(+) The location was around 10 mins away from the Milan Central station which made it extremely convenient. The hotel was surrounded by that of restaurants and cafes, not to mention a rather decent restaurant almost next to the hotel. The breakfast was included with the room and had a variety of things such as eggs, pastry, fruit, yogurt and cake.
(-)The property was old fashioned and out dated and over priced for what it was. No doubt the facilities were clean, but just needed modernisation. The minibar was extremely overpriced, as we ended up paying 12,50 euros for a small bottle of water! Talk about Daylight robbery!
(+) You couldn’t go wrong with the location and the hospitality was amazing. It is just round the corner from Santa Lucia station, it took us 10 mins to get to the bed and breakfast. Even though it was considerably late in the evening, Giorgio was waiting for us at the entrance (even though the reception closed at 5 pm). Exceptional customer service. The breakfast spread was decent with a variety of cakes and tarts, and tea/coffee. The property was We had asked for the taxi to be booked for an early train and Giorgio made of point of personally being present early to make sure we got a taxi.
(-) We didn’t expect the property to be in a building (on the 5th floor of an apartment building). To be fair there were other B&Bs in the building as well.
(+)Firstly, the customer service was amazing. Not only were we able to check in earlier than we were expected to, we were given a brief about Cinque Terre, with print outs of train and bus schedules, and maps of the village and the region. The location couldn’t have been better – we were right at the harbour area and the views from the room window were breathtaking. It was a pleasant surprise that we have tea and coffee (and a kettle!) in the room. A couple of bottles of water and juice (and biscuits) were also provided free of charge. The bed was comfortable and facing the windows, which was great. Ample towels were provided and the cleanliness was immaculate. The rooms and bathroom was heated (and we didn’t expect a washing machine!)
(-) The room that we had booked was the sea view double – but we strongly recommend that you book the higher room with the terrace: reason being, because of the wooden floors and the stairs outside, it got noisy when guests in the higher room even moved around or used the stairs. There was a frosted window in the room (over the stairs) which lit up the room when someone lit the lights in stairs.
Pregnancy is a taboo topic in many societies, especially in the South Asian culture. But let’s break barriers and speak about the one thing that everyone should openly talk about. After all, it is something that humankind has known about and experienced since the beginning of time!
Fair enough, some people do talk about conception and pregnancy… but not in the context that the discussion should be led. I am not sure if you have ever had the distinct displeasure of being acquainted with one of those annoying ‘aunties’ who blatantly ask for a ‘good news’ (very) shortly after someone gets married? Yeah… that is not cool!
Folks take it for granted and assume it is so easy to conceive, or that people want to start a family straight after their marriage. They are happy to ask you about your ‘good news’ yet expect you to hide your bump and don’t want you to speak about your pregnancy openly.
So why is it that women are made to cover their gorgeous blooming bumps? Why is it that women can’t and don’t openly discuss the little things that change from the very moment you conceive?
Some of you may not be able to resonate with my experiences, but I wanted to write and share my pregnancy experiences as it may help someone feel like they were or aren’t in it alone.
It is okay to speak about it and it is okay to be negative.
You are not an awful mother or human to have YOUR feelings. Own it girls!
I am writing this at 22 weeks pregnant. I feel like right now I am in a frame of mind where I can write about my first and second trimester. All these hurdles and changes that you experience can take over your life.
I intend on giving you a brief snapshot of how pregnancy has been for me and what I learnt from it.
Everyone talking about pregnancy only tells you about how amazing it is. Is it really amazing? Well, yes of course, it’s the most beautiful process a woman can go through, SubhanAllah; BUT it doesn’t come without the compromises, sacrifices, emotions and the biggest changes physically. So yes, I am going to share my experiences and they are not necessarily very positive. They will be raw and they might be ‘TMI’ (Too much information) for some. But thats okay. As long as someone, even one person gets to read the post and is able to relate to my words or even better, in some way is able to prepare for what is to come, the blogspot will be worth sharing.
Another thing, pregnancies don’t just happen. Not everyone can conceive easily so please, don’t give people a hard time. Don’t interfere and ask them about their family planning.
It has nothing to do with you.
LET PEOPLE BE AND LEAVE THEM ALONE!!!!
So, all pregnancies consist of ‘Three Trimesters’. I will go through each trimester and list the things that impacted me the most on a daily basis.
Trimester one: 0-12 weeks
I was always told that the first trimester was the hardest. And boy oh boy was it hard. I could start feeling the changes in my body and mind from the word go.
Nausea – HATE THE TERM MORNING SICKNESS.
It is far from reality. In fact I find it extremely offensive when people refer to pregnancy nausea and sickness as ‘morning sickness’ because let me tell you one thing, it does NOT just happen on a morning. For me it happened all day, every day. Anything and everything could trigger it. People advised that I try different things: sucking on ice cubes, eating biscuits first thing in the morning, drinking peppermint tea and so many others recommendations.
It is safe to say that none of these things worked. It was something that I just needed to get on with. So yes, don’t be fooled when people tell you that you might go through ‘morning sickness’. I recall having to pull over the car to be sick, I even had to ask to use people’s toilets because I needed to be sick, I was sick in the middle of the night a couple of times too.
My advice would be to just take your time. Take however long it is that you need to throw up and don’t feel embarrassed. It is not ugly. It is your body doing amazing things and creating something so beautiful. Do try the things that people advise as theres nothing wrong with that but if it gets too much like it did for me, go and speak to your GP who can prescribe some anti-sickness medication.
Remember to stay hydrated. That is the most important thing for you at the time. Drink plenty of fluids even if you can’t hack it. Oh and if you can, try to sit down and be sick in a bucket or some sort of sick bowl as you can really hurt your back bending over the loo. I learnt this the hard way as I had a sore back for weeks.
Who do I tell?
This was a tricky one. Although I had always believed and been told that I shouldn’t tell anyone before the first 12 week scan, I didn’t quite follow the advice. I told my parents, my husbands parents and some friends pretty much straight away. At a time like this, you want to be able to share and talk to your nearest and dearest about the biggest changes happening in your life. God forbid, if something was to go wrong, they would already be aware and be able to support you.
My advice would be to listen to your heart. Follow your instinct and do what makes you happy and feels right. Don’t let others dictate who to tell and who not to.
Loss of appetite
Uh Oh. This one killed me. I love my food. I mean those who know me know that I absolutely love my food. I genuinely wasn’t aware that it was a thing to lose your entire appetite. I couldn’t even look at food on some days. I had completely gone off meat and spices which was a real struggle and I even cried at times because I wanted to eat but I couldn’t. So mum’s handmade curries and chicken burgers were out of the equation for the foreseeable future. THAT WAS HARD.
My advice would be to eat little and often if that is the case. It doesn’t matter what you eat at the time, as long as you eat something. Again, don’t be listening to people telling you you’re causing harm to your body/baby because you’re not. Of course it’s better and more nutritious to eat healthy, but if you’re physically unable to eat and mentally exhausted then do what is best for your mental health at the time.
Sensitivity to smell
Oh yes! This was something else. I felt that all of a sudden I was given some incredible powers to be able to smell anything and everything. There was a particular smell in our new flat (we moved into our new flat when I was only 4 weeks pregnant!!). But the smell was so horrendous for me that every time I entered the house it made me vomit. My first reaction was to always run to the loo. So be prepared and aware that this is something that could also happen to you.
I don’t have any advice for this I’m afraid. This is something ya’ll are going to have to deal with and maybe let me know what worked for you?
THE FIRST SCAN!
YES! inshAllah if all goes well during the first trimester and you get to your 12th week of pregnancy, it means that you have your very first baby scan. You can pay privately and get one before that. But we didn’t as we wanted to cross this big bench mark and do it through the NHS in case God forbid something was wrong.
Now in this scan you get to see your baby for real. The feature are somewhat prominent, you get to hear baby’s heart beating. It is truly emotional, or at least it was for me!
My advice would always be that your partner is there with you to witness this amazing moment. I feel that sometimes fathers can be a little left out and can’t quite grasp how much your body is changing on a daily basis. So this is the first time they get to see it for real.
Trimester two: 13-28 weeks
Many will tell you ‘oh it will go away once you enter the second trimester’. WRONG. It will go away when it will. Not one person has the same experience when it comes to sickness. Some people don’t go through it at all and some poor sods experience it for the entire 9 months. I am the kind of in-between type. I was sick non stop from 0-18 weeks, however, every now and then I was still sick. So don’t assume it will definitely happen or finish after the first trimester or worry yourself sick by waiting for it to happen. People will also tell you all sorts of things like ‘its a boy if you’re being sick so much…’ I don’t think any of that is true!
EUGH. This. If you haven’t experienced heartburn before, then this is something, another thing that may or may not happen. Heart burn can and does happen. It can happen at any time or a particular time, especially if you’re eating fried foods, fatty foods, spicy foods. Basically my entire diet.
I would say try to eat a healthy diet, although I struggled with that. Apparently eating salads, fruits and veg doesn’t give you heartburn as much. So I’d suggest eating better. Or if you’re like me and would rather eat what you fancy, then always, ALWAYS carry water and Rennies with you.
Also I bought soo many bottles of Gaviscon and it wasn’t until the end of my pregnancy that someone told me I could have got it from the doctors on prescription. So mention it to your midwife and try to get free prescriptions for it!
Awkward/odd stomach pains
Your baby is growing and therefore your stomach is making room for baby’s growth and development. So all the little aches, pains and feelings are completely normal, don’t panic. Although if the pains are excruciating, then seek medical assistance ASAP. But there is always is constant sense of something in the lower area of your stomach that feels kind of tight at times.
Yep. Second trimester means that your leg might go into a spasm and cause horrible cramps. But the only thing you can do is try to move your foot around to ease the pain. It hurts, God it hurts, but it does get better.
My absolutely one and only favourite thing about being pregnant so far. The flutters what felt like wind to begin with. This started to happen when the sickness subsided and I was around 18 weeks. I remember being sat in some very boring training and feeling this odd sensation in my stomach. ‘Is it wind I wonder?’. It wasn’t. As days went on, the feeling got stronger and more regular. As time goes on, the feeling becomes very familiar and gives you lots of reassurance that your little baby is growing and moving. Alhamdulillah.
Finding out the gender
Another gorgeous experience in the second trimester and you don’t have to wait as long as 12 weeks! At 20 weeks, you get to go for another scan to make sure that your baby is okay. They carry out lots of measurements for the baby to ensure that your baby’s growth and development is okay. This is also your time to find out if you’re having a male or female child!
My advice would again be to do what you feel is right about finding the gender. Don’t be pressurised by friends or family whether or not to find out. It is something between you and your partner, so you do what makes you happy.
As a couple we decided to find out the gender but agreed not to disclose it to anyone. So we stuck to that and enjoyed spending quality time discussing names, clothes and nursery decor. Not disclosing the gender was exactly what we wanted. Alhamdulillah.
So yeah. You do you. If you want to go ALL OUT and have a big gender reveal party then go for it. There isn’t really a right or wrong. And if you don’t want to find out the gender. Then wow, you’re strong willed. But that in itself must be truly amazing too!
Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) – What it does to you
I remember asking a couple of friends if it hurt in the lower abdomen when they walked, climbed stairs or even got changed. They both said they encountered difficulties and pain but they didn’t ask for medical advice. But for me, the pain was too excruciating. Yes I have a low pain threshold, yes I am a drama queen, but this was impacting me on a daily basis. So I didn’t want to take any chances and spoke to my midwife about it. She advised wearing a support belt to take the weight off my pelvis and if that didn’t work they would refer me to see a physiotherapist or recommend going for acupunture.
Trimester three: week 29-40
I made it. I made it to the third trimester. I don’t know how, but I’m here now. The most excruciating few months of my life… emotionally & physically.
The last few weeks were just about survival. I had to make lots of changes to my lifestyle to suit my needs. I stopped going out very much and tried to walk a lot less. Darn it, I even started to pay £3.50 per day for a car park space at work as I couldn’t walk too far due to the pains.
I spent the majority of time in the last trimester preparing for the baby’s arrival. This included packing the hospital bag, and drafting a birth plan, the details of which I will be sharing in a separate blog post.
Also, I will be sharing the essentials for the baby (including nursery furniture, pram and car seat) in a separate blog post.
Little did I know that my friends had arranged a surprise baby shower and invited my nearest and dearest. Even though I was impartial and not decided on whether I would have wanted to have a baby shower, it was a very pleasant surprise and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As I had decided to go back up North for childbirth, I had planned the logistics of it over and over again in my head.
Having a maternity shoot was never on my radar and not something I had ever considered. But when a friend insisted on me having a maternity shoot as a present, I ended up researching it and falling in love with Mini Bee Photography
Though sharing my own experience of pregnancy, I wanted to emphasise on not letting anyone else interfere in this special time. But also to highlight that it is okay to feel a bit shit and a bit fed up; pregnancy is not all rainbows and roses as it might be depicted.
Mental health is your priority and if you are not feeling okay, just know that it is complete alright to not be okay!
My email and DM (on Instagram) are always open for anyone who wants to have a private conversation on pregnancy.
After applying for Ahmed’s spouse visa and waiting for months on end, 2017 (technically the tail end of 2016) was finally the year where we were together again.
Italy was forever on my list of top 5 places to visit. I had always dreamt of eating pasta in Venice and getting a slice of pizza as a take out in the streets of Italy whilst being surrounded by the beautiful Italian landscape (and Italian men *wink wink*). But there was so much happening in our lives at the time that I didn’t think it was possible to visit another country on holiday.
We had just moved into a new city, were renting a stupidly priced apartment, I had started a new job and we were saving to buy a house. I never thought we would be going anywhere for quite some time… Until I found some super cheap flights to Milan flying out on Boxing day. So without hesitating I booked the flights and hoped I could persuade Ahmed to apply for his Visa. Luckily I managed to do just that and I started to plan our route.
We had FIVE full days to explore so I wanted to make the most of it. I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to visit again for some time so wanted to soak in as much as we could. I wanted a packed holiday and that is exactly what happened!
Day 1: Venice
After landing in Milan late evening, have food at a rather posh restaurant, and getting some shut-eye, we left Milan early next morning and got the train to Venice. As you know, we travelled to Italy in the winter which meant everywhere was FREEZING cold! I wasn’t sure what to expect when we went to Venice but there was something so romantic and magical about visiting Venice- even in the winter months.
The constant raindrops, silent alleyways surrounded by charming architecture. What was there not to love?
Before this trip so many people said that they didn’t like Venice and that it was underwhelming, but I wanted to see it for myself and make a judgement. I get what they mean in terms of the fact that you can’t spend more than 3 days I would say, but for me it was an amazing experience and we spent an amazing day there! Due to it being over the Christmas holidays, most places were shut and it was incredibly quiet. We didn’t necessarily have an itinerary for Venice and just enjoyed walking around and getting lost in the small narrow alleyways.
Places we saw:
Saint Mark’s Basilica
Libreria Acqua Alta
Things to note:
If you are travelling with children just bear in mind that there are soo many steps and bridges. Especially with push chairs and suitcases it can get a bit tedious. If your baby is small, I would suggest you use a baby carrier.
Accommodation wise, it’s so darn expensive and you don’t get much for what you pay. We were quite lucky that we went at an off peak season and found a bit of a gem. It was brilliant for one night, perfect location, price and great reviews. We stayed at Foresteria Levi.
Day 2: Murano & Burano
The second day we decided to take the ferry and head out to visit Burano and Murano. I think the cost was around £15. Murano and Burano are Islands near Venice. Murano is around 1.5km from Venice and is known for glass blowing. Due to the poor weather and time restrictions, we decided to skip visiting Murano.
A further 30 mins on the ferry and you arrive at Burano. Burano is known for its lace, good fish restaurants and pretty painted cottages. Due to the time of the year that we visited, most shops and restaurants were closed so we didn’t get to see many shops. Contrary to how I had imagined this island to be, Burano was FULL of different coloured houses. Prior to going there, I had assumed that there were only one or two streets that were so bright and beautiful. But as we walked around the island we came to know that all the houses were different shades of blue, pink, yellow, green and so on!
We spent a few hours walking around and exploring despite it raining pretty much att of our time on the island. The few hours that we did spend in Burano were enough to see the whole island. We even managed to have food at a pretty decent restaurant.
I would suggest that if you are visiting these islands, do take some time out to visit Murano. I am gutted we didn’t make a quick stop.
Also, there are some halal food places in Venice! Who would have thought!
We caught the train in the evening to Florence and spent the night there.
Day 3: Florence
We woke up bright and early to explore Florence. Oh what an absolute beauty Florence is! I think it is fair to say that it was probably one of the most beautiful cities we have been to. It is full of Renaissance architecture, art and history, and romantic cobblestone streets. As the capital of the Tuscany region, you can find amazing food, along with world-class museums.
As you know, unfortunately we only had one day per city as I wanted to experience and see as much as possible. Due to the huge queues everywhere in Florence, we decided to skip the museums and to go with the flow. We just walked around aimlessly to soak it all in!
Here are all the places we saw:
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the queues to go inside were ridiculous, honestly! I’d suggest trying to book online if its possible)
Ponte Vecchio – A medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River, in Florence, Italy. It is known for its shops built along it! I have never seen anything like it.
Piazzale Michelangelo – A square with a panoramic view of Florence, Italy, located in the Oltrarno district of the city. It’s quite nice
You can take the girl out of Mirpur, but you can’t take the Mirpur out of the girl, lol. After being full of cold for days now, it saddens me to say this but I couldn’t really enjoy the gorgeous Italian cuisine anymore. All I wanted was a spicy curry that I could actually taste. Clearly my taste buds are so accustomed to a spicy curry that nothing else can quite get there. So we found a Pakistani restaurant in Florence and WOW, thinking about that chicken karahi still makes my mouth water. It was absolutely divine and reminded me of a childhood memory of eating a curry in the mountains near Murree. We literally asked the waiter to say a massive thank you and compliments to the chef who later came out to speak to us. He was from Lahore, Pakistan!
In the evening we headed back to the train station once again, heading towards Riamaggiore.
Day 4: Cinque Terre
We stayed in another lovely place during this trip called Scorci Di Mare.
The accommodation was an absolute STEAL. With gorgeous views, clean rooms and beautiful decor, I’m so pleased we decided to stay here. This property was located in Riomaggiore’s rocky coast so this is where we started exploring Cinque Terre.
Just give me a minute while I reminisce about what a beautiful, unreal this place was!! Cinque Terre is a string of seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. In each of the 5 towns, colourful houses and vineyards are scattered all over, harbours are filled with fishing boats and all villages offer gorgeous seafood & of course Pizza!
Before visiting this beautiful places, lots of people said it wasn’t possible to see ALL 5 towns in one day but I wanted to give it a go anyway! We woke up SUPER early to get the earliest train to the other little villages. The trains are extremely efficient and reasonable in terms of their price. We bought the day tickets and went from Riomaggiore – Manarola – Vernazza – Monterosso al Mare. If you have more time at your hands, you can trek to all the villages if you don’t want to take the train. Based on what we saw from the train, it is needless to say the walking tracks would be picturesque.
We managed to see 4 out of the 5 villages and had a walk around the villages as well! I think it was really quiet because we travelled during off peak season, and everything was easily accessible. I can only imagine how crazy busy all these places must be in the summer; so if you are travelling in the summer, I would imagine you would need at least half a day to explore each village properly!
Day 5: Levanto
On the last day we decided to head out early to make a quick stop at ‘Levanto’ before reaching Milan. After spending a full day hoping from village to village, it was a nice change to be on a long sandy beach, with lots of shops and good restaurants. This popular sea resort is surrounded by a green valley of pine forests, olive groves, vineyards and small medieval villages.
It was so apparent that we were traveling in an off-peak season as the beaches, streets, hotels and restaurants were completed deserted. Most touristy places were shut when we went so we didn’t get to see many places.
We went for a slow stroll by the beach and I asked a group of friends to take a photo of me and Ahmed (I got a bit fed up of using our selfie stick by this point). One guy immediately ran to us and volunteered to take the photo. He was so cheeky he quickly ran next to me and took a selfie with me and Ahmed!! It’s memories like these that make me travel more and more!
We got to Milan later on in the evening and went straight to our AirbnB. Towards the end of our journey, I was really quite poorly. I think may have even had a chest infection and a very high temperature, but I was adamant I didn’t want to spend the New Year indoors so after some bickering, we left our AirBnB to make our way towards the town centre. I managed to persuade Ahmed as I told him there were going to be all these amazing fireworks.
As we arrived at the Cathedral it truly did look so beautiful. But as soon as we got there, the entire place was surrounded with Police presence. Most food places were either closed or had massive queues outside.
We managed to find a somewhat quiet and less rowdy place opposite the Cathedral and watched a little concert where they played Italian music. It was quite pleasant and the atmosphere was pretty good! Anyways this local concert thing outside the cathedral ended just after midnight and there were NO fireworks.
Total anti climax.
It was now after 12am, we were both exhausted and I genuinely felt so so unwell. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, it started to absolutely CHUCK it down and we didn’t have an umbrella. Our phone batteries were also low as we had been taking photos and making videos of this concert that we couldn’t understand a word of.
We walked in the crazy rain to the nearest tram station along with a tonne of people. We waited and waited and waited for bus/tram for over an hour whilst getting drenched but it seemed that nothing was going to happen (we were a bit too far and too tired to walk back). Just to put things into perspective, we couldn’t find a taxi either. We were mindful that our batteries were really low too and we had very little options left. In the end we decided to WALK to our Airbnb – Ahmed in an awful mood with me and walking in front of me and me coughing behind him trying to catch up! I honestly thought we would never get there!!! As we walked a bit further, guess what happened?! The tram that we had been waiting for started to go past us. I swear in that moment in time I felt like I found my inner Mo Farah. I ran like I’ve never ran before whilst choking on my cough. We (just about) managed to jump on the tram (like they do in Bollywood films lol). We eventually got to our Airbnb, thanks heavens!
Good job we were going home the following day!
Little did I know that Italy was going to be our last holiday for the next 6 months 🙂 I will be sharing our itinerary on Portugal, where we went for our ‘baby-moon’. Be sure to check it out and do subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss out new blogposts.
As you know we have only been traveling to countries where applying for a visa for Ahmed is straight forward. The application was really quick and easy from what I recall. We applied by filling in an application form and sending it to the embassy in London. It came back within a few weeks. Obviously thanks to Corona, I don’t know where things stand at present.
To be honest, I didn’t really think about how it would be to travel with a 4 month old Nael at the time. I was just too excited to get on a plane and out of the country after almost a year. I didn’t really think about the weather or the obstacles of travelling with a small baby. And in hindsight I think it was a good thing as I just took it in my stride.
The plane journey itself was absolutely fine Alhamdulillah. Nael either sept or fed throughout so it was a breeze, contrary to how he was throughout the trip. He screamed and cried all night, waking up every 30 mins or so wanting a feed. I think he was going through some crazy sleep regression. On top of that he was going through a phase where he refused to drink from a bottle which meant Ahmed couldn’t help. According to Ahmed, Nael was perfectly fine during the trip…. isn’t it amazing how deluded they can be when they don’t do the feeding!!
But we got through it and we now have these amazing memories and stories we can look back on and that is exactly why I love to travel and want to show Nael as much as we can.
We stayed in Radisson Blu Resort which was basic but met all our needs and had a really nice breakfast. Due high winds and rain, their pool areas were flooded, but that didnt really affect our trip as we didn’t intend on going anyway. Heres the link for those of you who may be interested:
We also hired a car for three days through the hotel. It was reasonably priced and hassle free! They even provided a car seat for Nael.
As always I had an itinerary ready! I knew roughly where we would be going each day and had saved the route in my google maps. But for the first time in our travels, we had to make major alterations to our itinerary. Nael was only 4 months but he HATED the car seat and screamed like never before. It was HORRENDOUS. To the point where Ahmed and I were really perplexed as to what we should do and considered going back to the hotel.
We had intended on going to Valetta, the main city in Malta. But the parking situation, WOW, just WOW. It was intense. So instead of spending a lifetime trying to fit into a 2 metre parking space, we decided to scrap our itinerary and go to the cities we intended on going on the second day.
This place reminded me so so much of Qatar, I almost felt homesick!
With a number of interesting attractions, lovely architecture, and a wonderful cafe culture, one can easily spend a leisurely day exploring this unique place. But because of its small size, there aren’t a lot of things to do in Rabat and it can easily be combined with its neighbouring town of Mdina.
We spent some time roaming around and just admiring the architecture that felt so familiar.
I was SO excited to go to the Popeye Village that I didn’t really realise that Mdina is right opposite Rabat… oooops. To be honest I have no regrets as when we went to the Popeye village it was crazy windy and there were hardly any people around.
Popeye village, as you can tell by the name was a film set built in the 1980’s. Those of you who are old enough to remember the film Popeye, Robin Williams played the hilarious character of Popeye.
Enter a world where fantasy meets reality: 20 structures that make up this authentic wooden village.
We strolled around this gorgeous set completely mesmerised as our inner child was desperate to come out. Due to the weather and the time of the year, there were hardly any tourists and most of the places were shut. I can only imagine how lively and fun this place would have been if it was peak season.
Popeye Village is a reason alone to visit Malta as it is something i have never seen anywhere else before. From the scenic views, the architecture and most importantly the fun element is immersed in all corners of this small village tucked by the sea.
The main attraction in this area of Malta is medieval Mdina. Mdina, or The Silent City, is one of the most popular day trip spots in Malta and it’s easy to see why. This majestic walled city was the capital of Malta for thousands of years. By the time we got to Mdina, everything was closed and the alleyways were completely deserted.
We managed to see so much on day two, it was almost as though we were beginning to get a hang of travelling with a baby. I was no longer paranoid, anxious and nervous about feeding Nael. I’d wait for him to give me some cues and we would take a break to relax and feed him. Perks of breastfeeding meant we didn’t have to worry about bottles. I was always there to feed him!
We started off by visiting Valletta, Malta’s capital city! It is a city like no other. The whole city of Valletta has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status and it’s easy to see why. Located on a steep hill, just getting a parking space felt like a complete exam! Luckily I wasn’t the one driving, Ahmed was. lol!
Valletta is known for museums, palaces and grand churches. The Baroque landmarks include St. John’s Co-Cathedral; painted in gold and covered in gorgeous marble, it was gorgeous! Luckily for me Nael was asleep in the baby carrier so I really was able to take it all in.
A stone’s throw away is the Upper Barrakka Gardens, perched on the bastions overlooking the sparkling expanse of the Grand Harbour, one of the world’s great maritime sanctuaries and the heart of Maltese history.
After spending a good few hours of exploring Valletta, we decided to head over to Marsaxlokk. Not going to lie, i knew nothing about this place, except from seeing really pretty photos! But I started to research and found that Marsaxlokk is a small, traditional fishing village in the South Eastern Region of Malta. It has a harbour, and is a tourist attraction known for its views, fishermen and history.
When we went it was completely quiet with hardly any tourists and most of the restaurants were also closed. But one of my favourite memories from this place was going into the only restaurant that was open. I was nursing Nael in a little corner and when I looked up, another mama was sat across the room nursing her little one too. We got chatting and they said they were visiting from the Netherlands and had been in Malta for a few days now. We made a small talk, but that moment felt really quite special, especially since we had babies the same age and were finding some space for nursing our little ones while our partners were fussing over us!
Straight from Marsaxlokk, we quickly headed over the Peters Pool as I had heard/read about how gorgeous this ‘natural swimming pool’ was. It sure didn’t let us down! Located not too far from Marsaxlokk, there is no public transport to take you there so the only options are to hire a car like we did, taking a taxi or walking!
We went back to the St Julian’s area for some foodcompletely and utterly knackered but fulfilled. We could not find any halal places at the time, but it wasn’t until i came back someone said there are tonnes of halal food places. It’s something you’d have to look into as I personally am always happy to have Veggie and Seafood when I am on holiday.
Lets be real, whoever hears about Malta immediately starts to visualise the clear blue waters and pretty landscapes! Well this is it. A short Ferry ride away from Malta gets you to the picturesque Gozo Island. As we had hired a car, we just took the car onto the Ferry! Nael’s first Ferry trip too. Woop!
I didn’t necessarily have much of a plan for Gozo, except from Azure Window, also known as the Dwejra Window, was a 28-metre-tall natural arch. Sadly just a couple of years before our visit, the natural ‘window’ collapsed due to severe weather conditions. Nonetheless, so many of us went to see this beautiful place and I am glad we did.
We also randomly found the following places that came up on google maps! These are the places we found and took a little break to see:
Tal-Mixta Cave, See Ta’Pinu Basilica & Wied il-Ghasri.
We then went to the Cathedral of Gozo towards the end of the day. The Cittadella has a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of Gozo’s hills, valleys, villages and Churches as well as the views accross to Malta. As soon as we arrived we realised why there was so much mayhem and so many people all over the city. We found out that the entire place will be lit up for the evening for a festival of lights called ‘Lejl Imkebbes (Mediterranean Diwali). There was a wonderful, magical atmosphere and the quaint narrow streets were illuminated by more than 30,000 candles of all forms.
Overall I think Malta was the perfect holiday get away as a family of three and new parents. The country is small, accessible and the people were super friendly. If you have any questions, let me know and I would love to answer.
Let’s have some real talk. I had zero intentions of visiting this part of the world. I know a cousin of mine visited a few years ago and she didn’t speak very highly of it. That was about as much as i knew about the country…. UNTIL RECENTLY.
After following the very amazing “Expat Panda’ for some time, I followed her stories, posts and blogpost about Tunisia and I instantly knew that I wanted to visit. As it happened my maternity leave was coming to an end and I had hit a massive big wall of low moods and wanting an escape. I looked into whether it would be easy for Ahmed to apply for a visa and actually it was probably the easiest visas to apply for. We literally just sent the passport, a copy of his residence card and an application form to the embassy, and within a couple of weeks we got the visa. Alhamdulillah it all worked out quite well and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
We booked our first all inclusive holiday with TUI and stayed in an okay’ish hotel but the staff were absolutely amazing. We stayed in Hammamet and before even getting to Tunisia we agreed that this was going to be a fairly chilled out holiday as we needed to unwind and enjoy each others company as a family. Hammamet is a popular tourist destination with tonnes of hotels, beaches and particularly known for Jasmine (the flower).
But of course as you know me, I can’t just chill! I want to see, feel and experience everything! So on our first day we decided to get the taxi into the Hammamet, Old Medina. As soon as we stepped out of the taxi we met someone who said he worked at our hotel in the kitchen & he would take us & show us around (clever people these guys, they read your wristband which has your hotel name on then try to befriend you). Of course, my advice would be not to fall for it and tell them you’re not interested!
The Old medina holds historic features but we didn’t see too much as we had the pram and it was particularly hot so we didn’t know how Nael would be as it was his first time in such a hot country. Locals there are not too pushy but you just have to be polite and refuse! Yes they will try and persuade you into every shop and try to get you to buy everything but we never felt unsafe or really ‘hassled’. If you said no and walked away they left you to it!
We then went to the new Hamammet, however, not much to report as everything was closed. We walked around aimlessly in the heat and didn’t really enjoy it as there was literally nothing to do. However, we heard that during peak season, there are lots of activities and rides for children!
We alternated the days and ended up chilling for a day… but of course that got a bit boring for me so I encouraged Ahmed to agree with me and we hired a taxi and drove to Tunis. Tunis is the Capital city of Tunisia and we LOVED Tunis! Although there were elections going on when we visited and most things were closed. It kind of worked in our favour as we wandered around aimlessly and got lost in the quiet souqs of Tunis.
We didn’t stay there for very long, but what limited time we did have there was positive. I do wish we had gone for longer and also spent more time exploring the local sites, such as Carthage and The National Bardo Museum. But perhaps you can check them out and let me know how they were?!
Sidi Bou Said
The reason why we didn’t spend a full day in Tunis was because we also wanted to take the opportunity and visit the famous Sidi Bou Said. You could easily have mistaken this place for Santorini… I mean not that I have been to Santorini, but I would imagine it’s very comparable in terms of the white and blue buildings and structures.
As much as I did think Sidi Bou Said was gorgeous, I also thought it was SO BUSY, and when you’re pushing a pram uphill under the scorching heat, things aren’t always as pretty as they probably are!
We ate at a gorgeous cafe called, Cafe Des Delices where we ordered a pretty tasty pizza and fries…. but check this out… They didn’t serve COKE! I know??! We also discovered a gorgeous Museum called Dar El Annabi. If you do visit Sidi Bou Said, you must check it out as its so gorgeous! Another thing that you cannot miss is the Bambalouni; They are made with flour, hot water, yeast, and salt. After the dough has been prepared, it is fried in hot oil until golden brown, and the doughnuts are then sprinkled with sugar on top. DIVINE!!!
Monastir, El Kantaoui and Sousse
During our last couple of days at the hotel we decided to take a tour with the hotel tour guide and went on a three city tour which covered Monastir, Sousse and El Kantaoui. As I write about this trip, I am quite sad as it didn’t live up to the expectations. The entire tour was very rushed and we barely got to see anything.
Also believe it or not, it was absolutely chucking it down during our journey to Monastir. A lot of people decided to stay in the coach but we decided to brave it. We chucked Nael on a sling, put our coats on and ran to see The Bourguiba mausoleum This landmark is a monumental grave in Monastir, Tunisia, containing the remains of former president Habib Bourguiba, the father of Tunisian independence. Due to the rain, we didn’t see much else and drove straight to Sousse.
We went to Sousse straight after and luckily for us the rain finally stopped and we managed to have a very quick walk around the Souqs. The tour guide did suggest looking at the shops but we opted to check out the Madina of Sousse, a historic architecture with beautiful views of the city! I think there was probably so much more of Sousse that we didn’t get to see because our trip was guided by the tour guide.
We then headed off to El Kantanoiu, If you’re reading this, don’t bother. IT was a complete waste of time!
This was probably the first holiday that Ahmed and I actually managed to do quite a bit of relaxation. We just wanted to enjoy the nice weather and have some chilled out days with Nael. I’m so glad we did as we both came back refreshed for a change. Usually we go on holiday and need another holiday after! lol!
It’s amazing how much your holidays and wish lists change once you’ve had a baby. And that’s okay because we have to be flexible and willing to adapt accordingly!
If you want a holiday that is relaxed, nice beaches and amazing hospitality, then get booked on ASAP!
So far I have taken you guys on so many trips with me. I have spoken about my wedding, followed by my honeymoon, my surprise birthday weekend in Dubai and my experience of performing Umrah. Most of which I had a part to play in.
But this is a strange blogpost for me to write as I literally had absolutely nothing to do with the itinerary or the planning. Plus at the time, my brain was so full of issues around the spouse visa, new job, and struggles of a long distance marriage that I didn’t necessarily think about the holiday much. Throughout this holiday I lived every second in the moment.
And actually, writing this blogpost has reminded me that we had initially planned and booked to go to Bali, but because of Ahmed not being able to get a visa from Qatar, we weren’t able to go. We ended up losing money for the holiday and Turkey was a very last minute plan!
To make matters somewhat more interesting, a series of very interesting events aka the attempted coup happened while we were in Turkey. It was described as “the bloodiest coup attempt in its political history”. On 15th July 2016 a section of the Turkish military launched a coordinated operation in several major cities to topple the government and unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Arriving at the airport and seeing Ahmed there after three very long months felt magical. Ahmed had landed a few hours ahead of me and had his bearings sorted. When I landed, we took the train/tram to the hotel, dumped my luggage and off we went exploring the city. After what was supposed to be a brief walk (but wasn’t) around to some nearby historic sites, we found ourselves tucked away in a Turkish restaurant, noses buried behind a menu, trying to make the impossible decision of what food to order.
Needless to say the food was extremely flavoursome and well presented: splendid. Making nothing of the airplanes and helicopters flying overhead every now and then, we made our way to the hotel. At this point, neither of us had had any sleep in the last 36 odd hours (trying to complete work related milestones before the holiday and because of awkward flight times) so we crashed out as soon as we got the hotel.
We woke up in the morning to a gazillion missed called between us. Both our parents and friends had tried to get in contact with us, sent us several messages asking if we were okay.
Completely confused and disgruntled, we called back and were ‘requested’ to turn the telly on! Only to find that the entire country was under a state of emergency and that there had been a failed coup attempt while the pair of us were snoring away. There were helicopters flying over our hotel and tanks were seen at around the bosphorus region.
Despite being advised to stay indoors, we didn’t want to waste time staying in the hotel so we mutually agreed we’d go out and figure whether we should explore further.
Oh and another perk was that during our visit to Istanbul, the metros were free and we did not have to pay anything for the public transport while we were there.
We went straight to the ‘Blue Mosque’ which, to be fair, was only round the corner. Blue mosque is an iconic place in Istanbul and you often hear people wanting to visit Istanbul to see ‘the blue mosque’. It is located within the central district and easily reachable via train. From what I’ve heard other people say, it is usually extremely busy and crowded, however , due to the coupe saga our experience was quite the opposite.
There were hardly any people in sight and we found ourselves to be the only crazy ones surrounded by the gorgeous, breathtaking Blue Mosque.
Just a stone throw away from the Blue Mosque, we wandered over to the stunning Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is a huge museum. It was originally a church built in 537 AD, became a mosque in 1453 until 1931. Then later opened as a museum in 1935. It is a huge building with an impressive dome and beautiful chandeliers.
I found this to be a gorgeous site with rich history of both Islam and Christianity. The building itself is amazing, and the remaining mosaics are absolutely beautiful. Just the size of of the interior, the high arches and the will blow you away.
The Topkapi is an enormous palace which was the Imperial residence of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. Although much of the palace is not accessible, the daily tours of the Harem are definitely worth it!
I would say you can easily spend over two hours to visit the site. The best way to visit the palace is to purchase a museum pass. There are two entrances to the palace. One is near the archeological museum and the other is beside Hagia Sofia (opposite to Blue Mosque).
The Holy relics area was particularly interesting for both Ahmed and myself. There were relics from the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) including his beard, tooth and sword as well as those from other notable prophets including the sword of Hazrat Ali.
Nope, we are still not quite done! You can tell Ahmed planned the itinerary!
Despite being exhausted he said ‘we can’t miss the bazaars’, so off we went in search for the bazaars. Apparently there are two kinds of bazaars, the spice bazaar and the golden bazaar. Sadly all the bazaars were shut due to the coup. The streets were empty and silent with only a handful of locals being around. Perhaps one of the most peculiar experiences!
In hindsight I think this may have been a complete blessing as I was completely knackered and not sure how I would have dealt with the hustle and bustle of how the bazaars usually are.
It’s fair to say I woke up feeling extremely knackered and my legs were aching, but Ahmed had another day of lots of walking and exploring planned! So here we go!
We started our day by taking the metro down to the cruise tours of the Bosphorus. Bosphorus forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, and separates Asian Turkey from European Turkey. Fascinating, I know!
We didn’t really do much research before going on a cruise and hopped onto the first boat that was departing. I LOVED this tour and would highly recommend this to anyone… I mean maybe its because my legs ached and the cruise meant that I could sit for a couple of hours! The bosphorous cruise takes you from the European side to the Asian and back, via ferry. The entire trip takes about 1.5-2 hours and we were able to appreciate the beautiful houses, mosques and palaces that dot the shore line.
All cities do or at least should have a ‘view point’, right? Well Galata Tower is Istanbul’s view point! Built in 500 A.D., Galata Tower is one of the dominating landmarks of Istanbul and was used as a watchtower to help defend the city.
You pay a fee at the bottom of the tower, the wait and the queues can be quite annoying, but I think its worth the wait and sweat! If waiting isn’t really your thing or you’re afraid of heights, I wouldn’t recommend going up. However, I still think that the location is worth a visit. It’s surrounded by some gorgeous narrow streets and tasty turkish food!
This wasn’t really my cup of tea if I am honest. When I travel, I prefer not to be surrounded by shops and high street brands. However, people who love shopping and enjoy the ‘city feel’. This would be completely up your street because you can shop till you drop!
Ahmed and I thought we had covered most of the ‘must see’s’ in Istanbul. So a friend of mine who had visited earlier in the year told me to visit two places. So we decided to take her advice and go on another day of exploring.
Eyup Sultan Mosque
This mosque complex is built adjacent to the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari. A companion of Prophet Muhammad SAW that hosted him after his arrival in Madinah. He was buried outside the walls of Constantinople and was over 80 years old.
Cafe pierre loti
The area is located near Eyup Sultan Mosque and you can take a cable car ride to the top of the hill to a place called ‘Cafe Pierre Loti’. The cable ride itself it rather underwhelming and takes around 2 minutes or so to reach the top. Once you get to the top, the views are great to take pictures. However, the café is crowded and you may find it difficult to get table. The prices at the cafe are also above average, so we chose just to have some cold drinks before heading back to the centre of Istanbul and stuffing our faces with some delicious turkish food!
Walking around aimlessly around Istanbul’s streets & taking photos…
After coming back from the Eyüp district of Istanbul we headed back towards the Blue Mosque. We spent a couple of hours wandering around and absorbing the surroundings! There was something really quite special about Istanbul and the ambiance in the area despite the fact that the country had suffered from a coup during our visit.
On day 4 we took a flight to the ‘bucket list’ kinda place, Cappadocia. I am writing another blogpost with our Cappadocia itinerary for those that may be interested or planning a visit!
A sneak peak of our cave hotel in Cappadocia to make you come back for the blogpost 😉
Honestly? I can’t remember how we ended up being interested in visiting Sri Lanka or how it came on our radar. Just weeks after visiting Saudi Arabia and performing Umrah with Ahmed it was almost time to return to the UK to start the spouse visa application. This of course meant that we were about to embark on our long distance relationship journey. We wanted to plan ahead and not let the whole long distance relationship make us miserable or even worse, damage our relationship. We wanted to preplan and know when we would meet one another in the future. As we vaguely knew that the visa application process would take approximately 9-12 months, we decided to split our holidays accordingly. We decided to take time off work in April (it was our anniversary, July (just after my birthday) and then in October (Ahmed’s birthday). We wanted to use this opportunity to make the most of the little time we would spend together.
Ahmed came home from work one day and just happened to mention Sri Lanka in passing. I had finished work by then so had all the time in the day to kill, so when he went to work the following day I spent the entire day doing my research on Sri Lanka and put together a vague itinerary if we were ever to visit. (By the way I totally do that, when I come across a country I wish to visit, I tend to find out the ‘go to places’ and create itineraries.) During the research, I came to know that Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where Ahmed can apply for a visa easily.
Bearing a Pakistani passport, he can’t go to many countries so this was a massive pull factor for me straight away.
Oh well, I moved back to the UK soon after and with all that was happening around me, the itinerary I had created was forgotten about.
When I started my job in England, my manager told me about her recent trip to Sri Lanka and how she had the most amazing 10 days. She gave me details of the driver that she hired and who she highly recommended. So I passed his details to Ahmed and shared that I was quite interested in exploring Sri Lanka.
In April 2016, as agreed and pre-arranged, I turned up at Doha airport and as soon as I landed, Ahmed shared that we were going to Sri Lanka. Err… what?!
So here’s the itinerary….
We arrived at Colombo on 23rd April 2016 at 0300 hrs and were collected by the amazing Mr. Upali. He was our driver for the whole time that we were in Sri Lanka. At the bottom of the page I have written a paragraph on Upali and how he made this the most amazing holiday ever!
After being welcomed by Upali, we went straight to Negombo to stay at Terrace Green Hotel which was cheap and cheerful, yet extremely clean and an overall good value for money. The plan was to catch a few hours sleep and make the most of DAY 1 so we had to leave mega early. Sleep is for the weak anyway, right?
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
We started our journey around 8-ish and went straight to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I had seen many photos on Instagram and it looked like an amazing place to visit. On the surface of it all, it sounded fantastic. We were told that we would be contributing towards elephant welfare, which was something that made me even more eager to visit.
HOWEVER….. I quickly became horrified at how these elephants were treated. I passed numerous elephants chained in solitary confinement (which you can see in the photos). The elephants looked unhappy and out of their comfort zone. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone visited a place that promotes animal cruelty for economic purposes.
For these reasons, we decided not to stay in the orphanage for long and headed straight to the famous ‘Dambulla Cave Temple’.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple is also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, however there are two different temples. The Golden Temple is at the base of the mountain in the centre of Dambulla whereas the Cave Temple is much higher up the hill and can be accessed by climbing up the hill from the Golden Temple.
This is a World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka and is situated in the central part of the country. Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka. This place was somewhere that I did not think I would enjoy as much as I did. But I absolutely loved every second of it.
As we headed towards the temple, I wasn’t quite prepared for the steps and an uphill walk. Perhaps being jet lagged, over excited and the excursion didn’t help the situation. Although the walk up isn’t really strenuous I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint hearted. I would consider myself ‘relatively fit’ but I massively struggled. Maybe it was the heat…
On the way up we began to see lots of monkeys hanging around, pinching peoples’ food. As we got to the top, we saw Monks offering their prayers and walking around. There is an entry fee to visit the temples and it isn’t cheap. From my memory there is a fee for ‘local/Sri Lankan people and a higher one for foreigners’.
And remember as always: no shoes and hats allowed, knees covered!
Once we finally got to the top, we saw the most beautiful Buddha sculptures under the rock. Each sculpture was unique and almost had it’s own story. I was kind of gutted that we didn’t get a guided tour as to be honest, I have no idea what the different Buddha’s represented. I only know that they all all represented something different as I was eavesdropping!
After a long day of visiting different places, it was time to head to our gorgeous hotel. We stayed in Sigiriya (Heritance Kandalama). The hotel was perfect in so many ways. The hospitality, the service, the food, the location and price were perfect.
Sigiriya – Lion’s rock
So the best thing about having a driver was that we didn’t have to think about how we’d get to all the sites that we wanted to visit. Upali would be ready bang on time and welcomed us into his car with a beaming smile. He would also tell us facts and information about Sri Lanka as we travelled through it.
We had planned to visit Sigiriya on day two. Sigiriya, also know as Lion Rock, is arguably the most important site we saw when we visited Sri Lanka. It is thousands of years old and was the site of the Royal Palace of one Sri Lanka’s ancient Kings. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To get to the top you have to climb up several steps, over 1,200 steps to be precise. I did not know this before I went. Here’s a few tips for you guys if you do ever go:
Wear trainers or comfy shoes as the hike/walk up can be quite strenuous.
Get there early to beat the crowds and the heat.
Take some (read ‘a lot’) water with you as you will get thirsty. (You can buy water before you start up the steps but it is expensive!)
So the craziest thing happened here, we started to chat to this random couple and it turned out that they lived in Qatar and had been there for a number of years. But their home town was Newcastle… such a small world! This is what I love about travelling, talking to complete strangers yet having so many similarities.
Dambulla to Nuwara Eliya
Our plan was to go from Dambulla to Nuwara Eliya but it was a long journey. Worry not, our amazing taxi driver had it all in control and told us he would take us to different places en route. And boy oh boy he did not disappoint.
Our our way to Nuwara Eliye we went to the following places:
A random temple: Upali took us to this very colourful Hindu temple. Remember, Sri Lanka’s majority population are practicing Buddhists, however, according to Upali, Hinduism is the second largest religion in Sri Lanka. Hence, the gorgeous temples all over, bursting with culture.
The temple was minutes, or even second away from being closed but we were allowed entry. It truly was amazing to see the sheer effort that was put into the intricacy of this temple.
The Kandy War Cemetery: This was another ‘first’ for us. I had never been to a Commonwealth War Cemetery before. Located in Kandy, this place was a little off the beaten track but well worth a trip. According to Wikipedia (I don’t know how true this is), there are 203 buried soldier, consisting of: 107 British, 35 East Africans, 26 Sri Lankans, 23 Indians, 6 Canadians, 3 Italians, 1 Frenchman and 2 unidentified persons, of the 203 dead, 151 were army, 32 were air force, 16 were navy, 2 were unidentified, 1 was merchant navy and 1 was from the national fire service.
Tea plantation: What Sri Lanka is known for it’s tea plantations! Heard if Ceylon tea?After the heat of Dambulla, we were more than ready to head to the cooler, hilly region filled with Sri Lanka’s Tea Plantations. The temperatures were cooler and we were going to finally get to see how all this tea we drink is made.
As we were heading to Nuwara Eliya and then on to Ella, we stopped by a random tea plantation factory. Although both Ahmed and I are tea lovers, it is fair to say we were completely clueless about how tea is made. Initially I thought this would be a very boring tour, it turns out that I actually really enjoyed the experience!
We were shown the tea plants up close and the leaves that were picked. All these different types of tea aren’t different plants. It’s the same tea leaves, just processed slightly differently (I thought green tea was from a different plant but nope it isn’t!). The tea plantations grow the tea, process it and package it up for auctions in Colombo where all the different brands like Dilmah and Lipton taste the tea and buy the ones they like best.
Nuwara Eliya to Ella: Train trip of a life time
Although Ahmed was always against the idea of catching the train, I was adamant that I wanted to experience the authenticity of a train journey in Sri Lanka. After all everyone who has visited Sri Lanka speaks so highly about the experience.
I eventually managed to convince Ahmed to come with me (it took some convincing from Upali too)! Yeyy. We decided to send our luggage with Upali and ended up getting the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella.
The train journey was epic, and I spent most of the train trip sat in the door with my legs dangling out of the moving train.
As we arrived at Ella, we had some quick lunch and decided to climb up Adam’s Little Peak. There is another peak known as Adam’s Peak which, according to the belief is where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of the heavens above. We decided not to climb that due to time constraint and also we didn’t want to do anything too strenuous.
The Little Adam’s Peak, 1141 m high, is fairly easy to climb, with a good path all the way up. The trip took us about 2-3 hours in total (including picture taking). We didn’t see anyone at all during our hike which is extremely unusual as this is a really popular hike with tourists and backpackers. I guess maybe the weather put people off, but I thought the weather made it even more special and easy! Good job we carried out rain coats, right?
After spending the night in Ella, we headed towards Galle where our extravagant hotel was located. On our way to the hotel, we stopped and visited local attractions and beaches. I haven’t written too much about those places because it was a very ‘ad hoc’ journey and we just stopped at places that we thought looked pretty and picturesque from a distance. Upali was very patient and stopped anywhere that I asked him to!
We decided to book a luxury hotel towards the end of the trip as we wanted to unwind and soak in our experiences in Sri Lanka. When we told Upali where we were staying, he seemed ecstatic and we couldn’t understand why he was so pleased. But as we arrived at The Fortress he explained that any drivers that come with the tourists at the Fortress get a room with AC’s. Previously he had been staying in places where they didn’t have this luxury!
As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we were mesmerised by their service, decor and location. Located directly opposite a beautiful beach, we could not have asked for more.
Whale & Dolphin watching
This was something I would never have imagined doing! Ahmed had booked for us to go whale and dolphin watching. On arrival we were asked if we were sea sick and if you were, they provided you with some anti sickness medication.
As we headed into the sea, we began seeing some gorgeous Dolphins in their natural habitat/ environment. No cages, no restrictions. Completely free in the wild, just how it should be.
We did briefly manage to see a whale, but were too mesmerised to capture it properly. I will always remember how much of a presence the whale had on its surrounding. So beautiful, so strong, so real.
Quick visit to Galle
What we didn’t realise was that there is a large Muslim population in Galle. Obviously Muslim population means that one thing is going to be available for sure…. HALAL FOOD. Oh YES! We went searching for some halal meat and came across this tiny little burger place. My mouth still waters thinking about those burgers. I don’t know if we were mega hungry or whether the burgers really were that amazing… a bit of both!
Galle was a really gorgeous little town. It gave you a real feel of how life must be like for the locals.
Saying Goodbye to ‘Upali’ our AMAZING Driver
I feel that I needed to dedicate at least a paragraph to our amazing driver, Upali. Part of me feels that he was one of the reasons we enjoyed our stay in Sri Lanka so much. His vast knowledge on the country, his humble and respectful nature made the trip extra special for us. Upali was well spoken, well dressed and well mannered. He immediately made us feel at ease and was willing to go above and beyond to ensure that our journey was smooth and memorable. He took interest in our itinerary, helped us make some changes along the way and was patient when we took much longer than agreed. I can’t imagine his job being easy. Driving for hours on end, dealing with potentially extremely ignorant and annoying foreigners, being so far away from his family for so many days and worst of all sleeping in places that he has no say over.
It’s kind of strange. Spending so much time with someone, essentially a stranger, yet making so many memories with them. I feel that I will always remember him for all the good reasons and perhaps the one reason I would return back to see another side of Sri Lanka.
If you’re thinking of going to Sri Lanka and want his contact details, send me a message and I will share it with you. He is very able and will respond to you immediately.
After leaving Sri Lanka, I was going to return back to the UK and Ahmed was going to Qatar. We both knew we wouldn’t see one another for 3 months so we decided to plan our next escapade……
Okay, so this post is very close to my heart. I am in a place in my life where I feel like I am being pushed and pulled at the same time.
Prior to migrating to Qatar and prior to meeting my husband, I was someone who used to call themselves a ‘Muslim’. I was by no means a practising Muslim as such. I was a Muslim just by name. Around 2013 I did not even know names of our Prophet Mohammed (SAW) family members. And in all fairness, all I knew was there is no deity, but God. I believed in the Almighty with all my heart. After all, He had blessed me in so many ways. But I did not know much else other than the words La illaha ilAllah Muhammad rasoolAllah.
My journey started when I moved to Qatar. The move to Qatar was exciting yet depressing at times. I spent hours offering my prayers. Praying for an answer. Praying for some guidance. During this time, I had applied for numerous jobs and attended many interviews. As I waited to hear back from employers, I started to question my credibility and employability as I felt trapped in the four walls that surrounded me.
Eventually I was offered two jobs; one in a Pakistani school with a very good reputation and another job in an Islamic British school. After thinking long and hard, I decided to accept the job offer at the Islamic school. I believe He is the best planner and that is the reason I ended up in the Islamic school. I can confidently say that my experience at the school changed me. Changed me in ways that I might never know. I had the privilege to be in the company of the most humble and modest Muslims for 6 months. Sisters that will forever remain in my heart. Students whose faces I will never forget. Miss Aisha, the manager whose faith in God inspired me.
Though I do not claim to be the perfect Muslim, nor do I claim to have a great, intense Islamic knowledge, I believe I am now a somewhat better informed of what a Muslim is. However this journey has not been one without any turbulence.
Between April 2015 – December 2015, I spent my time trying to fit in, trying to make sense of how my life had changed and developed. As time went on, one thing was sure. Whilst we were living in Qatar, I wanted to perform Ummrah with Ahmed. Ahmed had already been for Ummrah a number of times, so I felt confident that it would be a very achievable task.
In December 2015, we finally applied for our visas for Saudi Arabia. It was quite an interesting and long experience which even consisted of them giving me injections for meningitis and some other vaccination. Once we gathered all our paper work, the passports were sent to Saudi Embassy for visas.
On 5th January we got a phone call to say that the Visa had arrived. We were completely overjoyed and drove straight to their office to collect it in the evening.
When we got home that evening, I received a phone call from my mum. She was inconsolable and could barely speak. Eventually the words came out of her mouth like some burning fire. My dad’s older brother, his best friend had suddenly passed away. Being thousands of miles away from my family, I never felt so alone despite the fact Ahmed was right next to me.
To say that I have been blessed with the best husband would be an understatement. We had been married for less than a year and already he had seen me at my very worst. Already he had seen me at my lowest. And already we had experienced a death in our family. It was an awful time. But I couldn’t thank the Almighty enough. What were the chances that we had just collected our visas and passports so I was able to attend his funeral in Pakistan.
After coming back to Qatar from Mirpur, I felt so alone. I had spent the last ten days or so with family and coming back to an empty apartment felt soul destroying.
But it all changed.
We went for Ummrah just a week after returning from Mirpur. Ahmed finished work on Thursday and we headed straight to the airport. We were running extremely late and I was petrified of missing the flight. He (Ahmed) has been known to do this before you see…. He missed his last flight to Medinah and ended up going to Saudi for less than 24 hours!
Somehow, miraculously we made it to the airport in time. I hadn’t been out of the house in an Abaya and a Hijab, but I really enjoyed the experience and felt the part.
The journey was quick and we got there before we knew it. We landed in Medinah and headed straight to our hotel which was down the road from Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque)
As I have mentioned before, my faith before Qatar was weak and so was my knowledge. I didn’t think that the striking Green Dome rising above the tombs of the Prophet Muhammad SAW would have such an impact on me. I was mesmerised by the beauty of this Mosque. I sat outside for hours just staring at it as I waiting for Ahmed to come back from inside.
As I entered the mosque and sat down to say my prayers, I noticed that there were women from absolutely all over. Young and old. Able bodied as well as disabled. There were some who looked quite wealthy and others who looked poor. Yet they all looked the same. They all had the same expressions and the same determination in on their faces. We all had the same purpose. Just before we offered our prayers and heard the Azaan, some women next to me offered their prayer mat as I didn’t have one. We didn’t speak the same language, nor were we from the same culture, but she made it clear she wanted me to share her mat. I was taken a back by her kindness and thanked her. As I thanked the women next to me, a little girl came running towards us and offered us a date. There was something so special about this moment. What a way to start out journey to Ummrah.
Day 1: Seeing the sites in Medinah before heading to Mecca in the evening
We woke up feeling really fresh after a good night sleep! We started the day early as Ahmed wanted to show me lots of historical sites. We prayed Nafls in all the Mosques that we saw.
We timed it so we could return back in time for Jummah to pray in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi. This will perhaps be one of my favourite memories from the trip. I felt so blessed and overwhelmed to be sat amongst so many other Muslims. As soon as we completed our prayers, we got some lunch from KFC (BAD MOVE) and went back to the hotel to get freshened up.
We didn’t waste any time and quickly grabbed a cab to go to Mecca. We stopped at a Miqat (Miqats are the areas or locations at which pilgrims wear Ihram, either for Hajj or Umrah). We offered two nafls here. This was an odd experience as the women were pushing and shoving all over the place, making it unbearable. Everyone was holding tight onto their shoes and belongings as it was utter chaos. I somehow managed to find a space and got ready to say my prayers.
The journey took between 4-6 hours I believe, could be more. Could be less! All I know was that I was exhausted.
The exertion quickly went away however. As soon as we entered the boundaries of Mecca, it started to rain a little. WOW. What an experience. I never thought I would experience rain or even a bit of drizzle whilst being in Mecca.
We got to our gorgeous hotel in Mecca and I noticed that there was a different buzz around me. Everyone seemed so happy and optimistic.
The moment I laid my eyes on the Kabah’, I couldn’t quite believe I was there. Too thrilled to take photos. Emotions running wild and a sense of feeling blessed was over taking me. It was amazing.
Luckily for me, Ahmed had done this a few times, so we quite quickly began to perform our Ummrah.
I could hear everyone chanting the same words. The same enthusiasm and the same eagerness.
Labaik Allahuma Labaik, labaik la sharika laka labaik, Innal hamda wann’imat laka wal mulk, la sharika lak
Translated this means:
“I stand up for YOUR service, O GOD! I stand up! I stand up! There is no partner with YOU! I stand up for YOUR service! Verily YOURS is the praise, the beneficence, and the dominion! There is no partner with YOU”
Praying Jummah in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi and then completing Ummrah on a Friday too! Oh what an experience!
Day 2: A sleepless night in Mecca
Having a sleepless night in Mecca was not what I had planned. I had really bad S&D. TMI, I know! But I had so many things rushing through my head. Is God punishing me? Are my sins being wiped? Or was it just the KFC?
I was hoping to go to Kabbah to read my Fajr prayer, however , I wasn’t physically able to do this. Ahmed went to say his prayers while I tried to take medication and fix myself up. I didn’t want to waste any time and wanted to experience the Kabbah all over again.
I managed to somehow wake up, have breakfast and headed out to the Kabaah. It was incredible. We offered a few prayers while we were there and also managed to carry out a couple of Tawafs.
What was really incredible about this trip was the fact that just few weeks ago I was mourning for my late uncle. I had never experienced loss like it. My faith in Allah became stronger that month. To think that our visas arrived on the day of his death, allowing me to to go to Pakistan to be with my family. And to think that I could carry out Ummrah upon my return. SubhanAllah.
What was also incredible was that I had got a job in the UK which I was starting in February the same year. I was about to leave the Country I started to call home. And I was about to part from my husband for an unknown amount of months.
My next blog post will be all about long distance relationships and spouse visa processes to the UK.
I have a confession to make. I have never really cared much about visiting Dubai and to be fair, prior to getting married I didn’t really have much knowledge about the Middle East – as you may or may not know from reading my previous blogs.
We got married in April 2015 when I was 25 year old and it was my birthday in June, just a couple of months after the wedding. Just like any girl, especially a sensitive, hopeless romantic who is a proper bollywood ki sauch waaali girl, I couldn’t help but fantasise and wonder how Ahmed was going to treat me on my birthday. Was he going to bring me flowers? Was he going to take me to some fancy dinner? Will he even remember that it’s my birthday?
After all I had come from a family where I was extremely spoilt and birthdays were always a big thing. This made it extra nerve wrecking. If he does forget my birthday, how will I feel? Being so far away from my friends and family, I already felt lonely and isolated. And with it being Ramadan during my birthday, I didn’t think it would be possible to be out all day exploring. I tried not to think too much about it. I tried not to get my hopes up because I would be devastated if my expectations were too high. I didn’t want to be disappointed.
If I remember correctly, Ramadan was due to start 4 or 5 days before my birthday that year.
Ahead of the Holy month of Ramadan starting, it was an uneventful morning when Ahmed woke me up unusually early. As I wasn’t working, the general routine would dictate that I would have stepped out of bed well after Ahmed had gone to work. As I struggled to wake up and had started to rub my eyes, Ahmed announced ‘we’re going to Dubai this evening after work, so pack your bags’. I wish I had a photo of my facial expressions that I could share with you. I couldn’t comprehend what he was talking about. He said he was thinking of telling me in the evening about the trip, a couple of hours before the flight but knew what a control freak I am and decided to give me the full day to pack and get organised.
I spent the entire day panicking and packing. So much excitement and adrenaline, I couldn’t quite believe it. It wasn’t the fact that we were going to Dubai, but the fact that I had absolutely no idea that he had planned it all!
The few hours that Ahmed was at work felt like the longest hours of my life. He eventually came home and we headed straight to the airport! YEY!
Seeing this little (read ‘BIG’) bear at Hammad International Airport soon became my favourite sight.
Here are some facts that I found on google about this gorgeous bear:
The bear is known as the ‘Untitled Lamp Bear’ and is the creation of a Swiss artist ‘Urs Fischer’
The teddy is made out of bronze and weighs around 18-20 tons and it’s height is 23 feet!
We flew via Qatar airways and took the ‘bus’ shuttle equivalent of a flight. The journey was only 45 mins long, however, we were served with food and overall an excellent service. This little chicken panini on the right was DIVINE! I’d fly with them again just for the panini!
It was quite late by the time we arrived in Dubai. The humid air, the noisy hustle and bustle of Dubai was apparent from the minute we landed. There was something quite unique about Dubai as it was so different to Qatar. There were lots of palm trees covered in fairy lights all along the roads, twinkling everywhere. Dubai straight away seemed more liberal and more diverse than Qatar. It was a louder and more flamboyant version of Qatar I felt.
We arrived at this gorgeous Hotel called ‘Manzil Downtown’. Ahmed had already taken me to one of the nicest hotels for our honeymoon, so I’m not going to lie, expectations were high! He had already spoilt me and showed me the best of what we could have so deep down I was hoping that the hotel would be as luxurious and gorgeous as it was in Thailand…. And it was. The hotel was full of character, located only a few minutes walk away from the famous Burj Khalifa. The rooms and general decor around the hotel was completed to a high standard and the service was impeccable.
Day 1: Mall of Emirates, Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa
We started the day off by visiting the Mall of Emirates. I didn’t know the first thing about this mall or what kind of shops were inside. Ahmed said that we’d be having lunch at the HALAL ‘CHEESECAKE FACTORY’. The last time I had any experience of indulging in a Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory was back in 2011, 4 years ago! I was over the moon to be spending our lunch eating there! I think you can see the excitement and enthusiasm on the photo. Little did I know that the surprises hadn’t stopped just there….
Of course I did not know that Dubai has penguins for crying out loud!! Penguins are supposed to be living in cold climates, right? All my life I have loved Penguins. I find them absolutely adorable. How the male penguin proposes to the female penguin, how the male penguin protects the egg, how they look and the way they walk… I love everything about them. Growing up, my mum would always buy me lots of things with Penguins. Ahmed knew that I loved penguins and it was definitely on my bucket list to meet one, one day.
I didn’t think my wish would be coming true for my 26th birthday though. But it did. He made one of my biggest wishes come true. I got to meet, touch and even KISS a penguin. Just writing about this experience fills my hear with joy.
The Gentoo Penguins reside at the Ski Dubai in the Mall of Emirates. The enclosure consists of several areas including a private pool, a top deck area with rocks, and a private holding area.
We then travelled across to the Dubai Mall. Bearing in mind it was something like 48 Degrees outside. We walked and walked everywhere! I had recently stopped buying clothes and was attempting to live a more minimalist lifestyle so I didn’t want to shop as such. We spent most the time window shopping.
As we entered the mall, I was mesmerised to see a gigantic aquarium all around the Mall as I hadn’t seen anything like it. There were so many unusual things and decor that blew me away.
We walked so much that I was getting really tired. I wasn’t used to being in the heat for so long and hadn’t walked much since being in Thailand. I eventually asked Ahmed to stop for a break. We came across ‘Granny’s Waffles’ and I knew that’s exactly what I wanted. We sat down and ordered the most delicious crepe and waffles to date! The crepe was so thin and fresh, and they weren’t shy of spreading lots of nutella. I was in a happy place!
Just as I thought that the evening was approaching, I thought it was time to head back to the hotel. But wait, of course Ahmed wouldn’t plan such an itinerary. I kept asking him why we were hanging around and what we were waiting for. I didn’t realise he was planning on taking me to the WORLD’s highest building, the Burj Khalifa.
Ahmed had booked some sort of a VIP tour where we were showered with amazing hospitality. We were given refreshments and drinks. The group only consisted of a handful of people and we skipped all the other queues. We made it just in time for the sunset.
After being blown away by the amazing views, sky scrappers and a gorgeous sunset, Ahmed was keen to get back downstairs. I couldn’t understand why. Surely this is it. Surely the surprises are going to end now. But no. We ended up making it just in time for a boat ride along the mall and watched the ‘Magical Dancing Fountains’ from a small boat.
Our views were completely clear. It was romantic and peaceful as we had the best views and I of course had the best company.
We headed back to the hotel and I was overwhelmed, overjoyed and thrilled to say the least. I had just had the most amazing day of my life. I had absolutely no idea that my husband was going to blow me away with all these surprises and bucket list goals!
TMI Info about to be shared!!!!!
We went back to the hotel and I was extremely sick. I couldn’t sleep due to having severe migraines and pains in my head. This along with S&D, I thought i was going to die. No joke. I had never felt so faint and in agony before in my life. I know it’s TMI (too much information) BUT it’s important. At around 3am, I was almost close to tears and feeling guilty for ruining our perfect day. I was upset that after planning everything to perfection, Ahmed was going to be disappointment that I was so unwell. But he wasn’t. He was more worried about how I was as I even started to cough up blood from being so sick. He then found the nearest pharmacy and got me some tablets. We realised that I had probably had heat stroke due to exhaustion and the heat that I was exposed to.
We decided that the following day we would make sure i stay dehydrated and remain in the shade as much as possible.
Advice & Tip: STAY HYDRATED AT ALL TIMES!!!
Day 2: Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis and Boat ride
I woke up fresh as a daisy, feeling super refreshed and energised even though we had such a horrible night to begin with. Nothing a good shower and breakfast can’t sort out!
We got into a taxi and headed straight to Palm Jumeirah.WOW. The queues were long and there were tonnes of tourists all over the place. Old and young. People from all walks of life, fascinated and amused by the beauty that they were surrounded by. I too had never seen so many different species of the sea life. All different colours, shapes and sizes. It was magical to see! There is a restaurant there where you can have a meal amidst scenery of surpassing loveliness.
After seeing the aquarium, we headed towards a boat ride across Dubai. I had been on many boat rides before, but this one has got to be one of my favourite boat ride experiences ever!! As it was scorching hot, I couldn’t wait for the breeze to hit my face and for the ocean waves to hit me all over.
We were in a boat of around 8 other people. All foreign tourists.
(insert the story about the german speaking of terrorists)
As you can see, the views were incredible. We were lucky as the weather was so clear.
Andddd it is a wrap! This was it. Our very, super quick weekend in Dubai for my 26th Birthday.
After writing this blog-post with the itinerary, I feel inundated with emotions. I actually cannot believe how much organisation and planning Ahmed must have done for this trip to be so perfect. I could never, in a million years have envisaged to have had the most amazing trip with my best friend. I truly feel blessed and grateful to have had the experiences that we did. Truly thankful to Ahmed for being so thoughtful and making my 26th birthday one to remember.
I really don’t think any other birthday’s are going to come close to this one.
This is also where my itchiness for travel began. We had been married for a couple of months and had already explored three countries together. I was desperate to travel more and explore more.
Our next trip abroad was to Saudi when we went for Ummrah. I will be posting that one next, so keep tuned! I am pretty sure you guys will quite enjoy it. It was very personal and emotional to write.
After spending the most gorgeous few days in Thailand for our honeymoon, it was part 2 of the honeymoon. Well for me at least.
I had never been or seen any place like the Middle East. The lavish lifestyle, the brunching trends and the exaggerated bling was all new to me. Prior to meeting my ‘better’ half, I didn’t even know it existed or where it was on the map (yep, this is true). I had very little, if any understanding or knowledge about Qatar or in fact the Middle Eastern culture. In fact, I had absolutely no desire to travel to Dubai or any of the Middle Eastern countries at that point. And O boy how all of this changed.
Moving to Qatar was a challenge. A country so unfamiliar, so alien to my usual surroundings. The foreign language, different culture, unusual clothing and not forgetting the scorching heat was everything that I wasn’t used to. Without my friends and family, I truly thought I was going to drown in my loneliness at times. After spending the first few days setting up my little apartment, I realised I had lots of spare time on my hands. Feeling isolated and alienated I wasn’t sure I would ever fall in love with Qatar; and O boy how all of this changed.
I have realised that as goings get tough, the tough don’t get going straight away, they curl up in bed and contemplate their life, sulk and feel sorry for themselves, and eventually build up the will to get tougher. This and the sudden realisation that I can’t even cook pasta or know how to boil an egg suddenly dawned upon me.
It was overwhelming.
There were so many emotions running through me but I didn’t want to share them with anyone, especially not my family because I didn’t want them to worry about me. I wanted to be the strong and independent person my parents raised me to be. I wanted to enjoy what Qatar had to offer. I wanted to make the most of this time and upon reflecting back was a very precious time at the beginning of the new chapter in my life.
It’s so easy to fall into a vicious void of emptiness, but I was not prepared for that to happen. I kept myself busy by praying, cleaning, ironing and cooking but I needed more. I started to look for jobs, went to the communal gym and caught up with friends via all social media apps… as you do! Thank the Lord for technology, right? Hallelujah!
After Ahmed finished work, we would always go out. Somewhere new, somewhere exotic, somewhere fun (for me anyway). The evenings were always a good laugh and something to look forward to. There was so much to soak in and experience every time we went out. I still remember the warm breeze against my face, my taste buds going crazy over humous, kibbeh and batata harra (mezze from the Lebanese cuisine) as we smoked sheesha in the courtyard of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Or listening to a live orchestra in the gorgeous Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) park, full of people from all around the world.
The weekends brought me the most excitement though. I say ‘weekends’, but it was only the Saturday as my husband worked SIX, YES SIX days a week! Those Saturdays however are going to stay with me forever. I felt that it was everything and more that we needed as newly weds. We hadn’t spent any time together before the wedding, so this was our chance to get to know one another and to spend quality time together.
I soon started work and that was a complete different story altogether. Employment in the Middle East was a real eye opener for me. I soon came to know that the rosey picture that everyone paints of the Middle East is far from reality. That even I was completely unaware of what really goes on behind the scenes. I soon realised the bitter truth that this is a land where there’s a constant battle. A place where only the fittest can survive. A tragic place where when one begins to feel at home, they’re reminded that they’re merely living in a house which in essence was never theirs. Discrimination. Lack of justice. Inequality. Such immoral acts are experienced by many on a daily if not hourly basis. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in places like Doha. The man who served his employers for 30+ years and raised his entire family in Qatar gets informed that he has 28 days to leave the country. His children struggle with their sense of identity and belonging. That is the reality. That is the story for many migrants in places like Qatar, Dubai or others in the Middle East. I guess it is important to be aware and truly acknowledge people’s sacrifices and not get lost in our own little bubble.
Nonetheless, this is also a place where you will meet the most genuine, caring and sincere human beings. People who are selfless and willing to sacrifice a great deal to help others. Pure hearts, with many stories and tales to tell. All nomads, living without a plan. Travellers with an interesting journey. The Pakistani who was raised in Nigeria and later moved to Dubai and now Qatar. The Pakistani who has spent her entire life in Qatar but knows this is not home. The Filipino nurse who has left her kids in the Philippines so her kids can study. People who want to give and give without wanting to receive anything, and that to with a smile on their face.
I will never forget what Qatar has given me. How much I grew as a person and how much I developed spiritually and personally. Qatar wasn’t only pleasing to the eye but gave my soul comfort and solace in it’s own unique way. I loved every moment of living there and cannot wait to share some of my favourites places. The places that I will truly treasure forever and places that I urge you visit if you ever get the chance to visit this gorgeous country.
Places to visit
The Doha Corniche
Everyone will tell you about ‘The Corniche’ when you go to Qatar or talk about Qatar.
The Doha Corniche is a waterfront promenade extending for many kilometers along Doha Bay in the capital city of Doha, Qatar. Perhaps around 15-20 mins from the airport. I’d say majority of the good hotels are around this area too!
This is where the locals hang out for hours on end, spending time with their loved ones. You’ll see people sat there having a picnic, flying a kite, exercising or just watching the world go by. I definitely preferred the latter. I could sit for hours people watching and putting the world to right.
You’d see the ‘Labourers’ at the very top of the corniche, in awe of whats around them. Their tired faces and sun burnt skin. That itself that an experience. Seeing the labourers enjoys the few hours a day that they had free from work. But as you went further down the Corniche, you’d start seeing more family friendly and female friendly places where these working class heroes were not allowed.
Best to visit anytime during the winter months and early evenings in summers (unless it is too humid). Overall a perfect place to spend a couple of hours with a iced coffee or an ice cream in your hand or be it a delicious chicken shawarma wrap.
Souq is an Arabic word which means “market”. Souq Waqif is a place full of restaurants, sheesha lounges, spices, golds, perfumes, animals and explicitly traditional garments. It’s architectural design of traditional Qatari style has been preserved over years ago with mazes and undefined geometric pattern as it characterises. The Souq will take you back in time and it will definitely give you an experience like no other if you haven’t been to a place like it before.
Located across the road from the Doha Corniche, it’s very hard to miss the Souq which is always hustling and bustling with laughter and joy. It tends to get very busy during the evenings as all locals and expats decide to finally leave their houses and enjoy some humid air! One can spend hours wandering the alleyways of the Souq, smoking sheesha, shopping or just enjoying a hot/cold drink as people walk on by and soak it all up.
The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) and Park
MIA is a museum located on one end of the long Corniche in Doha. Once you have aimlessly walked along the Corniche, visited the Souq, it is almost time to visit the gorgeous MIA to watch the most beautiful sunset.
Build in it’s very own unique character, MIA is classy, modern and informative. There are tonnes of facilities inside the 5-storied museum, including temporary and permanent galleries, a gift shop, a library, a cafe, and a restaurant. There are also prayer rooms inside to cater to Muslim visitors.
I remember visiting the MIA park for the very first time when there was an orchestra playing. It was a fun musical evening with musicians from all around the world. MIA is known to have lots of different activities and festivities throughout the year. Be sure to check their website to see what events are taking place when you visit. It gives you a real flavour of the culture and most importantly the diversity that exists in the Country.
The state Mosque Qatar is one of the largest mosques in Qatar and is a stunning mosque to visit. It is located a bit further than the Souq, Corniche and MIA, so I recommend that you either hire a car during your stay in Qatar or take a taxi to these places!
At night it lights up and you’re left totally mesmerised as you can see the rest of Doha lit up! The coloured stained glass windows reflect on the white marble floor, that is how sparkly clean and prestige this place is!
Be Warned: In order to enter the mosque, women MUST be wearing an Abaya. I remember the first time I went and didn’t have an Abaya. An Abaya is essentially a cloak which is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world. The security guard quickly ran inside and advised me that I was not able to enter without an Abaya! Lesson was learnt very quickly and I made sure to carry my Abayah around at all times. But Abayas are provided for visitors at the mosque.
Katara Cultural Village
This place was my FAVOURITE to visit on evenings! I loved walking around Katara for hours and ending the evening with some delicious food. I feel that whoever envisioned Katara had great foresight. The location is perfect for people of all ages and all interests. It is located next to a beach, so lots of sand and sea for those that want to sunbathe and swim. There are also lots of different restaurants with various cuisines. It also has an amazing amphitheater with a grand and opulent structure.
The best thing to do is to visit just before sunset and enjoy that it’s got to offer!
The Pearl-Qatar is an artificial island spanning nearly four million square meters! Just like the name says, it looks like a string of pearls from above. It predominantly consists of lots of modern, expensive and luxurious residents. However, locals and tourists also tend to visit ‘The Pearl’ to get a feel of the marina, the yachts and the boats. I never went on the boats, but I have been told that some of the boats can be hired and taken to the corniche and beyond.
It also has lots of restaurants and cafe’s which are affordable and relaxing. If you like spotting cars then this is the place to be: we saw Ferraris, Lamborghinis and a variety of supercars scattered all over the car parks. We usually used to stay for around 2-3 hours, just to go for long walks, cold drinks and yes, people watching! Ok so we’re getting a bit of a theme. I love to people watch!
I was VERY VERY blessed and lucky that I got to experience dune bashing, sun, sand and sea many times during my stay in Qatar. We had a Jeep which meant that we could easily visit the desert as and when we wished. All it meant was that we needed to take the air out of the tyres before beginning our adventure. Mind you, it is the most tiring day out EVER! You don’t realise, but after hours of driving up and down sand dunes, it can hurt your back and make you sleep like a baby at night.
We also managed to find a specific destination in the desert where we always had the ‘beach’ all to ourselves. YES THAT’S RIGHT. We pinned a specific location where we realised no one ever visited. It meant that we had the entire sea to ourselves. So a dip in the sea followed by a picnic and some soothing music was my version of a ‘perfect moment’.
If you’re just visiting Qatar on holiday, I am certain there are tours that you can book in order to get a similar experience. I am not sure what it consists of, but its worth a quick google or if you want more info, I can ask a friend for you!
Zekreet and Film city
If you want to feel that you just got onto your flying carpet and rolled into the world of Aladdin then here it is. The landscape is so unique and captivating! It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere and you’d definitely not be able to get there without a reliable Sat Nav/ Google maps: although after a few visits you will be a pro at locating it.
Film city can be reached from Doha by following a Doha – Dukhan road (about 90 km) then turn right when you see Zikreet route sign. Again, it is probably best to do this via a tour or hiring a SUV and using your GPS to get around.
We only visited this place once and because we were already aware that there were no Cafes/restaurants in the vicinity of this place, we got some food with us and ate it on the way. I’d advise you to do the same so you’re not starving and dehydrated by the time you get there!
The nearest food places are in Dukhan which is round the corner. You can find a McDonald’s and a small market to cater for most needs.
Villagio Mall, Torch Doha and Aspire Park
The Torch – Doha
If you have some extra time, the places mentioned above are also worth paying a visit. Villagio Mall makes you feel that you’ve magically arrived in Venice or perhaps a copy cat version of Las Vegas’s Bellagio (not that i have ever been there)! But I have heard that the inspiration was from Bellagio in Vegas. The mall has all the high street shops as well as designer clothing. BUT not just that. Villagio has a cinema, indoor theme park, ice skating and some icestone ice cream, NOM! Perfect way to spend a few hours when the heat outside is unbearable!
Villagio was my favourite place to visit for food. The Steak and Chicken Florentine at ‘The Butcher, Shop and Grill’ or ‘Prawn Dynamite’ from PF Chang are a MUST!
So yeah, if it’s scorching hot outside and you are itching you be out and about, Villagio is a great place to hang out and spend time!
HOW PRETTY AND CUTE?! Obviously I am going to be biased. As we lived in Wakrah, Souq Wakra was not very far for us which meant that we visited this little Souq on a very regular basis. At the time this place was fairly/somewhat underdeveloped I’d say as it was a work in progress. This suited me fine because it meant it was less crowded and more intimate for the people who actually went.
Over the months of visiting, you could see it getting busier and busier. More people were becoming aware of it and traveled all across Qatar to visit. It has a variety of cuisines on the beach front, but my favourite drink was the ‘Caramel Crunch’ from Coffee Beanery. My mouth is watering as I type about it. It was the yummiest cold drink I have ever had and I was pretty addicted to it. Even the employers knew my order, I’m sure!
Last but not least, the hospitality in Qatar is exceptional, especially by the Filipino workers who will always be polite and charming no matter where go. Or at least that was my experience. So if you ever visit Qatar, I urge you to always make an effort with the workers who always have a story to tell and most likely have sacrificed a lot to be serving you.
One of the best things about living in the Middle East is definitely the luxury of being able to travel to so many places. While we lived there, we managed to visit Dubai for my surprise birthday weekend and also went for Ummrah over a weekend!
Stay tuned for the next Blogpost about my surprise weekend away to…….DUBAI followed by my Umrah experience!!