Sunday, 19 April 2015

On Thursday morning, I received the news from home that we all knew had been coming - the news that my wonderful Auntie Jan had passed away that morning after a very short battle with pancreatic cancer. It all happened so quickly - we were all sitting round the dining room table together on January 1st, seeing in the New Year and clinking glasses to a wonderful year ahead after how hard 2014 had been for our family. She wasn't feeling well, but none of us expected what was to come. In just four short months her health deteriorated rapidly, and all I can say is thank God I went home to see her in March.

It hasn't really sunk in yet, I don't think. I can't help but feel detached. Deeply, deeply sad but in a way so far removed from the reality of what has happened.

Maybe for now I've run out of tears, after so many nights of crying myself to sleep at how unfair it was that this terrible thing was happening to my wonderful Auntie Jan, with her doctors and loved ones completely powerless to do a thing about it, other than pray.

It is astounding how many people are affected by cancer in its many forms. It seems like everybody knows somebody who has, or has had, cancer.

If you've been reading my blog for a while you will know that early last year my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, which completely rocked our lives. He had a successful operation to remove his lung and the cancer, and I am thankful every single day that I still have my dad in my life, and that he is healthy and well.

It is a ruthless monster of a disease, a disease that doesn't discriminate about age, gender or the lifestyle a person leads.

I just hope one day in the very near future a cure can be found.


Saturday, 18 April 2015

On Friday morning, I packed my smallest suitcase, rounded up my Mr and hopped in a cab.
Destination? The Four Seasons hotel, Doha.

We were greeted at the check-in desk with a warm welcome from staff full of smiles, who promptly took care of the paperwork before advising that our room - which we didn't expect to be ready (we had arrived three hours earlier than the check-in time as we were heading to the Four Seasons brunch)  - was all set for our arrival. 

We had been upgraded to an Ambassador Suite, situated on the 9th floor of the hotel, with stunning views of the pool, beach and the ocean.

The room was gorgeous, with so much space for just the two of us. With a powder room on the right and mini bar facilities on the left, the room opens up onto a spacious lounge/dining area, with a balcony from which I took the above photos of the beautiful view.
Through double doors to the right of the room, you enter the bedroom.
The bed was like sinking into a soft cloud - it was ridiculously comfortable! 

Through further sliding double doors to the right of the bedroom, was my favourite part of the suite - the bathroom.
Having lived in an apartment with only a shower for the past year and a half, there is no sight more welcoming than that of deep soaking bath tub!

Brief room tour complete, it was time to head downstairs to brunch, but not before Matt had finished taking in the view.

We were led to our table outside on the Nusantao terrace, and the first of many glasses of bubbles were poured.
As is my brunch ritual, sushi and seafood to start!
There is so much choice at the Four Seasons brunch, from seafood and sushi, to mixed grills, to roast dinners, to curries, to noodles, to fresh pasta and delicious light salads. Chef Marco Arlotti came round with parmesan risotto for all of the guests to try, and having tried this at the BloggingME event back in February, I wasn't about to pass it up!

I only managed one picture of the food, but I also enjoyed fresh gnocchi (of course!), mixed grill, and not one but two plates of dessert (including Nutella cheesecake, a Nutella crepe, and the most amazing chocolate and mandarin mousse which I urge any Four Seasons brunch goer to try!)

Feeling merry and full, we finished up at brunch and headed back to our suite to get ready for an afternoon in the sun. A colleague and his lovely family were at the beach too (also having a staycation!) so we said hi to them all, swam a little in the sea, before settling down on a sun bed to catch the last of the sunshine.

Back at the room, we noticed a fruit platter had been laid out for us.
I tucked in to the grapes, and ran myself a lovely long bath, whilst Matt hopped into bed for a nap after a very busy day of eating, drinking and sunbathing - it's a hard life but someone's gotta do it!

My bath was amazing (I'd bought a lush bath bomb with me for the occasion), and I slipped into my Four Seasons robe afterwards, feeling utterly relaxed.

We watched a couple of episodes of 24 (the DVD goes everywhere with us!) before perusing the extensive room service menu and ordering some dinner - smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel for me, and pizza for the Mr.

Outside, children were still playing in the pool and there was a lot of atmospheric sounds coming from the newly opened Nobu restaurant that sits at the end of the pier - this may just have to be our next dinner date location.

Happily full, we settled down for the night.

After a long sleep in the amazingly comfortable bed, we begrudgingly dragged ourselves out of it to head down to breakfast at Nusantao.

They have a great breakfast selection, pretty much every breakfast food you can think of (with the exception of pork products of course), but I opted for fresh fruit, a croissant with jam, and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, all of which were delicious.

We spent our morning down by the pool, tucked away in the beautiful gardens, until it was time to head back upstairs to our suite, pack, and check out.

We had such a lovely stay at this incredibly opulent hotel. After a year of the football pundits I work with raving about the Four Seasons, it is now so easy for me to see for myself why they rate it so much - professional, friendly, and highly attentive staff, beautiful rooms, gorgeous grounds and facilities - I for one can't wait to stay here again.

* I won this one night stay at FS Doha during the BloggingME event so the room night & breakfast were complimentary, but the brunch and room service we paid for ourselves, and couldn't be happier with the service received throughout the duration of our stay. A big thank you to Sarah Derrig and Kirsty Rice for running the competition, and to Mia at the Four Seasons for so kindly putting all of the arrangements in place for our stay :)


Monday, 13 April 2015

It would be crazy of me to write about anything other than 'blogging' as the topic for the second instalment of my 'Alphablog' series. 'A is for Anxiety' was the first in this series of posts in which I write about a topic relative to my life for every letter of the alphabet.

I have been blogging for years, and The Blonde is by no means my first blog, only the first blog that I have really put my everything into! Extremely cliche, I know, but it really is my space on the Internet to write about whatever I want to write about, and I couldn't be more pleased with how far I have come with it.

I started The Blonde on Sunday 21st July, 2013, twelve days before I boarded a plane to begin a new chapter of my life in Doha, Qatar. As I explain in my very first post, I started this blog so that my family and friends could keep up to date with my adventures in the desert. Almost two years on, it has certainly been serving its purpose, and it gives me the biggest rush of pride and happiness when my family and friends tell me that they love reading my blog. Their continual support for me and my blog has been amazing.

Particularly in the past year, since I began sharing my blog outside of the comfort of my family and friends and promoting my blog on social media,  my readership has expanded to so many countries around the world. It is an amazing feeling to receive an email from somebody I have never met, from a country I have never visited (and even countries that I have!) saying that they read and enjoy my blog.

Going back to that very first post that I wrote, I also said that I wanted to document my life here in Doha so that anyone looking to move to the Middle East could read about what life is like here from the perspective of somebody who has made the move themselves. I have received so many lovely emails from people who are looking to move to Doha and have stumbled across my blog, and said that it has helped them to really get a feel for the country or put them at ease about their move. It really makes my day to hear that!

When I was first offered my job out here, I tried looking online and only found one or two Doha blogs, which I know helped to reassure me enormously, and it was great to see snippets of the country that I would soon be calling 'home'. Now, there are so many great Doha blogs written by lovely expat bloggers - many of whom I have now had the pleasure to meet! - that give such a good insight into life here in this tiny Middle Eastern city, and I feel so happy to be a part of this ever growing expat blogging community.

Not only do I feel a sense of pride in how my blog is received by other people, but I feel a sense of pride for myself, for the time, energy and money that I have invested to bring my hobby to life. And it really is a hobby. For some, their blog is their job, and that is amazing. What a dream for your hobby to become your source of income. For me, I maintain and write my blog on top of a full time job which is demanding both inside and outside of the office, a second blog, as well as a relationship that means the world to me, family and friends across the globe that I want to always be in touch with, and a social life here in Doha with my friends....sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day for everything, and very often it is my blogging hobby that falls by the wayside. But that's okay.

(This is where most of my blogging takes place - love these beautiful sheets from Kylie Minogue's bedding range! My canvas says 'When I fall in love / It will be forever', because I'm a hopeless romantic!)

Whilst I try my best to, I don't put pressure on myself to post regularly - the most regular I aim for is my weekly Doha Diaries posts, and anyone who follows my blog will know that they are never on time!! Some people thrive on working to a blogging schedule (I salute you and your epic organisation!) but that just wouldn't work for me at all, so I blog when it is the right time for me to blog, and don't beat myself up if I just can't find the time to put fingers to keyboard.

Similarly, I don't put pressure on myself to carve out a genre for my blog. I call it a 'lifestyle' blog, because it incorporates all elements of my life, from the way I spend my days, to the books I read, to the friendships I have, the date nights I go on,  to the makeup I wear, to my travels, to the food I eat (lots of that!) I write about whatever I want to write about, because at the end of the day, it is my blog, and I and I alone control its content. I have had people try to dictate to me about my blog in the past, only to be met with the very firm resolution that I will not change my style of writing for anybody. There are hundreds of thousands of bloggers in the world, and room for each and every one of them. I won't be the first Doha blogger to write about my experience with a hotel/spa/restaurant in this tiny city, and I certainly won't be the last - but that won't stop me writing about it, and why should it? The same goes across all genres of blogging. My favourite beauty bloggers are always writing about the same products, or the same PR event, and it doesn't make their blog any less of their own work - I for one enjoy reading more than one opinion about something.

I am very protective over my blog due to all of the hard work that I put in to it, as any blogger will understand, and as would anybody who has ever invested a lot of themselves into something. Inevitably, putting content out on to the Internet for the world to see is going to lead people to form opinions, positively or negatively, and that's more than okay. It's life. I take the constructive criticism on board, and embrace the positive feedback, but dismiss anything destructive. As with all elements of my life, I don't want or need negativity through my blog.

Blogging for me, is a very positive thing, and by and large only good things come out of it. Blogging is my escape - it is a chance to unwind, switch off, learn about new people, discover new places in the world, and read about the latest beauty products, usually curled up in bed with a cup of tea in hand. Blogs are informative, interesting and inspiring - Matt and I are planning a trip to the Maldives this year, and right now one of my favourite bloggers Rose (aka The Londoner) is teasing her readers with post after post (after post, after post!) about her holiday at one particular Maldives resort - now I have a little insight into what to look for in a resort, all thanks to a blog I love reading. No tedious trawling through Trip Advisor for me!

I am completely addicted to beauty blogs (Buy Now, Blog Later being the absolute Bible.)
I think the days of celebrity endorsements being the key to product sales are long gone, and beauty bloggers are the new experts. I touched upon this in my Marketing dissertation for my Masters (way back in 2010, can't believe it was that long ago!) and it's amazing to see just how influential bloggers have become. I have rushed out to purchase products completely off the back of reviews I have read on blogs (Oribe dry texturising spray, I am looking at you), and I'm nowhere near alone in this. It is no wonder that bloggers are able to generate an income from their blogs, with some companies paying thousands upon thousands of pounds for a product mention/review/video from a high profile blogger.

I am a small fish in a big pond, but my blogging journey so far has certainly not been without it's fair share of opportunities. I have been invited to some brilliant events, been gifted some amazing products, and dined at some lovely restaurants, all off the back of my little space on the Internet. Of course that is a great feeling - but it isn't what blogging is all about, not by a long shot, at least for me.

For me, my blog is successful because it is something I've built from scratch, and something that brings me happiness and pride. It is successful every time my mum texts me to tell me she loved my most recent post, or when my dad mails me to say he's enjoyed a post but spotted a spelling mistake (he wants it to be the best that it can be, too!) It is successful when I receive an email from someone I've never met telling me they enjoy reading my blog, or that they are looking forward to their upcoming move to Doha because it looks like quite a fun place to live. It is successful because I have the continual support of my family, friends, and my boyfriend - despite the fact that to this day he still doesn't 'get' blogging ("Why do you want to read about what someone you don't know gets up to in a day?!") - and that drives me to continue with my little hobby called blogging :)


Sunday, 12 April 2015

I have realised, after weeks of berating myself for not publishing my Doha Diaries post on a Saturday night at the end of the week, that it actually makes way more sense for me to post this on a Sunday so that I can actually include the whole of Saturdays activities in the Sundays it shall be going forward! Which I am pleased to report actually makes this post on time for this week ;)

My week started in the way that all weeks should start (work aside), with dinner at Hakkasan.
I thought I was late, so made a mad dash over in my flip flops (stopping to change into my heels on the approach!), but when I arrived I couldn't spot the girls at the bar. I turned to head back to the reception desk when I heard somebody call 'Holly!' - I turned and spotted Michael waving from the bar. Marion and Amelie were running late, so Michael and I (unintentionally) ordered the pinkest drinks at the bar. Yes, that is Michael's on the left! ;)

On a Saturday night, 6pm - 7pm is Happy Hour at Hakkasan, where those with a dining reservation can have a free cocktail at the bar. The girls arrived a little after 7pm and the barmen very kindly still served them a complimentary cocktail, before we headed over to our table.

One thing I love about Hakkasan is the interior - wherever you sit in the restaurant, you always feel like you are dining in a tiny, intimate setting - perfect for a date!

We perused the menu, before Marion (aka 'The Boss')ordered a selection of starters and main courses for us to share.
The Boss chose well!

Crispy duck salad (amazing)...

The vegetarian dim sum platter...

Grilled Shanghai dumplings...

The starters were great, and it was so nice trying new items from the menu. I am one of those people who sticks with what I know, so when I come with Matt we usually order the duck spring rolls (his favourite) or the salt and pepper squid (my favourite). The crispy duck salad has got to be one of my new favourites, it was so good.

For the main courses, The Boss ordered the spicy prawn curry (Delicious!)...

The sweet and sour chicken with pomegranate...

Accompanied by a side of seasonal vegetables...which just so happened to be my very favourites!

Michael was a great sport, keeping up with our very girly chats and inside jokes about coral dresses, bling shoes and laundry! It was a great evening with some brilliant people. All we were missing was Jemma, who unfortunately had to work late...but a great excuse to go back :)

After a very action packed few days from Thursday through til Sunday, Monday and Tuesday after work were my 'getting things done' evenings, ahead of two much needed back to back days off.

Matt and I spent Wednesday morning down by the pool, and then when he headed off to work, I jumped in a car to the Grand Hyatt for a one hour aromassage* at Jaula Spa & Club.

Of the spas that I have tried in Doha, the Jaula Spa at the Grand Hyatt hotel still remains my favourite (my first massage there was the best massage I have ever had in my life!) I love the relaxation area, where I curled up with a book after a slight panic that I would be late for the appointment after getting stuck in traffic for half an hour! Finally, it was time to unwind after a long few six day weeks.

After my extremely blissful massage, I came out feeling pampered from head to toe and utterly relaxed (until I checked my phone and saw missed work calls..back to reality!) I curled back up on my lounger, sipped mint tea and ate Arabic dates whilst waiting for my car to pick me up, and was back in Zen mode before I knew it.

That night, I played tennis with both Marion and Jemma which was so much fun! We played two against one for a little while, and then alternated playing one against one whilst the third had a rest!

Thursday was a St Regis pool morning, after which Matt and I took a trip to the Pearl to cure our Elevation Burger craving. It was the perfect day to be sitting outside in the shade.

Unfortunately neither of us really rated our burgers...which was a huge disappointment especially after I so boldly claimed that these were the best burgers in town! 

We took a walk around the marina with our sights firmly set on getting ice cream from Marble Slab (genuinely, the best ice cream in Doha), stopping en route to check out some cool fish...

A random fact about me...growing up I really wanted to be a marine biologist because I love fish, despite the fact I am deeply scared of being in the sea! Not really any wonder that career didn't pan out...
Finally we made it to Marble Slab, picked our ice creams and our toppings, and settled down on a bench overlooking the beautiful marina.

On Friday after work Matt and I headed over to the City Centre mall for a quick Pizza Express before an evening in watching 24...we are finally on the last series! Amazing to think that we started watching season one way back in July. Jack Bauer is still going strong!

Back in March, Rosie from Punchline Media in Bahrain got in touch with me and very kindly invited me to check out a new monthly comedy night that was coming to Doha, called the Chuckle Club. I had missed out on their first show as I was back in the UK, but she kindly invited me and and a plus one to the show on Saturday night at the Doha Mariott. I took my man, and we hopped in a cab to the Mariott all set for a laughter filled evening.

There was an area set up for drinks and snacks, and people made the most of the Happy Hour before the show started. I eyed up the popcorn, but exercised a bit of willpower instead.

As with any multi-act comedy show, you never know what you are going to get, and the comedy may not be to the taste of everyone (which at 130QR per ticket could be deemed a bit of a gamble) - I laughed out loud in parts, chuckled quietly in others, and felt silently awkward at some of the jokes I didn't find funny and/or didn't get...despite raucous laughter from others in the room. Perhaps I am the unfunny one?!

This months comedy trio were Yianni Agisilaou, Chris Garcia, and Carl Hutchinson. If you are a Doha dweller, you can follow the latest news of the return of the Chuckle Club over on their Facebook page

I still maintain that my boyfriend is the funniest person I know, and makes me cry with laughter on an almost daily basis. It's like a private comedy show every day of the week in our relationship!

Unfortunately my week ended on a very unhappy note following further sad news from home regarding the health of my wonderful Aunt. I wish I could be at home right now to be with my family, rather than thousands of miles away in Doha. Such a busy week has been a brilliant distraction from everything. I say this a lot, but life is so precious.

As always, I hope you have had a great week, wherever in the world you are reading from.


Wednesday, 8 April 2015


Just inside the front and back covers of my copy of Elizabeth is Missing, are countless snippets of reviews from the critics about this debut novel from Emma Healey, who is just two years older than me with this Sunday Times bestseller under her belt. The above, from the Observer, is my favourite from the critics as it entirely sums this book up.

The main protagonist, Maud, suffers from dementia - she can't remember what things are called, where she is, why she is where she is, and who people are, and the subject of just how disabling dementia as an illness is, is really brought to the readers awareness in this book. It feels very real, and you can't help but be charmed by Maud as she has absolutely no awareness of the effects of her behaviour as a result of her mental illness.

Maud is adamant that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She carries little bits of paper everywhere with her to jot down notes to help her remember things, and her notes are telling her that Elizabeth is missing - she tries to enlist help to find Elizabeth from whoever will listen, only everybody dismisses her claims as nothing more than incoherent ramblings.

The story flashes back to Maud's childhood, growing up after the second World War. Her seemingly incoherent ramblings are intertwined with an unsolved mystery from her youth, and the mystery only really unravels right at the very end of the book, keeping you gripped until the final pages.

I loved this book - it was so well written, with a very unique protagonist. I have wanted to write a novel ever since I was little (my parents will vouch for the fact that I had about a hundred 'chapter one' Word documents saved on our computer as a kid...I never seemed to quite make it to chapter two!) so the fact that Emma Healey has had so much success at just a few years older than me is so inspiring, and makes me want to put fingers to keyboard again.

I would highly recommend Elizabeth is Missing to any age group, from young adult and upwards. It's a great read.