Autumn in Saudi-Arabia

We’re on our way to pay a visit to friends in the Arab world and we decided to combine both Dubai and Saudi-Arabia in one trip. Here’s how things went:

We fly Swiss Airlines via Zürich to Dubai. After a smooth lay-over of an hour in Switzerland we arrive in warm Dubai. We take the hotel shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Express which is only 15 minutes from the airport. We check in, and find out we’re too late for dinner. So we buy some snacks from a kiosk and go to sleep.

The alarm clock went off at 7. After a quick shower and a good breakfast breakfast, we check out and take the shuttle bus to the airport. We’re flying with Saudi Airlines to Riyadh! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? The plane does not leave before a prayer has been broadcasted through the entertainment system, and during the flight we get a reminder that there’s death penalty of drugs trafficking! With a footnote asking us to report to the cabine crew in case we have any drugs! After about two hours we arrive and get into the airport of Riyadh. There’s a special desk for people who visit the Kingdom for the first time, and there is nobody in that line but us, so we’re lucky. When we leave the airport, we run into George who takes us with in his car to the city.
George has to go back to work so after having dropped off our luggage in his apartment, he takes us to a mall to kill some time before he finishes working. Talk about culture shock! It takes some minutes to realise that it’s the music I miss: it’s completely quiet. Also the shops for ‘families only’ are new for us, and when we sit down at a Paul’s for coffee we’re being sent away: ‘today we only serve families’. That we actually happen to be family is something we wisely did not say. We walk around and see that the pictures in the windows of the sops have all faces blurred away or covered. We are just in time to eat a snack from Cinnabon – where you have two lines at the cashier, one from women and families and one for men – because shortly after we hear the call for prayers and all the shops close quickly. George picks us up, we quickly pass his appartment, go to a shop to buy proper thobes for dinner. Then we climb the Kingdom Tower for a great view over Riyadh.

We put on our proper Saudi clothes again, quickly do some shoppingin Euro Marche, (I felt a bit awkward walking around in that thobe, but nobody seemed to pay attention to it – obviously, as everyone is wearing one – so I feel at ease quite quickly) and then we went to the traditional Saudi restaurant where we met with around 10 of Georges friends. Great guys, great food and great times! We leave around 22:00 and when we arrive at the compound, we finally get to meet Greg. We chat, drink wine, I break a glass of his and it’s time to go to bed!

We wake up after a good night sleep in the lovely house of Greg, and eat a extensive breakfast near the pool of the compound. Ali, a Jordanian friend of George & Greg’s, picks us up and takes us by car to a place in the desert outside the city. We join a Hash Run there, oragnised by a group of mixed expats. No locals allowed, both men and women can join and without having to wear clothes according the local traditions. Quite a walk, climbing rocks etc, but beautiful views around every corner, and rewarded by a beautiful sunset. Great experience!

On the way back we stop at a bakery for sandwiches (Wooden Bakery!!!! Woohoo!!), but also buy pastries for the party which is to be held that night. G&G have invited around 30 friends, and we’re drinking, singing & dancing all night long!

We wake up around 9, and expect around 10 peple for brunch! We sit outside on the big round table, and enjoy the abundance of food, drinks and arguileh. Again, lovely people around us, including even a Dutch lady from the Embassy of the Netherlands. When the people leave, it’s time for a little nap. After that, we leave the compound around 20h00. We pick up Stuart and go visit some souks for souvenirs (and a Starbuck for a mug of course!). Part of the tour through Riyadh is a walk on Chop Chop Square where we walk around with heartache. On Fridays this is the place where public executions take place.

We continue and stop at Al Saj Al Zahabi for snacks and juices. After this, we need to go home, since tomorrow it’ll be early up again!

The weekend is over and so is our visit to Riyadh. G&G need to go to work at 7 and we say good bye with pain in our heats. We shower quickly, pack and wait for the driver to take us to the airport. Without much traffic or hussle at the airport, Saudi Airlines takes us back to Dubai, where the second part of this Autumn Trip awaits.

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