Thursday, March 28, 2013

Qatar International Food Festival

Tonight was the first night of the Food Festival, held at the park of the Museum of Islamic Art. Essentially, a lot of hotels and restaurants set up tents so you can purchase a wide variety of food and watch the free entertainment.

To my surprise there were fairly big crowds.

I think the crowds were greater than the organizers anticipated. You can't use cash to buy the food, you have to purchase vouchers. This meant that at some voucher booths the lineups were fairly long. Some of the voucher booths weren't even open, I'm not sure why. The festival started at 6pm tonight and I didn't get there till around 8:30 so maybe those booths had sold out of vouchers or something. [Note: Going forward the festival starts at 1 or 2pm depending on the day, check the website for timings.]

I’m trying to lose weight so I started off with a chicken breast sandwich from Diet House Restaurant. It was pretty good. Then I went to a place a couple of tents down that sold salads and had a salad with pomegranates.

Nice view with dinner!

I still had vouchers left so I then went to the Thai Corner tent for some ginger chicken, and finished it off with a mini chocolate cupcake from the Kempinski. I'd say there were over two dozen tents offering various cuisines. Prices were decent with most food around QAR 15-20 and plenty of tents offering smaller snacks for QAR 5-10.

While there were lots of guys running around taking away the trash and placing new garbage bags in the bins I think the unexpected turnout was such that while they were able to keep up with the bins around the tents a few bins on the outskirts weren’t getting tidied as often so trash started to build up.

In between meals I watched the entertainment. There was a jazz band.

And later some electric violinists.

All in all it was worth while. I believe the festival is on for three more nights so I might go again on Saturday night with some friends.

Here's my tips if you're interested in attending:

1) Parking will NOT be available at the museum! Qatari security guards were at the MIA gate turning the cars away. I think you can only drive in if you're working with one of the restaurants or you’re a VIP. There are apparently parking zones with shuttle buses to take you to the park but I have no idea where they are (I walked to the park from home) and the website doesn't appear to show where they are. Ask around where the parking is, maybe forums has it, or arrange for drop-off and pick-up with a car service. Be careful about drop-off though -- the security guards were even yelling at drivers who are trying to stop at the gate to drop people off (TONS of cars were driving up to the gate so stopping to drop people off would start to cause gridlock).

2) Scout around first and get an idea of the prices and about how much you are going to be spending. Vouchers are sold in books of QAR 40, separated into eight 5-riyal tickets. Since the lineups can be long to get the vouchers it is better that you have a good idea of how many vouchers you'll need and purchase them all at once. Also, you have to pay a service fee of QAR 10 for your first voucher purchase, which is fine (I consider it like an entry fee), but if you go back to purchase more voucher books they might try to charge the QAR 10 fee again because it’s difficult to determine if you've purchased vouchers before.

3) Voucher booths are scattered around the area but the ones at the back, near the health food section, seem to have shorter queues than the ones near the main stage. Hopefully over the weekend they'll have more booths open.

4) There are plenty of options for 5 riyal if you looking to get rid of that last voucher or two so don’t worry about being left with vouchers.

5) Keep some 1 riyal bills with you. Many of the stalls sell water or soda for 1 or 2 riyal and will accept cash for it so you don't have to waste a 5 riyal ticket.

6) There are many benches and tables scattered around but consider bringing a picnic blanket and sitting on the grass. Another possibility is to sit by the seawall with a view of the museum.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Canadian Soccer

Today I was out doing a few errands when I remembered that someone told me Canada was playing Japan tonight in a friendly match. Leaving aside the mystery of why the Canadian team was here in the first place I had nothing else to do this evening so I headed off to Khalifa Stadium for the match. Doing this as a spur-of-the-moment thing had its drawbacks -- I had no Canadian gear on and didn't have my camera with me so, alas, there are no pictures.

Another mystery was why it was held in Khalifa Stadium (seating about 20,000) as opposed to Al Sadd Stadium (seating about 7,000) since I figured maybe 500 people would show up. Turns out I was too pessimistic, I figure there was over 1,000 people, with possibly more Japanese than Canadians. Seating was only available at one portion of the stadium so at least everyone was together.

Anyway in soccer Japan is typically ranked in the top 25 in the world while Canada is ranked, umm, far lower. Canada's already failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup while Japan is expected to be there. It's not too surprising that Canada has not qualified, as far as I recall they’ve only ever qualified for the World Cup once, in 1986. Because the Japanese are a top team there were tons of sports photographers from Japan parked behind the Canadian goal to get photos. I think there was one cameraman behind the Japanese goal, and it was probably a local photographer for the sports page. I'd be surprised if any Canadian sports media were there. That's just the way it is -- soccer's just not a huge sport in Canada.

So with that in mind I went to the game with an expectation that Japan would completely dominate and win by probably three or four goals. I wasn't fooling myself that Canada would win.

The first half was as expected, Japan was clearly dominant and produced tons of chances while Canada looked lackluster. But Canada definitely had a lot of luck with them as Japan only scored once and I could think of at least three times that Japan should have scored but for some reason missed (two of those were real “how the heck did they not score?” kind of chances). So the score at halftime was 1-0 for Japan. Tell you the truth I was impressed Canada had only kept them to one goal.

But in the second half a good rest and a couple of key substitutions by Canada really seemed to bring some life to the team. The offense was playing a lot more confidently and Canada was getting some chances, while defensively things were also improving. A solid corner kick into the crowd in front of the goal found a Canadian player and suddenly it was 1-1! Japan later scored a great goal to make it 2-1 but Canada had a couple more excellent chances and were definitely giving the Japanese a run for their money. Japan also had one more “how did they not score?” moment but when all was said and done the score remained 2-1.

Given my expectations going in I was definitely impressed with how Canada did, especially in the second half when I think they were equal to the much higher-ranked Japanese. If Canada could have consistently played like that I'm sure they would still be in the hunt for qualifying for the World Cup.

Great job Canada!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Traffic Woes

This week I attended the recent MultaQa conference at the Ritz-Carlton. This meant that for the first time in, probably years, I was heading out to that area on a weekday morning and returning in the early afternoon to the office.

I could not believe the amount of traffic on Arch Roundabout! Each day I was stuck at that roundabout for 15 minutes, both going to the Ritz and coming back. Man, have I been out of touch, a few years ago that roundabout was easy to get through and didn't have much traffic. Now I'd say it's almost as bad as the infamous Sports Roundabout (which I consider the worst roundabout in Qatar). I spoke to a colleague who lives nearby and he confirmed that the heavy gridlock at key times is pretty much standard now for Arch Roundabout.

Coincidentally at the conference there was a presentation on the new Lusail City project. When finished it will house something like 200,000 people and have tons of office towers etc. the video promoted how you'd be able to both live and work there, and there would be wide streets which would ensure good traffic flow. Call me a bit cynical but I don't think the intention is that the low or middle workers will be living in Lusail, the luxury amenities available in the new project will surely be priced out of their range, leaving the bulk of the workers commuting in from the older parts of Doha. Which will of course mean tens of thousands of workers driving through Arch Roundabout! Already some buildings on Lusail are completed and this is already adding to the traffic woes from the people going to and from the Pearl.

In truth it is unfair of me to predict tens of thousands going through Arch Roundabout. There is already a lot of construction going on to improve the road, and I'm assuming within the next 2 to 3 years Arch Roundabout will be replaced by an intersection or cloverleaf, and the Metro will go to Lusail once it is finished sometime around 2019 or 2020. But in the meantime the traffic is just going to get worse. Backups of 20-25 minutes seem likely in the next couple of years before there is a solution.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Camping and Falconry

Recently a Qatari friend of mine called and invited me out to the desert with some friends. I'm always up for that, I like hanging out and learning about doing things the Qatari way. First we headed out to the northwestern desert to meet up with some other Qataris.

They had something special with them:

So we spent some time watching the falcons chase pigeons.

Some hunts were successful.

Some weren’t. This one pigeon wisely flew under one of the parked Land Cruisers (it also wisely refused to come out).

Another pigeon immediately flew away as fast as it could. We followed the pigeon and the falcon in the Land Cruisers for a couple of kilometers until we came to a small ruined wall.

The falcon was sitting on the wall, exhausted, and with no pigeon.

That’s because the pigeon had spotted a hole in the wall and flown into it.

We eventually left the falconers and about 10 km away set up camp for dinner. We weren't staying overnight, just dinner and chatting for a while.

First we had Arabic coffee.

Then another Qatari friend came by in his Land Cruiser with dinner.

Now that's delivery! Out in the middle of the desert and still the delivery finds us. ;-)

After we ate we were sitting around chatting and drinking coffee when suddenly a thick fog came in.

Now we were stuck! You could barely see 40 feet so there was no way anyone was going to drive through the desert under these conditions. We had no choice but to build up the fire and wait it out (we were burning wood that the Qataris brought with them in large bags). Thanks to the dampness of the fog it soon got pretty cold and without the fire we’d have been freezing.

It was possible that we would have to sleep in the Land Cruisers until the morning but luckily the fog cleared by around 1:00am so we were able to go home.

All in all an eventful day and I was glad to have been invited along.

If you would like to see more picutres of falconry here is a post from a year ago when I went out to the desert to watch it.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Post Vacation Catch Up

Now that I'm back from vacation I figured I would catch up on a few things.


I was angered to hear the recent announcement that the IOC was considering dropping wrestling from the Olympics. What kind of decision-making process came up with that? About four years ago I had a blog post where I touched on this topic:

In fact the Olympic events that annoy me are those that basically exclude the Developing World because of the costs involved to either participate in it, or to train people to excel at it. Could someone explain to me how most developing nations could have even a chance of competing in something like equestrian events? Or sailing? As far as I'm concerned the IOC should consider getting rid of most of these high-tech, high-expense events and focus on those that countries of any economic level have a realistic chance to participate in.

And here the IOC is going the opposite direction, removing sports that any country could potentially compete in yet keeping those sports that the Developing World really has no chance to participate in. How is this in any way fair and keeping with the spirit of the Olympics?

I really hope the IOC changes its mind.


While a lot of flights had been canceled at Calgary airport due to the snowstorm thankfully mine wasn't. I landed in Doha fine but my luggage didn't make it with me. Guess that two-hour layover in Heathrow wasn't long enough for the bag to transfer across terminals. Finally got home at 2am after sorting things out with the lost baggage department at the airport, only to receive a text at 7am that my bag was now at the airport.

There are advantages to Qatar Airways flying to Heathrow at least four times a day. This is one of them. That's why I usually fly to London en route to Canada.


Man was it hot in Qatar for the few days after I landed. I went from -5° in Calgary to 34° in Doha. I don't think I was acclimatized well to the change, I even had to put the AC on in my bedroom, something I don't normally do until around May. Nice to see it’s recently cooled down again though.


Brought maple candies for people in the office to try and people appeared to enjoy them. It's surprising how many people have never actually tried maple before, it's one of my favorite flavors. Even better, maple syrup and other maple products (maple sugar, maple butter etc) are halal so Muslims can enjoy it as well.

Oh well, vacation is over, time to put the winter coats away and get back to the grind.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Snow Storm

I just woke up to this:

A snow storm, almost a blizzard, and I'm flying out in 8 hours. I hope. I looked online at the airport website and some flights have made it out. With luck the storm will blow over and I`ll fly out tonight.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Tim Hortons

[If you are looking for information on the Tim Hortons in Doha click here, it opened May 9, 2013]

There is a coffee-and-donut chain that dominates the Canadian landscape, with thousands of stores coast to coast. No, not Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, it’s called Tim Hortons.

I wish I could tell you what it is about Tim Hortons that makes it so popular amongst Canadians. Its coffee and donuts are decent but not amazing (though Timbits are really nice), it doesn’t have the atmosphere of a more upscale coffee shop, and it doesn’t offer anything in particular that you couldn’t get from other places. But we love it anyway.

In honour of Tim Hortons opening stores in the Middle East (with a Doha branch coming soon!) below is a medley of Tim Hortons’ photos from my current trip, including views from the drive-thru and people "rolling up the rim". Enjoy.