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PHOTOS: The 2013 Qatar International Food Festival by Omar Chatriwala

Today is your last chance to check out the Qatar International Food Festival (renamed from the Doha Food Festival of previous years).

On at the Museum of Islamic Art Park, the grounds are sprawling compared to previous years, and between dining in the sky, snacking on the sea, walking through the numerous food stalls, or taking in the cooking and fitness demonstrations, it’s quite a spectacle.

Today’s hours are from 2pm-10pm. Vouchers are sold in QR40 increments, with a QR10 service charge - so make sure to buy more upfront if you think you’ll need them, to minimize service fees.

Also, parking at the MIA is limited, and has been closed off completely in the evenings. To avoid the hassle, park at one of the designated lots - at the Ministry of Interior building on the Corniche or a parking lot across from Al Sharq Village & Spa. A shuttle will transport you speedily to the festival. More tips here.

Thoughts?

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Photos by Omar Chatriwala

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PHOTOS: Famed New York dessert shop Magnolia Bakery launches in Qatar

Magnolia Bakery, perhaps best known for its cupcakes and for appearing in the TV show Sex and the City, is opening its largest store in the world (so far) in Doha tomorrow.

Located at the new Dar Al Salam Mall in the Abu Hamour area, it is Magnolia Bakery’s fourth shop in the Middle East, starting with Dubai in 2010 and followed recently by back-to-back openings in Kuwait and Beirut last month.

“It’s an emerging market - a lot of the countries we’re going into are very interested in an American brand, but they’re also interested in quality brands, and our brand is all about quality and about consistency,” Bobbie Lloyd, Magnolia’s President and Operating Partner told Doha News at a media event earlier today.

News that the upscale bakery was coming to Qatar was first announced a year ago. The company also intends to expand into Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

The lineup of 160 rotating offerings at the Doha shop include American-style pies, old-fashion icebox cakes, banana pudding, and of course cupcakes.

Pricing is on the upper end - comparable with the likes of Red Velvet Cupcakery at Katara and Sugar and Spice at Lagoona Mall, with cupcakes at Magnolia going for 17-19 QR, and mini pies go up to 39 QR.

But Lloyd said she believes customers here will be happy to pay that price for a superior product. “Everything we bake is from scratch, we don’t start the day out and make a huge batch of something… it’s all being done in small batches,” she told Doha News.

On Wednesday, January 16, the bakery will host a opening reception from 6pm-8pm. Thereafter, Magnolia will be open daily from 8am-11pm.

Here are the event details:

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Will you be visiting?

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The House of Nasser bin Abdullah Al-Missned, by Omar Chatriwala
Although not well-preserved, the house of Sheikha Moza’s father still stands in Al Khor. The gate is locked, but there aren’t any other impediments to visiting the old building, which is marked on Google Maps.
Here’s what Qatar Tourism Authority has to say about it:

This house in Al-Khor is where Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned was born and raised…
The house was built by her father Nasser bin Abdullah in the early second half of the 20th century. Its layout follows the traditional Qatari model for private residences. The family’s domestic life took place in several pavilions built around the perimeter of a central courtyard. Each pavilion had a specific purpose, and there were separate rooms for women.

Looking at the wiring coming straight from the power lines into the house and connecting to old fluorescent tubes, it gives you an idea of what life was like here before the wealth of oil and gas.
Anyone been to visit?

The House of Nasser bin Abdullah Al-Missned, by Omar Chatriwala

Although not well-preserved, the house of Sheikha Moza’s father still stands in Al Khor. The gate is locked, but there aren’t any other impediments to visiting the old building, which is marked on Google Maps.

Here’s what Qatar Tourism Authority has to say about it:

This house in Al-Khor is where Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned was born and raised…

The house was built by her father Nasser bin Abdullah in the early second half of the 20th century. Its layout follows the traditional Qatari model for private residences. The family’s domestic life took place in several pavilions built around the perimeter of a central courtyard. Each pavilion had a specific purpose, and there were separate rooms for women.

Looking at the wiring coming straight from the power lines into the house and connecting to old fluorescent tubes, it gives you an idea of what life was like here before the wealth of oil and gas.

Anyone been to visit?

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Credit: Photos by Omar Chatriwala

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Hundreds of people marched on the Corniche this morning in a coordinated public demonstration on the sidelines of the COP18 UN Climate Change conference being held in Doha.

Wielding signs promoting varied agendas, local and international participants chanted slogans together like “one world, one march” and “we are building our future.”

Local environmental group Doha Oasis co-organized the demonstration with the Climate Action Network as a government-sanctioned way for activists in town for the conference to have their concerns heard.

Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, the Chairman of the Organising Sub-Committee of COP18/CMP8 Doha, told the crowd he was “very proud” of the march and that “history had been made.”

Speaking to journalists after, he defended the environmental record of Qatar, which has the world’s highest per capita carbon foot print:

“That’s because of a small population compared to the amount of industry [we have]. That isn’t because we consume that.”

 ”[But] of course it has to change, there is no choice.”

Those marching included solar energy promoters, anti-nuclear power advocates, and members of the World Wildlife Fund. Participants marched from Sheraton Park to Post Office Roundabout and back.

Amongst them was also a sizable contingent wearing masks of a migrant laborer named Bide and marching under the banner “Qatar Do The Right Thing: No World Cup Without Workers’ Rights.”

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Dozens of tuned-up cars turned out today to compete in the “Qatar Mile” speed race at the Al Khor Air Strip, aiming to push their vehicles to the limit.

Organized by the Qatar Racing Club, competitors are meant to try to reach 300 km/h in a full-on sprint down the 800 meter air strip. Prizes go up to QR15,000.

The event is part of a broader drive to “keep racing off the streets” by giving racers a safer alternative, QRC’s head of marketing Khalid Arif told Doha News

“Qatar Mile” continues tomorrow from 9am-5pm, and includes food stands and numerous activities for kids.

Are you going to compete?

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Photos by Omar Chatriwala

Hollywood heavyweight Robert De Niro joined Director Mira Nair, VIP guests, and more on the red carpet for the opening of the fourth Doha Tribeca Film Festival tonight at Souq Waqif.

Despite a dozen photographers, a row of TV cameras, and scores of onlookers, the festival’s opening on Saturday night was more muted than previous years, with few internationally recognizable faces traipsing down the walkway. Instead, regional talent, diplomats, local filmmakers, and prominent Qatari names were at the center of this show.

Over the past three years, the festival has gotten some flak for not doing enough to attract a local audience. DFI appears to have taken some of that criticism to heart, organizing a less glitzy, more Qatar-focused line-up this time around.

Family day activities have been expanded across four days this year, instead of one. There are now also no-less than four separate “Made in Qatar” events, which have been heavily marketed across Doha in recent weeks.

It remains to be seen, though, if the changes to the festival’s format will have the impact organizers are looking for.

Are you attending the festival this year? What do you think of this year’s program?

Check out more photos from the Red Carpet

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Photos by Omar Chatriwala

Thousands of people turned out at the Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Grand Mosque and mosques elsewhere in the country last night to observe a midnight prayer.

Tuesday night marked the 27th night of the Muslim month of fasting, which is commonly believed to be Laylat al-Qadr (the night of power). And despite previous restrictions, children were in abundance at the State Mosque.

Did you go out to pray? As Ramadan draws to close, what will you miss most?

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A peek into Qatar’s Ramadan charity iftar tents, photos by Omar Chatriwala.

Every night during Ramadan, thousands of people break their fast at tents and halls organized by charities and sponsored by companies and private donors across Qatar.

Although typically lower-income male workers, visitors hail from various walks of life, countries and professions.

We attended one last night, jointly organized by RAF and Msheireb Properties, for those who work or live in the Musheireb area.

Organizers estimate some 400 visitors come to this tent each evening, although they stress more people come on nights that they serve lamb over nights when they serve chicken.

The meals typically take place very quickly. In 10-15 minutes, men break their fast, eat the food provided in their boxes, deposited trash in the compactor outside, clean up and go to pray maghrib (sunset) prayers - either in the tent or a nearby mosque.

Do you live near one of these tents? Have you ever visited one?

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After months of speculation, official closure notices, clearance sales, and a two-month deadline extension, the Souq Najada shopping complex has finally been shut down. 

Shopkeepers at the complex, often referred to as the ‘mobile phone souq’, were first served with government notices on Feb 28, with one month to relocate before utilities were shut off.

But after cries from store owners that they would suffer huge losses trying to meet that deadline, the official cut-off date for power and water was extended to June 1.

As of today, most shops at the complex are abandoned and shuttered, with a few stragglers still clearing out inventory today. That hasn’t stopped shoppers from visiting, given it’s popular location for low-income workers in the city on a Friday.

Most relocated

We spoke to a half dozen shop keepers there, who said they had relocated to other complexes in the area, including Souq Waqif, Souq Asiri and Filipino market, and the Al Watan complex behind New World Center. A large number of the 300-some shops were also reportedly relocating to the Industrial Area, while still others were heading to Barwa Village.

At least one shopkeeper, who said he couldn’t afford to relocate, was there selling remaining inventory on clearance outside his old store. “Finish, no more store,” he said.

Another said he couldn’t find a new location at the same price he paid at Souq Najada - standard rents were around 10,000-11,00 QAR a month - but that his new place in Al Watan Center was a much larger space for 15,000 QAR, which he was satisfied with.

The government acquired the Souq Najada property a few month ago “in the public interest.” Adjacent to Souq Waqif and across from the new Msheireb downtown development, it’s a prime location. The shopping complex will almost certainly be demolished, but it remains unclear what will be built in its place.

Credit: Photos by Omar Chatriwala

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Scenes from the aftermath of the Villaggio fire

A day after 19 people were killed in a fire at the Villaggio Mall, many in Qatar have spent the day mourning those lost in the blaze.

Hundreds of people gathered for vigils and prayer services at Aspire Park, the Pearl-Qatar, Abu Hamour cemetary and the church complex to pay their respects to the dead.

Other mourners opted to leave flowers at the Villaggio sign, while inside the mall, firefighters and clean-up crews were still at work.

After sunset, an unusual darkness shrouded the normally brightly-lit mall, which will apparently remain closed for at least two weeks.