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)…


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)