Doha, capital of Qatar, is a true expat city. Guest writer and US expat Christine Gerber Rutt takes us through her perfect day in this Middle Eastern metropolis.
Days begin early in Qatar. Even in mid-winter the sun usually rises before 5 am.
In those early morning hours, before the heat of the day begins, it is still cool enough for a brisk swim. Most places have a swimming pool and are usually empty in the morning. However, a swim in the ocean isn’t far either.
A 30-minute drive south to the neighboring town of Al Wakra will get me to a beach where I can submerge in the salty Arabian Sea. Here, as in most of the water surrounding Qatar, the water is quite shallow and it’s more about sneaking in a bit of nature than getting vigorous exercise.
Time moves differently in Doha. People rush to get to a place but once they’ve arrived, they settle in, seemingly content to stay forever.
After morning traffic has thinned, I drive to Bread & Bagels (www.breadandbagels.com) on the ground floor of Beach Tower in the Diplomatic District. I make sure to nab one of the soft chairs by the large, glass-front window.
The immediate view is rather dull — a road and an empty sand lot taking center stage — but I’ve trained my eye to look beyond that to the subtle beauty of the bay.
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From where I sit I can just barely see the rounded spaceship-like house a Qatari has built right at the water’s edge and the unmistakable Zig Zag Towers farther out.
More often than not the service at Bread & Bagels is barely competent but I keep going back because the bagels are so good and unlike most other cafes it isn’t located in a 5-star hotel or shopping center.
If it’s a cool day, I’ll walk along the Corniche from the Sheraton Park towards the Museum of Islamic Art (www.mia.org.qa).
The Corniche is lined with date trees and is designed for foot traffic. Next to the MIA is a temporary exhibition hall, Al Riwaq. I go inside to cool off a bit and take a quick walk through the current exhibition.
Then it’s back outside to one of my favorite spots in the whole city, The Museum of Islamic Art Park. Built only recently, this park is already one of the most popular parks in the country.
A walking path curves along the bay providing a panoramic view of the Doha skyline and the iconic angular Museum. At the end of the pier rises the metal sculpture, “7″, by Richard Serra. I stop at the trendy cafe by the water’s edge.
The contrast of high-rise skyline as a backdrop to dhows dotting the bay and children screaming as they roll down the nearby hill is invigorating. So are the waffles and ice cream.
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Most of the town closes down from 2:00-4:00. I could follow the lead and also rest but for me it’s away from the tourist side of town and off to the side dominated by residents.
First stop: Daiso.
Daiso is quintessential Doha. Many residents don’t even know that Daiso exists but among those who do there is a bit of a cult following. It is a Japanese dollar store — or in this case, a 7 riyal store.
It is difficult to find. In fact it’s as impossible to find, as a shop can be, without actually being invisible. One must first enter a small mall called Hyatt Plaza on Al Waab Street, then find the Home Center, and then within the Home Center find the escalator that takes you upstairs to a few, mostly neglected, shops.
What is it about being in the know that makes an obscure place even more appealing? I don’ t know but browsing through the cheap Japanese ceramics and silly children’s toys stimulates my sense of belonging in this nomadic city.
A day in Doha would not be complete without a bit of pampering.
Just a bit farther down the street is another obscure spot: Royal Thai Lady Spa. Plenty of 5-star spas are set up in 5-star hotels but Royal Thai is special—at QR130 for a traditional massage, it is affordable.
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The treatments usually last longer than the allotted time which makes it even better value for the money. Choosing a treatment is never easy, an aromatherapy oil massage or a body scrub with a herbal steam sauna added on. For me reflexology foot massage is the order of the day.
After my rub down, it’s on down the road to Royal Plaza for a late lunch at Oishi Sushi (www.oishisushiqatar.com). Like Daiso, Oishi Sushi is equally difficult to locate. You may be standing directly in front of the entrance and still not see it. (It’s on the 2nd floor directly to the left of the movie theater.)
The entrance is in the corner, partially covered with cloth, making it very easy to miss. It has a well-earned reputation for having the freshest sushi in town.
It’s time for a short rest and then a quick freshening up before taking a taxi to Katara on the north side of town for an evening out with friends (www.katara.net).
Here traditional Qatari buildings stand next to fantastical buildings, the most extravagant of which is the Falcon House, shaped like a science fiction falcon hood.
My favorite nights at Katara are when the Doha Film Institute shows an Indie film (www.dohafilminstitute.com). This is where you’ll find movies that normally only show in larger cities. Robot & Frank anyone?
But before show time my friends and I will get homemade Italian ice cream at La Gelateria Fina, the best ice cream in the city.
After the show a short walk takes us to dinner at one of the restaurants at Katara. If we’re in the mood for Indian we’ll sit outside at Saffron Lounge. Here the portions are so large we always stick to appetizers. We do it Doha style by choosing a variety of appetizers to share among the group.
Once our stomachs are filled we take a leisurely walk the length of the boardwalk. With the breeze blowing, children running late into the night and the skyline in the near distance, Katara is one of the few outdoor places where the city’s subtle pulse can be clearly felt.
For a less subtle beat we top the evening off with drinks at Trader Vic’s on the bay at the Hilton Hotel. It does Asian Polynesian kitsch all the way down to fake coconut shell cups but a live band throws in a touch of Latino.
A blue Karwa taxi takes us home after an exhausting but rejuvenating day.
Christine Gerber Rutt went against the tides and immigrated from the United States to Switzerland in her early 20′s but she currently calls Qatar home. She is working on a book of micro-burst essays on unplanned road trips with children and is planning a solitary, hedonistic, 40th birthday, writing retreat bash in Bali. You can visit her at www.justkooki.com or follow her on twitter at twitter.com/#!/justkooki1 or like her fan page Just Kooki.