Qatar

A Perfect Mix in Time

Imagining what Doha is like is really not possible unless you’ve had the good fortune of walking along the city’s Corniche on a not-too-hot summer's day, with the breeze tickling your hair and the Arabian Gulf lapping peacefully at your feet. The city's Corniche - the nearly seven kilometer promenade along the  coast - is a picture postcard indeed. It's an almost-surreal vision for joggers, walkers and those who cannot help but stroll and marvel at the architects, designers and workers who have built a spectacularly beautiful city out of the desert in such a short time, all the while maintaining some very traditional ways of life. Without a doubt, this city is amazing!

Like many in the region, Doha is a city that is a perfect mix in time: it has one foot in the past and one in present as it reaches toward the future. Qatar is known for its history of pearl divers and the quality of their finds. In fact, legend has it that in order for a man to win a lady's heart, he had to dive to the depths of the gulf to bring her a perfect pearl. The country is still well known for its ocean jewels but today, with its cosmopolitan capital, it is also known for oh-so-much more.

 The Doha skyline sparkles like diamonds against the night sky, a true sight to behold, particularly with the added delight of watching a building glow copper, then silver, then bronze with its ultra-modern lighting show. The buildings themselves, too, offer up visual delights, as each is a unique design and a testament to imaginative architecture. My two favourites were an inky blue building with little lights that sparkled, reminding me of a navy blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds, and a silver one, so ornate that I imagined a tapestry of silver icicles or crystals sparkling in the sunlight.

 Of course, like many places in the Middle East, Doha is a magnet for shoppers, with anything and everything being on offer. Trendy shops, much like those found in the City Mall, offer every brand name and electronic you can think of, not to mention finely crafted jewelry made from gold and precious stones. Quality is first class, to be sure. There are endless food courts and restaurants to suit all tastes and cultures after a day of shopping or after an afternoon of skating on the mall’s ground-floor skating rink.

 Like every modern amenity in Doha, however, shopping too seems to have a counterpart in the past. A walk along the myriad streets of the old part of the city takes you down small, cool alleys and passageways where the smells of incense and dark coffee have wafted through the ages. Here you find endless shops and stalls selling just about everything from household goods and exotic spices to handmade jewelry and metalwork to woven rugs and colourful, mysterious fabrics.

 One thing that surely has changed very little throughout the centuries in Doha, of course, is the weather. Like most of the region, Doha welcomes seemingly endless blue skies and sunshine, and except for the really hot summer months when temperatures can surpass a scorching 50°C, being outdoors is pleasant for most of the year. I find the evenings a bit cool in January and February, and sometimes need a sweater or light jacket; otherwise warmth abounds. Of course malls and other air conditioned venues can be a godsend on some days, and fortunately they abound as well!

 One of the best places in the city to enjoy the weather is, of course, the beach, which Doha has plenty of. A long walk along the Corniche can take you all the way across the front of the city centre, affording you views of the phenomenal skyline and the horizons of the Arabian Gulf. There are endless places to eat and relax in between dips into the warm but refreshing gulf waters. There are also a number of private hotel beaches with full services that you can pay to get into for a day or get a membership for if you’re in town for any length of time. 

At night along the Corniche, visitors can once again grasp visions of the past as the smells of incense, vendor food and hookah smoke mix with slight but delicious breezes from the gulf. Locals in traditional garb enjoy the evenings with their families and visitors can imagine the modern city transforming to days gone by, knowing that some evening traditions on the sea have never changed.

 It’s easy to understand why this small, sometimes exotic city is mesmerizingly alluring in all ways. From its capital’s stunning modern skyline to its ancient markets, from the hidden gems that lie beneath its cool gulf waters to near perfect weather, Qatar is a breathtakingly beautiful mix of the old and the new, offering up more than just a few surprises for every visitor.

 

 

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 Rosemary Ferraro is a British national with a home base in England. She has lived and travelled in a number of places worldwide, including South Africa, New Zealand and South Korea. An English teacher by trade, she is a writer and traveller at heart and plans to enjoy this beautiful planet for years to come. 

 

 

 

 

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 Largest city: Doha

 Area: 11,586 sq.km. (4,473 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Arabic, English

 Major religions: Muslim, Christian, Other

 Monetary unit: Qatari Rial

 GDP per capita: US $102,700

 Internet domain: .qa

 International dialling code: +974

 Source: CIA World Factbook