We drove around the western side of Qatar today, past the huge rubbish dump, past the gas pipelines and the desalination plant. Interesting, but not exactly scenic. then we arrived as Zekreet:
Wind erosion in the Qatar desert
Classic wind erosion, ablation, has carved some spectacular shapes from these limestone formations.
There is more in the way of culture out here than you might think. We saw Kevin Spacey in Richard III last year.
Here's Renu at a photographic exhibition at the Ecuadorean Embassy last month:
At the exhibition
The biggest contributor to the arts here is the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, based just along the road from us.
They were founded in 2007 by the Emir's wife, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, with the aim of promoting both western and Arab music.
The 101 musicians are selected by a jury of international music professionals and they gave their inaugaral performance in October 2008.
Since then they have performed all over the world and they have a regular season in Doha, which we try to make the most of.
Qatar Philharmonic in action
Do you know "the Piano's on my Foot'?
The Tennis is Back
The Doha Men's Tennis returned to Qatar this week. It wasn't as big an event as last year, when the likes of Federer and Nadal turned up. Many of the world's top players were in Australia for the Brisbane Open and the Australian Open.
Nevertheless, the quality of the tennis was very high and it was a good final between Davydenko and Gasquets, with the latter running out the winner in the deciding set.
Scenes from the Doha Open
We decided to explore the northeastern side of Qatar today and headed north out of Doha to Al Ruweis.
Although the roads around Doha are crammed with crazy drivers, the eight lane dual carriageway was thankfully empty:
On a clear day you can see across to Bahrain, but it was a little too hazy for that.
We stopped off at a few archaeological sites. We couldn't find out too much about them, but some of these mounds date back to 3,000BC.
There is a fort at Al Zubara:
Al Zubara Fort
The settlement was once home to 5,000 inhabitants who survived by fishing, pearls and trading. Unfortunately, much of the city was destroyed un a seige in 1878, but there are plans to restore it.
On the way back we stopped off at the seaside resort of Al Khor which is still an active fishing port:
Fishing boats at Al Khor
Everybody goes dune bashing in Doha. Of course, most people think that the whole country is nothing but sand. But in actual fact, only a small proportion of Arabia is true sandy desert. The classic sand dune scenery is mainly confined to parts of the U.A.E. southern Saudi Arabia and Yemen
But Qatar has its dunes, too. So when my daughters recently came to visit we hired a car and driver to take us into the desert.
On the desert road
I have to say that the driver didn't inspire us with confidence. He did try to go the wrong way along a dual carriageway. And he just loved to stick the front of his V8 engine about six inches from the bumper of the vehicle in front. But then, they're all mental drivers out here.
Anyway, I'm pleased to say he was much better on the dues than on tarmac. We went up and down dunes you wouldn't think possible. And the scenery was stunning.
We ended up at the Inland Sea, a bit shaken and covered in sand. After a drink and a bit of a sit down we then headed back to Doha and more of our crazy friend's driving.
The Inland Sea
Sport in Doha
The Emir and his son have the reputations of being big sports fans which goes some way towards explaining the desire to attract the top sporting events to the country.
Of course Qatar has won the 2022 World Cup but were recently pipped by London for the 2017 World Athletics Championships and they are bidding for the Olympic Games.
Recently we attended the Qatar ExxonMobil Open Tennis Championships at the Qatar Tennis Centre:
Men's Semi-Finals in Doha
All the big names were there - Federer, Nadal - only Jokovic was missing through injury. Unfortunately Federer pulled out just before his semi-final against Tsonga. But we saw Monfils and Nadal in action. (Ladies - you may think Nadal is the sexiest man on the planet, but trust me, he scratches his bum before every point. And people complain about footballers spitting!)
The tournament was won by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who beat Monfils over three sets. But only after fog threatened to stop play!
Doha – Playground of the Rich
If you think of Arabia as being all sheikhs and Rolls-Royces you be wrong. But in Qatar, such a generalization is not so far off the mark. This is a seriously rich country.
State employees have just been granted a sixty percent pay rise. Yes, that’s right, sixty percent. Unemployment is virtually non-existent. So there are lots of people with huge amounts of disposable income.
I like it - I take two
For many of the ex-pats splashing out on flash cars and yachts is not really practical or sensible if you are planning on heading back to your home country in a few years.
To the locals, the trappings of wealth, associated with the West, are much sought after and they purchase the exclusive, luxury end of all the top brands, from clothing to motor cars.
Probably a ladies' little run-around. Not much room for the shopping, but that will always be delivered
Until recently, you could buy a diamond watch and a convertible Roll-er but getting a loaf of bread was impossible. I’m pleased to say this has now changed, but there are many temptations to part you from your tax-free salary in Doha.
Like Friday Brunch, all the big restaurants and hotels do afternoon tea. It is part of Arab culture in the same way that it is part of British culture. When you sit down for tea, you can choose Moroccan tea or Earl Grey, samosas or scones.
It'll keep you going until dinner
We thought we'd start at the top. so we headed for the Ritz-Carlton. Well worth it. Lots of little sandwiches and mezzes, pastries and really good scones. The only thing that was missing was a jar of Rodda's Cornish Clotted Cream. Even Devon cream would have been better than mascarpone.
Am I turning into a skinnier version of Michael Winner? Calm down, dear...
And I liked this timer for your tea provided by Saffron, the upmarket Indian restaurant:
Timed to perfection
They did an amazing choice of blended teas - some with chocolate! I decided to stick to Darjeeling.
Friday Brunch - the Doha Tradition
I like my food. Being a runner, I burn a lot of calories. So I can, more-or-less, eat what I like without putting on much weight. So when I have the time (and the cash) I enjoy a good meal out.
Back in the UK, we used to have occasional weekend in London and you can find lots of bargains in the capital, these days, with seemingly very posy and stuffy top restaurants offering really good food and excellent service.
Back home in Wiltshire, the availability of good local produce meant that we never had to go far for some really excellent locally-sourced produce.
Here in Doha we have quite a variety of eateries. There are the usual ubiquitous, stomach-churning outlets that we have in the UK. We have McDonald's, KFC, Burger King etc. We have lots of very good fast-food outlets serving Mongolian, Chinese meals and there are lots of very good Moroccan, Lebanese and other Middle Eastern restaurants.
The big tradition out here, like Sunday Roast at home, is Friday Brunch. They call it 'brunch' although most of the hotels which serve it do not open until at least 12:30. But it is worth the wait.
Brunch takes the form of a massive buffet. Now I'm not a great fan of buffets. The need to prepare food well in advance and keep it hot enough for several hours usually degrades the taste of the food. Out here though, the chefs are skilled enough to largely prevent that happening.
Not bad for starters
Renu loves the salads. The choice is certainly huge but I tend to get stuck in to the seafood which is always really fresh. Smoked salmon, king prawns, crayfish, oysters and even lobster at the more expensive hotels, are expertly prepared and come with a great range of sauces. But you have to remember not to get carried away, as there's a lot more to come.
Just some of the seafood
There is usually an excellent range of South Asian cuisine. Many of the chefs are from Sri Lanka or southern India, so they know what they are doing. A little chili fish or chicken tikka goes down very nicely before it is time to get stuck into the main courses.
Although I've yet to find any roast potatoes, there is a tradition here of roast beef. The beef in Doha is always excellent. Much of it comes from Brazil, or Australia and it is really tasty and succulent. There is usually plenty of lamb or fish and the Inter-Continental does an amazing-looking paella.
The poor man's Michael Winner in action
I have a separate pudding stomach. I have a very sweet tooth and I can always find something in the dessert section that will satisfy my cravings. They do good chocolate out here, which is a welcome surprise. (In many hot countries - India, for instance - they have to put so much vegetable fat in the chocolate to stop it melting that it tastes awful.) Baklava and Arab puddings are good alternatives.
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate
All this is washed down with plenty of sparkling wine (with champagne in some of the more expensive restaurants). And the cost? 30 to 40 pounds all in.
And there's always the bubbly...
It all takes about 2 to 3 hours and at the end of it we get a taxi home, put our feet up and don't eat another thing for the rest of the day. We love Friday's in Doha!