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Expect amazing. That was the slogan that helped win Qatar the right to host the 2022 World Cup. So when I visit the tiny Middle Eastern state, I’m expecting to be amazed.

Qatar doesn’t disappoint. It’s the mix of East and West, new and old, in a country the size of Yorkshire that leaves me both amazed and dazed. The capital city, Doha, is a hub of skyscrapers on the edge of a desert. On the sci-fi skyline, minarets peek out between spaceship-shaped hotels and high-rises.

My berth, the five-star Mondrian, is a kind of ambassador of amazement. In my room on the 17th floor, I find a welcome note from the Guest Experience Team: ‘We hope you enjoy your stay here at our wonderland.’ In the lobby, a black spiral staircase leads up to . . . nowhere. Turns out it’s an artwork.

Dizzy heights: Doha’s dramatic skyline, where 'minarets peek out between spaceship-shaped hotels and high-rises'

Dizzy heights: Doha’s dramatic skyline, where ‘minarets peek out between spaceship-shaped hotels and high-rises’

Sticking up into the Persian Gulf like a hitch-hiker’s thumb, this country-on-the-move is super-rich thanks to oil and gas.

Yet its Islamic culture means polygamy is legal but homosexuality isn’t. You can’t live with your girlfriend unless married.

The hope was that modernising ahead of the World Cup would force reform, but the harsh conditions of migrant workers are reported to have led to a spate of deaths.

It is hard to get a local reaction to these charges — mainly because I don’t meet many locals. Most of the 2.8 million population, and all the waiters and drivers I encounter, are expats from South Asia.

Thomas stays at the five-star Mondrian - an 'ambassador of amazement'. The hotel is pictured on the right

Thomas stays at the five-star Mondrian – an ‘ambassador of amazement’. The hotel is pictured on the right

Yet when I approach Abdullah, a young Qatari I find sucking on a shisha in an upscale beach bar, he is happy to discuss Western criticisms of his country. Regarding the treatment of workers, he tosses back his ghutra (Qatari headdress) dismissively. ‘My government respects foreign workers more than its own people,’ he declares.

An electrical contractor, Abdullah says he finds it hard to hire foreigners because of the surge in regulation. Despite my interrogation, his charm never falters. He even pays for my coffee.

My second experience of Qataris comes on a ‘dune-bashing’ trip. My group explores the desert, not on camels, but in a pair of Lexus 4x4s, driven by Samir and Ismail. It’s quite a ride, as our heavy cars crest the gentle rise of each dune, then tilt over the drop before swooping down through the soft sand like snowboards.

'Swimming at dusk in the Inland Sea (pictured), where ocean directly meets desert, is properly amazing,' writes Thomas

‘Swimming at dusk in the Inland Sea (pictured), where ocean directly meets desert, is properly amazing,’ writes Thomas 

The public beach at Katara, in mid-city. The beach is segregated into a family section and one for men

The public beach at Katara, in mid-city. The beach is segregated into a family section and one for men

TIPS WHEN OUT AND ABOUT 

WHAT TO WEAR: Trousers, not shorts for men. Skirts below the knee. On public beaches, wear a T-shirt over a bikini.

LANGUAGE: Qataris speak Arabic, but the most common language is English.

MONEY: The currency is the riyal. £1 is worth about 5 riyal.

BOOZE: Alcohol isn’t illegal but being drunk and carrying it in public are. Some hotel bars and restaurants are licensed. The legal drinking age is 21. Alcohol is expected to be sold at stadiums during the World Cup.

WORLD CUP: From November 21 to December 18 (fifa.com).

Swimming at dusk in the Inland Sea, where ocean directly meets desert, is properly amazing. I dry off and watch the sun settle like a red tennis ball on the horizon. Beside the Lexus, Samir discreetly lays down a prayer mat and faces Mecca. Later, Ismail talks cheerfully about his two wives and how keen he is to find a third.

He also treats us to some useful if sobering desert lore. In summer, a traveller lost among these dunes will die within four hours without water. Happily, we do have water. It is also mid-November, when temperatures are like those of an English June. This, then, is the kind of climate our footballers will face here later this year.

Some have suggested that the army of fans accompanying the teams won’t find enough to do between matches. That’s nonsense. They can explore the desert, which is just an hour out of Doha. Or, if they stay in the capital, there are beaches, art galleries and world-class restaurants.

It’s easy to get around, thanks to the new Metro system — and easier still to book an Uber, which costs half what it would in the UK. For £4, I reach the public beach at Katara, in mid-city. Westerners are asked to respect Islamic modesty, so no Speedos for men; T-shirts over bikinis for women.

The beach is segregated into a family section and one for men, though when I’m there it all seems quite relaxed.

Doha prides itself on being the safest city on Earth, meaning there is no risk of getting mugged. Perhaps the greatest danger you face here is ‘amazement fatigue’. The clash of religious conservatism and rampant capitalism can be wearing.

When I’m there, the highlight of the contemporary art scene is a show by Jeff Koons. I stare at his childlike Balloon Dog (Orange), which broke auction records in 2013, as Qatari women eye it askance from behind their hijabs.

Koons’s brash consumerism sits uneasily beside the carpets and pearls of the nearby National Museum of Qatar. 

Yet even the latter, leading you expertly through millennia of history and heritage, is a modern marvel. 

Pictured is the National Museum of Qatar. Thomas says: 'The building has no straight lines and was designed to resemble a "desert rose" — a flower-like crystallisation of gypsum found in the desert'

Pictured is the National Museum of Qatar. Thomas says: ‘The building has no straight lines and was designed to resemble a “desert rose” — a flower-like crystallisation of gypsum found in the desert’

Qatar's Souq Waqif, with Le Pouce, an enormous gilded thumb by the French sculptor Cesar Baldaccini (pictured on the right)

Qatar’s Souq Waqif, with Le Pouce, an enormous gilded thumb by the French sculptor Cesar Baldaccini (pictured on the right)

The building has no straight lines and was designed to resemble a ‘desert rose’ — a flower-like crystallisation of gypsum found in the desert.

At Souq Waqif, I admire trays of colourful incense and barter for a beautiful pair of bowls. Stepping out of the ancient marketplace, I’m confronted by Le Pouce, an enormous gilded thumb by the French sculptor Cesar Baldaccini.

Even in the new airport, amid outlets of Harrods and Dolce & Gabbana, the call to prayer is intoned over the intercom. The clash of cultures is, truly, ‘amazing’.

TRAVEL FACTS

Qatar Airways has returns from Heathrow from £686 pp (qatarairways.com). Doubles at the Mondrian Doha from £168 (sbe.com/doha). Fully vaccinated visitors must take a PCR test within 72 hours of departure, complete a pre-departure form (ehteraz.gov.qa), download an Ehteraz app, quarantine for two days in their hotel and take a further PCR test during the quarantine. See discoverqatar.qa and gov.uk.

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The Fifa World Cup takes place in Qatar later this year and one of the contest’s eight stadiums is unlike any venue that’s ever hosted a World Cup game before.

Stadium 974 is made primarily from repurposed shipping containers and capable of being completely dismantled and put back together like Lego after the tournament is over.

Located near Doha Port, the innovative 40,000 seat venue consists of a modular steel frame and 974 shipping containers – hence the name of the stadium.

Stadium 974 (pictured) is made primarily from repurposed shipping containers and capable of being completely dismantled and put back together after the tournament is over

Stadium 974 (pictured) is made primarily from repurposed shipping containers and capable of being completely dismantled and put back together after the tournament is over

The innovative 40,000 seat venue consists of a modular steel frame and 974 shipping containers. Many of the containers are used to form the exterior walls around the stadium. Others are located inside the structure and filled with the likes of toilets and concession stands

 The innovative 40,000 seat venue consists of a modular steel frame and 974 shipping containers. Many of the containers are used to form the exterior walls around the stadium. Others are located inside the structure and filled with the likes of toilets and concession stands

Many of the containers are used to form the exterior walls around the stadium. Others are located inside the structure and filled with the likes of toilets and concession stands.

The whole structure has been built in such a way that it can be deconstructed at any time and either rebuilt in another location or refashioned into a series of smaller venues.

Conceived by Spanish architecture firm Fenwick Iribarren, the stadium’s design was initially inspired by Lego bricks.

The unusual building material was chosen to lower construction costs and to improve the sustainability of the venue by reducing both the waste generated during the production of stadium components and the waste created on-site during construction.

The combination of the stadium’s waterside location and its bowl-shaped design, meanwhile, avoids the need for air conditioning as it is naturally ventilated, which further improves its sustainability. 

H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), which is the organisation responsible for preparing Qatar’s infrastructure for the World Cup said: ‘We consider this innovative venue a game-changer for future mega-event hosts. It is another example of the powerful legacy our World Cup will leave.’

Conceived by Spanish architecture firm Fenwick Iribarren, Stadium 974's design was initially inspired by Lego bricks

Conceived by Spanish architecture firm Fenwick Iribarren, Stadium 974’s design was initially inspired by Lego bricks

The combination of the stadium's waterside location (shown in this image) and its bowl-shaped design avoids the need for air conditioning as it is naturally ventilated

The combination of the stadium’s waterside location (shown in this image) and its bowl-shaped design avoids the need for air conditioning as it is naturally ventilated

Stadium 974, which also shares its name with the dialing code of Qatar, will host seven matches during the 2022 Fifa World Cup

Stadium 974, which also shares its name with the dialing code of Qatar, will host seven matches during the 2022 Fifa World Cup

‘We consider this innovative venue a game-changer for future mega-event hosts. It is another example of the powerful legacy our World Cup will leave,' said H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), which is the organisation responsible for preparing Qatar’s infrastructure for the World Cup

‘We consider this innovative venue a game-changer for future mega-event hosts. It is another example of the powerful legacy our World Cup will leave,’ said H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), which is the organisation responsible for preparing Qatar’s infrastructure for the World Cup

The Fifa World Cup 2022 will kick off on November 21 with an opening ceremony at the 60,000 seat Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor.

Stadium 974, which also shares its name with the dialing code of Qatar, will host seven matches during the tournament.

Other Qatar World Cup venues include Khalifa International, Al Janoub, Education City, Ahmad Bin Ali and Al Thumama.

The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha has a striking eye-shaped design

The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha has a striking eye-shaped design

Education City Stadium in Doha has an exterior with an eye-catching zig-zag aesthetic

Education City Stadium in Doha has an exterior with an eye-catching zig-zag aesthetic

Al Janoub Stadium is a futuristic-looking oval venue with a capacity for 40,000 people

Al Janoub Stadium is a futuristic-looking oval venue with a capacity for 40,000 people

The Fifa World Cup 2022 will kick off on November 21 with an opening ceremony at the 60,000 seat Al Bayt stadium, pictured, in Al Khor

The Fifa World Cup 2022 will kick off on November 21 with an opening ceremony at the 60,000 seat Al Bayt stadium, pictured, in Al Khor

Khalifa International, also in Doha, has a striking eye-shaped design. Al Janoub is a futuristic-looking oval venue. Education City has zig-zagged sides. Ahmad Bin Ali has more of a conventional look to it.

Al Thumama, meanwhile, is shaped like a gahfiya – a traditional woven cap adorned by men and boys across the Middle East for centuries. 

The design of Lusail Stadium, meanwhile, has been inspired by ‘the interplay of light and shadow that characterises the fanar lantern’.

Al Thumama Stadium's inauguration was as host of the 49th Amir Cup Final on Friday 22 October, 2021

Al Thumama Stadium’s inauguration was as host of the 49th Amir Cup Final on Friday 22 October, 2021 

The 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium - it is here that the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 final will be staged

The 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium – it is here that the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 final will be staged

The Qatar World Cup has attracted its fair share of scrutiny over the past months. It has experienced hostility from neighbours, been subject to corruption investigations and faced criticism over worker abuses.

Further protests from both players and rights groups are expected to take place over the coming months, although World Cup organisers are defensive.

Organizing committee CEO Nasser Al Khater recently said: ‘Qatar has been unfairly treated and scrutinised for a number of years.’

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