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Knowing me knowing you, Doha That's a first

[Sorry about the delay in posting this, for those among you who like follwing along "live". I've been busy]

Woke up in my 37th floor hotel room in Doha, Qatar, very late. The previous day had properly taken it out of me, and while I was delighted to discover I could actually hear I was still nothing like 100%. Thankfully I had literally nothing planned for the day, so there was no reason to hurry out of bed other than to look out the window and see if things were any prettier in daylight.

No, not really. Never mind. Looks hot out there. Think I'll stay in bed, though the aircon is still vicious. Being bored within seconds of anything I managed to find on TV I turned it off and binged on podcasts while chatting to Helen and bemoaning my lost inhaler, and how much of a royal pain in the arse it looked like getting a prescription in Australia was going to be. Bleurgh.

Doesn't look much like a world cup stadium to me.

Come 1230 I figured I'd have a shower and get dressed and think about food. I briefly researched options outside the hotel, there's a big fancy mall a 10 minute walk away, but it was like 36 celsius or something and frankly I could do without all the sweating. Still had 3.5hrs to kill though, grr.

I went down to the lobby just to scope out if there was an obvious shady pavement, and there wasn't. Tons of staff though. My phone was playing silly buggers and refusing to connect to hotel wifi so even if I'd wanted to get an Uber somewhere like the Souq Waqif or Corniche or whatever, I couldn't. So sod it, I got the lift back up to the second floor and went into Square.

Because the Intercontinental is right in the diplomatic and business district, all the restaurants and bars cater to non-residents of the hotel and there is lots of choice. Square is a giant buffet; I got escorted to a table by a window overlooking a concrete mixer, via a tour of all the different foods available. Blimey. And I asked for a diet Coke, got given a diet Pepsi, served in a jam jar with a handle. Is there no escape from hipsterisms?

Being pretty ravenous, I pigged out. First a plate full of meat and rice and potatoes, then a plate full of vegetables and bread, and then some very very nice cherry pie and other sweet goods. Full of apologies, the lady who'd shown me to my seat had come back to tell me that I was unable to charge this to my room after all, so she'd instead given me a 25% discount. I have no idea why that happened, but anyway I paid and set off back to my room.

Upstairs I wrote the preceding blog post about my day in Oslo and flight from there to here, panicking a bit when at 3.15pm the desk phone next to me made a piercing noise and then rebooted itself. At least that made me look at the clock though. Abandoning the blog, I got changed, packed and repacked, and buggered off back downstairs.

Checking out, I asked the guy if it was acceptable to summon Uber to the hotel front. In an attempt to be helpful he took the phone from me and then struggled badly to use it, when all I'd really been doing was making sure they're not precious about it. Anyway, while he was trying to call the driver I got a notification that he was already here, and skedaddled. The bloke was much less friendly than my ride the previous night, in fact he didn't say a single thing other than "fine" when I asked how he was. Oh well, time to see what Doha proper looks like in the daytime at least.

Mostly, proper Doha looks like this. Tons and tons of modern skyscrapers of all different shapes and sizes. It's really quite impressive.

The ride is mostly one long motorway, which starts off being "the Corniche". This is a huge semi-circular waterfront full of dhows and stuff, I'm surprised to see quite a few runners out. At one point I see a car marked "rasta limousine", and elsewhere I see the museum of Islamic art and other touristy stuff... though not much of it.

There is way more traffic than the previous night, as I had been warned would be the case, but that's OK because my 4pm departure was deliberately chosen to be plenty early - flight wasn't until gone 8pm after all.

Without a word, the driver sailed past the dedicated first and business class entrance and dumped me up at economy. How very dare he! Knows he not who I is?

Inside there's a large smile on a member of Qatar Airways staff welcoming me, and directing me straight to the dedicated immigration lines and securty for business class passengers. It's ridiculously quiet and I am through in absolutely no time.

Unfortunately it then dumps you back into the regular terminal with all its duty free shops and stuff, and I am lost. I've been to the business class lounge before but can't find it and can't see any signs to it. Actually I can see a sign to the "business class lounge" but that's confusing. Qatar Airways have 4 lounges, two are called "business class" and "first class" while the other two are much posher, and I'm allowed in the poshest-but-one: Al Mourjan.

Been looking forward to this since my only previous time here, when I inadvertently transited during Ramadan meaning the lounge had no food, no booze, no drink except water. Not really the experience I personally opt for. This time round however is a different kettle of fish, and having read so many great things about the place I'm very keen to see how drunk I can get.

First I dump one of my bags in a locker, then I go and explore. The place is huge, and I do a full circuit around the giant water feature (pictured above) looking at all the different seating arrangements, rooms off to the side, etc, and realising that there are no drinks anywhere. At the opposite end is a sit down restauranty bit but I'm not bothered by that, the Square meal was big and I want to save myself for the plane anyway.

Up the huge staircase there are two big buffet food areas and also a long staffed bar, with seats available. Huzzah! So I take a seat at the bar and order a champagne. As I do so, the sound of conversations from my left and right echo through my head: it seems I'm where the English drunks hang out.

One guy in particular sounds really pretty drunk. I'm not out to say he was being a massive twat, but he was loud, and peppering his conversation with swear words in a way which may not be appropriate for this setting at that volume. The barman asked him when his flight was and he said not until 2am - like, 8 hours time. A few minutes later someone else comes and has a gentle word, encouraging him to go grab his airport hotel room now.

It doesn't escalate far - he never gets out of control, certainly not violent, etc - but it escalates long. I guess it travelates more than escalates. The guy who appears to be the manager pours the bloke one more beer and says sir, please have this and then it would be best for you to go, and for the next half hour or so all the bloke and his temporary mate can talk about is how he's not that pissed, he's not offended anyone, he's not violent, he's got an amazing tolerance anyway, and besides, he's a loyal Qatar Airways privilege club member don't you know? These themes are on repeat worse than the BBC World rolling news, but it is high comedy to me.

With no further scene made he leaves. I realise I'm in danger of going the same way, getting through three glasses of champagne inside the first 50 minutes or so - but I still don't really want to go eat, especially not in a restaurant-ish setting. In fact, as nice as this is I realise the lounge is not all I had expected. I prefer self-service to a bar, and when I fancy downgrading from champagne to beer I prefer to have more choice than Heineken, Heineken or Heineken.

So, I got the iPad out and finished the previous blog post. Not even wanting any more booze, I went downstairs to retrieve my bag and sat with a plate of cookies waiting for it to upload. While doing so I fired up the Qatar Airways app on my phone and, hmm, hang on, why is it saying my seat has changed?

Gate C12 is a long walk, certainly longer than the C10 I present myself too (same plane - it's an A380 - but economy class). I go through secondary security then hand my paper boarding pass plus passport to the woman at the counter. I am giddy with excitement and anticipation. The machine makes a weird beep and she stares at the screen then taps the keyboard a bit.

Sir, you've been upgraded to first class.

Yes! Yes! Yes! I bloody knew it. The app said I was in seat 1A which instantly raised my heartrate, but it also said I was still in business, But I knew the plane was almost completely sold out and that Qatar Airways are nice to us shiny card holders on occasion. Woohoo! First class! Five days previously they'd offered me an upgrade for just over £1,000 and I was like, pfft, no chance, there's no way first is worth that much over business. But now that I've been given it for free I'm like, woohoo! They just gave me a grand's worth of upgrade! I'm such a dick like that.

Anyway. Hello, seat 1A on the Qatar Airways A380. I appear to be the only person in the cabin (which does, after all, only have 8 seats; given there are 517 on the plane I'm not quite the top 1%, but top 1.5% will do).

Jennifer comes along, her face 80% smile, and welcomes me onboard. She takes one bag and my coat and places them into my personal wardrobe, and while I'm settling into the cavernous seat and gawping at the ludicrously large TV screen she's off to fetch me a glass of champagne and a cold towel. Krug is good fizz, right? It certainly tastes it.

Some olives and cheese arrive too, and a refill, while a family of 5 have the run of the cabin to pick which of the other 7 seats they want. Menus arrive, I'm told where to find bottled water and headset, and am delivered an amenity kit and some large pyjamas and told where the changing room is. Changing room? What?

While still on the ground I also have a cup of Arabian coffee, poured from a fancy gold coffee pot right in front of me. I absolutely hate the smell of coffee but this doesn't smell like it, so I take a gamble that the name is confusing and it's actually not really coffee. Sadly, I think it is. Whatever it is I dislike it and try not to grimace when refusing a second cup.

I am, however, VERY EXCITED to pick my food, and tickled that there's a choice of dipping oils for the bread.

The wine list I'm not bothered by, but have a look if you're interested. I mean I'll just stick with the Krug please, and have some port later on 'n that.

The USB socket on this plane actually delivers power, albeit only for a minute at a time. Hmm. And I can't get the inflight entertainment system to entertain me. Once we're in the air I ask "should this be working by now?" The handset is working, but the TV doesn't respond to my requests at all, and I'd quite like to watch American Animals. It absolutely should be working already, so they reboot it. Twice.

With it still not working as I eat my starter, they are super apologetic and test that the system in 1E is working fine - it is, so they'll set up subsequent courses over there. I nip to the loo and return, briefly sitting back in 1A to pick up my charging cable etc and see, oh, it's working now... so can I stay here? Sorry to be a pain. Ahem.

It's all fine. Food arrives, continually accompanied by incessant top-ups of Krug, and ... it stops working again. I decline to mention it because this is getting silly now. I have podcasts I can listen to and anyway I'm online because they gave me a voucher code for the wifi and I'm talking to Kevin and Helen about HOLY SHIT I'M IN FIRST CLASS. Mind you Kevin appears to already know, somehow.

The wifi actually works well enough that Helen is able to provide me with a stream of updates about Buster the cat, who is on the living room window sill back home pulling all kinds of faces.

I cannot look at that picture without laughing my head off.

It all starts with a plate of caviar. I mean I could've chosen something else but OF COURSE I WAS GOING TO CHOOSE CAVIAR.

The bread is like these three types of bread all amalgamated into one. Seems like a lot of effort.

I can remember very little about the soup other than it being nice. I mean by now I am pretty hammered as well, to be honest.

The pasta main is absolutely bloody gorgeous. But to be clear, nothing (caviar and Krug aside) is a particularly vast step up from business class - but that just goes to show how good they are in business anyway.

"Are you ready for cheese?" and "May I offer you some more champagne?" are two of the more ludicrous questions I'm asked.

What I expect to be an attempt in vain to watch some TV actually succeeds, so now everything is hunky dory. I've told the crew I fully intend to go visit the onboard bar down behind business class - like, a staffed bar on a plane 'n that, which I've been aching to visit since booking this trip - but instead I immediately fall asleep. Still in civvies rather than PJs, seat not in bed mode, I basically just pass out from the massive indulgence.

A few hours later I wake up and I'm not feeling awesome. Not terrible by a long shot, but not awesome. What's woken me is turbulence, as we are being batted about a fair bit. Annoyingly I am quite desperate for the loo but the seat belt signs remain on for like 2 hours or so. I'm up like a shot once they go off.

In my seat I drink water and watch 4 episodes of Bulletproof back to back. A member of crew notices I'm awake and comes to ask if I want anything. Diet Coke, please. She also takes the piss out of me for falling asleep and not visiting the bar or anything. 20 or so minutes later she comes back, asking what I want since I used the call bell. Eh? Did I? Well the light is on, but if I pressed the button it was definitely an accident. D'oh!

Next up on TV I watch Den of Thieves, and have my breakfast order taken. I go for a plate of fruit to start with, and it is mostly terrible.

Arabic pancakes are, however, delicious - but I am way to bloated and full to get even close to finishing them. You'd think I'd remember that drinking only highly fizzy drinks while spending 10+ hours in a pressurised tube does this to me.

With an hour to go before landing all the windows are open and Australia looks Australian down below. Jennifer once again says how sad she is that I never visited the bar, and that I could still go now if I wanted. I tell her I'll do so on my way home instead.

We're approaching Sydney airport from the north, which means flying over Sydney harbour. Cool! Shame it's cloudy and grey.

Upon landing I'm online and talking to Kevin, who is waiting at arrivals with my two nieces. I tell him I might be a while because I've ticked "yes" to one of the customs question - y'know, the one about are you bringing medicines, illicit drugs, weapons, or pornography.

There's a different delay first though. The airbridge takes an age to attach, and when it finally does an announcement comes on the tannoy saying everyone sit back down, there's an ill passenger and the paramedics need to get on. So everyone sits. Then they say OK, that's done you can go - followed immediately by someone else saying no, sit back down again. On the third attempt we're finally allowed to leave.

Gave me a chance to get a daytime shot of the seat though.

7pm is a pretty dead time for international arrivals at Sydney and being virtually first off helps too, so I zoom to a self-service kiosk and print out my immigration ticket. The auto-barrier lets me through and I'm first to get to the luggage carousel which isn't yet moving. Bah. A roving member of border security (the agency, not the TV show) comes to check my papers and I wait patiently for my bag, which is about 50th to come out. Bah.

Going through the red channel handing over my "yes" slip, the guy says "I assume that's prescription medicine? Just go through, mate" and I'm done. Wait, what? That ended up being quicker than the nothing to declare line because, well, there was an actual line there. And they didn't want to actually see the stuff I was declaring - which could've been illicit drugs, pornography, etc! Well at least I know what extra presents I can bring in future.

At arrivals my nieces Harry and Alex scream loudly when they spot me, give me a big welcome hug, and chastise me for being almost clean shaven. They are ecstatic that they now have licence for 10 days to drop their Ts when saying water, bottle, photo, and so on. Via the loo and a purchase of some water we walk a long trek to the car during which I am interrogated in excruciating detail about my missing "asthma tube" and why I need it and how they're going to buy me one etc.

An hour or so later we're at the house. It's all I can do to stay awake for half hour before crashing out. I mean, it was Friday night anyway, which meant Parkrun the next morning...

[I'm not kidding; on Saturday the four of us went out and ran North Sydney parkrun, followed by 2 hours or so wandering around a large shopping mall trying, and succeeding, to get me a prescription inhaler; then we just spent the rest of the day watching movies and had a couple of beers with pizza later. I won't be writing up, if any, of the trip from here until I set foot back in an airport next Sunday because I'm working, not doing much holiday-ing at all.]

Created By
Darren Foreman
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