Traveling anywhere new and exotic can be a lot of things. Nerve-wracking, exciting, stressful, tantalizing. On the other hand, traveling home from most places, can also be a lot of things.
A relief mostly, that you’ll finally get to sleep back in your own bed, a relief you’ll finally you’ll get to catch up on sleep in general. And a relief, to go back to the norm of what feels comfortable in your everyday life.
Qatar is anything but the norm. Qatar is an exotic mystery. Qatar is one of those places that you feel emptiness upon leaving. A happiness and excitement that you experienced it, mixed with an overwhelming sense of loss upon leaving it. Experiencing Qatar is equivalent to a first love for me. Exciting, new, brief and often times fleeting. Something that is never replicated and always carried with us into the next travel experience. Aaaah, the sweet smelling lemongrass, mint and island-like salty sea air combination that immediately penetrates the senses and creates a distinct, smelling of your first crush’s cologne type of happiness and butterflies in your stomach combination. From eating dinner dangling from a crane, being mistaken for an international deejay, riding on my first real-deal camel and navigating the souq on a rare rainy night in Doha, I only wish I could bottle up the whirlwind excitement, luxuriousness, hair-raising adventure, belly-aching laughs and WTF moments that I experienced while I was in Qatar.
Day 1: Traveling is not my friend…or is it?
Traveling to Qatar. this is not a hop and skip down the street to grandma’s house. Oh no, this is a lonnnng, lonnnng journey and a true time investment. In fact, if you’re not familiar with travel times, flying LAX to Doha, the capital city of Qatar, is one of the longest straight flights on the planet. Yes, that’s 15 and a half hours of travel time to be exact, cooped up in a glorified flying metal bus. Oh and maybe now is a good time to mention, that because of prior work commitments needing me back in LA, by a certain day, my trip to Qatar was going to be a short one. To say it was going to be basically a turn around trip may be an understatement. As a matter of fact, I was actually going to be in the airport and in the air flying, longer that I was actually going to be on the ground.
So with just about 36 combined hours flying time coupled with my actual 36 hours on the ground, this was no doubt going to be a whirlwind travel experience. And with so much of my Qatari travel log going to be in the air, it definitely seems appropriate, that I mention my first true taste of Qatar, the government owned, Qatar Airways. Despite my usual opinion of airports as an unpleasant, florescent fogs of hurry up and wait with the end result of me usually getting sick, this couldn’t have been further from what I experienced with this airline.
Soon after boarding the plane, it became clear, very quickly, that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. They take their five-star reputation very seriously. (To the point where my travel friends and I even got shushed a few times for talking too loud… I digress.)
So, as I was saying, Five star for real, they are not joking around with this five start title. In fact, seconds after boarding the plane, I was not only greeted formally by Miss, Barlow, but I was even offered designer pajamas, Armani travel kit and rose champagne to help ease the pain of my soon to be 16-hour haul. If it sounds like I’m a bragging a bit, I’ll be honest, I kind of am. Mostly, because, contrary to popular belief, with me previously having a travel show, I have never in my life been offered designer pajamas while flying. Yep, and to really set the mood for the rest of my flight describing, I want you to quickly envision Frank Sinatra and the boys singing, "Come Fly With Me, come fly, let’s fly away…"
Got it? Okay now that my Frankie Blue eyes flying soundtrack is playing in your head, Imagine, being seated in vibrating massage chairs that fold out into full length beds. Now Imagine, eating exceptional Michelin worthy meals and wines paired by a sommelier expert, who actually chooses the wines and food based on how they will interact and taste at higher altitudes! Yep, crazy, I know But Crazy in the best way possible. And to think, I hadn’t even landed in the country yet.
Officially landing at Hamad International Airport, I had an overwhelming feeling of excitement and anxiousness as there was no telling where our less than 36-hour adventure was going to take us and for full disclosure I had been warned about a million and one times, by various people to, "Be Careful, You’ll probably be the only blonde there…" (yep, people actually said that to me smh)..
Anyways, I landed and.... first things first, holy Martha Stewart Batman. Wait, what? Nope I'm not talking about a cardboard airport cutout, I'm talking the real-life, Queen of do-it-yourself crafts and cookies, Martha Stewart. She evidently exited her plane just shortly after ours and was sitting with her possee of professional looking folks in the corner, no more than ten feet away from me. I can’t tell you exactly why she was the first thing I saw when I got off the plane in Qatar, but there she was, in all her glory, real life, Martha Stewart.
After landing safely in Qatar and getting my brief (from afar) Martha Fix, it was time to disembark and explore the capital city of Doha. As for the visuals of this city, trying to find the right way to describe Qatar is sort of like trying to describe a food that you’ve never tasted before. Bewildering and exciting to say the least. Beyond that, everything and everywhere in the city of Doha, feels fresh and new, somewhat like a model home that has yet to be lived in. A mix of modern Dubai-like hyperbolic architecture in the distance, fused with its own unique Arabic flair and commitment to preserve its rich culture. No, the streets were not paved with gold, as I secretly imagined they would be, but I can say there was a noticeable attention to detail and advancement, that felt like a perceivable promise to one day be the best. Like a Google or Facebook campus compared to any old ordinary office space, Doha’s skyline is dramatic, uniquely its own, and a harmonious hybrid of past and future, east meets west, and an all-around spectacle for the senses.
Checking into my hotel, sure, I could have stayed at some internationally acclaimed cookie cutter resort that one can find in any other country you travel to, but instead I stayed at Al Bidda boutique hotel, in the Souq Waqif or old marketplace neighborhood of Doha. Designed to look like an old Arabic fortress of some kind, this luxury minded hotel offered all the amenities that one would hope for, but is uniquely positioned right in the heart of the market place, just near the Museum of Islamic Art. Remembering how I immediately felt like this city was a blend of past and future, east meets west, well the Souq Waqif gives one a taste of real deal traditional Doha, the eastern and older part of the city, personified. Sandstone architecture, Arabic lamps, and positioned just a pebbles throw from the traditional marketplace. I couldn’t wait to explore more.
Tom Cruise Film…
Never ever feeling like I was in any danger, ironically, navigating the Souq Waqif at night time was a surreal movie-like experience where I couldn’t help but feel like I could have easily been in the center of some epic chase scene from a Tom Cruise film. A maze of narrow, alley-like streets and shops, this bustling center for commerce was compactly lined and overwhelmingly decorated with the colors, sounds, smells and tastes of the Middle East. Shisha pipes, Pearl shops, colorful fabrics, woven rugs, spices, more spices, what could be magic genie lamps, and a dampness that was quickly thickening in the air, I kept telling myself, this can’t possibly be real life, it feels like a set out of a movie. Pure Magic.
After winding our way further through the souq, my small group of friends and I ended up at a neighboring luxury hotel’s restaurant, as it overlooked the marketplace and it was starting to rain. I must say even though rain in the desert is as rare and uncommon as it sounds, I didn’t even mind as it added to the enchantment of the overall night time Doha adventure. Conversely, I will say it was however a smidge disconcerting, that we had to walk through metal detectors upon entering this particular hotel and restaurant, but then again I was hungry and this quickly became a fleeting thought when I saw the brilliantly vibrant flavors and food that awaited us.
Sipping on lemon and mint mocktails, as Qatar like most of the Middle East is considered a dry country and alcohol can only be purchased at certain hotel properties or with certain alcohol approved licenses for expats, I couldn’t help but smile as I absorbed the unequalled sites, sounds and smells of everything that we overlooked and the amazing food and company that surrounded me. In lieu of a night cap, we finished out our rainy first night in Doha with a true traditional delicacy, smoking lemon mint Shisha… yep, pinch me I still must be dreaming.
Qatar at a glance:
-Pronounced Guitar with a hard C in front. Cut-Tar (not cutter per say, or Cut-TAR.
-Wealthiest country in the world.
-Roughly the size of somewhere between Rhode Island and Connecticut,
-Population: about 2 million people.
To visually see my travels unfold please check out my video travel diary below:
Emmy Award-Winning Producer, TV Host, and All-Around Lover of Life. I'm a sarcastic, glass is half full type of gal, who wears too much red lipstick and bright colors, who loves to laugh til' it hurts, travel the world, pet animals, learn about new cultures, drive fast cars and oh yeah, go on spontaneous, adventures.
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Jenn Barlow is a vivacious, adventure-minded, on-air personality, who has a keen sense of humor and knack for storytelling. As Producer, Host and writer for various television programs and documentaries, she has even earned an Emmy Award for her work.