To Doha or not to Doha
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our last few days in Oman before sharing our adventures with you from our next stop. In the shadow of Jebel Shams sits a desert region of Oman steeped in history. With Nizwa being the most prominent city in this area, it is home to a large sultanate castle and Fort dating back several hundred years. This is just one of several in the region, with the fort located in the town of Bahla dating from 3000 years ago!
Nizwa Fort and Castle
Nizwa is also home to an old souq that is still very much in use. Early in the mornings you can still see and hear merchants and potential customers bartering over prices of fruits, veggies, and meats. If you are lucky enough to be there at the crack of dawn on a Friday morning, which we happened to be, it is also possible to see the goat and cattle market in full swing. It was really neat to see this market in full swing, with buyers and sellers greeting each other with a hand shake before the buyer goes to work checking out his potential purchase before any haggling takes place. Perhaps it sounds strange, but it was neat to see such an ancient traditional experience.
Friday morning goat market in full swing
Our plan was to travel from the Middle East to Cyprus, but since the best flights passed through Qatar, we decided to add a long, four day layover there. Our flight went without a hitch and we quickly cleared immigration and got the bus into the city. Hooray for visa-free countries! Our hotel was actually a really nice one in the center of Doha, the capital of the country, but it seemed like most the city is under construction, for better or worse.
Doha city centre
Doha is trying hard to be like Dubai, but even though the country is supposed to have a lot of money, a good portion of the city center was very run down and dirty, with broken sidewalks, dilapidated buildings, and a definite third world feel. It didn’t make for a good first impression for me, and after nearly being hit by a speeding cab driver, I was already ready to get out of there. The fact that we couldn’t find a good Arabic restaurant didn’t help either, but Catherine told me to give it another day and see what happens.
Doha isn’t huge on sites, and the rest of country is desert with a few scattered fishing villages. They are trying to improve the city though, and it has a pretty impressive skyline. There’s a metro system in the works, and they are about to roll out their new National Museum that’s been in the works for several years (and is years behind schedule). Determined to make the most of our time there, we set out for Souq Waqif, and I fell a bit in love. This old souq has been somewhat restored but it is a beauty to walk through, with some winding passages and sections dedicated to gold, handicrafts, birds, and the like. There’s a whole section just for falcons, which are revered by Qataris from days old when the birds would help them hunt for food.
One of Souq Waqif's hidden corridors
Ethan checking out some of the falcons
Doha also boasts one of the nicest collections of Islamic art in the world at the aptly named Museum of Islamic Art. We spent a few hours wandering through this free museum, and although we weren’t able to fully appreciate it, the works there were very impressive and definitely worth a look. Better yet, the museum campus is home to some nice waterfront and some really nice playgrounds that Ethan took advantage of every day. After having trouble finding nice playgrounds throughout Oman, this was a huge blessing.
Museum of Islamic Art
Ethan conquering the playground
Doha also has some 5 kilometers of Corniche, or waterfront promenade. It leads all the way from the city center to the skyscraper dotted new city, and we made sure to take advantage of the fresh air and nice views of the sea. On our last day there, we managed to find a cultural center where we were able to learn a lot about the Qatari way of life, both then and now. They even hooked us up with some trinkets like a keychain and necklace, which I thought was a nice gesture and showed they really care about visitors.
Nice skyline of the new part of the city
The best news of all is that we were able to find some great Arab eats while we were there. There were some great restaurants in the souq, and some of the highlights were bread stuffed with meat and hummus and pita. We found a delicious Palestinian sandwich shop in the more run down part of town and went there several nights to try different combinations of hummus, meats, and falafel. No matter where we ate though, we ended the night with a thick banana juice with a fruit cocktail sauce added to it. Absolutely out of this world.
Delicious banana juice
Doha was our last city in the Middle East and also our last city in Asia. After spending almost 4 months there, we now make our way to Europe for the rest of our trip, which still has almost 5 months to go! Our first stop in Europe is the island nation of Cyprus. What secrets, both ancient and new, will this country hold for us? Stay tuned to find out!