Unfortunately, I did not know that Qatar Airlines offered a stopover through Discover Qatar in Doha when Hubs and I initially booked our Maldives flights through Qatar Airlines (ranked the #1 airline in the world). We made this delightful discovery after we had already departed the States. However, the airline (for a fee, of course) altered our flights, and we made a two day pit stop in the incredibly wealthy, insanely hot, and bustling country.
A tidbit of information – Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East, allowing Transit Visas upon arrival for free, given you have a valid passport and return ticket. These Visas are valid for stays from 5 hours and up to 96. Additionally, Discover Qatar offers one night free hotel stay in a variety of 5-star accommodations, or two to three nights for a fee of $100 in the same hotels. Given that the layover in Doha is a whopping nine hours, this was absolutely worth the extra money for a good nights sleep in luxury lodging.
The money flowing through Qatar is obvious before you even land at the airport. From the sky, you can see the intricate, man-made island. The skyscrapers litter the city scape. Upon landing at the airport, a sparkling air conditioned building greets you. We were met by a smiling gentleman driving a black luxury sedan. He ferried us the 25 minutes through Doha to our accommodations for the next couple of nights. He deposited us at our five-star hotel in the city center, the Marriott Marquis.
Unlike US hotels, security has a much larger presence. We had to go through a metal detector upon returning to the hotel each time we left. They scanned our bags before allowing us access to the enormous lobby. The friendly, multi-lingual front desk checked us in, and we took the elevator up to our room.
Downside to vacationing in a conservative Muslim country… twin beds in hotel rooms.
We are actually married (at least in Slovenia), does that entitle us to at least a queen sized bed?
However, we were at least provided a decent view through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the city center on the 11th floor.
Tiny little admission… I may have slept brilliantly while buried beneath the blankets in my personal feathery, comfy haven in the starkly cold room thanks to the wonderfully chilly air conditioning.
We began our Doha exploration with a City Tour provided by Discover Qatar for a minimal cost of $24 a person. We were ferried around the city by a local gentleman, who regaled us with Doha facts throughout the jaunt. Doha is the capital of Qatar, and boasts a population of about 2.4 million. It is located along the Persian Gulf. He informed us water is more expensive than fuel in the wealthy country. And if we happened upon any green spaces (grass is a novelty there), it was likely watered every 30 minutes in order to survive in the extreme heat of the desert.
We cruised through the city in air conditioned comfort in an van, just the two of us and our insightful guide. A few highlights and/or stops:
The Pearl-Qatar, an artificial island jutting into the Gulf, is a $15 billion (so far) project. It will be a stunning residential estate made up of luxury villas and commercial amenities. The project was originally to cost $2.5 Billion, but clearly that budget was a tad off.
A colossal to-scale model of the not yet finished island takes up the first floor of a building, displaying a life-like representation of the what the man-made archipelago will look like upon completion.
The imitation even has people, boats, greenery, and lighting!
And it was so enormous that I could not even get a photo of the entire model in a single photo.
Moral of the story: Sorry for the disjointed photographs that do not portray the full enormity of this undertaking.
Yet another displaying of probably the most financially stable country I have ever traveled to. They successfully made the desert desirable.
We also crept into a mosque. Thankfully, I had smartly packed a shawl and light sweaters to cover my provocative shoulders. I was also clad in baggy, white linen pants (thanks, Athleta for selling breathable and comfortable pants perfect for the occasion).
Anywho… the lower floor, only suitable for men, was basically an open floor for praying. The upper balcony was where the women were relegated to. I was escorted outside to the separate entrance they were banished to. The much smaller space overlooked the men’s sanctuary below. After collecting our footwear, we returned to our Discover Qatar chariot.
MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART
Our guide dumped us at the entrance to the Museum of Islamic Art. This free museum sports an unusual exterior facade. It is geometric and quite unique, looking vaguely similar to a stack of building blocks. Our chaperone challenged us to guess the significance. Stumped, he enlightened us that it is meant to resemble a woman in a hijab with only her eyes visible. If you decide to visit the museum, abide by the conservative dress code, otherwise, you may be refused entrance. Little update: My recent perusal of the museum’s website showed there is now a fee in order to gain entry to the museum. You know… because Qatar is a poor country…
The collection was fascinating, with pieces ranging from the 7th to 19th centuries, and included scrolls, textiles, ceramics, and metalwork, along with items of early mathematical importance. There is also a cafe, a gift shop, and an exterior park. Don’t forget both male and female private pray rooms. The glass windows at the rear of the building provide an uninterrupted view of the water beyond.
We were given 45 minutes to peruse the sprawling Souq Waqif by our chauffer. The Souq is a maze of vendors selling everything from spices to jewelry to daily goods to birds to furniture. We could have spent hours wandering the alleys, and made a mental note to return later with more time to spare.
Fast forward several hours, and we returned by cab to the Souq. Unlike when we were roving the passageways earlier, most of the merchants were open for business at the later afternoon hour. The bazaar is organized into areas by means of the goods the shopkeep was bartering. Spice hucksters were in one section, while rug peddlers were off in another. I must admit, the souqs have become one of my favorite places to visit common in many Middle Eastern countries. We walked out of there is color footwear, mugs, spices, tea (cinnamon was my poison, but should one have consumed a few too many beans that day, flatulence tea was also an option), kitchen wares, and a chess set. Bartering is welcomed!
We opted to walk the 5.5 km from the Souq back to our hotel. We strolled along the pathway ringing the water front. Due to the requirements of my gender covering up, it was quite the toasty saunter. Regardless of my clamminess, the walk provided quite the view of the very colorful skyline.
And a handstand of course. I made sure to wait until there were no other onlookers, so that I did not offend anyone when my shirt dropped to my shoulders, revealing my stomach. GASP! I’m such a heathen.
During our exploration of the hotel, and the attached mall, we discovered several restaurants that were housed in the same building as the hotel. After perusing the options, Hubs decided we were going to splurge on our meal that evening. He settled upon Ipanema, a Brazilian-style steak house. Because… when in Rome??? I suppose we spent the previous couple weeks dining on Indian food for the most part, we can branch out on our final night overseas.
The food did not disappoint. I could not tell you everything I ate that night since I felt like a whale upon departing. After getting a smallish sampling from the buffet (I had to save room for the immense amounts of meat to come), we purchased a bottle of wine, and awaited the first round of meats to be whisked by our table. For anyone unfamiliar with Brazilian steakhouses, you are given what amounts to a coaster – one side RED and the other GREEN. When you’re ready to gorge on whatever tasty hunk of meat the waiters are strolling by with, you flip your coaster over to the green side, prompting the servers to cut you a fresh slice off the slab they are toting.
I swore I was not going to give into every delicious smell that wafted passed me, but alas, I was defenseless against the succulent fare, acquiescing to my cravings. I felt like I gained 30 pounds when we waddled out of there. Totally worth it, and I slept like a baby. Another note… I discovered grilled pineapple. The delectable fruit was blanketed in cinnamon. I was incapable of dismissing the servers when they came by with it.
Random side note… Arby’s in Arabic present in the busy food court in one of the many malls. Along with the longest, flattest escalator I have ever ridden.
Alas, it is time to depart the warmth of Qatar and return to the cold, snowy climate of Virginia in November.
وداعا … Apparently that is “goodbye” in Arabic. Back to reality (and winter).