Qatar – a small country with big ideas.
(February 2019)

Doha Hop-on Hop-off bus

February 13, 2019. Melbourne, Australia to Doha, Qatar. 

It was a 14 hour night flight from Melbourne to Doha in Qatar. 

Needless to say we were rather buggered by the time we arrived at 5:30 in the morning. 

Our fatigue wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to queue for over an hour waiting for immigration. 

There were only 7 of the 40 booths open. It was obviously far to early for the immigration officials. 

Luckily we managed to get an early check-in at our hotel, the Movenpick on Corniche Street. 

After a bit of work, a rest and a shower we headed out for a walk. 

Firstly to the Souq Waqif, a rambling market full of all sorts of produce, souvenirs and furnishings. There are even camel sales and a falcon hospital there. 

Falconry is still very popular in Qatar. 

The Souq is over 100 years old but was extensively renovated in 2006. It is probably one of the only places in Doha that has retained its traditional architecture.

It was originally on the waterfront but sadly there is now a road and park that separate the two. This is due to the large amount of land reclamation that has been undertaken in Doha.

We were about to head back to the hotel when we found the Doha Hop-on Hop-off bus kiosk. Our plan had been to return to the hotel and then get the bus from near there in the afternoon. 

At the kiosk they told us that the route that went near our hotel wasn’t running. We decided to take the one that was running, and just about to depart. 

The bus ride was an interesting experience. 

More of a public relations exercise than a city sights tour.

The commentary boasted the growth of the city, the people’s love of the Emir and just how lucky everyone was to have such a wonderful benefactor. 

And of course, highlighting the numerous opportunities to buy. 

There was very little about the history or descriptions of what we were actually seeing. 

It was also six years out of date. 

Doha, formerly Al Bidda, is the capital and biggest city in Qatar, with 1.5 million of the 2 million residents.

It was founded in 1820 and became the capital in 1971, after Qatar gained its independence from the Brits. 

Before that it was under Ottoman rule from 1871 to 1913.

As the bus commentary boasted Doha is the ‘Sports Capital’ of the Middle East, hosting the 2006 Asian games, the 2011 Pan Arab Games and AFC Asian Cup, it’s crowning achievement will be the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Which was, according to many, gained under dubious circumstances.

Doha is a construction site. 

Development, expansion and reclamation is everywhere – as are men in high-vis. 

There is a new building going up right next to our hotel. 

Working day and night, in shifts, there are literally hundreds of men on the site. 

In 2011 there were over 50 towers under construction. Today that rate has slowed somewhat but there is still a lot of work being carried out in preparation for the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar, like Dubai, had made its fortune from oil and natural gas. Both countries are acutely aware that these natural resources will eventually run out.

The answer is to build. 

This frenetic construction is all part of the Qatar National Vision 2030. A plan that hopes to see Qatar as an advanced society capable of sustainable development by 2030.


The ever expanding Doha skyline

February 14, 2019. Doha, Qatar. 

Doha is expensive. 

A coffee in the hotel is about $11 and the Hop-on Hop-off bus was $70 each. 

So, determined to make the most of our 24 hour ticket we headed out again. 

This time to stop at some spots we had only driven past the day before. 

Our first stop was at the City Centre Mall. The mall itself was nothing we hadn’t seen before but what did stand out was the Carefour supermarket.

This was the largest I had ever been in and the shelves were packed with items from all over the world.

Everything was labelled with the country of origin.

There were figs from all parts of the Middle East, cheese from France and England and lamb from Australia and New Zealand.

I think that the well-to-do residents of Qatar live very well.

Our next stop was the Katara Cultural Village. This huge area, opened in 2010, is home to many of the cultural establishments in Doha, as well as theatres, an opera house, amphitheatre, conference hall museum and a souq or traditional market.

It even has a beach.

Within the village was the Al Jazeera Media Centre.

Al Jazeera literally means island, referring to its home on the Arabian Peninsula. This state funded news channel was initially launched in Arabic but now has several outlets and broadcasts in multiple languages, with 80 bureaus worldwide.

It has become the go-to, level headed, voice of the Middle East, albeit a little biased towards the Emir and Qatar.

We seemed to be the only tourists at Katara – so much space and so few people.

After making the most of the bus, we walked back along Corniche Street to the Museum of Islamic Art or MIA as it is also known. 

This contemporary structure, with very Islamic influences, was designed by the famous Chinese/American architect Ieoh Ming Pei (1917-2019) and built in 2008. 

At 91 years of age Pei was encouraged to come out of retirement to design the museum. He insisted that it be built on a stand-alone island so that future building would not encroach on the site.

Syria Matters was the featured exhibition at the museum.

This display chronicled the destruction of many important historical areas of Damascus and Aleppo during 10 years of the Syrian war. 

There was an excellent use of panoramic 3D video modelling, which showed many of the buildings that have now been destroyed in their original and current state. They were projected onto light translucent fabric, which allowed them to be viewed from both sides. 

We had a quick walk around a small part of the rest of the museum. This showed how Islamic art influenced many countries. Iran, India, Egypt, Turkey, Spain and Syria were all featured. 

It was a long day of sightseeing but at least we were no longer suffering from jet lag. 


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