancy visiting the most famous library in the world!

I hope this helps you plan your weekend escape from Doha. Is there someplace you have been that you would recommend or want to go? Share with us in the comments!

A version of this post was originally featured on Funky Qatar Blog.

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