Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekend in Doha, Qatar - Souq Waqif

On Wednesday, Brian had to go to Doha, Qatar (about an hour away by plane) for a business meeting, so we decided to take advantage of his flight and hotel and I joined him on Thursday for a long weekend. Coincidentally, I also needed to renew my visit visa and this was the perfect excuse.

We stayed at the Gloria Hotel, which was in what they have dubbed "the heart of Doha" and it ended up being the perfect location. We were within walking distance of all the major attractions of the city and only took a taxi once to get to the Villagio mall (more on that in a future post). I arrived in Doha about 6pm and met up with Brian at the hotel. Luckily, he was able to switch from his original room, which was really small and a smoking room that stunk to a non-smoking suite that had a cute little sitting room and a nice large bathroom with a whirlpool tub. I'm told I should be eternally grateful for this as the previous room was awful.

We got settled in and then headed out to find some desert (I had eaten on the plane and Brian had a big late lunch). We decided to explore the Souq Waqif. A souq (or souk) is a market. In the past, these were open air markets or perhaps in tents. These days, they have been newly built to look old and have become a tourist attraction as well as a place to shop. The souqs I've found in Abu Dhabi so far have been more like multiple small shops in a strip mall setting, while the Souq Waqif was built to resemble the souqs of old and is a lot more interesting.

It was Thursday night (remember that's like Friday back home) and it was about 6:45 or so, so things were just starting to get busy. By 8pm, the place was packed. This is a view of the parking lot, which was actually pretty well organized. In Abu Dhabi, cars would be parked in any which direction, irregardless of any painted lines.

This is a wider main alley that takes you into the center of the souq where there are a number of restaurants and coffee shops. As usual, there were a variety of people there - Arabs, Asians, Indians, Westerners. You could spot the tourists immediately as they were either a) wearing shorts or b) taking photos. Brian and I never wear shorts in public, but with my camera, I was readily identifiable as a tourist.

A view of the central restaurant area. It's probably about 8pm at this point and just starting to get busy. We went back the following night (Friday) and it was closer to shoulder to shoulder with people. Not by coincidence, I'm sure, this is also where the "handicraft" shop are (aka tourist junk). We didn't find any good tourist junk to bring home with us, unfortunately.

Here's a shot of the souq in the daytime. We ended up there about 4 times during the weekend because it was close, interesting and a good place to get food. Notice how empty the place is - this is probably about 11am on Friday morning. Because Friday morning-early afternoon is the Muslim holy day, most places aren't busy at all and many aren't even open until about 4pm in the evening on Fridays. Because the Souq caters to so many tourists, a lot of the shops and restaurants were open on Friday too.

So what can one buy at this market? In a word, EVERYTHING! There were areas selling cloth with tailors right next door, candy & chocolate, hardware, cleaning supplies, rice & grains, toys, perfumes, musical instruments, bikes ... About the only thing I didn't see was gold (that's a separate souq a few streets away), butcher shops (also a few streets away) and fruits and vegetables. But some of my favorite areas of the Souq are captured below in the photos.

This is a photo from the spice souq area. I only wish I knew what more of the spices were. It smelled wonderful - like an exotic Penzy's store. You can find bulk spices like this at the hypermarkets in Abu Dhabi as well. As I get more brave, we're going to have to try some of these out.

If you look closely at the shop signs, you'll see that this is the pet souq. If there is anything like this in Abu Dhabi, I haven't seen it. This area was incredible - loud, noisy, lots of people, and of course, all kinds of different animals. We saw lizards, turtles, all kind of birds, kittens, puppies, rabbits ... and baby chicks.

Yes, this is what you think it is. Brightly colored baby chicks in pink, blue, green and purple. We were told that they spray them with something to make them that color ... at that point, we stopped asking questions, not sure if we really wanted to know how they did it. We saw baby bunnies in these crazy colors as well.

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