Our Trip Around the World , Part 5 - Qatar

Old Mar 28th, 2020, 12:41 PM
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Our Trip Around the World , Part 5 - Qatar

To celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, my husband, Steve, and I decided that we would celebrate in a big way with a trip around the world. Our entire itinerary, if you are interested, is outlined under the "Travel Tips & Trip Ideas" forum.

OUR MAGIC CARPET RIDE

Our flight from Singapore to Doha, Qatar, in business class on Qatar Airways, was as close to a magic carpet ride as we will ever get, I'm sure. Qatar Airways has been rated as one of the best in the world, and it was easy for us to see why. Everything, from our comfortable seats to the outstanding food we enjoyed, was excellent. Steve and I had seating "pods" next to each other in the center of the plane, so we could see each other and communicate easily. We were far enough apart, however, so that each of us avoided any interference from the adjoining partner's tv screen or reading light . Also, there was a partition on the aisle side of our seats that could be pulled shut, providing more privacy if we wanted to sleep. The soft and cozy comforters we were offered promoted sleep, and I loved the pillows emblazoned with the phrase "Beautiful destinations often lead to everlasting memories". How absolutely true that was for us on this trip! When the flight attendant brought our first meal, I was blown away by the beautiful presentation. Fine linens, china and silverware, along with an actual salt and pepper grinder, a butter dish and a bread basket, accompanied the delicious food set before us. The crowning touch was the flickering votive candle in a little fretwork holder. How charming! I would never have imagined that airline food could be served so beautifully. Unfortunately, I can't remember what was on the menu, but whatever we ate must have been wonderful. I meant to save those menus, but somehow they were lost along the way.

This was a long travel day for us, with an 8 hour 35 minute flight from Singapore to Doha. However, once we were on the plane and settled in our seats, with a welcoming flute of champagne, the stress of moving from one place to another fell away, and we could really relax. The previous day in Singapore, we had been extremely busy, cramming in as much sightseeing as we could in a short span of time, so these pampered hours on Qatar Airways seemed like the perfect way to enjoy some quiet time, and recoup our energy for the next phase of our trip. After landing, we breezed through the airport in Doha, and were soon wandering through the ancient alleyways of the Souq Waqif, where our hotel was located. Souq Waqif was the authentic recreation of Doha's historic marketplace and our hotel was one of eight carefully reconstructed antique buildings that made up the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels by Tivoli. Our magic carpet couldn't have landed us in a better place. Our room, in Hotel Arumaila, was quite large but rather dark. I had hoped for a view of the Souq, which some reviewers on TripAdvisor had raved about, so I was disappointed when I found that we could see nothing out of our small windows. Though dark, the room decor had some special Arabian touches, like latticework at the windows and bedding in deep rich colors, and was comfortable, with a huge bathroom. Soon after we checked in, a young man knocked at our door and offered us a big bowl of fresh fruit, which included a strange spiny plum-like thing that turned out to be delicious. This young man was extremely pleasant, and soon convinced us that we should have dinner that night at the hotel's restaurant. He worked there, and assured us that he would reserve us the best table, which he absolutely did. But before dinner, we decided to spend some time exploring the souq, a place which was so exotic, so interesting, and just so new to us.
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Old Mar 29th, 2020, 12:00 PM
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Historically, there has always been a marketplace at the site of the Souq Waqif in Doha. For centuries, Bedouins and local merchants would meet in this location to barter, buy and sell livestock, spices, woolens, and other trade goods. At first, the stalls of the merchants were temporary tents, but over time permanent buildings were erected, and for a hundred years or more Souq Waqif was the trading center of Doha. However, when prosperity came to Qatar, and the fortunes of the people dramatically increased, the souq began to decline and deteriorate, as it could not compete with the glitzy new shopping malls popping up all around. Then, a devastating fire in 2003 destroyed a large portion of it. It was after the fire, in 2006, that a decision was made to restore and recreate this historic piece of Qatari history, and the results of these efforts have been highly successful. Souq Waqif is again busy and bustling, looking much like it did one hundred years ago. Authentic Qatari architectural elements, such as rough plaster and exposed timbers, evoke the past, while elements of an artfully hidden infrastructure, providing electricity and water, brings the souq into the modern era.

When we left our hotel to explore the souq, we were immediately surrounded by the very exotic atmosphere of a traditional Middle Eastern marketplace, filled with the scents of many spices, both familiar and unfamiliar to me. Down narrow, winding alleyways, colorful little shops displayed intricately woven rugs, bright embroidered textiles, antique lamps and brasses. We wandered down another street, crowded with birdcages, filled with all manner of different birds. Canaries, parakeets, parrots, chickens, and guinea fowl were squawking, chirping, and preening for the passersby. One nearby cage was filled with turtles. Another held lizards the size of small cats. There were also shoe shops, shirt shops, and shops selling swords. In a center courtyard, women where cooking flat breads on little braziers, then spreading them with sweet or savory fillings for their Qatari customers. For us, it was a scene out of the Arabian Nights, as we passed by men clad in white robes with flowing headgear, and women in long black burkas. Some women wore, with their burkas, small leather masks decorated with bits of brass or gold, with only slits for their eyes. Later, when we visited the National Museum of Qatar, we saw similar masks that were hundreds of years old. Obviously, these masks were an ancient tradition here, but to me they appeared torturous. Sometime during our visit, Steve asked someone about the white robes worn by all the men, and was told that the pure white, flowing material is cooler in hot weather. "What about the women?", I wanted to ask. Those heavy, black, head to toe garments must be brutal when the temperature rises here, I thought.

After seeing so much that was new and strange to us in Souq Waqif, we returned to our room to get ready for dinner at the Al Matbakh, an Indian restaurant in our hotel. As promised, our young friend with the fruit bowl had arranged for us to be seated at an excellent table near the window with a great view of the skyline of Doha, which was lit up at night in a rainbow of glowing colors. We asked him to order for us, and he did a wonderful job, first bringing us a delicious alcohol free cocktail, then some delectably crispy flatbread. Our first course was grilled chicken with dipping sauces. Our second course, which we shared, was a wonderful serving of butter chicken. I can't tell you what we had for dessert, but I'm sure it was good. After dinner, we returned to our room and I began planning what we would do in Doha the next day.
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Old Mar 29th, 2020, 05:27 PM
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Your TR reads very nicely.
Qatar was rated no. 1 airline in the world for 2019 per Skytrax BTW.
We too saw that market with all the animals.
Seemed to me the shop keepers were less inclined to bargain than those in Dubai.
I too have wondered about wearing all black garments there especially in the summer.
Some friends of ours, nurses moved to Saudi for two years and they said you adapt. They wore sweaters when it was in the 90’s. Wow!

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Old Mar 30th, 2020, 07:28 AM
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Signing on for the next leg.
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Old Mar 30th, 2020, 12:32 PM
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Thank you, jacketwatch and thursdaysd, for following along on this leg of our around the world adventure. Our visit to Qatar was our first experience in the Middle East, and we found it fascinating.

SPENDING THE DAY IN DOHA

Our complimentary breakfast was not served in our hotel, but in the elegant dining room of another of the Tivoli Boutique hotels in the souq. We were treated to a bountiful buffet, where we had our choice of fruits and juices, pastries and pots of steaming porridges, plus omelets on demand. After breakfast, it was our plan to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, which was within walking distance of our hotel. We strolled along the promenade of the corniche, next to the Bay of Doha, past a giant oyster shell, opened to reveal a large white pearl inside, which symbolized the predominate industry of Qatar before the discovery of gas and oil. Traditional pearl diving in Qatar was a dangerous and stressful way to earn a living and has basically disappeared, except for a summertime festival that celebrates the significance of pearl divers in Qatar's history. We walked past many of the dhows, the wooden boats used by the divers, which were moored all along the corniche. The visual contrast between these distinctive boats, first designed and utilized sometime in the sixth century, and the ultramodern skyline of Doha across the water was striking. Also striking was the Museum of Islamic Art, a building designed by I.M. Pei to incorporate different aspects of Islamic architecture. The impressive white building sat by itself at the edge of the bay, and the approach to it featured two long walkways lined with tall palm trees, separated by a narrow stream of running water. The displays inside the museum were just as impressive. Ceramics, carpets, and other decorative arts over the centuries were arranged in darkened exhibit rooms with dramatic lighting focused on the various artifacts. Every item was clearly and carefully labeled, and we enjoyed the exhibits, temporarily losing ourselves in the sheer beauty of the pieces displayed.

Leaving the Museum of Islamic Art, we found a taxi to take us to the National Museum of Qatar. This museum was brand new, having only been opened for four days, and the staff was still ironing out some of the kinks. (We visited at the end of March, last year.) No matter, it was still amazing. This building, designed by the prize winning architect, Jean Nouvel, is meant to evoke the desert rose. The desert rose, a flower made of rock, is actually a formation of crystal clusters which develop under certain conditions in the desert. Gigantic petal-like pieces joined together in layers to form the museum's sprawling structures. Very hard to describe and very cool to see! The museum itself was state of the art. The museum visitor was meant to follow a mile long path through exhibits that illustrated the beginning of time in Qatar to the present. Lots of audio-visual effects kicked in, as scenes of ancient oceans scrolled overhead and early topography was projected onto walls. On the way through the displays there was a definite lack of directional signage, but plenty of young people in uniform were stationed at strategic points, acting as living, speaking signs that could point us in the proper direction. We found the exhibits to be very informative, especially one that described the pearl diving industry through the centuries. A brilliant display of antique pearl jewelry was the highlight of that section for me. It was breathtaking. We also found the section on Bedouin life in the desert, illustrated by a full size Bedouin tent, to be interesting. Gallery cases of clothing worn by the Bedouin women incorporated some nice bright color into the traditional black garb, although those leather face masks were definitely a prominent accessory back in those days. Another section of the museum covered the discovery of oil and gas in Qatar in the 1950's and the huge effect it had on the economy of Qatar. Imagine how dramatic it must have been for a country like Qatar to go from possessing so little wealth through the centuries, to becoming in the space of a few decades, one of the richest countries in the world. Mind boggling.

Having made reservations for dinner at the Parisa Souq Waqif, we didn't want much lunch. The museum had a bright, new cafe where we just ordered some lentil soup and cheese bread to tide us over til dinner time. The Parisa was a Persian restaurant we had read about, and the decor could have come directly out of ancient Persia. To enter the restaurant, we walked down a long hallway of mirrors and gilt, with a hammered silver ceiling that was lite by lamps every few feet. The dining room was saturated with color. Emerald green, ruby red, sapphire blue, and gold, covered the walls, the painted booths, the ceilings and the balconies. It was like dining inside a jewelry box. A pool with a tinkling fountain was in the center of the room, and a trio of musicians played gently on Persian instruments off to the side. Our first shared dish was baked eggplant and our main course was skewered lamb, accompanied by flat bread which we could watch the baker preparing on the premises. The food was not outstanding, but the atmosphere couldn't be beat and we really enjoyed it. By the time we left the restaurant, it was just getting dark, and we wandered through the souq just as the lights were coming on. Magical.
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Old Mar 30th, 2020, 01:34 PM
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Glad to find your next wonderful segment.
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Old Mar 31st, 2020, 05:02 AM
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Very good.
Looking f/w to more!
Larry
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Old Mar 31st, 2020, 12:12 PM
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Happy Trvlr, welcome along. And thanks, Larry, for your steadfast encouragement as I work through this lengthy report.

OUR TOUR OF SOUQ WAQIF

The Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels offered a complimentary guided tour of the Souq every night at 8:00, so after our dinner at the Parisa Restaurant, we decided to join the group and take the tour. Four or five other couples gathered in the lobby of our hotel, and our guide soon appeared. Although we sometimes had difficulty understanding his accented English, we enjoyed our guide's commentary and learned a great deal from him about Qatari culture.

The first stop on our walking tour was the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital, a four story building devoted entirely to the care of sick or injured falcons. Falconry, a sport that probably goes back thousands of years, is a huge part of the culture of Qatar, and these beloved, and expensive, birds are treated to the best care available. In the lobby, the hospital directory listed the clinical offices on each floor, which included an operating room, a pharmacy, an x-ray department, a cafeteria, and several other medical, or should I say veterinarian, services. The lobby itself was outfitted with a very specialized waiting room, equipped with a large, carefully designed perch for the sick falcons and plush, wall to wall sofas for their owners. Many of the world's people don't have access to this level of care, I had to think. Nearby the hospital, the shops of the Falcon Souq had falcons on display for sale, all sitting on low perches with little hoods over their eyes. We stepped into one shop where the owner was happy to answer any questions. Steve, of course, was not shy and asked right away what these birds cost, roughly, in American dollars. "Ten thousand and up," he shopkeeper proudly replied. Some really special falcons have sold for close to one million, he said.

After leaving the Falcon Souq, we were introduced to the ceremonial camels. They were gathered together in a large corral and we were invited to enter the area and pet them if we liked. These good natured camels were not prone to spitting, according to our guide, and seemed to enjoy being petted. Like falcons, camels have an important place in Qatari culture, and these camels were obviously well cared for and contented. I wished I'd had the chance to see them all decked out for their ceremonial duties.

Following our guide, we next entered the stables where the gorgeous white Arabian horses were kept. The Arabians are also ceremonial animals in this country, and we had seen some Qatari policemen mounted on them that morning. The men were an iconic sight, dressed in traditional robes and headgear and sporting ammunition belts as they rode through the streets on the backs of their handsome horses. The horse stables housing these beautiful Arabians were very clean and well maintained, as you might imagine. Horses here, I think, also lead the good life.

After our visits to the animals, we were invited to experience some of the typical social life enjoyed by the people of Qatar, or I should say the men of Qatar, as Qatari women don't mingle with the men in these social clubs. The first club we were invited into was fitted out with comfortable sofas and lounge chairs, and was described as a place where men gathered to drink tea and gossip. We were welcomed graciously and offered tea and cookies, which we enjoyed while our guide commented on some of the artifacts displayed around the room, and answered any questions we might have. We were greeted warmly at the second club we visited, where men were seated at tables, playing a board game. The rules of the game were fairly simple and some of the men in our group, after a little coaching, were invited to play. Much laughter ensued when these rookies messed up, but they were good sports and everyone enjoyed themselves. Gracious hospitality is a hallmark of the culture in Qatar, and all the people we met here were exceedingly friendly and obviously eager to share their culture with us.

The tour was informative and fun, but instead of lasting only one hour it lasted almost three. Because we had a flight in the morning, we sincerely thanked our tour guide and ducked out before the tour was quite over. Early morning dashes to the airport always make me nervous, but everything went smoothly as we checked out of the hotel, navigated the airport, and made our way, with plenty of time to spare, to Qatar Airways incredible business class lounge. Because we hadn't had time for the hotel breakfast, we took advantage of some of the breakfast treats offered here, and with a good cup of coffee, relaxed in the comfortable chairs until our flight was called. Another flight on wonderful Qatar Airways would take us, after six hours and 20 minutes, to our next destination. Prague, in the Czech Republic, had been on our wish list for years and we couldn't wait to finally explore it.

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Old Mar 31st, 2020, 08:59 PM
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Amazing! Now onto Europe. Fantastic!

I have always wanted to go to Prague. Some day we hope.

Looking f/w to the next phase.
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Old Apr 1st, 2020, 11:37 AM
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reading along and enjoying your observations.

like you we are seniors north of 70. we have spent the last 25 years exploring SE Asia and love it.

I have toyed with around the world travel, but the prices scare me a bit. in what ballpark were your flights?

Mt travel rules would require me to stay at least 4 nights in each place, and also stay in 4 and 5 * hotels, especially Marriotts where I am lifetime titanium which comes with tons of perks.

Great report, anxious to read the rest!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2020, 03:12 AM
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Jacketwatch, I hope you make it to Prague someday. It is a beautiful place!

rhkkmk, we would love to make it back to Asia before too many years. Such a fascinating part of the world! We never totaled our whole round the world trip, preferring not to know the bottom line. But our eight business class flights cost us less than $1,400 each per person, using One World Explorer through American Airlines, which was not a bad deal.

I’m hoping to start our Prague segment soon.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2020, 06:44 AM
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Will that be in the European forum?
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Old Apr 2nd, 2020, 06:48 AM
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Originally Posted by rhkkmk View Post
I have toyed with around the world travel, but the prices scare me a bit. in what ballpark were your flights?
I wrote a rather wordy post on this topic, on the "air travel" board. Here it is - Round-the-world and multi-continent airfares .

Prices for RTW tickets vary according to the class of service (economy v. business v. first class) and by the distance traveled (or the number of continents touched in the case of the Oneworld Explorer product like Candace used.) But they also vary widely depending on where you begin and end the trip. For example, a business-class Oneworld Explorer that includes up to 16 flights and touches four continents (say, North America, Australia, Africa and Europe) will cost roughly US$5500 if the trip starts and ends in either Norway or Pakistan, $7700 if begun in Canada, Australia, the Euro zone or the UK, or $10,300 if started in the US. (All these are base fares, airport taxes and some "surcharges" will add to the bottom line. So it can be worthwhile to fly to, say, Oslo in order to capture the Norwegian price, even if the cost of getting there (and home after) is additional. Doing the math, a 16-flight business class RTW started in Norway would end up costing around $375 per segment, which is decent value for JFK-LAX, but terrific value for LAX to Hong Kong or Sydney, or London to Buenos Aires.

The tickets are good for a year, so one thing to consider is to plan an overseas start and part tour, then use the ticket to fly home (assuming it's North America) and use it for domestic travel for a few months, then "finish" the trip by completing the circuit. Changes in dates or itinerary can be made either at no cost or with a small fee.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2020, 11:57 AM
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Yes, jacketwatch, I hope to have the beginning of our report, Our Trip Around the World, Part 6 - Prague, Czech Republic, posted in the Europe Forum in a day or two.

Thanks, Gardyloo, for sharing your expertise and your great advice here. When we were planning our trip, I read everything I could find that you had written regarding round the world travel. If we had put together a trip leaving from a country other than the US, I realize that we would have spent less per flight than we did. We still felt, however, that it was a good deal for us, when we considered the itinerary we wanted to follow on this special trip. On our next RTW trip, though, we will definitely do as you suggest and start off in a different, less expensive, country.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2020, 12:49 PM
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FYI--- for those of us reading, it would be helpful if you would write one continuous report in one place.

Looking forward to praque.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2020, 04:36 PM
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would be helpful if you would write one continuous report in one place.
For current readers maybe, although I have had no trouble following, but for future readers, no.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2020, 08:54 PM
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Originally Posted by rhkkmk View Post
FYI--- for those of us reading, it would be helpful if you would write one continuous report in one place..

If the trip was all in one continent -- sure. But this case is different. A trip covering all these the destinations on different continents merits a TR on each forum. I hardly think someone interested in the Czech Republic would find it in a TR about Japan and vice versa. Candace has been announcing the next installment as they fly west around the world to their next stop - just perfect IMO.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2020, 10:05 AM
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Thanks, thursdaysd and janisj, for reinforcing my decision, when I started this extensive report, to post each destination I was describing under the appropriate forum. That just made sense to me. But rhkkmk has made me realize that I should try harder to connect one destination to the next using a link, thereby making the transition lots easier. I will work on that. Also, I will consolidate our destinations in Europe under one heading, and include Helsinki and Tallinn along with Prague in Part 6.

Off we go to Europe!
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Old Apr 4th, 2020, 08:30 AM
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And here is the link: Our Trip Around the World , Part 6 - 3 Cities: Prague, Helsinki and Tallinn
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Old Apr 4th, 2020, 03:03 PM
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Really enjoying catching up on your travels.
What an interesting and varied trip you had.
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