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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?

 

 

 

Expat, Prep, Qatar, Travel

Pre-Repatriation Blues?

April 24, 2017

Pre-repatriation

Many expats talk about the repatriation blues after they return to their home country. It can be hard to adjust to life back in your own country since it is now not the normal or having the excitement of moving to a new country. I have what I am calling the pre-repatriation blues.

The What?

Since I am not technically repatriating, I am not even sure this is the right term! I am only returning to my home country to store my stuff and see my family. I am sad to be leaving Qatar. A few times right after I gave notice, I had the feeling I had made a mistake and that I shouldn’t go. It is hard to describe what I was feeling. It was a mix of anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. What was I thinking quitting this well-paid exotic local job? Then reality set in that, for me, living to work isn’t how I want to live my life.

Then came the reaction to my post about quitting my job. I expected some sad reactions and a few supportive ones. I expected the people who disagreed with what I was doing would not say anything. Most of that happened, but I was overwhelmed by the statements of support not only from friends and family but total strangers. Then the sadness really set in as the more people you tell, the more disappointed friends, coworkers and students I encountered. They aren’t disappointed that I am traveling, but that I can’t stay and travel from Qatar. I have been on the verge of tears many times. One student insists on giving me a hug every time I see her. Who wouldn’t be sad to leave after all the outpouring of love!

Just like with everything else, time helps. Every week gets easier, and I get a few more things checked off the long list of to-dos before I go. That last day, though, I am trying not to think about it.

It Would Be Easier to Stay

Part of these “blues” are because it would be easier to just stay in Qatar. So many things have to be done to be able to leave Qatar. The biggest thing for me is selling my car, which I managed to do yesterday. Because people leave Qatar in cycles around the school year, selling your car in the Spring can be difficult, and you are most likely not going to get as much money for it as you wanted. The other part of this is fielding the calls from people who know that you have to sell the car and making ridiculous offers for the car. I had some people be very rude as well. Like somehow, I owed them the car since they were willing to make an offer! (We won’t talk about the fact that I was also emotionally attached to my car!)

The next hurdle to jump is closing your bank account. That sounds so simple in theory. Go in and close it, right? Not so fast. First, you have to cancel your credit card. Credit cards here are attached to your bank account, so I can’t close my account till the credit card has been cleared for 45 days. Since I never picked up the credit card or activated it should be reasonable that I shouldn’t have to wait the 45 days, but no! So now I won’t be able to close my bank account until some time in late May. It isn’t the end of the world, but something I could take care of now.

Qatar uses a sponsorship system for expats working in the country. Basically, my company sponsors me to be in the country. Part of that includes getting a residence permit. This also has to be canceled before I go. My company needs ten business days to do that. Then once it is canceled, I have seven days to leave Qatar. Not stressful at all! This means I will leave four days after my last day of work. Again, it isn’t bad as I have started to pack, but it adds some pressure.

And I wouldn’t have to say goodbye!

Packing and Purging

The other part of all this is that I am determined to return to the US in my suitcases and not have to ship anything home. I am ruthless when it comes to getting rid of my possessions. Five bags of clothes and shoes have gone out the door and countless bags of paper trash. The rest of it will be sold or given away before I leave.

Packing has already begun, so that is the least stressful part about this whole situation. It also means I should know if I will need to ship some stuff. The only hard part will be getting it all to the airport.

Have you moved back home after being an expat? Did you have pre-repatriation blues?

Expat, Qatar, Travel

I Quit My Job!

April 10, 2017

I quit my jobHow do you know when it is time to leave your expat job? Expats around the world ask this over and over and most expats will tell you that you will just know. And it’s true. I knew a little while back it was time to leave Qatar and so about two weeks ago, I quit my job. At the end of June, I will leave Qatar.

Why

This was not an easy decision for me to make. The weekend before I gave noticed, I called my parents in a panic saying “This is a dumb decision, right?!” They assured me it wasn’t. My parents have been extremely supportive of this decision, as they have been with most of the decision I have made in my life. I know that if I don’t do it now, I may never get up the nerve to do this.

There isn’t a specific reason for leaving, it was definitely a feeling of it was time to go. I have had the feeling before now several times and the feeling just wasn’t going away. Qatar has been a great place to live for almost four years. My job is great and so are my coworkers. Trust me this decision would have been much easier if I hated my job or my coworkers were terrible. I like them so much, that I had huge anxiety about telling them. I have been at this job longer than any job I have ever had and that is saying a lot for me.

I will miss Qatar and everyone I have gotten to know. One of the hardest things is knowing that I may never see some of these people again.

What’s Next

You may be wondering where my next job is or if I am moving home. But I will tell you there is no next job or repatriation for me. In my typical, not do anything normal way, I have decided to travel for a while. Yes, I am going to be one of those crazy people who quits their job to travel!

This isn’t my first quit my job without another job venture and everything ended up fine with those too. I have an idea of what I want to do for work, but it may not work out or something else may come along. I want to give the blog more focus and see what if I can make it pay some bills. It may never be my full-time job, but I will never know if I don’t give this crazy thing a chance.

So, Where To

That is the next question everyone has asked after hearing my plans. Nailing down a plan for long-term travel is hard and I want to not have a plan, but the planner in me is having a hard time with that!

First, I will go home for a month because I have to dump all my stuff somewhere. Thanks, Mom and Dad, again! Then I head to London for a month. It has been over 20 years since I have been there and I am dying to go back. As you can see, I am planning on spending longer stretches of time in places. There are several reasons for this. One is that it is cheaper to stay somewhere long term than it is to stay somewhere short term. The other is that I really want to get to know the place and see it more as a local would.

There are other things planned, but I want to keep my plans to myself for the moment. Don’t worry, I will tell you eventually! You will just have to keep reading to find out what those plans are.

 

 

 

Expat, Qatar, Travel

Relocating to Qatar – What to Pack

January 23, 2017

Relocating to Qatar - What to PackWhat everyone brings when moving abroad is going to differ from person to person and family to family. Many factors come into play when deciding what to bring. Will you be provided furnished housing? Does that include household goods such as sheets and towels? How much furniture will be included? Here is a link to what my first apartment looked like. When I relocated to Qatar, I failed to ask most of the questions and more. Most of these things are small items as most furniture items are available in Qatar. While I had done some research, I wish there had been more information on what was available in Doha. (The photo above is my stash pre-Christmas stock up.)

This post may not be helpful for all my readers, but I hope that you find it interesting to get an insight into what moving abroad entails and if you are thinking about it, that this will help you ask the right questions wherever you are going. I will point out that all things listed here are American focused since I am American. The list would be huge if I tried to include all nationalities. I asked lots of Qatar Expats for their opinions, and this is a collection of their responses. One person only said she wish she had brought less!

Clothing/Shoes

Seems a bit ridiculous as Qatar has clothing stores! However, I have struggled with this one more than I thought I would. This is due to a lack of familiar options, lack of sizing and the prices.

– Unusual sizes – I am petite, and while there are petite sizes, they are not a lot of petite options. Almost all the pants I have bought here have had to be altered. Also, there are few plus size options, and a friend told me the clothes were not pretty.

– Familiar brands – We do have stores like Gap and a Banana Republic, but the selection is less than half of what you would find in the U.S. There is no Macy’s or Dillards here. However, we did get an Old Navy last year! This also applies to underwear. Only once have I bought underwear here and I didn’t like it.

– Shoes – There are familiar brands of shoes, but they tend to cater to local tastes. I have a hard time finding flats and shoes that aren’t covered in bling. Larger women sizes are also difficult to find.

– Prices – Clothes and shoes are more expensive here than in the U.S. There are also fewer sales because they are heavily regulated. This applies to children’s clothes and shoes as well.

Health/Medical

The orientation material I was given for my job gave me some sense that medicine availability would be different, but I didn’t expect it would apply to over the counter medication. Bring a couple of months supply of your prescriptions, so you don’t have to worry about that right away.  Since the list is long, I will just give you the list of what is unavailable or hard to find. (This photo is what I bought at Christmas, not including clothes!)

Relocating to Qatar - What to Pack

  • Tylenol – available but in blister packages of small quantity
  • Advil – same as Tylenol
  • Excedrin
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Alka Seltzer
  • Neosporin
  • Cortisone
  • NyQuil
  • Sudafed
  • Contact Solution – usually available, but frequently runs out, and brands are different
  • Ear/Eye Drops
  • After bite
  • Sleep medication (have only seen Panadol PM)
  • Tampons – rarely find them and not the brands we have in the U.S.
  • Monistat
  • Limited birth control brands – over the counter, though!
  • Benedryl
  • Mucinex
  • Heating pad – order one from the UK
  • Secret deodorant – we have it, but it double the price
  • Diaper Genie refills

Beauty

Fortunately, this not as much as an issue. However, some brands and things are hard to find.

  • Origins brand
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Non-drug store brands of shampoo and conditioner
  • Quality hair spray
  • Hair color
  • Travel sized toiletries
  • We have Sephora, but the product selection is limited

Food/Household Items

Items marked with an * are available here but are much more costly or are only sold in small sizes. Also be aware that sometimes you find an item, and it disappears for a while, or it never returns.

  • Tortillas – made without lard here and taste a bit like chemicals
  • Vanilla extract – not made with alcohol here
  • Arm and Hammer baking soda*
  • Chocolate chips
  • Crystal Light
  • French’s Fried Onions
  • Pumpkin Spice
  • White gravy mix
  • Pecans*
  • Hidden Valley Ranch
  • Decaf black tea bags
  • Frosted Shredded Wheat cereal
  • Chili Powder – what you see here is not what we are used to
  • Kitchen tools you prefer – I brought measuring cups since Qatar is on the metric system.
  • Dryer sheets*
  • Magic Erasers
  • Swiffers
  • Christmas decorations*
  • Foam mattress toppers – I bought mine here at IKEA, but it costs a fortuned. One person said they brought them one-by-one on trips home.
  • School supplies

Entertainment/Crafts

Finding DVDs that work here or finding a DVD player that works here is difficult. Bring what you really want to watch and us the DVD reader in your laptop to connect it to your TV. Bring the connector as well as the one I bought here cost and arm and a leg! Sign up for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. If you have kids, this is especially important as many of the kid’s tv shows are in Arabic.

If you are a crafter, you will find limited supplies here. The quality is also not great. Although, you can find fabric here. Be prepared to order what you need or bring a healthy supply. One person said you needed to bring a whole Michael’s with you and that is not an understatement. Art supplies are also limited and are really meant for the hobbyist and not serious the artist.

Books are another thing we are lacking. There are not many bookstores and the selection is limited. Public libraries are non-existent.

As you can see the list is long and there is probably tons of things I have forgotten. A friend of mine here also wished she had brought 3-4 months of all of these things, so she didn’t spend so much time, in the beginning looking for them. If you have space, I would recommend it. Also, I cannot stress enough to ask for specifics on what is being provided to you. I arrived to find two of the smallest towels on earth in my apartment!

Have you relocated to Qatar? What do you suggest bringing? Share with us in the comments.

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