Monthly Archives: March 2011

Driving in Qatar

Driving over here was my main concern before we arrived, and it was justified!

The roads are absolutely insane. When I got my car, I decided to keep driving until the fear wore off…..6 hours later I was still driving around with sweaty hands and the shakes!

Back in England I was a very confident driver and probably among the more assertive people on the road. Looking back, although I didn’t realise it at the time, being so assertive was something of a defence strategy as it gave me space on the road. I certainly found that bombing along motorways at 85mph gave me a nice space around me which few other cars penetrated, and I used to find driving more stressful on occasions where I was forced, for whatever reason, to stick to motorway speed limits. (I should add that I don’t condone speeding, and don’t speed on other types of roads in the UK).

I was also an advanced driver, and member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and had been taught and practised many defensive driving strategies, which I consolidated with a more agressive driving course  through a private tutor to prepare me for Qatar.

I’m not boasting, but trying to paint a picture of how confident a driver I was.

Over here, none of that counts. If I wanted to be the most assertive person on the road in Qatar, I would have to lose all sense of my own fate and drive way beyond my capabilities, so I am left fairly near the bottom of the food chain as a result.

Outside my comfort zone, I am reduced to a bit of a jibbering wreck, although I am getting more relaxed! Only in the past week have I been able to listen to music in the car – before that my concentration was too intense to cope with any more stimuli!

Here are some specific examples of why it is so stressful to drive over here:

Impatience

The first example which springs to mind is one which I have just witnessed out of the window. Our apartment overlooks a French school. At this time of day, the road grinds to a halt as hundreds of cars descend on the street and try and parallel park outside the school.

I just heard some hooting, which isn’t exactly unusal in Qatar, but this was particularly frenetic, so I looked out of the window to see two Landcruisers getting VERY impatient with the traffic in front of them.

As one of the school mums dared to let a car out of a space ahead of her, the first Landcruiser finally lost whatever shred of patience he had left, and pulled out onto the ‘wrong’ side of the road, with the other Landcruiser behind him following suit.

There was oncoming traffic, but this didn’t stop them. Neither did the fact that kids were pouring out of the primary school straight into the road (did I mention that this manoeuvre took place just behind a pedestrian crossing outside the school?!).

There then ensued a Mexican standoff between the Landcruisers and the oncoming traffic, while kids scattered for their lives all around, and naturally, the Landcruisers won – they have right of way over here- before they sped off into the distance.

I say sped off, but actually for some reason the locals seem completely unable to navigate speed humps without stopping dead in front of them, so it was more of a crawl and didn’t actually get them past the school any quicker than the traffic next to them on the right side of the road.

In another example of impatience, I have a habit of taking my foot off the gas if there is a red light ahead of me (approach hazards slowly, leave them quickly). In Doha, this doesn’t go down well. Everyone, regardless of nationality, approaches hazards at high speed and leaves their braking until the last minute. Yesterday, I witnessed (with a wry smile on my face) as a bloke behind me went absolutely ballistic at me for going so slow on the approach to a red light. He was cussing and shaking his hands at me. If I could work out why, I would have adjusted my driving accordingly to let him do whatever it was that he wanted to do, but I could see absolutely no reason for his desire to go faster, so I just watched him with amusement in my mirror (and of course left him for dust when the lights turned green).

You can have some fun with this. As you approach a red light, ease off the gas and show a brake light to the cars behind you, and watch them scatter like mad into the other lanes. You will end up gently cruising to a halt in one of the shortest queues, while the other drivers, in their impatience, will have joined much longer queues in neighbouring lanes.

I am still trying to weigh up the best way to deal with this culture – I am reluctant to start accerating towards slow traffic and hitting the brakes hard and late, as is the done thing in Doha, but I am also conscious of the need to adapt my driving to local conditions and not to wind other drivers up. Sometimes you do need to leave your braking quite late, otherwise any gap you leave will get filled by other cars, so it’s a case of assessing the road conditions and driving accordingly, although this can make for an uncomfortable ride for your passengers.

A mix of cultures

The main reason for all of the problems on the road here seems to be the clash of cultures, so there are no unofficial rules to get you through. For example, in Italy, the driving is insane, but nearly everyone on the roads is Italian and therefore you can at least predict how they will behave in any situation, according to their unwritten social code.

Here in Qatar, I could cope  a  lot better if the only other cars on the road were Qatari. Yes, they are absolutely mental as drivers, but they are actually quite skilled; they have to be to pull off some of the high-speed manoeuvres you will witness. I suspect that a lot of their frustration stems from their country being invaded by so many immigrants with different driving styles anyway.

But the reality in Qatar is a melting pot of different driving cultures. Some immigrants come from remote areas where they will have had little experience of cars or traffic, let alone city environments.

The Europeans struggle because we are used to a culture of rules and orderliness, and our lack of flexibility in this respect can make us as much of a hazard in this environment as any other cultural group.

Thankfully, and this is going to sound horribly racist, but it’s generally true – you can predict a driver’s nationality and therefore driving style by the car.

Landcruisers are top of the food chain. They are generally driven by locals, and you learn pretty quickly to get out of the way, or let them in the queue ahead of you. They are driven at exceptionally high speeds, generally, and they will come up behind you flashing their lights and hooting at you if you don’t let them pass you. They have no qualms about taking an offroad route to cut out a traffic jam and barge their way in front of you, or use the wrong lane to pull off a traffic lights manoeuvre, or drive across kerbs to get to where they need to go. If you have an accident with a local, I have heard that you don’t stand much of a chance of proving that the accident wasn’t your fault.

Europeans tend to drive other 4WDs – if you need to break your way into a queue, I always pick on a white person, as they are sure to let you in!

Tata buses, construction trucks, and Nissan pick ups need to be given a wide berth, as the driving is nearly always completely erratic and unpredictable and I have yet to see an exception to this.

Roundabouts

Roundabouts here are absolutely terrifying, especially when turning left or going straight on. Thankfully, the Government is aware of the accident stats and is gradually removing them and replacing them with traffic lights.

I know someone who was taught to drive over here, and apparently they actually teach you to take the ‘lane of least resistance’, regardless of which direction you intend to take off the roundabout. As you approach the roundabout, everyone is shuffling lanes trying to find the shortest queue. For those who wish to turn right, this will involve a last minute dash across the lanes to get to the right-hand feeder lane, if there is one – otherwise they will just join the roundabout anyway, and barge their way across to their exit once they are on the roundabout.

For turning left, I will usually take the left hand lane, but on busy roundabouts this can lead to a big stress in trying to get back over the right again to take your exit. I have been almost forced into an underpass wall by a Landcruiser intent on trying to block my exit. Many cars in the right-hand lanes will be going further around the roundabout than you, so you might end up circling a roundabout twice or more in an effort to try and make your exit.

The middle lane on a roundabout is always stressful, because you will have people on your right intent on getting all the way around the roundabout and preventing you from making your exit, but you will also have people on your left trying to cut across you to get to their exit.

If I am taking the first or second exit, I stick to the right hand lane, as I then only need to keep an eye on one wing mirror. If I am turning left, or making a u-turn, I take the left hand lane and take any opportunity I can on the roundabout to try and move over for my exit, but if I fail I just keep going around it until I am successful, watching both wing mirrors intently!

If all fails, I just get off at a different exit and revise my route – Doha is built on a grid system (just like Milton Keynes!) so there is always an alternative route…….. if only the other drivers on the road would realise this, instead of trying to force their way across lanes of traffic to get places!

Traffic lights and u-turns

Doha’s roads are all at least 3 lanes wide in each direction. There are no single-lane roads, apart from the back streets behind housing complexes or shops.

I can see the logic behind this, but I do wonder if in reality it actually has a negative effect on traffic flow.

There are no refuges in the central reservations for getting across oncoming traffic into side roads, so if your destination is on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, you have to progress to the next traffic light or roundabout and make a u-turn. This increases traffic at junctions, and it also means that traffic lights have to be sequenced carefully to allow u-turns, so only one flow of traffic has a green light at any one time. As a result, you can easily wait 10 minutes at traffic lights waiting for the full sequence to run through.

There is no amber light, so the lights go from red to green very suddenly. After 10 minutes of waiting, you can be half asleep by this point, but you will soon be woken up by the cacophony of hooting horns behind you if you dare be as much as half a second late in hitting the gas pedal. I’m not being frivolous – half a second is all you will get!

If you go across a traffic light junction in the right-hand lane, you have to run the gauntlet on the other side of the lights of traffic joining your lane from the right, at very high speed from the right-hand feeder lane of the other road.

Another perilous situation can arise if you turn out of a side road onto one of Doha’s triple-lane roads, and need to be going in the other direction (so you need to make a u-turn at the next junction). You may need to have your wits about you in order to get across to the left hand lane before the next roundabout/traffic lights. Sometimes you will fail and end up having to go to another roundabout/traffic lights to make your u-turn.

Quite often at traffic lights, the left hand and u-turn lane is separated from the other lanes by a solid kerb. This is no obstacle to a Landcruiser driver and they will fight their way into their lane of choice with little regard for minor obstacles such as kerbs or Nissan Tiidas.

Children.

I can forgive any of the above situations, but one thing I will never get used to seeing is how children are carried in cars over here. Europeans seem to be the only group on the road who strap their children into their car.

I saw a chap yesterday driving with a 2 year old on his knee. I also saw a lady in the passenger seat of another car with a 3 year old on her lap.

You will witness these sights in almost every car around you. Kids can normally be spotted climbing around the back seats, if they’re not loose in the front.

The stats speak for themselves. The roads are more dangerous here and you are 6 times more likely to be involved in an accident than in the UK.

The death rate is much higher too, but I suspect that this is due to the number of people not wearing seatbelts. When I went to get my visa processed, I was in a people carrier with 4 or 5 Indian and Bangladeshi women and I was the only one who put my seatbelt on.

I am all for trying to avoid forcing British values on other cultures, but this is one area which does make me want to scream. Fair enough if adults want to put themselves at risk, but I do not understand how people can put their children in such danger. I can’t explain it. Do they not understand the risks, or not care? Is it part of an Insh’allah culture? But even if you believe that it is God’s will whether or not your child lives or dies, surely you want to help stack the odds in their favour and save yourself from unimaginable pain?

Changing habits

It is easy to try and impose British values on the driving out here, but you have to be careful in doing so. Yes it is nice in England where there is an unwritten code which we all stick to in a predictable way, but that’s been ingrained in over 100 years of driving culture, and it doesn’t mean that those same unwritten rules could work elsewhere.

The Qataris wouldn’t appreciate arrogant Brits telling them to do things their way, any more than we would appreciate being told off for our drinking culture going against Muslim values.

I will continue to use my indicators and exercise good lane discipline, but I’m not expecting anyone else to follow me! You also have to keep in mind that many of the nationalities driving here do not have 100 years of driving culture engrained in their psyche.

The World Cup is probably going to have some effect. Kim Clijsters publicly criticised standards of driving here after being injured on her way to a tennis match in Doha last year.

Given that the culture can’t be changed overnight, I think the Government is going to have to take the lead by clamping down on things. There are already plenty of speed cameras around, but they could honestly do with more, especially hidden and average speed type cameras. I wouldn’t say this in England, but over here it’s hugely important, as the speeds that some cars travel at is absolutely terrifying and they need to put an end to it. These are big cars which can do a lot of damage if they hit you.

And, unlike Britain, I do feel that the speed limits need to be LOWERED here – 80kph is too fast for built-up areas.

It goes without saying that they need to crack down on strapping children into cars properly.

The major, planned public transport projects will also get some more cars off the road (especially the less confident drivers who cause a lot of frustration to the Landcruiser types).

Social iniatives and campaigns, such as this student project, are widespread, but seem to be having little effect.

At the end of the day, we have to recognise that this is a culture where being pushy gets you what you want (not patient queueing!) and this is not going to change, so the best that can be done is to enforce driving regulations more stringently to try and manage it, especially when ‘soft’ techniques such as educational campaigns will not cut the mustard in a country with so many immigrants from all over the world, many of whom are illiterate and/or don’t speak either Arabic or English.

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How to track your shipping container

I used to work (indirectly) for the Port of Felixstowe, and I found out through them that it’s possible to track any shipping container, anywhere in the World, online.

Here are a few ways you can track your own container, if you’re in a similar position to us and sending your furniture overseas and want to monitor its journey:

FINDING OUT THE CONTAINER NUMBER
If your container is loaded outside your British house, you should be able to make a note of the number. This is written in quite large letters on the back and sides of the container. Ours was made up of 4 letters (which depict which shipping company it belongs to) and 7 numbers, although I don’t know if this is standard for all containers.

FIND OUT WHICH UK PORT IT’S GOING FROM
You should be able to find this out from the driver, or ask your removals company.

IF IT’S GOING FROM FELIXSTOWE
You can check that your container has arrived in Felixstowe, and then track its movements through the port handling facilities, and then find out which ship it has been loaded on to. Simply click on this link, which takes you to the Port’s container tracking website. Then click on ‘Guest sign in: Sign in’ button. Once the page has loaded, look in the left hand margin and click on ‘Miscellaneous’ and then click on ‘Tracker’ which appears underneath.

In the box labelled ‘Unit ID’ enter your container number (consisting of a mixture of letters and digits). You will then be shown which vessel your container is booked on to, and how much progress it has made through the port.

You can then click on the Port of Felixstowe’s website to see if the ship is in dock yet, and where the next port of call will be, and check this page to check once it has departed.

If your container isn’t going through the Port of Felixstowe
You can still track it online, although not in as much detail. Click on the Track Trace website and enter your container number (including the letters) and click on ‘Track with options’. You will then find out which ship your container was last loaded on to and at which port.

Once your ship has set sail
Once the ship has set off with your container on board, you won’t be able to track the container any more, so you now need to start tracking the ship. Your success in doing so depends on your ship, unfortunately, as not all ships are trackable.

A number of ship tracking websites come up if you simply type the ship’s name “in quotation marks” in Google. The two I have had most success with are listed below, but please note that sometimes your ship won’t have been tracked for many hours on one website, but may have been tracked within minutes by another, so it pays to check more than one.

SailWX – in the drop down ‘ship tracker’ menu, select ‘Find Ship by Name’ and then type your ship’s name into the first box. In the results, click on the ship’s name to see a map of its recent movements.

Marinetraffic: You should be able to find your ship in the drop down menu on the left.

Although most removals companies offer some sort of tracking or updates about your ship, you may wish to monitor it yourself for your own peace of mind. Personally, I find the whole process absolutely fascinating. Our container’s ship has so far called at Zeebrugge, Bremerhaven and Rotterdam after leaving Felixstowe, and it’s now in the Bay of Biscay on its way down to Algecrias. It’s amazing to think of all the places it has been, and it’s very reassuring to see that it’s still on track to dock here in Qatar when it’s supposed to.

 

First few days in Qatar

The first few days have gone very quickly, and today was the first day I’ve had to myself, with Rob’s first day back at work since the day I arrived.

Today, he very kindly arranged for me to have a manicure and pedicure at the Bliss Spa at the uber cool W Hotel, which is just a short walk away from our apartment. It’s Bliss as in the chain of spas/products you can buy in Boots in England, which I was quite surprised about as it’s not really a high-end brand in England.

It was lovely, although my manicure (in a rather daring shade of black-purple) only lasted 3 hours before I chipped and ruined it! And the colour I chose for my toes is hideous! I’m just not cut out for this expat wife lifestyle!

I also managed to do some exercise (mainly stretches) at the apartment this afternoon. This is a major bonus about giving up work. My old job involved such long hours that I had to let my exercise slip and I never finished the course of physiotherapy I was supposed to complete after my hip replacement 3 years ago. I never quite fully recovered from that surgery, because I was stuck behind a desk all day ever since, and now I have the gift of an opportunity to put that right.

On Friday (the day after I arrived) we popped round to see 2 old friends of mine who have been living here for a few years. We ended up accompanying them to the Spring Fair at the American School of Doha, which was an opportunity for their little two year old to have a bit of fun on the inflatables. Later that day, Rob and I went to view a KIA Sportage for sale, and took a trip to the mall.

On Saturday we went for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien in Landmark Mall and went to look for the Tea Shop in the nearby Hyatt Plaza Mall. Thankfully we eventually found it – it was quite strange, especially because it appeared to be a German chain. The tea was stored in boxes behind the counter and we had to buy the Rooibos I was craving in loose-leaf form, so I had to buy all the paraphernalia to make ‘proper’ tea as a result! It did make a lovely cup though! We then went for a bit of an explore, and tried (and failed) to find the sports centre/swimming pool at the Aspire sports village, before heading off to seek out QAWS, which was well hidden in a little oasis of agriculture and trees, down a desert track right on the outskirts of the city, where desert meets civilisatioin.

We timed our QAWS visit very well, as all the dogs were just coming back in from their walks, and scores of volunteers were all hanging around. I was quite shocked at what a poor state their facilities were in – there is only one proper building, and then a couple of portacabins which house the kittens and puppies in makeshift cages. Under constant attack from the desert sun, the smell of ammonia inside them is absolutely eye-watering. They have many more dogs than they seem able to cope with, and there were very few proper ‘staff’ around, so anybody could walk in anywhere and help themselves to puppies/kittens etc. It was a sorry sight.

I got chatting to a volunteer, who then introduced me to a rather frazzled looking member of staff. She said to come down at around 330pm another day and she would get me started dog-walking, which I fully intend to do once I have settled in some more. I hope I can help them in other ways too.

We went for dinner that evening at a Chinese place in City Center Mall. It was OK, nothing special.

On Sunday, we had a lazy morning and then went back to view the KIA Sportage again, this time to take it for a full inspection at one of the many inspection centres on the Salwa Road. It passed with flying colours, but Rob’s terrible attempts at haggling afterwards got us nowhere and we walked away from it. I am expecting the guy to get back to us, as he flies back to the Philippines on Thursday and he needs to sell before he goes, but I’m not too bothered as there are plenty more cars around and I’m not in a hurry to start driving.

We tried to see a couple of villas as well, but failed on both counts. One is right by a very busy road. Rob saw it a couple of weeks ago, and while it is apparently every bit as beautiful inside as it looks in the photos, the location is really bothering me, so we weren’t too bothered when the guy pretended not to be in when we turned up! The other is one on a very desirable compound that our friend’s Mum told us about, but this is only based on a rumour and so far nothing has come to fruition.

We also popped to see another KIA Sportage which had been advertised on QatarLiving, but it turned out to be one which Rob had already viewed 2 weeks ago at a dealer’s and written off as a complete dog of a car. So we left pretty quickly!

Dinner last night was a take away pizza, as I’ve not yet found my feet as a proper housewife, but I have done 2 loads of washing today, so I am slowly easing into my new role!

Tomorrow will be the first day when I have got literally nothing to do, so I need to get into some good habits right away. I plan on doing a fair bit of exercise in the morning, and getting started on writing in the afternoon. If I get really bored, City Center mall is only a short walk away, but I am crippled with back pain at the moment, so I don’t feel like too much walking. The back pain is caused by a whole mixture of things, but mainly a combination of the bed here being rock hard and also being a passenger in cars which are very agressively driven, with harsh acceleration and braking. It’s the only way to drive here, unfortunately, but it is causing me no end of problems as my body has always been out of alignment and it doesn’t take much to send me over the edge.

I am now counting down the days until our container arrives and I get my comfy bed and sofas back!

Finally here in Doha!

Well, I made it here at last! The last couple of days in the UK were horrendous, but that’s all behind me now and I’m sitting on the sofa in the apartment, relaxing with hubby and enjoying my new life.

The removals men finished packing at about 4pm on Tuesday, and I went off to get my legs waxed (which, unusually for me hurt like HELL – I think because I was so stressed). I called in at a colleague’s house on the way back, to pick up my replacement leaving present from work, which is this gorgeous ring and then went to the Kings Arms Hotel in Berkhamsted to pick my Mum up.

I was meant to be taking her back to my house, so I could heat up some food I had left over, but I was too knackered by this point, so we just went to Ask for pizza.

The next morning was when the madness really started. We dashed off after breakfast from the hotel; Mum to let the removals men back into the house at 9am, and me to make a last-minute dash to Debenhams in Hemel to try and buy a big suitcase, as there was a worryingly large pile of stuff I had put to one side to take with me to Doha which didn’t look like it was going to fit into my existing three suitcases!

I then had a doctor’s appointment at 9.40am (to stock up on prescriptions) and a hairdresser’s appointment at 10.30am. In between I also managed a mad dash into Johnson’s dry cleaners to dump a load of unwanted coathangers, and a quick trip to the tip.This was even more impressive, considering that the doctor’s appointment over-ran by almost half an hour, and there was a 20 minute drive between there and the hairdresser’s and I was only 2 minutes late for the hairdresser’s appointment!

I got back to the house around 11.30am, and found the removals men waiting around doing nothing, as they had packed everything away but couldn’t do anything more until the container arrived.

Everything had been put downstairs and that meant that Mum had been an absolute star and had hoovered and cleaned the whole of the upstairs of the house.

Having the removals men sitting around doing nothing was particularly frustrating, as I would really have liked to have seen the back of them by lunchtime. When EVL removals had previously told me that the work would take up to 1.5 days, I never expected them to be hanging around past 12pm on day 2.

Anyway, the delay in the removals process meant that my original plan of spending a relaxing afternoon having my hair cut, and then taking the hire car back to Watford in the afternoon, and heading straight off to Heathrow from there, would no longer work. So Mum and I decided to make a quick run down to Watford to get rid of my hire car now and hopefully be back in time for the container arriving.

We got to the outskirts of our village when we spotted a very large container heading down the road towards the village centre. This is not a typical sight in our village, so I guessed it must be mine and swung the car round to chase after it. It was an enormous, double-trailered lorry which was carrying 2 containers. As I caught up with it, I saw him take one look at our narrow road and sail straight past it. In a panic, I pulled down our road and told the removals men that I thought I had just seen the container.They made some phone calls, while I went back out in the car to try and chase the container down to show him an easier access route.

I did a 5 mile loop of our village, but didn’t manage to find the container lorry. I pulled back into our road, but thankfully the container was already there. Well, not quite on our street, but the road joining it. To further add to the delay and stress, the lorry wasn’t able to get up our road at all. This meant that the removals men would have to load their own van up and drive the stuff down to the container.

Expecting this loading process to take at least a couple of hours, Mum and I headed back to Watford to drop the hire car off, via the tip to get rid of a load of freezer food which I had not managed to get through.

We got back about 1.30pm to again find our men sitting twiddling their thumbs – everything was in the container, apart from the cleaning items (hoover and mop) which we had asked them to pack till last.

This meant the pressure was now on me and Mum to get the house cleaned up downstairs, so that the hoover could be loaded onto the container and I could finally put an end to the horrid process.

We did as quick a job as we could, discovering in the process that the removals men had managed to completely destroy the oak floor in the lounge, with numerous deep scratches and one particularly bad gouge in the floor.

I was absolutely devastated, as we had taken great care of this expensive floor for our landlord, and had previously expected to get 100% of our damage deposit back on departure. My heart sunk when I saw the damage and knew that I would have to expect a bill of hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. The removals men just shrugged and said it would “wash out” when I confronted them about it. I knew there was no point in labouring it with them, as the damage was already done, but I took photos with the intent of complaing to EVL at a later point.

Anyway, the floor got cleaned, the hoover was loaded and the container (which was almost full, with about 100 cu ft, or the size of a large sofa, left over at most), was sealed and sent on it’s way.

It was very moving to see it drive off, knowing that the next time I saw it would be under the harsh desert sun and that the only way my goods would see light of day again was once a man in Qatar had got it open with a pair of bolt cutters.

I chatted to the driver before it left, and apparently he was taking it to Tilbury. From there, it would be carried by train to the Port of Felixstowe.

Anyway I have the packing inventory and there were a total of 138 wrapped items/boxes in total. There’s going to be a lot of unwrapping to do when it gets to Doha….

Then it was back to the house to try and get all my leftovers into the suitcases I had at my disposal. Let’s just say that it was a good job I had bought the extra suitcase in Debenhams, and even then it was a struggle. It didn’t help that the removals men had not been allowed to pack any aerosols, which meant I had a massive pile to pack to take to Doha myself.

After a quick shower and finally tidy up of the house, we then had to ram said suitcases into Mum’s convertible car, which was something of a challenge, and then we were on our way.

We met Dad at the airport, although he nearly needed resuscitation when he saw me face an £802 bill from Qatar Airways for my 34kg of excess baggage. It was a harsh bill and I could have sent the suitcases on through a different, cheaper company, but they wouldn’t accept aerosols, and given how many I had in my luggage and how much hassle was involved in sorting them all out,  I couldn’t face any more hassle after what I’d just been through, so I paid the fine out of the bonus I’d just been given from work.

It was quite emotional saying goodbye to Mum and Dad, even though I didn’t think the reality of moving abroad had really sunk in yet and Mum’s coming over next month anyway. I think my fear of flying might have been mixed up in all those emotions as well.

You don’t half feel silly going through security with red eyes and tears rolling down your face!

A quick pootle around the shops and I went to the gate, where they boarded the flight an hour before scheduled 8.30pm departure. I was hopeful that we might take off early, but this being LHR of course, this didn’t happen, although we weren’t late either.

I was sat next to an Indian gentleman who had terrible wind. After a few not very subtle hints from me (basically holding my nose every time he dropped one) he eventually got the hint and shuffled off to one of the many empty rows of seats on the plane.

After a good meal, it was lights out (including a strictly enforced, yet inexplicable ‘blinds down’ policy) and I managed to sink into that state of semi consciousness which makes you think you have been awake for the whole time, but when you are eventually roused and realise how much time has passed, you realise that maybe you did get some sleep after all.

They served hot baguettes at 4am (Qatar time)/1am London time, which I thought was a bit unecessary, especially as they turned the lighting back up then and then buggered off back to their quarters for a rest themselves.

Not long after 5am, the landing lights came on and I saw Bahrain at about the same time. I then caught my first glimpse of the northern coast of Qatar, somewhere near a gas field. We banked to follow the coast down towards Doha, which I had a cracking view of from the right-hand side of the plane as we skimmed Doha’s coast. We passed the airport and headed further down the coast for a good 30km or so, before making a U-turn and heading back into the headwind for final approach.

We landed bang on time, although there was an unbelievable amount of faffing before we could get off and then the bus didn’t show up for ages. A bus! Qatar has a brand new arrivals terminal and they still make you get on a bloody bus! The drive to the terminal took about 15 minutes as well.

Rob’s company had arranged for a meet and greet by Al Maha, although they didn’t so much greet me, rather I had to seek them out myself! They took me into a lovely lounge, and fed and watered me whilst arranging my visa and security clearance, and collecting my luggage.

Finally, I was whisked through to landside to meet Rob, which was amazing! There he was in the new polo shirt I had sent him. It was very difficult to obey the local ‘no PDAs’ rules! We jumped into his lovely new Landrover Freelander (or LR2 as they are known out here) and here I am in his apartment now 🙂

This was actually yesterday, but I have had such a busy day today that I don’t think now is the time to start writing about it.

Expect further updates soon!

Yours in Qatar, Amy

About to leave the UK….

As I type, there are 2 removals men here packing up my life around me. I’m not hugely impressed, as I was expecting the shipping container to arrive today and fully expected them to have loaded it by the end of the day (they allow two days, but most of our stuff is brand new in box IKEA furniture, so I thought they’d be done and dusted in a day).

Instead, I’m told that these two men will get everything boxed up today, and the container will arrive at 1pm tomorrow for loading. This is adding to my stresses, as my flight leaves tomorrow evening and I never even dreamed that they wouldn’t be gone by 1pm.

I’ve got to clean the house once they’ve gone, in time for the 4pm landlord’s inspection, and I also have to get my hire car back to Watford before 4pm! (I was originally planning on taking the hire car back and then going straight to Heathrow from there, but that’s no longer an option).

EVL haven’t been much help on the phone, even though they knew I was concerned about our tenancy technically ending at 12pm tomorrow weeks ago – at the time I was reassured by their salesman that they would probably be gone by then anyway, and now I find out that they’re not even arriving until later than that and there’s nothing they can do about it.

The lead up to now has not been too stressful, although I’ve been constantly busy until at least midnight every night, and getting up early to do a couple of hours before work. I’m not sure exactly what took so much time, but I was just organising stuff really.

I left the suitcase packing until yesterday and that’s been the most stressful bit, deciding what to take with me tomorrow on the plane, and what to send by ship.

So far, I’ve filled 3 suitcases! I still have a whole pile of stuff in the bathroom (it’s safe from the reach of the removals men in there) which I would like to take on the plane with me, but no idea how it’s all going to fit at the moment!

Oh well, it’ll all come right in the end. I just hope it all fits in the container tomorrow. EVL removals surveyed the house a couple of months ago and since then, I’ve bought a massive bed and £3k’s worth of IKEA furniture!

This time in 48 hours I will be in Rob’s apartment in Doha!