Tag Archives: Doha

Our Year in Travel, 2013

Yes, I realize it’s a little late to be looking back at 2013, but I’m a procrastinator, so this is how I roll.  Better late than never, right?

64,373 miles.  That’s the number of miles I flew last year (Dawn’s number is a bit less thanks to my extra trip back to the States).  I’m a numbers and a list kind of guy, so it’s probably no surprise that I know how many miles I flew.  Granted, the only reason I know that number is thanks to Tripit (for keeping track of all my flights throughout the year) and OpenFlights.org (for taking all of my TripIt data and sorting it out).  Half of those miles (right at 32,000 actually) came from my Thanksgiving and Christmas flights back to the States, and another 8,000 miles came from the flights I took to move to Doha.  With only a solitary work trip from Kansas City to Minneapolis and back (about 800 miles), that leaves me with about 23,000 miles that I flew for ‘fun’.  Even without all of those flights back and forth to the States, that is a pretty decent amount of flying.  I’d love to bump that number up even farther this year, but I don’t really see that happening.  Two and a half trips back to the States is some pretty serious mileage, and I don’t foresee that many trips back to the States this year.  Even if I was to make that RTW flight in business class that I want to take at some point happen in 2014 I still don’t think I’d get up to 64k  again.  It’s amazing to think that there are business flyers that put in over 100,000 BIS (butt in seat) miles a year, year after year.  Even I might get a little sick of flying at that rate.  Well, maybe, maybe not.

Ok, enough boring you with the numbers.  Let’s take a look at where we went.

My US routes courtesy of openflights.org

My North American routes courtesy of openflights.org

Prior to moving to Doha, Dawn and I got in some really great weekend trips.  The first trip of the year was a single day turnaround in January to meet up with some friends for shopping on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.  It was the first time I’ve ever flown in and out of my destination on the same day.  To be honest, it was a little ridiculous, but when it comes to flying and trips, the more ridiculous, the better in my opinion (typically not Dawn’s opinion, although, in this particular case she was completely on board due to the friends we were visiting).  The fact that the flights were free (maybe $10 each in fees) thanks to my British Avios stash made it completely worthwhile.

Our second trip of the year was a long weekend to San Antonio.  Neither Dawn nor I had been to San Antonio before, and it just seems like everyone should see the Alamo at some point in their life.  The Alamo was pretty commercialized, but we did really enjoy visiting the other forts in the area.  Flights were courtesy of my Southwest Airlines credit card sign up bonuses and the Southwest Companion Pass that I had earned in early 2012.  Thanks to SPG points we stayed on the Riverwalk at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel for free.  The property was beautiful, the location was perfect, and we even got upgraded to the lounge floor where we had access to free breakfast, snacks, and drinks thanks to the $20 trick.  Money well spent.

In March we took a pilgrimage down to Florida to enjoy the warm(er) weather, outlet shopping, and, of course, spring training.  We planned this trip as our delayed Valentine’s Day present to each other.  We much prefer travel experiences to gifts, and this trip was a lot of fun.  We only saw two spring training games – Rays vs. Orioles in Port Charlotte and Phillies vs. Blue Jays in Clearwater – but it was a very relaxing trip knowing that I was about to move to Doha in a few short weeks.  Thanks to a blog giveaway I won, we stayed one free night at the Westin Tampa Bay.  We stayed the other 2 nights in a Fairfield Inn & Suites in Brandon, Florida that was somewhat convenient to the ball parks.  While I love staying in luxury hotels on points, I’m a sucker for a deal.  And, at 7,500 Marriott points/night, that was too good of a deal to pass up.  My Southwest Rapid Rewards account and the companion pass picked up the flights again.

It doesn’t get much better than hot dogs and baseball.

Just before moving to Doha, we flew to Indianapolis for Dawn’s brother’s wedding.  The wedding was a lot of fun, and it was great to spend some time with family right before my flight overseas.  Once again Southwest took care of our flights, and I think we stayed at a Comfort Inn.  I can’t remember if we used points or paid cash, but I know we chose it due to convenience as it was close and some family and friends were staying there.

Looking back, it’s pretty amazing how much traveling we did in the first three months of the year, and it’s even more amazing that we didn’t pay cash for any of the flights, and we only paid for two of our eight hotel nights on those trips.  Certainly, there were airline taxes ($5-$10/each per flight), rental car expenses, meals, and other miscellaneous costs, but if you’re not paying for flights or hotels, traveling really isn’t that much more expensive than staying home.

My Europe, Asia, and Africa routes courtesy of OpenFlights.org

My Europe, Asia, and Africa routes courtesy of OpenFlights.org

While I mentioned the majority of my traveling (at least in terms of mileage flown) was done on my flights back and forth to the States, Dawn and I did a decent amount of exploring this half of the world as well.  While I’ll always think we should be traveling more (I’ll probably never be satisfied unless we’re traveling full time), we were able to visit quite a variety of different places.

I stayed in Doha for four months straight before traveling, and I’m really hoping that’s my longest streak of not leaving Qatar.  While Greece in July was Dawn’s first trip from Doha, my first trip wasn’t until we headed to Scandinavia in August.  It was just what I needed as it was cool, green, and the exact opposite of Doha in the summer.  While I posted about our 24 hours in Copenhagen, I had hoped to eventually catch up with posts on both Stockholm and our Norway in a Nutshell tour.  Getting back to it will take a little extra motivation as we lost almost all of our pictures from that trip due to an external hard drive failure.  The fjords of Norway were certainly the highlight of that trip, but I really enjoyed our short time in Copenhagen more than I expected.  We didn’t stay in any hotel more than two nights as our trip consisted of six different hotel stays in nine days.  It was quite a fast paced trip, but I was pretty excited about how much we got to see.  Thanks to a combination of Club Carlson points, Hilton points, and a certificate for a free Marriott night we only paid cash for half a night (using Hilton cash and points in Denmark) out of our nine hotel nights.  Flights were bought with cash.


Yeah, that’s us with our arms up in the air on Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) 1982 feet above Lysefjord below.

In October my parents and aunt headed over to visit for a few weeks before we all headed to Kenya for our nine day African safari.  Traveling to my seventh continent with my dad was a pretty cool experience, and it was even better that most of the family was there to enjoy the trip with us.  The camps were crazy luxurious, and seeing the sheer quantity and variety of animals in their own environment was an experience that I won’t ever forget.  Africa is high on the revisit list as Victoria Falls and Cape Town are both calling my name.  All lodging and flights were paid with cash (thanks, Dad).

Lake Nakuru National Park

The whole country was this beautiful.

You can’t live in the Middle East without visiting Dubai.  It’s a world renowned city, and as it’s only a 50 minute flight away it was a no-brainer for a short weekend trip.  We spent two days and a single night there, and I actually enjoyed the city a lot more than I thought I would.  The highlight for me, of course, was getting to visit the observation deck of the tallest building in the world (for now at least), the Burj Khalifa.  It’s amazing what men can build these days, and I thoroughly enjoyed the videos and exhibits on the design and construction process.  Watching people snow ski in a mall in the middle of the desert is so ridiculous that it was quite entertaining.  For our one night in the city we stayed at the newly opened Conrad Dubai, a beautiful hotel right on the main street of Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road.  As this hotel typically runs for about $300/night we burned one of our Hilton weekend night certificates.  As it was my first stay at a Conrad I had pretty high expectations that weren’t quite met.  It might have been that it had only been opened a few months or maybe my expectations were too high for this particular property.  I’m glad I only used one of our weekend certificates on this hotel.  Again, our pictures from Dubai were a victim of the fried hard drive, so most likely no post on our short stay.

The weekend after Dubai we took a 4 day trip to Cambodia and fell in love with Southeast Asia.  Beautiful countryside, kind people, and cheap food and lodging.  Angkor Wat has been on my bucket list for quite some time, and we were able to spend 3 days visiting the temples all around Siem Reap.  Our final day was spent visiting a floating village far away from city life.  A post to come on that incredible trip in the future.

Angkor Wat

Exploring Angkor Wat

Dawn headed back to the States for the holidays the weekend after we got back from Cambodia.  I joined her the following weekend on my Thanksgiving pseudo mileage run and actually didn’t hate myself afterward for booking such a short trip.  As much as I tried to plan a quick solo trip between Thanksgiving and Christmas while Dawn was in the States it just didn’t happen.  Working six days a week makes it difficult to take weekend trips.  I rejoined Dawn back in the States for 10 days over Christmas.  Doing nothing but relaxing at my parents house for the majority of the trip was just what I needed.

It was an incredible year in travel for both of us, and I’m hoping 2014 brings more of the same.  We’ve already got a couple of big trips lined up for January and February, and I hope to share those with you soon.



Filed under Travel Inspiration, Trip Reports

Connections Abroad

One of the greatest parts of travel is the connections you make with people.  Connecting with the locals in a new place can easily be the highlight of a trip, but travelers shouldn’t discount the opportunity to connect with other travelers, especially those of the same nationality.  It’s an incredible opportunity to bond with people that you wouldn’t otherwise hang out with if you were back home.  All of a sudden, speaking the same language and a love for travel is all you need to have in common to become best friends for the day or week.  It may not immediately help you dive into the culture of a place, but it can allow for unique experiences that wouldn’t happen back home.

Back in 2006 I took a trip to Europe with a couple of friends of mine, Erin and Troy.  Towards the end of my three week portion of the trip we arrived in the Barcelona train station without a place to stay.  This was pretty typical of our trip as we didn’t do much planning as to where we were going to go or when we were going to be there.  The flexibility of a trip like that makes for a really good time, but it can also create challenges along the way.  Arriving in Barcelona with no place to stay during the busy summer months created one of those challenges.  It turned out that the only hostel with availability was on the outskirts of town accessible by the metro which shut down early in the evening.  Of course we were hoping to stay closer to La Rambla and the heart of the city.  We certainly weren’t excited that we’d be calling it an early night every night just so we could catch the metro back to our hostel, but it looked to be our only option.  After our 30 minute metro ride and our 15 minute hike up a mountain (hill) we found plenty of others who were also quite disappointed with the location of their accommodation for at least one night.  Erin, Troy, and I made friends with a couple of girls from Texas who were sharing our dorm room with us.  We decided if we could find a hotel room with a better location and split it five ways, it would probably be close to the same price we were paying to stay in the hostel.  We ended up finding a hotel with availability for the next few nights in a great location within walking distance of most of the places we wanted to be.  It couldn’t have worked out any better, except for the part where Troy’s bag got jacked while we were in a Burger King, but that’s another story.  If I was traveling anywhere in the States there’s very little chance I would have decided to share a hotel room with a couple of strangers I just met.  But when I was on the other side of the world, it seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do.  Hanging out with them turned out to be quite invaluable.  The girls were Hispanic, and their first language was Spanish.  When Troy’s bag was stolen they were lifesavers in helping us talk to the authorities and learn what we needed to do to file a police report and get him a new passport.  By traveling abroad, not only do you have the opportunity to experience other cultures, you also get the chance to connect with different types of Americans in ways you otherwise wouldn’t.  

A few days ago Dawn and I met Greg, a saxophone player from New Orleans, St. Louis, New York, and most recently Tennessee.  He’s in town for three weeks playing at a jazz club at the St. Regis Doha.  He was looking for a place to go to church, and so we gave him a ride.  Later we invited him out to dinner (which didn’t quite happen), and he invited us to come watch him perform.  His set was great, and it’s most likely something that wouldn’t have happened had we been in the States.  The opportunity to network and connect with people from the States with all kinds of different backgrounds and interests is greatly enhanced by being in a place where, although there are a number of us, Americans are a serious minority.

Greg doing his thing.

Greg doing his thing.

While I’m enjoying interacting with people from all around the world, I’m also really enjoying the connections I’m making with other Americans who are 8000 miles away from their home as well.

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I’m not in Kansas anymore…

When you move to a new place, you expect things to be a little different.  I didn’t quite know what to expect when moving to Doha, but I knew a completely different place and culture on the other side of the world would have a few surprises for me.  Below are just a few of the things that jump out to me that are quite different from back home.

The entire city is one giant construction site.
You can’t drive anywhere in the city without passing a new building (or complex of buildings) being constructed or a road being torn up.  Tower cranes seem to equal, if not outnumber, the skyscrapers here in the city.  Doha seems to almost want to be the next Dubai, and it seems to be well on it’s way.  I wonder if Dubai had as many growing pains as it seems Qatar is having.

Everyone here thinks they’re a race car driver.
And a lot of them have the cars to go with driving style.  There are plenty of Ferraris, Maseratis, Porsches, Land Rovers, and Land Cruisers on the road.  The more expensive car you have, the more aggressive driver you are.  Any place the horn is used more often than the brakes is a great place to perfect your defensive driving skills.  

Not a Showroom.  Those are valet parked at a mall.

Not a showroom. Those are valet parked at a mall.

Multi-lane roundabouts are everywhere.
Before I moved to Qatar I was under the impression that roundabouts were safer than the traditional intersections, and Wikipedia confirmed my thoughts.  After living here for almost three months now, I think I’ve lost a little faith in Wikipedia.  The combination of aggressive driving, blatant disregard of lane markings, refusal to use signals, and drivers inching the front of their cars out into the roundabouts while waiting to enter makes for an adventure in entering any roundabout during rush hour.

All pedestrians seem to have a death wish.
There are few sidewalks, and a lot of those that are here are being torn up due to construction.  There are crosswalks at intersections here, but few people seem to use them, and of course there are no crosswalks at the roundabouts.  People not only cross major highways by foot, but even walk down major roads that have no shoulder.  Daring pedestrians, aggressive driving, and the amount of construction going on in this city is a dangerous combination.  

The architecture is world class.
The Qataris want to construct incredible structures, and they spare no expense in doing so.  The architecture in this city is incredibly unique, and completely different than anywhere outside of the Middle East.  Most skyscrapers here seem to have their own unique shape or feature to set them apart from the one sitting next to them.  It’s something that most building owners outside of this part of the world wouldn’t pay for, but here they will.  The combination of the willingness to spend the money for a unique building and the implementation of the traditional Islamic geometric designs into the architecture makes it a fun place for any architecture aficionado.

No two buildings are alike.

An incredibly diverse skyline.

It may look like the Jerry Dome, but it's actually a horse stable.

Looks like they decided to model the equestrian arena after the Jerry Dome.

Parking on sidewalks, major roads, etc. is totally acceptable.
Despite spending loads of money on the buildings here, someone forgot to explain to them that all these buildings house people, and all these people drive.  There is a serious lack of parking available here, and so the people make due with what they can.  Sidewalks are packed with cars near busy malls and congested commercial areas.  People park on the side of major streets, taking up traffic lanes.  Double parking here is almost as common.  Park in front of another car, throw your hazard lights on, and you’re good to go.  At least until the person you’ve blocked in wants to leave and starts using their horn.

Who needs parking lots when you've got sidewalks?

Who needs parking lots when you’ve got sidewalks?

Standard operating procedure.

Standard operating procedure.

The city is incredibly segregated.
I can really only speak for the United States and for the little time I’ve spent visiting other countries, but Qatar seems to be the most segregated place I’ve ever been.  It appears that for the most part, nationalities keep to their own.  To be fair, the heavy majority of people here are not from Qatar and it makes sense that people tend to cling to others that speak their language and relate to their culture from back home.  I need to be aware of this, and make an extensive effort to make friends with people from all over (and there are people here from all over).

The bathrooms are truly international.
Any bathroom you go into here in Doha will have both toilet paper and a bidet shower (aka ‘bum gun’) for your hygiene requirements.  If you’re in an apartment or a house, there’s a good chance you’ll have the option of cleaning up using a full size bidet as well.

So many options.

So many options.

You can get a carwash anywhere you park your car.
This is quite awesome.  Go to the mall, and once you get out of your car there will be someone waiting to ask you if you’d like your car washed for 10 QR (about $2.75 USD).  I parked in a dirt lot once, and a guy offered to wash my car there (and I took him up on it).  Our job site has guys on staff to wash the employees’ cars.  Don’t ask me why, but I’m certainly not going to complain.

Tea boys are standard in every office.
That’s right, tea boys.  Tea boys are guys whose job it is to serve tea and coffee to everyone who works in the office.  Officially, each person gets two deliveries a day – one in the morning, and one after lunch.  You give them your order when you start working there, and that’s what they bring you every day, twice a day.  In our office, during the beginning of every meeting they come around like a waiter asking everyone what they’d like to drink.  I’m pretty sure this is something we need to implement in the States.  Immediately.

You can get any kind of food delivered here.
From pizza to McDonald’s to baked goods, it can all be on your doorstep in minutes… well, maybe not quite that fast.  Labor here is cheap, so they’ve got guys out on motorcycles delivering all kinds of things.  It’s kinda cool, yet kinda strange.  

All in all, Qatar is much more Westernized than I would have guessed, but I’m sure the longer I’m here the more I’ll begin to notice other things that aren’t quite what I’m used to back in the States.  I’m looking forward to discovering all the nuances and differences of this place.  What kind of different or strange things have you noticed while traveling or living in other countries?

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My First Visit To A Mosque – A Photo Essay

A few nights ago after work I decided I wanted to visit the state mosque of Qatar (aka the Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque) to photograph it.  I had driven past it numerous times, and it’s a beautiful building.  There was one photograph in particular that I was hoping to get.  Although its located a ways from downtown, you can see the skyscrapers located in West Bay in the background if you’re to the East of the mosque looking West.  I thought the combination of the traditional architecture of the Middle East with the modern skyscrapers in the background would create a nice contrast.

I arrived just before sunset, and wasn’t able to find quite the right location to take the picture that I had in my head.  That was ok, though, because the place was incredibly beautiful, and there was plenty to photograph.  I know very little about Islam, and what’s appropriate/respectful as far as taking pictures so I had planned on just taking pictures of the outside of the mosque.

After I had been there a while a man came up and introduced himself to me.  His name was Yatif, and he was Pakistani.  He asked me if I’d like to go inside to look around and take some pictures. He took me into the courtyard of the mosque and told me a little more about himself and a little about the mosque.  The scale of the building is incredible even with just a few people there, but I imagine it’s even more incredible when it’s full.  After we made our way around the courtyard, we took off our shoes and made our way into the main prayer hall.  As it was in between prayer times few people were there, and Yatif explained more of the Islamic faith to me.  It was quite interesting, and I’m really glad he invited me in.  Learning about and understanding different cultures is one of the reasons I was excited about moving abroad, and I’m glad I got to enjoy a little of that the other night.

Here are a few of my pictures of the place…

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