Goodbye Saudi Arabia (for now)

A repatriation flight home…

King Kahlid International Airport Riyadh

Hello, and greetings from Belfast where it is (unexpectedly) another day of sun!! We are basking in an Indian summer and making the most of the late summer sunshine.

So, as you can probably surmise we have left Riyadh for a while. We recently flew out on a repatriation flight and I thought I would document our experience. There are still repatriation flights going, even though commercial flights are (hopefully!) due to start opening up again soon over Saudi airspace.

For those who don’t know, a repatriation flight is a one way flight out of a country to your home country. Saudi stopped all domestic and international flights on March 22 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, so the only way for people to get home has been on a series of repatriation flights. They are flown by a reduced number of airlines and are announced a couple of weeks in advance. Initially you had to register and book through your embassy, but now there are so many flights going you just book directly with the operator.

We didn’t have to take a Covid-19 test before we travelled, but we did have to fill in an exit form for Saudi and a passenger locator form for track and trace in the UK before flying.

Riyadh International airport was very quiet when we arrived and we were surprised that our temperature wasn’t taken even though every mall, supermarket and restaurant now checks your temperature as a matter of course …

The only flights were repatriation ones:

There were only a couple of flights going so thankfully there was basically no queuing for check-in, and after passing through security we got ourselves a coffee while we waited.

To pass the time I also had a browse around Duty Free – which has dramatically increased its range of goods and which was also having a huge sale – maybe trying to sell leftover stock from when the commercial flights were suspended, before it goes out of date!

Fancy a date??

Camel milk chocolate anyone?

We travelled on a Saudia flight – and there was no shortage of planes to choose from…

Saudia Airline planes parked up…

Boarding was by row. The flight was seven hours to Heathrow and we wore our masks throughout the journey. On arrival on the plane we were each given a comfort pack which included a disposable mask, a pack of tissues and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. There wasn’t the usual on-board meal service, instead we were given a paper bag snack pack with a sandwich, a bottle of OJ and a bottle of water. More water and extra sandwiches were also on offer. (The sandwiches were not the best!! Top tip, bring your own snacks!!)

On arrival at Heathrow we disembarked again by row which was much more organised and dignified than the usual mad scramble! The airport was busy, but not nearly as busy as it usually is. About half the shops and restaurants in Terminal 2 were closed and of course everyone was wearing their masks.

No one asked for our passenger locator form although the website had said we had to show either a printed version or a completed version on our phone to gain entry. Again, we didn’t have our temperatures taken and there were no announcements or information about the need to quarantine. No one even asked us where we had come from…

We grabbed a quick bite to eat in a terminal restaurant. It had socially distanced procedures, the staff were all wearing masks, the menu was online, there was sanitiser available and we were time-limited in our seats. It was our first experience of the impact of Covid-19 in the UK – but it was good to be back!

Then it was time to board the next flight to Belfast:

Hello Aer Lingus!

Again we wore our masks throughout and there was no service. The evening plane was full which was a surprise, but again it was boarding and disembarking by row which helped with social distancing.

And then, before we knew it. we were seeing the lights around Belfast Lough, landing at George Best, Belfast City Airport and off to start our 14 days of quarantine!

The green, green grass of home! George Best, Belfast City Airport.

So, we made it back. It was a very different travel experience from before the outbreak of Covid-19. The new measures offer some reassurance but overall the journey was something to be endured. It was good when it was over.

The lack of checking or advice on entering the UK was surprising, but we’re just glad to be home in Belfast for a while.

So while we’re here the blog will take a little break, but we hope to resume Our Big Arabian Adventure in the New Year and then the blog will resume!

Until then, stay well, stay safe!!

Anne :0)

Instagram: anne.mcgrath248

Goodbye KSA (for a little while!)

Birthdays Saudi style!

‘From our birthday until we die, is but the winking of an eye’

W.B. Yeats

Greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun, currently the thermometer is nudging 41 degrees and it’s due to get warmer later in the week with the daytime temperatures due to hit 49. However, we did have a surprise shower of rain last week. There were a couple of dust storms followed by a sudden downpour. It was very unexpected, but very welcome as it dampened the swirls of dust hanging in the air.

Anyway, for this blog I am going to feature birthdays! I recently celebrated my birthday in Riyadh, which got me to thinking about birthdays in general and how they are celebrated (or not) in different parts of the world, including Saudi Arabia.

Birthdays are generally regarded as a time to celebrate another year of your life with family and friends, incorporating the traditions of presents, cards, a birthday cake with candles and a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’.

The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age.’

Lucille Ball

The earliest mention of a birthday was around 3,000 BCE in reference to a Pharaoh’s birthday in Egypt (not on their actual birth, but their birth as a God). The Greeks adopted the practice, celebrating their gods with tributes, including moon-shaped cakes for the lunar goddess Artemis, which they adorned with lit candles to recreate the glow of the moon. Blowing out the candles and making a wish was another way of sending a message to the gods.

The tradition was passed on to the ancient Romans who adapted the practice from celebrating the gods’ birthdays to also celebrating the common man’s birthday. But only men’s birthdays were celebrated – women had to wait until the 12th century before they got their birthday cake!

German bakers introduced birthday cakes as we know them today in the 1800s and two sisters who were school teachers in Kentucky U.S. wrote the original happy birthday tune in 1893 (it was then called the ‘Good Morning Song’) and in 1924 the Happy Birthday lyrics were added.

Today birthdays are big business, but they generally all follow the same format: a birthday cake, balloons, presents and cards. Parties can be wildly extravagant (think celebrities) or low-key and intimate.

However, birthdays and parties have not, until very recently, been a feature of everyday life in Saudi Arabia. In 2008 a cleric denounced birthday parties as an unwanted influence – they were ‘haram’, the Arabic word for banned. Celebrating birthdays with singing and parties was regarded as un-Islamic and an unwanted Western influence.

In 2015 the Saudi Ministry of Health instructed all public hospitals not to allow birthday celebrations after some nurses were reported to have celebrated Christmas in their hospital accommodations.

And as recently as 2017 a leading Saudi cleric said on TV that celebrating birthdays was forbidden because it led to squandering money on parties which is frowned upon under Islam.

The Saudi ban on birthdays was in line with the strict interpretation of Islam, although elsewhere in the Muslim world birthdays have been, and are, routinely celebrated.

In recent years however there has been an easing of the ban, although it is still almost impossible to find birthday cards (there is a very limited selection in some Virgin Megastores and some flower shops have some small cards). You can find cake candles in some of the supermarkets, but again the range is very limited.

Meanwhile, cakes are easily available. Saudis love cakes and sweet treats and there are a huge number of cake shops throughout Riyadh. For my birthday I ordered a delicious red velvet cake covered in white chocolate frosting from ‘Munch’ via the HungerStation app and it was delivered within 30 minutes – result!! You can also order balloon arrangements online and have them delivered to your door – everything and anything can be delivered.

While most Saudis who celebrate their birthdays probably do so at home, there is a growing trend to go out to cafes and restaurants for a birthday meal. I have twice seen a Saudi birthday celebration in a restaurant – a cake with candles is brought out and the staff gather round to sing happy birthday, but instead of joining in and clapping, with the person whose birthday it is looking slightly embarrassed, the Saudis all tend to sit impassively and it is impossible to tell who at the table is actually celebrating their birthday – I am not sure they really know what to do, and they are still not that comfortable with public displays of exuberance!

Another time we were at a quite fancy restaurant in Riyadh when the staff came over with a dessert and a candle. They duly sang happy birthday as we all looked on bemused because none of us were celebrating a birthday. Everyone was confused, the staff said it was definitely for our table. When they set the plate down we saw it actually said (in chocolate piping) ‘Happy Brexit’!! The Irish manager of the restaurant had been chatting to us earlier in the evening and had sent it over as a joke :0)

I had not intended to celebrate my birthday in Riyadh, but of course the pandemic hit and everyone’s plans for 2020 changed. As it happened, I had a really lovely time! I had a delicious birthday cake delivered which was a novelty, a beautician come to my home and gave me a manicure and pedicure and I went out for a birthday lunch to a downtown restaurant called Okku (Japanese) which was fabulous!

I also had two surprise Zoom calls with friends and my best friend from Monaghan somehow managed to have a HUGGEEE bunch of flowers delivered to me :

So I couldn’t feel any luckier and I really appreciated all the birthday love. Birthdays in Riyadh are not so bad it turns out and it is certainly a birthday I will never forget!

Wishing you all a happy birthday, whenever and wherever you might be celebrating!

Anne :0)

Follow me on Instagram: anne.mcgrath248

My favorite TV and film viewing during lockdown…

Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it’s another day of sun!! It’s hot, hot, hot!!

So as we swelter in the heat of a desert summer Saudi Arabia is emerging from its strict Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Over the past 15 weeks we’ve had a range of curfews including, overnight, 3pm – 6am and 24 hours. Schools were closed, working from home became the norm, all shops and services were closed except supermarkets, pharmacies, laundries and banks. All flights (domestic and international) were suspended, travel within the Kingdom was banned and the borders closed.

Now, like elsewhere, things are beginning to open up. The curfews have been lifted, people can travel within the country, shops and services including hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms have reopened. People are beginning to return to the workplace (slowly), however WFH looks set to be a feature for the foreseeable future. Borders and international flights however remain closed/suspended until further notice. Face masks and gloves are mandatory everywhere.

So, while we’ve been locked down, like everyone else I’ve been indulging in a bit more TV viewing than usual. I have a list of programs/series I’ve watched, am currently watching and two old favorites I have re-watched which I thought I would share.

The list includes comedies, thrillers, dramas, documentaries and one guilty pleasure – I think you will be able to spot that one! ;0)).

Films

I have two film recommendations for the mix, both 2019 British releases and recently available on digital: Days of the Bagnold Summer and the Personal Life of David Copperfield. Days of Bagnold Summer is a sweet, gentle film, while the Personal Life of David Copperfield has a huge ensemble cast, and a storyline which bounces along like an enthusiastic Labrador puppy!

Days of Bagnold Summer

A subtle English coming-of-age comedy set in suburbia and follows the relationship between a single librarian Mum and her teenage metalhead son over the course of a summer. Poignant and beautifully observed it captures the changing dynamics of the mother/son relationship.

The Personal Life of David Copperfield

A modern take on Charles Dickens’ masterpiece. It’s brimming with gloriously eccentric characters and Dev Patel is the embodiment of David Copperfield. It’s a really wonderful adaptation by Armando Iannucci – pure escapist enjoyment.

TV series I’ve watched:

Below is a quick recap of the TV series I’ve indulged in. I’ve only posted short one line reviews as you’ll either already be familiar with them, or a quick Google search will reveal all you need to know:

Netflix – uncomfortable viewing but proves truth is stranger than fiction.
Netflix – Michelle Obama wowing everyone on her book tour.
Netflix – Series 2, poignant, affecting, gentle comedy.

Currently watching:

I am currently working my way through The Morning Show, Series 2 of Ozark and have recently become addicted to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills starting from Series 1 back in 2010… and on the recommendation of a friend, and because I really enjoyed the Oscar winning film Parasite, I am also going to continue with My Mister, a Korean language drama exploring an unlikely friendship between a young woman and an older man who are work colleagues:

Rewatching:

The Night Manager (BBC)

My all time favorite series over the past couple of years has been The Night Manager (2016), a six part BBC series based on the the spy novel by John Le Carré starring Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman – I must be on my 5th watch by now. It’s about a small MI5 unit trying to bring down an international arms smuggling ring. Tom Hiddleston is the embedded agent who oozes charm. It’s stylish, glamorous, tense and clever. The casting is amazing and the locations are breathtaking. It’s absolute perfection! I might even have convinced myself to give it a sixth go…

Cold Feet (ITV)

Finally, I am working my way through the box set of Cold Feet, a UK comedy drama which follows the lives and loves of three couples in Manchester. It originally aired from 1997 – 2003 when it was more comedy than drama, but it came back 13 years later and just as the cast ( and viewers!) have matured so too has the series which is now more tilted towards drama than comedy, and it’s even more enjoyable.

(Fun fact(s): I have met Fay Ripley the actress who plays Jenny and she doesn’t have a Mancunian accent!! She is also married in real life to the actor Daniel Lapaine who was the South African swimmer in Muriel’s Wedding.)

And that’s it for my lockdown TV and film viewing. I hope I might have suggested something new for you to try.

I’ve gotta dash – I’ve got a date with The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills to keep ;0) !!

Happy viewing!

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

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)

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

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)