Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Years Eve is by far my least favourite night of the year.

I think the last NYE that I genuinely enjoyed was a house party I went to when I was sixteen. Drunk on a £1.99 bottle of Lambrini and loving life, raving to drum and bass in a friend of a friends parents living room with twenty other drunk teenagers when the clock struck midnight. Good times.

Throughout my twenties came a string of disappointing NYE nights in over priced London clubs, followed by the absolute rigmarole of trying to get home, freezing cold in tiny dresses with no coat, and feet contracting all sorts of lurgies from having to take off uncomfortable high heels and walk the streets of London bare foot in search of public transport that would get us as near to home as possible, cursing at the lack of open McDonalds.

Even my first NYE in Doha was a shambles, and I vowed that I would spend every NYE going forward at home, in the warm, in my pyjamas.

That is exactly where you'll find me now, writing this blog post. Curled up on the sofa in my family home, seeing in the new year with my mum, dad, cat, and BBC's coverage of the London NYE fireworks display. Bliss.

After the year we have had, it was really important to me to see in the New Year with my loved ones - those of you who know me or have followed my blog from the beginning will know that 2014 has not been the kindest to us health-wise.

I am so lucky that I got to spend my day with so many of my nearest and dearest. My parents and I met my lovely cousins for lunch at a pub in Old Welwyn, where I finally got to meet my cousin Steph's gorgeous new baby, Oscar. Later on, we went to my brothers house to spend an hour or so with my seven week old nephew, Ryan, before going for (a really terrible) dinner at the pub down the road, just me, my mum and dad.

We saw the New Year in just the three of us and Molly the cat. BBC did an amazing job of covering the London fireworks display!

Along with 2014 bringing our family two happy, healthy babies, this year also brought me my relationship with Matt, and despite being thousands of miles away from him as the clock strikes midnight, I am so happy to be entering 2015 with him in my life.

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a very Happy New Year. May it be full of health and happiness, which is all I wish for for my family, friends and loved ones.


Yesterday, my friend Dani and I had scheduled a London lunch date in the diary for a long overdue catch up.

She recently went travelling for two months to the USA, Australia and Thailand, so I couldn't wait to hear all about her adventures (and about how many giant spiders she saw in Aus, out of terrified curiosity!)

Getting the tube in to central London took me right back to my commuter days when I was working in Waterloo - it was so familiar, like I'd never even been away from it.

When we arrived at Covent Garden, we made a reservation at Bill's before having a quick browse around the shops and surrounding side streets. With the Christmas lights still up, it all felt so festive!

It felt so good to be back in London. Even though I worked in Waterloo for three years, I never made the effort to go and explore my capital city. My weekends were my escape from commuting, so my trains in and out of London during the week were the only real times I would visit. I loved the Southbank, but it made such a nice change to see a different part of London. Covent Garden has such a great buzz to it.

Freezing cold, we ducked in to Bill's to find our reserved table and escape the winter weather outside. Bill's is colourful and vibrant, with flamboyant staff and a hearty menu.

To start, the tzatziki and hummus for Dani, and the mini honey & grain mustard Cumberland sausage for me (still on my pork buzz!)

For mains, we both opted for a warming dish of butternut squash mac 'n' cheese. And it was here, that in standard Holly fashion, my camera ran out of battery. I really need to get my head around this charging lark.

All caught up on life, loves, and plans for our years ahead, we headed back out into the cold and made our way to Knightsbridge to take a walk around Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park.

I was so excited to finally be visiting Winter Wonderland! It seems to epitomise the festive period, and is the perfect Christmas (or post-Christmas!) outing for friends and couples alike.

We took a walk along the Serpentine, and then browsed the many food and drinks chalets in search of mulled wine and chocolate crepes. In the end, we settled for a bag of ridiculously sugary, fresh hot doughnuts and a mulled wine for Dani (I would be drinking later that evening, so I wanted to save my head!)

I had such a lovely day, and came home feeling ridiculously festive. It was so nice catching up with Dani after four months of not seeing her. She's planning to move to Australia for a year in 2015 so I hope that next time I pop back to the UK, we get another chance to squeeze in a meet up before she jets off on her next adventure!

Dani dropped me home, and before long a knock on the door signalled the arrival of my old boss Mossy from ITV (who also moved out to Doha for a spell before moving back to the UK for an exciting job opportunity), and his lovely wife Julia.

We had a great evening catching up over Asti, vodka, and Baileys shots. I wouldn't be where I am today without Mossy so any chance I get to have a catch up with him is always so welcome.

A wonderful second day spent in fabulous company!


Monday, 29 December 2014

On Sunday, I did a half day at work before heading back to my apartment, picking up my suitcase, saying goodbye to my man and hopping in a cab to Hamad International Airport.

A quick snap of the 'Bear of Freedom', and I was ready to board my flight back to England to see in the New Year with my loved ones.

After a long seven hour flight, curling up on the sofa in my family home with my cat, a mug of mulled wine and one of my mums homemade cupcakes was just what the doctor ordered! All of this in a brand new onesie, of course.

Please join in the debate and leave a comment below if you know what animal this might be!

After a lovely long sleep, I woke up this morning excited for the day ahead. I had planned to take my family out to lunch in St Albans, a lovely cathedral city close to where we live, followed by some shopping.

But first, it was time to finally meet my little nephew Ryan!

He is absolutely amazing! I fell in love with him instantly, and spent the best part of an hour cuddled up with him on the sofa.

After a couple of hours catching up with my brother and my sister in law, and getting acquainted with this little monster munch, they headed home and I begrudgingly climbed out of my onesie, had a lovely bubble bath, and donned my winter-wear ready to face the 1 degree weather outside. England is practically Baltic compared to Doha! Never again will I moan about 20 degrees being cold.

I had booked us in for lunch at Bill's, but due to a gas leak in their kitchen we had to find another lunch spot, so we headed over to Jamie's Italian.

Jamie's Worlds Best Olives on Ice for me (genuinely the worlds best, Jamie doesn't lie!), squid for mum, and pork scratchings for dad to start us off.

For mains, the Jamie's burger for dad, the sausage parpadelle for me (making the most of pork products whilst I can!) and the prawn linguine for mum. All washed down with several glasses of red.

I can't even begin to describe how good it feels to be back at home with my family. 

Several hours later, we emerged slightly tipsy (or at least I did!), and hit the shops. I love St Albans, and it had such a nice, festive buzz about it still even though Christmas has been and gone.

Loaded up with shopping bags, we headed home for a quiet night in with a film and Christmas snacks.

I'd given my parents their Christmas presents over lunch, so once we were home it was time for me to open my 'stocking' presents (I'd opened my main presents from my parents on Christmas day in Doha).

I was spoilt absolutely rotten. I won't go in to all of my gifts, but let's just say my family know me very well indeed!

I also had a lovely delivery arrive today. A little Christmas gift from me, to me...

I got a bit excited and used the silk finish brush this morning when I was getting ready, before I'd taken a photo of it, hence it's not looking quite as new as the rest! Safe to say I am in love with these rose gold beauties from Zoeva.

A wonderful first day back in the homeland, and I'm so excited for all of the fun things planned for the remainder of my holiday.


Friday, 26 December 2014

As quickly as Christmas crept up on us all, it was over.

After Matt and I had exchanged gifts on Christmas morning, he went back to his place, and I FaceTimed home before getting ready for brunch.

I genuinely think the Grand Hyatt brunch is the best I've been to - give them an occasion and they go all out for their guests. Christmas Day brunch was no exception.

When we arrived at the hotel, the lobby was completely packed with brunch-goers, glammed up from head to toe in pretty dresses, suits, smart shirts and Christmas jumpers - there was even a fully grown man dressed as an elf.

We collected our tickets and made our way outside to our table.

On the way, I completely forgot that I am 27 years of age. It's Christmas, after all!

The gardens had been laid out with table after table, all sheltered from the 24 degree sunshine by gazebos. The tables had been set up with festive placemats, crackers, and giant Champagne popper bottles (I don't know what they are called, so I'll have to demonstrate with a photo later on in this post!)

Whilst we waited for the rest of our party, Matt and I took a wander round to check out the food stations. Seafood, BBQ food, pastas, pizzas, puddings, and of course a roast turkey, Yorkshire pudding and stuffing station.

Look at that amazing chocolate log - a work of art!

After a good scout around, we picked up a sneaky plate of sushi to tuck into while we waited for the others and made our way back through the winding paths of the Hyatt garden, which had been decorated with faux snow, to our table.

I think we may have had the best view out of everybody at the brunch. Not a bad place to spend Christmas Day eh?

Soon, we were joined by Joao, his parents, and his brother, who we had spent the previous evening with. After their fantastic hospitality, it was nice for them to be able to sit back and enjoy themselves.

It wasn't long before it was time to pull some crackers!

Just in case you wondered, the Christmas cracker jokes are even worse in Doha than they are in the UK!

The rest of the afternoon seemed to fly by in a sea of excessive turkey consumption, cracker pulling, terrible joke telling, and wine drinking. By the end of the brunch, everybody was singing and up dancing to Christmas songs. The Grand Hyatt always has the best party atmosphere!

Time to pop our Champagne popper bottle!

Being the useless blogger that I am, it was at this point that my camera ran out of battery. So typical of me to document the run up to the big day, and forget to charge my camera for the main event!

After brunch, we went up to Dunes bar for one final beverage and a dance, before heading home to FaceTime our families. Matt and I then crowned off Christmas day by watching Elf - my first and only Christmas movie this year!

Christmas in the desert will always be a surreal experience, and will never compete with Christmas at home, but we had a lovely day, and I'm very lucky that I got to spend it with this one.

Instead of spending Boxing Day lounging in my pyjamas, eating leftovers, today was straight back into work. There is so much travel to organise for January, it's going to be one busy month!

I'm up to my usual procrastinating tricks now by writing this blog post - I have a suitcase to pack as I'm heading home to the UK for New Year on Sunday - but clearly I'm trying to put it off!

How did you spend your Christmas? I hope you had a good one, wherever you are and whatever you got up to!


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

It's Chriiiiissssttttmmmmmaaaaaasssssssss! (Say it like Slade, obvs)

I woke up on Christmas eve feeling particularly sorry for myself - on my own in the apartment (Matt went off to work), I had a rotten migraine and ended up flooding my bathroom before breaking a gift from a friend in my attempt to stem the water flow. Not the best start to the day.

I took myself off back to B/Attitude Spa and had my nails painted to match my toes, in An Affair in Red Square from OPI. This got me back in the Christmas spirit! I'm absolutely obsessed with this colour. My photos don't do it justice at all - imagine shiny, red wrapping paper with a hint of subtle sparkle. Yep, my nails look like Christmas wrapping paper.

Hair curled and glad rags on, I met Matt and Toddy outside their apartment and we hopped in a car to The Governor Suites and Residence. Joao, our Portuguese colleague, has his family staying here in Doha over Christmas, and they very kindly invited the three of us to celebrate Christmas with them, Portuguese style.

In Portugal, the main Christmas meal is eaten on the 24th December. We began with starters in the living room - lovely breads, cheese, and pork products! Living in a Muslim country, you can't just nip to the supermarket for chorizo, parma ham, bacon, etc. It is only stocked in the QDC (the alcohol shop), so this was a real treat for us. I forgot how amazing parma ham is!!

The traditional dish is boiled and baked codfish, with boiled potatoes, cabbage and carrots. All coated generously in garlic oil. It was delicious.

The real winner for me though was dessert. An amazing custard concoction, as well as sweet, cinnamon covered milky eggy bread (official name, obviously). Both were AMAZING!

All washed down with copious amounts of red wine. It was a fantastic evening and Joao and his family were wonderful hosts.

I woke up this morning with a very sore head. Matt came round to exchange our gifts to one another by the tree in the living room, as well as for me to open my gifts from my mum and dad, and from my flatmate Jemma.

I am one spoilt little lady!

This post is to wish all of my readers from around the world a very Merry Christmas - thank you for reading and supporting my blog in 2014 - I hope you'll continue to join me and my Arabian adventures in 2015!

I'll leave you with a photo of how cold and snowy my view is. Have a great day, wherever in the world you are! Brrrr....


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Ever since I was old enough to read, I've been a total book worm.

Enid Blyton was my absolute favourite author as a youngster, and I used to love curling up in bed and losing myself in the adventures of the Famous Five and Secret Seven, and wishing I was a teenage detective solving mysteries on secret islands (I still wish that, to be fair!)

My love of reading steered me towards my University degree in English Literature. I was so excited to receive my first reading list, and take myself off to the local Waterstones to purchase all of my course material.

Sadly, reading a book a week and analysing the life out of it in essays and class discussion killed my love of reading somewhat. It took away the pleasure I once had of sitting down at leisure to lose myself in a story. My reading had become a scheduled chore, particularly as so many of the books were so heavy going, or just downright weird (Foxy-T, I'm talking about you).

Since my Uni years, I've rekindled my love of reading, but these days I tend to stick to the chick-lit. My brain still can't handle anything too heavy going! I'm a sucker for a light-hearted, girly beach read. Jackie Collins is the Queen for me, but I enjoy anything by Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, Lauren Weisberger, Jenny Colgan, et al.

I've never read anything by Lindsey Kelk before (she is the author of the 'I Heart' series, which you may have heard of), but I liked the sound of this when I spotted it in Tesco when I was in England over the summer. Tesco always has a great 3 for 2 section that seems to be home to all of the kinds of books I like, so I'm always keen to stock up! Even my mum knows my type of book, and if she spots a book that is 'pink and pretty', she'll pick it up for me, bless her.

What A Girl Wants is the story of Tess Brookes, an advertising exec who is at a real cross roads in her life, both in love and in work. Should she stay in advertising, and be with her long-term crush Charlie who has realised he loves her back, or should she follow an exciting opportunity to Italy - where her new crush, Nick just happens to be - to throw herself into her newfound passion for photography? I won't spoil it for you!

The Daily Express says, 'Kelk has a hilarious turn of phrase and a sparkling writing style', and it's true. This book had me laughing out loud more than once, and I'm now keen to get my hands on the I Heart series!

Tesco, watch out. I'm heading home in less than a week to raid your shelves for some new reading material!

Any chick-lit you would recommend? Or failing that, a slightly deeper read that you think will ease me back into 'serious' books?


Sunday, 21 December 2014

The build up to Christmas isn't quite the same when you are living in the desert and it's 25 degrees outside.

I find myself living vicariously through all of the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland posts that my friends have been putting up on Facebook, and pining after all of the things that symbolise the approach of December 25th - fur hats, big winter coats, wooly scarves and mittens. Mulled wine. Christmas parties. Official Christmas jumper day. Mince pies. I don't even like Mince pies, and yet...I want one.

Despite my festive envy, I have loved seeing how my friends and family have been getting into the Christmas spirit elsewhere in the world.

My lovely flatmate Marion jetted home to Germany earlier in the month, before flying to Canada to take in the sights of snow covered Niagara Falls. This photo is so beautiful and Christmassy! Marion still looks super chic even wrapped up in her winter layers!

In the UK, one of my best friends Megan took to the beaches of Southampton to spread a bit of festive cheer with her family. I can't wait to head down South to visit her, my other best friend Charlie, and Charlie's little girl Evie, in the New Year.

Back at my family home, my mum has been busy sprinkling Christmas magic all around the house. I love her decorations - she even manages to turn a simple fruit bowl into a work of art in the centre of the dining table.

I'm so excited to spend New Years Day gathered around the dining table with my nearest and dearest to celebrate not only a belated Christmas Day, but my wonderful Auntie Jan's birthday, and the start of a brand new year. Mumma C's epic roast dinner, desserts aplenty, cocktails, champers - nobody does Christmas dinner like my mum!

Whilst the Christmas preparations are in full swing around the world, that isn't to say that Doha isn't doing everything in it's power to get into the swing of Christmas too. Far from it. I am both very surprised and very appreciative that my adopted country are so accepting of Christmas.

Most of the hotels have a full festive itinerary beginning on December first. From tree lighting ceremonies, to gingerbread making classes, to festive markets, to Christmas Day brunch on the 25th December - the hotels of Doha are doing their utmost to cater for those expats celebrating Christmas in Doha.

My apartment block is no exception - I came home from work one day to find that the lobby had been decked out with Christmas trees, reindeers, faux presents and snowmen, with Christmas carols playing throughout the communal areas of the building.

The decorations don't just stop in the hotels either. Even a trip to the mall is a festive affair.

Carrefour has morphed into it's very own Santa's grotto.

We had already purchased our Christmas tree last year, but we bought some extra lights from here, and I also slipped a couple of these furry friends into my trolley, as they were far too cute to leave on the shelf...

Despite the weather outside being more delightful than frightful, I too have been trying to get myself into the Christmas spirit. I can't walk past Costa without ordering a salted caramel white chocolate hot chocolate! They literally do the best ever festive beverages, and I'm excited to get back to England to see what different flavours they have compared to Doha.

I even attempted some festive baking in the form of chocolate dipped shortbread, but despite being a winner aesthetically, sadly they didn't taste quite right so no pictures of these!

We put our tree up at the beginning of the month, and now the presents are slowly mounting up underneath.

With a cinnamon spice candle lit, and the tree lights on, our living room looks so cosy in the evenings.

Tonight after work, I popped to B/Attitude Spa at Beverley Hills tower to jazz up my toes in time for Christmas day - OPI An affair in Red Square is the perfect Christmas polish.

(Image courtesy of Google)

I will be spending Christmas day itself at the Grand Hyatt hotel, where the general manager Christoph very kindly squeezed us in. We will be sitting outside on the terrace, getting very merry on bubbles and beer in the sunshine. Myself, the loved one, his flatmate Toddy, our Portuguese colleague Joao, his mum, dad, and brother. A lovely little crowd.

Whilst it certainly won't be the same as Christmas at home with my family, it doesn't sound too bad at all :)

How are you spending your Christmas?