Monday 11/14/2016 - Doha Qatar: Old Dhow Harbour, Katara Cultural Village, Souq WaqifWe got up at 4 a.m., took showers, and I posted some more photos to Facebook. We checked out of the hotel and Kay accompanied us to the airport at 5:30. Our flight to Doha, Qatar took off at 8:05.
This aircraft was rather cramped, and we both felt pretty lousy after not getting a whole lot of sleep. We tried to rest a bit on the flight.
We arrived in Qatar at 11 a.m. We saved $600 per person by delaying our Doha to Boston flight by one day, so that meant that we had a 22 hour layover. We pre-booked a room at The Airport Hotel. We still came out quite a bit ahead, even with the cost of the room factored in.
The airport here is pretty funny, as everything is described in terms of its relationship to "the teddy bear", a huge sculpture in the middle of the shopping arcade. The elevator to our hotel was "behind the teddy bear," and the tour counter was "in front of the teddy bear." In fact, our hotel room even overlooks the teddy bear! The name of the sculpture is Lamp Bear, and it was created by Swiss artist Urs Fischer. The 23 foot sculpture is impossible to miss, and therefore is a great landmark. It is a large yellow teddy bear sitting under an oversized desk lamp. The metal lampshade directly over his head makes him look like he is sitting under and old-fashioned beauty parlor hair dryer.
Since we always squeeze as much activity as possible into a trip, we decided to take advantage of a free 3 hour city tour sponsored by Qatar Airways and the tourism board. (What could possibly go wrong on a 3 hour tour?) We have never been to the Middle East before, so we couldn't resist the opportunity.
We found the tour desk, as promised, in front of the teddy bear, and signed up for the late afternoon tour departure. We met Dan from Asheville, NC, who was also signing up for the same tour. Then we walked to the elevator behind the teddy bear and rode up to the hotel.
We checked in to the hotel and were even given an upgrade, room #165. It was a very chic, comfortable, spacious, modern room. Our checked luggage wasn't available to us, so we had made sure to pack anything we might need in our carry-ons. We got settled and rested until it was time for our city tour.
We met at the appointed spot in front of the teddy bear at 3:00 p.m. and chatted some more with Dan. We were issued cards which acted as a temporary visa, and we went through immigration and got our passports stamped. We then met our guide, a Nepali named Hari, who escorted us to our tour bus.
Craig and I were expecting to see Doha solely through the windows of the bus. We were pleasantly surprised when Hari said we would be making several stops for photographs and even shopping at the souq! We would be granted the freedom to explore for a short amount of time at each stop, but we needed to be back to the bus on time. Otherwise it would be considered a violation of our visas and the consequences would not be favorable.
The weather was actually pretty nice, 44% humidity and around 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees F). The sun was setting and the light was beautiful. The city is really beautiful: a mixture of traditional Islamic architecture and very modern, sometimes even whimsical (see teddy bear statement above) design. There were sleek, round or conical glass skyscrapers and there was a building resembling a wrapped present with a big ribbon on top.
Palm trees lined the highway. The poles for the streetlights were covered in gorgeous Arabic calligraphy which spelled out the lyrics to the national anthem. They lit up in neon colors at night.
Water is more precious than oil here. Until very recently, you could get 4 liters of gas for $1. Now it is more like 2 liters. Water is desalinated, and actually needs to be cooled before using it. Recycled water is used for watering plants. The city is actually quite lush for its desert environment. Solar energy is on the rise, and the city hopes to be 100% solar-powered in the next 15 years.
Fewer than 15% of the population here are actually Qatari citizens. The GDP is the highest per capita in the world, with the government providing citizens with free education, health care, and stipends for weddings, real estate, and children.
The remaining 85% of the population consists of foreign workers representing 180 countries.
Our first stop was the Old Dhow Harbour on the Persian Gulf. Here we had a lovely view of the modern city skyline, as well as the innovative architecture of the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei. The top of the building looks like a pair of eyes peeking out from under a burqa.
At 91 years of age, the museum's architect, I. M. Pei had to be coaxed out of retirement to undertake this enterprise. He traveled throughout the Muslim world on a six-month quest to learn about Muslim architecture and history and read Muslim texts to draw inspiration for his design.There are many dhow boats in this harbor. They used to be used for pearl diving. Though that industry is no longer viable, the government subsidizes the boat owner to keep the traditional boats here, and they are now used for parties and tourist cruises. We only had 10 minutes to stop here, and Craig and I ran around taking lots of photos. A man on a dhow invited us aboard, but unfortunately, we didn't have enough time.
Next we drove along the coast through the city center to Katara Cultural Village. This is modern replica of a village which existed in the northern part of the country 200 years ago. Its name is derived from "Catara", and ancient name for Qatar dating back to 150 A.D. The vision of the village is for it to promote peace via global cultural exchange. The residential section is still under construction, but is planned to hold residences for 250 artists.
There is a gorgeous mosque there called Katara Masjid. Its architecture is inspired by the great mosques of the world, and its exterior is decorated with intricate mosaics. We heard the 5 p.m. call to prayer. There are also interesting cylindrical mud towers with small round holes arranged in aesthetically pleasing designs. Sticks protruded from the sides, calling to mind KerPlunk. Hari asked if we could guess the purpose of these structures. It turned out that they were pigeon houses. Carrier pigeons were utilized in the past, and today, pigeons are fed and cared for, especially since they used to nest in this area prior to the construction of the complex.
There is also a beautiful marble amphitheatre here, with classical and Islamic architectural influences. It holds 5000 people, and has wonderful acoustics. The inaugural concert in 2011 was produced by Vangelis. We walked around on the marble stage in the center of the amphitheatre. A Pakastani man greeted Craig and wanted a photo of the two of them together.
Finally, we went to the Souq Waqif. This market's name translates to "standing market", because the gulf waters often flooded it to the point that sellers could not sit down to sell their wares.
As we got out of the bus, we could see the full "supermoon" rising over the Spiral Mosque (Fanar, Qatar Islamic Cultural Center).It was breathtaking!
Hari suggested that the Souq would be a good place to get take-out food. Craig and I were hungry, and had resigned ourselves to eating somewhere in the airport. This seemed like much better solution. Hari recommended kebabs, and pointed us in the direction of a restaurant. We took this on as our mission for the souq visit; to seek out some delicious local food.
We walked down several corridors and found a hole-in-the-wall kebab restaurant called Kebab Thayyib, which dates back to 1937. We were immediately welcomed in and directed to the ablution station. After washing our hands, they insisted that we make ourselves comfortable at a table, and they brought us fresh fritters to sample while we waited for our take-out. They cooked our lamb kebabs very quickly and packaged them up with some flatbread and lemon. I got a photo of Craig with one of the employees, and when the proprietor saw this, he got a big smile, put his arm around both men, and joined in.
We got our bag of delicious-smelling take-out, and then headed back to the outdoor area of the souq. It took a lot of will power not to devour it then and there, but we only had a few more minutes of our allotted 25 minutes left to explore.
A procession of people who were singing in traditional Middle Eastern style passed by us. We browsed at the souvenir stalls to try to find something to commemmorate our short but enjoyable stay in Qatar. I decided on a miniature enamel tea set which looked quirte Arabesque.
Soon our time was up, and we regrouped with Hari and the others at our appointed meetingplace. We exited the souq, taking a few final photographs of the supermoon over the Spiral Mosque. It was surreal, and the photos couldn't capture the magic of the giant moon rising over the beautiful architecture. We couldn't believe that we were actually here witnessing it.
We have to hand it to Qatar - their promotion worked! We had a wonderful time and learned a lot about Doha and the country. We also learned that they now provide 4 day transit visas for no charge. With non-stop flights from Boston to Doha, we could take advantage of that some time when we connect through Qatar in the future. The city was clean, beautiful, interesting, and felt very safe. Everyone was incredibly friendly. Our only complaint was that we didn't have time to see more of it!
When we got back to the airport at around 7 p.m., we went through immigration and security. We stopped in at a convenience store to buy some water. While there, we picked up a souvenir magnet of the Souq Waqif.
We got into the elevator and returned to our hotel room. We sat at the small table and enjoyed our delicious take-away lamb kebabs and flatbread. It was amazing! We love that we got to try authentic market food!
We were very excited about our unexpected adventures in Qatar, so I loaded up my photos and crafted a Facebook post. We went to bed shortly before 10 p.m.
Old Dhow Harbour, Doha
Katara Cultural Village, Doha
Souq Waqif, Doha
Tuesday 11/15/2016 - Doha to BostonWe woke up at around 4:30 a.m., and decided to get up then. I posted some more Myanmar photos on Facebook. We took showers, and packed for our flight home.
Checkout time at the hotel is 15 minutes prior to your flight's boarding time. So we checked out at 6:50 a.m. We met Samwel, a desk clerk from Kenya. We told him we had been to Nairobi and some Maasai lodges, and he said that was where he was from. He said that he met President Obama when he visited his village as a Senator and played with the kids, though Samwel didn't realize who he was at the time. He is very proud of that experience now.
Our boarding time was 7:05, so we went downstairs, went to Terminal E, went through security, and were ready to go. The flight was only half full, so they rearranged passengers to give us more room.
We had scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, mushrooms, and home fries for breakfast. Later they came around with Lay's chips and Twix bars.
We arrived in Boston at 2 p.m. As usual, the time zone thing makes my brain hurt. We left Myanmar at 8 a.m. on Monday. We arrived home at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. The interim included two long flights and a 22 hour layover.
EpilogueThis trip was a challenge for Craig, due to the activity level and the heat. He realized that he could really have benefitted from having a cane or walking stick. His hips and legs grew tired and sore from an excess of walking, and he had balance issues which made it difficult to walk on the sloped riverbanks. Soon after we arrived home, he started to see a physical therapist. She assessed his gait and recommended a cane. She was able to show him the proper height that was needed to take the strain off of his hips and knees. He vowed to take the cane on any subsequent trips.
Several months after the trip, I got an e-mail from my dad. He sent me a link to an article in The Daily Mail about the Pandaw Chindwin River cruise. "That was your trip, right?" What he didn't realize was that it was our ACTUAL trip; the author was our fellow cruise passenger Sara Macefield! We sent her a congratulatory e-mail, and soon she sent us a link to another article about the trip, this time in Cruise International.
We also kept in touch with Eda after returning home. It turned out that the reason that she was in so much pain on the trip was due to a compression fracture of her vertbrae! Poor Eda. She is one tough cookie! Given the extent of her injuries, we are amazed at how much she was able to do while on the cruise. We wish her a speedy recovery!
We were very honored to finally be able to travel with Toni herself. Myths & Mountains has provided many extraordinary trips for us, but we had never had the pleasure of meeting Toni in person. The opportunity to explore a newly opened tourist route with her was a chance that we couldn't pass up, and it lived up to all expectations!
Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. PEI. The pinnacle is supposed to resemble a woman's eyes peeking out from under a burqa
Steph at Qatar's Old Dhow Harbour
City center from Old Dhow Harbour
Photographer and cat, Old Dhow Harbour
Pigeon towers, Katara Cultural Village
Mosque where we heard the call to prayer, Katara Cultural Village
Craig's new Pakistani friend, Katara Amphitheatre
Beautiful lamps, Souq Waqif
Supermoon rises behind the Spiral Mosque, Souq Waqif
Kebab Thayyib (est. 1937) where we got amazing lamb kebabs to go!, Souq Waqif
Craig with the Kebab Thayyib staff, Souq Waqif