Waking up in Qatar for my first full and simultaneously official last day in Doha, I surprisingly was not greeted by the melodic call to prayer, as I’ve experienced in other Middle Eastern countries. Not to say that the call to prayer didn’t happen, I was just surprised that I didn’t hear it happen. Unlike our rainy and mysterious evening, the night before, today was already promising to be a brighter, much warmer day.
Seeing as how the clock was quickly ticking away and I now had less that 24 hours in Doha, I had the overwhelming feeling that this day was going to be packed with adventure and activities. Never did I imagine in my wildest dreams what this actually meant for me.
Shortly after leaving the hotel, our group of four was quickly on our way to the Qatari desert for what soon would be called an epic dose of hair-raising dune bashing. About an hours drive outside the city of Doha, and surrounded by nothing but a sea of sand, this is when it dawned on me, how small this Gulf Coast country really is. Described as: somewhere in between Connecticut and Rhode Island in land size, once you venture outside the city, one really gets an understanding of this size comparison in its entirety. In fact, there isn’t much else besides oil refineries, an occasional small town neighborhood and sand dunes for as far as the eye can see once you step outside the city. And, I couldn’t help but think to myself how interesting it was, that for a country so small in land size, what a huge splash they continue to make, in the global economic pond. For example, some reports out there say that Qatar is spending some $200 billion dollars to get ready for the upcoming World Cup in 2022. Annnnd over the past few years Qatar’s Investment Authority: Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth fund, has made a number of very large purchases in London. For instance, did you know that Qatar has acquired or at some point purchased 95% of the Shard, London’s tallest building; Harrods, a top notch designer department store for £1.5 billion pounds; the Olympic Village for £557 million pounds; half of the world’s most expensive apartment block, One Hyde Park; Chelsea Barracks, a 52,000 square meter former military site for over £900 million pounds; several top luxury hotels, a portion of the London stock exchange, and the list goes on. Wait where was I? Awww yes…driving to the desert.
Exploring Qatar in a Land Cruiser is nothing like anything you could or would experience in the States. For those who frequent Glamis dunes or Pismo Beach maybe, which does offer a taste of the off-roading lifestyle; I must say that Qatar’s dune bashing experience is a bit different than that. One part ff-the-charts exciting, mixed in with a little side of crazy. Yep, after getting in the car, and quickly being told to buckle up, our driver instantly cranked up a blood-pumping soundtrack of music, and never looked back. At that point It became very clear to me that we would be forging our own path through the desert and I that never asked to see if he had his driver’s license? Lord Help us!
Racing over bumps and hills with no hesitation and heading straight for sand mounds that you swear could be the equivalent of the Mount Everest of the Middle East. I went from screaming in delight and bracing onto the ‘oh $hit’ handle, to at some points wondering if I would make it out of this wild ride alive. This all, as our driver held onto the steering wheel with one hand, posed for pictures, and shimmied us down a mountain sideways and on only two wheels. In his defense though, our driver did say at one point that he has never flipped a land cruiser in his over 14 years of driving, but, I am sure you know as well as I do that, there is is always a first time for everything.
From a fast and furious dune bashing experience unlike any other, to a very peaceful and contrasting way to travel through the desert, our next off road Gulf Adventure was an improptu camel caravan. Never having ridden on a true two-humped camel before, this was quite the bucket list type of travel moment for me. Tall, docile and blessed with beautiful long eyelashes; my camel was everything that I wasn’t, and the overall experience of it all, felt much, different than riding a horse. Not a bad type of different, just an, “I probably look awkward as heck but am smiling and enjoying this anyway,” type of different. A true treat to experience. In fact, it was oddly perfect, that this seemingly straightforward desert excursion was the most accurate representation of this trip and Qatar as a whole. Old meets new; pushing the envelope mixed with the old Arabic heritage from its past. The desert offerings with Gulf Adventures not only gave me a taste of Qatar’s land’s excitement but also a real picture of this ever evolving dessert landscape.
Just as the wind started to pick up in the desert, it was off to our next location, and probably the main reason we came to Doha, the world-renowned, Qatar International Food Festival. Held at the Museum of Islamic Art’s, green park area, just along the water’s edge, this flavor extravaganza was much more like a red carpet event for the who’s who of Qatar. With actual red carpets rolled out and seas of brightly colored culinary booths lining the walkways, cooking demonstrations, stilt walkers, musicians, you name it, one could spend hours trying to taste and soak up all of the flavors, smells and luxe entertainment samplings that this OTT food festival had to offer.
Walking around the grandiose event it was obvious that the, “the skies the limit,” mantra was certainly in full effect. And by that I mean, it would be nearly impossible to find a food sampling that didn’t exist, or a dinning experience that was considered, too much. For instance, you want dry ice cookie desserts? Or at least that’s what I think they were? That makes your mouth smoke as you eat them, sure that’s not a problem! How about? You want to rub elbows with A-list celebs like Martha Stewart and hang out in exclusive VIP areas? Sure! We can certainly make that happen as well. (And by we, I mean the fine folks who put on this extravagant event) Oh IIIIIII know, you want to eat a multi-course meal, dangling hundreds of feet in the air by a crane, overlooking the culinary crowd below. Great Idea, we can definitely make that happen as well!
Yep, like I said before, ‘the skies the limit’ theme was in full effect. And I mean that as both a figurative and literal translation. That’s because my greatest indulgence and exciting opportunity at the food festival would have to be…*drum roll please*…. the Dinner in the Sky experience.
You see, the way it works is: you are seated at a dinner table, that approximately fits 20 or so guests, which seems normal enough, that is, until you’re strapped into a full seat harness, as if you are about to embark on some crazy roller coaster adventure, and I might add are hoisted hundreds of feet in the sky.
Although, I’m not typically afraid of heights there is something to said about your dinner table being lifted hundreds of feet in the air by a crane, and your feet dangling, free-as-a-bird, from your seat. I’d guess that even those who aren’t typically afraid of heights may be a wee bit nervous about this over the top dinning experience.
Although the menu was a scrumptious seafood offering with several fantastical courses, I’ll be honest, mentally I couldn’t quite get over the fact that our life on top dinner table was hoisted in the air by, did I mention, a crane? And heaven forbid, I accidently drop a fork or other utensil onto some poor unsuspecting soul below. This dinner was simultaneously both one of the best and craziest meals that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Only in Qatar could you be enjoying a luxurious dinner overlooking the city in all its glory, while pushing the boundaries for what constitutes an over-the-top dining experience. Is this what they meant when they came up with the term: Dining Al Fresco? I’m not so sure? Truly though, this is what Arabian Dreams are made of.
After exploring the food festival further, running into Martha Stewart yet again, (geez stalk me much Martha? Totally kidding, more like the other way around) It was off to our last truly Qatari experience: a traditional Dhow boat dinner cruise accompanied by what else, fireworks! Now this was truly an almost perfect night and experience, and the reason I say almost perfect, is for reasons unknown to me, the dhow boat we boarded unfortunately couldn’t sail that night? Weird. Perhaps because of the soon-to-be, fireworks show that seemed to launch directly over our head, or perhaps because of some bewildering mechanical problems, sadly our evening dinner cruise turned into a stationary dinner buffet.
However, that being said the true magic of the Dhow boat, was not whether or not it could sail in a circle around the harbor, but rather I loved hearing all about the Arabic heritage and the pre-oil tradition of living off of the sea, and the nearly, by-gone pearling industry that once dominated the Gulf region. Despite being full-bellied still from my earlier Dinner In The Sky, experience, not even an hour prior, somehow I found even more room to eat yet another amazing meal, this time on board the dhow. With crew and chef so accommodating and hospitable, I can honestly say this was the BEST stationary dinner cruise, I’ve ever been on.
Now as my 36-hour whirlwind trip to Doha was rapidly coming to an end, it was my friend’s mission to find the other, ultra mod, luxurious nightlife, side of Qatar. Of course I was game. So, after hoping into a Mercedes taxi car and heading to the West Bay area of the city, we made our way to the well-heeled W hotel. A super glam, hot-spot, that feels straight out of a swank Miami beach or Beverly Hills social scene. Beautiful people, ultra posh environment, Lamborghinis and Range Rovers valeted outside, and most importantly…a nightclub with actual bar inside. (That didn’t just serve the ever so popular mock tails that we’d previously been offered.)
Here’s the deal, It’s not that we needed to booze it up, to enjoy ourselves in Doha, oh no! It’s just that it kind of felt like the perfect way to end our trip to Doha. Dancing, toasting, laughing and reflecting on an extraordinary whirlwind trip to Qatar. In fact, during the wee bit of time we actually had to let our hair down and hang out in the W Hotel Nightclub, my friend thought it would be funny to start the rumor, that I was an international deejay that could be compared to the likes of Ruby Rose. I even had a very clever deejay name that he picked out at the time, which now sadly I can’t remember. Although a very funny experience to see unfold, and a great memory that I’ll treasure forever, I must say, I am neither an international deejay or comparable to the talented Ruby Rose, but it did give us a huge laugh and I was able to try out my turntable skills in the deejay booth. Poor bar patrons. (I still find myself walking alone randomly laughing about this)
So to wrap this thing up already…And because I’ve been asked a million times on whether or not I feel it’s safe to travel there.
I am not naive and don’t doubt for a second that there are very real threats and dangers lurking in many different countries around the world, the U.S. included, but If I had listened to much of my friends friend’s broad pre-conceived notions of why I should not travel to the Middle East, I would be missing out an unforgettable 36-hour travel love affair that I had with country of Qatar. (Don’t get too excited, not a literal love affair, rather a travel love affair) From Incredible food on the Dhow dinner boat, to an unforgettable dune bashing experience and camel clad trek through the desert, navigating the souq market maze on a rare rainy night in Doha, getting over my fear of heights and dining in the sky, and running into Martha Stewart not once but twice, my only regret for this trip was… that it didn’t last longer.
It seems to me that long after the oil money has dried up, I hope that people will remember Qatar for its stand alone, unduplicated exceptionalism. A place committed to making itself a global tourist destination similarly to the likes of London, or Hong Kong. A place committed to being architecturally and technologically the best and most advanced skyline in the world. A place committed to its pursuit of offering life-defining travel experiences unlike any other place out there. A place committed to hospitality, luxury, shopping, adventure and so much more. A place committed to welcoming people from all walks of life, all while staying true to its deep rooted Arabic culture. Justly nicknamed the “Pearl of the Middle East,” Qatar is precious, luxurious and a fine example of unduplicated exceptionalism.
For a visual experience of my travels through Qatar make sure to click on the videos 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.