DOHA OR DON’T I

It occurred to me recently that I was entering my fifth month in Dubai and had yet to leave the city. This is highly unusual for me. I’m used to getting on a plane every couple of months. So I decided to book a trip to the neighbouring country Qatar.

I was headed to the capital city of Doha, just one hour away, where I planned to spend two days and one night swimming in the hotel pool, exploring the souks and visiting the world’s largest collection of Islamic art.

The trip took a little bit of forward thinking as I was travelling during Ramadan, the month of fasting and knew that cafes and restaurants would be closed during the day. I called the hotel to check that room service would be possible and figured I would just have to structure my days around taking meals in my room.

I specifically ate a big lunch at home before leaving for the airport. However when I got to the airport everyone was eating McDonalds as apparently the fast doesn’t apply if you are sick or travelling. Good information to know!

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I spent the afternoon at the hotel pool waiting for the sun to start setting and then headed out to walk the streets. This in itself doesn’t seem that remarkable, but after living five months in a city without footpaths, just being able to explore the city by foot was wonderful! I came across a street vendor selling hot samosas. People were lining up to buy and eat them on the spot. I was confused, as in Dubai the fast can’t be broken til 7:15pm. I later found out that “iftar” is 6:30pm in Doha. I needn’t have hidden the samosas in my handbag after all.

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The next thing that caught my eye was a stunning white mosque in the centre of the old part of town. I watched as men filed in for the evening prayers, the crescent moon rising above the minaret. It was such a stunning site against the electric blue sky, I felt it was worth getting on the plane just for that!

The rest of the evening was spent exploring the Souk Waqif, an historic marketplace that has been tastefully renovated with Arabic restaurants, shisha cafes and antique shops while preserving its old world charm.

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So far the trip was going to plan. I was up early the next day to walk the 7km waterfront cornice, again just excited to be able to walk on a flat surface! After a morning swim at the pool, my plan was to eat lunch, check out then spend the afternoon at the Museum for Islamic Arts before going to the airport to fly back to Dubai. Before heading out I thought I would recheck the opening hours. To my great surprise and consternation, concierge informed me that that the Museum wouldn’t open til 8pm! Ramadan timings! Disappointed but not defeated I formulated plan B – a visit to the Villaggio mall. Nope, that closed at 1pm and reopened at 6pm! Ramadan timings!

Eventually, I had to talk to the hotel staff about extending my check out, as I had literally nowhere to go! It was 45 degrees outside and everything was closed!

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Thankfully a friend Caroline Malone who I knew from Hong Kong came to the rescue. She works at international TV new network Al Jazeera, which I watch regularly and am quite a fan of. Within one hour she had a security pass organised and after some interesting “conversations” with the Arabic security guards, I found myself being given a behind the scenes tour. It was a flash back to my former incarnation as a PR exec and I loved it! It was a great end to a very interesting 24 hours in Doha. The Museum of Islamic Arts will have to wait til next time!

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