Tuesday, 11 November 2008

More Qatar Contrasts

Now that the weather is much more bearable- you can stand outside without melting- we are beginning again to explore our surroundings. Last week we were taken down the THE PEARL, a fully manmade island off the coast of Doha which is shaped like a pearl shell with an inland harbour. There will eventually be thousands of people living here in high rise apartments and villas and houses with an elegant shopping/coffee strip and extravagant places to moor boats all around the inland perimeter. This island has been designed in architectural sections- the first part finished is supposed to resemble Venice. They have been selling off these apartments over the past 2 years to anyone who has 10% deposit to put down. We have several friends who have invested in this project and who hope to cover their repayments when the time comes by renting their apartments out for a very high rent. It will be the place to live for those who like to be in a community where all facilities are at your fingertips and everything looks sparkling new with no expense spared when it comes to quality fittings. The best way to demonstrate this part of town is to attach photos for your perusal. I believe that the cost of apartments is rising quite quickly, so if  you are thinking of an investment in the Middle East, perhaps this is the one!
The next day we drove with a convoy of 4WD vehicles into the desert heading for the inland sea. Of course the first thing you do is to let much of the air out of your tyres. The second thing you do is head on up a large sand hill until you are at the top, ready to descend an equally steep drop on the other side. At this point I leapt out of the car and walked down the hill to take photographs (well, that was my excuse). I had read many times in our local papers that there have been many bad accidents in this part of the world, so I was not willing to take chances. Steve loved it of course. As we wound our way further along the coast for an hour, I really enjoyed being amongst white sand dunes again and when we stopped at the edge of the inland sea to have lunch and a swim it felt wonderful to be there. Across the inland sea you can see Saudi, behind a huge nest of Osprey perched on a little island. On our way home our 15 year old took the wheel and really enjoyed himself as he drove across the sand on the way home. Quite weird to be finally driven by your son! The thing that intrigued me out there were the tents perched in seaside places all along the coastline. I found out that Qataris can pay a yearly fee of 500QR (about $180) to 'rent' the space where their tent permanently sits. This means that they have a beachside home for very little for as long as they like. What a wonderful idea- I don't think we expats are allowed to do this but we will enquire.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

From Curry to Grits to Orchestras to tennis in Doha

Just to prove that this is a city that is offering everything, I will tell you about our last couple of days here in Doha. We decided to eat out on Thursday night (beginning of the weekend ) and took some friends to a restaurant we had heard was good. Sure enough, we had the most wonderful Indian meal in a gorgeous setting nearby. Cost? $15 each and we were well fed with delicious curries and biryani and such. The following morning we were invited to Riks for breakfast, just to set the weekend into relaxing mode. We finally found this little place in the back of a dusty car park in a part of town we do not know very well. It was like stepping into Mary's Restaurant in Hibbing, where the menu is the same as Riks- you can eat grits, hot cakes and gravy, omelette and eggs easy over, hash browns of a sort and even a kind of bacon made from something other than pork of course. Sitting at our table were two Harley riders who had just been for their regular morning spin around Qatar- leaving at 5.30 a.m. to avoid heat and dangerous driving! I had to pinch myself to remember where I really was. 
That evening we dressed up in our fancy clothes and ventured out to the National Theatre where the new Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra were to perform their first ever concert. This orchestra has been collected from all around the world in the past year, with musicians from 30 different countries; many parts of Europe, Asia, Russia, Uk and America. Unfortunately I couldn't find one Australian or New Zealander, but never mind. They were predominantly young people who were obviously incredibly talented. 101 of them play traditional orchestral instruments and this group played Beethoven and Ravel in the first half. From the moment they began there was the most delicious balance of instruments and we were just transported into another world. In the second half we heard the World Premiere of the Arabian Concerto, composed by Marcel Khalife , who is a world famous oud player (has toured Australia). He was asked to compose this piece for the orchestra and it became a wonderful blend of the traditional orchestral sounds and those of 5 incredible musicians playing Tabla, Bouzouq, Ney, Qanoun and Oud. The music was truly wonderful, understandably coming out of the mind of such a man-  what a treat to be at this concert, with the composer quietly sitting behind us in the audience. I read on my program that he has been named the music director and the resident composer of this newly founded orchestra. What other treats might we be in store for?? I loved the Arabic feel of this rolling, majestic piece of music. He must have been bursting with pride listening to his beautiful orchestra last night.
So what next? Tomorrow brings the start of the tennis tournament nearby. The Sony Ericson Championships where we get to see such greats as; S Williams, Ivanovic, Dementieva, Safina and Jankovic. My seat cost $2.50 so I think I will be getting my money's worth!!