Greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun. Monday 23 September was Saudi National Day which is a public holiday and this year they really went for it! For the first time they had fireworks, a flyby by the Saudi equivalent of the Red Arrows and street performances in downtown Riyadh. The Saudi flag fluttered off every lampost and there were huge colourful hoardings on buildings and shopping malls marking the occasion. We were in the UAE last weekend but flew back on National Day into an airport with something of a party atmosphere. All the staff were wearing green Saudi flag sashes over their uniforms, they were giving miniature flags to the children and green roses to the adults. There was also some traditional Saudi music (maybe there were actual musicians but we didn’t see them) – so all very different from the usual airport experience! Unfortunately I couldn’t take photos at the airport. It’s still very unusual to hear music in any public place in Saudi – there is none in the shopping malls, in the shops, in Ubers – some restaurants are starting to play music but they are the exception. In the past music was banned as being unIslamic – it still is, but there is a softening of attitudes.
Because we were away we missed most of the festivities and we were warned against venturing out anyway as Riyadh becomes traffic gridlock with everyone out driving around in their cars and honking their horns (this was the only way they could celebrate in the past because they weren’t allowed to congregate in public spaces). So this year was all very new and exciting with things to see and do. The shops were also full of Saudi themed merchandise:
Just following National Day there was a huge announcement by the Saudi Government on World Tourism Day that tourist visas are being made available for the first time ever so people from 49 countries can now get hassle-free 90 day tourist visas:
The new tourist visas are available in 49 countries and they take only days to issue – or you can apply for one when you land at the airport. This has created a huge buzz in KSA and I know of one family who have already applied for one so that their daughter can come and visit them – so it works! The opening of the country and the investment in tourism is part of an ambitious overall project to diversify the Kingdom’s economy and cash in on the valuable tourist dollar and also encourage Saudis to staycation as every year over $6billion is spent by Saudis taking trips abroad. So who’s booking their ticket for KSA?? ;0)
In other news we went out for a meal recently at a plaza and afterwards took a walk around the shops. One was a very upmarket Saudi designer clothes shop – it was very cool! They had some gorgeous ‘modest wear’ dresses – which were stunning (but also had stunning price tags)!
And finally it is date season in KSA. There is even a dedicated date market selling all the different varieties and the supermarkets have huge displays. What I have learned is that dates are green or yellow before they ripen to brown and they can be eaten at any stage – when they are yellow they are more crunchy, but still taste good. Here they are looking a little bit like baby new potatoes!! Saudis love them and eat them washed down with a cup of cardamom coffee (qahwa).
And that’s all for this blog – I hope you have enjoyed it. I am trying to post once a month so stay tuned for October’s edition!!