It was 8.00 a.m. by the time we managed to rouse ourselves from our luxuriously comfortable bed, and on opening the window blinds were pleased to note that weather in the Middle East had returned to normal, following the previous day’s heavy rain.
After another leisurely breakfast on the Al Terrace balcony we sipped cappuccinos and feasted on smoked salmon and scrambled eggs whilst glancing at the morning’s copy of the Gulf Times which was dominated by the unprecedented thunderstorms, localised flooding and the exceptional low midday temperatures of 19 degrees Celsius. I’d be more than happy to experience that temperature any time in the U.K.!
Breakfast completed, we arranged an Uber from the hotel to take us over to Education City so that we could visit the Qatar National Library. Our journey of 16.7 km took 30 minutes and came to just QR 22 (£4.70). The library welcomes visitors and after a quick security screening formality we were able to wander around at our leisure.
This state of the art building opened in April 2018 under the auspices of the Qatar Foundation for Education. It has a three fold function as the country’s national library, the central public library and as a research level university library. It was designed by the renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and I loved the shelving which was cleverly designed in raised, stepped sections around the edge of the building.
Wandering around, we explored the section containing the Qatari heritage collection of rare books and manuscripts, the children’s library computer labs and writing centre. There’s also a cafe called Safahat translated as ‘Pages’ and a separate restaurant. The spacious interior also contains numerous learning and performance spaces with activities as diverse as monthly free concerts by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra to weekly knitting groups.
Natural light streams in through the huge windows and in one area we discovered a line of flags and some Filipino girls asked us to take their photo with their flag so we unfurled the Union Jack and had our photo taken too! We adore visiting libraries and were so pleased that we had made the effort to add this newly opened one in Doha to our ever growing list.
On leaving the building, we took a stroll through the adjacent Oxygen Park which is home to overseas campuses of several leading universities including University College London (UCL) and North Western University. The area is still in its infancy with a huge amount of construction taking place, but in between all the cranes and building works there is still plenty to see.
Towering behind some of the university campuses stands the futuristic Education City Mosque in the Minaretein building. This distinctive building rests on five large columns representing the five pillars of Islam. The Mosque has a capacity of 1,800 worshippers in its main prayer hall with space for an additional thousand in its courtyard. A tram line was nearing completion which will provide access to the Education City metro station scheduled to open next year making the district easily accessible by public transport from all parts of the city.
Spotting a shady spot with a few benches, we rested our legs a few minutes for a welcome drink of water then returned to the library by a different route passing an athletics track on our way. From the doorway of the library we accessed the free Wi-Fi and ordered an Uber to take us the short distance to Aspire Park. Our taxi arrived within a few minutes and our 20 minute journey cost QR 18 (£3.85). The driver dropped us off outside the huge Villaggio Mall but before looking in there, we decided to follow a path to the Khalifa International Stadium which was the venue for the recent World Athletics Championships. The stadium will also host several matches of the forthcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament.
Alongside the stadium stands the Aspire Torch which comprises a hotel and viewing tower. Not feeling the need to ascend the tower, we continued on our way exploring some of the many sporting activity buildings comprising Doha Sports City.
In the distance we could see a small boating lake with a cafe so we wandered towards it but there seemed little activity save for a few ducks gliding across the water. We then retraced our steps to visit the Villaggio Mall enjoying the cool air conditioned atmosphere. The Venetian themed mall is similar in style to the ones we had previously visited in Las Vegas and Macau. The section where we entered was given over to luxury brands and seemed almost deserted but moving on to the other wings with household names, it soon became busier.
We enjoyed tea and cakes in the food court sitting at a table overlooking an ice hockey rink. Local teams regularly play there, offering free games if it coincides with a visit. Before leaving, we explored the rest of the mall with its feature canal and gondolas. The mall is OK but I wasn’t over impressed and only really visited because we wanted to visit the surrounding park. From the mall we took an Uber back to the hotel, taking 25 minutes QR22 (£4.70).
Back in the hotel we again enjoyed some complimentary Arabic coffee and dates before relaxing awhile in the sauna. We then spent our final evening in Doha wandering through the Souq inhaling the heady aromas of the Spice Souk and stroking the fluffy baby rabbits in the bird and small animal Souq.
Instead of dining in a restaurant, we were tempted to eat at an Afghanistan Kebab cafe in the heart of the Souq. It seemed very popular and we were extremely lucky to find a table just as it was being vacated. We ordered a selection of beef, lamb and chicken kebabs to share with salad, flat bread and a bowl of houmous. It was delicious, very atmospheric and extremely good value as our total bill amounted to QR 55 (£11.75) including drinks.
To round off the evening we wandered across to the waterfront and as the sky was clear we had some good views of the twinkling lights on the skyscrapers across the bay. Back at the hotel we gathered our belongings together in readiness for the second stage of our holiday.
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