So this post is just an account of my trip to Doha. Enjoy!
Day 1: After 22.5 hours of flights and connections, I make it to Doha. Fortunately, Rick is there to pick me up from the airport and we head straight to the hotel. It's a good thing there are restaurants in the hotel because any more travel would've broken me. The Spice Market was all but completely reserved for the night, so we went to the Market by Jean-Georges. My dinner consisted of sushi and a bruléed foie gras (sounds like some crazy pregnancy craving). Rich. Decadent. Stomach ache later that night, but my goodness it was VERY tasty! I don't think I've ever been so happy to lay prostrate!
Day 2: It was nice to actually wake up next to my husband this morning instead of a wet and hungry toddler making noises in the monitor. Breakfast at the Market is always a buffet full of just about everything you can imagine to cater to all the nationalities that stay at the hotel. It's pretty impressive really. However, after last night's indulgence, a buffet is completely wasted on me. So Rick decided to take me to the local mall a mere block and a half away - Doha City Centre. It's a sight, architecturally, and inside this 4-story structure, there is an ice skating rink on the lowest floor with an open atrium to the top, allowing patrons to watch from any level. Who knew Arabs liked to ice skate? Some modest shopping and a while later we headed back for the brunch/lunch event the W has every Friday. So the way Muslim countries work, their Thursdays and Fridays are our Fridays and Saturdays, respectively. The brunch buffet was way over the top, just like the breakfast buffet, but with carving stations, desserts, the whole nine yards and then some. Following lunch, Rick decided to take me to the Museum of Islamic Art. One of the neat things about Doha is its location on the Arabian Sea. I'm not sure when it was constructed, but all around one of the inlets, there is a 5 kilometer paved walk called the Corniche. So we walked the whole thing to the museum. Note: do NOT walk this in sandals... got a nasty blister from it! The museum is pretty neat though. If it is your first time to visit, then your admittance is free. We took a leisurely pace strolling through the different exhibits, consisting of a variety of artifacts with Islamic influence dating back as early as the 6th century. It was incredible to see such old "art"!
Rather than walking another 5k down the Corniche and aggravating my blister, we hailed a cab back to the hotel to get ready for my surprise dinner. And believe me, it took a LOT for me not to look into where we were going. Once we were at the St. Regis, we were walking through the overly elaborate foyer - just so happened to be where the European PGA tour was being hosted... and no, we didn't run into any golfers. But as we edged to the back of the hotel, there it was... Gordon Ramsay - his self-titled restaurant. Talk about exciting! It was such an intimate dining room, and the ambiance set the mood for one of the most romantic meals of my life. Rick even encouraged me to order the Menu Prestige (a prix fixe menu). My husband is amazing!
The menu, which should have been 6 courses, ended up being 10... merciful God I was so full by the end of the 3-hour dinner!
Course 1: a special hors d'oeuvres platter with bit-sized morsels of salmon and pineapple, a goat cheese tartlet with bacon, and a steak tartare. Course 2: a duck confit tortelloni in a beef broth. Course 3: Blue lobster and pear salad with sweet and sour endives in a honey vinaigrette. For this course, Rick got Chef Ramsay's signature lobster raviolo. SO GOOD! Course 4: Cannelloni of wild mushrooms with a black truffle sauce. Course 5: Pan-fried foie gras with tropical salsa and a spicy date chutney. Course 6: Roasted deboned crusted lamb rack with winter vegetables and rosemary jus. Rick ordered the Australian Wagyu beef (which I thought was better). Course 7: Cheese of the day, which was a liberal slice of stilton with a delicious pairing of gelled fruit compote and a light frisee salad. Course 8: a palate cleanser of creme sorbet and cantaloupe. Course 9: A soft meringue served with a nage of mixed berries and blueberry sorbet. Course 10: Another of the chef's offerings of various bite-sized desserts, including a candied orange jelly bite, a chocolate truffle, and a profiterole with chocolate and a dusting of gold. At the end of the dinner, the Chef de Cuisine, Gilles Bosquet, came out to meet us. He's a Michelin Star chef that trained under Chef Ramsay. It was delightful to meet him! A great end to a great evening.
Day 3: This morning we hopped a cab to check out the Villaggio. It's way overpriced, but a neat concept for a mall, including the hockey rink, an indoor amusement park, and a 150 meter canal complete with gondolas. The Domo District inside has gold leaf tiles in the floor and children's Gucci store... a little ridiculous (but I caved and looked at the children's Ralph Lauren store - I'm a sucker for darling clothes!) On a more serious note, I could have bought all the shoes at Christian Louboutin. The Villaggio is located within the Aspire District of Doha. The Aspire District will be the future home to the soccer stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The smaller fields that will be built are green to a new concept - when the World Cup is over, they will be disassemble and donated to less fortunate countries. How cool is that? On a funnier note, Rick had told me about this tower he'd been able to see off in the distance last December. Honest to God, he thought it was the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. And why wouldn't you be able to see the tallest building in the world? Because it's across a huge body of water that takes an hour to fly over... bless his heart, but the building he saw was the Aspire Tower by the soccer stadiums. Rick had a dinner invitation from an associate in the Doha office, Sharbel, and his wife Darine, since Rick's "better half" was in town. It was an awesome night of getting to meet new people, sample a variety of Mediterranean foods, drink heartily, and play a game of Who Am I? For this game, each person writes down 5 characters on 5 pieces of paper. These characters can be real or fictional, so long as there is a universal knowledge them. All of the papers are then folded and mixed in a bowl. Each round is one minute per person. For round 1 you have to describe the character drawn from the bowl without using proper nouns (it's harder than you think). For round 2 you can only use a one word description, again, no proper nouns. And for round 3 you have to act it out, like charades. A helpful tip: try and remember who was said in the first rounds... it helps later.
Day 4: Time to relax! This morning I started off with a leisurely 9 am breakfast at the Market. Rick was already at work, so I took the opportunity to check out the local news. I think the Japanese have it right - miso for breakfast is awesome! Or maybe I just like miso more than most, either way, it was a nice change from your typical American fare. I also got to eat a bunch of dragonfruit. If it isn't ridiculously expensive Stateside, I think I'll start buying it. Ever try melon juice? Curiosity got the better of me... it's the same color as slime, and not nearly as sweet as I hoped, so I won't do that again. After an hour of reading my magazine and watching the scads of nationalities come through, I decide to leave. I was doing some bead work when a garbled message in English and Arabic came over the loud speaker talking about some emergency testing. Fantastic. So to skip out on the annoying announcements and alarms, at 10:45 I headed down to sunbathe by the pools. An hour and another chapter of The Hobbit done and I can't take te heat anymore, but the complimentary iced water and chilled fruit kebab were lovely. At noon they're still testing the system... you think it really wouldn't take that long. It finally stopped just before 2 as I came across a letter detailing the system test. That would've been nice to see it earlier. C'est la vie. I realize at this point that I didn't bring enough bead work to keep my busy, as I ended up finishing my project. Chip (one of Rick's coworkers) had talked about accompanying us to the Souq Waqif if we decided to go one evening, so maybe I'll find something there to keep me busy. I really had every good intention of hitting the gym, but I ended up sticking around the room to see when housekeeping made their rounds. I didn't want to go off and do something, then come back and have them be in the middle of cleaning. One of my idiosyncracies I guess. So I stuck around, beaded (finished), but the cleaning crew came much later than I expected, so a note to myself: I won't wait around again. The soaker tub in the room was AWESOME! Rick came back a little early and we went to dinner with Meagan (one of the DC partners). I really like her and the red curried duck! So a note to the eager traveller: Qatar is a dry country (something about Islamic law), but alcohol can be found at the hotels and hotel restaurants. My thought process is as follows: because it is a dry country, the people there are not as familiar with alcohol as they are elsewhere, so do not get a mixed drink - they are terrible (sadly, this includes the simple things like margaritas). Meagan also told me to go to the Renaissance hotel if I wanted a massage/spa treatment. It's supposed to be amazing on a global scale.
Day 5: Another lazy morning (I could seriously get used to this). Didn't get out of bed 'til 10! I don't think I've done that since college. I went down and sunned for 2 hours, came back to room, soaked, then read and read and read. Around 3:30, I realized I hadn't eaten, so I had some soup sent up. After Rick came home, I laced up my sneakers and we went to Al Mourjan - a local award-winning restaurant on the Corniche. I packed my sandals in my bag, but after walking the Corniche to the museum, I decided sneakers would be a bit more appropriate for walking any distance outside. At night, Al Mourjan lights up pink... reminding me of Taco Cabana in a nostalgic way... makes me laugh (and the giant goat outside doesn't help matters). Al Mourjan sits right on the water with large sitting steps going down to the sea. The ADA would have a coniption fit since there are no handrails, but I love that Qatar doesn't have the building restrictions we do. I'm sure it will eventually develop more in depth building standards, but for now it is a nice change. At the restaurant, there lots of locals and huqqa (hookah) being smoked. Our table was right on the edge of the sitting blocks, looking out over the Arabian Sea and downtown Doha. It's so lovely! I ordered a dish with lamb and Rick ordered a pepper steak thinking it would be like P.F. Chang's and was vastly disappointed when the gravy tasted like mushrooms. I thought it was good. Neither of us could finish because the portions were so large, but we ordered Arabian ice cream for dessert... more for grins and giggles than anything else. It looks like a vanilla jelly roll covered in pistachios. It's not really sweet at all, but like an unsweetened cream turned into ice cream.
Day 6: Had breakfast with Rick on this atypical cloudy morning. I think a front must have come in, but I decided to try my luck at sunning anyway. Besides, 75° is warm for Colorado! More reading. Never so much as took my shirt off because it was too breezy, but the 1.5 hour nap was lovely. For lunch, I ordered a black truffle and fontina pizza I'd been eyeing of the menu for a few days now. Sadly, I didn't think it was nearly as good as I imagined. I wasn't influenced by the magazine, since I read it after I had the pizza, but the writer raved about this pizza... this pizza wasn't worth the words written. So I read some more in The Hobbit, and eventually decided to head out to the mall. Figures when I do the sun finally comes out. Dommage! It still gets me seeing this ice skating rink in the mall... crazy thinking of ice skating in the desert (and funny to watch... the men here love it). A funny side note: Rick was telling me that the Arabic men LOVE figure skating. I think it has something to do with the novelty of it all. Expatriates from colder countries make good use of the rinks though, especially if hockey is involved. I walked all over City Centre discovering many fine dress shops, but makes me wonder how well they do when you see most Qatari women dressed in abayas. Maybe they're also for expats (they do make up 85% of Qatar). The mall is leased strangely in my opinion; some of the tennant spaces, especially on the upper floors, looks abandoned and shady, like a great place for a drug deal. It's not, due to the policed nature of the country, but still makes you wonder. I didn't buy a thing in the mall that I couldn't get in the States. But I ended up at Carrefour (like Super Target) and found a half kilo of dates for less that $5. You pay the same for less that half that much Stateside. I found bottled Coke - half liter for $0.54! It's crazy some of the stuff you can get! I found some other fun things, too, that are much more expensive at home. Headed back to the hotel after an hour and a half. Rick got home and we went to a restaurant called Asia Live at the Marriott by the airport. Rick ordered yaki gyu (awesomeness on a skewer). Yaki tori is chicken, yaki gyu is beef. I got a plate of all different kinds of sushi, nigiri and sashimi. Rick got crispy Szechuan chicken and about halfway through his meal, bit into a wire that looked like a fish hook. We're sitting there mildly panicking about what it really was and how it got in his chicken, and thank God it didn't tear any skin. After talking with the restaurant manager, we discovered it was a part of the fry basket that broke off. At least there was relief knowing it was sterile and that the chicken wasn't prematurely dead before it was cooked. They replaced his meal, which was really tasty, and then about five different people apologized profusely for the mistake, they gave us both a complimentary dessert of fruit, cheesecake, the custard version of Arabian ice cream, and a fortune cookie. And then went so far to comp his meal completely. Since no damage was done, and our fears were laid to rest, we thought it was a prime deal. And I FINALLY found postcards on the way out!
Day 7: Breakfast buffets are such a novelty at first, but they will definitely wear on you and become old quickly. At least the sun's out today, so I can continue my daily sunning ritual. My, but it is nice being able to layout in the dead of winter! I even think I have some faint tan lines to show for it! However, the people here must believe I'm half crazy being outside on a day like today - brrrrr 75° (too cold for them). Makes you wonder how they would fare in the snow. The weather improved exponentially the longer I stayed out, but with better weather came creepy men. I'm assuming he was an Arab based on his looks and the way he was acting, so I'm laying out with my sunglasses and this dude in a bathrobe starts to come near me, very obviously looking at me. He goes to a cushioned chair to sit down for a smoke, and then comes back walking only a foot in front (or behind) me and taking it nice and slow. Finally he claims the chaise 2 chairs away, takes his robe off, lights up again, and without saying a word makes it very obvious that he's attracted to me. Definitely time to go in now, and I didn't care how nice it was outside! To clear my mind, I decided to indulge in some more reading, a crossword, checking email, and ordered a Thai style beef salad after a soak. It wasn't bad, but I won't order it again. Maybe I'm just fed up with eating out for EVERY meal. Once rick got home, we went to dinner at the Spice Market, specifically to get the Thai hot wings. It's nice to know you can get beer and wings on the other side of the planet and they're still good. We called it an early night, and just kicked back and watched some tv. Later that night I realized there was an unusual rash on my bottom so I went to check it out. Seriously, who gets heat rash on their bikini bottom line? That's right... I do. Can't recall in my memory ever having it, but I guess that means babies and adults alike are prone to it given the right circumstances. Not surprising, in retrospect, since the covers on the bed are goose down. Goose down in the desert? REALLY?!? Ugh!
Day 8: With a relatively early start this morning, Rick is excited about his meeting at the airport because he gets the rest of the day off after that. He's so ready to go home! Cloudy weather + heat rash = no tanning today. I think I'm pretty vitamin D saturated anyway. I opt for a soak this morning, a bite to eat, then off to Carrefour to pick up some stuff I forgot. Over breakfast, it's funny listening in on all the business conversations... a great many proposals are done over breakfast, and when one of the party leaves, the others will almost always talk plainly about his ideas, dropping all pretenses they had while he was still at the table. I finished The Hobbit and headed off to Carrefour to get the last of what I needed and a Mars Bar... yeah, hadn't had one since 2005 when Mama and I were in Scotland on the Royal Mile on a freezing rainy day. This Mars Bar, however, was not deep fried. Decided to pack a bit and hang out in the room until my spa appointment; another of Rick's coworkers said that Bliss Spa at the W was bar none the best spa in Doha. Not that I have omnipotent knowledge of all the spas in the area, but Bliss was lovely! Gorana, my masseuse (though they do not like to be called such) was such a nice person. She's from Serbia and laughed at me when I asked if she was a Qatari, to which she responded "if I was Qatari, I'd be at the luxury resorts getting a massage!" She and I talked the entire time about the local culture and how the state runs buiness. To date, there are no labor laws mandating fair treatment. There are so many foreigners come here from poorer countries that would be considered below poverty level here in the States. Our panhandlers and homeless beggars make more money than these poor people do, and what's worse, the pay they get there is infinitely better than what they would make at a job in their home country! It's a nasty way for the job providers to get what they want without having to shell out a ton of money. But if you are hired on by a company based in Qatar, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide housing or a housing allowance and transporation (or an allowance). However, the housing and transportation does not have to meet certain criteria, which only adds to the travesty of the migrant workers. Leaving a company is where many people get stuck in the positions they do. I'm not 100% sure about the workings of it all, but I understand one needs sponsorship should they leave an employer, otherwise you garner bad repercussions. Also, you can't sponsor someone unless the combined income of the household is 7000+ riyal per year. The average migrant worker is paid around 1000 riyal/year which is about $300. Unbelievable! And yet they send most of that money to their families in their respective home countries because it's twice to three times what they'd make there, assuming they could even get a job. Qatar got the bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but the committee won't allow construction until worker rights are resolved. It's a very sensitive issue and a very eye-opening conversation. Gorana helped explain the Islamic dress code; I was thoroughly confused because of all the different ways I saw Muslim women wearing their abayas, and wanted to know what the Koran (Qur'an) says about women covering themselves, and whether how much a woman covers is a signal of how conservative she is in her faith. Islamic law by the Koran says that only the parts a man finds attractive are to be covered (cleavage and hair essentially), but like many religious texts, this is left to interpretation. It was the Palestinians who brought over the abaya, which many adopted here, but ultimately it is up to the man of the house to decide what, if any, parts are appropriate for public exposure. So you'll see anything from women dressing like they're from a non-Islamic country to women showing hair and wearing sandals, and even the extreme measures where the woman is completely 100% covered - wearing a veil and gloves. It isn't so much a showing of how conservative you are in your faith, but the man's decision on what he would allow the women of his house to show. But due to the nature of an Islamic country, be aware, that if you are not wearing an abaya you will be stared at regardless. Additionally, the more you show, the more attention you will draw (case in point yesterday). I also learned about gypsy cabs and how they charge their customers - by the accent. If you have an Arab accent, they will charge you twice what the licensed cabs do. American or Euro accents get charged around three times the norm, and our lovely cousins, the Brits, get charged a whopping five times more than normal! It was interesting and good to know at any rate... I'll stick to Karwa (the teal cabs) and Salim when he's available. He's the driver for the PB partners/associates when they're in town. A great rubdown later and back upstairs, Rick was packing like a mad man... always excited on the last day. We ordered an early room service tried to watch Back to the Future, which failed miserably, so we watched a bunch of American Dad episodes we hadn't seen yet and went to bed for an early start tomorrow.
Day 9: We finished packing last minute items and I went down to breakfast for the last time while Rick settled the bill. Salim picked us up at 7am sharp, and we were off to the airport where I sat with Rick at his obscenely nice terminal. At the current (soon-to-be-old) airport, terminal A is specifically for Qatar Airways and is definitely geared towards the wealthy. When he went to catch his flight, I left for terminal b (just a quick walk, slightly further apart than the SA terminals), and since I'm 12 hours early, United hasn't even opened up a kiosk! The earliest you can check your bags is 3 hours prior to departure, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Turns out it wasn't such a horrible idea because there is no place for me to drop my bag, and I developed some serious stomach cramps shortly after getting settled at a café in the terminal. I would've caught a ride to the airport later, but we had to check out of the hotel that morning and I wasn't about to haul a heavy suitcase all around a foreign city, policed or not. So I sat at the café working on my crossword, reading a business magazine I got from the hotel, and eventually ordered a coffee so I wouldn't appear like a vagrant occupying a park bench and scaring away business. An Asian (couldn't place the country) was sitting at a table right next to me with his laptop plugged in and was meeting with employees, attending meetings, and interviewing future workers the entirety of my stay there (at least 9 hours). Eventually, around 4pm, he asked me what happened to my flight, and when I explained that mine didn't leave until 9pm, he was so nice and just told me to stay there until I needed to leave, and wished me safe travels when I finally did around 6. United finally opened a kiosk, and I was the first in line to get my bag off my hands. A rigorous questioning and several security checkpoints later, I found myself at the gate, relieved and waiting to board. I went to the counter where I asked about upgrading my ticket so I could lay down to sleep, but unlike in the States where you can do such things, abroad you have to give no less than a 24-hour notice. So in economy I was stuck. When I finally boarded the 727, I asked one of the attendants if I could move seats until we reached Dubai (for a layover). The 350+ passenger plane only had about 40 occupants, so she didn't mind at all, however, a nice gentleman looked at me when he came to sit in his seat. I asked him if he minded, and thankfully for me he didn't. He was a very nice guy, coming home from Doha after being abroad for 9 months. I guess when you're in the Army, you don't get a lot of say so. A week was too long to be away from my son, I couldn't imagine three weeks from my family (like Rick had to endure), much less 9 months! Jason, I hope you're able to stay Stateside for awhile before your next deployment. Seated by a window on the right side of the plane, as we eased into Dubai, I finally got to see the Burj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world! The tower is neat when you see pictures online or in movies, but they pale in comparison to seeing it in person (even from a plane). The building appears to be twice the height of the scrapers around it and is a sight from the air! But now I'm ready to see my son, my home and have my little family together again. So long, Doha! I'm sure I will see you again!