Mondays with Matthew: Visitors Welcome (1 of 2)

Posted by Matthew Lodge

Hello again. It’s good to be back for a second week of “Mondays with Matthew”. I have enjoyed reading all your comments on my first post – even the more critical ones! I’ll respond to as much as I can, and I’ll always respond honestly.

In the spirit of that approach, I wanted to say a few words about visas – the first thing that comes to mind when you mention that you’re the British Ambassador to Kuwait. Yes it’s not the most exciting subject, but it’s clearly one that generates a lot of frustration and emotion. “Too expensive”, “too slow”, “too complicated”, “unfair”, “unnecessary”, or even “insulting”. These are all comments I have heard when listening to Kuwaitis talk about visas to travel to the UK. Let me tackle this head on. My hope over the next two posts is to explain why we do what we do, and how travellers can make the system work as smoothly for them as possible.

Let me start by saying that the United Kingdom welcomes visitors. We are delighted that so many Kuwaitis enjoy travelling to the UK, visiting London and other cities and we want that to continue. Last year, the visa team here at the Embassy received around 100,000 applications for visas from Kuwait for people wishing to travel to the UK. That number doesn’t include all those who have longer-term visas, who are studying or those visiting the UK for medical treatment. In addition, a study by Visit Britain (the UK’s tourist agency) showed that Kuwaiti visitors did more shopping in the UK than any other nationality last year. The UK’s close relationship with Kuwait and the strong human ties are something very special and I am anxious that we maintain and strengthen them.

So, why do we need a Global visa regime at all?

It’s all about security and control. The UK is open, tolerant and welcoming. It is also a country that continues to be shaped by its past with large immigrant communities, an increasingly diverse society and a genuinely global outlook. Add to this the English language, the National Health Service and other factors, and the UK becomes an enormously attractive destination for migrants from many different countries. And then consider the UK’s high profile internationally, the determination of successive UK Governments to stand up for those elsewhere who face oppression, injustice and violence – and you also see a UK that is viewed as a target for those who want to do us harm, who don’t share our views and don’t like our engagement overseas.

One of the prime responsibilities of any national Government is to keep its country – and its people – safe. In the 21st century, that responsibility has become even harder to fulfil. Controlling who crosses our borders is a fundamental element of this. That is why we need to operate a visa regime. It’s not about making life difficult for honest travellers and welcome visitors. It is about stopping those who would do us harm, discouraging those who want to enter the UK illegally, and controlling those who might want to stay on after they have finished what they came for.

So, if we accept that we – sadly – need a visa regime, how can we make it as smooth as possible? More on that next Monday, but for now I welcome your thoughts and input in the comments section!

Post by Matthew Lodge
British Ambassador to Kuwait
Instagram: @HMAMatthewLodge Twitter: @HMAMatthewLodge

london


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Long term parking at the airport

Posted by Mark

longtermparking

I’m heading to Beirut for the weekend for my younger brothers wedding and I feel pretty lucky since I managed to park in the long term parking lot.

The lot was actually full but like I usually do I just waited outside the parking entrance and hoped that someone would leave so I could take their spot. I wasn’t expecting to find parking today and was planning to park in the short term parking as plan B but, the parking attendant came and told me he had a spot in the back but I would have to park on the curb. I didn’t have an issue with that and so he removed the temporary barriers blocking the parking entrance and once I was in led the way to the back. I was planning to just climb the curb and park but it seems they wanted to utilize that space properly so he made me park to one side so there would still be a spot on the curb for someone else. The more cars he can help park, the more tips he will make.

According to the parking attendant the long term parking has been full for the past three days so if you’re planning to park your car at the airport expect to find the long term parking full. Your alternatives are the short term parking lot (I think it’s KD4 a day) or the cargo terminal parking lot which is free but a pretty long walk.

Note: Photo captured from my snapchat


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Escape to Oman

Posted by Mark

oman1

Ali Husain has been organizing trips to Oman for awhile now but I only recently found out about them through a friend of mine. Ali is a Kuwaiti who used to travel to Oman on a monthly basis to hike and discover new places but he ended up completely moving there back in 2012 because he loved the place so much.

According to Ali, the mountains in Oman are rugged yet majestic and unfortunately, not many people know about the real beauty of Oman. It always upsets him every time he asks a person about Oman and the only thing they know is the Shangri-La hotel which is not a representation of anything real in Oman. Oman has so many hidden jewels, unique mountains, caves and waterfalls to offer but no one is willing to put the effort to leave the comfort of a hotel room. So, Ali decided to start a new outdoor community in the Gulf.

oman2

Every few months Ali organizes trips to Oman from Kuwait. The trips are available usually on weekends and they are all about team work and creating a mini community in a magical setup. Everyone on these trips works together to set up camps, cut wood, cook meals, etc. It is a full on schedule usually for two days with hardly any sleep. There are no hotels or proper bathroom and everyone will have to go back to basics in everything.

oman3

Right now Ali has two upcoming trips this October. The first trip is from October 9th to 11th and its to the the largest caving system in the region. It is an amazing experience like no other places on this planet. The second trip takes place from October 16th to October 18th and is to the summit of the highest point in the Gulf, Jebal Shams at 10,000 ft. The cost is KD150 per person and that includes food, beverages, camping gear and transportation but does not include airfare to Oman or any hotel stays before or after the trip. Most of the trips require a high level of endurance and acceptance is usually based on that.

So if you’re interested in exploring Oman you can contact Ali on husaak@gmail.com or whatsapp +96599635414. You can also follow him on instagram where you can see many more amazing pictures @husaak


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Ultimate Lebanon Summer Guide 2014

Posted by Mark

If you’re going down to Lebanon for Eid at the end of the month, here are my favorite places you need to visit for 2014:

sundays

SUN.DAYS at Skybar
Skybar Beirut have something new going on this year and it’s called SUN.DAYS. Starts at 6:30PM on Sundays while the sun is still up and goes on till past midnight. The whole Skybar gets a major makeover for SUN.DAYS with fake grass flooring, a raised bar area and colorful lounges and chairs all over. It actually takes them nearly 12 hours to setup this conversion, that’s how dedicated they are to SUN.DAYS. There are also special guests on SUN.DAYS and while I was there HVOB were performing and I ended up capturing the great shot below. Reservation is a must.

hvob

montagnou

Le Montagnou
Probably the nicest looking pool in Lebanon with the greatest view. Located up in Faraya, Le Montagnou is a restaurant with an outdoor pool and bar. Caters mostly to the fancy schmancy crowd of Faraya and Faqra but still cheaper than many pools in Beirut and cheaper than most of the pools in Kuwait. Stay for the sunset and reservation is a must.

garten

The Gärten by Uberhaus
They’re only open Saturday night from around 8PM to 6AM and it was favorite place last summer and again this summer. It’s an outdoor club that’s open just for the summer with a large green garden filled with bean bags on one side and a huge open dome which is the dance floor on the other.

Internazionale
There are a ton of great pubs in Mar Mikhael but my favorite this trip was Internazionale. It’s owned by the same owner as another favorite pub of mine Torino Express. Internazionale has two advantages over Torino, a larger space and the fact it’s located in the more vibrant Mar Mikhael area. Just like at Torino, the owner DJ’s here as well.

The Train Station
I wish I had taken pictures of this place but I didn’t have my camera on me then. The Train Station is located on the grounds of the old Mar Mikhael train station. They’ve taken one of the abandoned rusty 50+ year old trains and setup a DJ booth inside. They then setup a bar along with tables all around and they’ve kept everything intact including a rust old water tower which the bar surrounds. Pricy for what it is but it’s worth checking out.

The Junkyard
Also located in Mar Mikhael, The Junkyard is located in a large space between a heavily packed residential area and the theme of the place is a giant junkyard. There is indoor and outdoor seating it’s also worth passing by and checking out since it’s visually interesting. The place is a bit too bright so best to start off your evening with The Junkyard which makes sense anyway since they have a good food menu filled with friendly dishes like burgers and fish & chips.

Make sure you check out last years Ultimate Lebanon Summer Guide since most of the recommendations are still applicable as well [Link]


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Review: BEYt Guesthouse

Posted by Mark

beyt1

Last week while in Lebanon I stayed at a guesthouse called BEYt. They’ve been open for nearly a year now and I found out about the place by chance on my last trip there while visiting a small bookshop (Play BEY which belongs to them) and overhearing the owner talk about it. The guesthouse was located on top of the bookshop on the main Mar Mikhael street (where all the pubs are) and when I got a tour of the place I knew I would be staying there on my next trip, which is what I ended up doing.

beyt2

As I mentioned above, BEYt is located on the very popular Mar Mikhael street. It’s on the first floor of a traditional Lebanese building with high ceilings, wooden shutters and beautiful floor tiles. They only have four rooms available which are:

Master Bedroom (90$ for 1 person, 110$ for 2, 130$ for 3)
Private bedroom with its own en-suite bathroom
1 queen-size bed & 1 single bed

Private bedroom (75$ for 1 person, 95$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with its dedicated bathroom across the corridor
1 queen-size bed

Twin Bedroom (60$ for 1 person, 80$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with shared bathroom across the corridor
2 single beds (1.20 meters)

Corner Bedroom (50$ for 1 person, 70$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with shared bathroom
2 single beds (1.10 meters)

Those are the prices as of this post.

beyt4

I ended up taking the “Master Bedroom” and found the room fairly spacious with a pretty large bathroom area thats nearly as big as the room itself. The whole guesthouse is fitted with vintage furniture and various vintage electronics like record players, TVs and cameras. It’s a beautiful space and all the furniture was handpicked by the owner. The biggest seller for me though was the location, being situated right on Mar Mikhael street meant I could walk to my favorite pubs and then clumsily stumble back at the end of the night. For those of you who know Lebanon, BEYt is located 2 minutes away walking from pubs like Radio Beirut, Internazionale, The Train Station and The Junkyard. Walk a minute longer and you’re at Bar Tartine, SUD and The Sandwich Shop. I can’t really imagine a better location to be staying at in Beirut. Because there are no pubs below or right across the street from BEYt the place was actually pretty quiet especially the room I stayed in which didn’t overlook the main road. BEYt also had WiFi and it was a pretty reasonable speed compared to Beirut standards.

beyt6

With all the positives I did have a number of issues though. When we first arrived at the guesthouse we were told that they needed our rooms for 2 hours because they were installing new vintage lights in our rooms. Nice but why couldn’t they have done that before we arrived or after we left? The first thing I wanted to do was unpack and head out. Another day I walked into my room and noticed they had removed the window shutters and a guy was standing outside my window working on them while looking into my room. That made me feel really uneasy since I was just sitting there on my computer with a guy looking in from my window. Again it wasn’t anything urgent that needed fixing so they should have done it before or after we left. I called the owner and told him how weird that was and he told me the guy just needed 10 more minutes. I had to wait until he was done so I could go and shower which annoyed me since I don’t like other people managing my personal time. The next morning I woke up to find the guy was back at my window, he had removed the shutters and was working on them again. It was really annoying and an invasion of my personal space.

Other issues I faced, the original room description which I listed above stated my room would have two beds but when I got there I found only one. It didn’t turn out to be an issue for me but it would have for someone wanting the second bed. Finally, the last issue I had was with the AC. We were told that we should shutoff the AC when we leave our rooms. I hate doing that especially when the AC isn’t really powerful like the ones they had installed. I usually come back to the room to sleep and don’t want to come back to a hot stuffy room and wait an hour till it cools. Luckily we managed to keep it on the whole time without any issues.

beyt3

There were a few more things that bothered me like the smell of the cooking every morning or the really rough and hard towels. But all the issues were relatively minor and nothing really took away from the whole experience except for the guy with my shutters. I thought the price of my room was pretty fair and the fact they have rooms starting at $50 is ridiculous. It’s all about the location and that’s why I’d stay there again with all the issues I had. For more information on BEYt, check out their website [Here]

Another similar place I would recommend staying at is the Hayete Bed & Breakfast which I’ve previously written about [Here]

Note: Picture of the room taken from the BEYt website


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Thinking of going to Cuba?

Posted by Mark

cuba

A couple of weeks ago, me and a friend where looking for places to travel this coming October and Cuba was on the top of our list. We didn’t manage to do much research other than finding out which airline would take us there but, the local travel blog Hello 965 just posted some information on Cuba including how to get there and what to do once you’re there. So if you’re ever considering flying to Cuba, this post should interest you. Check out her post over [Here]


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Kuwait Airlines Plane Makes Emergency Landing in Brussels

Posted by Mark

kuwaitairways

A Kuwait Airways plane carrying 200 people made an emergency landing at Brussels airport Monday after the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit, Belgian news reports said.

The plane, an Airbus 300, was en route to London from Kuwait when the pilot asked for clearance to land, the reports said, citing airport spokeswoman Florence Muls.

“The landing proceeded without incident and all passengers disembarked safely,” Muls said. “Safety services are now examining the aircraft” to see if they can discover where the smoke came from, she added. [Source]

Good thing they’re getting new planes end of the year.


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The Pearl Lounge Got a Makeover

Posted by Mark

pearllounge

If you’ve traveled recently you might have noticed the Pearl Lounge at the airport was getting refurbished. Well the makeover is complete and someone from the National Aviation Services uploaded a 30 days time-lapse of the whole processes. I think the new lounge looks better and it also looks like it can fit a lot more people. Check out the time lapse below.


[YouTube]


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Watch Emirates Break the Record for World’s Shortest A380 Flight

Posted by Mark

emirates

As I’ve previously posted, Emirates is now flying their double decker A380 plane to Kuwait which is now officially the shortest flight for the plane in the world. The flight is only 1 and 25 minutes long and the video below is a behind the scenes look at the inaugural flight to Kuwait. [Link]


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British Airways to Air Documentary about Kuwait Onboard All their Flights

Posted by Mark

BA-film

For the month of August, British Airways will be airing a short documentary about Kuwait on board more than 3,000 flights around the world. The documentary is called “Kuwait: Through Our Eyes” and is divided into four 10-minute films. Originally British Airways were planning just a 10-minute film but due to the overwhelming demand they ended up turning it into a four part series. Kuwait is just one of twenty countries from around the world that are getting a film done and Kuwait is the first one from the Middle East to be featured.

August is one of the busiest months of the year so Kuwait should get a lot of exposure. I couldn’t find a copy of the film online to watch but I’m hoping British Airways will upload it next month onto YouTube or their website. Check out the full article on KUNA [Here]

Thanks @Buzfairy

Update: Part one is now online, watch it below.


[YouTube]


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