Qatar – first stop

Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 February

It was a relatively easy flight to Qatar, except for the lady behind who coughed and coughed all night. We were right at the back of plane – so it was a bit of a bumpy ride.

We arrived early in the morning and gratefully accepted an early check in at the hotel.

Still MUM about precious news.

We had met Jenny & Neil at Melbourne Airport, they had just returned from New Zealand. We had a light meal with them, but not much news of the ‘treasures’ to share.

Qatar is a kingdom. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, known as Hamad, started his rule in 1995. He is now referred to as His Highness the Father Emir.

He abdicated in 2013, handing the title to his fourth son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, known as Tamim.

They have both tried to modernise Qatar and protect it when the oil and gas reserves run out. They have supported the rebels in Syria and also Iran, and therefore have fallen out with the rest of the Arab states.

The population in Qatar is 2 million, but only 20% are local. I was also told that 50% are Filipinos.

Qatar struck me as new and unfinished, a Work In Progress. Much of it in preparation for Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022.

A rail system is under construction that includes a metro in the Doha area and regional and cargo trains serving greater distances. The first section is due for completion this year.

There are also many buildings under construction or recently finished. Many of them appear to be not yet inhabited. The architecture is interesting, lots of glass, some highly decorated with a mixture of Islamic and contemporary styles of every imaginable shape. Massive car parks are provided. But there is still a feeling of emptiness, as if they are waiting for people to come.

There are plans to build a 40km bridge linking Qatar to Bahrain and called the Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Bridge. This would make it one of the world’s longest bridges. Construction has been delayed due to the financial crisis in 2008 and various political differences. It may never be built.

There was a building site next to our hotel – with a large contingent of workers. The building exercise continued around the clock. We saw enormous progress in the 48 hours of our visit.

We were told there is a saying in Doha that if you go away for a short break you may not recognise the place when you return.

Apparently the hazy sky and dirty windows can be attributed to the fine particles of sand that come in from the desert. Memories of Egypt and jammed cameras.

It was a poor nation made rich with oil and gas. During Hamad’s rule Qatar’s natural gas production made it the richest country in the world per capita.

There was a very large cruise boat in dock our first day and two large cruise boats in the following day, perhaps bringing 1,000 people on shore.

We had noticed a lot of German’s here. We had to guess they were cruisers. This was confirmed when we chatted to an Irish couple on the hop on hop off bus. They were on an 8 day cruise starting in Abu Dhabi, then onto Sir Bani Yas Island, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai and back to Abu Dhabi. There are a lot of cruises in the Middle East / Persian Gulf, it seems to be the new destination for cruising.

We stopped off at the City Centre Mall. It is huge – we only covered a small portion of it. We wandered into the Carrefour, surely one of the larger supermarkets we have ever visited. They sold everything from fridges to dates.

We then stopped off at Katara, the up market cultural & arts precinct with its empty (pay for) beach, amphitheater and fancy restaurants. Like other places here there was a lot of emptiness.

In this area you will find the highest point in Doha – a man-made hill of about 100m, which has something under construction on the top.

Doha, like the other Emirate states is building specialised areas such as Education City, where they encourage a number of big universities to establish campuses, and the Aspire Zone Sporting Academy with indoor sporting arenas and a sports medicine hospital.

Our last stop for the day was to the Museum of Islamic Art or MIA.

We wandered through the temporary exhibition Syria Matters which focused on the different cultural influences on Syria and the art they brought through the ages. It also showed a very disturbing before and after of some of the great ruins now destroyed, whether accidentally, as a result of fighting in the area or by direct destruction.

The main exhibition is in two parts – the development of Islam through the ages and the language of the calligraphy. We visited the first part. The layout of each room with freestanding glass cases was impressive and the small but relevant collection absolutely amazing.

The museum is open until 7pm so we were treated to a beautiful Middle Easter sunset around 5:30pm between exhibits.

We had both noticed a ‘Bar & Grill’ restaurant that was close to our hotel, so went to check it out. It turned out to be ‘Crabbers’ a typical southern USA grill place with a couple of beers on tap and the typical USA menu of burgers and sandwiches. They were fully booked, so we agreed to eat at the bar. When we went to choose our menu, we were told the kitchen was closed due to a ‘hazard’. Turns out they had a flood. Perhaps it was just as well, a beer and wine cost a small fortune.

We ended up back at the Movenpick for a Valentine’s night celebration with mocktails and red and white balloons. Next day we were off the the new Republic of North Macedonia to start our celebrations.

Pictures are below the map….