#3 – Al Corniche
The following morning, after a breakfast in which I sampled a local foodstuff appropriately called “foul”, I set out to examine the new city.
The journey takes me, on foot, around West Bay. A comfortable promenade, known as Al Corniche, hugs the coastline, where locals stroll in the cool of the evening. Right now, it’s not evening, and neither is it cool. It leads all the way from Souk Watif to the new city, where impossible sky-scrapers of bizarre aspect rise improbably. It doesn’t look that far, I tell myself.
Of course, I’m wrong about that. It’s a long way, but pleasant enough, if one can take the heat. As the morning deepens, the temperature rises. Here, the government has thought to provide charging stations for mobile phones, an unaccustomed and welcome innovation. If that’s not to your taste, fishing also appears acceptable.
Half-way along, I note a monument to the upcoming Qatar Football World Cup. Perhaps it’s a monument to corruption. Only time will tell.
I’m hoping that these strange buildings, so odd from afar, are equally impressive up close. Alas, like everything the world over, this is not to be. By the time I find myself under the giant pickle, it looks tired and worn. There are workmen languidly repairing something at the base, a cheap general store hawks its trade nearby. There are endless security systems.
By this time, I’m thirsty, make no mistake, and the new city has lost some of its attraction. In truth, it’s more or less like any other city. Sure, these are some architectural wonders, but here at ground level, Doha isn’t unique. Workers with downcast eyes wander soullessly between offices and coffee shops. Shopping malls provide shallow attraction for the well-dressed.
By now I’m sweating profusely, and I’m after more than Levi’s. I want a beer.
#4 – International Hotels
As a Muslim country, alcohol is not permitted. In my opinion, this is cruel in a country so hot and dry, but there it is.
This is not to say that beer cannot be had, if only one knows where to look, and I’ll tell you where. Five-star, international hotels. The Hilton. Intercontinental. You get the idea.
Unfortunately, these places aren’t quite so easy to find as you’d expect. I walked for hours, or so it seemed.
I finally found the Intercontinental, and the lobby was less grand than I was expecting, probably because a large portion is taken up by the metal detector and security systems.
I’m still keen for that beer, as long as it’s icy cold. My feet are sore and I need to pee. I’ve been drinking warm water for kilometres.
Unfortunately, the location of the promised land (the bar) is far from well advertised. I presume it’s on a high level, of course, with a view over the gulf, but I can’t even reach the lift. A second wave of security bars my way, ironically, to the bar. I’m not a hotel guest, so I have no automatic right to enter.
I have an awful thought – what if it isn’t even open yet? After all, it’s only 1030am, and my need for liquid sustenance comes down to a combination of heat, jet-lag and foot-soreness. Otherwise, I promise, I wouldn’t start drinking at this hour.
I have a guide-book and I undertake an inspection. Crushingly I find out that the earliest opener is noon, 90 mins away. There must be a lobby lounge though, and I might be able to take a leak and have a cold glass of water, but even that proves difficult.
The concierge directs me through a small maze to a nasty hole with the desired designation. With resignation I ask for the bathroom, and I’m given further directions. This also proves to be a fool’s errand, and while wandering aimlessly I’m accosted by a security guard, who gives a different set of co-ordinates altogether, which, alas, proves misguided as well.
These hotels have a reputation. At night, they say, things start happening, and I have no reason to doubt this. Just don’t turn up mid-morning, as I did, and expect a coldie. You’ll be disappointed.
I’ve had enough, and walk out, beerless. I want one of those glorious turquoise taxis back to my hotel now, but they seem thin on the ground. I’m walking against the flow of traffic, and they don’t stop, but I’m able to navigate my way back to Al Corniche using the pickle as a beacon. On the way I come across a mall, where I can empty the bladder and buy some water, but even this feels daunting, like I’m being watched and judged.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think Qatar does tourism well.
That’s not to say the place is unfriendly. It isn’t, at all. The waiters and staff at the hotels are incredibly helpful, much more than you would expect in Australia. They’re almost too good, constantly hovering like a ghost over your shoulder, asking whether you would like another coffee or whether they can rub your shoulders.
It’s just that there aren’t many tourists here. A pasty white guy carrying a backpack and a camera is obviously an oddity, and the place just isn’t set up to be dumbed down for newbies like me. People are expected to know how and what to order, where they can and can’t go, and how to respect the national faith of Islam.
After I’m partially hydrated, I head back along Al Corniche. The traffic is abominable, and the traffic lights seemingly interminable. Though footsore, I complete the walk. There is one more thing I need to see before I leave: The Museum of Islamic Art.
(Next week – #5 – The MIA – Parting thoughts)