My hotel phone rang almost simultaneously with the alarm I had set on my iPhone at 6am. It was already time to get up and head back to Doha airport.
I had a quick shower, made sure everything was packed, checked out downstairs and got a taxi immediately. Again, it was hot in Doha. I. Mean. Hot. If you’ve never been to the Middle East, it’s hard for words to capture the essence of being in a dry, sandy city under the unrelenting sun in a massive desert. Doha is extremely flat and there is almost no natural vegetation anywhere (from what I saw), but it does have a beautiful waterfront and a skyscraper-filled downtown core. Qatar itself is on a peninsula that juts out into the Persian Gulf.
It only took about 20 minutes to drive from Souq Wafiq to Hamid International Airport with hardly any traffic so early on a Friday morning. I paid the driver 30 Qatari dollars and proceeded to the business class check-in area.
Business class check-in counters are in an isolated area of the departures terminal.
I already had my boarding pass so went right through to security, and then downstairs to the main terminal. As I mentioned in Part 4, Hamid Airport is a gleaming expanse of glass and steel, and immaculately clean. It has a wide range of shopping and restaurant options, including such well-known and high-end shops as Harrod’s (a particular favorite in the Middle East). The airport actually didn’t resemble an airport at all, but rather an upscale shopping mall that happened to have a few gates to board airplanes. It is almost tailor-made for transit passengers who need some entertainment options on long layovers.
The gleaming new steel-and-glass airport is more akin to a shopping mall.
Qatar Airways has multiple lounges at Hamid Airport, but two of them are flagships: the Al Shawaf First Class Lounge and the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge. As much as I’d like to see what the airline offers up to its most important passengers, my ticket told me I’m only eligible for the business class lounge. (I know, I know… I shouldn’t complain).
Al Mourjan lounge is absolutely massive. It is multiple floors, and probably larger than the entire airport in my hometown of Victoria, Canada. Like the Qantas lounge in Hong Kong, this one was on a mezzanine level that overlooked the main terminal, giving it an airy and open feel. There were several expansive seating areas, all with slightly different layouts and chairs, along with multiple work stations to plug in your computer or use one of theirs. I counted two dining areas, but there might have been more (yes, it was that big).
I was starving by this point, as I hadn’t eaten anything since the Arabic mezze platter the night before. After looking at the menu, I settled on a turkey panini and a latte. It was simple, but totally hit the spot.
This was totally on point.
Again I didn’t have much time, so I headed toward Gate B3 for the flight to Warsaw. This time I was boarding an Airbus 330, so it had a different business class layout than the Dreamliner the night before. While these were not private suites, the seats were large and comfortable (perhaps too large, as I almost couldn’t reach the items in the pouch in front of me).
Taking Qatar Airways for a second time in as many days, I knew what to expect: I again opted for a rose prior to takeoff, and ordered breakfast to be served once we reached cruising altitude: a mixed berry smoothie, Qatari smoked salmon with wholegrain mustard (I didn’t know Qatar had salmon….) and a cream cheese omelette with chicken sausage as the main.
The mixed berry smoothie was the star of the show.
The dishes were all standard, but interestingly enough I particularly liked the smoothie. It’s rare to get this kind of drink on a flight, and the creamy yoghurt combined with fresh mixed berries made it a highlight. I also ordered a latte that arrived extremely bitter. It tasted like the dregs of a pot of coffee with a dollop of milk in it. I asked for a bit more milk, and the fligh attendant apologized and replaced it without being asked. The second latte was perfect.
Smoked salmon with wholegrain mustard along with a bread and croissant selection for breakfast.
A mid-day flight leaves time to get some work done, so I puttered away on my iPad for a while and read my Kindle for the duration of the flight. I followed the map as we flew over part of Iraq, then Iran, Syria, and into Turkey before crossing the Dead Sea into Eastern Europe. Iran was the most fascinating, as it remains one of the more isolated countries in the world. We few over a few Iranian cities and saw the desert extend for as far as the eye could see.
I tried repeatedly to access on the on-board Wifi, but again it seemed not to work. Wifi is one area on Qatar Airways that needs substantial improvement.
Descending into Warsaw…
Upon landing the plane stopped far from the terminal, so passengers exited and boarded a bus to the immigration counters. I quickly cleared and went out to get a taxi to Hotel Brisol in Warsaw’s old quarter, where I was staying.
The beautiful Hotel Bristol.
Hotel Bristol is arguably the most famous hotel in Warsaw, so I was fortunate it was part of Starwood and I could use my Starpoints to claim a room. They upgraded me at check-in to a quaint little suite that matched the old-world charm of the old quarter outside.
My cute little suite at Warsaw’s Hotel Bristol.
Warsaw is a picturesque city in Eastern Europe with a very sad history. It was often the site of intense battles and occupations during the 20th century, and was razed to the ground by Nazis during the Second World War as a scortched Earth policy as Stalin’s troops approached. Only a few buildings survived the destruction, which saw hundreds of thousands of Poles lose their lives. Poland was part of the Soviet Union until it collapsed, and gained independence in 1989.
Today, Warsaw is going through a bit of a renaissance. The city’s “old quarter” has long since been rebuilt, Poland joined the European Union in 2004, and the country’s economy has been growing at a decent clip. The World Bank expects Poland’s GDP to grow by 3% in 2017.
I met a Polish guy who grew up in Britain but returned to Warsaw because of the job opportunities, lower cost of living, and expanding economy. But our conversation quickly turned to something more immediate: protests that have been rocking the country. A right-wing populist party known as the Law and Justice party won national elections in 2016, and this year introduced a bill that would see the judicial system become a de facto arm of the state. Poles turned to the streets in cities around the country, and President Andrzej Duda eventually backed down. However there is still a sense of unease, as it’s expected the government will try again later. The protests were held at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, which is right beside Hotel Bristol. I missed the crowds by just a couple of days.
Despite the political turmoil, Poland is growing into an artistic, creative and economic hub in Central Europe. On the day I arrived, I walked through the Old Town and snapped photos before stopping at an iconic bar called Karmnik for Polish beer and perogies (which are everywhere).
An artistic little hole-in-the-wall with a good Polish beer list and perogies.
While I ate at Karmnik the storm clouds rolled in, and I got soaked as I practically ran back to my hotel for the evening. With all that travel and such a short sleep the night before, it wasn’t long before I drifted off into sleep. The third night was done.