My parents are Doha-bound again next week so I’m busy planning things to do while they’re back in town
Having been here for a two-week extravaganza first time around, they might be forgiven for thinking they’ve ‘done Doha’ already. But despite still being a little city, a lot’s changed here in two years.
You can tell it’s the perfect time of year to visit Qatar from the hammering your own social life takes – “A barbecue sounds great, but we have visitors until April; can we meet up then?” – but whether or not you’re hip deep in visitor season, there’s so much on here at the moment, I thought I’d share a few suggestions.
(And don’t forget to let me know what I’ve missed, or add your favourites, in the comments.)
This Friday sees the start of the annual Spring Festival at Souq Waqif; there’s plenty to do as always (camels, robots, Shaun the Sheep…the usual), but anyone who’s spent more than five minutes here will know why the main attraction this year is the promise of a new underground car park opening.
No, really. Last time my folks were here, we got stuck in Souq-gridlock hell for three hours and I nearly did time for murder.
We were trying to get to the Corniche to take a dhow cruise but never made it; we may try again this year, weather depending.
Other traditional pursuits on offer here include dune bashing and desert camping (Qatar International Tours offer them all, other providers are available).
Saturday (24th) sees Doha’s first Color Run. The gimmick here is that rather than trying to set records – or even bother with timing at all – runners are instead liberally coated in paint every kilometer, so that by the time they amble over the finish line, they look like the before shot from a washing powder commercial.
It sounds ridiculous, which is probably why Mrs LC and I paid our dues and signed up for it a few weeks back. Life being what it is, however, we can’t now make it. Maybe next year (assuming it’s a success).
If you’d rather watch sport than participate, then you’re spoilt for choice right now. The Men’s Open tennis finished last week with a Twitter-busting cameo from David Beckham popping up to present David Ferrer with his winner’s trophy.
(The Women’s Open is next month; celebrity cameos currently unconfirmed.)
Swing when you’re winning
This week is the Qatar Masters golf with entertainment after each day’s play, including, on Friday night, UB40, who will presumably not be singing Red, Red Wine).
A friend invited me along to watch last year’s tournament and, although golf isn’t normally my cup of tea, I actually had a really fun day out.
That was mainly down to watching the semi-living legend that is John Daly in the proverbial flesh. There’s a man who knows how to combine work and leisure.
But the big sporting ticket in town this week is undoubtedly the Men’s Handball World Championships. Oh, no wait, hang on a second. No, I haven’t got a clue, either; sorry.
Asking around, it seems like the sport (about which I freely confess to knowing less than nothing) is crazy big in Scandinavia and Egypt. Oh, and Spain. To any handball fans reading this, I apologise in advance if I’m about to sound a bit dim about your obsession, but having looked into it, the appeal doesn’t immediately leap out at me.
At this point, I thought I’d try and track down a clip to embed here, so we could all get a sense of what it’s all about, but when I searched for ‘handball action’, all I got was Ooredoo’s Oops Screen of Shame. Ahem.
All of which means I can’t tell you an awful lot at this point, I’m afraid. The tournament goes on till 1 Feb, however, and has tens of thousands of seats needing filling every day across three venues – so I suspect we will pop along to catch a qualifier at some point and see what, if anything, the fuss is all about. (if you move fast enough, you might even get to see Pharrell Williams on Thursday night, assuming you can stand to have Happy in your head for the rest of the year. Again).
I hope it’s selling well, I really do. It may well be a world championships, but it is still a niche sport that needs introducing, explaining and context. Unfortunately though its ad campaign has been saddled with a widely-ridiculed slogan that sounds like it’s been auto translated by a bored robot (‘Live the game of fast’).
There’s certainly no sense of history, or passion, or stories, or rivalries, or why it’s special, or different – or worth my time or money.
Let’s hope I’ll be proved wrong on this one (please tell me if I’m wrong).
Promoting obscure tournaments to a populace that is slowly becoming accustomed to attending competitive fixtures even in high-profile sports packed with household names, is just one reason why I don’t envy the Tourist Authority.
But I do hold them responsible for the Hop on, Hop off buses.
HOHO buses are a proven hit with tourists in cities all over the world…so why are Doha’s almost always empty?
There’s a clue on the pricing section of their website. At QR162 (£29/US$45), an adult ticket on its own is extortionate; but with a family ticket costing an eye-watering QR409 (£74/US$113), even with an online discount, that’s drifted off into a different hemisphere of wtf? completely.
That’s not to say we don’t have some fantastic places to visit here in Doha. The Museum of Islamic Art (closed Tuesdays) is the gift that keeps on giving. Fantastic to both look at and visit (head for the jewellery on the third floor), it has a great café, nifty gift shop and the city’s best park.
From there you can walk (yes, walk!) to Souq Waqif for the Spring Festival. As you do, ignore the beeps from drivers who assume you’re only walking because you’re looking for a taxi.
(I haven’t been to the Souq since it went shisha-free on January 1, so don’t yet know what effect that’s having on visitor numbers. Anyone got any insight?)
Katara, the beachside cultural village is another must see. Throw a pebble and you’ll hit a great restaurant (we have soft spots for the Egyptian cafe Khan Farouk, fancy Turkish joint Sukar Pasha and the currytastic Saffron Lounge). Not forgetting, of course, everyone’s favourite tea dispensary, Chapati and Karak.
Out of town
If / when the wind dies down, there’s cheap, lo-fi thrills to be had up north at Fuwairat beach; others swear by Dhukan beach to the west, or you can head south for a day at Sealine beach resort.
If you’re not sure how long you’ll be here (or if you’re at the other end, and know exactly how long you have left here) it’s the perfect time to be ticking things off your to do list. There’s the eclectic Sheikh Faisal’s Museum, the Richard Serra monoliths in the desert near Zekreet and the dinky delights of Al Zubarah fort on the north west coast.
It’s also the perfect time of year to head inland and visit the Inland Sea, and two destinations we still have to cross off, namely the Singing Dunes and a morning’s kayaking in the mangroves. The kids and I have also been to Purple Island, but it was so thick with litter discarded by daytrippers that I’m in no rush to go back at the minute.
In short, between Time Out, Doha News, Just Here, I Love Qatar, Evently, The Buzz, Events Doha, Qatar Living and Q-Tickets and their assorted emails, tweets, Facebook pages and apps, you’ve got no excuse for saying there’s nothing to do.