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Visiting Doha


Busy is the best way of describing Doha, the capital of the Emirate of Qatar. The city is booming given the Emirate’s deep pockets and lofty ambitions. As a result, Doha’s CBD is growing steadily with the usual glass towers, meaning it looks like every other CBD in the Gulf or the US for that matter; except for the ultra kitsch (think Las Vegas on speed) World Trade Center tower and rather phallic but drop-dead gorgeous Jean Nouvel arabesque cladded “gherkin”.

New compounds are “mushrooming” out of the suburbs, Qatar Airways planes are taking to the skies like a flock of migrant birds, Pakistani labourers are doing their thing to build the future stadiums for the 2022 Football World Cup under the excruciating heat, European expats are earning their tax-free money and drinking their pints at the hotel bars next to the Qataris chilling in the lobbies…

The paradox with Doha is that despite being very busy making a name for itself, the city comes across as being extremely sleepy, especially compared to its bigger brother Dubai. Although unfair – given that Doha has only just began flexing its muscles – the comparison is inevitable. Dubai, far from being the most hospitable city in the world, has over the years, managed to build a community feel and dare I say it…a soul for itself. It can never claim to have the culture, history or heritage of Rome or London, but it possesses a contagious pioneering spirit that Doha might never possess.

Coming back to Doha, the main reason people move here is for the career opportunities and the money these provide – think 40 to 50% more than what you’d earn back in Europe. Saying that, the cost of living in Doha is painfully high. Rent for a one bedroom flat in the CBD area will set you back more than 10,000 Qatari Rials (approximately Eu 2,000) a month and a bottle of Heineken at the Four Season’s Beach Club will cost you 55 Rials (approximately 11 euros); meaning British expats who like their liquids won’t be saving all that much dinero.

What about the cultural scene? Well they have an old town, the Souq Waqif, which is rather authentic and charming. The souq underwent a renovation a few years ago, which has turned it into a more touristic destination. Nevertheless it remains, in my humble opinion, a more agreeable proposition than the old town of Dubai.

Any museums? Yes, only a few, including The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) designed by M.Pei. MIA is a masterpiece of architectural minimalism – a rare site in the Gulf region. Pei’s tour de force captures the very essence of Islamic design, architecture and culture into a minimalist and jaw-dropping building. A lot of attention has gone into the detailing of MIA but the ensemble is so effortlessly well executed and simple that only the astute eye will notice.

The museum’s most impressive feature happens to be the lighting system inside. The atrium is very grand and bright thanks to the large windows in the background which reach up to the ceiling and allow natural light to permeate the entire lobby area. A stark contrast to the dark lit exhibit rooms and their state of the art LED lighting system, which projects exactly the right beam onto the many Islamic jewels on display.

Best of all, the museum is free – unlike the Heineken at the Beach Club…

Images: cover, 1: Doha Sam via photopin cc 2 onwards: The Randomer