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Qatar

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In just 4 hours, get an entire vacations worth of photos to send home, and learn about the beautiful city that is Doha.

Qatar is full of interesting and mostly free things to see and do. I have been in Qatar for nine years and considered myself very capable of showing people around here. How wrong I was.

Qatar Quick RecommendedLast weekend I was invited by Sand Dunes to take one of their 4 hour city tours. I jumped at the opportunity because up until then I had never had a professional guide show me around Doha. Sure when I first got here a number of friends drove me around and gave me their thoughts and beliefs on what was what. But they could never have been as well informed as my guide was on this tour.

I strongly recommend that anyone visiting Qatar, who has an interested in learning about this wonderful country. Should give Sand Dunes a call and book their great value City Tour.

I had booked a night in the Saraya Corniche hotel last Thursday evening, and arranged to be picked up for my guided city tour from there. Sure enough at the allotted time (4:30pm) I got a call from someone who introduced himself as ‘Firas’ from Sand Dunes, informing me that he was downstairs in reception waiting for me.

Firas was super easy to like immediately. He was warm, friendly and extremely attentive. He helped me into his large 4×4 and asked a few questions about what I may be interested in seeing. The tour is not a fixed route with a fixed schedule. Your guide will design your tour around you and what you are most interested in experiencing.

View of the Saraya Corniche Hotel from the MIA car park. That’s our black Land Cruiser bottom left.

We left the Saraya Corniche and drove the short distance to our first stop The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). On the way Firas started to explain the history, architecture and purpose of this stunning building. Some of which I knew, and some of which I did not. Firas certainly knew his stuff.

On arrival at MIA it became obvious my guide came here regularly. The security staff knew him and welcomed both him and me warmly. I had already agreed with Firas that as I only wanted to grab some snap shots of MIA because I had been there before. He would wait for me with the car while I popped up for a lightning fast photographic visit. I was gone about 10 minuets and when I returned Firas was chatting and drinking tea with security, who were keen that I should join them. Can you imagine that happening in the UK at any museum you can think of? I politely declined the offer and we were back in the car heading to our next stop; The Pearl.

On the way to The Pearl, Firas gave a running commentary on points of interest along the route. Instead of just driving me around the Pearl which is what I usually do when entertaining guests, he did the smart thing and took me to the visitor center. I first walked into the Pearl Visitor Center back in 2007 when I came to Qatar on a business trip. Inside the Visitor Centre there is a large model of the Pearl development. The model of the Pearl is still there, but vastly updated.

I found this very interesting and spent quite a while exploring the center. With more time I would have grabbed a coffee and a croissant there as well. In future I will take all of my visiting guests there instead of just driving around the Pearl. It’s far more impressive.

From the Pearl we drove to Katara. The word Katara is what appeared on maps up until 1738 as the designation for what is now Qatar. And now Katara is one of the must see, cannot miss, places to visit in Qatar. And you need to set aside quite a bit of time to do it. As part of the City Tour, it’s important to pop into Katara. But to explore it properly you will need an entire evening. You would also need to check their website for interesting events that are continuously taking place there, to get the maximum out of your visit. Firas drove me around the perimeter a couple of times so I could grab some shots. But we didn’t park and go in.

Next we drove through Doha city center to checkout the amazing architecture and lighting. When I say City Centre, I actually mean West Bay. I believe that the city center could now be described as the Msheireb area. But West Bay is where the concentration of towers is, and this is what forms the iconic skyline images you always see of Qatar. For me being driven around West Bay was a superb experience, because I am normally the driver, and I don’t get to properly look around. From a distance the truly amazing vista that is West Bay, is absolutely stunning. But up close and personal these buildings are truly breathtaking.

We exited West Bay through Al Bidda Park. We did not stop in Al Bidda Park, because once again this is somewhere to dwell and enjoy. But when you drive through it,  you simply can’t imagine that Doha is in a desert country. So much green! And beautifully lit. With free to use fitness equipment and BBQ pits.

Then we did a drive past the Emiri Diwan. This is like Buckingham Palace back in the UK. Except that the Emir does not actually live here. It’s just where he goes to work. His office if you like. This is where visiting dignitaries are hosted. It’s more impressive at night when illuminated. And another photo you simply have to take.

Last but by no means least, we headed to Souq Waqif. Which for me is the number one destination for anyone visiting Qatar. Souq means market and Waqif means standing. So yup, you figured it out. Souq Waqif means Standing Market. Located in the shallow Msheireb Valley there used to be a river, and the souq grew up on either side of that river. Because it was so muddy business was done direct from boats initially. And yes, everyone was standing. Who wants to sit in mud.

The river has long since dried up. But the souq grew up and out. Getting larger and larger and becoming the major hub of commerce in Qatar for many years. Unfortunately, in 2004 there was a fire, and a lot of Souq Waqif was badly damaged. The Emir ordered that it should be re developed but in an authentic manner. And what you see today is the result. Mostly new build, but built to look traditional and established.

I have been taking visitors to Souq Waqif for nine years now. But was only walking them around the obvious attractions. With not a lot of information to offer them. I knew where the best sights and sounds were. I knew that the spice market area would blow their sense of smell away. I knew where to buy souvenirs and I knew some nice restaurants. But Firas was able to do so much more. He took me to places that I did not know existed, and if I did know they existed I didn’t know why they were significant.

Throughout the whole tour Firas had been a wealth of knowledge. But in the souq he really came into his own. He knew everyone. Everywhere we went he was greeting and being greeted by souq employees, staff and businessmen. It was an amazing experience.
I strongly recommend that anyone visiting Qatar, who has an interested in learning about this wonderful country. Should give Sand Dunes a call and book their great value City Tour. Even if you have lived here for a while you would take a lot from it.

The price of the tour is per car (1 to 4 capacity) not per person, and costs QR 600 (GBP 122 USD 165 EUR 139). Divided among 4  that works out at just QR 150 each. An absolute bargain.

References

Sand Dunes: +974 4441 3313 http://sdqholidays.com/

Katara:  http://www.katara.net/en

Souq Waqif: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Souq_Waqif

In 2017, Qatar’s total population was 2.6 million. 313,000 of which were Qatari citizens

Welcome to Qatar! Qataris, namely the local population of Qatar, consist primarily of people of hathari (urban) and bedouin (nomadic) origin. There are also people who come from Persia, who are called houla, and most of them are merchants. Also, there people who have come from other parts of the Gulf, even Africa, to settle; nowadays, a lot of these people are considered Qataris.
Hathari people’s ancestors were involved in pearl fishing in the past, while bedouins were associated with camel breeding and falconry. Some argue that these activities are not restricted to a group; rather, either group would make use of one during winter/summer months. Therefore, a lot of people would be moving between sea and desert depending on the season! It is not accidental that such activities form a vital aspect of Qatari national identity. In fact, the celebrations for the Qatar National Day (18th of Dec.) include lots of events that rotate around these activities. Images and ideas associated with pearl fishing, maritime trade and desert nomadism that are used to evoke Qatar’s past include Bedouin tents and carpets, falcons used for hunting, camels, weapons, sailing vessels, and pearls and pearl diving equipment. Symbols of national identity include the family, items associated with the nation’s past, and images of the current Emir, H.H. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, as well as the Father Emir, H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Qataris often employ an idiom of kinship and/or tribalism, referring to compatriots as “brother,” “sister,” or “cousin.” This linguistic convention signals the inclusion of those sharing citizenship while excluding foreign workers. These words are also used to address other fellow Muslims and, sometimes, non Muslims as well.
Qataris speak the Qatari dialect of Arabic, and there are some interesting phonetic and vocabulary, among other, differences between hatharis and bedouins: hatharis use the sound /y/ instead of the bedouin /j/ in words like /dayyay/ instead of /dajjaj/ (‘chicken’), and also say /tshi/ and /tshiδi/ instead of the bedouin /kiδa//kɪðə/ meaning ‘like this’. Another characteristic Qatari expression, which I have found neat and cute is ‘jau landini’, which means ‘London weather’, and it is used by Qataris on cloudy and rainy days.
Qataris are evident through their clothing and their very distinctive perfumes! In terms of clothing, the traditional Qatari attire for men includes the Qatari thοbe, which is distinctive due to its squared collar, the ghutrah, namely the white or sometimes red cloth that men wear in various styles, such as the cobra one (which is my favorite, by the way!), the agal, namely a black cord, worn doubled, used to keep a ghutrah in place on the wearer’s head. It is traditionally made of goat hair. Compared to other Khalijee (Gulf) male national dresses, the Qatari male attire also has the karakish, namely three (usually) hanging tassels. In winter, men wear thobes and ghutras of different colors, such as blue, grey and yellow. Under the ghutrah and agal men wear the gehfeya, which is an embroidered hat. They also usually wear sandals, and rumor has it that the best sandal brand is considered to be Tamima! In terms of accessories, men usually wear cufflinks, a matching pen and a watch. Such accessories started coming into fashion in the ’90s. An important aspect of Qatari masculinity is men’s beard and mustache, both of which are usually very well groomed.
Women wear a black and usually plain abaya, but nowadays due to influence from fashion designers’ social media accounts younger women have started wearing abayas in different colors as well as shoulder embroidered ones. Women also wear a headscarf, which is called sheila, and some of them also wear a niqab, namely a black cloth, which hides their face. You might have also noticed that some older women (especially in souq waqif but also in traditional weddings) wear a facial mask, which is called battoulah. Women would apply indigo on the inside of the mask to whiten their skin and cover their face. In some of the make-up flasks you will find lipstick or kohl eye-liner made from charcoal and other substances. Make-up is usually worn by women throughout the day and the same also goes for their accessories, which usually include Western fashion designer bags.
All Qataris, regardless of their gender, also walk around holding cell phones, something that attests to their engagement with social media. Lots of communication, actually, takes place via social media, even when they are sitting together or they are in the same room.
In terms of their perfumes, which are a significant cultural dimension of the Qatari identity, both men and women prefer strong and expensive perfumes, the most characteristic of which are Rakaan, Nashwa, Roohi Fedak, Attar Al Kaaba, Haneen and Alif Laila O Laila (for women), and Dar al Tamimi Hamad and Tameem perfume (for men). The list is really endless…!
Both men and women in Qatar are known for their hospitality and generosity! You can get a glimpse of these, if you are lucky enough to be invited to their weddings (celebrated differently by women and men), houses, desert camps and, also, if you are a man and get invited to their ardha (sword) dance!
Good luck and have fun discovering the hidden secrets of Qataris!

Sources

Please watch the QTips videos, which give you very useful information about Qataris and Qatari culture from an insider’s perspective and in an entertaining way!
Also, regarding Qatari perfumes, you can have a look at this website for more information: http://www.qatarcollections.com/category/perfumes/272/?page=1&
The various Gulf thobes are found here: https://findery.com/ECWC/notes/gulf-country-national-dress

Many thanks to Afra Al-Kholifi for her useful feedback on this piece. Any errors and inaccuracies remaining are my own.

The Saraya Corniche Hotel – ‘A Real 5 Star Hotel at Value Prices’ for those on a budget.

If you are looking for 5 Star luxury but on a budget, the Saraya Corniche hotel ticks all the box’s. At just QR 236 (GBP 48.00 USD 64.83 EUR 54.49) it’s an absolute bargain.

We have visited and paid for our breakfast at the SMBC. Our review is first hand informed and independant
We have visited and paid for our stay at the Saraya Corniche. Our review is first hand informed and independent

I booked on Agoda for a one-night stay, checking in on Thursday 10th May 2018. The QR 236 I paid was for a ‘Superior King Room’ but on arrival I was upgraded to a ‘Junior Suite’ at no extra charge. There was someone else checking in at the same time as me, and they got upgraded as well. I commented to the receptionist “Wow everyone is getting an upgrade” and she replied, “It’s Thursday Evening Sir”. So my advice is, if you want a Junior Suit for fifty bucks make sure you check in on a Thursday evening.

I shouldn’t complain, because my room upgrade was a massive bonus, but I wasn’t lucky enough to get a Corniche facing room. And that’s a shame because I have seen images taken from that side, and the view is breathtaking. But hey ho, I still had an amazing suite.

The interior decorators brought a real feel of elegance to the rooms, with bright vibrant colours. Even the furniture and bedding was errrr… shall we say ‘popping’. I loved it! Completely different to anything else I have seen in Qatar at any price.

I can’t tell you anything about the ‘Superior King’ room I booked, but my ‘Junior Suite’ was super spacious. And for a solo traveler a bit over indulgent. But if staying more than one night, I would have made a lot more use of the living area.

After checking in, I spent just a few minuets settling in, before I got a call from my Sand Dunes tour guide, telling me he was waiting for me in reception (I will tell you more about Sand Dunes in another item I’m going to write later). So I was back in the elevator and off for my 4 hour ‘City Tour’.

Once back from my superb City Tour, I headed to the 1st floor for dinner in the ‘East West Restaurant’. Had a fabulous meal there and then back down to the ground floor for a quick visit to the ‘Bamboo Asian Restaurant’ for an equally quick beer there, before heading off to bed. The Bamboo has the smallest bar I have come across in Doha. But it had a lovely friendly feel and very reasonably priced beer, so I was very happy.

In the morning I returned to the ‘East West Restaurant’ for breakfast. This is a buffet breakfast at an additional cost of QR 30 (GBP 6.09 USD 8.24 EUR 6.92) which needs to be paid for during check in. With plenty to choose from, you will not leave hungry.

After breakfast I went for a walk around the building. Checked out the pool, spa and gym areas. Popped outside to grab a couple of shots of the exterior, then back to the East West to sit down and write this account of my stay in the Saraya Corniche.

Something I have not mentioned yet, is the excellent location of the Saraya. I haven’t timed it, but I am sure you would be here in around 10 to 15 minuets by taxi from the airport. And if you like walking, you could easily make your own way to Souq Waqif, the Museum of Islamic Art, Museum Park, and the soon to open ‘The National Museum of Qatar’. Plus so much more I can’t even think of mentioning at the moment. Location is a really good reason for choosing the Saraya.

In fact just as I am finishing writing this, I started talking to Sue. Sue was sat on the table next to me during breakfast. She was traveling solo. Although no stranger to the gulf region, she had never been to Qatar. She arrived early yesterday morning, bought a QR 20 all day bus card at the airport bus terminal and used it to ride to the Saraya. Checked in, and then walked to Souq Waqif and the Museum of Islamic Art. I asked her how long it had taken to walk to Souq Waqif and she said she walks fast, and it had only taken her 10 minutes. She continued to use her QR 20, 24 hour bus card to ride into the City Centre and wander around there.

Sue was proof that Qatar can be explored and enjoyed for very little indeed. And the Saraya Corniche is a perfect location to have as a base.

Book your stay in the Saraya Corniche by Clicking Here

agoda Verified Affiliate

Free Visa on Arrival for 81 Countries

Passport holders of 81 countries can get a free visa on arrival in Qatar. They do not need to do anything in advance. No forms to fill in, no paperwork, no online applications. Everything is done quickly and efficiently at passport control in Hamad International Airport (DOH). Some countries get visas for 30 days stay in Qatar, extendable by a further 30 days. And some are entitled to 90 days, but that cannot be extended.

If you are not a passport holder in one of the countries listed below, then you will need to visit the Visas in advance section of Qatar’s Ministry of Interior website.

Country Days
1 Andorra 30
2 Argentina 30
3 Australia 30
4 Austria 90
5 Azerbaijan 30
6 Bahamas 90
7 Belarus 30
8 Belgium 90
9 Bolivia 30
10 Brazil 30
11 Brunei 30
12 Bulgaria 90
13 Canada 30
14 Chile 30
15 China 30
16 Colombia 30
17 Costa Rica 30
18 Croatia 90
19 Cuba 30
20 Cyprus 90
21 Czech 90
22 Denmark 90
23 Ecuador 30
24 Estonia 90
25 Finland 90
26 France 90
27 Georgia 30
28 Germany 90
29 Greece 90
30 Guyana 30
31 Hong Kong 30
32 Hungary 90
33 Iceland 90
34 India 30
35 Indonesia 30
36 Ireland 30
37 Italy 90
38 Japan 30
39 Kazakhstan 30
40 Latvia 90
41 Lebanon 30
42 Liechtenstein 90
43 Lithuania 90
44 Luxembourg 90
45 Macedonia 30
46 Malaysia 90
47 Malta 90
48 Mexico 30
49 Moldova 30
50 Monaco 30
51 Netherlands 90
52 New Zealand 30
53 Norway 90
54 Pakistan 30
55 Panama 30
56 Paraguay 30
57 Peru 30
58 Poland 90
59 Portugal 90
60 Romania 90
61 Russia 30
62 San Marino 30
63 Seychelles 90
64 Singapore 30
65 Slovakia 90
66 Slovenia 90
67 South Africa 30
68 South Korea 30
69 Spain 90
70 Suriname 30
71 Sweden 90
72 Switzerland 90
73 Thailand 30
74 The Maldives 30
75 Turkey 90
76 Ukraine 30
77 United Kingdom 30
78 United States of America 30
79 Uruguay 30
80 Vatican City 30
81 Venezuela 30

Last night I attended a very interesting lecture hosted for Honorary Cultural Ambassadors, on the subject of Intercultural Communications in Qatar. Our lecturer Dr. Irene Theodoropoulou from Qatar University was absolutely brilliant at discussing  the subject utilising many examples, experiences and much humour.

I have been in Qatar for nearly nine years now. And consider myself pretty knowledgeable on Intercultural Communications having spent a great deal of time living and working with cultures from all over the world. Yet she was still able to expand on and clarify the knowledge I have self acquired.

Inspired by her lecture, I am going to make sure that Qatar Quick will have a section on Intercultural Communications very soon. To help you interact with not only locals but also the expats working here from all over the globe.

Doha Fire Station Art Gallery
The lecture was presented in the Fire Station Art Gallery

One of Qatar Quicks top tips while visiting Qatar, is to buy a copy of The Entertainer

Qatar Quick do not earn commission, or make any money from persuading you to buy a copy of the Entertainer. we are simply recommending it because it makes sense.

Qatar Quick Recommended

What is it?

It’s a book or an App containing 2 for 1 vouchers on lots of things you like to do.  Their website states; “Whether you want to dine out for a special occasion, relax in a Moroccan bath or spend time with your family, there is something for everyone in Qatar 2018!”. The vouchers are valid for the calendar year they are purchased in.

How much does it cost?

Full list price is QR 375, but a lot of the time there are offers bringing that down by around QR 100 to QR 275.

Why Should I buy one?

If you traveling alone, then there is absolutely no point in buying a copy of the Entertainer. But if there are two or more of you, you will be able to make the purchase price of the Entertainer back in as little as one transaction. A good Brunch in a top hotel will cost anywhere between QR 200 and QR 350. Use a 2 for 1 voucher and the book/App is paid for.

Once you have recovered the purchase price, you are saving money every time you use a voucher. Even if you are only in Qatar for just a week you should easily get your money back and make some great savings.

Tip

Using vouchers on fast food and hotel buffets is going to give you the best return. Along with beach/leisure passes. We have found that à la carte 2 for 1 doesn’t normally represent a big saving. If you are in a restaurant you will normally use a ‘Buy 1 Get One Free Main Course’. The saving of one main menu item when the bill comes for starter, main, dessert and drinks only makes a small difference. But hey it’s worth having.

Where can I buy a copy?

You can buy online here, or a copy can be purchased in most large supermarkets and book stores.

 

 

You can easily buy a new ooredoo or Vodafone SIM on arrival at Doha International Airport

Once you have made it through customs it may be a good idea to buy a local SIM for use during your stay in Qatar. Qatar enjoys absolutely excellent mobile coms, with fast and reliable mobile data. You will need your passport for ID when buying a SIM in Qatar, and they will take a copy of your passport and register it against your SIM.

There are two mobile networks operating in Qatar; Vodafone and ooredoo. Both charge QR 35

to buy a new SIM. And both have very similar pricing for data and calls. It would take a great deal of comparison to try and decide which one to go for on price alone. And I would not want to be sued by either of them by saying one had a better network than the other. So the choice is yours. But ask them both about their Fexi plans because I believe they represent the best value for visitors.

As you step out of the automatic sliding doors that separate customs from land side arrivals you need to turn left if you want a Vodafone SIM, or right if you want an ooredoo SIM.

Vodafone Qatar

For Vodafone once you have walked to your left you will quickly come across a WH Smiths store. This is where you can buy your Vodafone SIM.

If you walk out of customs and turn right, you need to walk to the end of the building (follow signs for buses) and you will see a big ooredoo stand by the escalators.

Take you new SIM, pop it into your phone and you are good to go.

The Corniche is one of the gems of Doha

One of the things I love about living in Qatar, is when I step out of my apartment, walk for about 20 minutes. Then find myself in the picture postcard location that is the Corniche.

In an attempt to try and stay alive a bit longer, I am walking a bit more these days. And I am lucky enough to live very close to the Corniche. A quick walk through Al Bidda Park and I am there.  On the way I pop into Woqod to buy a nice big bottle of water to keep me hydrated while out.

A new Multiplex for the Al Sadd Area

Last Thursday Vic and I popped along to Mirqab Mall to tryout the newly opened Flik Cinema. For us the opening of Flik is really good news as it’s very close to where we live and has loads of free basement parking. We went to watch ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ and paid just QR 35 each for their Gold seats (bigger seats that recline and have premium views of the screen). If we had gone for standard seats it would have been less at QR 30 each.

Flik Cinema - Mirqab Mall
Flik Cinema – Mirqab Mall
Price of snacks in Flik
Price of snacks in Flik

Snacks & Drinks

Popcorn was reasonably priced. We had a large caramel for QR 24 and it was large indeed. I actually had some left over at the end of the movie.

Price of Drinks in Flik
Price of Drinks in Flik

I ordered a large Pepsi but it was too small. Made the mistake of asking for large think I would get large, but large is small and XL is large if you get what I mean. If you only have two sizes then surely one of them is small and the other is large. Grrrr….

Vic wanted a bottle of water. But she ended up with a small Pepsi as well. Because Flik are being clever and are only selling expensive water. This makes me so angry. I refuse to pay QR 12 for a small bottle of water. Next time we will pop into Carrefour in Miqab and buy a small bottle of water for QR 1.5 before going to the cinema.

Jumanji

 

Jumanji a reboot of a classic that is better than the original

Loved the move. The new Jumanji was not what I was expecting at all. It was really, really good. Laugh out loud funny all the way through. And it wasn’t just Vic and I laughing, the theater was about 30% full and the majority were laughing with us.

It was easy for us to get to Flik in Mirqab Mall. It was easy to park in Mirqab Mall and indeed free. We watched a great movie at a really good price and had a thoroughly good evening. We recommend the cinema, the mall and the movie.

Would we go back?

We will be returning to watch something else there very, very soon.

The Miqab Mall Fountains
The Miqab Mall Fountains

 

 

Victoria had a touch of bad luck the other day. When riding in a taxi her phone slipped out of her pocket and hid its self somewhere in the car. By the time she spotted the missing item she was out of the cab, and the ride was long gone.

She tried using “Where’s my phone” and was able to track it for a short time, but her battery was almost out when her phone hid its self from her, and calls to it went unnoticed as it was on silent. She activated lost phone mode which displays a message and a phone number for anyone who finds it. But after 24 hours of being AWAL we thought it had gone forever as there was no call reporting it found.

Then two days later I get a call from a Sri Lankan driver. How do I know he was Sri Lankan? Well because he made sure I knew this good deed was being done by a Sri Lankan. He had been cleaning the inside of his car, and discovered the phone. A quick charge later he was able to see and call the number being displayed, and an hour later the phone was in my hands. Phew!!

So job well done Mr. Sri Lankan Driver! You are a credit to your profession and your country. A complete gentleman.

Oh and don’t worry, I made sure he was correctly rewarded for his good deed.

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The new Mirqab mall is still in its early days at the moment. Many retail units still yet to open and a cinema almost, but not quite ready to start accepting paying public.

On the plus side though, loads and loads of free parking spaces, a Carrefour that is not too busy yet, and the nicest McDonald’s I have ever been in. And of course there is this wonderful public space in the middle with lots of light and cooling fountains.

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