If you read the most recent blog "Suitcase Wars", you know the suitcases won. We didn't get down to our goal weight of 20 kilos each, and in fact packed an additional box to haul to Paris from Los Angeles. Once we were settled into our favorite Paris Airbnb (just two blocks from our daughter) we were able to reduce our load a bit by distributing gifts to the grandchildren. But not by much. So were in the same bind - we still needed to unload more weight. Then, as it happened, Michael went online to check us into our flight from Paris to Cape Town (with a stop in Doha, Qatar). A few minutes later he looked up from his computer, and I know he was hesitating to tell me this, but he couldn't help it "Guess what?" He said with a slow grin "We can each have 30 kilos on this flight - all the way to Cape Town!"
Yes! No practice packing necessary. No agonizing over whether I can add a few finds from Paris. Or leave anything behind - like my black shoes! Of course, the day of reckoning will come again once we start flying within Africa. I know we are just kicking the can down the road, but for now, we are okay.
When we left Paris we were at 26kg and 23kg at check-in. Usually we would know that beforehand because we use our trusty luggage scale, but sadly, it accidentally got tossed out with the empty box in Paris. We were very attached to that handy tool, especially Michael. We'll get another one - and we will lose those last few kilos. Some how.
Speaking of the Middle East, we arrived in Doha, Qatar on March 2nd for a four day stopover. This tiny Gulf state, about the size of Connecticut, wasn't on our "travel wish list" but similar to Icelandic air that offers a free stop-over in Reykjavik on it's trans-Atlantic flights, Qatar Airlines invites you to spend up to 96 hours in Doha. It was a fascinating look at the richest country in the world. So rich in fact that it has the highest GDP per capita of any nation, the citizens don't pay taxes and the unemployment rate is o.5%. Sounds too good to be true.
All those trillions in oil and natural gas money had to be spent somehow, so from nothing but an expansive swath of desert lapping the shores of the Persian Gulf. a glittering city that would put Oz to shame, has risen skyward. Over 40 years of building seems to be coming to a head with every new skyscraper competing for "most stunning" and every opulent condo complex heaving with amenities. The parks, the museums, the cultural center and the many mosques are equally designed to perfection. And, in furious preparation for the 2022 World Cup. a state-of-the-art metro and light rail system is being built. From scratch - in its entirety! No limited routes to start with - they are going for it including a massive network of underground tunnels. And just like each of the nine (that's right, nine!) new football stadiums under construction, each train station will be an architechtural marvel.
The only thing missing in this picture were people. Of course there were many, many constructions workers and staff of every kind but very few that looked like they actually lived there. I know they were there because there was steady traffic (we were told more than once that most every respectable Qatari family has at least four luxury cars). So we assumed everyone was in their air conditioned ride, making their millions on the 60th floor of an office tower, avoiding the heat in their opulent sandstone villas or hiding away in Hookah dens. They certainly weren't walking around Doha. Of course the wide boulevards and long distances between destinations made walking other than the evening stroll along the waterfront Corniche impractical. Mostly what we saw were Ferrari's, Mercedes and Land Rovers whizzing from one valet parking stand to the next.
Still it was eerie - all these glittering buildings, and landscaped promenades, and nobody home. Waiting for an Uber outside our building, we struck up a conversation with a real estate agent and learned that less than half of the 17,000 new condos were occupied (and many of those have absentee owners). Talk about overbuilt for the neighborhood! It occurred to me, however, if Americans were willing to eschew alcohol, dress modestly and prepare to be baked in the desert sun - this city could house hundreds of those of us looking for an escape for the next four years.
Back to the "Senior Nomads do Doha". We moved into our Airbnb in one of the many towers that form a man-made circular development called The Pearl. A few years ago this entire peninsula didn't exist! Here's what Wikipedia says:
The Pearl-Qatar (Arabic: اللؤلؤة قطر) in Doha, Qatar, is an artificial island spanning nearly four million square metres. It is the first land in Qatar to be available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals. As of January 2015, there are 12,000 residents.
Once fully completed, The Pearl will create over 32 kilometres of new coastline, for use as a residential estate with an expected 18,831 dwellings and 45,000 residents by 2018. Developed by United Development Company and planned by architecture and design firm Callison, the island is located 350 metres offshore of Doha's West Bay Lagoon area.
Not really knowing what to do during our stay, we scoured the Internet and stumbled on an event right out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. So, we spent our first day in Doha mingling with the glitterati at the Chi Al Shaqab 2017, a world-class horse jumping and dressage competition for the best riders from around the globe. The event was held at the equivalent of an equestrian kingdom built by his Royal Highness, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalfi Thani to house his many Arabian champions. It sprawls over 24 acres that includes two of the largest competition arenas in the the world. It was interesting to learn the intricacies of scoring dressage as we watched the intimate dance between horse and rider and the jumping was equally captivating. Take a look at this link to see the facility and clips from the show here.
We spent most of the day there, surrounded by Arab men in crisp white robes that were really floor length dress shirts. Their heads were covered with carefully folded white or red and whites scarves- Each carefully secured by black head bands ending with long, swaying tassels that ran down the back. Of course, since everyone is dressed almost exactly alike, to show off your status, it all comes down to the bling. Gold watches the size of bedside alarm clocks could be spotted from 10 yards away, the signature pen in the singular breast pocket (Mont Blancs were as common as Bic ballpoints), and bejeweled cuff links were also key. Beards appeared to be mandatory, and were immaculately trimmed to about two days growth.
Many of the women we saw were completely draped in black abayas including face coverings with just a small opening for the eyes. Most other woman wore a variation of the abaya or at least a headscarf and modest, loose fitting clothing. Tourists, expats, and non-conforming (mostly Qatari) women didn't cover their heads, but still wore modest western dress (no shorts, tank tops or mini-skirts). Again, the accessories told the story - especially handbags, jewelry and flawless make-up.
I was told that many famous designers are creating clothing for this affluent market. It was hard at first to tell the difference between one black swaddling and the next, but after a while you could start to see subtle differences. Maybe higher quality material, a little extra-fine embroidery or beading, or maybe a very discreet black-on-black designer logo stitched on the back. As for the children, the boys were often dressed as little Sheikhs and the girls twinkled and twirled pink from head to toe.
Beyond this day at the horses, we enjoyed the National Museum of Islamic Art (far more interesting than we expected), the bustling Souq Waqif - a labrynth of passages filled with stalls selling everything from food and spices, to clothing and household goods. The big surprise, however, was an entire section called The Bird Market. There were indeed hundreds of exotic birds for sale, but there were also cages and cages filled with kittens, puppies, bunnies, duckies, turtles, lizards, and even flying squirrels! We ducked down another alley to get away from the cacophony of critters only to find a hundred tanks full of exotic fish - and one large octopus.
We also visited a mosque or two and the Cultural Center - another large, amazing complex where staff and security far outnumbered the visitors. And finally, we visited the newest of many luxury shopping centers - The Mall of Qatar. With over 500 high-end shops we saw where the bling came from. And where all the people were.
If you find yourself intrigued by Doha, I suggest, especially if you are a football (soccer) fan, you consider booking soon for the 2022 World Cup. This will be the most amazing city on earth by then - just take a look at the stadiums under construction!
Now for a little serendipity. Three weeks ago in Paris, we connected with Daniel Kerzner, a friend and colleague we know through both Airbnb and Starwood Hotels. He is preparing to launch a great new website that will help hosts simplify their lives, maximize their bookings and get great reviews! Watch this space: theperfectstay.com We spent a day together filming a few test videos for content we might provide for the site.
It was great fun, and it turns out Daniel is like a human version of Linked-in. He seemed to know at least someone in every city we planned to visit, including Doha! To that end, he was able arrange a very special birthday dinner for me at the W Hotel there. Now, if you know these nomads, a W is not the first place to look if we go missing. So this was going to be a real treat. We dusted off our best duds (see, I told you I needed to pack a dress!) and headed to the hotel. Many of the executive staff knew we were coming and went out of their way to make it special. Dinner at Market by Jean-Georges was divine - and we left with an armload of goodies, including a personalized place-mat featuring highlights of our Senior Nomad adventures. I felt like Cinderella.
Meanwhile, back at our humble Airbnb in the Pearl we began contemplating our departure for Cape Town the next day. We were still riding the 30kg wave so again, no packing stress. Just the small inconvenience of 2:45 am departure. I guest you can't have everything!
We'll see you in Africa. Thanks for following along.
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads
P.S. Due to a snafu, we had to create an new Instagram account so if you were following @seniornomads switch to @theseniornomads. I miss you! Also, we were able to purchase the URL seniornomads.com - thank you to Carol Ann in British Columbia for transferring it. If you want to travel by RV in the US or Canada she's got a great website: www.RoamingRV.com.