unallersimple: (hectopus)
[personal profile] unallersimple
My experience of Hamad International Airport was an interesting one because for a long time I was trapped inside it.

When you first step off the plane there you take great strides and beam with satisfaction because it's so clean, light and airy. Tired travellers are reenergised upon arrival.

So with one long journey over and a new country to explore on my 12 hour stopover I dashed excitedly to immigration in order to spend a few hours in Doha. I was told to wait. Lots of security and airline staff were standing around like office staff with nothing to do. No one would tell me what was going on or why. They made it sound like it would just be a few minutes, so I waited.

Then someone came up to me and told me to go downstairs to the airline tour desk. Which I did. Except after waiting 15 minutes the desk remained empty and when I asked elsewhere they said it was fully booked.

So I went back upstairs. Still not allowed out. Neither was anyone else. They said it was the case for all arrivals to the airport though it was hard to believe it. What do you do when so many armed men are standing nearby?

So I gave in to the temptation of watching the latest episode of my favourite TV show (which had aired in The States only hours before). I managed to find somewhere to plug in my phone and streamed a 40 minute episode in just under an hour and a half. Well done airport WiFi!

Afterwards I wondered back to the tour desk and signed up for the 11am free city tour without any problems. Guess it wasn't sold out after all?

When it was time all the passengers followed the tour desk clerk back up to immigration, were refused permission to leave and were walked back down the tour desk again. I was still sat there over an hour later! It didn't really make any difference to me...I could wait for my next flight there as well as anywhere but I hoped we would be allowed out soon as the twelve hours were slowly ticking away.

The disturbing thing is, the experience made the airport seem a lot more sinister...

Whenever I walked around looking for another potential way out uniformed airport staff or police would stop me and ask me what I doing.

Looking round the main hall in the terminal I saw almost as many staff as passengers. Were they refusing to let people in the airport too? If so what the hell was going on?! Would I be able to get my flight as normal? No one knew anything, or if they did they weren't telling when we asked. Even the tour operator was as lost and confused as we were, making lots of anxious and desperate sounding phone calls.

Cleaners wiped down pristine floors over and over again. Every empty shop had a sales assistant ready to greet you at the entrance. They all stood there and watched you walk by as they had nothing else to do but smile at you. It was all quite creepy!

Had I entered limbo? Purgatory? A Truman Show reality? I wasn't really sure what to make of it all. I just know that I wanted out.

Then half an hour later a member of airport staff came to get us and we were allowed out...just like that! Still no one could tell us anything apart from this had never happened before. Thanks for keeping me hostage for four hours, Hamad International Airport!

Once outside I took a photo, elated to have reached country number 30.

We were then ushered into a coach and driven into Doha. As we were so late out we didn't get to do the whole city tour,just two sections of it. I didn't mind, I was still happy to get the whole thing for free as if I had left the airport alone I would have had to pay for transport and a visa. Somehow the airline tour exempts passengers from those fees - so thanks Qatar Airways. I will fly with you again. :)

We went for a brief visit to the waterfront where we could see the skyscrapers of New Doha on an artificial island across the water. Then we had 30 mins in the main city markets which the tour guide informed us had been there for 250 years.

I was astonished because like everything in site it all looked new and completely artificial. Even in the places where grass grew it looked like every single blade had been put there by hand.

It also looked liked half of the city was currently being built. There was so many half finished buildings and cranes.

I learned from the guide that Qatar is a very small country (about the size of Yorkshire according to vaguelyinteresting.com). It's pretty much all desert on the coast as it has no natural groundwater of its own, it has to transport it all in.

If you are not born in Qatar then you can never become a citizen, you can only live there in a work visa which must be renewed every year. Citizens are guaranteed employment, education, healthcare etc. People start work early but finish at two in the afternoon. The king has his own airport terminal!

I wouldn't want to live there to be honest. We were barely out of the airport for two hours and it seemed like a place of two halves. One of luxury for the stinking rich citizens and one of painful working conditions and mistreatment for the foreigners doing all the undesirable jobs for the natives.

Back at the airport I settled in for the remaining six hour wait. I had hoped the city stopover would take longer! However once I'd eaten, taken several hour long naps, walked around the massive airport several times and took photos of silly statues (Google lamp bear, HIA!!) then it wasn't long before I was queuing to board my flight to Colombo.

What an odd way to spend a day!
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unallersimple

January 2016

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