My wife and I have lived in the Middle East for five years. We travel extensively In fact the only continent we have not been on is Antarctica, and I would like that to change. The number of counties we have visited is so numerous it would sound like bragging, so I will not divulge it.
Whenever we fly our first choice of airlines is Qatar. Their promotional tagline is “the world’s five star airline”, and indeed it is. Compared to other carriers, their seats are wider and further apart. Even I have enough legroom, and I seldom have to go to battle over the armrest. The flight crew treats us special because we are long term gold tier members of their privilege club, but in general the flight crew provides five star service for everyone.
Qatar, as you might guess is based in Doha, the capitol of Qatar.We live in the UAE, so our flights always involve changing planes in Doha. Coming and going I have probably been in Doha at least 100 times, but never out of the airport. The UAE, to celebrate 43 years of peace and prosperity gave all public sector workers, including my wife, a five day holiday. We decided to actually visit the state of Qatar. Great choice.
If you follow world sport at all, you will know that Qatar was selected as the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. I have no doubt that they will host it in a magnificent manner. Construction of five star hotels and a country wide metro system are already underway. There are more cranes in the skyline than a person can count. Additionally they are building seven brand new stadiums each with a capacity of 70,000 fans. To make this last feat even more amazing the stadiums are being built in a modular manner so that when the games are over, they can be taken apart and shipped off to poor countries to be rebuilt there. And last but not least for the worldwide base of fans, this Muslim country is probably going to erect beer gardens.
Our five star experience continued with our hotel, chosen through Qatar holidays. We stayed at the Intercontinental and everything was top drawer.
Our first evening there we took the hotel shuttle to the souq. When in any Arab country for the first time you should spend some time in the souq, which in the local parlance means marketplace.
As with most souqs, it is a large area in the middle of city consisting of open air stands that sell just about anything.
In the Doha souq, anything includes falcons. Falconry is a big past time in Qatar. Not something for the amatuer. This falcon would set you back about a hundred grand in US$. Then you have to care for the little guy and train him. I have never been to a falconry competition, but I hear they are fantastic. In fact they rank second in popularity to camel racing in Qatar. More on camel racing coming up.
Another item falling into the just about anything category is classic radios.
Even the police in the Doha souq are cool. Yeah, they ride horses in NYC, but they do not dress like this! Five star equestrian police.
After a few hours of wandering and wonderment, you can sit down and have a cup of mint tea, and a hubbly bubbly, or shisha as it is called here. A five star finish to a nice outing.
Being the tourists that we freely admit being, we did something we do whenever we can. We took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Doha. Doha has a lot of traffic, and we mostly sat on the bus and watched the city roll by. But one spot we wanted to see was totally worth the traffic.
This is the Doha Museum of Islamic Art. One of the best museums I have been in anywhere. Five star all the way. Extremely well organized and spacious. It presents pieces of Islamic history with pride. The museum also has the largest collection of astrolabes I have ever seen. I have to look into the history of astrolabes to see if I can find out how the ancients could possibly have made them. I suspect extraterrestrial influence, but I could be wrong.
Just one small example of the thousands of priceless pieces of art inside the museum. If you ever go, allow all day to enjoy it.
Just outside the museum there was a fleet of traditional Dhows. They are still used today for coastal trade. They date back hundreds of years and at one time were the fleet of the pearl divers.
One other place the bus took us to was a residential area built into the gulf called the Pearl. This is the first place in Qatar where expats can own a place to live. Make that well heeled epats, it is incredibly epensive. An interesting thing about it is that all the apartment buildings have garbage chutes segregated for recycling, and when garbage is dumped down the chute, it is whisked away at 40 mph so that no garbage stays on the pearl. Five star garbage!
The next day we hired a private tour guide to take us across the width of this small peninsular country.
Now I will introduce Qatar’s most popular sport. No, it is not football. It happens to be camel racing.
Our guide took us to the largest camel racing center in the country. He told us there were over 4000 racing camels there. For every racing camel there was a group of family members of the camels. Suffice to say, we saw an awful lot of camels. The racing camels are female, and for an unexplained reason, the best seem to be white camels. There is no lineage superiority, it is all in the training.
Up until about eight years ago camel racing used real jockeys. They were small boys from Pakistan and India and even Africa. Injuries led to Unicef demands for change.
Now days the “jockeys” are remote control machines that they dress up to look like jockeys. They have whips that the owner or trainer triggers from his remote control unit as he drives around the race course following the camels. See the whip? See the cute little jockey cap? Five stars!
One of the owners called out to me come over to his car and let me use the remote control. I was really surprised at how fast the whip went.
The last place on our tour was on the west coast of Qatar called the Zekreet peninsula. There are many of these rock formations in what is otherwise a flat desert country.
The chairperson of Qatar’s museum authority hired a man thought of as the world’s greatest living sculptor, Richard Serra, to erect something in Zekreet, because the Emir loves this part of his country. What Serra built is known as East-West/West East, a set of four black steel towers running, wait for it, east to west. They certainly stand out on the flat desert. He considers them his five star masterpiece.
That was the end of our tour of Qatar. Much is left to be seen, maybe someday.
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Tags: 2022 world cup, Camel racing, camel racing jockey, Doha, Doha Museum of Islamic Art, Falcon, mechanical jockey, mounted police in Doha, Qatar, Qater Airways, Richard Serra, Shisha, soug, Zekreet peninsula