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

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)