What I didn’t mention about my first day in Doha is that upon arrival the night before, I had an interesting encounter. After deplaning (after another annoying bus ride from the airplane to the airport), making it through arrivals, getting a visa at immigration (easy to purchase on the spot with a credit card as an American), I walked around aimlessly looking for the Uber pickup. Just as I hit the “request” button, I received an email from the Golden Ocean Hotel where I was staying about a driver at the airport who could take me to the hotel. So I walked back downstairs and tried to look for him, and eventually asked a airport helped who directed me to an area in the front where the hotel pickup representatives were stationed.
I checked in, and as I was doing so and Indian gentlemen who was also going to the same hotel began asking the check-in liaison how long we would wait at the airport until departing. The liason said 20 minutes, and then I jumped in and said “But, he also said that 5 minutes ago when I asked him” 😉
The Indian man, Deepak, and I then struck up a conversation. It turns out he’s a Bollywood actor who just finished filming in Tblisi and was on his way transiting through Doha back to Mumbai (Juhu Beach) when his flight got delayed and he had to spend the night and a day in Doha. We talked about Mumbai and it turns out he works with some of the same people that backed the startup (Talentube) I briefly worked at when I was living in Mumbai with Nimish. It was very coincidental. That said, I was extremely exhausted, and he was quite a handful – in a high energy, big talker, extravagant sort of way. We talked about making plans the next day, but the only thing he could focus on was going to the gym and the spa, and the theme music he used to introduce himself to people (yes, really). I told him about my plans for the museums and the suq – and he immediately said he hated museums and then “What is the suq”? I explained it and that didn’t seem to interest him either. He promptly forget everything I said.
So after the 15 minute ride back to the hotel and listening to him talk about God knows what while I was trying to stay awake a respond with a modicum of interest, we finally reached and checked in. He was astounded that the bell-boy took my suitcase but not his – and my response was something to the effect of “when I’m the one with tits”. To which his response was “Well, I could wax my legs.” Touché.
The banter was good but not enough for me to want to tolerate it more than necessary. We agreed to text in the morning and meet up for the gym and that was that.
I was given room 304. The room was adequate, a little musty/smoky smelling, but spacious and affordable (3.5 stars I think), with a good location within walking distance of the corniche and the suq.
By the time I was in bed it was 3AM. I was up again around 9AM because I thought it was 10AM since I forgot to change my watch time. So, an early(ish) start it was. There were a flurry of text messages and calls waiting for me from Deepak – what had I gotten myself in to?
I called him back and immediately he invited me to join him for tea in his quite on the 10th floor. I hadn’t even woken up yet and I hate seeing people first thing in the morning, and I like having my first cup of tea alone. I said this politely, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and kept pushing, pushing, pushing until I had to be a little rude. I told him I needed about an hour and then I would meet him in the gym. Then he reiterated that I could trust him, and it wasn’t anything inappropriate (which I actually did believe his motives were friendly), and that he just wanted me to join him for tea. So then I had to be even more due, and I didn’t like being put in the position.
In the meantime, I did my daily morning yoga routine and got in touch with Robin, my Indian roommate from Thunderbird, to make lunch plans at 1230PM and prepare for my day in Doha.
I did end up meeting Deepak in the gym after all around 1030AM and he was already mid-workout. He was being helped by the gym trainer and was one of those “noisy” lifters – grunting and groaning and yelling with every lift. After I finished my cardio, I talked briefly with him about my plans and offered for him to join me. Every time I explained my plans for the day in Doha, he made a different plan without seeming to acknowledge the plan I had set or why I had the need to set it that way due to the limited timeframe, the things I wanted to do, and my lunch date. It was a frustrating conversation in that it was a monologue from him to me about what he wanted me to do. I was already starting to get irritated, and realized that I didn’t want to spend my last day of vacation in this sort of frame of mind, so I politely extricated myself and mentioned that if he changed his mind, he knew where to find me. The last straw was when the trainer suggested he go to the suq, the place I had previously mentioned several times that was a 20-minute walk from the hotel and offered for him to join me there at 530PM, after my museum visits. When I suggested it Deepak ad poo-pooed it, but not it sounded good to him. He asked the trainer how far it was and the trainer answered about minutes, to which I respond about 20 minutes – since I had literally just looked up the walk time on Google maps. Deepak snapped back “Well I didn’t ask you, did I? He lives here” That was the last straw.
We never did meet up, and it was probably for the best. Incidentally, it was a 20-minute walk (which I did later). Locals, especially in cultures were time is more fluid and they are trying to impress the guest, always tend to under-estimate times and distances. I definitely made the right decision – I did not need a day filled with narcissism, unless it was my own 😉
With that out of the way, I checked out of the hotel, stored my luggage, and hopped in to Robin’s white Land Cruiser (typical for the Gulf as I discovered in Oman) around 1245PM. Incidentally, the reason everyone prefers white is because it’s the easiest color to keep clean with all the dust and sand. Also, in Oman, there’s a fine for particularly dirty cars (although Robin said that’s not the case in Doha).
It was great seeing Robin, and we fell in to our old friendly familiarity. We reminisced, laughed a lot, and share the stories of our lives over the past 5 years of virtually no contact and our goals for the future. We had both come full-circle in so many ways, and interestingly had similar ambitions. He wasn’t sure how much longer he wanted to stay in Doha, and said that, while the city was sparkling and shiny and new, it was restrictive, and he was a creature that thrived on fewer rules.
Robin took me on a quick tour of the corniche where we got some great pics of the city skyline behind the bay.
Then he drove us to a mall in the West Bay for lunch at Vappiano – a casual dining Italian concept restaurant. A great start to the day in Doha. We continued to catch up and the time flew by. Pretty soon it was around 230PM and he was dropping me off at the Islamic Museum of Art and we were saying goodbye, with the invitation to back to Doha anytime. I would probably be more likely to visit Doha again than for him to visit Denver, especially considering the Trump situation (and the fact that Robin isn’t exactly an outdoor enthusiastic). He was the same as always, and even still smoked. It was so good to see him.
Next up was a few hours of museums, starting the Islamic Museum of Art (Robin convinced me to abandon my original plan about going to the Modern Art Museum outside of the city first). I was first struck by the beautiful architecture and the strategic placement at the idle of bay, with the West Bay blossoming behind it.
The exhibits were excellent as well. It was just the way a museum visit should be – quite, slightly dark, and simplistic in the presentation being sure to spotlight the art more than anything else.
About 10 centuries of Islamic art under one roof across three floors was housed here – everything from rugs, to ceramics, to calligraphy, to jewelry, to mosaic. Immaculate artifacts and presentation. Specifically, I really enjoyed the scientific and navigational instrumentation exhibits.
I spent about two hours browsing, and the building itself was a work of art in its own right.
I then spent the next hour walking around the corniche, taking pictures of the boats in the harbor. It was delicious to be outside – the weather was perfect for a long walk, sunny, and in the 60s.
After that I took in the small wing of the Modern Art museum that was placed across the street from the Islamic Art Museum. I learned about this from the Qatari working the desk at the Islamic Art Museum when I asked about the free bus that goes between the two museums (about a 30 minute drive apart). He advised me that, rather than make the trip, check out the exhibit across the street, and if I liked it, take the bus over, and if not, don’t! Great advice!
I took in the exhibit and I really enjoyed it. This was just the thing to quench my thirst for Arabic modern art.
I unfortunately was running out of time and would have to leave the larger modern art museum to another visit, because I wanted to spend the remaining time watching the sunset over the water at Suq Waqif. It was a great decision. Not only did I see the sunset over the bay, but I saw this interesting building on the other side of the corniche – the Fanar Qatar Islamic Cultural Center (in the shape of a lighthouse)
The sunset over the water and the boats was magical, indescribable really. The photos don’t do it justice at all. It was one of those moments where I felt an overwhelming emotion that, if I died in this moment, I would die with a song in my heart and a smile on my lips. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.
And the icing on the cake to a perfect day in Doha was Suq Waqif, the nicest market I’ve seen in the Middle East.
I lost myself for a few hours and then realized it was time to head back to the hotel for my airport pick-up at 7PM. I almost bought a beautiful piece of art as well – it was an orange oil painting that coupled modern with Arabic calligraphy. As part of the process, I had tea with the gallery manager, and negotiated the price down, but it was still just too much (it started at 3000 QAR and ended up at 1200, but at a 2.5 USD: 1 QAR exchange rate, it still was too high).
There were many facets to this suq, including a gold suq, a spice suq, a clothing suq, a food suq, and even an animal (and specifically birds) suq. It was clean, new (although built in the traditional style), enormous, well-lit, safe, hassle-free, free Wif-Fi (although again you needed to register via SMS), and did have an element of authenticity even though it’s not original.
After an easy 20 minute walk back to the hotel, I reminded the front desk about my pickup (they have forgotten), and a driver came for me at 730PM – well in time to make my 915PM flight back to Bahrain. The next 24 hours would be the toughest:
- 915PM DOH-BAH
- 150AM BAH-LHR
- 1120AM LHR-YYZ
- 420PM YYZ-DEN
But it was a small price to pay for the amazing three weeks of this epic adventure through the Gulf, ending with a sparkling day in Doha.