One of my favourite travel quotes is “The journey, not the arrival matters” from TS Elliot. For me, travelling starts from the moment I pick up my bag and leave for the next adventure. Unlike some people, I really do like hanging out in airports and spending time on a plane. Wherever I go and no matter how long the flight, there is always so much to do and so little time. When possible I make sure that my transit time is long enough to have a few hours in the transit airport before getting on a connecting flight. I like looking around, strolling slowly in shops and sitting down relaxed and observing other travellers.
The advantage of missing a plane
Now, travelling during Christmas time is always an adventure, for some people at least. While it should be a lovely and peaceful time, there is always that stressful vibe in the air. Most people travel to either visit their families or escape the festivities and hide somewhere at a touristic destination far away from the Christmas hustle and bustle. Either way, the goal is to arrive as soon and fast as possible and travelling is a necessary hurdle to be taken before arriving.
The journey, not the arrival matters – TS Elliot
On top of that, during this time of year, planes are always fully or even overbooked and airports are crowded. Sometimes all the seats in the airport are taken and the only place to sit is somewhere in a corner on the cold floor. When not all the Christmas presents are bought, the search continues in the overly crowded shops of the tax free area, cramping your way to find the perfect Christmas gift.
Last year we decided to spend Christmas with my family in Belgium and booked a flight from Johannesburg to Brussels with Qatar Airways. As usual we took the longest possible transit time for that day which was about 2 hours. Long enough, usually, for changing flights and spending some time in the airport.
Now as can be expected, since it was a few days before Christmas, Johannesburg airport was packed. Lot’s of people checking in with huge bags, toddlers hanging on their arms, crying, people saying goodbye to relatives, well… the usual. It also appeared that quite some flights were delayed, including ours. Nothing much we could do about that so we decided to sit, relax and watch other travellers while having a beer (or two or more). In the distance, we heard people shouting and screaming, probably because they would be missing connecting flights due to the delays. But shouting would not help in this case. It actually never does.
With two hours delay we arrived at Doha airport and made our way to the next boarding gate as fast as we could, just in time to see the gate abandoned. The flight to Brussels had left without us. A staff member of Qatar Airways was already waiting for us, smiling, because he had already found us the perfect solution to get to Belgium still the same day. He would have two happy customers. Unfortunately, the new route (via London Heathrow) he scheduled for us was just not possible for us due to UK transit visa issues for Sean.
The disappointment on the guys face was huge, now he had to search for another solution, while there were dozens of people at the service desk waiting for attention. The tension there was huge, due to delays lot’s of people who missed their connecting flights were getting really nervous and started shouting at the staff to show their disappointment. In my opinion this was unfair, since the staff were doing all they could to provide people with the best solution possible.
One night in Doha
I asked the staff member if it would not be possible to stay overnight in Doha and take the same flight again a day later and how they would, in that case, solve the issue with a visa for Sean to stay in Qatar. The guys’ face cleared up immediately, and full with disbelief he asked if we really would not mind, while he looked frustratingly at the long line behind us. They would provide us with a 24 hour visitors visa, a hotel room and all meals and transport. Of course not, why would we mind! A free night in Doha, but unfortunately not everybody likes this kind of solution.
So they offered us a night in a 4 star hotel, 4 meals included with drinks but above all, the hotel was walking distance from the city center. We were of course very pleased with our unexpected free city trip and off we went for a 24 hour discovery of Doha. Well, not really 24 hours, but at least we had the whole day to spend there.
We got a huge room on the top floor overlooking the city and while enjoying a wonderful breakfast we started planning our day. Since we were walking distance from the souq and the Corniche, that would be the place to start our tour for the day.
The Souq Waqif of Doha
The souq Waqif is a traditional arab souq, with a modern touch to it. I had some previous souq experience in other arab countries and I must say that this one is a nice, pleasant and relaxed souq to walk around. No hassle, very clean, all goods are stacked out neatly, nice cafes and bars to hang out in and good food. Perfect for a little pre-christmas stroll.
With lot’s of visitors, souq Waqif is a perfect spot to buy traditional products, spices and other dry goods, textiles, perfumes, shoes and of course souvenirs. We also visited the gold souq, where handcrafted jewelry, made out of gold, precious stones and pearls can be admired and bought.
There is a pleasant outside walkway full with little tea bars, cafes and eateries. It get’s a lot of shade which makes it pleasant during the day and nice at night when all is lit. Most locals come out in the evening which gives it a really nice atmosphere.
When planning to do a lot of shopping and you don’t want to walk around with it, no problem. You can rent a carrier who will happily follow you during your shopping stroll with a wheelbarrow and will drop your goods off safely at your car or taxi.
The Corniche – Waterfront walkway in Doha
The Corniche is a seven kilometer long waterfront promenade along the bay of Doha which has some superb views of the city. As it was ‘winter’, we could enjoy a pretty warm stroll along the water. In summer it just get’s too hot during the day. Traditional wooden boats are moored in the water, and you can enjoy the view of the new and modern CBD on the other side. The Emir’s palace, located along the Corniche is a huge majestic building which makes it hard to be missed.
It’s pleasant as well to walk at night, especially during the weekend when it seems that the whole city is out along the water. One of the attractions is to take a harbour tour on a wooden Dhow with very colourful lights (complete with very loud traditional music, or techno to taste).
As you can see, missing your flight does not have to be a big burden as we got an extra city trip included in the price. We loved it, and thinking of all the people getting upset at the airport, well they really missed out. Of course, you might have obligations back home, but this was such a stress free 24 hours and we got to Belgium very relaxed due to this lay over. Moral of the story: when travelling, especially by plane, try allow for as much extra time as possible. You never know when another volcano is going to blow it’s top, or some airport is incapable of clearing a few millimeters of snow.
Have you ever missed a plane and managed to get a free city trip out of it? Where was it?