Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Day in Doha

A view of downtown Doha form the Museum of Islamic Art

Like anyone obsessed with traveling on two (sometimes three) vacation weeks a year, I try hard to see as many countries as possible in a short period of time. This doesn't always mean that I get to do each place a justice. Sometimes a day is all I have.

For some places, a day is enough, so I have heard.
I haven't found those places yet.

When I went to Scandinavia in 2011, I took a day trip to Helsinki and spent seven hours there in what I lovingly call "the seven hour scramble." I did see a lot of Helsinki, but the trip left me wanting, a month more.

So this time when I was on the Arabian peninsula, spending a full week in Dubai, I could not resist the 1-hour $100 round trip flight to Doha, Qatar.

Admittingly, I would not have been so interested in Qatar if it were not for me being the only person in my office who had not been there. My previous employer had a relationship to Doha, and most of my colleagues when there annually....except for me.Their conversation filled me with wonder of things like the Museum of Islamic Art and the Souq Waqif, so I made a small list of things that could fill a day trip, and I set out to make the most of it.

Timing was important on this trip. We didn't want to go on a Friday because that is a Muslim holy day, so many things would be closed. My traveling buddy worked Sunday-Thursday though, so we were limited to just Saturday.

Here is how our day transpired.


We arrived at the Doha International Airport, and exchanged about $100 USD in to Qatari riyals.


We departed the airport in one of the many blue taxis which was waiting for us.

outside of the city, most of Doha looks like this

We arrived at the first stop on my list, the Villagio Mall, where I intended to go into the Starbucks and buy a Doha mug. I know, it's sad that we drove all this way for a mug, but there was no Starbucks in the center of the city, and the visit to the mall was very interesting. I immediately noticed that more Qatari women wear niqab (face-covering) in Doha than Emirati women do in Dubai.

During this time, we bought the mug at Starbucks, walked around the mall a bit, and enjoyed a latte.

just a regular day at Villagio Mall


We left the mall and took a cab to our next destination, Mathaf: The Arab Museum of Modern Art. I had come across this place accidentally on the internet, and it looked really cool and experimental.


After a wild cab ride ,we arrived at Mathaf. This museum was really the highlight of the day, and we were lucky that we arrived on a day when they do one of their scheduled guided tours. I will discuss Mathaf in detail in another post.

We spent about one hour walking around the open exhibits, then another hour on a guided tour, then raided the gift shop. I would say two hours does this place justice, but we hung out for three. 

outside sculpture at Mathaf


Got a ride into town from one of the Qatari English-speaking staff at Mathaf (thank you Abdul!). While he drove us, he shared many interesting stories about life in Qatar. He said that Doha has many visitors from Saudi Arabia, but police often pull over any car with a Saudi license plate and a woman driver, because they know it is illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and therefore they do not have licenses. Qatar is much more easy going than Saudi Arabia, so it is a popular destination for tourists in the Arab peninsula.

Abdul took this picture of us at Mathaf


We arrived at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). This place is a national treasure, but Abdul says he finds it boring and he prefers Mathaf, and not just because he works there. Honestly, I do too. The best thing about MIA is the building itself, which is an amazing architectural experiences. It is a place of astonishing beauty with hands-down the best views of the Doha waterfront. Inside, they have a large collection of art from many centuries, but it is mostly tapestries, pottery, and jewelry. For art, I prefer experimental, visually-challenging things, like what I saw at Mathaf.  However, MIA is definitely worth the visit, and it has a great little cafe as well.

The famous museum of Islamic Art


We leave MIA to walk to the Souq Waqif, which only took about ten minutes. Considering the fact that every other desitnation was a thirty minute drive we were releived at the close proximity fo the souq and museum.We spent about an hour walking around the souq at dusk until it was time for an early dinner.

shoppers at Souq Waqif


Eat at awesome dinner at a Malaysian restaurant at the Souq.

Our awesome dinner


We spent another hour witnessing the Souq after dark (yes, it is pitch black at 6:00 pm in Doha) which is an entirely different experience. Street vendor come out, and the place gets crowded.  I definitely recommend the Souq-after-dark experience. I wish I could have stayed longer, but we had a plane to catch!

Souq at night


Hailed a taxi and drove back to the Doha International Airport. This was no small feet because traffic was outrageous, and what should have been a five-minute cab ride took thirty!


We arrived at the airport and went through the check in process. This was especially laborious because we were flying on a U.S. airline, so check-in was tedious and full of intrusive questioning. 


Our plane departs for Dubai. Goodbye Doha!

I know there were a lot of things I did not get to see and experience in Doha while I was there. Mostly notably were the pearl, and downtown Doha.  These are things I plan to see when I go next time, and there will be a next time!

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