This author has just passed through Doha international airport on an overnight stop-over of 12 hours, and he decided that he could not rest without penning a few words about that most extraordinary place.
It must go down as one of the most unusual and extraordinary buildings in the world. It is so extremely fascinating that I am wondering what I did taking a hotel room here. I could walk the hallways all night, being fascinated by everything that is going on here, on a 24-hour basis. However the hotel itself ought not to be missed. It too is also fascinating. It is quite enormous, and it turns out that the hotel is actually built into the architectural frame of the airport. So it is about as big as the airport itself.
You can wonder for miles in this airport, strolling past hundreds of shops all selling things you never had the slightest idea you might want to buy. I have never actually seen so fascinating an array of objects for sale, from the most exceptional women's high heeled shoes through caviar boxes that cost thousands of dollars through a raffle for a sports car (it is not clear how you get the car to your home if you win the raffle, although I did ask) and exquisite and exorbitant luxury goods. It turns out there are three well-hidden places selling alcohol (at least that I found), and at the time of writing I have just spent EUR17 buying a weak Budweiser beer. And here's what's more: the bar itself was so fascinatingly unusual, with literally hundreds of perfectly aligned bottles of alcohol spread neatly across a series of displays behind and around the bar, that I'm going to go back there again and have another one of those beers at that extraordinary price.
There are reading rooms, prayer rooms, television rooms, bathing rooms, quiet rooms, smoking rooms, sleeping rooms, you name it, they have a room for it. They have a gourmet food court for food from virtually every part of the world. They have shops selling all manner of extraordinary electronic goods you never thought existed, and pristine staff standing to attention willing to engage you in friendly conversation over any topic you wish. A wonderful French gentleman working at Louis Vuitton was kind enough to give me a five-minute personal guide across the airport to where I wanted to go, our cantering along in a mixture of English and French as we walked. The staff all stand erect and stiffly to attention waiting upon imaginary customers in these cavernous shops selling luxury goods at eye watering prices, desperate to interact with any customers who might pass by.
What I can't understand is why more people don't find this building and everything in it so fascinating. Most of the passengers passing through the airport seem universally miserable, as they sit there in glum silence supping grimly on their overpriced beers or exceptional curry served with the best quality plastic knives and forks. I will probably end up spending the small hours walking up and down the corridors, looking at all the unusual things for sale and chatting with the chirpy staff impeccably turned out at 2 O'Clock in the morning. I could write a whole article just about this airport. But enough. I must get back to looking around it. There is too much of interest in this unusual and fascinating place to absorb before my regrettably early flight tomorrow.
I have now departed Doha International Airport, and its hauntingly exotic experience still lingers in my mind. Here are some of the other things I learned about the airport in the short night of sleep I elected for so as to explore its eccentricities ever more acutely.
There is an enormous, and apparently unexplained, giant yellow teddy bear sitting slumped and smiling sweetly in the central concourse.
There is very little natural light. The same light levels apply some 24 hours a day, even in the swimming pool on the top of the hotel which itself is hermetically sealed in concrete.
There is an extraordinary shortage of devices telling the time (apart from watches costing thousands of dollars in luxury shops). This seems a curious feature for an airport. It is almost as if you are being encouraged to lose yourself in there and stay forever in this airport paradise, missing your flight so that you can experience yet another 24 hours inhaling this mysterious oriental narcotic.
One curious feature of the staff is that nobody seemed to know what was for sale in other shops - only theirs - or they seemed to be under restrictions about what sorts of information they were allowed to give you. There was a mobile telephone shop selling only some very expensive sorts of mobile phone with correlative price tags but an extremely chatty lady; when I said I wanted to buy some different, somewhat cheaper sort of mobile telephone with different features not available in her shop, she reverted from comprehensive knowledge of everything she knew about mobile phones to stone faced ignorance. In the end I could never find a normal mobile phone shop. Perhaps there wasn’t one.
Some of the staff (e.g. those with uniforms marked “security personnel”) didn’t seem to know anything at all about where anything was. This occurred to me as most unlikely: that the security personnel don’t know their way around the airport that it is their responsibility to render secure. Rather they directed me to someone else who did have authority to give me directions.
All of the artwork in the hotel is entirely abstract, presumably in accordance with Islamic conventions but non-abstract images appeared elsewhere in the airport.
The building has almost a dull dystopian quality to it, as though driven by an invisible guiding hand towards ever more intensely neurotic perfection.
In this regard the airport might be thought to resemble an extremely wealthy version of Belarus, a society in which all matters are organised to the impeccable timing of a semi-autistic autocrat who imagines his ceaseless labours misguidedly benign.
Whatever one thinks of Doha International Airport, it is undoubtedly extraordinary, eccentric, unusual and fantastical in equal measure. It easily merits a 12-hour layover, but probably with the benefit of the exorbitantly priced hotel.