Posted on May 13, 2023
Bahrain is only a stone’s throw from Qatar. In days past, it was a twenty-five-minute flight away, but due to certain political shenanigans in 2017, it’s now a circuitous two-flight journey, which consumes a goodly part of the travel days to and from. So an initial flight from Doha to Dubai, and an onward flight to Manama, the capital city, was how MB ended up in Bahrain in mid-February.Read More
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Adventure, Andre Rieu, Bahrain, Fort, Manama, mosque, Museum, Travel
Posted on April 23, 2023
The football (real football!) World Cup kicked off on 20 November last and the final was played on Qatar National Day Public Holiday, 18 December 2022.
Qatar came in for some ferocious criticism in the international media in the lead-up, mostly from Western Europe and from the UK in particular. From someone who has lived in Qatar for almost nine years, MB can say that the vast majority of the criticisms were inaccurate and grossly exaggerated. Much of the stuff MB read online might have had some relevance in 2010 when Qatar was awarded the tournament but since that date, the governing authorities here passed a host of legislative enactments that created a far safer and more protected environment for those workers, mainly from SE Asia, that worked on the many WC related projects. Other online articles were complete fabrications MB can say with certainty.
Much was also made of the laws here relating to the gay community. A gay lifestyle is strictly forbidden here, as it is in most Muslim countries and many others. That’s not to say that MB agrees with the local laws. He doesn’t. But he comes from a different culture and doesn’t think he has any God-given right to force his values on others who disagree with his. And maybe in time and over a few generations, attitudes and laws will change. The solution promised by Qatar was, essentially, that the authorities would turn a blind eye to whatever happened behind closed doors, but just respect the local laws and customs in public, and all would be welcome. And the authorities were good to their word.
A few days before the tournament started, the authorities announced that stadiums would be alcohol-free. Having attended six matches in total and with the benefit of hindsight, MB can say that it was a good decision. There was a great friendly and fun atmosphere at the games with many young kids in attendance with their moms and dads; with the moms and dads not having to worry about boorish drunken behaviour of fans. The focus was on the games and taking selfies and having great family fun and memories for the future.
From a football perspective, the tournament was a huge success with record goal-scoring and the best WC Final in the history of the game. Messi wearing his Arabic cloak, or bisht as it’s called in the local language, will live long in the memory. The bisht received much negative publicity from the usual quarters, but to be offered to wear it is a big honour in Gulf societies. So the bisht got a big thumbs up from MB.
One unique feature of the 2022 WC was that the entire tournament was played in a single city, unlike most past WC tournaments which were be hosted by multiple cities many hours flying time apart. So going out socially during the Qatar 2022 WC meant that you were sure to bump into fans from any or all 24 countries who participated in the initial group stages. Many from outside the Middle East learned that people here are not so different than people back home and it was great to see Arabs and non-Arabs mixing and taking football and generally chit-chatting about everything and anything at the nightly entertainment and eating venues. Qatar has actually extended the WC ‘visa on arrival’ programme until end 2023 for many nationalities. We are presently in the middle of the end-of-Ramadan Eid Public Holiday period over here and the hotels are full of tourists from outside, many returning no doubt to relive some WC memories.
Eight mega-stadiums were built for the tournament. One was built fully from shipping containers and will soon be fully dismantled, if it’s not already (MB must check!). Others were built with demountable top halves, so the 40, 000 capacity will reduce to 20,000 and local clubs will take those over. Others will remain as they were built for use for major sports and entertainment events. So, all in all, the goal of a sustainable tournament was generally achieved.
There was a feeling of pride amongst locals, natives and ex-pats alike, that the tournament went off so successfully, and some sadness that the daily and nightly fun had come to an end.
The flags of the participating nations and the Hublot countdown clock:
Posted on February 17, 2023
Patti has set this weeks challenge and her post can be viewed HERE
MB found himself in recent days in The Kingdom of Bahrain, an island state in the Arabian Gulf, a mere stones throw from Qatar. It’s linked to Saudi Arabia by a long bridge/causway.
In days past, there were direct flights between MB’s home base of Qatar and Bahrain, being only a short 25-minute flight away. However, there are currently no direct flights, which necessitates a flight from Doha to nearby Dubai and then an onwards flight to Manama, the capital city of Bahrain.
There are a number of tourist attractions in Bahrain, one of which is a visit to the Grand Mosque where visitors can take a guided tour during which the guide will explain the basics of Islam, very similar to the Open Doors – Open Minds programme at Jumairah Mosque in Dubai which MB also did a number of years back.
As the guide was explaining the direction of Mecca etc to the group, MB’s attention was caught by an interesting shadow on the mosque carpet floor, resulting from the sun-shade trellis structure fixed on the external face of the window. MB momentarily departed the group to capture the shot.
Voila – MB’s entry to this week’s LCPH:
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Adventure, Bahrain, Monochrome, mosque, Shadow, Travel
Posted on November 4, 2022
In case anyone thinks MB is some kind of gun nut, he’s not. He would be very much on the side of strict gun control and bans on military-type weaponry if he lived in countries where such debates rage. MB appreciates that others have opposing views. And certain arguments they espouse have merit. But coming from a country that put away the guns in recent years after 800 years of it, MB can see the benefits of gunless society, more or less.
But MB digresses……………………….
Apart from the occasional usage of an old single-barrel shotgun growing up on a farm, MB was not familiar with any sort of firearms until he and a friend recently visited the newly opened gun range in Doha called ‘Al Hadaf’. It’s next to Khalifa Football Stadium or Villagio Shopping Mall, and means in English ‘The Target’. It’s a super-modern facility and has a 100M range for pistol and rifle practice. A ‘clay’ range is currently under construction and will open in a few months from now.
In addition to the range, Al Hadaf has coffee shops, a VIP lounge (de rigeure at any new facility in Qatar!), and a showroom to view lots of merchandise. Needless to say, many of the facility instructors were asking MB if his name was, by any chance, Client Eastwood. MB gave them a steely stare, and didn’t even need a ‘make my day’ statement!
So, dear HX followers, if any of you happen to be visiting Qatar for the November/December FIFA World Cup, or anytime soon, a visit to Al Hadaf is a few hours well spent, if shooting’s your cup of tea.
A few pics……………………
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Adventure, Alhadaf, Doha, MiddleEast, Qatar, Range, Shooting, Sport, Travel
Posted on September 24, 2022
Thanks to Donna for this week’s post whose blog site can be accessed HERE.
MB harks (or harps!) back to an old post to take up this week’s photo challenge – Over The Hill, and he includes a link to that post below for those interested in reading the full story/post.
In St. John’s Church graveyard in the village of Knockainey, mere spitting distance from MB’s HX locality back home, lies a most intriguing gravestone. The gravestone inscription tells the tale of one John Murphy, who was well over the hill – more than 100 years before he actually died!Read More
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Adventure, Cemetry, Death, Grave, Over The Hill, Photography, Travel
Posted on September 17, 2022
Thanks to Tina for this week’s challenge. Tina’s great post (and pics) are available HERE.
In September 2017, MB attended the wedding of a Lebanese friend in one of the oldest towns in the region, Byblos, on Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast. The wedding venue was the Saint Jean-Marc Cathedral, built by the Crusaders in 1,115 AD, a few hundred meters from the Crusader Castle of the same era. i
The church was originally built in honour of St John the Baptist, but a name change followed in later years to honour the Saint who introduced Christianity to the Byblos/Jbail region.MB made a post of that wedding trip which can be viewed HERE if followers wish to see more of the church and ceremony.
MB has chosen a shot from that wedding to try to meet Tina’s ‘Opposites’ theme. The shot shows the bride disappearing into the church where the groom awaits.
And so begins their married lives, leaving their opposite, so to speak, ‘single’ lives behind.
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Adventure, byblos, Church, Crusades, Jbeil, Opposites, Photography, Travel, wedding
Posted on September 4, 2022
Thanks to John for this week’s challenge. His post is available HERE. MB also recommends a look at Tina’s great TRAVELS & TRIFLES blog post HERE. MB’s tongue is always hanging out when he views Tina’s travel posts & pics!Read More
Posted on July 26, 2022
MB previously attended a pre-covid AR concert in AR’s hometown of Maastricht, Holland, in July 2019. MB posted about that concert HERE.Read More
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Adventure, Andre, Holland, Maastricht, Music, Rieu, Travel
Posted on July 21, 2022
As Hawaii is to US citizens, so is Jeju to the Koreans.
Jeju is a large island off the south coast of South Korea, a little over one hour’s flying time from Seoul. Jeju airport is very busy as MB and MB2 witnessed, and caters for domestic and international flights. Tourism become even more hectic during covid as it was an in-country free-to-travel-to destination. The native population of the island is approx 600k and Jeju Island is one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Shield Volcano in Hallasan National Park in the centre of the island is the tallest mountain in all of South Korea.
MB hired a car at the airport on arrival and quickly discovered that car hire procedures are not exactly as they are back home. Take the ‘fill the tank to the same level you received it when you return it’ rule. This normally involves filling the tank to the max when dropping it back, ie. to the same level you received it. But on turning on the ignition of the small Kia that MB had hired, MB immediately noticed that the petrol gauge was registering zero petrol in the tank. As in totally zero. Nada. Nothing. The dial did not move even 1 mm when MB turned on the car. So, realising that the car was only running on fumes, and starting to sweat, MB instructed MB2 to keep her eyes peeled for a petrol station or this car journey might come to an immediate stop. MB2 thankfully spotted one only a few hundred meters from the car hire yard so a solution seemed to be immediately at hand.
But all was not what it seemed. MB jumped out of the car, grabbed the petrol nozzle, and looked at the digital display. Sacre bleu! Merde! It was totally in Korean script, with no English language translations to be seen. The normal green/black hoses that might distinguish petrol from diesel obviously were an unknown principle in Korea, so the hoses gave MB no clue which one to use. Nor could MB even work out how to turn on the hoses or which button to press, let alone extract any petrol from them.
Enter the scene, Korean speaking and reading MB2, who jumped out of the car on hearing various blasphemies from MB, hit a series of touch-screen buttons on the large digital screen and said “proceed now dad” as if this was some problem she solved each and every day!
And onwards they went!
There are multiple attractions on the island and MB and MB2 covered many of them. There’s a very interesting National Stone Park (called ‘The National Stone Park’!) that has extensive rock sculptures and statues (unsurprisingly!) which must have taken hundreds of years to complete all those years ago.
MB & MB 2 also visited a waterfall in the south of the island and the Manjanggul Cave, the 12th longest so-called Lave Tube cave system in the world.
But for MB and MB2, the favorite haunt by far was the Dongmun traditional night wet market where some of the best street food in the world is cooked. MB and MB gorged themselves each night on market food treats from fish to various meats and veg and all sorts of delicious Asian combinations that they had never before encountered. Take a look at the video (last below) to get a flavour of the action and the food.
From Jeju, MB and MB2 took a 4-hour ferry journey to a small city called Mokpo in the South West of the Korean peninsula to catch up with a certain Irish nun.
But that’s a story for another day!
Shots + 1 video:
The guys preparing the food were part chef/part DJ:
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Adventure, Cave, Dongmun, Hallasan, Jeju, Korea, Manganggul, market, Park, South, Stone, Travel
Posted on July 19, 2022
In recent times, MB has visited the Acropolis and Pantheon in Athens, Greece, which followers can read HERE. The Pantheon is missing some of its structure and is currently undergoing renovations by the Greek government and UNESCO experts. The fact that the structure is damaged and missing many of its columns is the result of a cannon attack in the year 1687 by the Venetians.
So MB decided that to visit the city where the attackers hailed from all those many years ago to see what might have turned them into marauding invaders. And that’s what MB did in early May this year.
MB went to Venice.Read More
Posted on May 22, 2022
It didn’t make any international headlines, but a few days back, an international incident occurred in the Myeongdong area of central Seoul between MB and one Mr Kim, owner of a traditional Korean restaurant on a restaurant-filled old side street just behind the Lotte City Hotel.Read More
Posted on April 9, 2022
In June 2017 MB had the good fortune to travel to Moscow and enjoy some of the famous sights that historical city has to offer. MB stayed in the Metropol Hotel very close to Red Square which has an incredible history. The photo gallery on the lift lobby of the first and second floors (as MB can remember) provides a fascinating glimpse of the famous guests that the hotel has hosted for more than one hundred years. As an aside – if you haven’t read the 2016 novel ‘Gentleman in Moscow’ MB strongly encourages you to do so, which is set almost entirely in the Metropol Hotel. A read of reads!Read More
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Peace, Russia, Travel, Ukraine
Posted on March 1, 2022
On Friday morning last, in the small hours of a misty Doha morning, MB ascended silently into the blue heavens.
Much like Jesus Christ did all those years ago MB?
Well, no lads. Not at all like JC did. MB was actually standing in a steel-framed basket that was attached to a rather large balloon. It was powered by butane gas, not divine intervention.Read More
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Adventure, Air, Ballooning, Doha, Hot, Qatar, Travel
Posted on January 13, 2022
MB had not traveled to Lebanon since the financial meltdown of recent years and the August 2020 Beirut Port bomb blast. But in recent months, he received an invitation to the wedding of a young friend and work colleague and found himself on a 29 December flight to Beirut for the wedding festivities on following day.
Since MB’s last visit, Lebanon has changed.
The collapsed currency means that when you exchange 200 or 300 USD or Euro, you receive in return, (assuming you use a black market dealer and not some rip-off governmental controlled exchange) a very fat wedge of Lebanese pounds. In times past the same wedge would have been 5% of its current thickness, when the currency traded at 1,500 to the USD. Now, it’s hovering around 30,000; a loss of 95% of its value. Those that have access to foreign currency are doing well, such as relatives of those working overseas, which is, thankfully, a substantial portion of the country, maybe 40% of the population. For the remainder, however, life is a desperate struggle to make ends meet. The average Lebanese army soldier, for example, now takes home the equivalent of USD 30 per month, when previously his salary was worth USD 600. With many goods and services priced in dollars, the struggle is easily imagined.
Mostly, there is no electricity. On a good day, the governmental electricity company can supply 2 to 3 hours of power. After that, businesses and the public at large, depend on diesel generators to supply light, work their air conditioning, or whatever. When the electricity is out, naturally enough, there are no working traffic lights. It’s surreal to drive around a darkened capital city of some 2M people at nighttime with drivers playing chicken at every traffic intersection. Bigger or faster cars have right of way, smaller slower cars await their turn, seems to be the general rule.
People with education and skills are leaving in droves, to any country that will have them. And with the Lebanese Passport being one of the worst on the planet, the choices are limited. The Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar are especially popular. MB had a sad interaction with the immigration official which sums up the whole Lebanon situation.
MB hands his Passport to Passport Official (PO). PO scans the passport onto the system and looks carefully at it. And looks some more. And some more. And more.
MB is starting to wonder what the problem is and the people in the queue behind MB are getting a tad annoyed that MB is holding up the entire show. MB is thinking of many things that could be wrong. He worked in Saudi Arabia for a few years, and now Saudi and Labanon are having a bit of a spat about political issues. And other stuff.
Finally PO says to MB………
“Yes?” replies MB quizically.
“How can I get a job in your country and travel there?”
‘Phew’ – thinks MB to himself.
“Well my young friend, I see you are working all this IT Security technology here today, so I suggest you go online and try to get a job with one of the big IT/Social Media companies who are all hiring like crazy in Ireland. With your IT skills, MB is sure they will snap you up. Then try to get a working visa” says MB, giving the young lebanese lad some hope for his future, probably false hope, given the Passport situation.
[For the benefit of HX followers, the Passport of North Korea gets you ‘visa on arrival’ at more countries than a Lebanese Passport. Seriously. Reason – that’s a whole other story!]
“Actually Sir, I am not an IT professional, I am an Interior Architect.” – replied PO, looking pleadingly into the eyes of MB.
MB then threw PO a few construction company suggestions in Qatar, which PO could google and try to submit his CV.
After that final suggestion, which PO scribbled down on a piece of scrap paper beside the Passport Scanning Machine, MB and PO said adieu to each other and bon chance.
MB discovered a few days later that immigration officials in Lebanon, such as PO, are earning the equivalent of approximately USD 15 to 20 per month.
MB was sad for PO.
And for Lebanon.
But the wedding was great fun. It lifted spirits. It was a mixed-Muslim wedding, between a Shia boy and a Sunni girl. Such mixed weddings happen frequently in Labanon, but not in any country outside, or very rarely, as far as MB is aware. Lebanon is mostly a tolerant country, with all religions living side by side and in peace. They have moved on from the days of the civil war, thankfully. And in that sense, they are an example to their neighbours.
In the following video, which MB shot at the start of the wedding party, followers can see and hear traditional drummers and musicians welcome the bride and groom to the wedding ceremony – welcoming them in a special way to their new life together. This special welcome ceremony is called the Zaffe (Arabic word). Its all a bit crazy and noisy but very atmospheric and great fun.
As followers can also see, the dress style is very modern, with many wearing western-style dress, reflecting the open Lebanese mentality and the fact that the young couple getting married, family and friends are not religiously very conservative. The guests are a mix of religions. Apart from the lively Arabic music, it would be difficult to say which country, region or religion this service belongs to. It could even be an Irish wedding!
Best wishes to Adel and Meerna for their future life together. Thanks for the invitation!
Posted on November 28, 2021
Question lads – What does MB, Satoshi Nakamoto and Don Williams have in common?Read More
Category: Irish man in the Middle East Tagged: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Don Williams, family, Granddaughter, Qatar, Satoshi Nakamoto, Travel
It's a mad HX world!