Days: 20 (24 March 2017)
Total distance travelled: 25,493.93 kilometres (15,834.40 miles)
We were on our way home, yet there was one small hurdle that lay ahead.
Our return journey, just as our outbound flights into Madrid, routing us via the Qatar capital of Doha.
Thus far, no big deal.
The catch this time however was, due to less services (with our booked airline) departing Barcelona, it meant we were scheduled to arrive at 5:40am, with our connecting flight home to Melbourne not taking off until 8:20pm, close to 15 hours later!
Quite the transit indeed!
We had done a little research, so had an inkling that there was a free city tour in which we could indulge (apparently this took care of any visa needs as well) and besides, other than for the potential 2022 football World Cup (that’d be soccer for any heathens reading this), when else would we likely be visiting Qatar?
Our bags were checked through which took care of that headache, so we were only sporting our carry on day packs (we’d had the foresight to pack our Kindles, chargers, etc) when we were unloaded from the plane at the already noted very early hour… we’d have been quite happy had our flight been running behind schedule, anything to chip away at that 15 hour layover!
Perhaps it was indirectly supposed to remind us that we should have been sleeping still at this time of day, as we were greeting at the airport by the largest Teddy Bear we’d ever seen in our lives!
I wasn’t seeing much humour in it at this stage, however I was genuinely shocked and amused when I stumbled upon what surely must be the worlds entire supply of Tang (that horrible, powdered cordial product) proudly on display in a nearby store!
There was supposedly a desk we needed to visit to register ourselves for this city tour and so as not to miss out (there were, at least at this time, 3 tour departures per day, but we figured lets get on the early one (around 10am) so as to not miss out or potentially be rushed if it was somehow delayed.
Apparently, the tour being fully escorted, takes care of any transit visa needs we may have otherwise had, so at an appointed time, we were all led through a warren of halls, rooms and stairs before eventually being loaded onto a bus under a drizzly Qatari sky.
Our first stop was down by the Dhow Harbour, where a variety of traditional boats (hence the Dhow name) were moored with what I assume is normally a fairly impressive city backdrop… if you don’t mind a mix of completed towers and a host of cranes working on constructing the ‘next big thing’!
I’m uncertain whether it was the rainy morning, or a haze of smog or even sand blown in off the desert, but this morning, the sky and the city across the harbour all just looked a little dull.
We had time for a few photos, but nobody was particularly keen to tarry too long so we were quickly whisked away to our next destination.
From aboard the coach, we could see this was a city undergoing change, possibly as a result of being granted the hosting rights for the aforementioned World Cup, but seemingly in general, as it attempts to spruik itself as an alternative to the UAE and its cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi which sit just to the east.
Maybe it’s a look that works for businesses, but from our seats, as tourists, the place lacks any soul, nowhere better encapsulated than in our next stop, the Katara Cultural Village.
When a place has a title as such, you know you’re in for a ‘treat’… or at the very least, I high likelihood of tackiness.
It turns out that Katara, was never an actual village (I learned all this after the event. It was actually constructed in 2010 and the name was what the country itself was known as prior to the 18th century), rather a hodgepodge construction of buildings built in a traditional style, and it showed.
Largely empty of people, it was a smoothly paved space, in truth quite treacherous with the prospect of slipping very real, all built around a centrally located amphitheatre.
Apparently, it also houses the headquarters of a lot of offices, but again on this day, the place was a ghost town (in hindsight, our transit actually occurred on a Friday, coinciding with the Islamic weekend).
I’m sure it appealed to a few of our small tour posse, however, we were then bussed out onto one of the many (it really does seem to be a gulf state thing) man-made islands, this one The Pearl Qatar which felt like it was in many areas still a work in progress.
We were plopped near one of the swanky hotels (the kind of place where most of the cars that pull up were sporting Ferrari or Lamborghini badges) where folks wandered off to check out the high-end stores, but we really just loitered a little until it was time to move on.
These feats of engineering are impressive, but the whole thing just feels so contrived.
Kind of like being back in Las Vegas!
Our last stop gave us some hope, as we’re a sucker for a local market so the Souq Waqif promised to be a bit of a tonic and allow us to finish the tour on something of a high.
Apparently, it is considered the last area of Doha to retain something close to a feeling of authenticity, a place where there’s still hustle and bustle, people hawking spices, carpets, trinkets, and foodstuffs.
Reality was sadly to disappoint (remember, we’d forgotten that today was Friday and as such, much of the souk would be closed).
For a supposed hot spot for locals and ex-pats alike, the place was dead… maybe a result of the rain (although it turns out March is generally the wettest month in Qatar, I was initially surprised we copped a wet day)?
The tea houses were largely empty and aside from a few bird sellers and a Shisha lounge that seemed populated largely by bored stallholders, not much was going on.
A few faded photos on a nearby wall at least gave us a glimpse back into a time when it was even more authentic again!
Following that last bust, our tour was largely over and we were ferried back to the airport with many an hour to while away.
We toyed with the idea of purchasing a lounge pass, but then figured what would we likely do that we couldn’t do without spending over $100USD out in the main terminal?
Sit in a bit more comfort?
Fortunately, Hamad International Airport has a lot of power points for people that need to plug in, and most that we saw were actually universal ports, so no need to utilise travel adapters either which was a nice touch!
After shelling out what seemed like a lot for some pretty average Burger King fare, that lounge pass seemed like decent value, but between the odd airport wander to stretch the legs, a bit of time reading (or in Sarah’s case even napping), some time spent online and that average feed, we managed to get through the 15 hours in transit before our final leg home ended our first international adventure since our return from the big one!
* Our Doha city tour (which killed a few hours at least) was FREE!