Hello and greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun!
With lockdown restrictions easing in Saudi Arabia we have been venturing out a little more in recent days. Saudi has moved from a strict 24 hour lockdown at the outset of the pandemic response, through various different stages, to the point where there are currently no restrictions on movement within the Kingdom.
Daily life is pretty much back to normal. Schools however will not reopen for the start of term in September. The Ministry of Education has announced that online learning will continue for the first seven weeks of the new term, when the situation will be reviewed.
Saudi’s borders also remain closed. There are still no commercial flights in or out of the country. There are repatriation flights (one way) to the US and Europe and there are some chartered flights bringing staff back who work on the mega construction projects. Naturally there is a lot of speculation about when flights will resume, but there has been no official announcement and so we wait…
So, after 6 months of living and working from home in the compound, punctuated only by weekly mall/supermarket visits, we (my husband and myself) decided it was time to expand our horizons…
We joined a tour organized by a local company (Insta: @hayatour) to the town of Al Midhnab in Al-Qassim Province (about 350km north west of Riyadh) for a day of sight-seeing, finishing off with a trip to the local date market – and we travelled by train!
The train service is still quite limited in KSA, but a northern line from Riyadh to Hail opened a couple of years ago. It is an extremely modern, efficient service. We live very close to Thumamah railway station in Riyadh, but we didn’t even know it was there until we decided to take this trip. On arrival it resembles a mini airport – we even had to show our passports to check in.
On board the sleek new trains there is generous seating and the carriages are immaculately clean. We were greeted on arrival with a cup of Arabic coffee and a date (the traditional Saudi welcome), followed by a breakfast box:
The train took 2.5 hours to reach Al-Qassim traveling through the desert. We saw istrahas (semi-permanent tented camps in the desert where people go to relax, hang out with friends and get back to basics), and the odd herd of camels.
When we arrived at Al-Qassim station we were met and driven by coach to Al-Midhnab (about 1 hour away). It is a rural town whose economy is traditionally based on date farming.
First stop was the heritage village which has been beautifully preserved as an example of traditional living:
From there we went to a private garden and aviary followed by a visit to the town’s very impressive new cultural/convention centre.
We finished the day off with a visit to the town’s famous date market. The region is renowned for its red sukkari dates (sukkari means sugary in Arabic). The annual date harvest begins in late August and the dates are brought straight from the farms to be sold wholesale at the market. Auctioneers sample the dates and set the price.
People ravel from all over Saudi Arabia for these dates because they are so prized for their taste and sweetness. The market is held in purpose built structure with plenty of cooling fans on the go!
After the date market, loaded up with boxes of dates, we headed back to the station to catch the train back to Riyadh.
It was a really interesting day out and a great way to experience a little more of this vast Kingdom.
I’m off to tuck into some dates!
Until next time,
Stay cool and stay safe!