Doha Redux

I always make it a goal to never return to the same country twice, but when work makes you travel (and you make the most of that paid for travel) you get to live in the city of Doha for another 6 month stint. I was last here 4 years ago (see 2015 first impressions here) with time in-between spent finishing out my time in Europe, and moving to a small island in the Pacific (Guam)

I thought the last time I left, that I had left no-stone-unturned, that I had seen everything, but coming back for a second time has allowed me to see this international city in a completely new light. I have a new found appreciation for what the country has come from (literally nothing) to the vision it is building for the future.

While my recap of 48 hours in Doha still holds true as some of the best things to do in this city, the continuous construction project that is Doha means it is ever growing — starting with the 2022 World Cup.  I had the opportunity to take a personal tour of one of the stadiums purpose built but for the occasion, Al Wakrah stadium.

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Al Wakrah is just one of 9 new stadiums being built by Qatar. The whole complex is state of the art with a/c ventilation coming from each of the stadium seats, fresh grass specially designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the country and rows of seats that not only resemble the waves of the Gulf, but are removable. As a part of the bid to win the world cup, Qatar proposed to make the top half of the stadium movable. This portion of the stadium will be donated to less developed countries, furthering the international sport.

If you have read anything about the bid for Qatar to host the world cup, you are intimately familiar with the human rights accusations (violations) that country has been caught up in. In fact, I myself was surprised by all of the ‘other country national’ labor in 2015. Qataris, making only 10% of their own country, could not sustain all the construction – or any service for that matter – without all of their imported labor. There is certainly an obvious hierarchy that is extremely noticeable and unlike any I have experienced in the western world.

Questionable work force aside – I have been pleasantly surprised by the concerted effort in Qatar to make changes to their health and safety standards as a result of all the negative press.  The tour we took of the stadium was lead by ‘the’ health and safety guy who explained that their are now strict rules on not working 1000-1400 (hottest parts of the day) and continuous tracking on construction mishaps. Better, but still Middle Eastern labor rights standards.

90% of the population of Qatar come from 100 different nations. Doha is such an international mix of people that you get a completely different vantage point on the world. Texas Roadhouse sits right next to Papparoti (Malaysian bun bakery) across from Top Shop (British clothing company), juxtaposed to Zawaya (UAE perfume) all bundled up in one massive mall. In those malls, beautiful women clad in all black Hajibs shop for the latest fashion all the while leaving the air with the most wonderful scents. Nepal is a 4 hour $400 flight as is Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India. Arabic is spoken, but so is English, Tagali and French. It is everywhere, but still somehow Arabian at the same time.

Knowing what to expect out of the Gulf states (new money over historical artifacts), I feel like I am seeing Doha for the first time — rediscovering a place I have been before only to find that I have never actually seen it.

Let’s redux this adventure.

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Christmas in Salzburg, New Years in Vienna

No one does Christmas better than Europe. I am not sure if it’s the lack of a thanksgiving that makes Christmas more grandiose or if its old, quant wooden structures and roaring fires that just make everything feel right. Regardless, theres no better place to spend your festive period – and it’s really hard to go wrong on a location.
Nearly every capital city has a fantastic Christmas market where you
can get handmade crafts all the while eating bratwurst and drinking
mulled wine. All European countries do Christmas well, but one region
does it better than anywhere else.
The Habsburgs ruled much of modern day Central Europe including parts of Germany, Hungry, Switzerland and Austria – with expansions reaching as far The Netherlands and Romania. Their cultural mark can be seen in iconic crisscross wooden architecture, schnitzel and most notably in timeless musicians such as Strauss, Mozart, and Beethoven.
So engrained in the culture of modern day Austria, compulsory music
and art courses are taught in both primary and secondary school.
Austria – This is the place to spend your Christmas holiday.
Whether skiing in the Alps is your thing, or you tend to be more into
the arts, there is something for everyone. We spent Christmas in 2016
doing a road trip through Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia. Check out
the packed itinerary at the bottom of the post for our 12 day
schedule.

While I always wish I had more time, we did a few things that you must include in your trip to Austria: Christmas Eve Mozart concert in the Salzburg Fortress, concert at the Vienna state opera and brought in
the New Year at the annual Hofburg Palace Ball, Vienna.
Activities do get booked up quickly, so planning at least 4 months in advance will allow you to choose from all the activities available. Surprisingly getting tickets to Mozart in Salzburg and a performance at the Vienna state opera was relatively easy and didn’t require much booking ahead of time despite the time of year. I was surprised to see tickets being sold outside the Vienna state opera for day of deals, though the seat quality cannot be guaranteed. See below itinerary for links on where to book tickets.
The one activity that did require extensive planning was, not surprisingly, New Years Eve. Our original plan was to watch the philharmonic orchestra or see an opera on New Years Eve leading up to midnight; I was disappointed to find out that tickets for the orchestra go by a raffle system that starts 2 Jan -28 Feb every year (so start planning a year out if this is your goal). Tickets to the opera are significantly less difficult for New Years, but do book early for the classic performance of Die Fledermaus, an Austrian comedy must, performed every New Year’s Eve.
https://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/new-years-concert/the-new-years-concert
https://www.viennaclassic.com/en/oper/state-opera

 

Skip the opera – Go to the Ball
If you really want to go big this New Years, however, take a look at
the Hofburg Silverster Ball. This New Years celebration is held every
year within the walls of the hofburg palace itself and offers a range
of tickets for every pocketbook (though the cheapest starts at $300pp). We opted for the cheaper tickets, but if you splurge on the grand ballroom seats – it is well worth the money spent.

 

OUR ITINERARY: 12 days, 3 countries – and the annual Hofburg Palace SIlverster Ball

Day 1 – Arrival in Vienna, 1 hr drive to Melk
Stay at: Pension Marillenhof
Johann-Steinböckstrasse 2, 3390 Melk, Austria
Day 2: Melk Abbey – Schedule tour through website
http://www.stiftmelk.at/englisch/
*Drive to Salzburg following tour

Day 3/4: Salzburg – Christmas Markets & Mozart concert
Stay at: Has am Moos (a BnB outsidet the main city)
Moosstraße 186a, Leopoldskron-Moos, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
Christmas Markets!
https://www.salzburg.info/en/salzburg/advent/salzburg-christmas-market

Day 3: Christmas Eve
Morning — Self guided walking tour:
http://www.bigboytravel.com/europe/austria/salzburg/freewalkingtour/
Places to visit: Nonnberg Nunnery (where the nuns sing “Maria”),
Mirabell Castle and Mirabell Gardens (the place where Maria and the
children sing “Do-Re-Mi”), and the Felsenreitschule and Festival Halls
(the stage where the Trapps perform during the Salzburg Festival).
http://www.visit-salzburg.net/travel/soundofmusic_locations.htm
LUNCH & CHRISTMAS CONCERT
SALZBURG MOZART ENSEMBLE

24th December 2016 / 1:00pm
Festung Hohensalzburg, Burgsaal, Festungsgasse / Mönchsberg 34, 5020 Salzburg
To get you in the mood for Christmas Eve, a traditional Christmas
Concert takes place in the festively decorated Castle Hall on Salzburg
Fortress on 24th December at 3pm. The well-known Salzburg Mozart
Ensemble will be performing for you.
F. Schubert: Minuetts
W.A. Mozart: Clarinette Quintette
W.A. Mozart: A Little Night Music
https://www.salzburghighlights.at/en/ticket/DinnerAdvent-andChristmasConcerts

Day 4: Christmas Day
Travel from Salzburg to Bled (2hrs 40 min)
Stay at: Carmen guesthouse
Cesta Svobode 37, 4260 Bled, Slovenia
Stop off in Bled for a hike/stretch legs. Ideas for hikes:

Winter Hiking

Winter adventures

Day 5: Ljubljana
Optional (we decided to cut out due to time):
Postojna caves nativity scene + castle (10am)

http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/home/
Onward to Ljubljana (30min)

Alo apartments: Staretova ulica 25, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Evening (5pm): Ljubljana Christmas Spirit Foodie Walk Combined with Boat Ride
Day 6: 1000 – Skocjan caves (50min) then to Vikolínec, Slovakia (8hrs)
Čremošná 8684, Ružomberok, 034 06 Ružomberok, Slovaki
Day 7/8 – Vikolinec Village & search for wooden churches:
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1273
*Note we encountered significant snow and a long drive to get here. I
would recommend adding at least a day or two if you make the trip up
to the mountains; if you are limited on time, skip it all together and
save your energy with just seeing Bratislava
Map of mountain trails: http://www.discoverzakopane.com/tatramap.html
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/622

Hiking


Leštiny, Slovakia http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/site.php?id=1273-004
Stop at Čičmany, Slovakia – Preserved cabins with painting – on way to
Bratislava
http://piestany.danubiushotels.com/

Day 9 – Bratislava
Apartment pressburg – Železničiarska 7, Stare Mesto, 811 04 Bratislava, Slovakia
11 or 1500 – free walking tour
http://www.befreetours.com/

Day 10: Drive to Vienna

Day 11: Opera/concert, Vienna State opera
*Can also buy tickets day of directly from the opera house, but we
opted to buy ahead of time online
Pre-concert cocktails/cigar: Krugers American Bar

Day 12: New Year’s Eve

Morning: free walking tour

Afternoon: Schoenbrunn Palace
https://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/our-tickets-and-prices/all-tickets-prices/#winterpass-plus
New Year’s Eve party: Hofburg Silverster Ball
https://www.hofburgsilvesterball.com/english/

Day 13: Fly home 😦

Oktoberfest – no Ticket needed

oktoberfest

On any Euro trip bucket list is a trip to the famed Oktoberfest. Seasoned veterans of Germany’s fests know that Munich is just one of the many city’s in Germany who throw this annual fest. You can stop into nearly any major town and join the ranks of beer tables, wenches and schnitzel – but none of course are as crazy and famed as Munich.

If you have started to look into going you’ll quickly realize that to actually have a seat at the table and a place to stay, much of your planning needs to have been done at least a year out. Fear not! I have been to Munich’s Oktoberfest twice, with no prior planning and was able to easily get into a tent with having a ticket ahead of time. Here are the tips you need to follow to ensure you do.

GETTING INTO A TENT WITH NO TICKET

To guarantee a seat you do have to have a ticket, which get snapped up early BUT there are open seats which often have some of the better locations — you just have to show up early enough to grab them.

  1. Go early – 1100-1200 when everything first opens
  2. Pick any tent – they are all awesome (maybe pick the tent with your favorite beer as that is what you will be drinking all night)
  3. Avoid going on opening weekend or weekends in general (don’t worry, any day of the week is still a party)
  4. Be prepared to stick it out for a few hours until the party gets warmed up. (We brought cards until the band goes on about 2pm when things start going)

I have been to Oktoberfest twice and both times we were easily able to get into a tent with no ticket. In fact, we ditched the tickets we did have for the better seats we were able to get.

FINDING A PLACE TO STAY

This can also be problematic when hordes of tourists come in over this festive time period. Choosing a non-weekend will help with this one, also try Airbnb or couchsurfing. Expect prices to be higher than normal, but don’t feel the need to stay near the Oktoberfest site. With the great public transportation in Munich, opt for a farther out hotel than is walking distance to the bahnhof and you are golden.

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WHAT TO WEAR

Do drop money on a dirndl and/or lederhosen. Even if Germany is just day 1 of 20 days backpacking Europe, you will find a future use for them, even if its Halloween the next year. I regret not just dropping money to buy them at my first fest; literally everyone is in traditional gear, get one too to fit in as part of the crowd.

A genuine leather, highly quality dirndl and/or lederhosen will run you close to $300, but there are cheaper options you can pick-up in town for closer to $100. Grabbing one in Munich is the easiest option as everyone will selling them. I personally, rented a costume from a party store for $20…not the best costume in the crowd but it was the cheapest option.

Oktoberfest (like any drink fest) is what you make it. You can sing late into the evening, dancing on tables, with a massive hangover the next day, or you can keep it to 1-2 steins and still remember that German you talked to the night before.  The people you go with and meet will make or break the party no matter the tent.

Enjoy Oktoberfest, prost!

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Switzerland itinerary

DSC_0600Where to start in this land of sweeping natural beauty? With limited time and so many ‘must sees’, I relied heavily on top 10 recommendations. But even wading through that was difficult. See below for how we made the most of our 10 days in this stunning country.

Where to start?  Go in the summer and head to the alps

The Alps stretch over much of the country and there are various famous walks, and ski villages (winter is of course another key time to go). Trekking across the Alps is on my bucket list, but without a few weeks to explore it was difficult to pick a region to focus on. Out of all the areas to stay I recommend picking either  Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland. More particularly, you should focus on the Jungfrau Region

Interlocken is a favorite among backpackers, but largely touristy. Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen are the last two towns you can get to by car; the remaining movement must be done via public transport or foot. If you are looking for something more off the beaten track then Murren or Wengen are your go to places. We had a car (cheaper than taking the train, but not necessarily easier) so Lauterbrunnen was our first choice.

Schützenbach Backpackers & Camping  Schützenbach, Lauterbrunnen, 3822, Switzerland

*Cheap, clean and central this large ground is ideal for large groups. Check-in time is  limited so make sure you arrive within their window

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Day 1: Gondola up to Schilthorn, have a rest at Piz Gloria and hike back down

Have your Shaken Not Stirred Martini at the Piz Gloria, home of the 1969 Bond film Her Majesty’s Secret Service then walk it all off on the way down the mountain side. This trip can be done in a day. Recommend making reservations at the restaurant to guarantee placement; you will not regret the views.

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Day 2: Travel up to Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe

This leg for us was the most touristy and way overpriced, but at the same time a must do for anyone claiming to have visited the Swiss Alps.

Day 3+: Complete the classic First – Schynige Platte hike

If you choose any hike in the Bernese Oberland region, this is an absolute must. There are loads of ways to break the 10m hike down to something shorter, but the full walk is something not to be skipped. For all those that are as concerned as I am about reading confusing elevation, hiking maps fear not – all trails are well marked and extremely easy to follow. This region was made for tourists.

Note: Getting a train Travel Pass is absolutely worth it if you will be staying in the region for 3 days or more. It is only eligible for certain times of the year however, so a secondary option is to buy the 50% ticket which discounts your pricy train travel as well.

You could spend weeks in this region of Switzerland and still not get enough. The views are jaw dropping, the air is clear and the people wonderful. If you have time, plan at least a week in this area and do a few more extensive trips – maybe even an overnight in one of the well maintained huts along the alps. You will not regret it. If you are limited on time as I was, then hitting these top 3 will at least get you the experience of the alps.

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After the Alps, head to the Swiss Rivera with a key stop at Gruyere for some of the local delicacy as well as a taste of Switzerland’s national dish: fondue.

Day 4: Gruyere

If you have time I would stay at least 1 night in the town of Gruyere. Home to not only the famous cheese, but a gorgeous medieval town set on the hillside in the middle of sprawling green hills.

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Day 5: Montreux, Chillon Castle and wine

You can stay on many little towns and villages along Lake Geneva. We chose the biggest of the cities, Montreux. Famous for its immaculate promenade, I chose a hotel that had views of the lake, and was within walking distance of Chillon Castle. A must when staying here is to walk the promenade to this ancient castle set on the backdrop of the Alps.

Golf Hotel Rene Capt, Rue Bon Port 33-35, Montreux, 1820, Switzerland

If you can time your trip around July, the famous Montreux Jazz festival fills this Rivera town with life. Though it is not a stranger to famous artists; Queen famously made this town a home where they recorded a majority of their albums along with a number of other famous guest artists including David Bowie.

Swiss wine is less known than chocolate or cheese yet it can compete with its neighboring France and Germany for crisp whites. If you have time, explore the promenade and add a wine excursion to your list of Must Do’s.

Day 6: Geneva and CERN

More international than Swiss, Geneva is home to the UN and boasts CERN – a cutting edge laboratory famous for its discovery of the ‘God particle’. Those physics enthusiasts will want to take a tour of the facility, though book in advance as it fills up quickly.

To round out the trip, circle around the edge  of the country ending up in the gorgeous town of Lucerne

St. Mortiz

Home of the best skiing/winter sports in the world, it is just as gorgeous in the summer months. Being in the Southern part of the country and close to Italy, I had to cut this city out though winter sports enthusiasts might not make the same call. I would say if you are short on time and looking for an Alpine adventure, Jungfrau is the most central location to base the remaining part of your trip

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Zurich vs. St. Gallen

We stayed in Zurich and hit the Lindt chocolate outlet along with a few guild festivals. Unless you are in love with cities, I would skip Zurich and stay instead in the ancient town of St. Gallen. Close to the German/Lichtenstein border the ancient town is significantly less expensive and is steeped in history. From there you can bounce to Rhine Falls , the largest waterfall in Europe. Though anyone who has marveled at the likes of Niagara or Victoria falls might want to skip this modest show of nature.

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Lucerne

If you make it to the Bernese Oberland, Lucerene is an easy addition to your trip. Boasting a series of cable car musts it is also another ancient city steeped in history. Take the paddle boat ride through the lake, explore the nine towers of Lucerne, and learn about how the order of the guild used to run the country (and in some cases still does).

 

No matter where you choose to go in this gorgeous country you cannot go wrong. Put on your hiking boots, bring your cash and breath the fresh Alpine air!

 

 

The Liebster Award

I am fairly new to blogging; I mostly do it to document my experiences, lest I forget them! However, a very kind fellow blogger travelonamission nominated me for the ‘Liebster award’.

The concept is a bit of a blogging chain to raise awareness on fellow bloggers and encourage them to do the same. With this you are tasked to answer questions as chosen by your nominee. Mine are:

Do you have a camera? What type?

A Nikon D5100 is my poison of choice. For years I resisted getting a camera because I felt taking pictures took you out of just simply enjoying the moment. While I still think this is true, I regrettably do not have many photos from my earlier years of traveling for this reason. I finally broke down and purchased a fancy camera after moving to Europe in 2012.

Which function of the camera would you like to master?

I took a photography class when I first purchased my DSLR camera to try and master shutter speed, aperture and so forth. It gave me a good foundation for photography, but I have yet to master taking night photos, especially those of the evening sky. We went to Iceland to see the north lights about a year ago; my novice shooting skills   did little to capture the beauty in the evening sky.

How often do you cook at home?

Does wine and olives count as cooking? Fortunately, I am spoiled with a husband who cooks which saves me from eating wine for dinner every evening, but to answer the question, I only cook when I am hosting guests – so a few times a year :).

Which food/dish did you taste and know you will never put in your mouth again?

Oh this ones easy – silk warms. One of the first weekends in Korea I went to grab a beer at a local pub/bar. As is typical in Europe, Koreans will typically provide a little bar snack with your drink. Well, instead of nuts, Koreans give kimchi or boiled silk warms. Yum. Not to let an experience pass me by – I promptly ate one of those suckers (with metal chopsticks might I add) and immediately regretted it. If your curious, they boiled the silk warms in a spicy red sauce so they have a bit of a kick to them, but that combined with a bitter crunchy sensation left me wondering how people snack on these recreationally whilst sipping their beer.

Which do you prefer: steak of your choice or a piling of something sweet?

Steak. Medium rare. With a strong red wine.

When was the last time you cooked something you never cooked before?

Wednesday actually. I cooked gumbo for an office Mardi Gras party 🙂

When was the last time you got lost?

MMMmm…name a trip. IF you don’t get a little lost, you’re not having an adventure.

Which is more beautiful, midnight sun or the northern lights?

I cannot say that I have seen midnight sun, so I will go with an everyday sunset.

Which place have you visited that you liked the best?

You know when I get this question, it is very difficult for me to answer. I usually say every place is interesting and wonderful for different reasons, but if I had to pick the best combination of interesting, and wonderful it would be my trip to Southeast Asia I took in 2008. I spent the most of my time in Loa PDR, but that whole region of the world is simply stunning. Emerging as the #1 backpacker traveling location, it is easy to see why this place has such a draw. Full of natural beauty, kind people and inexpensive, amazing food it is worth the visit.

Which place would you visit if you had unlimited time/money?

Well, if I had unlimited time and money I would probably do a number of things, but as far as travel goes, I would go to the amazon, spend time with the indigenous people there and set out to discover at least one new species before ending the adventure.

And the nominees are:

One glass at a time

My Kings Court

Booze for Babes

Pursuit of Life

Fly like a Bee

Questions for the nominees:

  1. What is your most memorable experience?
  2. Why do you blog?
  3. Top 10 experiences/places traveled?
  4. City vs. Country. Go.
  5. Life goal.

Reminder: The Liebster Award Rules

  • Thank and link the person who nominated you.
  • Answer the questions given by the nominator.
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers, who have less than 100 followers and link them.(I broke a few rules here)
  • Create 11 new questions for the nominees to answer. ( I cut it to 5)
  • Notify all nominees via social media/blogs.