A Dubai weekend…

Dubai skyline taken from the Dubai Frame.

Hello and greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun (well almost, it’s warm but overcast). Life has been going along as usual with the slight addition that I have got some part time/freelance work with a PR firm based in city centre Riyadh, which is why things have been a little quiet on the blog recently – but exciting to be working in KSA!

I might do a blog about working in KSA in the future, but for now the only differences to working in Belfast are that I have a driver who brings me and collects me, the air conditioning is so cold I have to go outside at lunchtime to warm up and when I go to the coffee machine I have to wear an abaya (I don’t have to wear it in our actual office as there are no Saudis working there) – apart from that work is work wherever you are in the world!

I thought I would do something different for this blog and write about our recent weekend in Dubai. It was our second trip to the glamorous, glitzy UAE city and I thought I would include some recommendations from things we did and others still on our list, which might be of interest for anyone planning a visit!

Dubai is all about luxury and big shiny new things – skyscrapers, cars, hotels, shopping malls etc. It’s not really a budget option and top end has no end! However we were on a visa run from KSA so our approach was not so ‘extra’ but we still had a lot of fun running around the city.

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt which is really big! It’s close to the airport and Dubai Creek (Al Seef district) – so a bit of the way out from the city centre, the Burj Khalif etc… but perfect for us.

We visited Dubai Frame at Zabeel Park which is essentially a large steel and glass picture frame (150 m high) and from the top you can see new Dubai on one side and old Dubai on the other. It opened just over a year ago and basically you take an elevator up one side, walk across the top the take the elevator down on the other – but the views are good and there is also a clear glass walkway down the middle of the floor on the top which is a bit hairy for those not so good with heights!

Next we visited Dubai Creek which has lots of winding, narrow streets. The buildings have been built to recreate the traditional Arabian style of architecture and as it’s in the Indian quarter there are a lot of shops selling Indian pashminas, clothes, flower garlands, incense etc. We took a walk around and then hopped on a traditional wooden abra boat for a trip along Dubai Creek which was really lovely!

Then we hopped in a taxi over to the QEII which is permanently moored in Dubai and is now a floating hotel. There was a really interesting exhibition on the history of the ship, but we were a little underwhelmed with the actual ship itself… but it was good to see!

Of course no trip to Dubai is complete without experiencing the Burj Khalifa laser light show which happens every hour from 7pm. We watched it from a bridge over the lake at the Dubai Fountains and the lights together with the music and the dancing fountains were spectacular – definitely something not to be missed – it’s the number one thing on every tourist’s list of things to do in Dubai!

The Burj is the tallest building the world – 160 stories high with a mix of hotels, apartments and offices. We didn’t go up to the top but instead, on some good advice, we went to Neo’s cocktail bar on the 63rd floor of the Address Hotel just across the way from the Dubai fountains and enjoyed the view from there!

Of course being out of the desert and by the coast we had to make a trip to the beach. We visited Kite Beach which is one of Dubai’s public beaches. There is lots going on: exercise classes, beach gyms, festivals, kids’ entertainment, pop-up shops, coffee stops and food trucks. We went to SALT which is the original Dubai food truck and the mini sliders were delish!!

Kite Beach with the iconic Al Arab hotel in the background.

One evening we went to another beach area called La Mer. It has a lovely buzzy vibe restaurants and cafes lining the boardwalk. We went to a restaurant called Masti – cocktails and cuisine, which was very cool. The food had an Indian twist and the cocktails were soo good. Another restaurant recommended to us was Osh serving Uzbekistan food – next time!

We also took part in another local tradition – the Friday afternoon sparkling brunch. We opted for the Al Dawaar revolving restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and it was sooo good! You buy a buffet package including either bottomless soft drinks, wines or champagnes and sit and graze on all the delicious foods all afternoon with your bottomless glass – what’s not to like?! Also as the restaurant revolves you get a constantly changing view (and it doesn’t go so fast that you feel dizzy – you barely notice it moving).

Al Dawaar revolving restaurant – food and views were great – also loved the colour scheme!

And that’s about it from our Dubai weekend. Some other top tips we would pass on – alcohol is very expensive so you might consider paying a visit to Dubai duty free on your way out of the airport ;0). Also look up and the happy hours, nearly all the hotel bars have them and it can make a sundowner go down that bit easier!

We’ve also been told Ceasar’s Palace hotel is the one if you’re looking for the Dubai super luxe hotel experience – it’s newly opened and the restaurant is by Gordon Ramsey – apparently the breakfast are amazing!

Other recommendations for restaurants include (in no particular order) Kismet, PaiThai and PierChic.

And of course no visit to Dubai would be complete without a visit to a mall – and although they’re massive they are also really, really busy so steel yourself for that!!

And as they say here we are halas (finished) for this Dubai weekend blog. I hope you have enjoyed it – until next time!

Anne :0)

PS It wasn’t very sunny but it was warm and really humid!

A night out in Riyadh…

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.

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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…

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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!!

Anne :0)

(I’m also on Instagram: anne.mcgrath248)

St Patrick’s Day Saudi style

Hello and welcome to another day of sun in Riyadh! It is spring here now and the days are like the best of our summer weather – warm, cloudless and sunny, days for shorts and Tees. I think we have to make the most of it before the temperatures begin to soar.

We were home for a short while to renew our visas but we’re back and the blogs will be getting back on track also!

So this week was St Patrick’s Day, or as it’s called here, Ireland’s National Day (no referencing saints!).

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A balloon shamrock floating in the Irish Embassy pool in Riyadh.

We were lucky enough to be invited to a reception at the Irish Embassy to mark ‘National Day’ and it was such an interesting evening. There were about 700 people including diplomats from other Embassies, together with representatives from Saudi government organisations and businesses mingling with so many Irish people who are all working and living in KSA.

The evening was hosted by the Irish Ambassador and the guest of honour was the Governor of Riyadh Region, Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. He is 75 and is the King’s nephew.

There was quite the skirmish and buzz as he arrived. He went into the Embassy to be received by the Ambassador then they came out and both national anthems were played. The Ambassador then made a short speech which was followed by the cutting of a cake with a shamrock on the top which they used an Arabian ceremonial sword for, then the Governor popped back into his car and off he went!

Where all the official ceremony took place…

Following his departure the dinner buffet was served which was a smorgasbord of Arabic and Irish dishes. And the evening drew to a close with displays of Irish dancing and Arabic music. It was really something of a pinch yourself experience. Not something you expect to experience in Riyadh. A National Day we will not forget!!

Two cultures collide – traditional Arabic music infront of the Irish flag under a desert sky…

And the National Day fun did not end there! Apparently Kingdom Tower (tallest building) in Riyadh joined in with the rest of the world and went green, but unfortunately we couldn’t see it, although if the weather had been clear we would have been able to on our way to and from the Embassy – it was just a bit of a hazy night.

I also held an informal coffee morning for the other women in our compound to mark the occasion. There were women from South Korea, Lebanon, Jordan, China, Pakistan, England, Poland and South Africa and everyone got into the spirit by wearing something green, even though I think none of them had ever heard of St Patrick’s Day, they were still keen to enter into the spirit. I served wheaten bread, soda bread, fairy cakes iced with shamrocks and of course the ubiquitous fifteens which were a huge hit (as was the novelty headware)!!

(My trademark group photo pose ;0) )

Then, just to keep things even, and completely unexpectedly, I went to a newly opened supermarket on the compound bus – only to be greeted by this:

To say I was taken aback was an understatement. And there was more:

Made out of plums, garlic bulbs and bunches of grapes…

And then they played God Save the Queen at top volume (and they never play music in supermarkets!) It was a real pinch yourself moment. Obviously it is a brand promotion for British goods, but I have never seen anything like it before… (here or at home!!)

You just never know what this city is going to surprise you with next!!

Until next time,

Anne :0)

 

Classic cars and a UNESCO world heritage centre…

Hello and greetings from Riyadh where it is another day of sun!

Today is Sunday, but the first day of the working week in KSA.

Yesterday we went on an outing to Bujairi Heritage Park and came across a classic car event with cars from all over the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council). There were lots of big American cars and cars adapted for the desert. It had a very chilled vibe with families strolling around taking in the spectacle. There were also food trucks and tables where you could pick up complimentary bottles of water. I think this kind of event is still quite new to KSA so it wasn’t overly busy. Outdoor events are also quite new and they have to hold them at this time of year when it is comfortable enough to be moving around outside (It was around 25 degrees yesterday and also a bit cloudy). We hadn’t known it would be on so it was an added bonus for us!

Surfin’ KSA…
Working the red carpet ;0)

Desert transport
Pink cadallic was my fav!

The classic car event was held in Al Bujairi Historic Park which is a modern development overlooking Old Dir’aiyah, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Work is ongoing to preserve the historic city of Dir’aiyah which was the original home of the Saudi Royal family in the early 1800s. The ruins of the old city include the remains of palaces, bath houses etc and is an example of traditional architecture. The area is being excavated and preserved but there are plans to turn it into an open-air museum.

Looking towards Old Dir’aiyah from Bujairi Heritage park
New bridge leading to Old Dir’aiyah (not yet open)

Old Dir’aiyah was established beside Wadi Hanifa, a green valley where waters gather when the rains come. The Wadi has been landscaped into a park which is popular with picnic-ers and families. Al Bujairi Hertiage Park which overlooks the Wadi and the old city includes a square, a mosque, cafes, restaurants and shops built in a style resembling Old Dir’aiyah.

There are plans to open four new museums and turn the overall area into a national cultural and tourist centre.

I have read Old Dir’aiyah is due to open sometime this year, but as yet no date has been announced. It will be fascinating to actually visit it. It is so tempting being able to view it and see the bridge leading over to it, but not be able to access it!

And that’s all for this week! I hope you enjoyed. Until next time…

Anne :0)

Rugby in Riyadh and nightime sellers…

New blue abaya gets its first official outing!

Hello and greetings from Riyadh!

This week I can’t say it’s another day of sun because there has been thunder and lightning and last night there was a torrential downpour. They don’t have drains (mostly there’s no need) so the roads are all very slippery (and the drivers have little experience of driving in wet conditions = white knuckle morning commute!) . The rain water that pools lies until eventually it evapourates.

Also ahead of thunder storms (or any extreme weather) the civil defence sends out warning texts to everyone on the Saudi network which is v helpful.

Anyway, enough of the weather update!

The other evening we went for a walk in our local area. The north west part of Riyadh we are living in was desert two years ago and close by is a a main highway leading out to the desert. The Saudis have a passion for camping and picnicking so to facilitate that are a cluster of shops and stalls selling all things camping related – a good place to stop off for anything you might have forgotten before you hit the desert for real. Most of the stall sellers are only there once it gets dark (about 5.30pm at the moment).

I don’t read Arabic but I’m pretty sure the sign says ‘Firewood for sale’ ;o)
Haggling!

There are also corn-on-the cob sellers and you can stop off for a cup of Qahwa (cardamom flavoured coffee) is you’re in need of a top up…

Barbequed corn-on-the-cob (looks like sales have been good!)
I think this Qahwa seller is trying to recreate a beachside cafe vibe…
Fresh qahwa on the boil…

Apart from evening walks we also paid a visit to the Saudi National Museum. The first gallery is dedicated to geology. Normally a small section in any other museum, but given the benefits of oil to Saudi Arabia geology gets a top billing here!

At the same time we visited there was also a large group of Saudi Scouts. I had no idea Scouting was a thing here but a quick Google reveals there has been an official Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts Association since 1961!

Scouting out the National Museum

We visited the Museum on a Friday which opens after prayers at 4pm and stays open until 10pm. When we came out it was dark and the square around was teaming with life. Families were enjoying the cool night with picnics and little children were racing around on bikes and scooters:

Finally, we were very lucky to be invited to the Irish Embassy to watch the Ireland v England Six Nations Rugby match. We sat outside under a large wooden gazebo watching the match on a projection screen surrounded by palm trees. The result might not have been what we would have wanted but it was a lovely evening and a surreal experience to be watching rugby at the Irish Embassy in Riyadh surrounded by a sea of green rugby shirt-wearing supporters.

COYBIG!

And that’s all for this week – until next time,

Anne :0)

PS please feel free to leave a comment – it’s always good to know what people think about the blog! And I also post more photos on my Instagram: anne.mcgrath248

The old and the new – Al Masmak fort and Nando’s (Saudi style!)

Greetings from Riyadh and another day of sun (albeit rather dusty)!

Al Masmak Fort

The other weekend we headed off to visit Al Masmak Fort which is the centre of old Riyadh. Built of mud and clay in 1865 the fort is where the rulers of Riyadh lived. It was stormed in 1902 by King Abdul-Aziz who went on to found the modern day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – ie he is a V BIG DEAL in KSA!!

Back in 1902 the population of Riyadh was just 8,000 – today it is over 8 million (oil wealth) – a HUGE population jump in just over 100 years and still growing.

Visitors can wander around the Masmak fort where there are displays on the history of KSA including the succession of kings dating back to Abdul-Aziz. Inside the thick mud walls make the fort cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They have also recreated an traditional meeting room covered in thick carpets and cushions and the walls decorated with swords.

Outside the fort you can take in the view with a cup of Arabian coffee – qahwa (made with green unground coffee beans and flavoured with cardamom) and couple of juicy dates! (Note the typical Arabian style coffee pot with the oversized spout).

Couch potatoes need not apply!
Al Masmak Fort from Deera Square/Justice Square…

Back in 1902 Riyadh was surrounded by a fortified wall which King Abul Aziz and his men had to scale before storming the fort. Very little of the walls remain – except for one small portion with one of the original city gates:

Posing in front of an imposing door!

In contrast to our trip to the fort we decided to make a rather more contemporary outing to the popular fast food phenomenon that is Nando’s. We are partial to the odd cheeky Nando’s at home – given our love of all things Portuguese and the child in everyone I think is still thrilled by a bottomless fizzy drink. We were interested to see how Nando’s operates in Saudi – and, it’s not the same!!

Nando’s Saudi style.

It’s table service (self serve is not really a Saudi thing) and there are no bottomless fizzy drinks :0( . Also the half chicken came served on a skewer. Suffice to say I think we will be giving Nando’s a miss until we are back in Belfast!!

Afterwards we went into the huge nearby Riyadh Park Mall which was absolutely BUZZING. It is also home to one of the first cinemas opened in Riyadh last year, after a 35 year ban on public screenings, which draws a young crowd. Apparently there are plans to open 600 screens across the country in the next five years.

Riyadh Park Mall at 9pm on a Friday night (the pink neon lights are a Victoria’s Secret shop)

Food court plaza

Finally I spotted the sign below at another plaza… it’s a different take on the recent fashion for wearing pyjamas at home ;0)

And that’s all for this week’s update! I hope you enjoyed it, until next time,

Anne :0)

Tapping into new networks…

Compound coffee morning

Hello and greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun!

This has been a busy week for social events and meeting new people.

This morning I experienced my first ‘Coffee Morning’ – this is where one compound hosts women from other compounds for a social event. They are a mainstay of compound living and each compound takes its turn to host. A breakfast buffet is put on and there is a bazaar with a wide range of craft stalls.

There were about 250 women at this morning’s event so there was a great buzz all around. It is the first Coffee Morning our compound Wadi Qurtoba has hosted so there was a bit of extra excitement about that and people were interested to come and see what our new compound is like.

The coffee mornings are social events, but they are also an opportunity for the compounds to do a bit of self promotion and perhaps get people thinking about signing a lease and moving in so they had been working hard in the few days previous to make sure everywhere was looking perfect!

The food was amazing too:

Can I have some more?…

I should have taken photos of the stallholders and some of the lovely crafts for sale, but I am going to another Coffee Morning at a different compound next week, so I will get some there. (I was too busy talking!)

This week I also went to an event held by the Irish Business Network. It was a breakfast event at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Riyadh. The speaker was Dan O’Brien a Chief Economist at the Irish Institute of International and European Affairs. He was over to talk about (you guessed it!) Brexit and its impact on the Republic of Ireland (by chance it was on the morning of the Westminster vote).

Brexit for breakfast…

It was v interesting and so good to be in a professional environment again. I met lots of people from Ireland, Scotland and US who are working and living in Riyadh. Apparently there were over 6000 Irish in Saudia Arabia – who knew?!

Finally, I also attended an event held by the Women’s Skills Bureau KSA which is a networking and professional development organisation. It was at a really cool venue called the INTO Center which offers space for training and talks. It has a New York loft decor and has a very chilled and friendly vibe. (One of the good things is that as it was a women only event we could take our abayas off which immediately made it more relaxed).

Photo by Hala Oueini

I met some really interesting women – including a lady originally from Co Armagh, Northern Ireland who has been living in KSA for 38 years! She has her own business making and selling natural fragrance candles. Find out more about Shamouaee on Facebook. (Shamouaee in Arabic means little light).

We had two talks, one on mental health and another on yoga.

Yoga, it turns out was only legalised in KSA last year (2018). The woman who gave the talk is from the US and she opened the first licensed yoga studio in Riyadh last year under another new law, also introduced last year, which allows foreign nationals to open their own business – you can check out her business: OZ Yoga on facebook.

Photo by Hala Oueini – many thanks!

And that’s all for this week folks! Hope you have a good one,

Anne :0)

Abayas, honey, taxis & apps…

Greetings from Riyadh and another day of sun!

So life in Wadi Qortuba compound is beginning to take on a bit of a rhythm. People are returning from their winter vacations and new people are moving in so there is a little bit more of a buzz about. Next week they are also holding a ladies’ coffee morning where ladies from other compounds will come over to ours, there will be stalls and a breakfast so that will be a really good opportunity to meet new people. I am also going to two other events next week so I will update on all of those in a future blog.

Meanwhile for this week’s blog I thought I would round up some updates and observations I have made on life in KSA (Kingdom of Saudia Arabia) so far.

Firstly I have a new app on my Saudi phone which is v important – the Call to Prayer App:

This is important because you need to check it before going out and plan your trip around the call to prayer – for example if you arrive at the shops just before a call to prayer you will have to wait outside for half an hour until they re-open, the same if you arrive at a coffee shop or restaurant – however if you’re in before the call the prayer you can continue your coffee or meal (you just can’t pay or order anything else). The times also change slightly every day which is why you need to check!

You can also see the first call to prayer is around 5am in the morning – we have four mosques near us and they all play the call to prayer (slightly out of sync) for each call – although now I generally sleep through it!

A funny thing here is that there are London black taxis here – and when you come out of the airport there are parking spaces for general taxis, ubers and London taxis – I don’t know why they have them – but there you go, that’s Saudi lol!

Taxi!

They are also mad for their honey here! Supermarkets have huge ranges of honey from all different parts – Yemeni honey is particularly delish! When we were in Oman there was a honey festival in one of the malls…

Honey monsters!!

Finally an update on the abaya hunt which I mentioned in my first blog post. I went shopping with two lovely women from South Korea who are our neighbours in Wadi Qortuba and we went to a traditional souk in Riyadh. It was a successful expedition, we all got new button-up-the-front abayas and there was even a tailor on hand to alter them for us. So now I have it hanging by the front door to pop up whenever I go out of the compound (which also means the usual uniform under the abaya is either black leggings or jeans with a T-shirt – no glamour here lol!)

Abaya shopping with new friends
Catwalk fashion!

Finally, something I didn’t get a photo of but I wish I had – I was being driven through central Riyadh when we were passed by a pick up truck with three baby camels in the back – two white and and one dark brown – they were so fluffy and cute, but I was too slow to get my camera out before they were gone – will work on that for future blogs!

Until next week,

Anne :0)

New Year festival trip…

Greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sunshine and a Happy New Year for 2019! We kicked off the New Year with a visit to the Janadriyah Festival which is the biggest cultural heritage and folk festival in KSA and the largest festival of its kind in the Gulf – and it was so much fun!

The festival runs for around three weeks and this was the 33rd annual event. Other years there have been days assigned for men or families only, but this year it was open to everyone from the beginning and it had such a lovely friendly atmosphere.

Stephen and I went with his two American colleagues from work and we were the only Westeners we saw there – so many of the Saudis stopped us to say ‘Welcome’ and ask us where we were from (the US always gets a bigger reaction than Ireland or Belfast).

The festival is divided into sections according to the provinces of KSA and each area has a pavilion to showcase its culture, architecture, foods, dances, traditional dress etc. Some Government departments also have pavilions – but more of that later…

We were welcomed with Arabian coffee and dates – the coffee is made with unground green coffee beans and is flavoured with cardamom (mostly it tastes like very strong cardamom water) – they make it in huge distinctive coffee pots and sip it from small cups (like espresso cups) – a little goes a long way!!

Then we were invited to hold a falcon called Sultan who was v handsome – any photo caption suggestions??

Of course we saw some traditional dancing and singing with much waving of swords and sampled some local vegetable curry and rice. We also met a lovely group of guys at an olive oil stall. The olive oil is produced in the north of KSA in the Al-Jouf region close to the Jordanian border where they have over 16 million olive trees. They have received a certificate of merit from the Guinness World Records as the largest modern olive farm in the world. KSA consumes more than 30,000 tonnes of olive oil each year. The sellers from the Al Jouf Agriculture Development Company were keen to take our photos purchasing their products and were v happy for us to take their photos:

Olive oil sellers!

We also purchased some chocolate from a lady called Sophia who had every flavour imaginable – but we opted for a bar of plain chocolate wrapped with a photo of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

There was so much going on we only got to see a small part of it all – with performances, singing, stalls, exhibitions etc What really bowled us over though was the atmosphere – it was so joyful and so friendly. We were so pleased to have the opportunity to interact with Saudis and learn a bit more about their culture.

Some of the most popular exhibitions were the line of military vehicles from the army and airforce – and in particular the opportunity to see inside a helicopter – it’s always a draw no matter what nation :0)

One of Stephen’s colleagues also got chatting some children who were very keen to be photographed for his instagram – I took a quick snap as they posed:

And finally we visited the Department of Public Prosecution who took our photo…! Is that a good thing lol?? One of Stephen’s colleagues is in the photo with us..

It was a v fun evening – people could not have been friendlier – I would highly recommend if you’re ever in Riyadh in Dec/Jan!!

Until next time,

Anne :o)

 

It’s beginning to feel…

It’s beginning to feel … a little less warm in Riyadh as the temperatures cool down to a very pleasant 20 degrees, in fact this morning it’s 17 degrees and cloudy which meant I was able to enjoy a foray out to the local shops on foot – but more of that later.

This week we went to Abu Dhabi. It was effectively my husband Stephen and his US work colleagues’ Christmas-do which they invited me to tag along on. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt on the Corniche and had a fabulous time!! Travelling within the GCC countries (Gulf Cooperation Council) is a little different for one thing there are no limits on liquids which is v helpful! Riyadh airport is made up a number of terminals which are all quite striking in their design but are all quite small:

Riyadh airport

The duty free is also rather limited but it does sell this…(spoiler alert for homecoming presents ;o) !!)

Would camel milk give you the hump??

We travelled Saudia airways and before take off, after the security and safety announcement there was an additional film – a prayer to Allah:

You can’t argue with that!

We had a great time in Abu Dhabi – there are some photos on my instagram (anne.mcgrath248) if you want to check them out.

Today as I said it is cooler and cloudier than it has been so I took myself out for a walk to the local shops – the general area we live in is still under development so it is not very pretty and it feels a little nerve wracking to step out on your own, but I decided I was just going to do it – and I had a great time! I found a row of shops including a fruit and veg, nut and spice shop, pharmacy and a mini supermarket.

It’s all gone nuts!

The guys in the nut shop and fruit and veg shop were great craic – they were all keen to chat and teach me words in Arabic. Everyone here also asks where you are from and to a person no one has heard of Belfast or Ireland! I think I will try and get a small map of the world to carry around so I can show them!! Anyway, in the nut shop I got some raisins from Yemen and they are the most delicious thing – I think I will be a regular at these little shops! The fruit and veg man said he will do free deliveries so when it comes too hot to walk I can just phone him up with my order = result!!

Anyway that’s all for this instalment – it’s definitely NOT beginning to feel like Christmas here but I have made an attempt at a Christmas tree:

Merry Christmas!

So Christmas wishes to you all from the desert – the blog will be back in the New Year!

Cheers from Abu Dhabi!

Anne x