Friday, March 30, 2012
It’s Friday morning, when almost everything is closed, so I decided to go for a long walk to get some exercise. It was cloudy today, unusual for this time of year, and to pass the time I figured I would take advantage of the lack of Sun and go to the park that recently opened at the Museum of Islamic Art. I remember reading about it opening in the newspaper a while ago but I hadn't visited it yet.
I walked down to the Corniche and headed toward the Museum. There were plenty of people along the Corniche either jogging, walking around, or sitting on the grass enjoying the day. When I reached the park I was pretty impressed with what they had set up:
I eventually came across a couple of buildings embedded in some hills, one was a café and the other was for waffles and ice cream. I chilled out with a cappuccino and enjoyed the view.
Y’know, Qatar has really developed in the six years I've been here. Before there wasn't a lot: no Pearl, Katara, Souq Waqif, Museum, Aspire Zone, 2/3 of the hotels, ½ the parks, even ½ of the city itself. A buddy of mine who worked here for a few months about five years ago stopped by for a few days and couldn't believe how much had changed. Sometimes I can't believe it either -- and the changes keep coming. Now I have a nice park nearby, an even nicer one about a 20 minute walk away, and Souq Waqif within an easy stroll of my apartment. Streets are crowded (sometimes too crowded) and people now seem to be doing things instead of wondering what to do.
It's taken time but I think Doha is really starting to feel like a city.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Firstly, I've updated my post “A Day at the Beach” with some pictures.
So, when I returned from a vacation in Canada a while back a bunch of the guys were planning a weekend in the UAE. Why?
Renowned Canadian comedian Russell Peters was doing a show in Abu Dhabi and while I was in Canada the guys bought me a ticket. I really like Russell Peters, and some of the Qatari guys absolutely love his stuff. Yes, Qataris love North American stand up comedy. No, I don't know why.
So that was certainly a good excuse for a guys-weekend!
Sorting out the visa was a bit of a pain (Canadians need a visa to travel to the UAE, something that has prevented me from going to the UAE more often). Strangely enough the guys wanted to stay in Dubai, not Abu Dhabi, and we'd travel to Abu Dhabi for the concert and come back. They liked Dubai better and that was cool with me as it would allow me to catch up with my friends Serdar & Linda who live there now.
So we rented some cars:
A Mercedes SLS Gullwing and
A 2012 BMW 640i convertible
I hung out in the BMW.
The hotel was in the Marina area. I hadn't been to this area for over three years and most of it is complete now. The Marina is now an incomprehensible maze of skyscrapers but the walkway near the beach was nice and was packed with people walking along and visiting the various shops and restaurants. This made the traffic in this neighborhood a nightmare, even at 1:30 in the morning it took us a half hour to go a kilometer.
The city appears to be picking up again after the financial crisis and subsequent property crash hit the city like a thunderbolt. There was definitely more people around in the malls and attractions seemed busier than the last time I was there. We wandered around the city, visiting places like Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa.
Before we headed out to Abu Dhabi.
And got there in time for the show.
The show was great, with Russell doing a lot of picking on people in the crowd, a standard part of his act. He is really funny when he picks on the audience but he is not mean or really insulting like many other comedians (despite that, we had tickets far enough away that there was no chance we were going to get pointed out -- the guys didn't want to be picked on). We all had a good time but the Qataris, being devout Muslims, were a bit annoyed that the venue served alcohol and you were allowed to bring it to your seat. It made the place smell strongly of beer, which they really disliked. Abu Dhabi is clearly more liberal about alcohol than Qatar.
The next day after a late breakfast we wandered out to the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeriah to check out the aquarium,
then some of us headed over to Mall of the Emirates to do a bit of shopping and look at Ski Dubai, the indoor ski slope. It even had a new penguin exhibit.
Most of the guys then caught earlier flights home but my friend Mostafa and I had a later flight so we met with my friends Serdar & Linda for dinner before heading back to the airport. Unfortunately there were delays with the flight so I didn't get home until 1am but all in all it was a great (and halal) trip.
On the other hand, waking up for work that morning was a real pain.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Did I say in my previous post that winter had ended? Looks like I really jinxed it there, last night a huge sandstorm whipped up along with chilly winds from the north. While on Friday I was basking in temperatures in the high 20s today I think the high reached 18°. Ironically many parts of Canada are going through a record-breaking warm spell and were warmer than Doha! Bizarre. Canada is warmer that the Arabian Peninsula -- in winter!
Murphy's Law also arrived with a vengeance; the one time I decide to open the window to get some fresh air, and leave it open while I go to a friend’s place, would be the evening a sandstorm arrives. (Bonus points for Murphy -- the cleaner was by earlier that day).
The sandstorm is expected to last in the area for a few days. Good thing this evening I didn't have to stay outside. The Museum of Islamic Art was opening its new exhibit, Gifts from the Sultan, and I had received an invitation so I joined a few hundred people for the opening. It was a great reception with excellent catering and a string quintet. The exhibit had had fantastic pieces of textiles, jewelry, porcelain etc. that had been given by the Ottoman Sultans, Mughul Emperors, or Persian Shahs to various diplomats or kings/tsars over the centuries. Because it was gifts from royalty the items were of course of the finest quality that could be produced in its time. I wandered around the exhibits for a little over an hour before heading home. It was difficult to see everything because of the crowds but that's okay, I'll go see the exhibit some time in the next month and probably bring a few friends.
Friday, March 16, 2012
So the office held its annual function today at Sealine Resort in the south of the country. I had not been to Sealine in years but it is a nice place to spend the day. It's a popular place - on the weekends you have to pay around $40 just to get in, and its proximity to the sand dunes also means it is the centerpoint for the thousands of people who flock down to the desert every weekend. Sealine has a long beach, a big grassy area to relax on, a couple of different pools, plenty of loungers, jet ski rentals, and even camel rides. It even serves alcohol so it has something for everyone.
People in the office were initially worried that it would be too cold. Winter has lasted a lot longer than usual and while the daytime highs have been in the low 20s a chilly wind had been blowing from the north so it would not have been that pleasant to sit on a beach. Thankfully on Thursday the temperature shot up a good 7-8° and now the highs are in the low 30s. Winter is officially over!
Yes, in Qatar the end of winter is that sudden. One day the cold wind stops blowing from the north and voila, no more winter. By next week I'll probably be putting the air conditioner on in my apartment.
Anyway, it took me about an hour to get down there from Doha and already most of the parking was taken. Spent the day lounging around on the beach or by the pool and having a buffet lunch provided by the office. For once I also think I managed to have a beach day and not get sunburned anywhere (usually I miss a spot somewhere with the sunscreen).
By the end of the afternoon my friend Ali took a few of us out for a drive amongst the dunes. We did some dune bashing and also watched some guys on quad bikes and buggies climb really steep dunes.
On our way back we spotted a family in a Land Cruiser stuck in some soft sand. (Protip -- do not drive amongst the sand dunes unless you know what you're doing. You can't just hop into a 4x4 and figure that's all it takes, you need a certain amount of knowledge and skill to drive on sand.)
We stopped to help them get their vehicle moving again. Ali noticed that the tires were inflated all wrong and that it was unlikely that the owner knew how to drive in the desert. Ali got the tires to the right pressure and we pushed the vehicle out of the sand.
(Photo of the heroes of the day!)
We wandered around for a while more and then I got dropped off back at Sealine to pick up my car. Just then I received a text from my friend Mohammed inviting me to snooker with some of his friends back in Doha. I headed over to the pool hall where I bowled a couple of games and watched some of the guys playing snooker (having now played a couple of games of 10-pin bowling, and having played some 5-pin bowling a couple of weeks ago back in Canada, I find 10-pin bowling to be easier than 5-pin)
Time for bed. Tomorrow's another busy day.
Friday, March 09, 2012
So I’m back from Canada. I returned a few days ago and spent the last while catching up on work and shopping for groceries.
Whenever I go to Canada in the winter we always have a “late-Christmas”. About eight years ago when I was working in Bermuda I was unable to get time off for the Christmas holidays -- it was my turn to be at the office while everyone else went away. When I informed my Mother that I was not going to be able to make it for Christmas she said "Well then we will just have Christmas when you can make it." And so arrangements were made for the family to meet in mid-January for Christmas. And you know what? We liked it so much we've done it every year since, either in January or February depending on when I can get back to Canada.
Why was late-Christmas such a big hit?
• Airfares were cheaper;
• airports aren't crowded like they are during the holidays;
• it was easy for everyone in the family to get time off work;
• the malls are not crowded and have tons of sales;
• for my brother it resolved that common problem every married couple with kids has -- whose family to spend Christmas Day with;
• my niece and nephew get a second Christmas (they're definitely not complaining); and
• it's a great way to stop those mid-winter blahs as it gives the family something to look forward to after New Year.
And when I mean we have Christmas I mean we do the whole holiday tradition: tree, presents, turkey dinner, the whole nine yards. It's nice, I really enjoy it. That we do not have Christmas on December 25 does not bother me at all.
Here I am with my late-Christmas presents, including a Vancouver Canucks snuggie.
Merry late-Christmas everyone!
Friday, March 02, 2012
Spent the day in Banff. I really like the town so my sister-in-law suggested we make a trip up there. Wandered around for a while enjoying the brisk (-5 degrees) mountain air then went to the Banff Springs Hotel to enjoy the view.
Hard to believe my vacation is almost over. I will be back in Qatar soon.