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)

Perfume shopping and metro trains

Scratch and sniff…

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it’s another day of sun and the temperature is nudging 42 degrees.

You do acclimatize to it – however we do spend most of our time in air conditioned cars, malls, at the office or at home. It is really too hot to sit outside and the sun is too harsh even if you wanted to for any length of time. And even in the evening it is still too uncomfortably warm to sit outside – people in our compound with patios are looking forward to the cooler autumn nights when they can BBQ and use their outdoor furniture again!

Anyway I thought for this blog I would share two interesting outings I enjoyed recently in Riyadh – one was perfume shopping the other was to the Riyadh Metro Visitor Centre.

Saudis love heavy perfume/aftershave fragrances. The women in the malls sweep by you in a cloud of expensive perfume (and the men also love their aftershaves). The women will liberally scent their abayas and both men and women like to carry their scent with them and have quick spritz before they leave the car, go into the office, go to a friend/family’s house.

My husband has a Saudi work colleague who has an array of designer aftershaves in his office and will invite people to help themselves or he might even just spray an unsuspecting colleague himself in a gesture of goodwill!

I went to a famous Saudi perfumery called Bassem al Qassem with a friend to try out the range.

Bassem al Qassem is a global brand selling luxury French perfumes from Grasse with an Arab flavour. The perfumes have numbers rather than names and you have to smell them to decide which one you like – there are so many to sniff they provide little pots of coffee granules so that you can reset your nose every so often so that you become overwhelmed with the heady fragrances. You can buy anything from just one bottle to a whole luxury trunk of perfume containing 57 litres for the knock down price of $10,500 (I resisted)!

The service was lovely and I chose a delicious fragrance which I have been spraying liberally ever since – Saudi style!

After the perfume shopping my friend wanted to get a couple of new abayas so we went to the Royal Mall which specializes in abaya shops. She bought two – one in navy with a white trim and one in black with a teal trim (I forgot to take photos…). The shops also offer an alteration service so we were able to go off and have a coffee for half an hour while that was carried out and then go back and collect them.

Store after store selling abayas – haggling is expected!

Both shopping events were really interesting and a glimpse into Saudi life – my friend is Western but married to a Saudi so she was took me around. The mall was also almost exclusively Saudi – on average Saudi women will have around 30-40 abayas and there are always new designs coming out – so there is always abaya shopping to be done!!

On a different day my husband and I took ourselves off to visit the Riyadh Metro Visitor Centre. Riyadh is currently building an extensive metro system due to be fully operational by 2021. It will have six lines, 85 stations and will cover 176kms. The entire construction is estimated to cost SAR22.5bn. The aim is to reduce car trips by 250,000 a day with a total capacity of trains carrying 3.6million people. We also learned at the visitor centre that there up to 17 deaths a day on the roads across KSA – (that’s over 6,500 a year) so they also hope the metro will have a big impact on reducing that statistic.

Construction is currently taking place simulanteously across Riyadh with road diversions and road closures in place everywhere – which doesn’t help the already heavy traffic situation across the city…

The metro system will be complemented by a local bus service with over 1000 new buses to make it easier for people to reach the metro stations without taking their car. The stations have all be exclusively designed and have signature undulating roofs which (we were told) are based on the rise and fall of the desert sand dunes – a nice touch!

The new metro lines are all colour-coded with the trains and their routes all branded in their line colours. The trains will also have women only carriages and first class carriages.

Metro Visitor Centre entrance.

On a side note, when we arrived at the Metro Visitor Centre my husband was wearing (long) shorts and the security guard told him he couldn’t go in (!) so he went off to Starbucks and I carried on in – at the desk the receptionist asked me where my husband was (I don’t think you get many women going on their own) so I explained he hadn’t been allowed in – but the receptionist obviously thought it was better for me to have a shorts-wearing husband rather than no husband at all, so I was told it was not a problem and to go and get him. The security guard was still not happy, but the receptionist placated him – but as my husband said, men will be using the metro wearing shorts in 40+ degree heat, so it was a bit odd not to allowed into the Visitor Centre wearing them!! But it all ended well :0)

And one final mention for this blog which I have to include is the announcement earlier this month that Saudi women over the age of 21 will no longer have to obtain permission from their male guardian to travel. They have also been given the right to register births, marriages and divorces. These are very welcome developments for women and there was a huge positive outpouring online to the news. One woman was photographed embracing a portrait of the Crown Prince in reaction and the photo went viral – it was also featured on the front page of the Arab News:

And that’s all for this blog – I hope you have enjoyed sharing an insight into some of our Saudi experiences.

Until next time – stay cool!

Anne :0)

The long hot summer in Riyadh

Greetings from Riyadh where it is another day of sun!

Things have been very quiet here on the blog since the end of Ramadan. Basically we went on holiday to Thailand (which was fab!) and came back to the desert heat of Riyadh. While we were away the temperatures suddenly jumped ten degrees from 36 to 46 – and they will stay around that until the end of August. Most days are the same, sometimes there is also a hot wind and last week there was a duststorm which lasted the whole day and was particularly unpleasant – very, very hot, cloudy and so dusty you couldn’t go out without your hair and mouth covered.

The schools here are also closed for the summer which means many of the ex-pat families (Mums and children) have headed back to their home countries for a couple of months to escape the heat, and because there are so few people around all compound social activities are suspended making things very quiet. It is also generally very quiet in Riyadh as well.

So with things being so quiet there has not been much material for the blog! We did go to a stargazing event at Yamamah Park in the DQ one evening which was interesting:

Is there life out there??

Basically it happened because one guy decided to set up his telescope and open it to the public to enable them to gaze the night sky. When he got 300+ registering to attend he asked a telescope shop to set up another couple of instruments. To make it more of an event there was an ice cream van and chairs and tables were set up under water spraying fans to keep everyone cool in the night heat – and in traditional Saudi style families arrived laden with picnics which they ate on rugs under the trees. There was a huge full moon and we were able to see Jupiter in all its glory.

Yamamah Park Star Gazing Event, Riyadh

Events like this are still very new to KSA – for many years since the early 1980s there were no organised social events other than individual family gatherings, but under Vision 2030 that is beginning to change. Currently there is a festival season being held in Jeddah (Fifty Cent and Janet Jackson performed at a huge open air concert last week) and there is to be a Riyadh Festival season in the autumn (details to be announced). Last year, which was the first Riyadh festival season Cirque du Soleil performed, so we are looking forward to see what will be coming our way!!

To escape the heat (marginally!) and for a change of scene we went on a last minute trip last month to Cairo to see the pyramids. The husband said when we are currently only a two hour flight away it would be a travesty not to go and see them – so off we went! And they were AMAZING!! Cairo is one crazy city though – we thought the driving was hair raising in Riyadh – Cairo takes it all to another level!!

And that’s about all I have for this blog – as I say it has mostly been quiet and HOT lol!

I did however, take a photo of two supermarket items which you don’t see on your average weekly shop at Sainsbury’s Forestside:

And that’s all for this blog folks, hopefully it won’t be so long until the next one!!

Stay cool!

Anne :0)

Ramadan Kareem!

Hello and greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun! Temperature today 38 degrees at 11am – although I am told this is mild for May.

This month we’ve been experiencing our first Ramadan in a Muslim country so I thought I would write about what that experience has been like :0).

Ramadan lasts for four weeks and the start is timed to coincide with the cycles of the moon. For Muslims Ramadan is time for reflection, contemplation and celebration. They fast from sunrise to sunset which is 5am to 6.30pm and fasting means no drinking or eating anything during the hours of daylight. They break their fast at sunset with a meal called Iftar and later at around midnight they have another meal called Suhoor.

During Ramadan working hours are shortened to make it easier for those who are fasting – so generally office hours are 10am – 4pm (with no lunch break) – some offices will close at 3pm. Shops , including supermarkets, still open during the day (but close as usual during prayer time). Restaurants, cafes etc do not open during the day – they will generally open 6.30pm – 2am. The children are also on holiday from school and shopping centres put up decorations so there is a festive feel everywhere.

The evening Iftar meals are a big event – families gather to share the food and huge feasts are prepared. Hotels and restaurants also put on massive buffets. We have enjoyed a number of Iftar meals and were lucky enough to be invited to share a meal with the family of a Saudi colleague of my husband (see photos above).

We also had an Iftar meal with friends at at restaurant:

An Iftar meal traditionally begins with dates, Arabic coffee and lugaimat (small, sweet, fried dough balls) This is then followed by salads, samosas, stuffed vine leaves, and then a range of meat koftas, chicken and lamb dishes with rice – and lasagne appears to be popular as well! Afterwards there are sweet milky deserts flavoured with rose and pistachio, honey cake or baclava – all washed down with water or pomegrante juice.

Our compound Wadi Quortoba also put on an Iftar for residents with entertainment including a camel and pony offering rides for the children and a man pouring pomegrante juice from a large jug-like contraption on his back…

During Ramadan families also like to gather together outside after sunset, and this year there was a special festival put on at Al Bujairi Heritage Park with pop-up shops selling traditional crafts, coffee stalls, demonstrations of traditional crafts and live storytelling. These type of festivals are still very new in Saudi Arabia where until recently people had not been encouraged to gather. Al Bujairi Heritage Park is on the banks of Wadi Hanifa where old Diriyah (the forerunner to modern Riyadh) was founded and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It is being renovated and is due to open in 2020, with a bridge over the Wadi linking it to the Heritage Park.

There was a lovely atmosphere at the Heritage Park, there must have been thousands of people all milling about as it covers a huge area with everyone just soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying all the entertainment, food and drinks on offer.

And that’s been our experience of Ramadan in KSA! Ramadan is followed by a five day national Eid holiday when many people go on holiday – including ourselves, so the blog will resume in a couple of weeks time!

I’m off to pack!!

Anne :0)

A walk on the wild side

Ramadan Kareem, hello and greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun! We have actually been experiencing very strange weather lately – thunderstorms mixed with dust storms. Apparently that’s the normal pattern when the weather changes from the cooler months to the hot summer months. The temperatures are also starting to go up – the last couple of days it has been 38-40 degrees – so it’s time to crank up the AC!

Last week was also the start of Ramadan – so that’s another very new experience for us in a Muslim country. I will do a longer post about it later in the month, but at the moment it means our working hours are shorter and cafes, restaurants etc only open at night because everyone who is Muslim is fasting during the hours of daylight.

Anyway, for this blog I thought I would share some photos from a recent visit we made to the DQ in Riyadh, some photos from the compound we live in and finally tell you about the Financial Sector Conference I recently attended through my new job!

So a couple of weekends ago we headed off early to the DQ (as the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh is known). It’s where all the embassies are situated. There are also businesses, hotels, parks, residential housing etc. It’s a large area in the west of Riyadh which was built on the edge of Wadi Hanifa (the temporary river which gave birth to old Riyadh). In the 1970s all the embassies were instructed to move from Jeddah to Riyadh. Today there are lots of parks and a walking track around the perimeter overlooking Wadi Hanifa which makes it almost like a green oasis in the middle of the desert. It’s a lovely place to go for a walk or a run and it’s also popular with dog walkers. You can follow up your walk/run with a coffee or brunch at the newly opened Oud Square which is packed with cafes and restaurants and has a very European vibe. Another major attraction of the DQ is that you don’t have to wear an abaya!

In contrast to Wadi Hanifa the compound we live on is called Wadi Qortuba. It has a man-made wadi running through the middle of it which is filled with plants and trees and there are also some resident ducks on the central pond #quack. Our compound is a mix of apartments and villas built in the Lebanese style. They are large, airy and light with big windows – in contrast traditional Saudi style is to have few, small windows to either keep the warmth in in the winter and the heat out in the summer!

Living on a compound means we also have access to a clubhouse which has a gym, aerobics studio, tennis courts, squash courts, a swimming pool, a cafe and a restaurant. The compound also runs shopping buses twice a day to the local malls and supermarkets and for those with children it operates a bus service taking the children to the different schools – British, American and multinational are the most popular, and we are about 30 mins from downtown Riyadh. The management also puts on a residents’ BBQ once a month and a coffee morning with craft sellers once every couple of months. It’s a very nice community to be apart of. The majority of nationalities are Lebanese/Jordanian, South Korean and Western. It’s a relatively new compound so it is not yet full but it’s a good way to meet people and share experiences of living and working (and surviving!) in Saudi Arabia!!

Finally, as I mentioned in a previous blog I have got some part time work working with a PR company and as part of that I attended the recent Financial Sector Conference 2019. It was held at the King Abdul Aziz International Conference Centre which is part of the Riyadh Ritz Carlton complex – and Oh My Word – I have never been at such a luxurious conference centre, or such a high level conference. There I was in the same room at the Saudi Minister of Finance, the CEO of Aramco, a former Italian Prime Minister, the head of HSBC etc. Basically KSA wants to diversify its economy and move away from its dependence on oil so it wants the world to know it is open to investment. It really was a pinch-myself moment just being there. Here are some photos to give you an idea of the scale:

And that’s all for this installment – I hope you have enjoyed!

Until next time,

Anne :0)