Sunday, May 26, 2019

Ramadan 2019 - the Car Parade

And it was time to see another Qatar Ramadan tradition. Every day around 5:00pm tons of people cruise up and down the Corniche, biding time until iftar. It's a chance for Qataris to show off their classic or expensive cars, but others don't drive anything too out of the ordinary and just join the crowd. Meanwhile other people stand on the side to take photos. It happens every afternoon during Ramadan.

As an aside this was the only time that day that I saw children hanging out of sunroofs or windows. In years past it was a lot more frequent but the police started cracking down on it, and that's a good thing. So this year I only saw this one time.

Otherwise enjoy some of the vehicles from that day's "parade":

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Ramadan 2019 - The Ramadan Cannon

Yesterday I made my annual trip out to see the Ramadan Cannon. Every Ramadan the Government sets up a cannon next to the State Mosque, which is fired when the sun sets to tell everyone that the fasting period has ended.

So off to the mosque.

It's in a beautiful location, on a small hill with one of the nicest views of West Bay.

As usual plenty of families were there. The military guys overseeing the cannon let kids climb on it.

By the way if you ever want to know where to get those military uniforms for children I suggest Souq Al Ali, a number of shops there carry them.

So as the time approaches the soldiers move the spectators to a safe distance.

... ready . . .


And then everyone heads back to their vechicles to drink something, have some dates and snacks, then go to iftar.

I had packed some food and water, but then I forgot it (smh) so I raced home to have iftar.

If you live in Doha you still have a chance to see it. The cannon is fired every day of Ramadan at around 6:15-6:20 (depending on when the sun sets).

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ramadan 2019 - Eating

So we're half-way through Ramadan. The Qatari holiday of Garangao was yesterday. I was at a friend's house that evening but he is in a new neighbourhood under construction so only one set of kids showed up. My friend was not expecting anyone at all so he didn't have anything prepared, he wound up giving them some oreos (lol).

I've been really good about not going to tons of Ramadan buffets at hotels and restaurants. I've only been to one so far and while I won't say I was just sticking to salads I did cut back a lot more than I would normally do. The buffets are lavish and have so many options that it's difficult to not overeat.

That is not to say I'm losing a ton of weight. While my iftar has been pretty good most of my evenings are spent at friends' majlises, and temptation is always around. Every majlis has stuff like this on hand:

Chips, chocolates, cookies, biscuits, you name it. And inevitably people bring desserts like cakes and donuts.

Sometimes healthy options are available though.

Then it's sohour time. Even on a weekday we will be eating around 1am. A lot of time it's delivery fast food (burgers, pizza) or Arabic takeaways. Once it was a more traditional platter of chicken on rice (not always as healthy as it might sound, sometimes a lot of oil is used when cooking), and sometimes we get subs, which are a bit healthier if they don't use mayo or high-cal sauces. I try to be good but at the same time you're starving, and your next decent meal will be in 17 hours, so you tuck in.

Hopefully I've maintained my weight or lost a little bit of weight so far.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Ramadan at Katara

Last night I met friends at a restaurant at Katara. It had been a while since I had been there so I went early to wander around and see what had changed. A lot it turns out.

Katara had some beautiful decorations up across the roads for Ramadan.

And a new section had opened, sort of a small, upscale mall with buildings that to me look Italian.

Not all of it had opened yet, there were a few cafes and restaurants and a number of clothing shops, the heart of it being the French Department store Galeries Lafayette. I didn't have a chance to go in and wander around but I'm assuming that it's high-end luxury brands inside. A number of Qataris were there shopping and enjoying the cafes.

What was most surprising, and it took me a minute to notice, was that the temperature was surprisingly cool outside. This new section had air conditioning bulit into the walkways, so even though I was outdoors it was still cool. When I left the area to go to the rest of Katara the temperature increased sharply.

So with the new section there are a lot of restaurants and cafes at Katara now. Luckily there is a Metro station at Katara (opening soon), which will make it a lot easier for people to get there.

Also new, at the far end of Katara, on Shakespeare Street, the parking lot at the end now had a ton of small kiosks selling various food, similar to what is happening at Qatar Sports Club and Lekhwiya Club. So now there are even more food choices.

I left there and headed to the restaurant to meet my friends, walking along the beach to take in the view. Katara has developed into a really nice place. While some of it is underutilized (like the amphitheater) there is more to do there now and it has some of the best views in the city. Hopefully the Metro station will open soon and allow it to be busier.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Metro Update

I took the metro again on Thursday and the train was pretty busy with commuters, around 90% of the seats were occupied. This was good to see as it probably meant and just my train alone kept 50-70 cars off the road.

Staff at the stations were handing out pocket maps of the metro.

I took a look through it and it contained a lot of information about how the metro would run normally instead of during the soft opening, which was good as it allayed some of my worries about how this was going to work.

Key points:

-- the full network of three lines (Red, Green and Gold) will be open by or during 2020

-- when the full network is open (hopefully sooner than that for the Red Line) it operating hours will be 05:00 until 01:00 (5am until 1am), except Fridays where it will be 09:00 - 01:00.
-- while at standard times trains will run every 5 minutes during peak hours it will be every 3 minutes
-- peak hours will be 6am to 8am, noon-2pm, and 5pm to 7pm
-- late in the evenings the trains will only run every 7 1/2 minutes

-- you're allowed to bring luggage on the train. A maximum of two bags per person, no bigger than 85cm x 60cm x 30cm (the size of a large suitcase). Thumbs up to Doha Metro for allowing luggage, while you might think it would be common sense for a metro that goes to the Airport to allow luggage the Dubai metro does not allow luggage (or maybe it does now, it's been years since I've been).

-- no animals allowed. I assume that does not include service dogs but now that I think about it I have never seen a service dog here.

-- multi-line tram service will start in Lusail in 2020.

-- regular fares at QAR 2 for a one-way trip, there are no zones so you could go from Wakra to Mall of Qatar (about a 30km trip) for 2 riyal!

-- Gold fares, allowing you in the Gold (first-class) cars are QAR 10 for a one-way trip.

A couple of people mentioned to me that Qataris will probably not use the metro. Um, yeah, it was not meant for them. Most Qataris now live in homes in the suburbs, especially in the Northern areas of town, and the Metro will not have stations in those neighborhoods. The Metro targets high-density areas and commuter routes (such as Wakra to West Bay). The metro is primarily for low-middle income users. Qataris can enjoy the lighter traffic.

As for my commute to work on Thursday I timed how long it took from my apartment building to get to my office. Door-to-door was 37 minutes, and I just missed the train so I had to wait 5 minutes for the next one, so on average it should be 30-35 minutes.

That's pretty good because here's the alternative.

Hopefully, in time, crazy rush hour traffic will be a thing in the past.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

The Doha Metro has Opened!

Monday evening there was news going around that the Doha Metro was going to open its first line, the Red Line, on May 8, going from Wakra, extending up the Corniche/coast and into West Bay. And it so happens that my apartment is near a Red Line station, as is my office in West Bay, so I decided to take the Metro on its first day of operation.

I headed out to the station at around 8:20am.

There is still some construction to do. A multi-storey parking garage right next to the station is going to take a while yet, but it is a good idea to have a space where people can park close to the station. I hope people who might not be within walking distance of the station take advantage of these parkades to drive a short distance then take the Metro.

This is a soft opening so the hours are limited. At least I hope these hours are just for the soft opening. 8am is just too late for the first train for people trying to commute to an office in the morning. In Ramadan it might be okay, many offices open at 9am during the Holy Month, but outside of Ramadan people start and commute way earlier than 8am. I'm sure the hours and eventually change, and include the weekends.

Down a couple of escalators and onward to the spacious hall.

There were only two ticket machines, and one of them wasn't working when I tried it. Thankfully the other machine worked. There was a manned booth nearby where you can purchase cards (I'm guessing here) but having only two machines seems low, should have been at least three I think.

I bought a rechargeable pass. It costs QAR 10 to get the pass and you can charge it up with however much riyal you want. I bought QAR 50 worth of credit so in total I paid 60. The machine accepted cash without any problem. You then just tap the cards at the gate to enter/exit, similar to Oyster Cards in London.

Onward to the platform.

Trains were every 5 minutes. There was plenty of signage everywhere.

There are different classes of train car, in the front is "Gold Class", which had much nicer seats (I caught a glimpse on my way home but didn't get a picture). I think the second car might have been ladies or family only but I'm not sure. Dubai was like that but I might be projecting.

The seats were upholstered and reasonably comfortable, nothing too fancy. And there were electronic signs showing the stations on the route and where the car was.

Now for where the Metro really shines -- the speed. The train accelerates and decelerate smoothly but it is fast. I had to go three stations to get to the DECC stop in West Bay and from the moment the train started in took less than 7 minutes to get to DECC station, including the time stopping at the other two stations. 7 minutes!! My typical driving time in morning traffic to get there? 25-30 minutes. Wow! Make sure you're sitting down or holding on to something when the train moves though.
Oh, and the price was QAR 2 (~US$0.54) for a one-way trip. I don't think the price depends on the distance either, none of the signs I saw had any kind of zoning typical for increased fares after a certain distance. I'm sure that can't be right though, QAR 2 to go from Wakra to West Bay would be an amazing deal.

So I got out at DECC station (the Exhibition Centre in West Bay). It will be a main station for the Metro and they are planning for cafes and other shops to be there.

The station is right next to City Centre Mall so I was hoping there would be some tunnel or quick connection to get into the mall. Instead I saw this:

That's not the Metro's fault though but it was a bit disappointing. City Centre should be building some kind of connection. As it was I had to walk through the heat to get to the mall, quickly pass through, then go back into the heat to cross the street to the office. It was not ideal and I was sweating a bit by the time I reached the building. I went on the Qatar Rail website and it looks like there will be busses that will go around West Bay and that you can reach your office building without hiking in the heat. I don't think it was operational yet though.

While the Metro wasn't too busy in the morning in the afternoon it was a different story. We'll see if this is typical or if this was people just trying out the Metro.

So all-in-all it was good. I do not have to worry about facing the morning traffic, finding parking on the street, and keeping my car in the hot sun all day. The Metro was faster than driving but with the additional walking time to and from the stations I figure that it evened out. But saving wear-and-tear on the car, being more environmentally friendly, and commuting for $1 a day? Amazing.

This is only the beginning though for the Metro. There are more stations to open (especially looking forward to the opening of the one at the Airport) and two more Metro lines, which will open in the next year. Until the parking garages are built I can see that only people living very close to a station, like me, will use it, and only then if their destination is very close to a station, but in time ridership will increase. I will continue to use it during Ramadan, but won't be able to for the rest of the summer unless the starting hours shift and the Metro starts earlier.