Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Qatar famil, Day Two - Sea, but not sick

With thanks to Qatar Airways for this trip
There was no actual Bircher muesli on the otherwise dazzlingly comprehensive and multi-cultural breakfast buffet at the hotel, W Doha, but there was a delicious mango soft muesli that was almost as good, and certainly eminently acceptable. I know, regular 😃 reader, you were keen to get that report.

And then our busy day began, we three Kiwis, plus Lori and Carolyn from Qatar Airways, guided by Yegor, of Discover Qatar. He is Russian and one of the expats who make up almost 90% of Qatar's population and keep the country's economy ticking over very nicely, thank you, for the citizens. They enjoy the highest standard of living in the world (paying 0% tax) and it's all funded not by oil, as you would think, but gas - they have enough to keep the world supplied with LPG for the next couple of centuries, Yegor told us.


He told us lots of things about Qatar, about which he is hugely enthusiastic, but even he was out-enthused by the people we met at the striking Burj Al Bidda. Here we learned all about the country's hosting of the World Cup (er, that's the football world cup) which is taking place here in 2022. They won the bid back in 2010, but excitement is building fast now, and it's going to be a huge event for Qatar. They're building eight new stadiums, all different, and are so proud of everything that we all bit our tongues when, showing us the models, they were especially rapturous about the Al Wakrah, which looks distinctly vulval. (Officially, it's meant to resemble a bike helmet. Yeah, right.) The stadium construction is all very eco, and afterwards the top levels of most of them are going to be donated to countries that are less well off. Only one has been fully completed so far but they build things fast here - are you listening, Auckland? - and there's no doubt that everything will be ready on time.

The most amazing thing to me about all these stadiums - stadia - is that they will be air-conditioned, even though they are open-topped. Managing heat is as essential as breathing here, because it gets so incredibly hot. The business day begins at 7am because of that (and the prayer schedule) and in the middle of the day everywhere looks dead because no-one sensible is outside. Summer heat is starting to build now, and it got up to 37 degrees today. The record is a phenomenal 50.4 degrees, but even the more usual low 40s in summer sounds horrendous to me. Winter is best - in the 20s.
We drove along the Corniche, past a great cluster of beautiful new skyscrapers, all different, all lovely, past the huge, more traditional Government building, Amiri Diwan - also new, there's nothing old here - to the National Museum. This place is mind-blowing. It only opened last month, so it's buzzing with locals and school parties, but it's always going to be a huge attraction because it's such an amazing building. It's modelled on a desert rose, which is a natural formation of sand that looks like a bundle of potato chips. The construction is all discs, randomly intersecting with each other, sharp-edged and inscribed with cracks. How you would even draw the initial diagram I have no idea, let alone actually build the thing.
But there it is, and its galleries are full of beautifully displayed beautiful things - history natural and human, in airy spaces with moving projections on the angled walls. It's an absolute must.
After a lunch that defeated even the guys - we kept thinking we'd finished, and then they would bring yet another delicious course - we set off in a 4WD with Mohammed from Sudan to, I was afraid, lose it all. My last desert safari was not enjoyable, the dune-busting making me feel distinctly sick - but this was much better, driving-wise. We stopped off en route for a camel experience where I watched, rather than rode, having been there, done that; but I enjoyed getting up close with a falcon.
Then we drove along and over the sand dunes, tipping sideways and forwards to go up and down some especially steep ones: fast enough to shriek happily but gently enough not to get nauseous. It was a bit disappointing to see so much litter scattered over the sand, especially since the city is so neat - but it was also lovely to see the clear blue sea, and surprising to fetch up at the Inland Sea so close to Saudi Arabia that we could see it clearly across the water, and I got a Vodafone welcome to it on my phone.
We repaired then to a beachside desert hotel and, as the sun set remarkably quickly, we sat in a gazebo by the water, enjoying the comparatively cooler air. Then there was more food - delicious, again - and finally we drove back across the trackless sand in the pitch dark, and along the fancy new roads (so new they don't even appear on the GPS yet) to the city's sparkling skyscrapers and, finally, bed.

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