Greetings from Riyadh and another day of sun.
I thought for this blog I would document our night out last Friday as it’s a good illustration of Saudi culture and the Saudi way of doing things!
I had seen on social media that there was a Korean Festival being held in Riyadh with 40 stalls offering food, crafts, music, traditional dance, a DJ etc . There is a large Korean population in Riyadh and with strong ties between the two countries the festival looked like it would be a lot of fun. A group of us, including Korean and Italian families made plans to go and check it out.
The venue was about a forty minute drive from where we live. The entrance to the festival was through Gate 7 into the grounds of a major hotel however, there were no signs on the access roads outside so it took a bit of trial and error to find the actual entrance. When we arrived we had to walk up a poorly lit gravel path to a nondescript booth to pay – there were no signs or posters, or any indication of a festival taking place behind a large wall. There was also no queue and no sign of anyone else arriving.
The festival had been promoted as 50SAR (£10) pp but when we arrived we were told it was 200SAR (£40) per person/child because there was a all-girl Korean pop group playing on the night. We showed the lady selling the tickets the e-flyer we had, to which she apologised and said the Friday night price was different and had been promoted on Snapchat (which is the most popular form of communication throughout the Middle East) but none of us have Snapchat…
It was too much to pay and we felt disappointed that the marketing had not been clear and that we were going to miss the festival we had been looking forward to.
Many events in Saudi are announced a day, or a couple of days before they take place, there is also scant information about them (ie opening times, travel arrangements, who/what is appearing etc!). They also have a habit of suddenly announcing a day before a festival is due to end that it will be extended.
A local instagram account @riyadhtours recently posted a photo from the recent King Abdulaziz Camel Festival which ran for about a month saying :
“We hope to see it again better organised next year and with more clear information about it in advance.” So it appears our festival experience was not a one-off!!
Instead of going to the festival we decided to go with our Italian friends for pizza instead. However it was only 25 minutes before the next prayer time so the pressure was on to get back to the city centre, get parked and get to the restaurant before it closed for 30 minutes prayer time! We made it just in time and the pizzas were great #phew!!
The restaurant was close to the King Fahad National Library which is one of the iconic buildings in Riyadh. In front of it is a square surrounded by date palms. The place was absolutely buzzing, so we went for a walk to soak up the atmosphere…
The Saudis love to gather once the sun goes down especially on a Friday night after prayers and the square in front of King Fahad National Library was filled with families enjoying the balmy weather. There were large family groups picnicking on the grassy areas and around the edge of the square stalls selling food drinks and children’s toys. There was also an array of bikes, electric mini cars, scooters, pedal carriages and crazy electric three wheelers for hire. They were all whizzing around at top speed by some very excitable children. It was a free-for-all with so many heart-stopping near collisions!
The children we were with were very disappointed that their parents wouldn’t allow them to have a go #sadtimes!!
And that’s about it for our Friday night out, from a failed attempt to visit a Korean Festival, to pizza, to a walk with the very real fear of being mown down by an electric-car-driving-toddler – all-in-all just your average Saudi night out!
Just one final thing which is unique to KSA – we have seen these in other places but I hadn’t taken a photo of them, they are public self-serve prayer mats:
You use the handle at the side of the box to roll out the prayer mat (you can just see it hanging down underneath). You can use it if it’s prayer time and you aren’t near a mosque or you just want to pray. They are placed around the city at different points on the side of footpaths and I’ve seen them being used on a few occasions. And after you pray you wind them back upgain #simples !
And that’s all for this week, please feel free to leave a comment – feedback is always appreciated!!
(I’m also on Instagram: anne.mcgrath248)