I wish I were rich. Only for the next three days. A fairy godmother would just put a black Amex in my hand with the words “Have a good time, you deserve it” and I would get off the plane in Doha. At the airport, the driver of my white limousine would hold the door open for me and I would drop elegantly into the soft leather. Through the tinted windows, with a glass of ice-cold champagne in our hands, we would drive to my hotel.
In front of the 5* luxury palace, I would move into my penthouse suite with a view of the skyline of Qatar’s capital city and allow myself a bath in my whirlpool to recover from the exhausting journey. Afterwards, I would undergo an extensive manicure in the spa before I would cut a good figure for shopping in the exclusive designer shops.
Later, a little bite in the noble restaurant Al Mourjan with a fantastic view over Doha’s bay before I fall exhausted into my soft bed and dream of shoes, bags and beautiful clothes. Life is so wonderful and this city leaves nothing to be desired. And now the bad news:
The fairy godmother didn’t show up! I leave the airport with two backpacks, which keep me company on the back seat of the taxi, because the driver didn’t feel like getting out. In the lobby of my hotel my rucksack remains as the only piece of luggage, because I obviously don’t give the impression that I care about taking over my bag. As I look around and see the Arab men and women in their robes, I feel kind of shabby in my jeans and longsleeve. An Arab woman would never think of carrying a backpack… let alone two!
After a short night and a somewhat strange breakfast, I decided on another hotel in the middle of the popular Souq Waqif.
In the bazaar with its innumerable winding alleys one can get lost quickly. Sometimes you end up at an immense construction site, sometimes at spice stalls, sometimes at gold shops or a big animal market, which gives rise to mixed feelings among animal lovers, because usually far too many animals (birds, turtles, cats, dogs) are kept in the smallest space.
On the way, a man with falcons on his arm meets them, who are obviously taking them for a walk. Women are scurrying from one gold jewellery shop to another. And when the Imam calls for prayer, it means making room for all those who are too late on their way to the mosque.
Of course there are also lots of clothes, souvenirs and food stalls, which quickly make you feel like you are in a small town. And this small city reminds a little to an amusement park as the Phantasialand or the Movie Park in its construction with historical deco cars and modern restaurants.
The reason for this impression lies in the realization of a childhood dream of a rich sheik, who had the small, former Souq rebuilt splendidly a few decades ago. Today it is the hub for tourists who usually only stop in this city for a few days as a stopover.
Here everything is somehow too smooth, too clean and too neat for a real souq, I think. Mounted police in splendid coats on white horses make the rounds regularly and thus somehow strengthen the impression of an artificial world in this rather young city.
the other side of the Doha coin is the inevitable prospect of construction sites. Cranes wherever the eye goes. Qatar (the second “a” isn’t pronounced, by the way) is the little straggler from Abu Dhabi and Dubai and is putting his foot down here – among other things as the host of the World Cup in nine years’ time.
So what do you do in such a city outside the souq? As soon as you make your way to another part of the city, you move around on big streets with endlessly long traffic lights. If you’re lucky, a fenced-in wasteland also offers a view of the turquoise sea.
Das Cultural Village Katara liegt an der Küste zwischen dem riesigen Intercontinental Hotel und der Insel The Pearl. Hier tobt sich die Kunst- und Kultur-Szene aus mit Ausstellungen wie z. B. den eindrucksvollen Installationen »Gandhi’s Three Monkeys« des indischen Künstlers Subodh Gupta’s. Die Skulpturen sollen an Gandhi’s Vision der drei Affen “Nichts hören, nichts sehen, nichts sagen” erinnern und stellen den friedlichen Kampf gegen Kolonialisierung, Unterdrückung und Ungerechtigkeit dar. Hier in Form dreier unterschiedlicher, militärischer Kopfbedeckungen: Gasmaske, Helm mit Sonnenbrille, Kapuze – hergestellt aus Koch-Instrumenten, Tellern und anderen Utensilien.
An evening performance in the amphitheatre of Katara with a view to the sea is probably a huge highlight that I would have liked to have experienced. But in my case the journey went on to the artificial island “The Pearl”. The access road was also closed due to construction work, so I only had the luxury designer shops and the harbour surrounded by numerous skyscrapers at my disposal. A sight that could not be more unreal in combination with the deserted atmosphere and let me quickly get back into the car.
The next stop at the other end of the city was the tower called “The Torch”, a 300 m high, torch-shaped building with hotel and 360° revolving restaurant, of course with red Ferrari in front of the door. Right next door is the huge Villaggio Mall, a Venice interpretation with gondola, canal & Co. Here there is a huge offer of all usual brands and brands like H&M and Zara as well as Starbucks, cinema, supermarket & Co.
The impressions of the city of Doha let the most different feelings arise. Sometimes one is impressed by the order and cleanliness, other times one is annoyed by these masses of construction sites with the corresponding noise level, in between one wishes oneself more cultural or historical background and then again the sight of the golden sunset soothes the mind.
In Doha, according to the travel guide, only 1/6 of the inhabitants are from Qatar. Therefore it is nothing special if the taxi driver is Indian, the portier Nepalese and the receptionist Philippine. Therefore, one does not have to learn Arabic words. But I would also like to mention that one should definitely visit the museum for Islamic art. Attention: Tuesdays the museum is closed, as I had to find out. Also, one should have made a tour with a dhow boat in one afternoon or evening.
My opinion about Doha? Worth a trip?
Probably it all depends on what one expects from a trip there. If one does not have to look at the money and can live the luxury offered (as I dreamed at the beginning), it is probably a completely different Doha than what the normal mortal experiences within the scope of his possibilities. Personally, I like Doha better than Dubai because it is smaller and therefore somehow more personal and tangible. I think two to three days is enough to visit the capital of Qatar. Theoretically, one could follow it with a 1 to 2 day desert tour, but I cannot judge how authentic or touristy it will be.
All in all, I do not consider the visit of Doha as a failure nor as an ultimate travel highlight that one absolutely has to have seen once in a lifetime. With a credit card, the amounts of which will not be debited from my account later, I would like to come back again.
Helpful tips on site:
-Qatar is one of the safest travel destinations in the world, which is why you can also stay in the city in the evenings and at night – even as a woman alone. Mounted police are permanently represented in the more touristy areas.
-At the airport there is a visa on arrival for 100 QAR, which is about 21 €. The fee can only be paid by credit card (cash is not accepted). Those who arrive at an unfavourable time may have to expect a waiting time at the immigration of more than one hour.
-The airport is relatively close to the city. The best place to live is somewhere between the airport and the Souq Waqif (market). Taxi costs from the airport are between 30-40 QAR (6-9 €). Attention: At the arrival at the hotel, pay attention to the cost display, some taxi drivers like to give a higher amount.
Taxis: The turquoise taxis are considered to be the safest; they have taximeters, with others you should negotiate the price in advance. In the city on the way it is no problem to get a taxi.
Day tours can be booked through agencies, but they may be very expensive than simply renting a taxi and giving the driver the desired destinations. A taxi costs between 50-60 QAR per hour (about 10-12 €). A tour can be many times more expensive with a small number of participants. For the city tour you can buy a day ticket for the Hop On Drop Off Bus, which stops every 20 to 30 minutes at the respective sights.
It’s not that easy for backpackers, there are only a few hostels and cheap accommodation under 40 €. At HI Hostels in Doha you can stay in a shared room for about 33 US $.
The temperatures can be extremely high in the summer months with over 40°C. It is best to always put drinks and sun cream in your pocket. In the winter months it can get quite cold again in the evenings, which is why one should also take warmer things with one. Also, one should not forget the partly very cool air conditioners in taxis, shops, restaurants and hotels. With a bigger scarf, one can always comfortably protect oneself from the cold.
Those who travel during the fasting month Ramadan (almost always in July) to an Islamic country like Qatar have to expect some restrictions during this time. Many restaurants are closed during the day, you should not eat or drink outside, listen to music, etc.
Behaviour in the Arab world:
As a Western woman in a Muslim country, you should always dress conservatively, i.e. long clothes (covering arms and legs, nothing transparent and not too tight). This is not so much about one’s own security as about the respect one should show for Arab culture.
As a Western man, one should avoid addressing Muslim women. If he is accompanied by a woman, contact among women is not a problem.
If you are travelling as a couple, you should avoid close physical contact in public. Note: Officially, illegitimate sexual intercourse is forbidden. Sex & Co. therefore always only behind closed hotel door.
In the Souqs (markets) and in Shops action is announced. If the seller suggests a price, one should in return quote a price that is significantly lower than what one would actually pay. Then you can slowly agree on a common center.
It is considered impolite to stare at other people or at least look at them for a long time. One should also take photographs only after a clear agreement.
The left hand is considered impure, which is why you should only ever greet yourself with the right hand when in contact with Muslims. However, it is unusual for a man and woman to shake hands.
Alcohol is not forbidden, but it is actually only rarely consumed. It is not appreciated when someone gets drunk and behaves conspicuously. If you are travelling with a rental car, you should refrain from drinking alcohol.
Don’t walk around in a bikini on public beaches! It is best to stay at private beaches of hotels.