camel burgers

What better way to celebrate hump day than with a nice, juicy camel burger? I kid you not, my mouth is watering right now just writing about it. Aroma at Kempinski in West Bay (PIN) serves the best camel dish in town.

Before I get too far into this, you may be wondering: what in the world does camel even taste like? I’d say it’s a mix between beef, buffalo and heaven. When done right, it’s moist enough to cut with a fork yet durable enough to not crumble to bits. So far it has been a major hit among visiting family and friends. It’s a wonderful meal to have after a day of camel riding (too soon?) and dune bashing in the desert.

Dress nicely when you go to Aroma and call ahead to make reservations. It’s never been full when I’ve visited but I would never want to be rejected the desert’s most desired meat because of a full room.

Park valet when you arrive and walk through the lobby and through the mirror door (it revolves!).

The burger costs QR85 complete with chick pea fries and arugula salad. I like it best with a chilled  white wine on the side. There is truly nothing to wine about here.

east meets west + mystery village + film city

In about an hour and a half you can drive to the western Qatari desert and visit the four most beautiful and obscure fifty foot steel pillars you have ever seen. American sculpture Richard Serra designed ‘East-West/West-East’ or, ‘East Meets West’ as it’s commonly known here as a project commissioned by the Emir.

Though I can’t tell you exactly what these pieces mean, I can encourage you to make the journey to do some soul searching to figure it out.

There are two dropped pins for this one. The first is for the point where you exit Dukhan Highway (PIN). The second is for the artwork (PIN) itself. When you get off the highway change your end destination to the artwork’s pin and follow the ‘road’ as it curves along. The structures will be on your left.

I am not kidding when I tell you this is indeed in the middle of nowhere. It is best to travel with at least two 4WD vehicles that can handle the rocky desert. There are no dunes there so be sure you bring a spare tire (AND LOTS OF WATER!). I went in the middle of August and had to replace my car’s battery after the trip. I think it melted.

Mystery Village + Film City: 

After ‘East Meets West’ you can visit Mystery Village and Film City, just a short drive away. Again, I am not sure why either of these places exist but it can help make your desert trek a bit more fulfilling. Rumor has it that movies (Transformers?) were filmed out there, but who really knows. All I know is both names are rather fitting.

You will see something that resembles a road on your way to Mystery Village (PIN). Along the way you will pass through a gate. Why? To keep the ‘wild’ oryx and gazel in, of course! Keep an eye out for the lovely creatures as you drive.

You will then come upon Film City. I believe it is part of a UNESCO Heritage Site. I was not able to go inside the city when I visited but it would be worth another try.

Once Film City is a check on your list, drive on to the wonder of Mystery Village. There is a cool structure there that you can climb. I have yet to do it but I am tempted to try camping there come winter.

Please keep in mind there are no shops once you leave the highway. BRING LOTS OF WATER. But of course, there is cell reception so if God forbid you have an emergency AAA can pick you up.

Take lots of pictures, make your friends back home think you are roughing it in the Qatari desert and tag us in your pics. Safe travels! #Dohallywood

pigeon for dinner

What flies, has two legs and is on the menu? You guessed it! Pigeon! It sounds strange and looks even stranger but let me tell you, it’s delicious!

A friend introduced me to this wonderful Egyptian restaurant (PIN) near B Ring road a few months ago and I have been back twice. The restaurant serves the tasty delicacy stuffed with rice and a side of french fries. The chef usually brings the dish out himself and will even help you order.

The restaurant is in a conservative part of old Doha and can be hard to find, but my dropped pin will help. You can park within the compound near the other stores and shops. The name of the restaurant is written in big red Arabic letters. You can’t miss it. Women and families sit upstairs.

Dress modestly and bring your best Arabic skills. The menu is in Arabic but has pictures to help you choose.

Tip: Pigeon, Hamam (Arabic)

Enjoy the pigeon (crossed little legs and all). It’s really to fly for.

dune bashing

Arguably one of the most adventurous and fun outings in Qatar is at the southern-most tip of the country. Just shy of Saudi Arabia, dune bashing is a great way to see your backyard as a giant sandbox worth enjoying. In New Zealand I took great pride in backpacking my way to the southern-most point of the country. In Qatar that means lots of sand, snorkeling and beach bonfires.

Drive yourself:

Just last week I test drove my SUV on the dunes for the first time with a group of friends. We drove to Sealine Beach (PIN) and deflated our tires before hitting the sands.

If you forget anything there is an Al Meera store at the tire stop. If you are going with friends, be sure to establish a lead, middle and trail car. It’s important to stay in order while driving so you know if someone gets stuck. The car behind you can radio back and trickle the message down the line. It is usually best for the most experienced driver to go first. Don’t forget your tow rope, just in case!

We drove along the coast and parked by the sea for some BBQ and swimming. It’s a good idea to bring masks and snorkels (you can rent them for a day at  Poseidon Dive Center found here). I can’t say there is all that much to see underwater, but it is fun to float over crabs (and abandoned crab legs). Occasionally you will see some noteworthy large colorful fish.

When you make it back to Sealine you can hire a guy to inflate your tires for you. Find the longest car line and wait it in. Pay the guy QR5 for the entire job. It is usually faster to inflate your own tires if you have a pump, but if not the shop there will help.

BE AWARE OF THE SPEED CAMERAS. The speed limit is 60 KM/H in some places. The cameras glow purple at night but they are still easy to miss.

Book a Trip:

Before I had a car and the courage to tackle the dunes I would book a dune bashing trip through an agency. When guests come to visit I still rely on Inbound Tours for a little adrenaline rush. It costs about QR200 per person. Before the price catches you off guard, let me tell you that it is worth it. Pick a day you want to go and email the group or book ahead and choose your tour on their website. All of their drivers are incredibly punctual, kind, knowledgeable and fun. I have used this tour group several times and have never had a bad experience. Be sure to bring your camera! The adventure starts with complimentary tea in a Bedouin tent and optional camel rides (QR20/person).

The group will pick you up at your house in a white Toyota Land Cruiser with a safety roll bar inside. The A/C stays on the whole time. If you get car sick easily then it will be best to sit up front. The tour lasts four hours, start to finish.

Wear a baiting suit under casual summer clothes (shorts and tank tops are fine) with flip flops. The tour includes a quick stop along the Inland Sea and the driver will let you swim if you ask. On hot days it feels good to take a quick dip. Just keep in mind there are no changing stations or bathrooms out there. It’s also worth noting this is the closest you can get to Saudi Arabia in shorts and a bikini 🙂

Be sure to tag us in your posts @Dohallywood!

Also check out David’s Been Here blog post on Qatar featuring yours truly. He’s a world-class blogger (and chap) I had the privilege of meeting on a dune bashing tour! Go figure!

 

tea at the Ritz

My sister is visiting from home and her excitement for Doha has refueled my early-stage adrenaline for being here, too. Today we went for tea at the Ritz Carlton (PIN) simply because we could. It was lovely. I ordered the cappuccino and she the ginger tea. The live pianist and friendly staff made us feel like little princesses at a party.

The Ritz is also a great place to mail letters. I try to write a few to friends around the globe before I go and mail them at the concierge desk. You don’t have to be a guest to send cards and it only costs QR8! I have found the cards arrive faster than when I send them directly from the post office. The forest of fresh flowers in the lobby is enough of a push for me (never saw that at the post office).

After tea, feeling like a royal and sending your letters abroad you can take a walk outside along the sea. There is a nice walkway once you go down the stairs following signs for the pool. I haven’t tried it, but there is also an Arabic lounge that looked like a chill (but expensive) way to puff some smoke.

Just saying I went to the Ritz puts an extra pep in my step. Sometimes a little extra dough can make dough-ha (get it) feel more like home.

let’s choose optimism

Doha is too hot. Qatar is too small. There is nothing to do on the weekends and the driving is a total disaster. There is nothing to love about this place.

Wrong. (Well it is hot, I will give you that)

From day one I decided to choose to be deliberately optimistic or risk falling into the trap set by the looming pessimists. I had to choose to reset my agenda and not have it dictated by those who only see their glass of mint and lime half-empty. Because it’s actually half-full, you know.

This blog will feature the adventures I have been on in my first year as an expat in Doha and will shed light on new outings I’ve yet to enjoy.

You can look at this as a way to make something out of nothing or you can raise your glass high, see this stage of your life as one worth actually enjoying and opening your eyes to the city and country around you.

So much of enjoying your time here is based both on your perspective and access to a compelling itinerary. I hope to provide you with a solid dose of both. Like Hollywood, Doha can make or break you. Don’t let this place chew you up and spit you out.

Even if it’s salty Arabian (err, Persian?) Gulf water, the glass my friend, is about to bubble to the brim.

Editor’s Note: As the spring turns to summer, go get yourself the best mint and lime concoction in town at Katara’s Al Jazeera Media Cafe (PIN).