Travel Note

26th January 2023

My first trip of 2023 happened almost entirely by accident. Towards the end of last year I made vague plans to engineer a layover in Qatar as part of a business trip, but when that didn't work out the rough itinerary I’d concocted went into the crowded mess that is my future trips folder. It would almost certainly have stayed there indefinitely were it not for the fact that I had a huge stack of Oneworld miles that were about to expire due to inactivity (thank you COVID). A random search of the Avios booking system made me realise that I could get a round trip to Doha with Qatar Airways in the business cabin for slightly less coin than a weekend in Amsterdam with Ryanair. The flights were earlier in the morning than I'd have preferred, but they were still during daytime hours in both directions, meaning that I could do a stupid long weekend with minimal jet lag. I had a book I wanted to finish anyway, so I figured why the heck not!

My morning began with a 4:45am wake up call, a rapid breakfast, and a taxi to Dublin Airport. I arrived at 5:50am for a 7:35am flight, which was less than advised but far more than necessary. There was nobody in front of me at the check-in desk, and the bundled fast track security allowed me to clear all formalities in less than ten minutes.

Qatar Airways’ premium passengers are entitled to use the East Lounge, widely regarded as the best of the four options in Dublin Airport. My only previous visit was before the pandemic, when I was able to enjoy a respectable cooked breakfast and a free newspaper. Neither luxury was available today; instead, media offerings were online via PressReader, and the culinary "delights" were limited to pre-packaged fruit bowls and shrink-wrapped brown bread that looked and tasted like it had been there for several days. The bar was available for those who wanted something heavier, though I didn’t see anyone partaking of it, perhaps due to the time of day.

While the vast majority of my flights are in economy class, I have been privileged to sample a few business class products over the years through the magic of air miles – and I have to say that the Qatar Airways offering edges out both Etihad and Emirates for both comfort and cabin service. Seats on the 787-8 are laid out in a 1-2-1 pattern, with a slight angle away from the aisles. This feels a little odd during take off and landing, but you don’t notice it in flight. Lie flat mode is completely flat, spacious, and comfortable, and a huge upgrade over the not-entirely-flat front seats on the Emirates 777. Meal service is on demand, and you can order from whatever section of the menu you feel like; two hours before landing I enjoyed a breakfast fruit selection, fresh bread, and tandoori chicken, all of which were excellent. I did giggle slightly when my meal was presented with a mock electric candle at the back of the tray; it's the little things I guess.

On landing in Doha, the plane taxied no more than a hundred feet before coming to a halt on a remote stand. Though not my favourite airport feature, a bus for business class passengers was ready and the journey to the transfer area took less than five minutes. From there it was around a ten minute walk to the arrival lounge, a unique feature for those up front where you can enjoy a few nibbles before exiting into Doha through a dedicated immigration area.

I decided not to hang around here given my plans for the evening, so once through the formalities I began looking for the metro. I immediately spotted an overhead sign, though it wasn't illuminated which in hindsight should have been a clue. I followed the arrow all the way to the end of the terminal building before realising I had to have gone astray somewhere. Rather than faff about I asked a security guard, who pointed me across the car park and told me that it was about a ten minute walk. While I don’t know what the future holds for Hamad International Airport, I rather suspect an additional station is planned closer to arrivals, as it’s a bit of a trek to the current one, particularly if you have luggage with you. Perhaps I’ll find out some day.


Gondolania Theme Park

26th January 2023

The Villaggio Mall is a 1.7 million square foot shopping centre located in Al Aziziyah in the western suburbs of Doha. It’s trivially easy to reach by public transport, as the current terminus for the Gold Line is adjacent to the main entrance.

The first thing one sees on entering the building is a faux evening sky above an artificial (and remarkably clean) canal, complete with uniformed gondoliers shuttling paying guests back and forth. The result bears a passing resemblance to the Venetian in Las Vegas, if not necessarily to the Italian city, though the retail brands on either side are far more international; I spotted British mainstays like Marks and Spencer and a Virgin Megastore, along with outlet stores from every major fashion brand. The food court on the other hand was authentic Sin City: Applebee's, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, Krispy Kreme, McDonalds, Outback Steakhouse, PF Changs, and TGI Friday's.


Gondolania Theme Park is a free to enter amusement park located at the northern end of the facility. Rides are charged individually via a reloadable smart card bought from a register close to the entrance. Prices are towards the upper end of the scale even by local standards; the five attractions on my shopping list cost me a total of QAR 157 (~€39.42). As of this writing there is no pay one price deal available. (Coaster counters should note that the Caterpillar is only accessible to children. I asked politely, they said no equally politely.)

My first hit was F1 Coaster (#3045) (QAR 35, ~€8.83). Qatar’s only roller coaster of any size (until 2021) was manufactured by SBF Rides as a spinning coaster, though the original rolling stock was replaced at the end of 2015 with a standard train themed to look like Formula One cars. Each seat has a lap bar and a seatbelt, and guests are expected to cross legs so that the lap bars can be closed as far as possible. Today each dispatch included two laps of the course, consisting of a 720 degree descending helix, a climb out, a respectable drop, and an extended portion of straight and level track serving no obvious purpose other than to get riders back to the boarding platform. Being blunt, the ride doesn't qualify as one of SBF’s better efforts (and yes, I appreciate just how much competition there isn’t for that label); it didn’t track particularly well, and the boring layout made it a one-and-done for me. It was also in serious need of a repaint.

I was much more taken with Roll Glider (QAR 60, ~€15.13), a Zipline coaster hanging from the building roof. A relatively simple double helix descent contrived to be quite thrilling thanks to the positioning, which went over everything else before having a close encounter with the side of the ferris wheel. There was plenty of swinging to be had; I imagine the ride could be very exciting indeed for anyone approaching the maximum weight limit of 140kg. Female enthusiasts should be aware that the ride has a strict no-skirt policy in deference to local sensibilities, though changing rooms and overalls are available if required.

The stand-out attraction for me was the imaginatively named Dark Ride (QAR 30, €7.57). The interior contained a haunted house with a mixture of animatronics supplemented by a few screens, and the presentation was unexpectedly good. I followed this up with a ride on the Ferris Wheel (QAR 12, €3.03) for some overhead photographs. I was only given two rotations, but that was all I really needed.

My final stop of the evening was at the Drop Tower (QAR 20, €5.04), a Moser Rides product operating what was by some margin the longest programme I’ve encountered on a ride of this type, stretching well over three minutes and featuring both full height drops and partial drops. The overall intensity level was probably best described as middle of the road; powerful enough to be thrilling, but definitely not as extreme as Fabbri hardware.