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One night in Doha

Qatar, the oil-rich emirate in the Persian Gulf, has been in the news for the pivotal role it has played in the evacuation of refugees fleeing Afghanistan. In other, more peaceful, pre-Covid times, Mary-Jane Richmond flew to Berlin via Doha, the capital of Qatar.

It was the best deal I could find at the time — a direct flight from Auckland to Berlin with an overnight stop in Doha, with Qatar Airways.

I was bound for Berlin to join the World Choir for Peace in a performance of The Armed Man, by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. The year was 2018, and the performance was to mark the centennial of the end of World War 1.

That part of my trip has been written about in previous articles, but my Doha overnighter has been waiting in the wings.

The flight took off from Auckland at 4.15pm, and 18 hours later — at the time, the longest long-haul flight in the world — we landed at Hamad International Airport, Doha. It was midnight, Qatar time.

Eighteen hours sounds like an awfully long time to be in a Boeing 777, but the time went surprisingly quickly. The flight wasn’t full and I was able to stretch out across a middle row of four empty seats and sleep for a few hours. This was also the long-haul flight where I discovered the latest series of True Detective.

Flight attendants circulated through the cabin throughout the night, offering water and snacks.

I had sent on my big yellow suitcase to Berlin, so just had a day pack with enough for an overnight stay, and my shoulder bag.

Emerging into the arrivals hall at the airport I saw a fellow holding up an iPad with my name in large letters on the screen. This was the ride I’d booked from New Zealand through the Rideways website, to take me to my hotel, the Warwick Doha.

The drive took about 20 minutes, the expressways relatively quiet at that hour of the night, through this modern city of futuristic skyscrapers. I noticed on the way posters everywhere for the 2022 World Cup, scheduled for the end of next year to be held in Qatar. It will be the first time this famous football tournament has been held in the Arab world.

It was late October and I had read the average day-time temperature could be 35 degrees, with a night time minimum of 24.

I’d packed my togs and made sure the hotel I booked had a pool.

At the Warwick, the pool was on the rooftop, offering uninterrupted views across the Doha skyline, already hazy in the 8am heat.

I don’t think a swim has ever felt as good, stretching out in the cool water after that 18 hour flight and a fitful sleep. It was the only time my togs saw the light of day in my three weeks away, but they didn’t take up a lot of room in my suitcase and it was worth it.

Downstairs I helped myself to a delicious breakfast from the buffet in the dining room.

What to do now? It was before 10 and I didn’t have to be back at the airport for my flight to Berlin until 2.

My sister and her husband had flown to Europe earlier in the year, via Doha, and they had recommended a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art.

I inquired at the hotel desk about a taxi to the museum and soon I was on my way. Before this I had asked about getting some Qatar cash and was sent around the corner to another hotel, which had an ATM machine.

The 6km drive to the museum took about 15 minutes, along a busy city road and then the Corniche, a waterfront promenade which extends for 7km along Doha Bay on the shores of the Persian Gulf.

A visit to the Museum of Islamic Art

The museum is at one end of the Corniche, and is built on an island off an artificial projecting peninsula near the traditional dhow harbour.

Chinese American architect I M Pei had to be coaxed out of retirement for the project. He was 91.

The museum is influenced by ancient Islamic architecture yet has a uniquely modern design involving geometric patterns. It is the first of its kind to feature over 14 centuries of Islamic art in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf.

Inside this magnificent building is Islamic art from three continents over 1400 years. Its collection includes metal work, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles, and glass obtained from three continents and dating from the 7th to the 19th century. It is an astonishing collection, gathered since the late 1980s and including manuscripts, textiles and ceramics. It is one of the world’s most complete collections of Islamic artefacts, with items originating in Spain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India, and Central Asia.

So prepare to be stunned, impressed, overwhelmed at the breathtaking beauty of the items on display here.

In the atrium of the museum is the MIA cafe with spectacular views of the West Bay skyline from the five-storey, 45m windows. Above is the oculus, at the top of the atrium, which captures and reflects patterned light within the faceted dome.

At the museum shop I bought a few bits and pieces for gifts, and then ordered a coffee and a biscuit at the cafe. I sat for a while, enjoying the magnificent surroundings.

But time had ticked on and I needed to get back to the hotel for my ride to the airport.

The hotel had said I would be able to hail a taxi from outside the museum, but the first two I tried wanted to take me on a tour of Doha first. They lost interest in my business when I said I just wanted to get back to my hotel. Which they claimed they’d never heard of anyway.

Not quite panicking, I thought I could manage the walk back to the hotel and thought I knew the way.

Very soon I realised I didn’t really have a clue, and it was hot as anything.

Traffic was travelling very fast along the Corniche and I couldn’t see that I had any chance of hailing a cab.

I went to cross a side road and a limousine stopped nearby. Summoning courage I didn’t know I had, I asked if he could take me back to the Warwick Hotel.

Thankfully he knew where it was and I hopped in. During the ride I noticed there was no meter in the car. When we arrived I asked how much I owed him and he asked how much I thought I should pay! I handed over probably more Qatar currency than I needed to but where else was I going to spend it?

I had packed before going to the museum so after a quick dash to my room to collect my suitcase and freshen up, I was on my way to the airport for the next stage in my adventure.

• If I’d had time, I would have gone to the Souq Waqif. The souq sells traditional garments, spices, handicrafts, and souvenirs. It is also home to restaurants and Shisha lounges. The original building dates back 100 years to the early 20th century and is in a traditional Qatari architectural style. It was renovated in 2006.

• Qatar has one of the world’s largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas and employs large numbers of foreign workers in its production process.

Its expatriate population — 2.3 million in 2017 — far outnumbers the 313,000 Qatari citizens.

Most of them live in Doha.

Because of its oil wealth, the country’s residents enjoy a high standard of living and a well-established system of social services.

• The Al Jazeera news channel operates out of Doha.

• Check out the Museum of Islamic Art on www.mia.org.qa/en/

MORNING SWIM: The rooftop pool at the Warwick Doha hotel offers views of the city through the haze of early morning heat. All pictures by Mary-Jane Richmond
CAFE STOP: A dizzying view of the MIA cafe at the Museum of Islamic Art. The 45m, five-storey windows offer stunning views of Doha Bay.
Morning tea: The biscuit to go with my coffee arrived in this charming lidded container.
Way in: A long, wide paved boulevard takes visitors to the Museum of Islamic Art.
PARK VIEWS: From the paved pathway to the museum you can look out to a park and the dhow harbour.