Qatar: the old, the new, the beautiful and the delightfully fake.

While Qatar is certainly not a big touristic destination, I did see a few more tourists in Doha than I had in Kuwait or Bahrain. One nice thing about Doha is that transportation is less problematic than in neighbouring capitals, with most attractions located around Doha Bay. While the number of attractions may be limited, there are unquestionably a number of things worth the visit.

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South of the Bay, the 19th Century Souq Waqif is a main commercial and touristic attraction. Throughout the medium-sized network of narrow pathways, one can find everything from foodstuff and clothing to souvenirs and jewellery. The mud walls, timber roof, flimsy wall mounted fans and traditional dress of the locals carry that exotic feeling of days gone by. Actually, enough fiction, Souq Waqif is completely fake. Not even 10 years old, it was built to look “authentic”, in what was a slummy part of town. Only in the Gulf!

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That being said, while the concept is a little strange, the project has been a big success, on all fronts. I have no interest in shopping, but for someone looking for a souq “experience”, the place will do the trick. Pleasant to walk through and peppered with cafes to stop and people watch, it attracts mostly local residents, although 99% of all tourists in Doha probably make at least a brief stop there.

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During the day, pigeons are the main customers, as Doha, like all countries in this very hot region of the world, has a rather late shopping culture.

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The Bay is surrounded by the Corniche, which is designed like those in other Gulf capitals, i.e. horribly. A product of the car culture at its pinnacle, the decision was the same made in many new cities around the world: we have a beautiful waterfront, let’s put a highway on it! There are no cafes or stores to sell you a bottle of water, just big Government buildings to one side and the water on the next. Still, the path is nice and it beats walking in traffic. As the evening got cooler, an increasing number of runners showed up, including women in normal hot weather running gear, which doesn’t seem to faze anyone here (not local women, expats, but still).

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The old and the new.

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And the new, at night.

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Doha is known for the exotic look of some of its newer buildings (well, buildings I should say, as they are pretty much all new).

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This one is known as TGD Plaza, which stands for “The Giant Dildo”. OK, I didn’t actually ask anyone about this, but I think its safe to assume that’s what they call it. After all, what else could you possibly call such a thing?

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Inside Doha’s largest Mall, City Center Doha, the mandatory ice rink. All Arabic Peninsula countries have them (except Yemen). I think it’s a combination of exotic, fun and a showcase of “because we can” attitude.

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A fine display of refrigeration engineering; a not so fine display of skating ability.

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In my humble opinion, the star attraction of Doha, the absolutely magnificent Museum of Islamic Art. I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw such a beautiful museum.

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I reminded me of my visit to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, in that I would have visited both places with pleasure even if they had no collection at all to display!

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Worth the detour just to gaze at the city skyline across the bay, while enjoying a $7 expresso at the cafe.

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Even the displays themselves are interestingly done, like these 14th century mosque lamps, hanging the way they were designed to do, instead of locked in a glass box. The collection ranges from the utilitarian to the scientific and artistic. Here are a few pieces that got my attention.

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14th Century incense burner from Egypt, or possibly Syria. No “Made in” stamps back then.

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Wonderful workmanship on this Egyptian door panel, from 1330.

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14th Century planispheric astrolabe from [muslim at the time] southern Spain.

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Some nice 15th Century Iranian story books.

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Iranian depiction of Georgian youths, 17th Century.

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You know objects in a museum are probably quite valuable and important when they have proper names. This is the Carvour Vase, 13th Century Syria.

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And the Kevorkian Hyderabad, a massive 17th Century Indian carpet. Despite all the treasures, no amount of petrodollars will change the reality of colonialism’s legacy: the best Islamic art is conveniently collocated with the best art from Egypt, China or India, namely in Paris, London and New York City.

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This 15th Century war mask, from Iran or Turkey, which reminded me of the Guy Fawkes masks worn by the “Occupy some place” movement, or the “Anonymous” activists.

So, for a superficial and quick touristic visit, I found Qatar much better than Bahrain, which itself was better than Kuwait. Things are looking good as I head south, and I bet Dubai will beat them all. Actually, since I am writing this from Dubai during my 5th visit there, I already know the answer!

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Surprising then that my FlyDubai fight from Doha was empty. I shot this before the doors even opened; 26 passengers in a Boeing 737-800! Yet somehow, the new low cost airline managed to make money last year (for the first time since its creation 4 years ago).

#Qatar

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