Review: Travelling with toTs by smarTrike

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The more that we travel with our baby, the more I realise that comfort and practicality have to take precedence above everything else. We've tried lumbering fancy travel cases and complex games to keep her entertained around the world, but when it comes down to it, all Sophia really needs on a flight and in a hotel room are some books, an iPad and a few home comforts. For us, the toTs by smarTrike accessory range ticks that last box perfectly.

Most people know smarTrike for the world's best selling and most awarded baby tricycle (which also happens to be Sophia's favourite Christmas present and a much-loved toy...more on that in another post), but very few realise that the brand have recently branched out to include toTs: a range of stylish but practical solutions for the fashion-conscious parent. Two of these items have become absolutely vital to our travels and I have vowed to never leave Doha without packing them again.

When we have to take a long haul flight, we try to opt for an overnight option so that Sophia sleeps (marginally) better, and we can manage to squeeze in a movie, a cheeky glass of red and some shut eye in relative peace. The drone of the engines and vibration of the aircraft used to really help in this respect when she was a newborn (the one and only time that she ever 'slept through the night' was on a flight from Doha to Norwich via Amsterdam) but these days a little more is required to lull her into a snoozy state. That's why we always travel with her toTs Joy The Bunny Comforter (or 'Pinky' as she is more affectionately known to us).


I love that this comforter is so much bigger than your standard size, meaning that even now that Sophia's pushing on 11 months it's still large enough for her to tuck under her arm and wrap around her body. It's double-sided, with a super soft jersey material on one side, and a pretty polka dot pattern on the other, and comes in bright blue and lime green as well as our fuschia.

Sophia is a little smitten, and these days when napping, both at nursery and at home, Pinky rarely leaves her side.


A product that I really struggle with when travelling with Sophia is a towel. Hotel offerings are usually either far too big or too scratchy for her delicate skin. Her toTs Joy Bunny Hooded Towel is therefore another vital addition to our suitcase. The 100% cotton velour-style towel is large and soft, and kept her snuggly and warm in the freezing temperatures we returned to on our recent trip home to the UK.


Her favourite bedtime ritual these days is snuggling up against me after a warm bath, wrapped in her Joy Bunny Towel and reading some books (we're talking at least three or four here spread over half an hour...and often the same one twice!).


I'd love to say that this helps her to settle in for a nice, long night's sleep, but if I said that I would be lying (have a read of this post if you'd like to find out what sleep is like for us these days!). However, it relaxes her enough to go down for the first couple of hours at least. And when we're travelling and she's in a strange bed a long way from home, this is all I can ask for.

Products were provided for review purposes.

For my Qatar readers, the toTs by smarTrike range is currently not available in the country, however if you have if you have an Aramex account then you can still order them from smythstoys.com in the UK and have them delivered to your door. Hoorah!

Sophia Molly: Nine to Ten Month Update

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Wow, once again I have found myself constantly exclaiming at how quickly time is slipping away. 2016 turned into 2017 in a flash and the turn of the year has also brought with it lots of new developments in Sophia's life. My bubbly and sociable baby has become an even more loving and chatty little girl, who embraces life with enthusiasm and makes the whole world smile around her.

These two months Sophia has liked...


Going for long walks around The Pearl and around the Museum of Islamic Art Park and enjoying the view from her favourite vantage point on daddy's shoulders.




Playing in her new makeshift 'playroom' we have created in a corner of our open plan living / dining room using colourful fencing and mats.


Visiting Abu Dhabi, where she enjoyed playing in the extensive grounds of the Emirates Palace Hotel where we stayed (blog post to follow).



Experiencing her very first Christmas and everything that comes with it...



 



This month Sophia has disliked...


The pain she has been in while cutting four teeth all at once!

Having a nasty sickness bug which wiped her out for a week, and even made her go off food for a while which is very unlike her.


This month's firsts...


Her first four top teeth came through - making a total of six altogether!

First time saying 'hello' (eyoh) and 'bye', 'moo' for a cow and 'baa' for a sheep. She also says 'yum!' when she's eating food she particularly likes and even when she picks up a packet that she knows contains food! So clever!

First time walking unaided with her little trolley.


We're less than two weeks away from her 11 month birthday now, which means only one thing...I'd better start thinking about how we're going to celebrate her first birthday! Oh dear Lord...

Behind The Scenes of Our Family Travels

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

As bloggers, one thing we're always accused of (and sometimes, I admit, rightfully so) is painting a glossy picture of idealised lives. Living life through a social media lens encourages disreputable behaviour when it comes to colouring in certain (less than perfect) experiences in order to make them appear flawless to the outside observer, while our grimmest of moments are swiftly swept under the carpet while we pray that nobody noticed.

I'm as guilty as the next blogger human at doing this. OK, I might have been a little more honest recently about some of the truths about being a mum and offloaded how I feel about having not slept for ten months straight, but what about the other things? The rest of my blog is plastered with shiny images of luxurious five star hotels, exotic travel destinations and fine dining, and while that's all very pleasant, I sometimes think that what lies behind some of these images would be far more entertaining to my average reader.

Queue a little behind the scenes snoop into what really goes on on our family travels, or some outtakes if you like...enjoy it while you can because tomorrow business will return to normal!

Behind the shiny shots


It probably comes as no surprise that while traveling (or eating at restaurants, or joining friends at social gatherings...or whenever there is a photograph-able moment come to think of it) I am a bit of a nightmare. People are made to stand still for far too long in less than favourable weather conditions, food gets cold, my baby goes into hysterics. But it's all worth it in the name of a good photo...isn't it?!

Before


At least 20 minutes and one ruined marriage later....



Behind the beautiful bouncing baby moments


Everybody knows that with a baby in tow nothing ever goes to plan but like most parents I had to learn this the hard way!

Take Sophia's first ever holiday to Anantara at The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, where we were super excited for her first swim in the idyllic lagoon-like pools. I imagined us cradling her in our arms as we floated in the water, while she giggled and splashed about. However, she had other ideas and as Rich lifted her into the water for the first time, she promptly fell asleep...as she did the next time we went back...and the next!


What can I say, those pools are just too relaxing!

She actually falls asleep at inopportune moments quite a lot on our travels, spoiling some excellent photo opportunities. I was desperate for a family photograph at the Sheikh Zayad Grand Mosque on our recent trip to Abu Dhabi, but once again this happened:


Funnily enough, when we really do want her to sleep while we're travelling she never actually does. This was me at our 'romantic' dinner in Il Teatro at our recent staycation at the Four Seasons Doha. Sophia was supposed to be sleeping soundly in her pram while mummy sipped on wine and daddy whispered sweet nothings in her ear over perfect plates of pasta...but why would she do that when she'd miss out on all the fun?!


We don't mind her not sleeping much on our travels one bit though because even in the middle of the night, Sophia is always a happy, bubbly and inquisitive baby.

That is, until you put her on a camel...


Whoops! That one won't be making it into my forthcoming blog post about our stay at the Emirates Palace.

And I probably won't ever mention that while we have heaps of fun traveling as a family once we've actually arrived at our destination, most of the way there and way back is spent like this, while I am crushed back against my seat, praying for the damn flight to be over!


Behind the luxury


On our honeymoon we stayed in some of the world's most luxurious hotels (remember this one?). However, we also had one experience I would really rather forget. The hotel was in a great location on the Amalfi Coast, with stunning views over Positano from the little balcony in our room.

 
However, that's where all features of merit ended. The A/C was broken on Italy's hottest day of the year. There was no hot water. The wifi didn't work. On top of this, the staff were rude and continually lied to us about all of the above and when it would be fixed. We couldn't wait to leave the hotel at the end of the stay and I had to inform the Manager that I definitely would not be writing a blog post about his hotel.

I was mortified as we left. Hopefully this is an experience that we will never have to repeat!

Behind the comfortable expat life


Probably the biggest fallacy of my blog is that our expat life in Doha is 'perfect'. No, we don't eat out at fancy restaurants every day of the week. No, we're not always nipping across the Arabian Gulf for a quick jaunt to the UAE. Actually, a lot of the time we're working hard at being working parents on no sleep and it's actually really, bloody hard!

The most difficult part of all is living away from our wonderful family and friends. We spend so much time glued to our phones FaceTiming them that I'm sure Sophia thinks that they're an extension of our hands!


But right now I'm OK about all this because I'm writing this post from the airport, about to hop on a flight home to see these people and I could not be more excited!

I'm interested to find out how many more travel outtakes that we will accrue on this trip that you guys will never get to see!



The Best New Restaurant Openings in Qanat Quartier

Saturday, 28 January 2017

If you take a stroll along the Venetian-style roads of Qanat Quartier, following the intricate network of canals past its pretty pastel houses, you will soon notice that things are starting to pick up. This previously sleepy corner of The Pearl has a new hustle and bustle about its characterful squares and plazas; friends sit at little iron tables sipping coffee and chatting; families can be seen milling about, taking photos on stylish bridges. Finally, this small segment of Qatar is starting to display some of the Riviera lifestyle and Italian charm that it was built to represent. But what has brought about this sudden change?


Well, the restaurants have started to open of course!


There is nothing like the rumour of a decent new eatery opening to tempt Doha dwellers out of their villas and into their four by fours for a little visit. And if its 'Little Venice' you're visiting, you won't be disappointed. Here are my top restaurant picks in the area, and why I think they're worth the trip.

1. Best for Breakfast: The Breakfast Club



With an extensive menu of all of my favourite breakfast items, including some unique and surprising alternatives from around the world, this restaurant caters for a wide variety of tastes and will be sure to kick-start your day. Hailing from Kuwait, The Breakfast Club now has restaurants in Bahrain as well as Qanat Quartier, and I've heard rumours that it's about to open a second branch elsewhere in Qatar. It's the first breakfast place to open on the Pearl to really rival Eggspectation (but in my opinion it's not quite there yet).

Don't miss: the Shakshuka


2. Best for a Sweet Treat: Waffles and Coffee




If you're looking for a waffle that will blow you away you might be disappointed, but if it's a quick sugar hit you're after, accompanied by a swift injection of caffeine then this place defintiely hits the spot. Waffles and Coffee is a pretty little cafe located on the Rialto Bridge, and its terrace showcases gorgeous views over the pastel houses and canals below.

Don't miss: the fully-loaded Signature Waffle

3. Best Healthy Option: Evergreen Organics



Evergreen Organics opened in 2016 to widespread acclaim and a deluge of 'big name' visitors. And rightly so - it is the country's first 100% vegan cafe and it's pretty damn chic after all! Focussing on seasonal, organic, raw ingredients, the items on the menu are not only good for the waistline but good for the conscience too (and it's no secret that they even taste pretty good too. Just avoid the raw brownie. Cakes like these just aren't the same unless they're oozing chocolate and sugar in my opinion).

Dont miss: the fresh coconuts, Acai bowls and raw Zucchini Putanesca


4. Best Atmosphere and Views: Esmer Chef




My experience at Esmer Chef was mixed, but the location and ambience is unrivaled in Qanat Quartier. With an outdoor terrace which takes diners right to the edge of the canal, and views over the Rialto bridge and some of the prettiest of the pastel houses, I could have wiled many hours away chatting with friends while enjoying the al fresco dining and picturesque scenery. Some items on the split Italian/Turkish menu could do with a little refining, but it's worth a visit for the ambience alone.

Don't miss: the Spaghetti Bolognaise

I'm now on the look-out for a decent lunch spot, and somewhere that does an excellent coffee in the area. Any recommendations?

I was a guest at two of the above restaurants but as always all views are my own.

A Little Bit About Baby Sleep

Sunday, 22 January 2017

It was Shakespeare who said, "to sleep, perchance to dream", but funnily enough all I've been dreaming about recently is sleep!

For ten whole months now, my baby has ensured that I've had the kind of sleep that even my former party girl self (see this post for more on that) would be impressed with. Awake until 3am singing, rocking and cajoling; rudely awoken every thirty minutes or so throughout the night; forced to start my day several hours before the sun has risen... you name it, I've seen it all. The only thing that's kept me sane is the knowledge that I'm not the only parent going through this torture at night. That actually it's incredibly common and that babies, for their abundance of qualities often just do this. It's normal.


It's not surprising that Googling 'baby sleep' throws up a cool 173 million results. Parents like Mr Sunshine and me across the globe are busy pulling their hair out, frantically asking the internet for help and hoping that someone has the magic solution that will finally make little Henry go the F to sleep.

Now I hate to break it to you, but unless you're willing to set out a hardcore sleep training programme and stick to it (hats off to those of you that are, but I'm not), if you have a child like mine then nothing is going to change any time soon.


OK, the baby books are all right when they say that a solid bed time routine is an absolute MUST in order to help your child to wind down and switch off at night. They are not however correct when they list the number of hours your child should be sleeping over a 24 hour period, and the exact nap schedule they should be in according to their age. I once read that at four months old, my baby should be sleeping for an unbroken stretch of 8 hours during the night, along with three day time naps of at least an hour each and I almost went into meltdown. The problem is that these 'authors' seem to have forgotten a key piece of information: EVERY BABY (JUST LIKE EVERY HUMAN) IS DIFFERENT!

So for those of you, like us, who are the proud parents of a little sleep thief, and you're losing the will to live, here are my top three survival techniques to help to get you through those long and torturous nights:

1. The bed time routine. This is worthy of the two mentions it's received in this post, because it is just about the only technique (and trust me when I say I've tried it all) that has worked for us thus far. And when I say worked, I mean it's helped us to get her into a sufficient state of drowsiness to allow her to fall asleep in the first place (it unfortunately doesn't seem to have a lot of bearing on what comes next!). A warm bath, a story, a feed, a gentle song, keeping things dark and quiet and a long cuddle are all a part of our routine and these days Sophia is out cold within half an hour. To me, this is an absolute result.


2. Co-sleeping. Yes, that much talked about, ever-so controversial topic. We know the dangers, we've read the research, and actually it's pretty much the only thing that's allowed any of us (Baby Sunshine included) to get the requisite amount of sleep to survive. For her first two months she refused to sleep anywhere other than on me at night. For her next five, she refused to sleep anywhere other than in reaching distance (thank goodness for the Chicco Next2Me). Even now, aged ten months and in her own room, when she wakes in the night for a feed she often refuses to go back into her cot and will only settle when she's tucked up between us in our bed (usually with a hand on my face and a foot in Mr Sunshine's ribs). Co-sleeping is one of those parenting decisions that I won't apologise for. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I love the snuggles that come with it!

3. Acceptance. This final tip has taken us a little longer to master. It took a particularly formidable bout of colic for us to finally give up on trying to force sleep upon our wakeful child, and instead accept that it's just a phase, that it will pass and that this won't last forever. Repeating these phrases to yourself whenever you're having a particularly difficult night works like a charm (no parent has a fifteen year old who's keeping them up all night remember!!) and adopting a laissez-faire attitude also helps you to relax enough to transmit your oh-so casual demeanor onto your child. Remember, the more wound up you are about them not sleeping, the less likely they are to sleep!



The other night, we experienced a miracle. She'd just finished cutting a tooth, had gotten over a cold and come out the other end of a particularly difficult developmental leap (basically, all of our stars had aligned) and she did something she never did and slept for at least three hours without waking. Ironically, instead of using this chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep ourselves, we stayed awake talking about her, watching videos of her and wishing that she was awake. That is the craziness of parenthood in a nutshell!


I'd love your advice! What tips do you have for encouraging your baby to sleep?

PS. My baby woke three times in the making of this blog post.

OhLaLa Magazine Review: Sabai Thai

Thursday, 12 January 2017

At the end of last year, I was honoured to be invited by OhLaLa, one of my favourite fashion and beauty publications in the Middle East, to become their monthly food contributor. It's been a long-time dream of mine to have my own column in a prestigious magazine, and it was of course, an offer I couldn't resist. One of my first culinary explorations for the magazine saw me heading to Sabai Thai where I had one of the most memorable meals of my life in Qatar to date.

Here's what I got up to...

It was not long after midday on a Sunday when I walked through the doors of Sabai Thai at the Westin Doha Hotel & Spa, and I was surprised to find it busy and bustling.


Image courtesy of OhLaLa magazine

The building that houses the restaurant is separated from the main hotel by a walkway, and is bordered by serene water-features, which immediately transport you to the Far East. Enormous floor to ceiling windows flood the elegant interiors with natural light, highlighting the fusion of traditional wooden carvings and Thai artefacts with the contemporary open space and clean lines of the room.


Image courtesy of OhLaLa magazine

The menu itself is traditional and authentic, with a few innovative twists to the complex recipes that royal Thai cuisine is renowned for. The freshness of the ingredients are showcased in the salads such as the Som Tam Thai: crisp shredded green papaya with string beans, tomato and peanuts dressed in a spicy citrus dressing which tickles the palette, and the Yaam Som O-Goong: a herbed pomelo salad with meaty prawns, shallots and crunchy cashews and coconut which is a surprisingly wholesome and comforting dish.


Image courtesy of OhLaLa magazine

The Chor Muang are blue-coloured, intricately composed flower-shaped steamed dumplings which are a traditional Thai art, demonstrating that the restaurant’s skilful chefs are not simply adept at putting together complex texture and flavour combinations, but are concerned with the visual appeal of their food, too. These dumplings cry out to be photographed.


Image courtesy of OhLaLa magazine

Stir fries and main courses come in generous portions, and share one commonality: they are all warming comfort food, which make you feel as though you’re eating lunch in a traditional Thai family home rather than a formal restaurant. The Nua Sub Phad Bai Gaprow comes with minced beef or chicken and packs real a chili punch, with a lingering, earthy after-taste of basil. The Gaeng Khiew Waan Ghai is a delicious twist on the traditional Thai Green Curry, with chicken, Thai eggplant and sweet basil, which combine to create a curry that is both moreish and memorable.


Image courtesy of OhLaLa magazine

For dessert, my top choice is the Khao Niew Mamaung, or sticky rice with mango to you and me. A simple dish, widely eaten in Thai households, it sees two of my favourite things brought together: sweet, juicy and ripe mango slices and glutinous, warm rice laced with coconut milk.


Image courtesy of OhLaLa magazine

On my way back home after the meal, feeling full and content, I found myself absent-mindedly googling holidays to Thailand on my phone. There is no better evidence of a successful meal than this.

Polly Recommends:

Signature Set Menu: 199 QAR
Sharing Menu for Two: from 100 QAR
Express Business Lunch: 65 QAR for three courses; 90 QAR with one selected
beverage (excluding Fridays)
Friday Brunch: 199 QAR with soft beverages; 299 QAR with selected beverages.
 
For more information or reservations call: 4492 1555

Article originally published in OhLaLa Magazine, January 2017 Issue.
To read my monthly Culinary Insight column, along with up to date fashion and beauty news, the latest issue of the magazine is available in all major shops and newsagents now.

Our Luxury Family Travel Plans For 2017

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Despite having a baby in March of 2016, we have somehow still managed to satisfy our wanderlust and travel quite extensively as a family over the past year, beginning with a trip to Dubai for a relaxing stay at Anantara The Palm, and continuing with a few trips home to the UK and several more to the UAE. Mr Sunshine and I quickly learned the rules of travelling with a baby and with our confidence growing it wasn't long before we were setting ourselves some more ambitious luxury yet family-friendly travel goals for 2017.

Gone are the days when having a child means that you are limited to staying in a Holiday Inn equivalent or local B&B when travelling. Some of the world's best-known and most exclusive hotel brands are starting to cotton onto the fact that downtime-deprived parents are willing to pay that little bit extra to enjoy a touch of luxury while on holiday, and have responded by revolutionising their offerings to make them more inclusive and welcoming to families of all shapes and sizes.

I'm starting to get a little bit excited because we are planning to stay at three of the best of these hotels when we visit the stunning island of Bali this coming Summer.

1. The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan



Moments away from the artistic capital of Ubud, hidden away in a lush paradise beside the Ayung River sits a Four Seasons hotel which has won a plethora of awards over the years, including recognition by the Conde Naste Traveler. With a split-level pool which follows the natural contours of the Ayung River, spa and yoga pursuits for the adults, and the complimentary 'Pici Pici' Kids Club offering all manner of activities for the littles in your life, the resort has something to please everyone.

Most looking forward to: a family yoga session on one of the hotel's beautiful platforms overlooking the stunning Balinese forest below.

2. The Viceroy Ubud



Consisting of 25 individual luxury villas with private pools within Bali's 'valley of the King's', the Viceroy is a luxury resort frequented by seasoned and sophisticated travelers, yet it retains a personal touch as it remains a family owned and operated hotel. The resort is known for its luxuriously appointed spa and five star dining at CasCades, both of which showcase breathtaking views over the undulating landscape surrounding Ubud. There are also a range of guest activities on offer from cooking classes and dance lessons, sunrise treks and local tours, to ensure that every member of the family remains entertained.

Most looking forward to: leaving Mr Sunshine and Baby Sunshine to splash about in our private pool while I head off for a traditional Balinese massage in Lembah Spa.

3. Alila Villas Uluwatu



Perched on steep limestone cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean, each of the exclusively-designed luxury villas that make up the resort at Uluwatu offer visitors unparalleled luxury and a serene escape away from the busier settlements around Bali. Traditional Indonesian dishes are served up by some of the region's most acclaimed chefs at The Waring, a staple on Bali's dining and social scene. For larger family groups, the three bedroom villas offer ample space and comfort, with walkways and bridges connecting the relaxation pavilions and pools to the spacious living areas.

Most looking forward to: gazing out over breathtaking ocean views from our private infinity pool and the stunning Sunset Cabana.


That's a whole lot of luxury that I never thought we would be able to experience with a baby in tow and I'm really excited that these hotels are allowing us to explore Bali as a family in style. But Bali is only the tip of the iceberg - our 2017 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for travel! More on that later...

Where are you planning to escape to this year?



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