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‘And when that sun goes down I hope you raise your cup…’ (One Republic)

Our Big Arabian Adventure has come to an end…

I Lived – One Republic ‘I hope you spend your days, that they all add up.’

Hello from Belfast where it is unseasonably cold! The new location is a clue that this is sadly the last OurBigArabianAdventure blog…

“Success is loving life and daring to live it.”

Maya Angelou

We have had a fantastic (although at times challenging!) time for three and a half years living and working in Riyadh and getting to know a country and a region very far removed from our hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I started the blog back in 2018 to share my experiences of settling into and living in Saudi Arabia and documenting all the adventures we had along the way – and this is unbelievably the 46th blog post!!

To mark the end of ‘Our Big Arabian Adventure’ I have edited a video montage of highlights which I hope you will enjoy :0)

My husband and I threw ourselves into our adventure and tried to experience as much as we could – and I hope the blog has reflected that. I really feel we can honestly say we did it all!

Thank you to everyone who has read, or shared the blog and to the many of you who have contacted me over the years with comments, thoughts or questions.

But now its time to climb aboard the magic carpet once again and see where it takes us for the next adventure!

Until next time,

Stay cool,

Anne :0)

PS – You can always stay up-to-date with what I’m up to on Insta: @anne.mcgrath248

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Riyadh Marathon and a little-known visitor attraction

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it is another day of sun! We’ve had some very dusty days recently and one BIG sandstorm which engulfed Riyadh and lasted a whole day. The dust had the effect of a sepia filter, giving everywhere an orange tone and covering everywhere in a layer of dust and grime, and it smells, it’s horrible to think what we must have breathed in…

Anyway, part from the ‘excitement’ of the recent sandstorm I took part in the first ever Riyadh Marathon (not the full marathon but the 4K fun run) held on Saturday 5 March.

It was a big event attracting both local and international competitors. A group of women from our compound (the Wadi Runners) took up the challenge and began training from December for the 10K. (Unfortunately I suffered an ankle injury so had to revise my plans down to the 4k).

We went to the Marathon Village the day before to register and pick up our race packs. There was a great atmosphere with lots of stalls and challenges – (and mascots to have our photos taken with!) It definitely got us enthused and excited for the big event the following day.

The marathon placed a big emphasis on being inclusive for all ages, abilities etc and it attracted a large number of Saudi women to take part – a pretty big deal because until recently women were told exercise was un-modest, there was no P.E. even in schools and there were no public sporting events – and certainly no mixed public sporting events.

The dress code on the day was varied, some women wore abayas, some wore jogging abayas (a bit like a penguin onesie), and some wore long-sleeved lycra tops and leggings with baggy shorts and a baggy T-shirt over the top. With no official dress code our Wadi runners team chose to wear leggings and our own designed Wadi Runners pink and blue T-shirts which attracted a lot of attention – We were photographed, interviewed and filmed for TV and social media because we stood out in our brightly colored Ts!

There were some distinct Saudi touches to the event, Saudis aren’t given to public displays of emotion so the cheering crowds were little more subdued than usual, and when we crossed the finish line, along with water and bananas, there were dates, and date sweets on offer. There was also a stand giving competitors free plants which was a nice touch!

It was a really fun first Riyadh Marathon and hopefully the start of many more. I was delighted to take part in it, be a little bit part of the changing face of Saudi society.

I will certainly cherish my souvenir medal, certificate and T shirt! #Runderful #RiyadhMarathon

World Sights Park

My husband and I also recently visited a very quirky and little-known visitor attraction called the World Sights Park in Riyadh. I had never heard of it or seen any promotion about it, I just happened to catch sight of it one day as I drove past with my driver, so I looked it up on Google maps and discovered it was an actual bone fide visitor attraction, sited unobtrusively on the side of the major Eastern Ring Road.

It must have opened around 2010, but has the feel of a 1970s park forgotten in time! It can be found just south of Granada Mall. There is a small entrance fee (but as we were leaving it appeared the payment booth was closed and families were just walking).

It is open daily from 4pm and is definitely worth a visit for the novelty factor. It has model size recreations of some of the world’s most iconic buildings including the Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Sydney Opera House, the Treasury at Petra, two Dutch windmills, eight of the world’s most famous mosques, landmark buildings of Riyadh (including the airport), the pyramids and the top of Mount Everest…

The models have, over time lost their former lustre and need a bit of maintenance. They are a bit crumbly and their paintwork needs touched up. Each one has an information board with descriptions in Arabic and English – some of the English translations are very funny and provide their own entertainment – and certainly haven’t been updated since it was opened.

Overall the park has something of a charm from a time gone by.The gardens are nicely landscaped, and with the inclusion of so many Riyadh historic buildings, plus the mosques, it has a distinctly Saudi flavor. There is also a coffee shop, so you could easily put in an hour, or bring a picnic – and there’s lots of opportunity for comedy photos!

We visited just after it opened at 4.30pm so it was still light, but it might be worth visiting when it’s dark and the models are illuminated (their state of their disrepair might not be so obvious!).

There were some families walking around and taking it all in when we visited and I imagine when it opened it was probably quite a popular attraction especially given the context of Saudi Arabia back then, but today it feels a bit like a relic from the past, and given all the new developments and the emphasis on family entertainment with the big shiny Riyadh Season these days, I would strongly suggest going to see it before the developers move in and this little gem is ‘redeveloped’ like the former Al Hokair Land theme park across the road which is no more…

And that’s it for this blog – I hope you enjoyed the quick whirl around the World Sights Park and the insight from the Riyadh Marathon

Until next time, stay cool!

Anne :0)

Insta: anne.mcgrath248

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Guns ‘n’ irises

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it’s another day of sun! We’ve had some dust storms recently which signifies the seasons are changing and temperatures are starting to rise again.

Another indication that the cooler days are being replaced by warmer ones is the annual blooming of wild irises in the desert.

I recently went on a trip with Haya Tours (Insta: @hayatour) to see these delicate but hardy little flowers in a valley north of Riyadh near the town of Tumayr. They bloom in specific locations for a couple of weeks in February every year.

If there has been a lot of rainfall over the winter months they will much more plentiful, but this year as there has been hardly any rain there wasn’t exactly a lush green and purple carpet, but once you started looking they were there, a flash of vibrant color standing out heroically against the barren desert landscape.

I went with my good friend Ingrid and the trip was led by Salwa, the Saudi lady who owns and runs Haya Tours – and we had lot of fun:

After our walk admiring the irises we were treated to a Saudi picnic lunch with tea (chai), coffee (qahwa), chicken shawarma and falafel sandwiches, dates, Saudi biscuits, nuts and fruits:

And surprised by the arrival of a herd of camels:

On the way to the iris valley we passed through the town of Tumayr which had some interesting art installations on the approach… first we were greeted by an impressive representation of the crossed Saudi swords, then four huge fruit bowls on plinths surrounding one larger plinth holding the platter of a headless camel – apparently representing hospitality we were told – and finally an enormous statue of a rifle, which our guide told us was there to represent safety for all who live or visit the town…

And then it was time to wave goodbye to the iris fields of Tumayr and a day of contrasts, from tiny purple flowers to giant art representations of swords, guns and a headless camel (!)…Saudi is always full of surprises!

Until next time,

Stay cool,

Anne :0)

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From Riyadh with love x

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it is another day of sun! So this month, as it is the month to celebrate love I thought I would take a look at matters of the heart in Saudi Arabia.

It’s difficult to know exactly what the local dating scene is like. Officially there is no ‘dating scene’ marriages are arranged and there are very limited opportunities for unrelated boys and girls to meet, never mind go on a date or be alone.

While the religious police were still in force (until 2016) only a married couple could go out in each other’s company – if they were unrelated they risked at the very least being publicly berated, struck with a stick, or at worst jailed. One Saudi guy told me he was lashed after he was seen waving at a girl he knew in a mall when he was a teenager. The religious police asked him how he knew the girl and he said she was his cousin, they asked her the same and she said he was her brother – so they deduced they were being lied to and used their canes…

Until recently there was also nowhere for potential or unmarried couples to meet because life was completely segregated, from school, to the workplace, to family parties, weddings etc there was no inter-mingling of the sexes, and until 2017 there were no cinemas, no concerts, women largely didn’t work (or if they did they were in separate offices and still in many places are), and cafes and restaurants had segregated seating areas (and of course there are no nightclubs or bars!).

I do know that with things easing young Saudis do meet at mixed parties or through the workplace. One Saudi girl told me she had a boyfriend who she’d met at a party with friends and they would go out for meals or to the races, so things are changing…

Like everywhere else dating apps are very popular, Tinder, Bumble etc. It’s a safe way for Saudi girls and boys to talk to each other, even if it doesn’t lead to meeting up. A single friend I had here (expat) joined Tinder when he first arrived. He said he was quite nervous at first because he didn’t know what the social norms were. What he found was that Saudi women generally didn’t have a profile photo but were curious to chat, but after initial contact, or when he suggested meeting up, they would just simply melt away/ghost him. He said the few Saudi women he did end up meeting for a coffee had some experience of living and traveling abroad and were more confident/daring about meeting an expat guy. He also said Muslim women of other nationalities (although living in Riyadh) were more likely to meet up or keep chatting longer than Saudi women.

He said being single in KSA there is a thriving ex-pat dating scene with plenty of opportunity to meet people at parties on compounds which happen almost every weekend, once you tap into those networks. And some expats have even found lasting love – with one expat couple who met by chance on an internal flight when they were both single and started dating eventually getting married and even chose to stay on in Riyadh to raise their young family.

Meanwhile, for Saudis, apart from traditionally arranged marriages, (and marriage ceremonies are also separate for men and women – usually even separate venues, but that’s for another blog!), polygamous marriages are also legally recognized in Saudi. In accordance with Sharia law a man can marry up to four wives provided he treats them all equally and shares his wealth equally. (It’s the ‘equally’ part that can put people off! ;0) ).

There is also something called a misyar marriage which has been legal since 1996. This is essentially a time-limited marriage lasting between 14-60 days with no dowry paid and no financial obligations. Misyar marriages are usually done in secret and are seen as a hybrid between marriage and single-hood. They are used by people who want a ‘no-strings attached’ marriage, men who want another relationship aside from their wife but don’t want to have the responsibilities of a full-blown polygamous relationship, or have a wife opposed to being in a polygamous marriage, men who enter into a short-term arrangement while they are abroad, women who want to avoid traditional marriages, women who don’t want an ex-husband to know they are in a new relationship or unmarried couples seeking religious cover for sexual relationships forbidden outside wedlock.

So, while it might appear at first that finding love could be a tricky path to negotiate in KSA, like everywhere else in the world, love always finds a way ;0)

And that’s a quick look at romance in Saudi Arabia, 2022!

Until next time,

Stay cool,

Anne :0)

Insta: @anne.mcgrath248

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A bonus mini-blog: art, food and a farmer’s market

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it is another day of sun, albeit with much cooler temperatures – it recently fell to zero degrees overnight which is practically unheard of in the city. There was also snow in the north of the country, and social media was flooded with pictures of camels walking through a desert scene covered in snow…

Anyway, I realized I had some photos from a couple of different outings I went on in December which I hadn’t yet shared, so I thought I would compile them into a bonus mini-blog!

First up, I took a trip to a farmer’s market which was held weekly in an area known as the DQ (Diplomatic Quarter) every Saturday during November and December. The Farmer’s Market was first introduced in 2019 and this was its first time back since the pandemic. It was more than double the size it had been two years’ ago with a whole range of stalls including a Christmas stall (unthinkable even two years ago) and a stall selling organic Turkeys (including turkey eggs!), together with lots of food stalls, stalls selling dates and pickles, organic beauty, children’s clothes, designer abayas, plants etc… And it proved very popular drawing big crowds every weekend:

There is also a burgeoning art scene in Riyadh and I was invited along by a friend to Misk Art Week to view an exhibition entitled ‘Under Construction’ with a large range of inspiring interpretations and installations from both local and international artists:

Misk Art Institute is a non-profit cultural organization established to support local artists and provide them with the opportunity to showcase their work alongside other international artists. One of my favorite pieces was by Kuwaiti architect Mishari AlNajjar (Insta: @mjalnajjar) who recreated a representation of the traditional textile quarter in Kuwait City using materials bought in the local shops:

And keeping on the art theme, my husband and I visited the Diriyah Biennale Foundation in Jax, a newly formed art and cultural district in Diriyah, housed in converted warehouses to support local artists. As well a vast exhibition space there are also cafes, restaurants, a gift shop and a cinema as well as an ongoing program of workshops and talks. The exhibition of international artists is open daily until March and entry is free:

And finally, a Saudi friend of mine hosted a small lunch party at her house where she provided traditional Arabic foods including kabsa, jareesh and kanfeh:

It was a really enjoyable afternoon with a lovely mix of ladies and it was extra special to enjoy Arabic foods as a guest in a Saudi house.

And that brings us to the end of this (perhaps not-so-mini) mini-blog!

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of the (free) events that have been going on around Riyadh.

Until next time, stay cool!

Anne :0)

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An Abu Dhabi Christmas!

Hello, happy New Year and welcome back to Riyadh where it is another day of sun! I hope everyone had a good Christmas (if you were celebrating). We spent the holidays in Abu Dhabi where it was very chill and the weather was perfect – not too hot, not too cold, but cool enough for a cardy/jacket in the evenings!

I thought for the first blog of 2022 I would share some photos from our trip and recommendations on where we stayed, ate, visited etc…

First of all a quick introduction to the city – Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – not Dubai! It is the home of the UAE government and the UAE President. Built on a series of islands along the Persian Gulf it relied on fishing and pearling until oil reserves were discovered in 1959. It is now the sixth biggest producer of oil in the world and has the world’s fifth largest sovereign wealth fund. It has grown at dizzying speed. In 1971, the year the UAE was created, Abu Dhabi had a population of 71,000, today it is home to 1.5 million people. It’s oldest building is the Qasr Al Hosn Fort which was built as a watchtower to control the coastal areas in 1761.

Today Abu Dhabi is a thriving modern city with gleaming skyscrapers and five lane motorways. It is also one of the safest cities in the world. It is best known for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and its two theme parks – Ferrari World and Warner Bros World.

We have been to Abu Dhabi a couple of times before so we didn’t do all the touristy things this time – it was more about relaxing and chilling out.

However, we did visit the Emirates Palace Hotel – a five star luxury hotel built at a cost of $3billion and opened in 2005. We visited it before, so we forewent the eyewatering $15 camel-cino coffee (!) – this time we went to see the Christmas tree which was pretty impressive!

The building is a mix of Islamic architecture and the color was inspired by the different shades of sand found in the Arabian desert.

We also went to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque which is the eighth biggest mosque in the world. It has 82 domes, 1000 columns and 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers.

The entrance is designed like the Louvre in Paris, where upon arrival tourists descend below ground on an escalator under a large glass dome. Downstairs is a mini-mall with coffee shops, a pharmacy, gift shops etc… There is also a long line of tourists being checked to ensure they are dressed appropriately ie trousers for men, no bare arms, legs or hair for women. If you are not deemed modestly dressed enough you can purchase either sleeves for your arms (like single tights you roll up each arm) or a complete covering (in nasty nylon) which comes with a handy hood to keep your hair covered. You are then linked to the mosque by an underground walkway. Tours are free.

Having visited the Louvre Abu Dhabi a number of times before (and highly recommend!) we visited the smaller Etihad Modern Art Gallery this time. It’s a small quirky gallery showing modern art by local and international artists, plus a creative cafe and gift shop which has a Thai beach bar vibe. We were lucky because when we visited the artist Noura Ali-Ramahi who is currently exhibiting a solo exhibition entitled ‘Nostalgia, a pandemic and finally losing my mind’ was giving a guided tour to some of her friends and invited us to join.

The art gallery is a very different to the big glitz and glamour of the rest of Abu Dhabi, but this little gem is worth seeking out for an alternative and perhaps more authentic experience.

Another highlight was cycling the Corniche. It’s a large, landscaped promenade along the sweeping bay and makes for a fun couple of hours if you stop off for a cool drink and a Coldstone ice cream along the way!

And to wrap up our stay we welcomed in the New Year with an amazing firework display over the Emirates Palace Hotel (Photo credit: Stephen McGrath).

We really enjoyed our Christmas and New Year in Abu Dhabi. It was very chill. Everyone we met was very friendly and helpful and the weather at that time of year is perfect – I would definitely recommend it as an alternative to Dubai if you are thinking of visiting the Middle East.

Happy New Year everyone- Stay safe out there!

Until next time, Abu Dhabi-doooo!!

Anne :0)

Info:

We stayed at: The Edition, Al Bateen Marina and the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Corniche.

We ate at:
The Eclipse Bar, Four Seasons Hotel (sushi and cocktails) – perfect for a sundowner
LPM at the Galleria Mall (French/Mediterranean)
Buddah Beach Bar, St Regis, Saadiyat Island for a Japanese themed Christmas Day brunch
Alba at The Edition is excellent for casual dining and has a daily happy hour 5-8pm
Beirut Villa in Marina Mall does excellent Lebanese food at very reasonable prices (I recommend the falafel wrap and beetroot hummus!)

I would also suggest a visit to Marsa Al Bateen Marina for a stroll with a wide selection of cafes and restaurants to choose from – the Coffee Club does a delicious iced raspberry and coffee drink – and of course you could pop into the Alba at The Edition for a shared charcutiere board and a drink if it’s during Happy Hour!

Travel info: In these pandemic times there are lots of Covid procedure requirements (like everywhere else) Our experience of traveling to Abu Dhabi included: a pre-travel PCR test, an on-arrival PCR test (queueing can take a long time, followed by even longer queues for border control). We also had to do a day 6 test and a pre-departure test for re-entry into Saudi and download the Al Hosn app.

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Camping and camels

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it’s another day of sun – although the mornings are much fresher and the evenings cooler, with daytime temperatures only reaching 22 degrees…#literallyfreezing lolz!

This will be the last blog of 2021 and it’s a bumper photo edition from a recent camping trip and a day spent with some supermodel camels at the annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival.

Our camping trip was to an area called Sa’ad about two hours east of Riyadh in some beautiful red sand dunes. We had a fabulous time, saw the sunset and the full moon rise – and it even rained a little bit overnight. It was quite something to be woken up by raindrops hitting the canvas in the desert.

Many thanks to the Riyadh Rovers and our friends Freddie and Stephen for bringing us a along and sharing their adventure with us :0)

Riyadh Rovers Full Moon Camping Trip

I also recently spent a day at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival – the world’s largest camel festival! Camels are big business here with prizes worth $40million. They are judged on their looks ie their proportions, markings, size of the hump, condition of their coat etc. There has been some well publicized controversy this year about camels being disqualified for receiving botox to make their lips bigger – but there was no mention of that the day we went.

The festival runs for a month and a half every year a couple of hours north of Riyadh, covering an area of 32sq Kms. 33,000 camels take part in the annual cultural, economic, sports and entertainment festival where they are judged on their looks in different categories. There are some race days, just not on the day we were there.

The main area has a show ground with stands and a VIP area. Adjacent is a pop up village offering a laundry, bank, butchers, grocery store, hardware shop etc providing services for all the people who are part of the festival and camp there along with the camels for the duration. There’s also a large area offering desert tents for rent by visitors, and of course spread out are the camel camps, with herds who travelled from all over the Middle East to take part.

The day we went was competition day for herds of black camels. A herd is up to 80 camels, all female + calves and one male. They are judged on how they look as a herd and they are paraded up and down in front of a panel of judges headed by one white camel who is ornately adorned. There were 10 herds, so 800 black camels in total, on show – and they were amazing to see. The camels really are like supermodels and they are treated as VIPs with crowds in the stands singing to welcome them.

The Saudis running the event were incredibly welcoming. They really wanted us to have a good time and nothing was too much to help us get our photos and make sure we had a good day. We were hosted in the VIP area and offered qahwa and dates on arrival. We were also given special access to the camels who take part in the opening and closing caravan parade:

Then we spent some time wandering along the Al_Dahna Street Souk where Bedouins have a roadside camp selling food, qahwa (Arabic coffee), chai (tea), freshly made bread and anything and everything you could need for your camel or camping…

It was a really fabulous day. I went with Haya Tours (you can find them on Instagram) run by the indefatigable Salwa – a one woman powerhouse. People at the festival were so friendly and helpful and other Saudi visitors couldn’t believe this group of tourists in their midst – they were very keen to photograph and film us with car loads slowing down so they could shout ‘Welcome to Saudi Arabia’. The Saudi women weren’t keen to be photographed, but they also wanted to wave and say hello.

And that brings us to the end for another year of Our Big Arabian Adventure. It’s been eventful!

Festive greetings to you all and wishes for a healthy, safe and better 2022, and I’ll see you back here in January,

Anne :0)

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What’s New in KSA (Part 4)

Going Metro and Greening Riyadh

Hello and welcome to Riyadh where it’s another day of sun! Riyadh is a city built in the middle of the Arabian desert, it is dusty, beige and HOT (especially in the summer!) But, undeterred by the harsh conditions, the authorities have decided to turn it into a living, breathing, blooming beautiful garden – and greenery is sprouting everywhere!

The Green Riyadh Project has been launched with the aim of making it one of the world’s top 100 most livable cities.

Planting is popping up outside residential villas.

Not somewhere to do things by halves the project will see 75 million trees planted, the creation of 43 major parks with the biggest larger than Central Park, together with 3,300 smaller parks and gardens dotted around the city.

Massive landscaping is already being carried out with date palms are being planted along all major routes, and legislation has been introduced requiring all new buildings, including mosques, schools, public facilities, airports etc to incorporate planting schemes.

It is the largest afforestation project in the world, and will use treated wastewater for the new green spaces. It’s projected to reduce the temperature in the city by 1.5 to 2 degrees in the summer, making it more live-able and encouraging people outside to enjoy the new spaces and take exercise (part of another initiative to get Saudi’s active!).

There’s a huge road intersection not far from where we live, it’s a vast area, maybe the size of four football pitches. Until recently it was a real eyesore, piles of rubble strewn with empty plastic bags and bottles. There were some small stumpy trees but their branches were tangled with plastic bags, but it has been cleared and a huge earthmoving project is underway with stone walls and terraces being built ahead of new planting and lighting – and maybe even a water feature? Who knows, anything is possible!

Going Metro

Everywhere you go in Riyadh there are new metro lines being built overground and underground. Snaking all over the city the new metro system is planned to introduce a new connected public transport system.

Currently the car is king – Riyadh is built on an American grid system which favors the car, which together with low oil prices and an oppressive heat making being outside uncomfortable for any length of time for at least five months of the year, means people want door-to-door travel in an air conditioned car – so until recent times, public transport has not been a priority.

However, with a rapidly rising population, increasing traffic congestion and concerns around air pollution a new metro and interlinked bus network has been taking shape.

Work started on the Riyadh Metro in 2014. It will cover 176km, with 6 city-wide lines, 85 stations, plus a 1,900km interlinking bus network with 3,000 stops – and it’s all being constructed at the same time!!

Estimated to cost $24.4billion, it was due to open last year (2020), but has faced a number of delays including the pandemic. It’s getting closer though, and it’s now commonplace to see the odd little metro train trundling along the line nearest to us on a test run.

The extensive nature of the network and the fact it’s being built all at once has meant years of road diversions and closures across Riyadh. Generally there’s no prior warning when a road will be closed, which can lead to huge tailbacks and some very frustrated drivers and passengers – I watched once from our office window as cars backed up at a major road junction when one of the roads was closed without warning. A cacophony of horns erupted until one driver got out of his car and took it upon himself to start directing the traffic – (which he did really well!) Thankfully most of the road disruption is over now that the main infrastructure is in place.

It’s hoped the metro will cut down on some of the 10 million car journeys taken every day in Riyadh and reduce the 7-9,000 annual death toll…

And that’s a wrap for this short series of ‘What’s New in KSA’ blogs. They’ve been fun to write and reflect on how much things have changed in the three years since we arrived here.

It’s a rapidly changing city and nation – who knows how much it will have changed again in another three years’ time?

Until next time, stay cool!

Anne :0)

Insta: anne.mcgrath248

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Sights around Riyadh…

An alternative kind of park

A few weeks ago my husband and I went out for something to eat to a plaza in Riyadh called River Walk which is in an area I don’t know that well.

River Walk is a two story glass and metal, very modern, gleaming complex with a landscaped water feature running down the middle of it (hence the river reference). Most of the units are coffee shops and it’s a pleasant place to go and walk around in the cooler evenings and enjoy a coffee and a snack.

The strange thing about River Walk is that it’s built in-between two enormous piles of excavated earth – probably 30 meters high, both stretching over a kilometer in length and half a kilometer wide. They are huge mounds of dense compact earth and rubble, surrounded by sheer sides. You can get an idea of the size from the photos!

My husband and I initially thought it was a hill they had carved around to build the nearby residential area, but actually on closer inspection we think it is a HUGE pile of excavated earth dug up during the construction of the buildings around. The layers we saw included builder’s rubble, with bits of old concrete blocks, scraps of metal etc, so it’s definitely not a natural feature.

It is such a weird thing – and I can’t overstate the size of it on both sides of the newly built River Walk which makes the plaza look like a space ship that has landed on the moon! They’ve made a feature out of one of the enormous dirt piles by building a huge wide footpath around it, and another path through the middle of it all lit with pretty street lights…Definitely not something that would be an attraction or that would meet health and safety regulations elsewhere, but there were quite a few people out walking, and there were food trucks dotted around which leads me to think it is something of a go-to destination..

Looking it up on Google Maps the area doesn’t have a name – it’s just called ‘Off Road Area’. We did see a man offloading bikes from the back of his pick up which looked like they might be for hire, but I think they’re for riding around, rather than over the top!!

From reading the reviews on Google Maps people seem to like to go walking there, the reviews include: ‘Nice area to walk’, ‘A perfect place for walking and exercise’, ‘The walkway is very beautiful, spacious and elegant’… (not sure that’s quite how I would describe it!) so it is attracting people to go walking which is a positive!

I’m not really sure what to make of it, raises questions to me about public safety (would this be allowed anywhere else??) and it doesn’t seem like the natural setting for a glamorous, futuristic coffee plaza, but it’s interesting they’ve tried to make a feature out of it and to be fair, people seem to like it!

King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD)

A purpose-built financial district in Riyadh, rising high above the desert is nearing completion…It’s a huge area (1.6million square meters) with 59 purpose-built skyscrapers of different heights and designs which its intended will incorporate a mix of office, retail, dining options, residential, conference centers, theaters, a multiscreen cinema, a monorail, an elevated walkway and a central ground level landscaped walkway, all with fast access to the airport and the city centre by road and (soon-to-be) metro.

KAFD was announced in 2008 and phase one was scheduled to open in 2017 – however, it is such an ambitious project that even the first phase is still quite far from completion, as we discovered when we went for a walk around it recently.

A limited area of the urban wadi (a landscaped area that will link the entire site) is open to stroll around, and there was one cafe where we could grab a coffee, I know some offices are already open, and there are plans for others to move in very soon with fit-outs almost complete for offices from Saudi’s mega-projects and government departments. There are also almost daily announcements of international companies signaling their intent to headquarter in Riyadh, and there appears to be a push on to complete a range of cafe and dining options which will appeal to the soon-to-be office workers.

KAFD is a huge project that dominates the skyline in the north of the city – the size of some of the sky scrapers cannot be underestimated and they have all been designed to be architecturally striking.

The first phase is very nearly there, but I imagine it is still going to take some time before the whole area is the thriving, pulsating heartbeat it is planned to be… it’s a case of, watch this space!

And that’s it for this blog – short and sweet.

Hopefully some more adventuring in the next few weeks!

Until then, stay cool,

Anne :0)

Insta: anne.mcgrath248

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Out and about in Bahrain and beyond..

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it is another day of sun! Temperatures have cooled since mid September so it is much more pleasant :0).

I have been out and about a bit over the past while, so i thought I would just share some photos from those trips and make this blog more about the photos than text!

First up we went to Bahrain for a long weekend. We really enjoyed it – we flew, but many choose to drive as it’s just five hours from Riyadh and you cross the King Fahd causeway which is 15 miles long. We had to do Covid tests on arrival (because we flew in, not required for entry by the causeway) and for departure (at their stunning new airport), but that all proved easy enough.

First we stayed at the Sofitel Bahrain along the coast for a beachy time (the seafood platter at their tapas restaurant was amazing!) and then we transferred to the central Merchant House Hotel in Manama. We visited the Bab Al Bahrain souq and the Bahrain National Museum, which was v interesting giving the social and economic history of Bahrain from the Dilmun period (2000 BC) to the present day. We also had a browse around ultra-modern, The Avenues Mall.

There are lots of great hotels and restaurants to choose from in Manama, one we didn’t get to but was highly recommended is Clay (Japanese/Peruvian fusion) #nexttime!!

We really liked the vibe in Bahrain, it was easy going, very clean and the roads had marked lanes which traffic seemed to respect – which is a novelty coming from Riyadh lolz!

I also went with a friend to a Mexican/Saudi Arabian traditional dress exhibition at the Ahlam Studio Gallery in Riyadh which was sponsored by the Mexican Embassy as part of its National Day Celebrations in September (Saudi National Day is also in September). There are similarities between the traditional dress of the two countries, which are basically wide tunics decorated with intricate embroidery.

Art galleries are still very new in Saudi but they are popping up as the Kingdom opens itself up to the arts, and there is definitely a growing interest in a new wave of contemporary young artists. Gallery owner Ahlam Alshedoukhy trained as a doctor and is also a self-taught artist, she supports emerging artists and hosts regular exhibitions (Insta: ahlam_studio_gallery)

Al Qara Caves tour guides

And finally, we took a day trip by train to Al Hasa (also known as Al Hofuf) which is in the Al- Ahsa Oasis in the Eastern Province (largest oasis in the world + LOTS of date palms). The train took about 2.5 hours from Riyadh and it was super fast and efficient. We visited the Al Qara caves which are a UNESCO world heritage site. They are a warren of passages and openings worn through huge limestone mountains. The visitor center is called The Land of Civilization and it has an unexpected (and slightly confusing!) exhibition on civilizations from around the world. We also had some lovely and enthusiastic local guides who welcomed us and gave us some background to the geography and history of the area (pictured above).

During the trip we also visited Al Amiriya School in the center of Al Hofuf which is one of the oldest public schools in Saudi Arabia dating back to the 1920s, and was visited by Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdulaziz in 1931. Built in the traditional Islamic style it is no longer a school but has been preserved as a historical building.

Also in the center of the town, but not open to the public is Ibrahim Palace, an ancient mud built fort. It was built as a defence because Al Hofuf was strategically important in the spice trade.

And finally, we rounded the day off with a visit to Qaisarriah Souq i Hofuf- a warren of tiny streets filled with shops selling all kinds of things including spices, abayas, perfumes and loofahs (it is afterall only an hour from the Arabian Gulf).

As we toured the tiny streets one shopkeeper spied my friend and I and bustled us into her perfume shop where she enthusiastically suggested we take part in a promotional video. We obliged of course and she directed and filmed us sampling her products and giving a five star review. As payment Lamya presented us with mini jars of scented oud and took a selfie with us!

Perfume shop owner Lamya

We also met a Souq local character who was dressed up ahead of Saudi National Day and who was only too happy to have his photo taken with us!

And that rounds off our Big Arabian Adventures over the past month – hopefully more to follow soon!

Stay cool and take care,

Anne :0)

(Insta: anne.mcgrath248)