My top 9 KSA lockdown reads

Greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun! The thermometer is just nudging 46 degrees these days, so it’s early morning swims and then staying indoors with the AC on until sunset!

In this new Covid-19 era when staying in is the new going out, I thought I would add my list of books, TV shows and podcasts to all the recommendations which are already out there, starting with books. Over the next couple of days I will add TV shows and podcasts.

This is just my personal list of books from the past 15 (!) weeks or so, I didn’t select them for any reason other than they appealed to me – and it is only when I look at them that I realize they are all women authors – bar one. I am not sure what that says, but obviously female authors are writing the novels which attract me the most!

Also, given the Black Lives Matter movement I am aware there are no black or minority authors in my recent reads, and so with that raised awareness I will be adding novels which address more diverse themes to my future reading including:

Overall, I haven’t read as much as I thought I would during lockdown, I think I’ve just been reading and watching a lot of news, but the books I have read are all very different in terms of style, approach and theme, and I would be hard pushed to choose a favorite – but I think if I had to, it would be Where the Crawdads Sing.

I’ve written a short review of each one below. I hope you find some inspiration, or at the very least a book which you haven’t come across before. I read most of them on my Kindle which I would be lost without and which I probably should have included in my previous blog: Top 10 essentials for desert living .

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my list – any recommendations for future reads please let me know!

Books:

Where the Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens

Follows the life of Kya growing up in North Carolina. Let down and abandoned by everyone, it is a story of the human instinct for survival and connection. A coming-of-age story with a twist, the wild, natural setting provides the perfect backdrop, drawing us in and sweeping the reader along.

Daisy Jones and the Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid

Story of a fictional 70s rock group in California called The Six who are joined by the charismatic Daisy Jones. Told in a TV documentary style with band members reflecting on their rise to fame. Reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac.

Adventures in Morocco
Alice Morrison

Adventurer Alice Morrison takes us on a journey of discovery across Morocco from the teaming cities, to the peaks of the Atlas mountains and the endless sands of the Sahara. Her love of Morocco shines through in her description of the people she meets, the culture and the landscape.

So Lucky
Dawn O’Porter

An all-female cast, the two main characters are dealing with different inner turmoils which affect their everyday lives. A journey of discovery for both, we know they will cross paths at some point. Written against the backdrop of social media and the illusion of the perfect instagram life, it examines the complexity of life and the anxieties which can hold us back.

The Dry
Jane Harper

A murder mystery set in the crackling heat of the Australian outback during a severe drought. It follows the investigation into a disturbing triple murder which has rocked a small town and keeps the reader guessing right to the end. I raced through this one!

Small Great Things
Jodi Picoult

An African American midwife, Ruth, a white supremacist couple and their newborn son. When the baby dies unexpectedly Ruth is charged with murder. The book centers around the murder trial with flashbacks into the lives of the main characters including Ruth’s defense attorney. A thought-provoking and moving novel which addresses the issues of race and power. Keeps you hooked to the last page.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
John Boyne

Charts the life and times of Cyril Avery, adopted from birth into an eccentric, wealthy family in Dublin. Cyril is at the mercy of fortune and coincidence, growing up against the backdrop of a conservative, economically depressed post-war Ireland. He struggles to find himself, but eventually finds peace and contentment, as Ireland also moves towards a new more confident future. John Boyne also wrote the best-selling novel: The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas.

The Lido
Libby Page

An uplifting, feel-good read. It charts a (fictional) campaign by a community in Brixton to save their local outdoor swimming pool from developers. Led by two women from different backgrounds and generations Kate and Rosemary form a friendship which opens up new experiences and opportunities for them both.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Taylor Reid Jenkins

The life and times of fictional Holywood actress Evelyn Hugo, from humble beginnings to becoming one of the biggest stars in Tinseltown during its hey day. Evelyn relates her story, including chronicling her seven marriages, to a rookie journalist who she has asked to write her life story. Evelyn reveals her one true love and exposes the reality behind the newspaper headlines, awards and failed marriages.

And that’s my top 9 lockdown reads (so far!). I hope you came across a book you haven’t heard of, or maybe have even been inspired to pick one of them up. I’m off to download my next!

A new blogpost with my top TV lockdown recommendations should be coming soon, until then stay safe and happy reading!

Anne :0)

Top 10 essentials for desert living

Greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun. It’s been a while since my last post in March, just days after everything changed for us all.

We are currently in week 11 of lockdown in Saudi Arabia, although the strict conditions are due to begin easing from next week. I am planning to write a post about our experience so I won’t go into detail now, other than to say I am glad things are beginning to open up a little!

I thought for this post I would avoid the whole topic of coronavirus and instead list the top 10 things I have found essential for living in the desert – something I have been compiling in my head for a while. This is just my list, other people might list other things and it is definitely not sponsored lol!

The weather in Riyadh is hot and very, very dry. Currently it is 42 degrees with a low of 27 overnight – and it’s only due to get hotter as we head into June and July. Other well known places in the region eg Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jeddah and Muscat are hot and humid (unbearably so, up to 100% humidity at times), but in Riyadh, as we are in the middle of the Arabian peninsular, the air is arid dry which although it is easier to live in, plays havoc with your skin and hair. The constant search for moisture is real, which brings me to Number 1 on my Top Ten list:

1. Moisturizer

Moisturizer is an absolute necessity. Skin becomes snake-like in texture without vast quantities of moisturizer. The air is so dry it sucks all the moisture out but there are lots of good body moisturizers out there – this one is good because it is non-greasy and glides on easily. I would also include eye drops here because even eyes dry out in heat. And the desert dust also irritates the eyes, some are more susceptible than others, it makes mine stream, so I always have some soothing eye drops to hand.

2. Lip balm

Lip balm is really a subsection of moisturizer – lips dry out really easily and then they get chapped and crack so a ready supply of lip balm is essential. I have tried all kinds of and these two are my favorite – I keep a tube close to hand at all times!!

3. Hair care

Hair dries out the same as skin, especially if it has been colored – taming a dry frizz is a daily battle! The water is also desalinated and seems to strip the hair of its natural oils. It’s worth investing in products which protect against sun and chlorine damage with a built in UV defense. I also get a deep moisturizing treatment from my hairdresser when I am back in Belfast (big shout out to Linden at Keith Kane Hair and Beauty!!)

4. Playing footsie!

Dry feet – everyone suffers from it. Never a problem I had before! Feet and especially the heels are prone to becoming very dry so moisturizing and filing is a must. (Elbows also get very dry).

5. Waterproof mascara

Waterproof mascara is the only way to go and for me, this Lancome ‘Monsieur Big’ is the best. If you don’t use a waterproof mascara it tends melt in the heat and smudge under eye – this one stays put, and you can wear it in the pool without it streaming down your face and scaring the children!

6. Facial spritz

Ooo the delight of spraying a cool fine mist on your face – I never realized the benefits of a facial spritz before living in the heat of the desert. Good ones have a really fine mist which don’t leave your face dripping wet. They are so refreshing and light, also good to use on planes to perk up tired, jet lagged skin and can be used to set makeup – so a really good versatile investment! (Another good brand I would highly recommend is Omorovicza).

7. Re-usable water bottles

Hydration, hydration, hydration! The climate might sap all the moisture out of the body, but the one sure way to keep it replenished is to stay hydrated with a constant supply of H2O – and of course in these environmentally aware times we all have our re-usable water bottles. Never leave home without one!

8. Humidifier

This was something new to me – there being no real need for humidifiers in Ireland! But they are really great to have in the bedroom to keep some moisture in the air and I think they help you sleep better too.

9. Water dispenser

Another piece of household equipment which is not so common in Ireland (unless there is one built-in to your fridge) – the stand alone water dispenser. It works out much more economical and environmentally friendly to have one of these than buying packets of plastic bottles of water. All the water in KSA is desalinated so you can’t drink what comes out of the tap – and we don’t use it for the kettle or cooking food with either. One of these 5 gallon bottles (if you get it refilled) costs less than €2.

We also have a bottom loader model which means we don’t have to wrestle a 5 gallon bottle on top of the dispenser, and ours also has the option of chilled or hot water as well as just regular temperature – very handy!!

10. A.C.

Finally, the one thing no one can live without – and the cause of friction between nearly every couple we know (!) – A.C. or air conditioning. A.C. is non-negotiable. I don’t know how people lived in the desert in temperatures of up to 50 degrees + without it!!

The constant battle is finding the sweet spot which keeps the temperature at a happy medium – and of course that is different for everyone, which leads to friction – he wants it colder, you want it warmer, and vice versa! Personally I think a medium temperature of around 24 degrees is just about perfect… ;0)

And that brings this list of top 10 essentials for living in the desert to an end. I hope if you are thinking about moving to live in hotter climes it has given you some tips on what will help make life more comfortable and bearable. Please let me know if there is anything you think I should have included!!

Apart from that, stay cool, stay well and stay hydrated – until next time!

Anne :0)

Covid-19 lockdown in KSA

I am starting off this blog post on a positive note by sharing some happy rainbows drawn by the children in our compound #magicrainbows:

Greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun – albeit a completely changed world. We are in the grips of a Covid-19 pandemic, and self isolation and social distancing have become established parts of our daily lives, wherever we are in the world, including Saudi Arabia.

We have been watching the news like everyone else and following Covid-19 as it has spread across the globe with its horrifying daily statistics. However we’re OK and I hope you are too.

I thought I would suspend the blog while we all deal with this new reality, but then I thought it might be worth sharing how Saudi Arabia is coping with the pandemic and what it’s like to be here during these unprecedented times, this is not a blog I was expecting to write…

Currently we are in effective lockdown. Saudi Arabia took decisive action early on and suspended all international air travel. Since then all domestic flights have also been grounded and the borders sealed.

The schools are now in week 3 of shutdown and working from home (WFH) is in week 2. All restaurants, cafes, cinemas, malls, etc were ordered to close over a week ago. The most recent development was the introduction of an overnight curfew, which, as I am typing has just been extended to begin at 3pm and remains in force overnight until 6am the next morning. All movement in and out of the cities of Riyadh, Medina and Mecca has also been suspended. This is expected to last for a minimum of 3 weeks.

Our apartment overlooks a busy-ish road and it is so eerie when it falls silent when the curfew starts each day. Usually we hear cars all through the night. The roads around us are notorious for drifting, ie crazy high speed driving, weaving from side to side, hand brake turns etc (even though it is illegal), so we are used to being lulled to sleep by the sound of squealing tyres … so we are not missing that.

I think the Saudi authorities acted so quickly to enforce a lockdown, even before they had 100 confirmed cases, because they have experience of MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), a type of coronavirus which came from camels and was first diagnosed here in 2012. MERS is also a respiratory virus and has an extremely high fatality rate, so they understand the need to act with speed.

Saudi government advice includes: #StayHome, #AllOurResponsibility, #YourhomeYourgym and #AloneTogether which are also trending on social media.

So what are we doing to keep ourselves safe, positive and healthy while effectively locked in and locked down in Saudi Arabia?

Besides working from home and getting to grips with Microsoft Teams like everyone else, the children on the compound have been busy drawing rainbows to spread a little happiness. It definitely brought us a lot of joy when we received ours left outside our front door as a surprise gift and we have it proudly on display in one of our apartment windows.

I am also doing a daily yoga session #DownwardDog and am enjoying Rufus Wainwright’s #Quarantunes #RobeRecitals #SongADay on Instagram – check it out for a musical treat!

Global Citizen in partnership with WHO has all kinds of musicians taking part in their #TogetherAtHome performance series including John Legend, Niall Horan, Hozier, One Republic, Common etc, as well as WHO info on Covid-19. Follow them on insta: GlblCtzn

And I join Holly from The Freedom Method (Belfast based personal trainer on Insta) for her Magic Movement series and a daily injection of cardio.

I am also really enjoying daily cooking sessions with @lisafaulknercooks and @johntorodecooks for some cooking inspo, and tonight we’re making their no yeast pizzas #yum. I also see that Queens Film Theatre has lots of films to rent so I will definitely be doing that and maybe joining one of their watching parties!!

We also take early morning walks around the Wadi (park area in our compound) while the weather is cool and I’ve been busy baking – muffins and fifteens at the moment – (reason for all the walks lolz!), reading – thank goodness for my Kindle and definitely on target for the ’20 in 2020 Goodreads Challenge’, indulging in Netflix and of course lots of noodling around on the internet.

And that brings this installment of Our Big Arabian Adventure and life in KSA under Covid-19 to its conclusion, I hope it has painted a picture of life in the Kingdom during these unprecedented times,

So until next time, stay safe, stay home, stay healthy and stay positive,

Anne :0) x

A visit to the gold souq and a UNESCO world heritage site

Hello and welcome to another day of sun in Riyadh. Since the last blog there has been a major sandstorm and yesterday there was a dust storm where the sky above us looked blue, but the dust underneath covered everything in a beige haze, reduced visibility and made it v unpleasant to be outside.

Anyway, today has dawned bright and sunny and I am just back from a swim in the pool!

Also since the last blog we were lucky enough to go with some friends on a visit to At-Turif a UNESCO world heritage site in Riyadh. It is the site of a city founded in the 1700s which is the forerunner to modern day Riyadh and was once home to the first members of the royal Al Saud family.

At-Turaif

The area includes the remains of Salwa Palace built in the 18th century, a grand mosque, a souq and the houses of the surrounding city:

They have been carrying out a huge restoration program at At-Turaif in recent years and have included a number of interpretive museums including the Museum of the Horse, a living village demonstrating traditional crafts and a visitor centre. At-Turif was opened to visitors during Diriyah Season which ran at the end of last year but is currently closed again for further work to be completed. We were lucky enough to be invited along on a private visit which was a real treat and I am so pleased we had the opportunity to tour this important heritage site.

I also recently paid a visit to Taiba Souq also known as the Gold Souq, or the Kuwait Souq, or the Ladies Souq – but whatever you want to call it, it is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of treasures!!

Entrance to Taiba Souq

There has been a souq on this site for a long time – the current buildings date back to the 1960s making it the oldest ‘mall’ in Riyadh – although it is nothing like a modern day mall. It is a maze of narrow walkways radiating out from a central mosque crammed with tiny shops and market stalls. And although there are shops selling all kinds of things, his is the place to come to barter for gold – and there are SO MANY shops selling gold:

Processed with VSCO with au1 preset

As well as gold you can also pick up fragrances, abayas, kaftans, toys, make up, toys and all kinds of household goods.

It’s unlike any other market I’ve been to because there is no shouting ‘come and look’, ‘looking costs nothing’, ‘please madam, look’ etc… you are welcome to browse, but only if you want to. The women at the clothes stalls or the make up stalls might ask ‘Can I help you’ , but then again they might not…

There also appears to be a gender divide with women running the open air stalls and men serving in the gold shops. Gold is sold by weight and each piece is weighed before the price is calculated and it fluctuates depending on the worldwide cost, apparently it has gone up recently and I would have got more bang for my buck a few months ago. And of course bartering is a must!

The market opens 4pm – 1am every day and gets much busier at around 7.30pm after the final prayer for the day. There is almost a stampede back to the shops from the mosque to get the shutters up and get trading again at the end of prayers – no one wants to miss the opportunity for a sale!

Oud stall…
Niqabs – the black veil some Saudi women wear to cover their face.
My favorite – coffee pot shaped bags – so tempting, but I resisted…

Did I invest in a piece of jewellery? Maybe I did… am I tempted to go back again? Maybe I am! It was a really fun experience. I went with my friend who speaks Arabic and who knows her way around which was a great introduction. Speaking the language definitely helps – especially when you’re bartering hard on prices. But it’s perfectly fine to go on your own too – and if there is a language barrier it’s amazing how the desire to secure a transaction can overcome any language problems!!

And that’s all for this blog on International Women’s Day. (I went to an event in Riyadh where we heard from a panel of inspirational women including one who campaigned for women to be allowed to drive in KSA in the early 1990s and was subsequently banned from working for 3 years).

Anyway I hope you have enjoyed this blog.

Until next time – stay cool!

Anne :0)

Saudi houses, traditional shopping and Gift Week!

Family home in central Riyadh under the auspices of Kingdom Tower.

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it is another day of sun, although the nights are much cooler at the moment – tomorrow night it is expected to drop to one degree (don’t tell himself but I am planning to put the heating on again ;0) !!).

I thought for this blog I would focus on Saudi houses. It’s always interesting to know how other people live! We live in a compound in a large residential area in the north of Riyadh called Quortuba. It has been built up rapidly over the past couple of years as Riyadh has expanded over land that only a few years ago was just desert on the way to the airport. In general Saudi houses are VERY BIG compared to the red brick terrace houses in Belfast. They are also surrounded by high walls so that you can only see the upper stories from the road. The windows are small – probably, I think, to keep to the heat out in the summer when the windows are like radiators and to keep the heat in, in the winter. Small windows also work because Saudis are very private and it’s very much part of their culture to be very reserved with life taking place discreetly behind high walls and closed doors.

Typical new-build Saudi houses in Riyadh.

The houses are big because they will have two reception rooms – one for men and one for women. Only immediate family members will mix – if uncles, male cousins or male friends come to visit they will only meet the men of the house in the mens’ only reception room – the same for females. Until recently Saudi families were also big (they are smaller now) and most households also have staff which can include: a housemaid, nanny, cook and a driver – in any combination or multiples of!

It is also common for extended families to live in compounds or groups of houses built beside each other. However, all Saudis do not live like this – many live in apartments and the government also provides housing for those who need it.

Street life.

I haven’t been inside many Saudi homes but the ones I have are similar. Reception rooms are large with tiled floors covered in rugs and sofas around the edges of the room. The furniture is ornate and there is generally no art on the walls but elaborate swagged curtains decorate the windows:

Another aspect which (to me) seems particularly Saudi, is that they don’t seem to mind what the state of the area is like outside their house – take the house below as an example. It looks like a miniature palace. It is huge, gleaming white stone with ornate pillars and domes and is obviously very expensive…

But this is the view directly in front of it:

The area is covered in building rubble – there might even be laborers living in the tent and it is like this in so many parts of the city. The outside aesthetic does not appear to trouble the householders whereas at home this would definitely not be acceptable. Generally at home the more affluent the houses the leafier and more manicured their surroundings. I think in Saudi they are more focused on the internal and the external is largely irrelevant…

More neighborhood street views.

So, apart from walking around our area taking photos of houses I also managed to squeeze some shopping in. We went with a Saudi friend who helped us buy some traditional, handmade leather Saudi sandals and a shisha pipe:

Traditional Saudi sandal shop. These used to be in every neighborhood, but demand has dropped as people favor plastic sandals and now the traditional shops are few and far between which is such a shame.
So much choice!…

And finally, it is Valentine’s Day on Friday. Until two year’s ago anything to do with St Valentine’s Day was effectively banned in practice, if not in law, in Saudi (St Valentine is a Christian saint). The flower shops had to close for the day and gift shops removed any red products in the days leading up to Feb 14. However, in recent years there have been small moves towards marking the day. While not overt and definitely with no mention of St Valentine, displays of artificial red roses appeared in some of the supermarkets last year along with red teddy bears. This year a local date company has already promoted a healthy present alternative for ‘Gift Week’ as it is being called and one shop has already put on this amazing display!

So happy gift week to you all! I hope you have enjoyed this edition of the blog,

Until next time – stay cool!

Anne :0)

A trip to the Edge of the World

Perched on the Edge of the World

So this is the first blog of 2020 – a Happy New Year to you all!! We spent Christmas in Abu Dhabi and were back in Riyadh for the New Year. We saw in the new decade with some neighbours, but because Jan 1 is not a holiday in KSA and everyone was working the next day we celebrated at 11pm – same time as Dubai and were tucked up in bed by midnight!

For the first time ever Riyadh celebrated the new year with a firework display – they follow the Islamic Calendar, so celebrations according to the Gregorian calendar are not recognized (hence the no holiday on Jan 1), but as the country is opening up and with the arrival of a new decade I think they wanted to join in with the rest of the world. I saw some pictures of the fireworks over Kingdom Tower and it looked v impressive!

(Image from Riyadh Connect on Instagram)

Anyway welcome back to Riyadh where it’s another day of sun. We have had some rainy days recently and the temperature is down to (a cool!) 18 degrees today, but it’s still sunny and because it’s not so dusty it’s really pleasant sitting here at the dining room table with the windows open and the sun streaming in :0).

Recently we went to a place called The Edge of the World which is two hours drive north west of Riyadh:

We went with a tour company called Haya Tours (find them on instagram). The Edge of the World is where the plateau that Riyadh is built on plunges into the flat plains below that stretch 100s of kilometres to the Red Sea. For those that have been think of the Cliffs of Moher but without the sea, and to give some sense of scale the Tuwaiq Escarpment which forms the dramatic cliffs runs 700km through central Saudi Arabia. The whole of Saudi used to be under the sea (hence the oil from the ancient fossilized sea creatures) and all along the escarpment you can find fossils of shells, coral and star fish.

We followed the trail the whole way out to the far pillar

We had a picnic of mildly spiced camel stew and rice overlooking this stunning view cooked over a campstove by our guide and it was the perfect place to try camel for the first time (it was very like beef).

Picnic-ing at the Edge of the World

The views were spectacular from the Edge of the World – and you can really appreciate where it gets its name from – it does feel and look like the edge of the world. It was a great day trip from Riyadh and the top recommendation for places to see/things to do. And then it was time to head home…

And that’s all for this blog – more to come in 2020.

Until next time, stay cool!

Anne :0)

It’s all happening in Riyadh!

Hello and welcome back to the December edition of Our Big Arabian Adventure blog! There has been a lot going on in Riyadh over the past couple of months with the launch of ‘Riyadh Season’ an entertainment and sporting extravaganza which started in October and will run until March.

I’ve put together a round up of events we’ve been at recently for this blog. The Riyadh Season events happening all over the city including: a Winter Wonderland fun fair, a specially built venue with restaurants, an enormous dancing and light show fountain, an open air cinema and pop up restaurants, there are concerts, Cirque du Soleil, WWE, Formula E, the world heavy weight boxing fight Clash on the Dunes between Joshua and Ruiz, tennis, showjumping etc etc – the list goes on.

There has never been anything quite like it in KSA before and everyone is LOVING it!! The only downside is the traffic is CRAZY, there is much to be learned around moving large crowds in and out of venues (!) but apart from that it has been a really exciting time for the city and for the Kingdom.

I’ve been to a number of the events so here’s a quick round up of what I’ve been up to:

Stephen and I went to the Formula E Championship in an area called Diriyah. It’s an international racing event with high performing single seat electric cars. It was really fun watching them battle it out around the track – and watching the slick operation which swung into place when there was a crash and the damaged car had to be lifted away with a crane (thankfully no injuries). Then there was the Formula E village which was full of displays and interactive exhibits and later there was a full on concert. The atmosphere was fantastic and there were seemingly endless coach loads of young Saudis arriving one after the other to dance the night away. Dress codes were being pushed to the limits and it was just lovely to see crowds of young guys and girls mingling together and enjoying the music. Our Saudi friend said he was just so happy that there are events and concerts now that he can go and enjoy together with his brothers, cousins and friends.

Another night we went to the WWE wrestling which was held in King Fahd International Stadium and was televised live:

The WWE had all the pizzazz you would expect, big lights, big fireworks, big music and big characters! Hulk Hogan was there but the star was Saudi wrestler Mansoor (Let’s Go Mansoor!). There was also women’s wrestling for the first time ever in KSA, the two American wrestlers wore black lycra leggings and long sleeve tops covered by large baggy T-shirts – but they got a roar of welcome from the crowd! It was a big family event and the little kids beside us were beside themselves to see their heroes.

Another area attracting the crowds in Riyadh is the historical area around Masmak Fort.

Every night it is lit up with a neon light show and accompanied by a variety of live music, the night we went there were performances by a violinist playing Abba and Coldplay, a Latin American band and some traditional Saudi chanting and sword dancing – eclectic to say the least!! The light shows are also projected unto the buildings in the nearby square:

And finally, in a complete change of pace I recently headed out of the city and went on a hike along a 1400 year old traditional camel path.

The camel trek is a paved path which winds its way down a cliff edge. It marks the end of the plateau which Riyadh is built on descending down to the flat desert plains which stretch for hundreds of miles all the way to Mecca and Jeddah on the Red Sea. The path was used for transporting camels and also trading incense. The path is still used today and there were signs camels had been there not too long ago! There should be beautiful views and stunning sunsets as the view is directly west, however the day we went the storm clouds had gathered…

And we rounded off our trek as the sun was setting with a picnic of dates, nuts, Arabic coffee, white cookies and other sweet pastries flavored with cinnamon and filled with sweet date paste. However, the sun set rapidly and it was followed by a huge storm with thunder, lightning and high winds so we had to make a rapid exit as everything blew everywhere and I ended up chasing a Santa hat across the ridge of the plateau ;0). (I got it back!!)

And that’s all for this blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of things we’ve been up to0 recently in Riyadh – we have a few more things planned over the next week so I’m planning a festive bonus blog around Christmas, so stay tuned for that!

Anne :0)

Saudi Arabia ex-pat coffee mornings

Greetings from Riyadh where it is another day of sun. Temperatures dipped for a few days last week – one evening temperatures were as low as 7 degrees, the same as London and also the coldest November day in KSA since 1988. The evenings are also drawing in with sundown now around 5pm, so it might not be exactly winter, but there is a change of season from the crazy summer heat.

So I thought for this blog I would focus on the institution that is compound coffee mornings!

Ex-pat residential compounds hold coffee mornings on weekday mornings. The format differs slightly from compound to compound but essentially there will be a selection of stalls offering handicrafts, food, carpets, plants, clothes, abayas etc and a buffet breakfast which is either included in the entrance price, is additional, or in some cases is free (when the compound is trying to market itself!). It’s a lovely social morning out and the chance to see what other compounds look like.

As a resident we will receive notification that another compound will be holding a coffee morning and we send in our registration details: name, nationality and Iqama or Passport No. Then on the morning of the event we all board a bus and are driven to the hosting compound. Our IDs are checked at the entrance and then off we go! Sometimes we walk from the gates to the clubhouse or sometimes we get a ride in a golf buggy – which is always fun!

Usually we will buffet first – on offer will be Lebanese items: humous, babaganoush, foul medames, arabic bread, labneh, olives, manakish, then also scrambled eggs, omeletes, chicken or beef sausages, hash browns, pancakes, fresh fruit and sweet treats – donuts, cakes etc. Every buffet varies slightly, but those are the general offerings. During the buffet some compounds will hold a raffle with prizes donated by local businesses – it’s always a tense time hoping your number will be called!

After brunch it’s time to browse the stalls. Some of these are run by ex-pat ladies who have set up their own businesses making candles, beauty products, crafts etc and some are professional retailers. There is always a bit of bartering to be done…

And after all the shopping, eating and chatting it’s time catch the bus to head home:

Heading home…

Compounds will generally hold coffee mornings once a month during the winter and spring months and some will only hold one or two. It’s a nice way to spend a morning with friends, or meet up with friends from another compound. They are also a good place to source gifts for family and friends – has anyone spotted anything they might have received?!!

And that’s it for this blog I hope you have enjoyed an insight into KSA compound coffee mornings. There will be another blog coming soon(ish!) with a round up of some of the places we’ve been and things we’ve been up to recently.

So, until next time :0)…

Anne

Adventuring!

Hello and welcome to Riyadh where it is another week of sun! Temperatures are cooling, they are down to below 38 degrees most days now and it is really pleasant to sit outside in the evenings. The mornings are lovely as well – we are no longer hit by a wave of intense heat every time we step outside. There have been no rains yet so we are also enjoying being mosquito free – if only it was like this all the time!

Anyway, I thought for this blog I would share a recent trip I went on to a heritage village called Al Ghat, 200k north of Riyadh.

There were nine of us – four westerners and five Saudi ladies and we went on an organised tour in a little tour bus and a lovely lady called Salwa was our guide.

Al Ghat is in a region north of Riyadh where they have grown the bateel dates for centuries. It was built up around a wadi (a green area around a river or pool which is not permanent) in a large valley. The people there lived in mud brick houses until the 1980s when a new town was built with the income from Saudi’s oil money. The old ruined village is still there although a lot of it has fallen down. Some of it is being rebuilt into a luxury hotel because the area has stunning views and the air is so much cleaner than Riyadh. They have also preserved the former Governor’s house which was built around two courtyards and had huge vats where the dates were stored after the harvest . The exhibitions inside tell the story of Al Ghat and show how people used to live.

The old mosque is still used today. It is open-sided and people also usedthe roof to pray on. Check out the ghetto engineering for the loudspeakers!

After walking around the village we headed off in the bus to see the dam which was built to help with irrigation once the rain comes and the wadi fills up. Our tour guide also told us Al Ghat in Arabic is a derivation of the word for waterfall. We drove past long rows of date trees on the way and afterwards we called into a date farm for afternoon tea of qahwa (Arabic cardamom coffee) and dates.

Then we all popped back on to the bus and headed to a cultural centre which was built funded by the local date farmers, followed by a traditional Arabic picnic in the gardens:

It was a great day out and I am looking forward to more trips over the cooler winter months :0).

Finally, the Rugby World Cup is on and we’ve been along to the Irish Embassy to watch some of the games. Also really hoping this Saturday when they play New Zealand won’t be the team’s last match of the tournament!!

And that’s all for this blog. I hope you have enjoyed it. Stay tuned for the next one which will be all about the institution that is compound coffee mornings and hopefully good news on the rugby!

Anne :0)

PS You can follow me on instagram: anne.mcgrath248

Big changes – Saudi tourist visa launch (and designer dress shopping)

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)!

Loved this T shirt :0)

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!!

Anne :0)