When traveling to foreign countries I always attempt to find a few attractions off the beaten track. Botanical gardens are such a spot; as a biologist by I have visited gardens in places such as Paris, London, New Mexico, Hawaii … and now in Kyoto.
In a corner of the Kyoto Garden is an absolutely impressive collection of bonsais. In fact, it has inspired me to start growing a bonsai myself. I’m still in the information stage, so very little progress to report except that growing a bonsai doesn’t seem to be trivial. I will keep you posted!
I had about two hours off, so I grabbed the opportunity for a walk through the city center of Cairo. Very few tourists about, but many Egyptians who used the day for shopping – this was a religious holiday, and most Egyptians had a day off.
Below: a beautiful old mosque hidden deep in the narrow streets drew many local visitors. I tried to enter as well, but the doorman shouted “tomorrow!” And banged the door shut in my face. I presume they were just calling it a day. I checked my watch and it was almost five.
Below: in the absence of a guide or guidebook, neither purpose, name or history of the sites that I passed could easily be determined – yet their beauty was unchallenged. There is satisfaction in letting a town work on you, without constantly studying facts or staring into a smartphone.
Below: a boy selling bread in the street. He had a devastatingly loud whistle to get attention – this didn’t work too well, as he wasn’t selling much.
People out for a stroll and shopping. Merchants of the same trade share the same street: one street is full with dealers of carpets, another street for electric appliances, and yet another alley for shops that focus on metal pots and pans. The city is overflowing with people, millions and millions. The pictures do not bring this across, but Cairo is all about people, people and people.
Below the lobby of the hotel where I was staying. The room was freezing cold, air ongoing full blast, but the hotel was pleasant enough. Although: the breakfast buffet had a price tag of $30 – how much can a man eat for breakfast? I discovered that Qatari cheese is very salty and rubbery, takes gettin used to.
I learned a lot from my colleagues how the state of Qatar ticks and functions. It is intriguing how this society differs so much from ours, with strict Islam implemented.
Below: the skyline of Doha. Skyscrapers ate being built at rocket speed (like all over the world, seems to be the new pastime) but the country itself is mainly desert. With 300,000 Qataris and 2.5 million expats, the demographics are exceptional. There are a few additional cities, but they are in the desert, close to the natural gas fields and intended for the laborers. Here’s a tourist secret:… Doha is the most mind-numbing boring city that I have ever visited (and I have visited a few). My impression is that the Qataris hide and party (?) with their families behind the walls of their country estates; the migrants forlornly wander the boring streets trying not to think about alcohol: there isn’t any / much. I neither drink nor miss alcohol, but even for me Doha offered a new perspective on boredom.
Below: to defy the Saudi boycott, which kicked in 2018, the Qataris have put up portraits of the Emir all over to show their solidarity. The Arabs had hoped that the Qataris would topple their Emir, but no way, Jose.
The top photo shows a new development area with mansions being build for (upper) middle class; a social group that seems to be growing in size. However, as the picture elsewhere in my blog www.clemenssuter.com shows, not everybody is benefiting from economic opportunities – which aren’t really marvelous: the Egyptian pound dropped in value by half (!) in 2016. The picture at the bottom shows travelers from many different origins at Kuwait airport. The plane to Cairo suffered terrible delays, I arrived in Cairo at 2am.
Qatar is an emirate on the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is the next door neighbor, with Qatar itself sticking out into the Persian Gulf and bordered by the sea on three sides.
it was VERY hot and unexpectedly humid. Qatar is a desert country and I thought it would be hot and dry. Not so: the hot and humid air swapped in from the Persian Gulf. Qatar is very tidy and modern. The people who I met were industrious and friendly, yet perhaps a bit aloof.
Some Qatar facts
2.5 million people live in Qatar, of which 10% call themselves Qatari and have the hard-to-get passport. An Emir rules the country. Large natural gas reserves drive the economy. The vast majority of people come from other countries: they want to find work with better pay than in their home country. Taxi drivers and technologists, you meet people from all kinds of countries.
A hot and moist view from the hotel.
Above: An early morning view from the hotel. Persia / Iran is on the opposite side of this body of water. Kuwait is on the left, and the Emirates are on the right.
Below: The high-rise opposite of the hotel. None of these buildings are older than 10-15 years. Qatar is booming, and constant renewal is underway.
View from the Hilton
Experience the heat
Below: All buildings are air-conditioned. I entered my hotel room, and it was stunningly cold. I put the air-conditioner up to the 27C (it was on 18C originally), and after a few hours the temperature was halfway OK. On the other hand, as I walked out of the hotel lobby, the heat and humidity hit like a hammer, it felt like 50C. That was only on the first day, the following day was much better. Or did I get used to it? In any case, I wondered what the high of summer would be like. Locals said that depending on the time of year, a hot and very dusty wind blows from Africa, the Khamsin, which can cause a sense of nausia.
Leaving the hotel. The heat was excruciating.
Taken together: an intriguing country. I was glad that I visited for work, as I am not sure what sites a tourist would want to visit. Qatar is a desert country, with not much to see. Doha is a newly built ‘island’ of high rises and businesses. There are very few trees, and anything that is old or broken is replaced.