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Family visit

Oh happy day!

Permissions for family to get visit visas to come out to Saudi have finally been granted. A last minute flurry of activity at the Saudi Embassy in London saw visas actually issued, and Elaine along with daughters 2 and 3 flew out on the daily BA flight a week past Thursday. I met them at Riyadh airport, armed with 3 abayas that some nurse friends had kindly lent me. We arrived back at the compound around midnight, where I had been able to get a short term rent on a vacant apartment for the girls to stay in.

The girls were here for nine days, and Elaine is with me for three weeks. As I was working Sunday to Thursday during the week they stayed around the compound and appreciated the warmer weather here – 30 degrees compared to -4 at home. However the weather took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, and we had rain – the first since March – so the girls went home on a bit of a downer, weather-wise.

We did manage to do some cultural and touristic things in Riyadh on the free days. One event was a visit to the National Museum which had a social and natural historical history of the country. This was superimposed by a religious timeline of the prophet Mohammed’s (peace be upon him) time on earth. All very interesting yet surreal. Another evening saw us visiting the old centre of the city, the Deira quarter where the main souks are. These are not to be confused with traditional souks as found in Turkey or north Africa where ancient buildings or even caves are in use as a market; these are a series of city centre retail units that are in themed sections. One section houses the gold souk. Here bullion and artefacts are traded, and I am reliably informed these are valued by weight and carat with only a little nod towards whatever skills the jeweller has added for decoration. Other souks include clothing, vegetables, and utensils. Around the area there are entire streets devoted to singular trades or commodities. One of the strangest was a 200 yard stretch of shops that sold nothing but sewing machines and stitching accoutrements. On our way back to the car we realised that I had parked it adjacent to the square where the judicial punishments are publically carried out. I am glad to say that we were there at a different day and hour.


Getting ready....

We ate out on three nights, at an Italian, at a burger joint that the girls wanted ("Five Guys") and at an Arabic restaurant. In the last of these we only ordered main courses (fortunately the waiter spoke a little English and was able to advise us what the choices were). As we had ordered neither starters nor dessert, the waiter decided to provide complimentary dishes for us, and the dessert was produced even before we had asked whether there was any available. The main courses were various chicken, lamb, rice, bread, herb and sauce combinations.

The ladies experienced some of the high life - they were invited out by a friend for lunch at a five-star hotel outside the city one day when I was at work. And Elaine and I attended the (one week early) St Andrew’s day dinner of the Riyadh Caledonian Society which was held at the British Embassy. Nice to hear a piper again, and grown-ups juice was on tap. At this event we won a raffle prize which was a Friday Brunch for four people at a different compound in the city. So the next day we phoned up and booked the brunch. This turned out to be a themed USA Thanksgiving lunch and there was turkey and other trimmings. All very nice.

Going with the girls around the shopping malls opened my eyes to some things I hadn’t considered before. For example there were a lot of dress shops in one mall, and this raised the question, who wears them and on what occasion. Coming from three ladies all wearing abayas, this was one I couldn’t answer. Next, I was allowed to go into the “family” section of shops and restaurants. In the shops there was nothing I wouldn’t see at home by wandering around M&S or Debenham’s, but here these are restricted to “families” (a group that includes at least one adult female in the party). As a matter of interest, no.2 daughter used to work in Debenham’s store in Inverness in the lingiere department, and we found a Debenham’s in one of the malls here and she went straight to that department to compare the products and layout. These were declared to be similar and satisfactory.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in the restaurants though, although I had hoped for a little more decoration and homeliness in the “family” sections than what some of the “singles” (men only) sections have. Well, I can report there are family booths, which can contain four people upwards, and these booths have curtains or screens which can be pulled to give privacy. There are also normal open tables. In the Saudi restaurant the décor was a little better in the Family section than in the Singles, but in the burger place the décor was identical (apart from the option of closing your booth off by curtain) however the place was full of noisy and unruly children – many running amok away from unconcerned parents or harassed nannies. I am afraid that fairly spoiled the ambience. One day we stopped by at a Subway for lunch (takeaway/eat-in American sandwich shop in case you didn’t know) and were refused the option to sit down and eat as they didn’t have a separate Family section. We wouldn’t have minded, but it was against the rules/culture.  

The girls were also treated to the perennial displays of Saudi driving lunacy all completely free of charge and I am sure they will treasure these memories for a long time.

I mentioned rain earlier – this has only added to the motoring mayhem. In the last three days the rainfall we have had is apparently a whole year's worth in Riyadh. I have only now noticed that Saudi roads have been constructed without drainage. There are a few sump drains at main road underpasses to prevent them turning into swimming pools, but lesser roads and main road level stretches are not drained at all, and water goes wherever gravity takes it. The high kerbs have the effect of capturing Many roads have no camber so the pools are haphazardly spread around the surfaces and this leaves you with choices of whether to weave around them (not a good option as there will be drivers overtaking on both sides), to plough through (also not a good option as there is no indication of depth or quality of the road surface under the water), or to drive slowly and carefully (definitely not a good option as nobody else is doing that and you just increase your chances of being hit by a faster vehicle. The other hazard with the rain is that all the oil drips that have permeated into the road surface since the last time it rained (March 29th) now rise to the surface to create an extra layer of slippiness. Not a good combination. The correct choice is to stay at home and not go out at all, but sadly not an option for me.


The daughters seemed to enjoy their stay here and would be keen to come back at a warmer / drier time of the year. Remember the old adage though – be careful what you wish for – 50 degree heat isn’t fun!

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