The plane touches down. One thing that must be said for the A380 – it’s a big bastard, and noisy. No doubt I was stationed directly over the landing gear, but when they went down, I thought the whole bottom half of the plane had dropped off with my guts. Of course, the procedure was uneventful.
Qatar brags about its airport – having so-and-so many trillion duty-free stores, restaurants, sculptures and playgrounds. The on-board advertising is relentless during the flight, yet once on the ground, one cannot actually get to this heavenly airport city. One is swiftly channelled through immigration, customs, thence out the door.
Here’s a book thought: go to every major airport around the world and get a taxi into the city centre. Pretend not to negotiate, see what happens.
I’ve already got miles of material. In Kathmandu it’s shit-box suzukis. In Santiago I was ripped off blind for just three times the going rate. In Glasgow that freak nearly killed me. Tanzania still haunts me. And the conversation can be enlightening.
I had contacted the hotel to see if they had a complimentary collection service. Nope, they would be pleased to do so, but for approximately $50, and the guidebook suggested that a taxi would do the same job for $10.
So, taxi it was.
In Qatar, the taxis are a lurid turquoise colour (and, oddly enough, they are called yellow taxis). Jamal was my guy. He wasn’t very chatty, and not very understandable either. But the most characteristic feature of the ride was his choice of music.
Dirty rap. Dirty English rap.
“Oh baby I want to sex you up. I wanna bend you over and fold you like a dollar bill”
And it got filthy from there. I can’t bring myself to write it.
The traffic was awful, even at 630am. As an oil producing country, petrol is more abundant, literally, than water. And it seems that the birthright of each citizen is to own at least five cars to take advantage. Further, they somehow conspire to be driving at least four at any one time.
We were stationary behind a single set of lights for ten minutes at a time, until some police waved us through. Apparently peak hour starts in the gulf at 5am. I asked him where people went at that hour, but if he responded, I didn’t understand. I don’t think he knew.
The country is clearly wealthy, and clearly dry. The terrain is flat, the buildings off-white, stark in the sunlight. Instead of grass, crushed white stones create ornamental gardens.
There are two parts to this city – the new, and, to state the obvious, the old. The old town contains historic buildings of stone and wood, but across the bay, the modern city arises. Unimaginable skyscrapers stand, monuments to the country’s oil-wealth. They are odd, architectural fripperies – this one looks like a pickle with a needle, another like a giant flower vase. One looks like a marble suspended inside a pinball.
Jamal wasn’t familiar with the hotel, but found it for me. The price for the trip was 50 Riyals, more than the guide-book says, but still less than $20. I tipped him.
I had booked a hotel in the Souk Watif. This is the old market district, across the bay from the new city.
There are nine hotels in the Souk, all owned by the same company, with one main reservation desk. From there, they book you into any one of the nine, and a fellow with a golf cart zips you the required hundred metres. They’re all in heritage buildings, beautifully restored with carved wood and Islamic patterns, made of stone and mud. Thankfully it never rains here, as half the country would melt like the Witch of the West if it got wet.
I was in the Hotel Al Bidda, and I was granted a large, beautifully appointed room, even though the hour was not yet seven, and I was most grateful. The manager said I had two breakfasts coming to me, and I could have one of them today, if I so chose. I did so choose – there would be no time to eat on the morning of my departure. I wasn’t sure that my package entitled me to a morning feed, but I accepted nonetheless. I needed sustenance for the day ahead.
(Next week – Part 2 – Two highlights of Doha)