Sunday, January 31, 2016

I fell in love with Qatar

I have wanted to go to Qatar for forever.  One of my dear Qatari friends, Mr. O, has been inviting me to visit Qatar since I moved to Kuwait and I have just never been down there. Almost every year, he says, "Come to the Qatar Open."  Yeah, ok, but I'm not really into sporting events...  This time, I was offered the opportunity through work to go on a site visit of hotels through the Qatar Tourism Authority and I jumped.  (Do I really have any more excuses?)  I'm so glad I went.

I used to have SO many friends from everywhere when I was living in Washington.  They were all students. Now they're all big shyts and well.... I'm....  here.  I wish I had kept in touch with people like my Sheikh Al-Thani friend.  He was such a wonderful down-to-Earth guy.  We both loved Camaros (I still have one - doubtful he does!).  People now tell me, "Why don't you get in touch?"  Well.... I don't know his full Sheikh-name.  How do  you find an Abdulaziz Al-Thani who used to drive a blue Camaro and  live in Skyline in Alexandria, Virginia and went to GW in I-don't-remember-what-year?  See my issue?  Well, longstoryshort - he was indicative of the type of people I met in Qatar:  Kind, decent, down-to-Earth.  My kind of peoples.

I met O (through his cousin - also a friend) when he was touring the US with a Qatar cultural road show.  Circa 1992 or some'in.  Very well organized.  They had performances (short plays and music), did henna painting, showcased traditional furniture and clothing and handed out dayn al oud (the oud perfume); and NOT the cheap kind either.  Great presentation and it shows that Qatar was promoting their country even back then.

The purpose of my trip was a FAM trip with people from travel agencies.  We went to visit hotels and give our feedback.  We were on the move from 7:30 am to around 10:00 pm. (Do NOT wear heels!) We had a very nice liaison from the QTA who called me, "Princess."  (How DO they know?!)

Flying into Doha, I had a window seat and I was wondering what the colorful sticks were that you could see from the plane.  It looked like someone had placed pick-up-sticks in the land from the air.  Turns out, they were illuminated lamp-posts in different colors.  I didn't notice until the next day that the coverings of the lamp posts have verses of the Quran on them.  They's so cool.

Lamp-posts - illuminated in bright colors at night

We drove around in a bus together from site-to-site seeing some gorgeous properties, cultural sites, restaurants, and museums.  We also went wadi bashing (if you can call it that).  It was more like "scaring the shyt out of a Desert Girl sliding sideways down a cliff in a Land Cruiser (pronounced "landacroose" in local dialect) with a big smile on your face. (More about that later.)

Wadi bashing at Khor Al Adaid (also known as the Inland Sea)

Photo:  Qatar International Adventures Site

I'll write another post about specific sites I saw and my impressions and all that, but this little diddy is about how I fell in love with yet another Gulf country.

Qatar has flavor.  The kind of flavor I found when I moved to Kuwait.  It is a country rich (and proud) of it's own heritage and past.  People are welcoming and open to the opportunity to talk about their home.  It isn't jaded by decades of tourism and development.  Qatar is still on the brink.  And from what I have been told by Qataris - they want to maintain their heritage.  I love that they are so open about who they are and their humble beginnings.  Their history has not been re-written.  It is simple.  As the very nice Qatari tour leader at the Msheireb Museum complex quoted, "You don't know where you are going unless you know where you came from."  That is actually one of my favorite quotes and one I use in Kuwait a lot (especially around National and Liberation days when the younguns should be learning more about their recent history).

One of the old houses at Msheireb Museum

So ok, Qatar is trying to promote tourism in advance of the 2022 World Cup games.  They're doing a lot inside the country (most likely  you're heard the controversial issues, but not the other developments).  They're building infrastructure:  roads, cultural centers, hotels, venues....  There is a long list of activities.  A long list of things to do and see (and eat!)

Qatar hasn't exactly been a tourist destination from Kuwait for several reasons.  I think that is changing.  For example, in the recent past (like, last week) you would pay around 80 KD for a round-trip plane ticket to Doha.  They just lowered it to 61 KD.  For around 80, you could fly to Turkey or Dubai, so why Qatar?  Well, speaking as myself (a long-time expat living in Kuwait), "Been there.  Done that."  I want to explore.  I've done Dubai about a million times and I'm sick of people speaking to me in Russian, thinking I'm a prostitute. ('No honey.... 'Murican.  It isn't that kind of a trip.')  Bahrain - ok, I love Bahrain, but again, I've been there a million times too.  Same with Oman.  I could probably explore more of UAE also, but Qatar has just peaked my interest and I want to fly right back.  You also still have the opportunity (before the expat community blows up and they get jaded/tired) to meet Qataris.

I think Janet Jackson got it right.  Qatar is a great place to be.

I will write specifics in a post to come.  Wait for it... wait for it....


sala6a said...

That's amazing... I had the opportunity to attend a tennis Grand Slam once and I would like to visit Qatar soon for the tennis open... Maybe in Jan next year !

Mr M said...

Seems like I need to visit Qatar

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information! We visited, on your recommend for a long weekend. Stayed in the shangrila and frankly I can't recommend it highly enough. thank you

Desert Girl said...

Anonymous 9:37 - I am so glad you liked it and very very grateful that you wrote to tell me about it.

The Shangri La is amazing. We had such a lovely visit there and the Director of Sales, Ms. Neelam Bhika, couldn't have been nicer. She was one of those people who felt like a long-lost friend I was just meeting for the first time. :)