Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Monday, November 13, 2006 22:38:47|
Arabia 2006: 10 - UAE to Qatar
Sunday, November 12, 2006
I woke up well before the alarm went off, so got organized and headed for the airport early, stopping along the way to use the rest of my UAE Dirhams to fill up the rental car - service stations did not accept credit cards. Traffic was heavy but moving well, and with the excellent signage there was no problem finding the rental car return at the airport.
There was no obvious police or military presence at the airport. Procedures went quickly and smoothly, so I was soon in the lounge, where a great breakfast buffet was awaiting. Food and service were first class, as were the well stocked bar and internet area. They even had a survey form to get opinions on how the airport was operating.
Today's paper reported that on average this year there were 3,784 traffic infractions per day, yet I thought the driving fast but good!
Terminal 1 of the Abu Dhabi airport is quite spectacular. It has a selection of bars and restaurants and its circular construction has all passageways to boarding gates starting at this hub. The mosaic tile work on walls and ceiling is quite something. It was interesting to see large decorated Christmas trees in the shops selling Arabian souvenirs!
Qatar Airlines is among the best I've flown for comfortable seats and high quality fittings, right down to the tray tables. No plastic here - chrome and fake marble that doesn't bend when out of the arm rest. They managed to serve a hot breakfast on the 55-minute flight. Announcements on board were in English first, then Arabic.
In Doha, Qatar they were not using jetways, but the Qatar Airlines bus was carpeted and equipped with armchairs for the short ride to the terminal. Immigration was very friendly. A lady in a burka (face not covered) looked after me. She smiled a lot, but while entering data into the computer muttered quite loudly in Arabic. She later told me the system was running very slowly, so I guess she was urging it to get going. At one point I thought she was going to hit it with her passport stamper! When finished she gave me my passport, a big smile and a handful of wrapped chocolates - that is a first at an immigration station! It does make one feel welcome!
Doha is hosting the 15th Asian Games, which start at the end of the month, but athletes are already arriving, and construction is going on everywhere. Qatar Airlines planes are painted for the occasion, and many buildings and billboards in Doha portray athletic events, some covering the entire front or side of 20 story buildings. There has been an enormous amount of money spent for a 2-week event!
Intercontinental Hotel had a representative in the terminal that ushered me to the taxi line, but it was slow as taxis are busy and few were available. When my turn came I had the Indian drive take me for a tour, but in the end I had to agree with him that there wasn't much to see. He stopped so I could change money where the rate is good, drove by the dhow harbour and shipyard and showed me what was left of the old town - it isn't that old! Basically that's it - there isn't even a traditional souk - the market is in a modern building.
Like the UAE, there are a lot of contract workers from all over the world. English is more widely spoken than in the UAE - I have yet to encounter anyone who does not speak English. Impaired driving in Qatar is not a good idea - the local paper reports an Indian was picked up driving impaired and given a fine equivalent to $US275 and 40 lashes.
Currency is the Riyal, there are no coins, and the smallest note is 1 riyal, worth about 28 US cents - so it is not possible to sell anything for less than 28 cents in cash. It must be tough on kids wanting penny candies!
The hotel is great. It is on a sandy beach close to the city, has an enormous swimming pool and various restaurants and bars. I headed for a swim in the ocean - my first time in the Persian Gulf, but unfortunately caught my foot in some ropes running through the sand and twisted the knee that had been operated on. After a swim to loosen it up, I prescribed a couple of gin tonics at the pool bar. Fortunately I've got a couple of easy days before trekking through ruins in Syria.
For dinner I chose the hotel's Fish Market Restaurant. It is separate from the hotel, requiring a hobble of a fair distance, but it was well worth it. As the name implies, it is laid out like a fish market with display cases filled with 8 types of fish plus crawfish, lobsters, squid and the biggest shrimps I have ever seen - the size of a normal lobster - all on a bed of crushed ice.
Next to the fish selection is the vegetable section, looking like the produce display in a small supermarket. Each vegetable is priced separately, so you don't miss any favourites and don't get any you don't like. An attendant assists with ideas for preparation. I chose sea bass poached in soya and ginger accompanied by vegetables stir fried in oyster sauce. An attendant skinned and deboned the fish at the table. It was a delicious meal, accompanied by chilled white wine, served at an outside table facing date palms, a white sand beach and across the bay were illuminated high rise apartments.
Qatar was a poor British protectorate noted mostly for pearling in pre-oil times. The country remained poor as the emir who ruled from 1972 to 1995 siphoned off most revenues. His son, the current amir, overthrew him in a bloodless coup. Now per capital income rivals the leading industrial countries in Western Europe.
The country consists of 11,437 sq km, a bit bigger than Jamaica, but with only 1% arable land, so most food must be imported. Muslims make up 85% of the 770,000 population. The literacy rate is 79% and life expectancy is 73 years. 40% of the population are Arab and 36% Pakistani or Indian.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Not a great sleep with my knee letting me know it was there. I took the shuttle bus to the airport early where I used the internet and had the complementary breakfast - not up to Abu Dhabi standards but not bad. I've been upgraded on flights before, but today was downgraded for the first time, as the Boeing 767 had no business or first class. There were only 29 passengers on the huge plane with a flight time of 40 minutes, so it was no big deal.
In Bahrain the lounge is in the transit area, so I used the internet to research return flights, and had beer and sandwiches for lunch at the same time. On the way to board it was necessary to walk through a major shopping mall that looked like any mall in the Christian world would look just before Christmas. There were Santas, huge decorated Christmas trees, reindeer, artificial snow - you name it. All in a Muslim country in the desert!
The Al Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians in 1782. They sensibly became a British Protectorate so they wouldn't lose it again. It became independent in 1971. Oil reserves are declining, so the country has turned to oil refineries and international banking The current sheikh came to power in 1999 and has enacted a number of political and economic reforms, including making the country a constitutional monarchy in 2002 with himself as king, instead of amir.
This Arabian island country has but 665 sq. km - about the size of Singapore. 81% of the population of 699,000 are Muslim, with a life expectancy of 75 years. Male literacy is 92% and female 85%.
It was surprising to be offered champagne when we boarded the big Airbus A340 aircraft for Kuwait. It was offered to all, including the Arab passengers, and some were accepting. The Bahrain Airport is a lot busier than I'd expected - we were behind 6 other aircraft waiting to take off, something not experienced since my arrival in Arabia.
In Kuwait I needed to get a visa, but missed the turn to the visa issuing area so my round about tour cost me 10 places in line. If a visit to Kuwait is in your future plans, turn left just before the escalators down to immigration! A machine dispensing numbers made line jumping impossible. It was only about 10 minutes before the visa was printed and handed to me. With this form in hand it was unnecessary to go through the immigration line - straight to customs and out into the public area where the representative from Sheraton Four Points was waiting for me. He showed me to a private car, which whisked me off to the Hotel.
Four Points is the low end of the Sheraton classification system, but I've stayed in hotels in their Luxury Collection that offered less. Check in was super efficient - before I was done a car and driver had been arranged for a tour tomorrow, my flight confirmed and my room key issued. A lovely lady escorted me to the room to go over the various features - some of which included free 24 hour internet connection, more goodies in the bathroom than I've ever seen (including things like sun tan lotion, cologne, mouthwash, laundry detergent, toothbrush & paste and on and on), a fax machine that doubles as a printer, VCR /DVD player, bowl of fruit, bathrobe & slippers - not like any Four Points I've ever stayed in before!!! In the desk drawer are marker pens, scotch tape, staple remover, erasers, pencil sharpener, ruler, post-its, glue, white out, elastics, paper clips and so on - things I've seen in no other hotel.
I'll take advantage of their free internet to get this away. Tomorrow I'll tour Kuwait City, as my flight doesn't leave until 4:10 PM, then arrive in Syria - my 300th country or island group as defined by the Travelers' Century Club. They list 315 destinations in total.