I had travelled down to London the previous evening where I met my son at the Premier Inn, Gatwick Airport. This hotel is conveniently located at the north terminal and can be easily accessed from Gatwick Railway Station at the south terminal by means of the inter-terminal shuttle service which takes only two minutes. It was the third time that we had stayed at this hotel and although large and busy we have always enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
Our Qatar Airways flight to Doha was scheduled to depart at 11.10 a.m. so we didn’t need to get up too early and could have a leisurely breakfast. Qatar Airways flights depart from the north terminal so all we had to do was to cross the road into the terminal building and look for the bag drop desk as passengers can check-in on-line up to 36 hours prior to departure. Thankfully there were no queues and we swiftly made our way through to security which was also a speedy process – well done Gatwick!
All formalities taken care of, we browsed the duty free shops and I sampled some perfume before making our way to the Red Lion, an airside branch of the J.D.Wetherspoon chain of pubs. The pub was crowded but luck was with us as we managed to grab a table just as some other people were leaving. Rather than queuing ages to be served at the bar, we made use of our phone app and a few minutes later our mugs arrived. Hot drinks in Wetherspoon’s are refillable and we each enjoyed two cappuccinos. As we were about to leave, a girl enquired if she could share our table and we had a little chat. She told us that she was returning home to Toronto on Westjet, her flight departing at exactly the same time as our own!
On the way to our gate we picked up some complimentary newspapers and it then seemed no time at all until we were boarding our Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner to Doha with a flight time of 6 hours 55 minutes. Our chosen seats (passengers on Qatar Airways are able to pre-select seats when booking at no extra charge) were in the front section of the economy cabin in seats 17A and 17B. After the cabin doors closed it soon became apparent that our flight was only 60% full and although the configuration was 3-3-3, we were fortunate not to have a passenger sitting next to us. The cabin interior was very modern and in good condition but it was a little disappointing to find used headphones and menus from a previous flight in our seat pockets.
The flight departed promptly with lunch and drinks being served approximately 90 minutes later. From the printed menu I selected Chicken Biryani whilst my son opted for the other meat option, Beef Thai Green Curry. Drinks were served at the same time and our glasses of red wine which were served from full sized bottles were generous with a smooth taste. The food trays were plentiful and our couscous starters tasty. On peeling back the lids of our chosen main courses we decided to swap, preferring each other’s choice but both tasting good. We then tucked into slices of blackcurrant cheesecake, followed by cheese and crackers, a bread roll and a Kit-Kat biscuit. When the drinks trolley reappeared we requested a second glass of wine each but as the flight attendant had just emptied her last bottle, she made a note and said she would serve them shortly. Our coffee was a little on the strong side for our liking but on requesting an extra milk sachet it was much improved.
Feeling relaxed after our lunch we settled down to watch a film but had difficulties using the touch screens as they were faulty. We had to press at the screen dozens of times before anything happened and hoped that, in the process, we weren’t annoying the passengers sitting on the row in front with our constant jabbing. I finally got my Oryx entertainment service to work and was able to watch the delightful film ‘Christopher Robin’ starring Ewan Macgregor. Sadly, my son was unable to get the headphones to work in either of the two remaining seats so he just read the newspapers until my film had finished and then we exchanged seats. On my recommendation he also watched Christopher Robin and enjoyed it very much too. Our second round of drinks never seemed to materialise so we ordered two more from another flight attendant who seemed much more attentive and friendly. Needless to say, these drinks arrived quickly with the original ones finally making an appearance later. It hadn’t been our intention to have three drinks but it would have been a shame to waste them!
About two hours before landing snack boxes were distributed with a choice of chicken and chickpea savoury pastries or a vegetarian alternative. This was accompanied with a warm chocolate muffin with a delicious gooey chocolate sauce. Although alcoholic drinks were offered we couldn’t face any more so opted for refreshing glasses of pineapple juice and cups of coffee before landing into Hamad International Airport, Doha at 9.00 p.m. local time (3 hours ahead of GMT).
After disembarking from the aircraft via an airbridge we followed signs to immigration where we counted 43 desks, however only five were in use, two of which were allocated for foreign visitors. The queue was exceedingly long and it took us at least an hour to reach the front. At the desk we just needed to explain that we were participating in the Discover Qatar Stopover Programme and our passports were stamped and 48 hour visa permits affixed.
After such a lengthy wait at immigration it was hardly surprising that our luggage was waiting for us on the baggage carousel which had long since stopped operating. After reclaiming our luggage we tried in vain to connect to the airport’s free wi-fi to order an Uber taxi to our hotel. A new metro system is due to start operating shortly which will make travelling to and from the airport and around the city much easier. There were regular taxis available but before taking one of these we went in search of the airport bus station from where we caught a 777 bus to Souq Waqif, where our hotel was located.
This service operates every 20 minutes and a single ticket costs 10 RYD (£2). A coach was operating on the route and the driver kindly put our luggage into the hold and let us know when we had arrived at the nearest stop to the hotel which was along the Corniche (waterfront). Before making our way over to the hotel we paused to take in the dramatic skyline views then used Google Maps on our phone to locate the five star Souk Waqif Hotel which was one of the options available on the Discover Qatar Stopover Programme.
The Souq Waqif Hotel actually comprises nine small boutique hotels all of which are five star and within easy walking distance of each other around the Souk. The stopover package includes a range of four and five star hotels and although I am sure they are all extremely good, we chose to stay in the Souq for a more authentic experience. Reservations do not specify which of the nine Souq Waqif hotels guests have been allocated to so we just needed to call in the first one we came across and check-in there. Our check-in experience was very efficient and within a few minutes we were being escorted to an electric club car and driven through the souk to the Musheireb Boutique Hotel where we would be spending the next two nights.
The concierge showed us to our room, placed our luggage on racks and connected our electronic devices to the Wi-Fi for us. Our deluxe room on the first floor was the epitome of luxury and after a refreshing cup of tea we set off for a late evening stroll around the Souq which was still buzzing with activity late on a Friday evening.
We had never experienced anything like it before with people sitting out in the cool (16 degrees) evening air on the outside terraces of the many attractive restaurants. We had a little walk through the narrow lanes of the souk where Persian rugs, baskets and many other items were hanging outside shop doorways to tempt people indoors.
It was around midnight when we finally returned to our hotel and we were soon fast asleep in our extremely comfortable bed after enjoying the start of another of our adventures.
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