Friday, September 23, 2016

Eid Vacation in Turkey

So during Eid I went to Turkey to meet up with some friends. Like last year we went to a resort in Bodrum, this time the Voyage between Bodrum and Gumbet. I think my friends wanted a quieter vacation this time so picked a no-children resort.


It was a nice place, and all inclusive so we rarely left the resort. In the five days I was there I went to Bodrum twice and my friends only once.

We did go out to a couple of evening concerts, the first one by popular lounge/pop singer Serdar Ortac, and the next night by Turkish popstar Fatih Urek (who apparently also has belly dancer training). Both concerts started (yes, started) at 1:30 in the morning! Turks apparently love to stay up all night during vacations. There were even children in attendance at the concert. So some of my vacation was spent sleeping in late, eating lunch, then sitting a lounger snoozing some more.






[The Fatih Urek link is to a video of his that also shows Bodrum.]


All in all a relaxing vacation. I do like Turkey, and the recent issues there haven't caused any problems in the "sun cities" in the south. Unfortunately the coup attempt and an airport bombing have scared many tourists away so some places are suffering economically. Hopefully next year things will improve for the industry.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Vehicle Fatalities in Qatar

Back in 2014 I did a blog post analyzing the road fatality rate in Qatar. It seemed to indicate that despite the population growing, and the number of cars on the road growing, the fatality rate was decreasing. I speculated that it might be due to the increased traffic congestion, which means that on average drivers cannot go as fast as they did in the past. Statistics seemed to indicate that the number of small accidents was steadily increasing, which would make sense if the number of cars on the road would increase.

That was two years ago, so how have things been since?

Improved actually, at least in terms of fatalities. Qatar still collects monthly statistics on the population and the number of traffic accidents as well as related fatalities (you can find the monthly statistics here). I compiled the monthly statistics on the spreadsheet to get a snapshot of the number of fatalities, major accidents, and minor accidents that occurred in Qatar over the year. ( I assume that "minor accidents" are vehicle accidents where there was some form of injury, if it was just a minor fender-bender the statistics would be too low, there would be tens of thousands of these every month).

As of end-June 2016:
Population: 2,477,113
Fatalities over the last 12 months: 165
Major accidents in the last 12 months: 564
Minor accidents in the last 12 months: 5217

As of end-December 2015:
Population: 2,421,055
Fatalities over the last 12 months: 204
Major accidents in the last 12 months: 567
Minor accidents in the last 12 months: 5317

As of end-June 2015:
Population: 2,344,557
Fatalities over the last 12 months: 212
Major accidents in the last 12 months: 595
Minor accidents in the last 12 months: 5032

As of end-December 2014:
Population: 2,235,431
Fatalities over the last 12 months: 182
Major accidents in the last 12 months: 532
Minor accidents in the last 12 months: 4559


Seems to fluctuate a bit but bear in mind at the end of 2010, when the population was only 1,699,435 (source here), the number of road fatalities for the year was 226! (source here). The population has increased by nearly 50% yet the number of road fatalities has decreased. Accidents appear to be generally increasing, and unfortunately the monthly data only starts in 2014 so I can't go back farther to see if there is a real trend.

A recent news article stated that the government credits a road safety campaign for the decrease but I'm not so sure given I think the trend in the number of fatalities per 100,000 population has been decreasing steadily for the last 5 to 6 years, and I'm not so sure that the number of accidents has decreased. I still think that the, highly annoying, traffic congestion might be a major factor in reducing the fatalities.




Monday, August 29, 2016

Summer Weather in Qatar

Summer is more than halfway over, with luck the heat will break by October. Not surprisingly summers here are H-O-T, temps in the mid-40s are the norm. It makes mid-day pretty challenging to go outside for any length of time but if it is dry then the days are manageable. By evening it drops down to the mid-30s, not great, but okay. Unless it's humid.

As the old saying goes it's not the heat, it's the humidity. The humidity can vary widely in the summer, I think based on the wind direction (if from the sea then it's humid, if from the south where the desert is then it's dry. The humidity can make it unbearable, even in the evening. Just the other day I left a mall and walked maybe 200m to my car, and when I reached it I looked like I had jogged a mile. My clothes were drenched in a combination of condensation and sweat, and my forehead was dripping. Ugh. On humid days you can't even go outside in the evening for more than a couple of minutes, after which you look like someone poured water on you. Air conditioning is the greatest invention ever!

Of course there's also the risk of sandstorms. Usually they are larger storms from Saudi or Kuwait that you receive advance warning about but other times they can be quite sudden. Last week a thunderstorm in northern Qatar kicked up a lot of dust and sent it south into the city.


That wasn't the worst I'd seen but it was pretty bad. Thankfully because it was small it lasted maybe an hour or so; larger, slower storms can create a dusty haze that can last for days.

One plus about summer is that the weather drives the ex-pats away as tens of thousands head home to wait out the hot weather, returning when schools are back in session. This makes the traffic in Doha better and I'm not looking forward to after Eid when the traffic is again in full misery. My commute time to work will nearly double. It is for this reason that I actually prefer to stay in Doha for the summer. With the Eid holidays now in the summer I of course take vacations but if not for that I'd probably stay here over the summer without a vacation. I can handle the heat, but the traffic can be maddening when everyone returns.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Gaming

Usually at least once a week I'm hanging out with friends at a majlis. The guys like to play various games to pass the time, either electronic, board, or card games. Gulf Arabs like games and don't get all fussed about them. Brazillia (Buraco) remains very popular, as is Monopoly, FIFA on the PS4 is also a go-to (I can't play it worth a damn though) but we also like to play a classic strategy game, Risk.


With Risk now available on the iPad it makes it a lot easier to play a game and makes it portable. We played a few times on the airplane to the Seychelles, and another time at a restaurant that had a TV in our booth as we were able to connect the iPad display to the TV (one of the pictures is from the restaurant). Something to while away some time.


I'm familiar with a lot of boardgames so I introduced the group to a game called Lords of Vegas. It was a hit and we usually play it at least once during an evening. A game called Power Grid is also played occasionally but not as often as Lords of Vegas.



This is not a serious gaming bunch, games need to be reasonably quick to learn and play and have lots of inter-player interaction. Someone brought Axis & Allies once but that didn't work out well -- way too complex, too much setup and turns took a long time.


In time I might introduce a couple of other games (Settlers of Catan?) but everyone seems to be doing fine for now with what we have.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Murphy's Law of a New Car

About four months ago I bought a new car. I had my previous car for nearly ten years so it was time for an upgrade, it also helped that prices were really good. With all of the layoffs business was down at the dealerships and used car places so there were lots of sales. I picked myself up a nice new car, a bit snazzier than my old basic-model 1.3 L Honda City. I've been here long enough to treat myself to something a bit better.

With my old Honda it had a number of small scratches and door dings but once the car is a few years old I didn't really sweat it. Well within six weeks of having my new car someone left a major door ding in it, enough to expose the underlayers beneath the paint. That was annoying, and I have no idea where it happened because it was on the passenger side, which I usually don't approach my car from. Oh, well.

But two nights ago I had parked my car in the street (the parking garage in my building is too narrow so I'd be at real risk of side-swiping my car against a post) and someone decided that it would be a good idea to u-turn on the road. The next morning I see a nice egg-sized scratch where the corner of their bumper hit the side of my car. So in four months I have two scratches that are worse than what I received on my old car in ten years. Murphy's Law of owning a new car I guess. If it had happened to my old car I wouldn't have cared too much but it's my new car!

Naturally I have no idea who did it. If you did it and you're reading this I hope your life sucks.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Dates Festival at Souq Waqif

For the next couple of weeks Souq Waqif has set up a large tent where local farms can sell dates.


Despite the fact that it was a weekday evening, and it was H-O-T out, there was still a decent crowd of people shopping for dates. Many wheelbarrow guys were parked outside the tent to take the shopper's wares to their car. At the festival people weren't buying a small box, they seemed to be buying at least 5-10 kg of dates.



A couple of years ago I posted about the various stages of ripeness for dates. We are most familiar with dark brown, wrinkly dates, which are actually the final stage of ripeness and are called tamr in Arabic. At the festival only a few stall sold tamr dates, the vast majority were selling dates that were at an early stage of ripeness and were yellow or red (bessar), or slightly brown rutab dates.


I didn't buy anything, bessar and rutab dates aren't really to my liking (less sweet, somewhat bitter and crunchy depending on the stage of ripeness) but a Qatari friend once told me that a lot of Qataris prefer them over tamr dates. If you've never tried bessar or rutab dates head over to the Souq sometime this week and give them a try.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Seychelles

Shortly after returning to Doha I was off on another trip, this time to the Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean. A friend had organized a trip for a bunch of the guys so we headed out for almost a week.



It's a beautiful place, a lot more mountainous than Bermuda and it has a lot of nice beaches. We had rented a villa in an upscale area called Eden island which overlooked a small beach.



The Seychelles were very isolated islands so had a lot of unique endemic flora and fauna. One of the most famous is "coco de mer" a tree found only in the Seychelles with a massive nut/seed. There are issues with conservation as the nuts are very expensive, and it's illegal to buy one except through an authorized shop (the stickers on the coco de mer in the picture indicate that they can be exported).




The islands are also one of only two places in the world to have giant tortoises, in this case the Aldabra Giant Tortoise (the other being the more famous, and slightly larger, Galapagos Tortoise from the Galapagos islands off the coast of Ecuador). The tortoises are actually native to a small atoll north of the main island but at the Botanical Gardens they have many and for a fee tourists can feed them and take pictures. Despite a small native habitat the species is doing okay now thanks to intensive conservation efforts, I believe almost no one is allowed to live on their island and efforts are underway to eradicate any non-native animals from the island.

The Seychelles has at various times been under French and British influence but the general culture is more French than English though both languages are widely spoken. Restaurants of all types are available but French and African-based cuisine seemed common. The friends I were with were Muslim and at one restaurant they were pleased to see cheese fondue available so ordered it (I was away at the time and didn't realize they had ordered it). When it arrived I assumed they had ordered a non-alcohol version so I never warned them (oops). Naturally after a few people tasted it they realized something didn't taste right -- they didn't know that cheese fondue typically has white wine in it. By then most of it had been eaten so they just put the fondue forks down in disappointment. Lesson learned, be careful of European cuisine if you don't drink alcohol.




Anyway it was a great vacation. We went snorkeling and saw lots of fish, many that were similar to fish that were common in Bermuda (various species of parrot fish, sergeant majors, butterfly fish) as well as others I had never seen before. There was lots of relaxing on the beach or by the pool and, maybe for once, I managed to not get sunburned at all. One of the guys had a run-in with a sea urchin but thankfully he had flip-flops on and only got a couple of pokes. Driving around the island we saw a ton of beaches and nice views from up the (steep!) mountain roads. Definitely worth a visit if you get a chance but be warned that it is an expensive place so it's would not be easy for budget travellers.