Thursday, May 2, 2019

Qatar famil, Day Three - Mainly architecture, plus false feathers

With thanks to Qatar Airways for this trip
Famil itineraries inevitably include such laughable listings as: 'Breakfast at leisure. 9am depart for...' but this morning, body clocks being what they are, we all woke early and met at the buffet with a couple of hours to spare before our first appointment. After a bit of excitement when a metal ceiling sprinkler cap fell unexpectedly from a height of about five metres and hit one of us on the arm (leading to confusion, apologies, the taking of personal details - and then, nothing. Not even a compensatory bowl of fruit), we set off for some private exploring.
Since the other two are proper journalists, they were keen to go and connect with Al Jazeera, or at least visit its nearby tower - but it turned out to be a disappointingly undistinguished building that we didn't even try to enter. On my suggestion, we then walked on to the Sheraton Grand hotel, which was within sight, being scandalised en route by spotting a Western girl wearing a short dress, with bare shoulders. (Apparently you can get away with that sort of thing outside but might be refused entry to some places.)
Well, it was worth the walk in the heat: one of the first developments here, a video in the lobby showed it being constructed in 1978 in the middle of nowhere - a great act of faith. Now, of course, the city has crept around it but, being right by the water, it still has a peaceful feel. It's impressive enough outside, built as a pyramid; but inside it's a dazzling combination of space, angles and curves. Very luxurious, too, as you would expect.
We later got kudos from Yegor for being so energetic, and showing initiative. He is used to his tour guests falling asleep, he said - no reflection on his narration, I promise. He is, incredibly, a keen cyclist, and very happy that all those new roads have intrinsic cycle paths; and he's so optimistic about the new metro currently being constructed that he's sold his car, and is very scathing about the traffic jams we spent a lot of time stuck in today.
Our city tour took us first to The Pearl, an artificial island mostly occupied by expats in apartments, and the upper-end shops targeted at them. How upper-end? Rolls Royce Phantom level, literally. Plus there were lots of private yachts moored along the waterways, air-conditioned shopping/restaurant galleries all differently-themed - Alhambra, Venice... - and immaculate gardens and fountains everywhere. It was like Disneyland for adults. With added Porsches and Ferraris.
There was more of the same in Katara, though more locals-oriented. It's all new, but paying tribute to the past and to the culture - like a beautiful tiled mosque, looming dove-cotes, pointed archways, another mosque in gold glass tiles - and also other cultures, like a full-size Italian marble amphitheatre. 
The idea is you come here to pray, eat, shop and swim, everyone together - and also to enjoy the fine things. Ramadan is coming up soon and, although that means daytime fasting and penitence, at night they party like Thanksgiving and Christmas put together, and all the decorations are going up now. 
This includes actual Christmas-style trees made of Bohemian glass, worth $50,000 each, displayed outside in public areas. Qatar is such a law-abiding place, you see, there's no reason why not. Apparently it's standard for cars to be left unlocked, keys in the ignition, laptops on the seat, and nothing happens. Carolyn puts her handbag down in clothes shops while she browses and everything is always there when she comes back. Astonishing.
We went to the Souq Waqif for lunch so everything was closed, unfortunately - but one thing open was the Falcon Hospital, where you take your bird for replacement feathers, or operations, or medicine. Falconry is huge here - you're even allowed to take yours on board planes with you (though in a cage, I was disappointed to learn).
An unexpected call after that was at the Msheireb Museum, which tells the unvarnished story of slavery in the Arab states - of Africans, of course - which continued up till an unnervingly recent date. We only flitted through, but it looked like a horribly fascinating story.
Next came the Museum of Islamic Art, which used to be the pride of Doha but has just had its nose put out of joint by the National Museum. Still, it's on its own island in the harbour and has a distinctive design, modelled on a burkha. Inside is a classily-displayed collection of calligraphy, carpets, tiles, pottery, jewellery and knives - but most people are drawn outside to the classic framed view across the harbour to the city's skyscrapers. The staircase in the foyer is also deservedly famous.
After a brief rest, we set out in the evening for the classic dhow cruise, which I'd been looking forward to, and which didn't disappoint. It was still hot outside, though, even in the darkness with the breeze - so, more of a fan-assisted oven effect - but the views of the illuminated skyscrapers were brilliant. 
We glided along, as jet skis and jet boats whizzed past (one got stopped by the water police) to The Pearl again, its date palms all lit up, and then a small boat delivered our dinners - spicy kebabs and rice - which we ate as we cruised back again, listening to Arab music that was both hypnotic and incredibly drawn out - a song can last 10-15 minutes.
Back at the hotel, which was buzzing with expats, as well as locals in white robes (men) or black (women), all out enjoying Thursday (= Friday) night entertainments, we went to our rooms to rest and prepare for our long, long journey home. Which begins at 2.25 tomorrow morning.

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