We all need a break from Doha once in a while – but who knew you didn’t have to leave the city to get one?
Happy second birthday, Little City. Yes, this blog hit the terrible twos the other week. Two years of introspection, camels and parenting failures, gone in a flash.
But in all that time and all those words, the best (ok, only) freebie I’ve been offered as a result was a copy of The Entertainer (Dubai edition) – an offer I politely declined.
But then, as if karma, fate and serendipity had joined forces with the sole purpose of not letting the occasion go unmarked, the Grand Hyatt hotel right here in Sunny D, got in touch.
They really liked my blog – flattery will get you everywhere – and would I be interested in being their guest for the weekend and writing about it?
Do bears..? Is the Pope..?
I did have a couple of conditions, which they agreed to: I had to be free to write what I liked, and they didn’t get to see it first. And with that sorted, we spent last weekend as their guests.
We have friends who do this kind of thing all the time – check into a local hotel for the weekend – but for us it was a case of first time for everything.
With the school year now over and the kids about to head back to Europe for the summer (which is a much more glamorous way of saying ‘to stay with their grandparents’) we were planning a “staycation” for our final weekend together, so the hotel’s offer was perfectly timed.
The idea of playing tourist in your home town is an attractive one. It’s one of the reasons I love going back to London now. I can both marvel at all the attractions with a sense of perspective, whilst still knowing a decent local in most parts of town. You get the best of both worlds.
But whilst I’d love to say we used the hotel as a base to explore our adopted home through fresh eyes, we didn’t. When there’s a choice between hitting the roads and hitting the pool in the height of the summer heat, it’s no choice at all.
It’s also an odd experience staying somewhere that you have previously visited on many occasions. In Doha, we use hotels as landmarks when giving directions, or as brunch venues. Turns out they have bedrooms, too.
Room with a view (of everything)
The hotel was keen that we see the best of everything and so put us up in a suite which was impressively vast; I’ve owned smaller houses. It had more chairs than the kids could sit on in a weekend. It had an office. And then there was the bathroom…
A walk-in shower room I can understand; but with two doors? I have no idea what demographic that’s targeting, unless squabbling-yet-hygienic-couples are a thing?
There was a whirlpool bath and, naturally, a sauna. Yes, just what you need when it’s in the 40s outside, a room where you can get even hotter. Not that that stopped Kid A from firing it up and recreating the log cabin scene from Frozen. (“Big summer blowout!”)
Whenever we left the confines of the suite, we were greeted enthusiastically by everyone we met. My question is whether everyone gets the same treatment or just those staying on the right floor?
There was a small clue to be found when we arrived, and before we had identified ourselves to any of the staff. As we were standing in line, the man behind the desk looked up from processing the people in front of us and apologised for the delay, saying he’ll be with us in a minute.
I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Did I just see customer service? In a city that wouldn’t know good customer service if it was draped across the bonnet of its car?
(The magic worked in reverse, too. Checking out, we handed our car valet stub to the bellboy and hey presto, next thing we knew, there was our car complete with bags already in the boot. Trés slick.)
Things to do in Doha when you’re dead tired
Over the course of the weekend, we took up the hotel’s offer to try just about everything.
There’s a deceptively large outdoor pool, which seemed heavily populated by women trying to keep their shades on and hair dry as they swam.
At the fitness centre, I was reunited with my old friend the Concept2 rowing machine, a staple fixture in seemingly every gym on earth except the one in my compound. I did two sessions in an attempt to undo some of the damage done by brunch and for succumbing to my weakness for pancakes and maple syrup at breakfast.
I even went to the Jaula Spa for a massage. As she got to work, the masseuse pointed out that my shoulders were very tense. Of course they are, I thought, have you seen the traffic lately?
With its high ceilings, natural light, calming water features, green tea and a separate entrance for dedicated spa aficionados, Jaula is well worth a return visit. I think Mrs LC will be racing me to see who can book a quicker return appointment.
Also worth going back to is Rocca, the poolside bar and grill, which does a few simple things very well. The raw onion aside (what were they thinking?) my burger there was one of the best I’ve had in Doha.
We gave mixed reviews to the new tapas-style brunch at the hotel’s Thai restaurant, Isaan. The idea is sound, the staff friendly and helpful, and there’s some fun to be had with clothes pegs as you try and keep track of your plate (an idea whose genius grows with every passing hour; I can see us using it at theme parks to keep track of the kids).
But many of the dishes were too spicy even for our two (who are pretty adventurous in that regard) and for them, an entire afternoon of one cuisine was too much.
It’s a valiant effort but ultimately it’s not even the best brunch in the hotel (that’s still one floor below, at The Grill) and there’s still some work to be done if Spice Market’s Asian brunch crown is going to be threatened any time soon.
The weekend ended with a classic bit of British social embarrassment.
Someone somewhere had misread my date of birth on a form, and before I knew what was happening, four members of the hotel management were at my door, brandishing an enormous birthday cake precisely one month too early.
Poor Mrs LC. I don’t think she’s ever wanted the ground to open up and swallow her so badly. This huge cake must have cost a fortune and here we were being given it for no reason. I was trying to work out what to say when my kids beat me to it. “It’s not your birthday!” they shouted loud enough for anyone in Lagoona Mall to hear them. Cheers, kids.
Like the pros they are, the staff – who have clearly seen far worse sights in hotel rooms than an embarrassed Englishman – just got on with handing out plates. (On a side note, it was really delicious. Biscotti’s Early Chocolate Cake – perfect for any occasion.)
Cake snafus aside, the downside of staycations, especially in a city this small, is the risk of bumping into people you know (we were seated at dinner right next to the parents of one of Amnesiac’s classmates, for example.)
You can’t actually escape for too long, which is probably a good thing, as this was a thrilling, if short-lived glimpse at another world completely.
But by the end, it felt like we’d really been away, and not just on the other side of town for the weekend.
The cocoon of tranquillity didn’t last long, however: I got cut up at the first roundabout on the way home. I could feel my shoulders tense up almost immediately. My first thought was not to curse the psychotic driver, but to wonder when I could book myself in for another massage…
And for any other commercial entities out there thinking of using these pages to promote their wares: this blog is not for sale.
But it can definitely be hired for the weekend.