Doha, Qatar (update 2019 from Kryss)
Still in Bahrain...
Wiki Info Manama
Wiki Info Bahrain Natl Museum
Still in Bahrain:
Dhows, pearls, water, date palms, and burials...the national museum! It is amazing to me how much the discovery of oil has changed the entire culture of the area, especially this ancient one here in Bahrain! Since 1932 when oil was first discovered until 1980's it seems to have slowly eroded what had taken 100's if not several thousand years to evolve. However, it has taken just the past couple decades to completely irradicate and replace that history and culture from view! In fact, most of the construction of buildings/high rises/highways has been accomplished within the last 10 years!
We have encountered only ex-pats, mostly Indian, and have no real clue how 'real' Bahrain is live/work other than what our guide, Alfred, told us yesterday. He said the Bahrain I citizens can 'buy' a home for half of its cost (the king pays the other half), and borrow the rest at low interest. If they make their payments regularly for 10 years the king forgives the rest and they own it! traditional Bahraini 'homes' are actually walled family compounds where married children add 'apts.' on top of their parent's but just a second floor. Of course, these homes are very large to start with so many children can add apts. to the original one story home. Also, gasoline for cars is only .27 / liter (less than $2.50/gal.) and natural gas for home use is free - a byproduct of the oil fields. Another benefit, if you can pass a French fluency exam, anyone can attend a French university for free (not including room & board). Another comment Alfred made was that the only reason Bahrain still exists today (and in his words, 'Not part of Iran!') is due to the presence of US 6th fleet.
Bahrain is definitely a step up from Kuwait I would say, you don't see the grunge at ground level. Also, Bahrain doesn't seem as conservative as Kuwait, there is definitely more a 'party scene' (as Mari puts it) here in Bahrain.
We went to Gold City as well as the Gold Souk to see the natural pearls that Bahrain is famous for...not really impressed although we were there during their traditional 1 to 4pm closed time...just window shopping anyway since these things are priced for a different class of people, ha!
Just waiting for Concord Hotel airport shuttle and 8:20pm flight to Doha...
I must say the service at the Concord was superior to any we've as yet experienced. They truthfully bent over backwards for us! The internet use was free, printing copies of all our flight reservations/tickets no charge, transport to/from airport gladly provided, hot water for the thermos in the room anytime, and all personnel friendly and helpful.
The plane was a stopover flight from London so most passengers had been on board already. We barely got in the air and the pilot was announcing our landing. There were hundreds of people arriving on other flights as well so the Immigration/Customs lines were looong. This being Qatar's only airport and having been recently (2011) completed, it was constructed to handle a major amount of traffic i.e. we were transported from the Brit Air plane by bus to the terminal and it took 10-15min to get there (a long ways away) passing a row of perhaps 50 new buses parked for future use. The passport/visa control check went very quickly, much faster than in Bahrain where there were less than 50 and it took 1 1/2 hours! They charge 100 rial = $25 US for visa which supposedly is good for Oman as well, we'll see. But outside it was a bit confusing since there are no buses only taxis. We got hooked with a guy kind of slyly whispering, Need a taxi? and not seeing any others around we followed him until it was obvious he was NOT a government taxi. Luckily, a woman heard us talking about needing a taxi and she pointed the way around a corner where they were all lined up. Our driver (from Karnatica, India - said most services provided by Indians, Sri Lankans, or Nepalis), helped us find a hotel, drove us to 4 before we - actually, I decided - on one, Al Nakheel Hotel. I don't think it was a big mistake, although the two sisters were not happy it being small 2 beds - I slept on the floor. Mari, who hates air con slept on the floor as well claiming the cold air came right down on her which it didn't but she had wanted to book something ahead all along so I don't think the air con was the issue here. With the huge increase in expenses I am certain that it is creating major stresses for/between all of us. That and the fast pace we must travel at times to see/do what we came for and not drain all our resources. Needless to say, "on edge" would be a good description of each of our behaviors. Highly defensive and not amendable to constructive solutions at times. Some who have traveled with us will understand what I'm describing so it is not necessary to go into detail. I see from a perspective which is too involved so not unbiased but still, over 10 years of long term travel does afford some insights I should hope. Perhaps we are all too close for too long to allow any emotional distance.
Again, this could describe faulty relationships everywhere, perhaps even between countries but especially where resources are scarce or people are in competition for them for their livelihoods. Maybe I'm taking the analogy too far?!
Al Nakheel Hotel breakfast was very good, similar to buffet in Kuwait! Making plans for going around here and onward to UAE....After getting information at the front desk, mostly from a guest standing there who said the only way to UAE on land is to go to a travel agency which would get visas and arrange transport. We went to 2 and both said, Not possible! only by air. Bon had checked online and flights to Dubai were $90-100 with at least 4 different flight times beginning at 9:30am and last at 10pm. So we decided to stay another night here at Al Nakheel even though Mari went to the Palace Hotel just down the street where a larger room was $450 rial, same as here, but no breakfast! Inertia and no breakfast kept us here...we have begun to rely on the buffets for supplemental food for the rest of the day so it pays to get breakfasts!
This country is known for its shopping experience, something Mari has no interest in....today we go to The Mall in City Center, ha! Great walk back along the coast with views of Doha skyline and Qataris walking/jogging along the walkway by the sea in late afternoon breezes. In eve since we sacrificed most of the day enjoying what Doha has to offer, when we attempted to book air flights to Dubai all the cheap flights Bon had seen in the a.m. were gone for tomorrow! Now we must look to Friday (we checked 2 travel agencies and they found the same result other than 9 am tomorrow which would mean missing a lot of why we came here)! The agent said it was because Friday & Saturday are 'weekend' days so many go to Dubai for their weekend. Went to another internet and Bon & Mari arranged flight for Friday, 12:10pm to Dubai.
It took so long making reservations that we found ourselves in the rebuilt, modern Souk at 10 pm just when Bayern vs R. Madrid were playing their semi-final soccer/football match. Mari couldn't miss that so...the game lasted past midnight and Mari came away very happy, Bayern had won in a shootout. Not caring one way or the other, I felt I had 'lost' since I was way too tired from our walk. It seems that Mari & Bon have a penchant for late nights, I on the other hand have trouble keeping my eyes open beyond 10!
Doha, the capital and main city of Qatar, has been enjoyable.
In May this year, the city’s new and technically advanced metro opened. A few days before we arrived, the airport branch started running its driverless trains. Although we landed after dark and had to wait about an hour for our bag to appear on the carousel, the metro got us to our hotel very quickly. We exited the station and our hotel was 100m away. A single trip is 40p and a day pass about £1.50.
Doha has large blocks but we were close to the main downtown sights. Everything else could be accessed on the metro and its free feeder buses.
Our hotel is on the main road, has a kitchenette and overlooks the modern looking “old city”. The back streets are where the workers (mainly from India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Kenya) shop and eat. This was the area to get breakfast, lunch and dinner. A delicious chicken biryani would set us back £2.50 while fresh fruit juices would be £1. Tea was 20p. In the posh cafes or in museums a cup of tea would cost 20 times that.
On our first day we visited Souq Waqif, the reconstructed trading centre of old Doha. This was a great place to people watch. Locals and tourists were embellished with football supporters from Liverpool and Brazil who were here for a cub final the day we arrived.
Highlight here was the falcon souq. These birds have traditionally been used for hunting and are highly prized and very expensive. We saw them being held on leather gauntlets by buyers and sellers. Nearby was the sultan’s stables where his stallions are kept. We could visit and see the animals. One licked my ear as I was posing for a photo.
The National Library was in a futuristic building that looks like a flying saucer. It is so modern inside that parents and children visit as a family outing.
The Golden Mosque glittered in the Sun in the Katara district. Nearby was a Roman amphitheatre which is used for concerts – this area felt like Las Vegas.
We visited four restored heritage houses. One had a display about slavery while another showed traditional Qatari living spaces.
There were two museums which were excellent.
The National Museum (a building site back in 2013) resembled a desert rose and was stunning inside and out. The exhibits used the latest technology and the whole thing was an assault on the senses.
The Museum of Islamic Art is in a mosque like building and is full of the most stunning items including jewellery from India, ceramics from Iran, carpets, inlayed boxes, tiles, carved ivory and wood, game pieces, jewel encrusted knives and textiles.
The Corniche is a pedestrian walk around a bay, dominated by a line of skyscrapers. Dhows cruise along this bay.
On 26 December, an eclipse occurred at sunrise. This was an annular eclipse meaning that the Moon was too far away to block the Sun completely. We expected to see a ring shaped sun at dawn. The ring was only visible along a narrow strip south of the capital. We hired a car and found a beach to observe from. We were joined by Lesley, a friend from the Chile eclipse.
Dawn was marked by a spectacular pink crescent sun rising over the sea with mirage effects making it look like the top of a mosque. Cloud obscured the critical 2 minutes 40 seconds of the ring (the annular phase). We got to see an almost ring shaped thin crescent Sun through gaps in the clouds. It was frustrating as the forecast had been for clear skies and the sky had been clear before we arrived. The photos we did get appear to be popular.
One German man, Mathias had come just for the eclipse. We at least have had five weeks of history, culture, friendly people and great food to enjoy.
Hospitality was provided by Abdulla and Wahab (the latter a contact from the previous eclipse). Pre and post eclipse we met fellow eclipse chasers, Tunc and Aaron.
The hardest part of the day was getting the car back to the airport. We had to go round three times before we found the correct car park. Unlike our USA car hire in 2017, they did not add extra charges that they didn’t tell us about.
Tomorrow (Saturday) it’s back to London for the New Year (Gregorian Calendar).
Kryss and Talaat