Sunday, 29 March 2009

New hotel

So I've been kicked out of the 5* La Cigale because of the Arab Summit. I was wondering why things were starting to look busy in there. Apparently ever other big name hotel is also fully booked, so I've had to take up residence in the deceptively named Ayana Golden Coast Hotel. In fact they have such a problem with their name they couldn't even decide on the spelling -





I'm actually finding it quite charming in a Fawlty Towers kind of way. I've seen other people milling around a bit but according to my personal chef, I'm the only guest (hence personal chef). The bed is rock hard (which I love), I'm right in the centre of town (although the logistics of getting to the office is going to be something of a challenge) and they have more English channels on the TV than the Cigale did. And the restaurant will open for dinner in a couple of days - tonight they just asked what I fancied, and it was quite delicious. Plus it's fairly cheap (though over £100 a night, but that's cheap here) so if I find it bareable I might stick around after I get my residence permit until I find an apartment.

Annoyingly though I'd just got a dozen shirts cleaned and pressed at the Cigale, which were then stuffed into my suitcase erasing all signs of ironing. Work will just have to put up with me looking a bit dishevelled for a while. It's their fault for not being a bit more organised.

Speaking of the Cigale, I was quite suprised to learn that it's a favourite amongst celebrities and sports stars. I mean it's ok but barely scrapes into 5* category. There were a lot of things that annoyed me. For example:
1. Everything wobbled. It seemed like all the chairs and tables in the restaurants and cafes wobbled. Dinner was served on oval plates, which also wobbled. Bizarre.
2. You'd think that if you left the 'do not disturb' on all day (a work day) that perhaps it was a mistake. You wouldn't expect to come back from the office with half a dozen notes saying how they'd like to make up the room but they were respecting your privacy. Either a) phone b) knock c) leave 1 note.
3. The food was, frankly, crap. Nothing I ate there was particularly delicious, only the sushi came close. It was really below par for what you would expect of a place like that.
4. For a 5* hotel it's cheapness was unsettling. They watered down the Chocos with some local equivalent. They let the bar snacks go stale and wilt. The sight of shrivelled crudites is enough to make you choke on your £12 glass of wine.
5. They didn't have any apple juice. Anywhere. You'd think it was pig's blood.

So not overly impressed with the place. I've got a week here and if my RP isn't sorted then they're threatening to move me back, but I'll ask to go somewhere else I think.

In other news, work is going ok. I'm getting to grips with things and the days are going quicker because I'm busy. There is a lot to do here, and I've got to make sure I stay focused on one thing at a time when it's so easy to discover something else that's a complete mess and try to fix that.

I had a great time this weekend. Friday was spent quad-biking in the dunes, a highly recommended activity; as long as you're very careful. I nearly went flying off the top of a dune (and these aren't like the ones you get by the sea - they're 150 feet in places with sheer drops) but just stopped in time. My companion was not so lucky, but managed to only find a small drop, though big enough to separate him and his bike. Thankfully he was unhurt as you can get a nasty injury from coming off these little machines, as we were to learn the next day.

On the Saturday we went off in a convoy of 4x4s to the inland sea (actually an inlet, by the Saudi border) to do a bit more of the same as the journey is over 40km of dunes. Getting stuck seems to be half the fun and thankfully one of our party (a South African) seemed quite prepared and very adept at getting the others out of tricky spots. I'm happy to report that we didn't get stuck, thanks in no small part to our shiny black hunk of GMC Envoy (7 seater). Once we got to the sea we settled down for a spot to eat, then soon afterwards a quad-biker comes hurtling down the beach, hits something (or suffers a tyre-burst, who knows) and flips his bike. He tumbles through the air a fair old distance, breaking a leg and possibly a shoulder in the process. We got to him quicker than his friends did and administered some first aid and ice, and tried to keep him warm until the air ambulance arrived. I say we but in reality it was mostly down to the ever calm South African, the rest of us were mostly standing around looking useless. Which is more useful than this unfortunate fellow's friends who were recording him on their phones to laugh about later.

Still, by the time the ambulance got there he'd perked up a bit and managed to have a bit of a joke with them;
Ambulance man to his friends (in English) "Can one of you translate for me and tell him that we're going to strap him to this board and put him into the helicopter feet first"
Injured man "Are you speaking in capital letters or lowercase?"

I guess this passes for humour in Lebanon, or Yemen, or wherever they were from. When they'd flown off one of his friends told us that they came down here every week, and he was always falling off...
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Friday, 27 March 2009

Saturday, 21 March 2009

First week

So I've made it to Sunday night, well the equivalent anyway - work again tomorrow morning at 7.15. That is definitely going to take some getting used to. Well, first week over and first impressions? It's very quiet. It's difficult to put my finger on what exactly is so quiet because clearly there is enough traffic noise, prayer calling and birds to bombard your senses but everything just seems kind of muted. I never thought Doha would be like London but I expected some hussle and hopefully a little bit of bussle, which I guess there is, but it doesn't seem very alive. Even the street vendors and market stall owners don't try to hassle you too much. The only constant annoyance is the frequent cry of 'taxi! taxi sir!' - I could easily be stumbling out of a late night Soho drinking establishment, not 3000 miles away in the Middle East.

Other than that the people are very friendly, even the ones that don't get paid to be so (service staff are cheap, so there are a LOT of them). There seems to be zero crime - you can leave your phone, wallet, etc. on the table if you want to trot off to the loo - but the driving's not getting any better. The ruler's have instigated a set of fines for various traffic offences e.g. 5000 Riyals for running a red light, 1000 for speeding, that kind of thing. Unfortunately I don't think they have a fine for overtaking on the central reservation and other random hazardous driving I've seen, so I'm not holding out much hope it'll improve any time soon. I'm eyeing up a very large 4x4 as size seems to be the only defence against reckless drivers here.

I headed for a bar in the Ramada Hotel on Thursday night and had rather too much beer. I think my hangover was amplified by lack of water. See, normally if you have a few too many you'll have medicinal supplies of soft drinks and snacks at home but being in a hotel really messes with your routine. Still I had a good bonding session with one of my new work colleagues and he seems a very nice sort. I don't just want to hang around with workmates though, so need to get my arse in gear with regards to clubs/societies/arabic lessons/etc. I do fancy learning to horse ride here, it does seem the perfect place what with all the sand.

I spent today wandering around the old souq, which is now a new souq. Think Covent Garden and you're pretty close. They have some fantastic smelling shops in the spice area which I'll have to revisit once I have somewhere where I can keep such delights. I also paid a quick visit to the Museum of Islamic Art, on the seafront. Hmm. Well it's a lovely building that's for sure and my photos don't do it justice. But the museum itself? It seemed more a collection of historic arabian items - pots, plates, jewellery - which while quite interesting (especially the mahussive diamonds) I'm not sure as to what their relevance to Islam is, and this certainly wasn't explained anywhere. In fact pretty much nothing was explained. It was even unclear in places which items went with which labels. Maybe the items are Islamic in that Muslims created them, but you'd hardly call the Imperial War Museum the 'Museum of Christian War' or the V&A the 'Museum of Boring Christian Clothes'. Maybe I missed the point. I'd still recommend going, especially because it's free!

Then it was off to the City Centre Mall, which is nowhere near the city centre, but definitely a mall. I was quite knackered by this point so just sat down with Steve to have a cold drink, checked out if there was anything interesting on at the cinema (no prizes for guessing the outcome) and jumped in a cab back to the hotel. I've got all my laundry back - and ironed as well - bliss! So now I've time for a bit of Wii before bed. My dinner times are all messed up, but I reckon the Pad Thai I had at 4pm will keep me going till the morning. Besides, it's better to be starving hungry at breakfast otherwise it's difficult to get enough of it down to last until the afternoon. Oh to be able to make my own sandwiches...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Day 4

Well I'd love to fill you in with tales of Arabian adventures, sandstorms and narrow misses with armed Bedouin but I'm afraid all I've seen so far is the hotel, the bank and some very large and obstructive roads. I had a quick wander around yesterday and ended up in Applebees, a TGI Fridays type establishment, for dinner. Even though everything's being paid for at the hotel I just had to get out and try something else. In the words of Gordon Ramsey it was fucking dreadful. I went for the 3 shrimp combo - king prawns cooked in 3 different styles. Apparently those styles were greasy, very greasy and fried. Still, at least the waiters didn't need to wear any flare.

Work is dragging - a combination of the early starts, long days and not much for me to do yet. I'm no closer to what their definition of an IT Operations Manager is yet but perhaps in spite of their urgency with my appointment joining just as a major project was going live was not the best idea.

The hotel is already starting to bug me. It's just the little things really. I don't want a newspaper delivered every morning because I won't read it so it's a waste. I don't need a bread basket at breakfast because I'll go for the brown bread from the buffet. Drinks are seriously expensive - one small beer is about £10 - so I'm learning to make them last. I suppose that's a good life skill to have! Plus it's fairly impersonal, as large hotels tend to be.

What I am pleased about is the free internet access. And Skype seems to work here - will give this a go soon as the girlfriend is Skyped-up. I've decided I'm not all that keen on the word 'fiance', I still prefer girlfriend. It just seems like an unnecessary recategorisation of a perfectly acceptable noun, in order to attribute potential change of status. Like joining the Ferrari owners club just because you've ordered the F350 catalogue. But maybe I'm just grumpy because I'm missing my fiance.

Anyway, off to dinner with a few workmates - should be a good one - let's paint the town red! (But be back in bed by 10....)

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Quick update

Arrived safely. Swanky hotel (all expenses paid for except booze). Weather hot and sunny. Phone doesn’t work here. MAD drivers. Work starts tomorrow. Trying to ignore nerves.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Nearly there

I’m panicking. I have 48 hours left in the country and I haven’t started packing. I haven’t gone through piles of junk to at least clear some of the crap in my flat before I leave. I still haven’t bought tiles or a radiator for the bathroom even though Dariusz the Polish builder is starting work tomorrow morning to transform the bombsite I’ve been bathing in for the last few months into a fully functioning, possibly even rent-enabling, bathroom. Who’s going to be hanging around for him I have no idea – to be discussed with fiancé and family I think.

 

I’m apprehensive about flying on Friday 13th, because I’m a bit silly, but there you go. Couple of gin and tonics should sort that out. I need to figure out which are my essentials for the next few weeks of hotel living, as the baggage allowance is a mere 20kg. I even have to fly economy. Oh the indignity. Still Qatar Airways are supposed to be quite plush, but we’ll see. At least the hotel looks nice.

 

Monday night was great – had some leaving drinks with a wide selection of friends at the lovely George in Borough. And there was a good turnout, especially considering it was Monday night, which I’m reliably informed is not supposed to be a going out night. Whatever.

 

I’ve been sent an itinerary for my first couple of days in Doha by the bank I’ll be working for. They’ve conveniently arranged a half-day tour of the city for Saturday afternoon which I’m so not up for, but I don’t want to appear ungrateful and saying no is not what I’m about these days. That’s right, I’m a yes man (go read the book it’s better).

 

I’ve also got to cancel BT, Tiscali (useless fuckers), let the council know I’m moving, speak to the water people, urgghhhh. The list just goes on and on. I could really do with another week or so just to sort everything out, but never mind.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

New beginnings

As you may have noticed I've changed the URL of this blog as rather than abandoning it I thought what I would do is continue the theme of self-discovery, but not specifically about what to do after you quit your job, because I've decided that now. I'm moving to Qatar to take up a position with a bank out there. When I left my last job I was pretty fed up with the banking world, but this looks like it could genuinely be a really exciting position in a totally different size and style of banking, so I'm embracing it.

Plus the opportunity of leaving London for a while, settling down in the sun with my girlfriend (soon to be wife) and experiencing a totally different culture is too good to pass up. So I'll be blogging about my experiences out there and hopefully this will be a good way to keep up with how I'm doing. I'm also going to clean up some of the existing posts on here as part of a fresh start.