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Published: September 23rd 2018
We are on the move again, allbeit a relatively small one as we will be away for only just under 7 weeks.
Primarily South Africa, but with a Qatar stopover on the way out, and eSwatini (as Swaziland is now called) whilst we are there. And 2 x 2 weeks of the trip will be with our travel company of choice, Explore Travel.
But enough of the teasers let's get back to real(ish) time. As is mostly the case with our longer trips we have left via Manchester to enable Simon to take care of car and cat 😊.
Paul, being something of a fare tart, had booked us onto Qatar Air for the first time. It was spooky when checking in, given Pip's addiction to all things Led Zeppelin, to find the ticket reference for our Qatar Airways flight was LZEDPN. But sadly no Robert Plant on board - at least not in our section at the back end of the plane!
What was nice, though, after all the 'budget' airlines we have flown with in the last couple of years, was to have some nice, old fashioned, airline hospitality. Nice welcome, pillow
/ blanket / headphones, hot face flannel, two nice meals (breakfast and a hot pastry and cake) , plenty of drink. Great, because we have three more flights with them to get back to Manchester.
But, as usual, it is the travel add-ons - travel to airport, security, waiting, boarding and then the reverse at the arrival end - that turns a 6 hour flight into a dragging, door to door, 12 hour day. We may be used to it but it still drains.
Mostly this trip should be in temperate conditions. But Qatar will be the exception, with temperatures around 40°C+. As we landed it looked very hazy through the plane windows giving us hope that this would temper the conditions to something more bareable.
Not so! As soon as we left the terminus the heat, and the humidity hit us both. Although we are only here for 2 full days we are going to have to pace ourselves.
Hotel, whilst internationally corporate, has welcomed us with a free upgrade to a 'suite'. A living area bigger than most hotel rooms we have ever stayed in, plus two toilets/bathrooms, two 60inch TVs, dressing room. Oh,
and the bed-room (hyphen intentional).
Qatar is awash with money. On some measures it is classed as having the highest GDP of any country worldwide. All built on oil and gas reserves of course. The main city centre, which we can see through the haze about 5km away (across the water, about 8km away if we were to stupidly walk along the Corniche to get to it) is skyscraper stacked. And there is clearly much building work going on, doubtless mostly geared to the 2022 Football World Cup.
Our hotel location, though, is handy for several of Doha's main attractions and also the right side and closer to the airport.
So today, Sunday, we spent the morning at the Museum of Islamic Art. A wonderful museum. Spacious, airy, peaceful (! not full of hoards of rampaging school kids or far eastern tourists).
So many of the treasures, particularly amongst the pottery and manuscript items, date back to the turn of the last millennium. One room was dedicated to Islamic art dating from the 7th to 9th centuries, and some of it on normally fairly transient medium such as parchment and ink. It
was particularly fascinating to see one manuscript book being dated as having been copied between December 1311 and January 1312! That's pretty precise dating for something 706 years old. We can only assume that the scribe has dated the manuscript somewhere.
That visit took up half the day. After a hotel respite from the oppressive heat it was back out for the evening to the nearby Waqif Souk. After being mostly destroyed by fire and almost being demolished it was, instead, decided to restore the Souk in traditional style and it reopened in 2006.
Nowhere near as large and hectic as, say, Marrakesh or Fez, it is still a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours wandering around, spotting the cultural specific shops eg in one they were hand tieing/making agals, that is the black cords holding an Arab's headscarf - the qhutrah - in place.
Nearby is also the Falcon Souk, which we did know about. A souk dedicated to the sale of falcons and their associated paraphernalia. Several shops, containing dozens of falcons on perches, they are clearly big business here. We asked a local how much they cost and the reply was 'up
to 1 million riyal '. We have since Googled and £thousands is typical. (Anyone remember the picture news story from a year or two back showing a passenger jet with half the seats being taken by perched falcons?)
However, occasionally travel throws you a curve ball. You come across something you weren't expecting. Research has not thrown it up. A slice of local life that helps make a country what it is.
We had one of those this evening. Next to the Falcon Souk is the Falcon Hospital. A government sponsored facility - because apparently private falcon vets are very expensive - which would make parts of our cash strapped NHS very envious. Just so unexpected.
We rounded off the evening with a meal at a delightful Persian restaurant - having failed in the Souk to find anything Qatari, and wanting to avoid the touristy pasta/pizza/steak/chips places in the main Souk thoroughfare.
So, we will leave you there for today, but with the following:-
There were a pair of falcons stood side by side on a perch, and one says to the other 'Can you smell fish?'
We thank you.
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