Six months ago Brunette was the thrilled and lucky winner of 2 Business Class tickets on Qatar Airways. Our plotting commenced immediately. We were in a dither of excitement about traveling in our own little people pods with flat beds, entertainment centers and good food and wine. But where would we go?
With Qatar Airway’s home being Doha we decided to go there and see it before heading off to Abu Dhabi and the Maldives. We got mixed reactions from fellow travelers about going to Doha from “it’s boring” to “it’s OK as a stopover place”. There’s some truth to each of those perspectives. But with Qatar Airways seemingly unstoppable growth and their addition of a good selection of gateway cities in the U.S. we knew that Doha was very likely to become a layover option for long journeys so we wanted to check it out.
We stayed at the Hilton because we were able to get really good rates. It was fine but if we ever go again it would be a lot nicer to stay next door at the Four Seasons. The Four Seasons has much more of a relaxed, resort feeling than the Hilton which feels a bit more like a business hotel. They both have very expensive food but it’s more worth it (especially at the Friday brunch) at the Four Seasons.
There are some interesting places and activities we recommend if you have a couple of days in Doha. Unfortunately, you could spend most of your visit sitting in traffic as Doha is a massive construction site in preparation for the World Cup. Forget about public transportation in the land of people who have drivers and walking isn’t appealing due to the construction, so at least make sure your driver uses the meter and understands you. (It would be fabulous if your driver also used deodorant but that does not seem to be a part of the taxi driver hygiene process – if there even is one. We had to stick our noses out taxi windows twice to survive.)
The sites and activities we enjoyed were:
The I. M. Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art.
The museum is open every day except Tuesday but hours vary so check the website before going. We were amazed that our taxi driver couldn’t reach the museum due to rerouted traffic because of construction. We were deposited in the general area and thought it would be easy to ask directions. That was when we began to learn that no one in Doha (at least who will speak to Westerners) knows where anything is! The result was that we got to the museum late and grumpy but it’s free, so that helped jolly us up.
The collections aren’t particularly large as it’s sort of a stretch to come up with history that’s actually from Doha – that would be a bunch of old fishing boats and some oil wells – so most of the artifacts are from elsewhere in the Islamic world. We also had many a giggle over the curation as things were labelled “bowl”, “door”, etc,. We decided the curator was a person of few words. However, there was some intricate and beautiful pottery and mosaics that we particularly enjoyed and it’s worth a visit even if only for the architecture and setting.
We somehow bumbled onto the elevator and went to the top floor where Alain Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East is housed. Some man exuding importance whisked past us and into the elevator as the guard (who like guards everywhere was playing on his iPhone) nearly fell out of his chair in horror at our sudden appearance. The restaurant was designed by Philippe Starck (there will be a brief quiz on all of the names dropped in this post) and had terrific views of the Doha skyline. It was clearly not a place where we belonged.
The next place to make time to visit is the Souq Waqif (which is very near the Museum of Islamic Art).
The Souq is somewhat faux old. In a country so young (a little more than 40 years) some instant history is needed. There had been a market of some type there for about a hundred years but it was given a facelift and enlarged about 10 or 15 years ago. (Why doesn’t our government give us facelifts?) There are a couple interesting areas in the souk. One was the falconry area with shops with falcons and falcon accessories as well as a falcon hospital.
Another was where they sell fabric and clothing (of dramatically varying levels of quality).
And of course we’re always in favor of the restaurant section of anywhere we visit but, unfortunately, our visit didn’t coincide with meal time. This Turkish restaurant looked very appealing.
You can also sit around smoking a shisha. That seems to involve looking very hostile if you do it in the day time.
The final activity we would suggest on a two-day layover would be a desert safari to the Empty Quarter and the Arabian Sea. However, we will not recommend the company who comped us. Our driver seemed to have a “troubled” personality, played completely obscene rap music at full volume (which actually amused us to no end) and had us do a disconcerting car change out in the desert for no explanation.
A dune bashing safari is fun to do though and you can find a company through your concierge. The trip involves driving out to the desert, hanging around for a few pictures with camels while air is let out of the car tires so it can drive on the dunes, then scaring the crap out of you flying up and sliding down dunes. We wanted a trip that combined a glimpse of the Inland Sea which was cold and rather uninviting but interesting, in part because we could see Saudi Arabia 7 miles off in the distance. (Take that Sarah Palin and seeing Russia from your backyard!)
Our best food experiences were the fabulous brunch at the Four Seasons on Friday. As Friday is the holy day in the Islamic world it’s somewhat equivalent to the Christian version of Sunday brunch (but without any ham). The Four Seasons had a mind-boggling assortment of food from many cuisines, an open kitchen where you could see things being made and the thing our fantasies are made of – a chocolate fountain!
The other gastronomic delight was Paper Moon, an Italian restaurant housed in the Bank District, This is part of a restaurant group begun in Milan in the late 1970s. The staff is actually Italian (this is very notable in a country where everyone who is in service roles seems to be from India or Pakistan) and the whole ambience and taste experience is right out of the best of Italy.
We ate like two not-so-little piggies because there were so many things to try. We rounded out the night with a dessert orgy.
The location we visited cannot serve alcohol but they also have a restaurant in the W Hotel in Doha where you can have the food and your wine too. Amazingly enough we were so caught up in the food and speaking with the delightful manager that we (semi) didn’t miss our nightly wine.
When it was time to leave Doha we took the advice of our hotel concierge and booked a car to the airport rather than take our chances with another aromatic and directionally-challenged cab driver. (Hint: If the hotel has different classes of cars you can save a lot by picking the Ford over the Audi for your ride to the airport.)
We thought we had allowed more than enough time to get to the airport but with all of the construction delays it ended up becoming a nail biter. Also, the current Doha airport is extremely inefficient and you have to ride in a bus over about 30 miles of tarmac to your flight so allow more time than you think you need.
We were back in the arms of our benefactors, Qatar Airways, and soon to be in the Maldives! Doha had been an interesting layover although it didn’t leave us wishing we had more time. But it sure beat exhausting ourselves on a series of long flights (as we learned on the way home).