We are having breakfast on a terrace in Doha’s Old Town when we meet Charne, a South African woman working in Qatar. “What do expats do in their spare time?” we ask her. “Most people work six days a week, with a day off on Fridays,” she says. “There are things to do out of town: beaches, dunes and an old fort but most people stay in Doha and go shopping.” She explains that the air-conditioned malls are popular with expats, especially in summer when temperatures regularly hit 40ºC.
She proposes to take us to Souk Waqif, the city’s traditional market made up of narrow shady alleyways and hundreds of little shops. We weave our way through the bustling crowd: shopkeepers enthusiastically tout their goods, customers inspect the pashminas, shoes and shiny handbags and old men sit in front of their shops drinking tea together – it is a fun, laidback atmosphere and we can easily see how you could spend part of your day off wandering around here.
From the souk, Charne takes us for a walk down the Corniche, which runs along the seafront from the Old Town to the diplomatic district seven kilometres further up. Along the way we pass joggers and families strolling with their kids. By the time we reach the other end of the Corniche, another hour of Charne’s ‘weekend’ has passed.
“Do you want to see the best panorama in town?” Charne says. “I work in one of the tallest buildings in town, the Kempinski Residences & Suites, Doha. From the 62nd floor you get 360-degree views.”
An hour later Doha is at our feet. “She was not lying,” we think as we identify the Pearl, a new, man-made island to the north, the Arabian Sea to the east and the Doha bay to the south.
“What’s that white building on the southern end of the Corniche?” we ask.
“The Museum of Islamic Art,” Charne replies. “They have a beautiful exhibition on at the moment. You can go tomorrow if you like – but it will have to be without me, because tomorrow is Saturday, the beginning of my working week!”