One Day in Doha
Updated: Jan 27
After the last two blogs dealt with ports within Europe, I now decided to focus on a more distant destination for the next iteration of this series. And I would like to tell the story of another exploration tour, of course, coupled with another misstep. Just in case you believe in discerning a pattern here, let me say that it is purely coincidental.
I want to focus on one of the Oriental ports: The destination of Qatar, the port of Doha. In the case of this tour, we had a mountain of information to prepare with, leftover from the previous season’s calls to the same port. However, due to some complexities involved with the tour, we decided to conduct an exploration round without guests on our first call to get to know the track. This usually works wonders without the added pressure of having to perform for our passengers.
These exploration days are used when there will be plenty of calls to a destination during an upcoming season, and one day without the operation of a tour can be justified. I like them, as they essentially amount to a day off for the whole team to go cycling together. At least if you are into cycling fast and for long distances. In this case, we expected to cycle double the distance. The tour we wanted to explore would usually work one way, with a truck picking up the bikes and a bus the guests at the destination. But since we wanted to safe money on those while we had no passengers bringing in some, we decided to ride our bikes back to the ship once we had reached the destination.
But let me start from the beginning of our tour—the arrival in port and subsequent unloading of our bikes. Since we expected to need the entire day for our exploration tour, we left the ship pretty much as soon as our gangway connected to the pier. But despite the rush I still took the time, to take a picture with our welcome committee. Since it was the first call of the season, we had some employees from our agency dressed up, with traditional clothes and traditional music to welcome us. They even had the traditional swords, and one of them was kind enough to lend me his for the picture.
After that short interaction, we went out through the terminal and inside the mandatory shuttle bus, which brought us outside the port. At the parking lot of the “Museum of Islamic Art,” we started off our exploration. One thing noticeable in every destination on the Persian Gulf, but especially pronounced in Doha, is how much the cities are built around cars. And the amount of traffic on these well-build roads is ginormous. And we dove headfirst into the traffic. Despite the massive traffic, riding on the streets is actually the best option as no intersection is designed with cyclists even remotely in mind. The only place to even fit a group of cyclists is actually one of those busy car lanes. However, it works well when you have two guides with the group. On as first, one as the last cyclist of the group. And it works like this:
The last man is actually doing much of the legwork. A lane change coming up? The last man will be the first to switch over, keeping in the middle of the lane, thereby blocking it and creating enough of a gap in front of him to allow the rest of the group to merge. Intersection without traffic lights coming up? The last man will sprint ahead, even of the guide, go into the intersection to stop the flow of cars, then let his group ride past and merge back at the end. Stopped at a red light? The last man will herd the guests forward, into as close a bunch as possible, to ensure that the entire group will be able to pass with the next green. Only to immediately get the guests back into single-file formation on the other side of the crossing to ensure cars can pass. Being the last man of a cycling group is one of the underappreciated and underdeveloped arts of guiding tours. So much so, that I just decided to dedicate another blog to it. If you want to read it, you can do so here.
Now, let me return to our biking tour and the buzzing streets of Doha. After a few intersections, we reached the souk, located in a large pedestrian area and part of a “Heritage Village”. Those areas, popularized by the UAE, are nothing more than a show to tourists, mostly not older than a few years, with fake wood over steel beams and deliberately rough and imperfect concrete to resemble more traditional architecture. Employees patrol around them in traditional garments (on this particular one some even on horses or camels) and the whole thing feels like mini-Disneyland. I do not like them, but they are still fascinating to visit, buzzing with activity and colour and shops. We took a quick photo of the horse patrol and went on, towards the shoreline, where we could take a magnificent picture of the Doha Skyline.
From here on out we followed along the Corniche of Doha, the seaside promenade until we arrived in the shadow of the very skyscrapers we had just photographed. Riding along this promenade was actually one of the most relaxing parts of the tour since the area is only accessible for cyclists and pedestrians. And except for us, there was a limited number of those.
Once we had passed the city centre, we were back on the road, going down the “Embassy Alley” with all the consulates from many different countries. Here traffic was wild again, but we found one pleasant surprise on our next right: A cycleway. And a tremendously good one. Broad, separated by kerbs both from the road and the pedestrian walkways and with the perfect pavement. This cycleway we followed for quite a while until we made a discovery. We arrived at one of the tourist zones under construction for use in the upcoming world cup. Those will be one of the only places where alcohol can be consumed in the nation governed by strict Islamic laws. And because football fans need a beer, like air to breathe, Qatar is building plenty of those villages. And they are filled with plenty of attractions. Bars and stalls for food and drinks. Pavilions and Buildings in daring designs to showcase the nation. Plazas, boardwalks, and amphitheatres for the crowds to mingle. And in the middle of it all, there was a green hill. Now that does not sound too impressive to European ears, and it is a piece of hard work and ingenuity in an area, where most plants just simply burn up in the summer heat. To protect from that heat there were hundreds of sprinklers, spraying only water mist all over the hill just to keep the plants cool and alive—wastefulness for sure, but also an impressive one. Still, a plaque at the bottom informed us, that the thin water mist needs less water over time than conventional sprinklers which shoot out thick drops.
Here we had our first encounter with one of the private security guards that are abundant in Qatar. And by abundant, I mean absolutely everywhere. And I have not met a single one of them who acted in a friendly and welcoming manner towards us. The one at the hill informed us that we could not ascend the tiny mountain on the road build into its side, leading to the top. So, we road on. When we stopped in the tourist village to take our pictures it took only seconds for one of them to approach, ask our intentions, and then tell us that we better behave ourselves, or prohibit us from using a clearly marked cycleway or telling us we would need to move out of the way of other people. In contrast, we were pretty much the only ones in an area. These security guards are one of the main reasons why I never felt welcome in Qatar, unlike Dubai, where they are present to the same degree but definitely in less of a threatening manner.
Anyway, we continued over to the “Peral of Qatar” a luxurious residential area from here on out. We did not see a lot of it as, again, we got chased off pretty much immediately by security every time we stopped, but still it is interesting to see. The pearl is developed in different sections, with a “Little Venice” “Little Andalusia” and a few others, all representing the regions' styles. And yes, “Little Venice” has artificial canals and even fake gondolas moored on their sides. But sadly, because of the aforementioned security, I got no pictures. However, we actually found a welcoming place in all of this—the Talimare Beachclub, which I cannot recommend enough. The service was amiable, and they had some fantastic smoothies and great food.
After a relaxing break and a refreshing swim, we got back on our bikes, to ride back to the ship. Now we wanted to take the most direct route, to get there as fast as possible and of course, we ended up on what was more or less the highway. Riding on the shoulder was scary enough, but once we realized that we happened to be on an unstoppable trajectory into a big tunnel, our nerves truly began to flutter. Riding through these few hundred meters of the tunnel were probably a few of the tensest moments I ever had on a bike. And that includes the time I almost dropped off a Five-hundred-meter cliff with a mountain bike.
Luckily, after getting through the tunnel, we ended up quite close to the city centre and were able to make our way back on the Corniche, which we could follow all the way to the Museum of Islamic Art, from where we took the shuttle bus back to the ship. And like that ended our day in Doha.