48 hours in Bristol, England

I’m a huge advocate of trying out new places as often as possible, but there’s also something very comforting about returning to a city you know and love. I lived in Bristol for around ten months in 2011, and some of my closest friends still live there, so I try and make it back there whenever I can – last weekend being my most recent visit.

When I lived in this lovely city, I worked in a demanding job that involved 10-11 hour days, and I spent every moment I wasn’t working propping up a bar with my colleagues or playing drinking games with my housemates (oh, the folly of youth!) The result? I didn’t take advantage of my time in the city at ALL. Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to rectify this on subsequent visits.

If you have 48 hours to spend in beautiful Bristol, here are some of the city’s highlights.

The Bridge: See one of world-famous engineer Brunel’s masterpieces and admire incredible views of the Avon Gorge and Bristol City at the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It’s a steep walk up Clifton’s many hills to get to the bridge (seriously, I could feel it in my calves the next day), but it’s well worth it. The bridge is an iconic Bristol landmark, a great place to get photos and it’s also quite romantic, with a secluded bench off to one side that we immediately decided would be the perfect place for a proposal.Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

The Nightlife: As a city with a large student population, Bristol has a diverse nightlife. There are a variety of lively bars along the harbourside, as well as more intimate, upmarket spots on Whiteladies Road. For shots of every flavour imaginable (including chilli!) head to Vodka Revolution. If you’re young enough to think a massive nightclub with very loud music and lots of sweaty bodies sounds like fun, check out Pryzm.

For live music, check out the Stag and Hound to hear local bands, or Mr. Wolf’s for an alternative/Indie vibe. My personal favourite spot is Seamus O’Donnells, a tiny little Irish pub run by a charming gay couple on St. Nicholas’ Street (What can I say? I’m a cliché).

Image via heikoworld.com

Image via heikoworld.com

The Food: My resident Bristolian friends tell me that the culinary scene has massively improved recently, and if my weekend was anything to go by, they’re absolutely right. Saturday was spent having afternoon tea at Brown’s in Clifton, including dainty sandwiches, warm scones and a variety of tasty treats. The salted caramel profiterole was the highlight for me, but it was all delicious! Sunday lunch was spent at Steak of the Art on the harbourside (not suitable for vegetarians!) The graffiti and decor are colourful and urban, and the food is consistently tasty and well priced. For standard pub grub at affordable prices, check out Molloy’s on Baldwin Street or the Bay Horse. imageThe Shopping: Cabot Circus in central Bristol is a fab open air shopping centre, with a good mixture of big brands at House of Fraser, high street shops and cute cafes. The centre leads on to Broadmead, a pedestrian shopping area and it’s close to both Debenhams and Primark. If you’ve got deep pockets, there are all sorts of boutiques in Clifton. The biggest shopping centre is probably Cribb’s Causeway, but it’s a bus ride out of the city and it’s probably not worth it on a short trip.Cabot Circus, Bristol

The Sights: There are beautiful buildings all over Bristol – from catching a train at Temple Meads to watching skateboarders in front of the cathedral at College Green, you can hardly throw a stone in Bristol without hitting an architectural masterpiece. Stroll along the harbourside, or even explore the city from the water -there are several cool boat tours on offer. The world’s best bangers and mash is sold at St. Nick’s Market alongside all sorts of knickknacks.Temple Meads, Bristol

10 top things to see and do in Bristol

1. Bristol Zoo is worth a visit – I once saw a gorilla there raise its new-born to present it to us, just like Mufasa does with Simba in the Lion King

2. Have a drink on the terrace at the Avon Gorge Hotel, which has stunning views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It’s a glamorous spot, and less effort than walking all the way up as described above!

3. Check out what’s on at the Hippodrome, Bristol’s theatre. Mamma Mia was on last weekend, so we gave that a miss as we had already seen it (Yes, we’re cool!)

4. Keep an eye out for graffiti by Banksy dotted around the city

5. Place your bets – Bristol’s Rainbow Casino has become a hugely popular spot for poker, roulette and blackjack

6. Book a karaoke room at Kobe Karaoke and blast out the tunes with your friends (Warning: I have memories of doing just that at a work-do that still make my stomach turn with embarassment!)

7. If you’re visiting in summer, try to time it to coincide with the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Booking a hot air balloon ride is massively expensive (around £180 per person), but it’s still cool to walk around the festival while the sky is dotted with colourful balloons

8. If you’ve got extra time, take a half-day trip to Bath or Cheltenham, both very pretty towns that are very accessible from Bristol

9. See an exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Last weekend, we visited a free exhibition on death, which was both morbid and fascinating

10. Jump onboard the S.S. Great Britain, one of Bristol’s most popular tourist attractions.

Have you visited Bristol? Did you love it as much as I do? If you’re visiting soon, what have you got planned?

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PROGRESS REPORT: 30 things to do before you’re 30

Happy New Year, everyone! Hope it brings love and happiness to you and yours.

Instead of making whole brand new set of resolutions this New Year, I thought I would look back at the 30 things to do before you’re 30 post I wrote a few months ago and see if I’m on track. I wrote it shortly after I turned 27 in June, and is intended as a mixture of things both fun and practical, to get me out of my comfort zone.

Updates in italics.

TL;DR – As of January 1, 2016

  • Five goals out of 30 are achieved
  • 25 are in progress or need to be started
  • 899 days still to go until my 30th birthday, June 16, 2018

ACHIEVED!

familyGet professional photos done and frame the best one: Well, I’m not getting any younger, am I? Some lovely photos will be great when I’m older looking back.
Achieved! My Christmas present to the family this year was to have a professional photographer come and take photos of us during one of the brief periods when we are all in the same country. If When I achieve #9 and I’m proud of my body, I’ll be hoping to get individual shots done.

Move home to Ireland: My target date for moving home has been pushed back repeatedly, and right now March 2017 is the target date.
Achieved – whoop whoop, I moved home earlier than expected in December!

Join a sports team: I’m not a sporty person at ALL, the only team I was on in school was the debate team. I want to join a sports team for the fitness and the camaraderie.
Achieved! I joined Qatar GAA in August and trained with them for two months, as well as going to a few of the socials. Unfortunately, training clashed with some of my other commitments, so I stopped going. It was a fun experience and I’m glad I did it.

Adopt a dog: I follow lots of pet shelters on Facebook- I really want one but I travel a LOT. I need to come up with contingency 12279227_10153632642501163_9090235166536710882_n
plans for when I’m away before I get a doggy.
Achieved. I adopted Harriet in August 2015. She had been abandoned and was badly neglected and likely abused, based on her scars. After a couple of months at my place, she was almost fully toilet-trained, her coat had grown back and she had a whole new personality. Sadly, my sudden departure from the Middle East in December meant I couldn’t take her with me, but she’s doing really well with a friend of a friend and I get regular photos and videos from her new family. I guess this ended up as more of a foster situation than an adoption, and I’m glad I was able to nurse her back to health before I moved away. 

Take up a completely new hobby: Ideally something that would involve meeting cool, interesting, creative people. Any ideas, folks?Achieved. I spent a few afternoons walking rescue dogs at the shelter in Qatar, and I had a great time. Now that I’m back in Ireland, I’m looking for a brand new hobby to take up my time. 

STILL TO GO

Learn to drive: Why didn’t I do this years ago? I’ve spent years living in cities where it wasn’t really necessary. But I’m from rural Ireland – any time I visit home I feel trapped! I revert to being a teenager, relying on my parents for lifts everywhere. This HAS to end.
I’ve just booked my driver theory test for next week, and all going well I’ll be on the road doing my lessons by the end of the month.

Buy a house: There are lots of advantages to being an expat, but I want something substantial to show for my years abroad. I want a home that’s my own.
Hahahahahahaha.

Write a book: I love writing. I’ve always wanted to write a book… I just don’t know what kind. I get all sorts of ideas for fiction and non-fiction books, poetry and short stories… It’s just a matter of nailing an idea down and writing it.
I have two ideas in my head, one fiction and one non-fiction. The first is a book of short stories, a couple of which are already written, and the second is a book of advice for young people who want to give up alcohol based on my own experiences. Watch this space.

Start a postgrad: I don’t feel like I’m finished with education. I’d like to do an online postgrad in something like International Relations or Crisis Management. Since most part-time Masters take three years, I’m not going to aim to complete this – just get it started.
This idea is temporarily shelved. Depending on how my job hunt goes, I’m not sure how much value a post-grad will add. I’ve changed my mind a few times on this, and may do so again.

Take Mam and Dad on holiday: My parents have made me who I am today and I owe them everything. I was a pain in the ass in my teens and even early 20s – it’s time to start giving something back.
This is definitely going to happen, as soon as my parents get less busy. My mam has all kinds of commitments and my dad works really long hours – but I will make this happen!

Achieve decent conversational Arabic: I don’t need to be fluent, and I don’t need to know how to write it – but I’d love to be able to have a proper chat with friends and colleagues in Arabic.
Based on my early departure from the Middle East, this may no longer be relevant. I’m going to change this goal to ‘Become proficient in a language other than English’.

Earn a body I love to see in the mirror: I’m not too down on myself in terms of how I look – I’ve got great hair and lips, skinny legs and nice boobs. I’m not awfully overweight, but I know I would be happier with how I looked if I was slimmer and more toned.
Well, they say “nothing changes if nothing changes”, and since I haven’t changed my diet or started exercising regularly, my body has not changed much. Yes, I joined the gym yesterday, and I’m hoping to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to this year’s January joiners.

Go to Electric Picnic or Glastonbury: I want to don festival gear and trawl through fields to see amazing artists… Before I’m old enough to be confused for somebody’s mother.
Hoping to go this year! Who’s going?

Have a post go viral: This has happened me once before on a previous blog and it was so cool!
I need to settle on a definition of viral. This post I wrote about Galway was widely shared and received thousands of hits over a couple of days in December. I’ve read than if your post receives 15 times what a regular post does, that means it has gone viral. Since the hits are still racking up on this post, I think it might actually fit the bill. I’d still like to see something go properly viral though and get tens or hundreds of thousands of hits.

Read five non-fiction books about Irish history: I want to know more about my country’s past and present. I love reading, so this should be a relatively easy one! Any recommendations, folks?
Currently reading a collection of essays by Michael D. Higgins, but I need to do more work on this. The 1916 centenary should provide ample fodder for this one.

Learn to make at least one amazing starter, main course and dessert: Because my 30s will presumably consist of many
classy dinner parties and I’ll want to keep up with the Jones’.I make a decent vegetable soup and an awesome roast chicken, I still need to learn how to make a good desert. This year, I’d like to branch into something a bit more exotic, maybe take an Indian cooking class, or Thai?

Go vegetarian for a month: Or maybe longer, depending on how it goes. There are so many good reasons to go vegetarian but I just LOVE meat! This one will be hard.
I made my first attempt at this recently and lasted six days, which wasn’t bad. I put very little planning into it, and I broke on Christmas Day and ate turkey. I need to do some more research on simple recipes and ingredients before I try this again.

Learn to play chess: I never learned as a kid and I always feel dumb when people are playing and I don’t know how!No progress. Maybe I’m just destined to be more of a draughts player. Anyone want to teach me?

Explore Ireland: Climb Croagh Patrick, see the Cliffs of Moher, walk the Ring of Kerry, go to the Giant’s Causeway and stay a night on the Aran Islands.This is the year.

Meet Russell Brand: Don’t judge me. I love him. If he would consider marrying another Katie I would happily oblige.I’m planning to go to the Trew Era campaign when I’m in London later this month. Hoping against hope Russ will be there. I feel we are close enough that I can call him Russ.

Write a comedy skit or spoken word poem and perform it: I probably should have done this in school or college but I didn’t have the confidence.
I totally failed on this front. I put my name down for a spoken word poetry night, but I totally balked and just didn’t show up on the night.

Spend a 3-4 weeks volunteering in a developing country: Everyone I know who has done something like this has come back with an amazing perspective on life. I’d like the opportunity to gain the same, and hopefully make a difference.
Nada.

Complete a sprint triathlon: After a small amount of training, I did a super sprint triathlon. I would love to train up and do the next level – this will involve learning to run
!I’m registering for the Westport Triathlon as soon as reg opens – time to get training. Confident I can do the swim and the cycle, but it’ll take some training to do the 5k run – it’s a type of exercise that just doesn’t come easy to me.

Play Texas Hold’em in Vegas: I loved playing poker in college but I haven’t really played in years since I moved to the Middle East. What better place to make a comeback than Sin City?
This goal may need to be revised – I’m not sure taking up gambling is the brightest idea I’ve ever had.

Organise a fundraiser for St James’ Hospital: This hospital was instrumental in bringing one of my close family members back to health when he was really ill. I’m going to set a target of €5,000 for it.
When I live in Dublin, hopefully in the near future, this one is going to become my top priority!

Start a retirement fund: This is a boring one, but it seems like a good idea.
I’ll be needing a job before I get on to this. Should probably be working on that instead of writing this.

Learn to do yoga and/or meditate properly: I need to do this. For health, balance, peace of mind. I’ve made some half-hearted attempts to do this in the past, but I’d like to do this properly
.A renewed effort will begin tomorrow morning. If any of you have tips on meditation, please share them,

Write a letter to a stranger and leave it in a book: Just because I’ve read some really lovely stories about things like this.
50% done. I have written the letter, now I just need to find the right book to place it in, and I’ve got one in mind. Watch this space.

Go to a TED event: So much wisdom in one place. I love TED talks and the opportunity to meet some of these people in real life would be amazing.
Haven’t even looked into this – deferred to next year.

Fall in love: I debated whether to put this down. Of course, you can’t plan when you fall in love. But if I don’t choose to make it a goal, I have no hope of manifesting it in my life. Here’s hoping.
Does falling in love with myself count here? Seriously, I’ve done a lot of work on learning to love myself this year, and honestly I think that gets me half-way there.

Stranded in the South China Sea: Travel Disasters Part 2

Back in February of 2010, at 22, I went on my first ‘holiday of a lifetime’ – two weeks exploring Vietnam. There was a group of about 12 of us, all working as teachers in the same school in Abu Dhabi at the time, determined to make the best of a mid-term break.

We covered serious ground over the two weeks, starting off in the colourful and chaotic city of Ho Chi Minh, crawling through the tunnels the Vietnam War was fought through in Cu Chi, and rowing along the meandering rivers of the Me Kong Delta. We delved into history at various museums, motor biked along the coast (me hiring a driver as well as the bike, the others riding their own), danced until dawn at beach parties in Nha Trang and had exquisite clothes tailored in Hoi An. All of these activities come highly recommended if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam.

Nha Trang (pic via Google Creative Commons)

As the holiday was drawing to a close, we took a final trip – a night in Halong Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site. Many of the sights we had seen were beautiful, but the bay was breathtaking. We organised to spend a night on a boat out there in the ocean, to be followed by a day of activities including kayaking, swimming and snorkelling. We were joined on the boat by a group of Australians, who mistakenly thought they could out-drink a group of Irish people. In a move we would later recognise as a major red flag, the tour company held on to our passports while we were on the trip.

As we set off kayaking in pairs the next day, I was delighted to be partnered up with one of my good friends, B. We listened patiently as the guide explained that we would row to some nearby caves. If we fell out, she warned us that we would be charged if we lost our oars. We were the last kayak to set off, and as we did, B gave me a huge grin and said: “I’m definitely going to topple us over.” As our friends followed the guide towards the caves, B, whom I have always blamed for what followed, said: “Why are we following them like sheep? Let’s go toward that beach over there instead”, pointing at an island a little further away. Foolishly, I agreed.

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We rowed for a few minutes, and as our friends disappeared into the caves, we realised the island we were heading for was further away than we thought. The inevitable happened, and we toppled over (B blames my poor rowing skills for this, he might be right). Remembering our guide’s warning, we immediately swam for our oars, not wanting to be held liable for them. Around 20 seconds later, oar in hand, I turned back to the kayak, wondering how I would be able to clamber back into it from the water, when B and I realised that wouldn’t be a problem.

Our kayak was sinking at an incredibly fast rate, and we were out in the open water alone.

B made a valiant attempt to stop the thing from disappearing, but there was nothing that could be done. Since kayaks are definitely not meant to sink if they topple over, we can assume this one had some kind of hole in it. We looked at each other and burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. We were too far from the shore to swim back in, we had ditched our friends and there was no one around. I screamed as something brushed against my leg, but it turned out to be a plastic bag.

A large boat went past shouting to us to find out if we needed help. Disappointingly, when we said “YES!” the boat continued on its way, abandoning us. A different group of kayakers came across us and couldn’t take us on to their’s as there was no space, but they rowed back to shore to call for help. Eventually, two small, round, shop boats, stocked with cigarettes and small bottles of whiskey were sent to rescue us. They were so tiny each could only hold one of us. I have no idea what the young Vietnamese women working on them made of us. I imagine them raising their eyebrows to each other saying: “White people!”.

This is a stunning shot of the caves in Halong Bay... Maybe we should have just done that!

This is a stunning shot of the caves in Halong Bay… Maybe we should have just done that!

As they rowed us in, B sat back on his boat, eyes closed, basking in the sun. “B!” I shouted over at him “I’ve never seen you look more relaxed.” He’s a good man in a crisis, he doesn’t panic easily. The next few hours are a blur; some rudimentary attempts were made to recover the kayak but those were unsuccessful. The rest of the day’s activities were cancelled. The tour company claimed we owed them hundreds of dollars for the kayak (in another part of the world we would have been threatening them with lawsuits for sending us out in a blatantly faulty kayak, but this was Vietnam, and these guys had our passports.) We realised we were being scammed, and there was almost nothing we could do about it – we had a flight to catch.

The men in the group negotiated with the tour company, I wasn’t allowed to be a part of the conversation. The guys claimed this was out of deference to Vietnamese culture, but I think they were just scared I’d flip out, which was reasonably likely. Nonetheless, I imagine I would have done a better job – their ‘negotiations’ cost us every penny we had (and a bit more.) I distinctly remember B and I pooling our change during our stopover in Singapore airport to see if we could afford a coffee each at Starbucks.

So, that’s that story told. Although it wasn’t the best way to finish our incredible holiday in Vietnam, it’s a story that gets told and retold every time B and I get together – his version might be slightly different than mine.

The lesson? Never give your passport to a tour company, it’s almost always a scam. Follow the damn guide, that’s what you paid them for. And never listen to your crazy friend B, no matter how much he’s grinning at you.

Have you had any travel disasters to share? If you enjoyed this one, read about the time I got deported from Bahrain for “security reasons”.

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48 hours in… Berlin

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A fairytale wedding, magical Christmas Markets and moments of history captured made up my last-minute trip to Berlin last week.

Friends of mine were married at Schloss Kartzow, an old German castle that served as a getaway for the country’s aristocracy in times gone by. Located just outside Berlin in the pretty little town of Potsdam, there were rooms with high ceilings and windows, eight-foot tall fire places, and elegant but traditional furniture gave the place a real feel of stepping into the past. The grounds were ideal for wedding photos, and a winter morning’s walk found plenty of nature and wildlife to be seen. Schloss Kartzow was a beautiful venue for an intimate wedding.*Back in Berlin, it was just a few days until Christmas and the Markets were in full swing. Each has its own atmosphere, so it depends what you’re looking for – for me the traditional stalls with festive snacks, carousels and decorations at Alexanderplatz were perfect.

img_1411.jpegThe bright lights, chaos and noise at the nearby Alexa Christmas Market, with its precarious-looking fairground rides, could be a lot of fun, but for me it was a little too much. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to explore the Charlottenburg Market, but from walking past it looked worth a visit.  Having recently moved home from the Gulf, I loved Kurfürstendamm, an upmarket street with lots of nice cafés and bars, designer stores and some high street shopping. The area had a nice buzz about it, and was more tourist-friendly than the rest of the city (more on that in a moment). I got some of my last Christmas presents here as Kiehl’s had amazing stocking fillers for €10 and €20, value I’ve never seen elsewhere! 

Of course, you can’t visit Berlin without soaking up some of the layers of history the city embodies. Tight for time, with just a few hours until I had to go to the airport, I took the Basic Bitch approach and jumped on a hop-on hop-off bus. Highly surprising for me was the way the Holocaust and World War 2 were glossed over on the tour, which chose to focus significantly more on Prussian history and the Berlin Wall and subsequent reunification of Germany. It was only by chance that I discovered that the Lustgarten (Pleasure Park) holds an important place in Berlin’s history, including being the site of both speeches from Adolf Hitler and protests against him.

 
A whistle-stop tour of the rest of the sights included Charlottenburg Palace, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Bundestag and various other monuments to German history and culture. Although it wasn’t a very in-depth insight into the city, I’m glad I did it because the chances are I won’t be back in Germany any time soon.

Between this trip and my recent trip to Frankfurt, I don’t feel like Germany puts a lot into making tourists feel welcome. Signage on public transport isn’t available in English, and with a few notable exceptions, German people seem to regard tourists as more of an inconvenience than anything else.

After two quick trips in the last few months, I’m certain that there are other European countries that have as much culture and history, but more personality than Germany.

Have you been to Germany? What did you think?

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18 things I love about Galway

Three weeks in, I’m loving being at home in Galway. Here are some of my favourite things and happiest memories of the town of the Tribes. If you’re Galwegian, add to the list. If you’re not, here are some of the reasons you need to put Galway on your bucket list.

18 things I love about Galway

1. Walking around the Christmas Markets, riding the carousel, tasting Aran fudge, banter in the beer tent, looking out for the Santa Express.


2. A stroll down the cobbles of Shop Street on a sunny day, passing the statue of Oscar Wilde, nowhere to go really, just wandering.

3. Leafing through a novel in a hidden corner of Charlie Byrne’s book shop; never leaving without buying something.

4. Getting dressed up for the Races, but going on a Tuesday ’cause you’re local and you couldn’t bother dealing with the crowd of Dubs on Ladies Day.


5. Watching the mixture of students, performers, hippies and Galwegians interact at the Spanish Arch during the Arts Festival. Having your whole perspective on something changed over the course of an hour long play.

6. Drinks at the Quays or Masimo’s, because let’s face it, we’re too old for clubbing.

7. Rediscovering our youth on gambling machines in Salthill, going down the big water slide and taking silly photos in booths.

8. Walking from the Square out to the Omniplex to see a film; meeting some boys there and doing a bit of kissin’. #throwback

9. Putting on the maroon and white for a match at Pearse Stadium, fully confident that Galway can win – and occasionally you’re proven right.


10. Watching students throw a frisbee in Eyre Square, while someone off to the side squirrels a joint together.

11. The inevitable trip to Supermacs after a night out, and sure if you didn’t get the shift on the night out, it’s always possible you’ll lock eyes with someone over a taco chip.

12. Knowing that the Fields of Athenry was written about somewhere up North, but not caring because it’s our song now anyway; always adding in the not-quite-PC bits.

13. People talking to you out of genuine friendliness, not trying to sell you something, just making conversation.

14. Giving a decent busker a euro because he brightened up your day. Giving a terrible busker a euro because God love him, he’s giving it socks!


15. A drive out toward Connemara, held up only by sheep in front of you on the road.

16. Always going into Brown Thomas for a look even though you know you’re not going to buy anything; heading into Penneys to buy a pair of socks and coming out with a whole new wardrobe.

17. Breakfast at the GBC, because that’s where you went with Granny when you were little and you never got out of the habit.

18. Loving being able to say “Galway”, when you’re asked where you’re from anywhere else in the world because nobody has a bad word to say about the place.

What are your favourite things about Galway?

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Getting deported: Travel disasters and what I learned from them

There’s a side of travel that people don’t talk about so much… You rave on Facebook about the new cultures you encounter, Instagram shots of stunning sunrises on mountaintops and Tweet about amazing experiences that happened spontaneously in exotic places. You just don’t hear so much about the days people lost luggage, felt homesick and missed flights.

The good part is that you learn as you go, and rarely make the same mistake twice. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write about some of the travel disasters I’ve faced, and what I learned – so hopefully you can avoid getting into these situations.

Getting deported: In Autumn 2012 I had just moved back to Dubai, but my residence visa wasn’t processed within 30 days, so I needed to leave the country and come back in on a new tourist visa. This is very common, and most people drive to neighbouring Oman to cross the border and come back. I decided to fly to nearby Bahrain instead because an Irish band I love were playing that weekend.

I had visited Bahrain before in 2009 and gotten a visa-on-arrival, and assumed I could do the same thing again. I did not take into account the political instability in Bahrain caused by the Arab Spring (or ‘The Emergency’ as Bahraini Sunnis call it) and how that might have changed things. Somehow, the Bahraini border police knew that I worked in the media and thought I was trying to sneak in to do some investigative journalism. I really just wanted to see that band.

I was 24 years old and more than a little arrogant. Though I cooperated with the aggressive officers’ questions, ultimately I lost my temper with them when they refused to believe the truth. They accused me of trying to sneak into the country to stay, because I didn’t have print outs to prove where I was staying and that my flight back was in just a couple of days. It was incredibly frustrating because they could have confirmed the details I was giving them with a phone call or two – but they wouldn’t. (HELLO – I’m a millennial – who prints that stuff these days?)

Long story short- I was deported back to Dubai six hours later with a form that cited “security reasons” as the cause. When I called my embassy before my next trip abroad (Thailand) to see if this would impede my ability to travel they said: “You’re not on any watch list we have access to”. Thank goodness for that!

The lesson? Maybe don’t go to countries that are politically unstable. If you are going to, print all your travel documents before you get to the airport, try to organise a visa online in advance, contact your embassy to let them know you’re going, and grit your teeth and smile at border police no matter how awful they’re being- you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!

Next week I’ll write about getting conned into buying a kayak in Vietnam, it’s just as ridiculous as it sounds – subscribe to get the whole story into your inbox.

Have you ever been deported? How did you deal with it?

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A flying visit to Frankfurt

Now that I’m living back in Ireland, one of the things I’m really excited about is getting to travel more in Europe. I’ll admit that Frankfurt is not the first destination to spring to mind when I think “European getaway”, but a friend was there on business and that was a good enough excuse for me to book a ticket.

Since I’ve been spoilt over the last few years on luxurious Middle Eastern airlines, my first shock was to find that Ryanair had not dropped me to Frankfurt at all, but Frankfurt Hanh, a mere 104km away. I should have seen it coming, and it was a shame because adding almost two hours to the journey on either side really did cut in to my two-night stay. It did give me the opportunity to see some of Germany’s gorgeous countryside though, to look on the bright side.

I stayed at the Bristol Hotel on Niddastraube, a quirky, modern place located close to central Frankfurt, just a couple of minutes walk from Frankfurt’s main train and subway station.

The first evening was a relaxed affair after a long day, dinner and a drink at a quiet, homely bar. On my only full day in the city, the weather was surprisingly good, and I actually ended up whipping out my sunglasses to cope with the strong winter sun. The temperature was around 7-8 degrees and the sky was a clear blue – it seemed a shame to spend the day inside, so we spent most of the day walking around the city soaking up the Christmas atmosphere.

I spent the morning strolling around the city center in the Hauptwache area, popping into the upmarket Galeria store for a few sneaky purchases before stopping off for a well-deserved hot chocolate. I met up with my friend in the afternoon and we walked for miles along the bank of the Main River (pronounced Mein), past the state museum and back to Hauptwache.


The place takes on a more festive atmosphere in the evening when the Christmas lights turn on, hundreds gather for ghluwein and delicious German treats and the Christmas Market is in full swing. There are a huge variety of edible delights on offer, along with all kinds of cute souvenirs and gifts, as well as entertainment for kids in the form of train rides and a carousel. It’s definitely worth wrapping up warm and heading there for an hour or so to soak up the Christmas Spirit.

We followed that with dinner at Meyer’s, a fancy restaurant nearby serving a wide variety of fish, pasta and steak dishes, as well as veal and goose for the more adventurous. I went for the Argentinian steak, and although it was cooked medium rather than medium well as requested, the meat was very high quality and the bearnaise sauce hit the spot! A very elegant place with great staff – highly recommended.

Fun fact: My friend thought the kinder museum was where we could go to find out how they get the toys into kinder eggs. Kinder is the German word for children. It’s a children’s museum. We didn’t go.

Although the Bristol Hotel had a small, fun bar with a hipster vibe, a decent buffet breakfast, good facilities and friendly staff, the bedroom was a teensy single room, so €85/night felt like a lot. It seemed like a budget hotel for the price of a mid-ranged one. I caught a glimpse of the double rooms and they looked like a decent size and definitely better value – so this place may just be better suited to couples than solo travellers.

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A trip to Kenya and a big decision

Have you ever gone on a holiday that genuinely changed your perspective on life?

Kenya did that for me.

I visited in September over the Eid break, and I loved every minute of it.

I landed in Nairobi, where I stayed with friends, and flew the next day to the Masai Mara.

exploring kenyaThe landing strip was surrounded on either side by zebras and other wild animals, and from the moment we touched down the landscape took my breath away. After a 25 minute journey in an open-top 4×4, we arrived at Mara Siria, an opulent bush camp owned by a German family and run by Kenyans, many of them from the Masai tribe. On the journey to the camp alone we encountered giraffes, monkeys, deer and more. The large, luxurious tents had running water, electric lighting and outdoor showers. There’s something about standing outside under running water naked in the African plains that makes a girl feel alive. The quality of the food was exceptional, and the camp was very accommodating to members of our group with Halal or vegetarian diets.

Our safari was organised with Mara Siria, and the guides were knowledgable, thorough and charismatic. The trip was timed to see the famous wildebeest crossing, and we saw thousands of them cross the Masai River. Incredibly, we saw them disperse as crocodiles feasted on the slowest among them, as a family of hippos looked blithely on. We saw several different prides of lions; groups of young males looking to start tribes of their own, females looking after their cubs and a male and female ‘on their honeymoon’, as our guide delicately put it. Majestic elephants and their babies made our day, and we saw lots of other animals from hyenas to ostriches along the way.

Honestly, eight hours in a four by four is quite literally a pain in the ass, but it’s worth every minute of it to see wildlife like this up close. Because of the wildebeest crossing, the lions and other dangerous animals were well fed, which made it safe to get really close to the lions [according to our guide]. As well as making sure we got to see the animals, our guide provided tons of fun facts, information on specific species and mating rituals.

I also visited the Masai Village, where locals live in huts made of mud and cow pat, and a Masai school children walk miles to reach each day. It was a truly humbling experience, and I’m okay with the fact that they ripped me off on souvenirs. If you are planning to go and see for yourself, I would highly recommend booking through Phoenix Safaris.

After two amazing days and nights, I woke up early on day three to watch the sun rise and head back to Nairobi. I have to admit the tiny plane didn’t really suit me, and I did have a little altitude sickness, as did my friend. Back in Nairobi, my friends went all out to ensure we got the ultimate Kenya experience, including making friends with orphaned elephants, kissing giraffes, eating at some of the city’s most amazing restaurants and touring the Kazuri bead factory, where authentic Kenyan jewellery is produced, providing an income for vulnerable women in the city. Throw in a trip to the UN, where one of my hosts works, a Game of Thrones night and my first ever game of Cards Against Humanity, and I really could not have asked for better hosts.

My last few days in Kenya were spent in Watamu, a small coastal town most tourists would never have heard of. My friends organised for us to go there with a group of some of the most passionate, intelligent and stimulating people I had hung out with in a really long time. There were two amazing things about Watamu; the first was that it was simply an exceptionally beautiful place. The house we hired had a beautiful pool that looked out over greenery, and beyond that a white sand beach and the ocean. I felt a sense of calm there that I have been chasing ever since. We did almost nothing for two days and nights but eat, drink, and talk (apart from a couple of hours scuba diving). The second was the people I was with, most of whom work in aid and development, all of whom were fun, bright, articulate people doing what they loved.

In the Gulf, by and large, people put aside their passion for a pay cheque, sacrifice their morals for the sake of status, and often lost sight of what’s important. While I was living a life of luxury built on the back of what is to all intents and purpose slave labour, my new friends were not earning a huge amount, but they were making a difference to this world. Each, in their own way, is contributing to something greater than themselves. I envied them, and the sense of satisfaction they had with life. Even the way they spoke about their hobbies seemed to hold more substance and sincerity than my five-star, cash-rich, frivolous, empty lifestyle.

I realised I was selling out, and it had to stop.

When I got back to Doha, it was hard to readjust. I had only been gone 10 days, but my tolerance for my neurotic, passive-aggressive boss had shrunk to almost zero. While he remained his usual self, I had come to the realisation that there are more important things in life. I had rediscovered the beauty in life, felt my soul revitalised by connecting with nature and was inspired by the wonderful people around me. I realised that I want to go back to Ireland and reconnect with my family and friends in a meaningful way. I want a job I feel good about, because that makes the hard days easier. I want to feel grounded, and right now I think that means being in Ireland.

And so, a couple of weeks ago, after a particularly difficult day at work, I decided that enough was enough. I handed in my resignation, and next week, I’ll be on my way home. In many ways, my 10 months in Doha have been a truly positive experience. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown as a person, and I have made some wonderful friends. But it’s been six and a half years since I have lived in Ireland, and it’s time to go home.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who reads and follows the blog. It’s how I got to know the city, where I vented on bad days, how I connected with other expats and shared my thoughts on Doha life. I hope you’ll stay with me on the next chapter of my journey.

Any thoughts on how I should rename the blog now that Only in Doha won’t be in Doha?

Leave a comment!

GIVEAWAY: Getting the Royal Treatment

Alright folks, I’ve got a fantastic giveaway for you today – a 90-minute hot oil massage courtesy of the Royal Thai Lady Spa on Al Waab Street. If you would like to win, all you have to do is share this post on Facebook and answer the question below in the comments. All are welcome to enter, but remember – the spa is for ladies only.

Scrub bedHere’s the question:

On which street is the Royal Thai Lady Spa located?

Share our Facebook post and leave a comment on it with your answer to enter. The winner will be selected at random and contacted on September 30.

Naturally, I couldn’t post this competition without sampling the experience for myself first, so I went along to the spa earlier this week. This massage couldn’t have come at a better time. After two extremely stressful days at work and pulling my hamstring during football training the night before, I was very ready for some relaxation.

The spa is decorated in traditional Thai style, and just walking in there is a multi-sensory experience – intricate decor with gold filigree art along Buddhist lines, soft music playing in the background, lotus flowers generously scattered about this and the scent of essential oils.

I was greeted with typical Thai hospitality, asked to choose my scent (I went with eucalyptus), given a foot scrub, and led to the massage room by a friendly lady called Paula. I’ve had hot stone massages before, but not hot oil, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Paula took one look at me and said: “Where’s your pain?”. I told her about my hamstring injury, and she immediately said: “Your shoulders too.” She was right – I was carrying a lot of tension there.

Spa setOver the next 90 minutes, Paula managed to soothe both my body and my mind. When I arrived, my mind was overwhelmed with work anxiety. As Paula worked the knots out of my shoulders, my back and then each of my muscle groups in turn, I felt myself relax both physically and mentally; the problems of the day just slipped away. I didn’t quite fall asleep, but I certainly drifted a bit.

I would totally recommend this almost out-of-body experience to anyone who’s had a rough day, mums who have been dealing with back to school chaos, or anyone who is just in the mood for spoiling themselves a little.

If you want to book a massage at the spa in the meantime, their phone number is 4414 2400.

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What are your plans for this weekend? Leave a comment!

A harmless fantasy: Escaping the 9-5

Today at work, my mind wandered… I indulged in a fantasy I’ve had many a time before. It’s nothing naughty now, in case you were wondering. My fantasy was about ditching the 9-5. Ditching the idea of saving for a mortgage. Ditching Qatar. Ditching this phase of my career. I actually quite like my job, but…

Even though I’m living the dream in many ways, I’m not sure I’m living my dream. You know?

Here’s how my fantasy looks: I go travelling for as long as I can on the budget I have (I’m thinking 3-6 months). I sell as much of my stuff as I possible can, donate a bunch of it, and send the rest – shouldn’t be a whole lot – home. I travel with hand luggage only. I visit places most people I know have never been. I go trekking. I hike. I see wild animals. I go to beautiful, unspoiled places. I volunteer my time with schools or charities. I spend a lot of time with people whose first language isn’t English. I connect with who I am in a deeper way.

And then an email pings into my inbox, and I’m back to reality. Back to clocking in and out. Back to 30 minutes for lunch. Back to a dress code. Back to a hierarchy. Back to implementing decisions I don’t really agree with. Back to office politics.

Could I do it?

Really?

Technically, of course, the answer is yes. When I leave Qatar, I’ll have some savings behind me that I can spend however I want.

My Dad’s voice rings in my ears telling me that money is a deposit for a house. I look enviously at my friends’ Masters degrees and think that’s where my money should go.

Wouldn’t spending the money on travel be a bit of a trivial way to spend what I’ve earned?

Or would it be the most valuable experience of my life?

 

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