DOHA DIARIES: MY WEEK IN PICTURES #8

Saturday, 29 November 2014

This week started out much like any other - a day in the office followed by an evening at home in my pyjamas, painting my nails and having a good old bit of 'Me Time'. 

Sunday evenings generally tend to be my pamper night, and it's a night of the week I very much look forward to!

After work on Monday, Matt and I went for a mooch around Landmark mall. He was after football boots, and I was after whatever I could get my hands on in a city where decent shops are few and far between. 

Needless to say, we both came away empty handed, but with very full tummies.

Matt and I are a bit obsessed with Elevation Burger at the Pearl. If you aren't into fast food, then it probably isn't for you, but if you love a good burger then Elevation Burger is the One. 

We had heard good things about Shake Shack burgers and decided to pop in for a bite to see how it compared to our favourite burger joint. 

I went for cheese on everything...


Filthy, right?

I had the double cheeseburger and cheese fries (piggy). The burger was almost as good as Elevation burger but there was something missing, and the menu lacked variety. At Elevation burger, you can pick your base and then pick your toppings, as many as you want, but Shake Shack doesn't have this option to customise. The fries were okay, but not as good as EB, even with the cheese sauce. Plus, Shake Shack is about double the price.

All in all, a fairly disappointing mall run!

I had the day off on Tuesday. I got up early for my Pilates class, and met Jem in the afternoon to go to the Gate Mall for lunch at Jones the Grocers. This was my first time, but I'd heard such good things so I was excited to see what it was all about.

Unfortunately I think I ordered the wrong choice, the Harissa spiced chicken with cous cous, in a bid to be healthy after my dirty Shake Shack burger. I thought the chicken tasted a bit rubbery, but maybe that was just me, as Jem ordered the same and enjoyed hers.

We looked up and spotted our friend Ade in the queue, and he came and joined us. I eyed up his Wagyu beef burger with envy!


We wandered over to Angelina after lunch as I had a craving for hot chocolate, and I'd read that their hot chocolate is to die for.


I'd heard right. It was like drinking molten chocolate bars - thick creamy chocolate melted down into a delicious cup of heaven. About £8 worth of heaven, so not a habit I particularly want to get into! Jemma ordered a £10 cake (!) and Ade spent about a months salary on chocolates to serve at an upcoming dinner party. An expensive trip for hot chocolate!

On Wednesday after work, Jemma and I hopped in a cab to Beverley Hills tower, to attend their Movember spa event at the b/attitude Spa.

We were greeted by friendly staff wearing moustaches, and were invited to have our pictures taken with fun props. Jemma and I got wiggy with it.


The spa had gone all out, laying on a buffet, canap├ęs, drinks, and treating all guests to complimentary mini back/neck/head/shoulder and hand massages throughout the evening, whilst relaxing on loungers by the pool. I don't know how much the night raised for Movember but I hope a lot as this was a fabulous night.



I think if I lived in the city, I'd want to live in Beverley Hills tower. The spa is great, and so much cheaper than any of the spas at the 5* hotels.

On Thursday I had the day off, so I donned my Little Bo Peep sun hat and met Matt for an afternoon of relaxation at the St Regis pool.


In the afternoon I caught up with home on FaceTime. My mum was preparing for a fete where she was making over 150 cupcakes to sell so she was very busy (her cupcakes are amazing), but I got to catch up with my favourite furry friend instead. I think I bored Molly to sleep with my tales of Doha. 
I miss this cat so much!


That night, Matt took me for dinner at Hakkasan.

We got dressed up, and wandered over to the world famous Asian fusion restaurant on our doorstep.


We ordered everything to share - salt and pepper squid and crispy duck rolls to start, beef in black pepper sauce and sweet and sour chicken for mains, with edamame egg fried rice.

It was lovely, and made a nice change to go to Hakkasan after not having been for a while. I still find it over priced for what it is, but it's a real special occasion restaurant and I love the ambience and the atmosphere. 

Next week it's my turn to pick a restaurant and take Matt out, so I have to have a think about where is best to go. Any Doha dwellers who can recommend a lovely restaurant - suggestions welcome!

By Thursday I had manifested a cold, so by Friday I was feeling particularly unwell. Come the evening, I hadn't eaten anything all day as I had felt so sick, so I cooked spaghetti bolognese for Matt, and he made garlic bread with cheese. We had our Italian feast before heading to his for a few episodes of 24. I'm so addicted to that show!


Which brings us to today, Saturday, the end of the week.

I spent today at work, and then came home and had dinner before sitting in the lounge catching up with Jemma, Marion and her friend Michael, who was dropping her to the airport. She is very lucky to be flying home to Germany tonight and then spending the month in America for Christmas! Not envious at all, whilst we are stuck here in the Doha bubble. Due to clashing schedules and busy work weeks, we've barely all had a chance to sit down together since Harriet's birthday brunch last week so it was lovely to have a catch up before her flight.

Now iv crawled into bed and will probably cap off my week by speaking to home, as I'm really missing my family at the moment, before a Lemsip and bed to sleep off this cold.

How was your week?

REVIEW: THE FORTRESS HOTEL

Monday, 24 November 2014

As you can tell from my posts since coming back from Sri Lanka, I had an amazing holiday.

This was in part due to being away with the loved one, but was also largely due to our choice of hotel.

We had originally toyed with travelling down the coast and staying in a couple of hotels, however in the end we took a punt on The Fortress hotel, as it not only looked gorgeous from the website but also because it came with rave reviews on Trip Advisor.

ARRIVAL
We arrived at the Fortress at around midday, after a long drive from Colombo. 

We pulled up at the huge gates, and the valet immediately came over to help us into the hotel with our bags, before parking the car for us. We were led to a seating area in reception by warm, smiling staff, and yet more smiling staff brought us cups of deliciously refreshing mocktails with a hint of ginger, called the 'Fortress Secret' cocktail. We were also brought beautifully fragrant cold flannels, which were so welcome after the flight and the drive. 

Freshened up, our documents were processed for check in, and we sat and read our books until our room was ready.

One thing I liked about the hotel was that everything was open. As you can see from the below picture, once you are through the front gates of The Fortress, everything is open plan. The reception area can be seen in the centre of the photo, and the seating areas look out over the infinity pool and ocean. It certainly makes for a beautiful view upon arrival.


THE ROOM
We were led up to our room by a lovely member of the reception team. 

When she opened the door, we were met with the most amazing warm, spiced fruit scent. I later discovered that after the rooms have been cleaned, a candle is lit in the bathroom under an oil burner, hidden below the sink, creating the most wonderful aroma. Iv never been in a hotel room that smells as good as ours did.

The room was beautiful, and kitted out with a DVD player and Bose sound system, which we were shown how to use (Matt was on DVD duty, I just nodded along politely!)

The bed was enormous and decorated simply with a flower. Everyday after breakfast, we would come back to an array of beautiful petals laid out on the bed artistically in hearts, or flower patterns.





I have to add, this was the comfiest bed I have ever slept in, in my entire life.

Through a doorless archway, the bedroom opens out into an enormous bathroom. The biggest shower I have ever seen dominated the right hand wall, and the left wall was lined with his and hers sinks, and a huge free standing bath tub.



Every day, we were given fresh towels (and I'm talking proper, full size bath towels. Iv stayed at hotels with pathetic tiny towels before, but these were the real deal!), and stocked up with Pecksniff's products.


What I will say about the bathroom, was that you have absolutely no privacy whatsoever. If you and you're bed neighbour aren't entirely comfortable with each other, I'm not sure this is the hotel for you. 
Everything is open plan, there is no door separating the bedroom from the bathroom, and the toilet is only cornered off by a glass door. Not one for the shy folk!


The only real negative to the room was the view. We stayed in a Fortress Room, which the website states has a 'garden view'. Don't be fooled into thinking from the website photos that your garden view might be this:


No, no, no. In actual fact, it is this:


A wall. With a tree.

But it really didn't matter at all. It gave me and my mum a bit of a laugh when I Facetimed her to show her my 'magnificent view', and it had absolutely no negative impact on our holiday whatsoever.

If your budget allows it, I would recommend the Ocean View rooms, or the Beach rooms, both of which face out to sea.

DINING
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at Pepper. This is a lovely open sided restaurant that looks out over the pool and the ocean.

So many hotels have a canteen feel about them, but here you are always dining outside, although you are under shelter if it does rain.

The breakfast buffet has plenty on offer: fresh fruits, fresh yogurts, home made jams, pastries, fresh scones, eggs, cooked breakfast, curry (for those who can manage it for breakfast!), pancakes, etc etc.

Lunch and dinner follow the same A La Carte menu, which is quite extensive with meals to suit a variety of tastes. The menu changes slightly every single day, and on most evenings there is a themed buffet to choose from. We experienced the Sri Lankan buffet, Indian buffet, seafood buffet and BBQ buffet all whilst we were there for one week.

All of the food is beautifully presented, and the portions are huge.



We didn't have one disappointing meal.

There is very little around the hotel by way of alternative restauraunts to eat at, so I think this hotel cater to this fact incredibly well, by offering a delicious variety of meals, in such a beautiful setting.


THE FACILITIES
Everywhere is spotless, and the grounds are kept looking lovely. The pool area is vast, and there are plenty of sunloungers. A pool attendant pops over as soon as you've picked your bed, to tuck fresh towels in around the cushion to make you comfortable.






The hotel also has direct access to the beach. Directly outside the hotel there isn't much by way of beach but it quickly opens up into an endless expanse of golden sand. The waves are pretty rough so this is a great area for surfing.

If you feel like you are in need of a little pampering, the Fortress have a lovely spa and it is SO reasonable. We indulged in the Couples Massage, which was nearly two hours long, and was amazing. I would highly recommend a treatment at the spa. The spa staff also come around the pool area to tell you about their daily spa offers, so some days you can wangle yourself a spur of the moment discounted treatment.

THE STAFF
The staff at The Fortress are always smiling. Literally, always. From the reception team, to the restauraunt staff, to housekeeping, to the pool attendants, I have never stayed at a hotel before where you are constantly met with smiles by whoever you see throughout the day. 

It really helps to create a good holiday mood, and we certainly felt very welcome.

LOCATION
Whilst the hotel has direct acces to the beach, I must admit I didn't think there was too much around in terms of things to see and do. Ours was mostly a relaxing holiday so we were happy to spend our days by the pool, and walking along the beach, but it would have been nice if there had been a couple more options. 

A drive half an hour in either direction didn't reveal too much, however I would recommend a trip to Galle Fort, and a visit to Mamas Rooftop cafe for some delicious home cooked food. 

The hotel also have a notice board informing guests about the trips that they run. We booked our elephant safari trip through the hotel and it was fantastic.

ENTERTAINMENT
This hotel isn't a beach club/kids club kind of hotel by any means. It isn't really a hotel for children at all, I didn't see one whilst we were there.

There is a small (but very well stocked!) bar in the restaurant, who knock up delicious cocktails, and every day between 6pm and 7pm they have a happy hour.

The hotel instead showcase the culture of the country by inviting artists to set up their paintings, or their lace creations, so that guests can view and purchase if they so wish.

One evening, we were invited to a management cocktail hour, where we could meet some of the staff properly over a cocktail, and then we were treated to some cultural dancing with drummers and fire eaters. My camera didn't capture this well at all, but it was very impressive!


THE VERDICT?
The Fortress is beautiful. It was expensive, but well worth it in my humble opinion! We drove past several other hotels in the area and none looked nearly as lovely as ours. If I was visiting Sri Lanka in the future, I would definitely stay at The Fortress again. It is no wonder they were awarded Best Luxury Hotel awards two years running, in 2011 and 2012, as it really is very luxurious.

It is rated as a 4* hotel but I feel it has elements, in particular the rooms, that outshine many of the 5* hotels I have visited before.

This is very much a relaxing getaway for couples, so if this is what you are after, then The Fortress is for you.

You can visit their website for more info.



DOHA DIARIES: MY WEEK IN PICTURES #7

Saturday, 22 November 2014

This week started out by waking up with my man in our gorgeous hotel room in Sri Lanka. A breakfast dominated by croissants followed, before catching a couple of hours of sun by the infinity pool until an enormous thunderstorm forced us back to bed for a few episodes of 24.
When the rain finally stopped, we got ourselves ready for dinner and headed down to Pepper. I was so excited to be ordering the Enchiladas again - I'd accidentally ordered them as a starter a few nights before (they were listed under appetisers, so I can be forgiven for the mistake!) so I couldn't finish them before my main course. This time I'd saved room!
Unfortunately, something didn't agree with me, and midway through dinner I felt so unbelievably unwell! Straight to bed for me, I spent the whole night being unwell, teamed with fever and a deep ache all over my body. It was a relief when morning finally came after hours of pain and discomfort.
Monday was our final full day at the hotel, which we spent by the pool again to soak up as much sun as possible and to catch up on the sleep we didn't get the night before. Plus, I was in no fit state to be going out and about.

Matt made friends with this fun little guy, as I was such rubbish company.
The Fortress hotel offer a 'Dining Experience', which we had booked for our final night. They set up a private candle lit table out on the edge of the infinity pool, partly in the shallow water, which is lit up at night by tiny subtle coloured lights. They serve up 5 courses and bubbles, and we thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate our last night on holiday.
Unfortunately my body had other ideas and point blank refused to allow 5 courses anywhere near me, so we ended up having to cancel as I was still sick with food poisoning. Very disappointing, but we reasoned it certainly wouldn't be our last romantic meal together, so we could forsake it for now.
Tuesday was our final day of holiday. We squeezed in our last few hours of sunshine after breakfast before packing up the car and setting off. I was still sick so it was a horrible day having to travel two and a half hours in the car, a long airport wait and then a five hour flight back to Doha. I was very ready for my bed when we got home!
Wednesday and Thursday were straight back into work, with the evenings spent catching up with our lovely new flatmate Marion.
On Friday, Jemma and I both had the day off and had been invited to the lovely Harriet's birthday brunch. We hopped in a cab with Marion to the Four Seasons to ease her gently into the wonderful world of Doha brunches.
It wasn't long before we found ourselves in the chocolate cellar, which made us all very happy indeed!


We headed home for a quick rest and a change to flat shoes, before heading out to Sharq Village that evening to meet everybody at Sundowners. A very fun night with very fun people!
Tonight has been spent Facetiming home, finishing unpacking my holiday bits, and now I'm going to catch up on a few blogs and vlogs that I missed while I was away, before heading to Matts.
A positive week (minus the food poisoning), and the first of many I hope :)

How was your week?


OUR SRI LANKAN ADVENTURE!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Last Monday night, Matt and I hopped on a plane to Sri Lanka for our very first holiday together.

Of course this was preceded by the obligatory airport photo with the Bear of Freedom.

Nobody quite knows why there is a giant bear in the middle of the airport, but all we know is that he symbolises escape from the sandpit, and a picture with him is a must!

We landed in Colombo the following morning. We picked up the hire car and hit the road, following Sat Nav onto the highway, and me tracking our journey by map. Smooth sailing so far!

Before too long, we came off the blissful highway and Sat Nav lead us into the heart of absolute chaos - the roads of Sri Lanka are officially mental!

We suddenly found ourselves sharing the road with not only other cars, but people, tuk tuks, mopeds, cows, dogs, all the while being overtaken at high speed by buses driven by utter lunatics, with everybody simultaneously honking their horns with impatience. Manic! I genuinely thought Doha had the worst driving conditions in the world but Sri Lanka was ten times more bonkers.

After many near misses with all of the above mentioned vehicles / animals / pedestrians, we finally made it back on to the highway and from there it was smooth sailing all the way down to the coastal road from Galle to Koggala, where we were staying.

We stayed at The Fortress hotel which I won't say too much about (other than it was wonderful) as I plan to do a full review post next week. Our room was amazing, with the worlds comfiest bed, biggest bath and hugest shower!

Settled in and unpacked, we headed down to the pool to get the lay of the land.

The infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean was stunning, and it was here we spent the best part of our holiday. Every morning after breakfast (where I ate my body weight in croissants and scones with jam whilst Matt tucked into healthy bowls of fruit...easy to see who's the fatty in this relationship!) we would set ourselves up by the pool and enjoy a morning of glorious sunshine before the afternoon thunderstorm. Unfortunately it did rain at about lunchtime every day for a few hours but it really didn't spoil the holiday at all. It was quite fun attempting to ride out the storm tucked under towels and an umbrella before ending up completely soaked and making a mad dash for shelter!

On one of the sunnier afternoons, we took a walk down the beautiful and endless stretch of beach outside our hotel.

We had drinks and dinner at the hotel restaurant, Pepper, every night. There were no other restaurants locally to the hotel, and Pepper was really lovely with an ever changing menu and themed buffet evenings so there was plenty of variety. We ate overlooking the pool and the Indian Ocean, most nights with a lightening storm lighting up the sky and the waves in the distance.

On one of the days we took a trip to Udawalawe national park to go on the elephant safari. It was such an amazing day! We saw elephants, crocodiles, monkeys, cobras, bats, lizards, buffalo, jackals, eagles, parrots (although I was always the last to see everything. Our guide would point something out, Matt would see it, and I'd spend the next half a minute saying 'where?! Where are you looking?! What is it?!' Until I'd finally see it too. My guide said I didn't have 'safari eyes'!)

How are your 'safari eyes' - can you spot the crocodile?!

We also had the opportunity to visit an amazing temple en route to the safari, Weherahena Temple.

Shoes off at the door, we were led around the underground temple, it's walls carved and painted with 20,000 pieces of artwork, depicting the history of the Buddhist religion.

The most impressive part, is the way the temple is built up and around a 39 meter tall Buddha! You can walk right up until head level, but the best view is from below.

On our final day, we stopped at the turtle hatchery down the road from our hotel, on our way to the airport.

Unfortunately this fella was caught in a fishing net and had to have his flipper (flipper?) amputated so he is a permanent resident, but he was happy enough and popped up out of the water to wave us off on our travels.

It was such a lovely, relaxing and stress free holiday, and even the fact that I had food poisoning for the last two days didn't taint it too much!

Now I'm back to reality in the desert, craving the sound of the waves crashing in the rocks, and wishing I was coming home to this every day. Take me back!

Have you been to Sri Lanka?