Controversially, the Arab country will host the World Cup 2022 in November but is it on the ball as a year-round destination? Thomas W Hodgkinson stays in the five-star Mondrian in Doha Qatar a hub of skyscrapers on the edge of a desert. An accurately amazing swim in the Inland Sea and a tour to the National Museum of Qatar occupy his time.
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“The clash of religious conservatism and extensive capitalism can be tiring” he speaks of Qatar
Expect amazing. That was the slogan that assisted win Qatar the right to host the Qatar World Cup 2022. So when I visit the tiny Middle Eastern state, I’m expecting to be astounded. Qatar doesn’t upset. It’s the mix of East and West, new and old, in a country the size of Yorkshire that trees me both astounded and dazed. The capital city, Doha Qatar, is a hub of skyscrapers on the edge of a desert. On the sci-fi skyline, towers peek out between spaceship-shaped hotels and high-rises.
My berth, the five-star Mondrian, is a kind of ambassador of amazement. In my room on the 17th floor, I find a relaxed note from the Guest Experience Team: ‘We hope you love your stay here at our wonderland.’
In the vestibule, a black spiral staircase leads up to nowhere. Goes out it’s an artwork. Stabbing up into the Persian Gulf like a hitch-hiker’s scan, this country-on-the-move is super-rich thanks to oil and gas. Yet its Islamic culture earnings polygamy is legal but homosexuality isn’t. You can’t live with your girlfriend unless married.
The hope was that updating ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022 would power reform, then the harsh conditions of refugee workers are stated to have led to a spate of deaths. It is hard to get a local response to these charges mainly since I don’t meet many locals. Most of the 2.8 million population, and all the waiters and drivers I meeting, are refugees from South Asia.
However, when I approach Abdullah, a young Qatari I find drinking on shisha in a chic beach bar, he is happy to deliberate Western criticisms of his country. Concerning the treatment of workers, he tosses back his ghutra glibly. ‘My government greetings foreign workers more than its people,’ he states.
An electrical contractor, Abdullah says he finds it hard to hire foreigners because of the surge in regulation. Despite my interrogation, his charm never falters. He even pays for my coffee.
Swimming at twilight in the Inland Sea, where the ocean straight meets desert, is correctly amazing. I dry off and watch the sun relax like a red tennis ball on the horizon. Beside the Lexus, Samir subtly lays down a prayer mat and faces Mecca. Later, Ismail talks happily about his two consorts and how keen he is to find a third. For more know about FIFA World Cup Tickets click here.
He also treats us to some useful if sobering desert lore. In summer, a traveler lost among these dunes will die within four hours without water. Happily, we do have water. It is also mid-November when temperatures are like those of an English June. This, then, is the kind of climate our footballers will face here later this year.
Some have suggested that the army of fans accompanying the teams won’t find enough to do between matches. That’s nonsense. They can explore the desert, which is just an hour out of Doha. Or, if they stay in the capital, there are beaches, art galleries, and world-class restaurants.
It’s easy to get around, thanks to the new Metro system, and easier still to book an Uber, which costs half what it would in the UK. For £4, I reach the public beach at Katara, in mid-city. Westerners are asked to respect Islamic modesty, so no Speedos for men; T-shirts over bikinis for women.
The beach is segregated into a family section and one for men, though when I’m there it all seems quite relaxed. Doha prides itself on being the safest city on Earth, meaning there is no risk of getting mugged. Perhaps the greatest danger you face here is ‘amazement fatigue’. The clash of religious conservatism and rampant capitalism can be wearing.
When I’m there, the highlight of the contemporary art scene is a show by Jeff Koons. I stare at his childlike Balloon Dog, which broke auction records in 2013, as Qatari women eye it askance from behind their hijabs.
Koons’s brash consumerism sits uneasily beside the carpets and pearls of the nearby National Museum of Qatar. Yet even the latter, leading you expertly through millennia of history and heritage, is a modern marvel. The building has no straight lines and was designed to resemble a ‘desert rose’ a flower-like crystallization of gypsum found in the desert.
At Souq Waqif, I admire trays of colorful incense and barter for a beautiful pair of bowls. Stepping out of the ancient marketplace, I’m confronted by Le Pouce, an enormous gilded thumb by the French sculptor Cesar Baldaccini. Even in the new airport, amid outlets of Harrods and Dolce & Gabbana, the call to prayer is intoned over the intercom. The clash of cultures is, truly, ‘amazing’.
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