Contact us

Forth bridges / Slow boat to China / Blue Man Group / Women drivers

After the Hajj I had the opportunity to get home to Biggar for a few days. This leave was granted at late notice so I booked flights at almost the last moment. BA was charging silly prices (nearly GBP 2,000 for a return from Riyadh to Edinburgh) so there was no way I was paying that. Elaine was already at home for the school holiday week, and had booked her ticket weeks earlier. So off to look what Skyscanner could offer. The best deal that I could find was from Jeddah – Geneva – Edinburgh (Saudia / Easyjet), and a tortuously slow return EDI-Basel (Easyjet), BSL – Istanbul SAW, and SAW – Hatay (both Pegasus) finishing with HTY-RUH with Flynas.

So I dumped my Hajj PPE with a colleague who had kindly offered to return it to Riyadh for me and set off to Jeddah Airport. I had a night in an hotel near there before an 09.00 flight, this went without a hitch and I was enjoying my first bacon roll and beer in a pub in Geneva city by mid-afternoon. With a five-hour connection I also had time to take a tram out to the CERN visitor centre, and had a very brief look at that. Then back to the airport and an uneventful journey to EDI.

It was great to be home for a few days and see all the family and reacquaint myself with our Scottish dog contingent. The weather was mixed, but good enough for some lovely fresh air walks. We also had a journey to South Queensferry to see the recently completed bridge across the Forth there. It had just been opened by Her Majesty the Queen the day before, and on this day it was also closed to road traffic to allow locals the chance to walk across it (there is no footpath on it). I was delighted to see it finished, it had been one of the major projects happening when I was at Transport Scotland. Whilst I had no part in that project, my friend David Climie had, he was the Project Director for the design and construction of the Queensferry Crossing. David and I go way back, we were at school together and in the distant past our team got to the finals of the Scottish Junior Curling Championships (came third). I also saw the World Heritage plaque for the Forth (rail) Bridge, recently unveiled. Now that WH bid was a project that I did have something to do with!

 DSC_0912.JPG  DSC_0919.JPG

The new Queensferry Crossing                                        UNESCO plaque unveiled August 2017

All to soon we were on our way from Biggar to Riyadh. My flight was at 08,40, 20 minutes before Elaine’s BA connection to LHR then on to RUH. My Easyjet return set off to Basel and arrived there on time. Not quite enough time on the ground there to see anything other than the terminal before joining the Pegasus flight to Istanbul SAW. Never mind, I would have plenty of time there for a wander about in Istanbul. Pegasus, as I learned is the Turkish equivalent of RyanAir, no frills whatsoever. We set off 30 minutes late without any explanation, and as we approached Istanbul SAW, again with no explanation in English, French or German, we flew past at about 10,000 feet and landed at Bursa. This is the equivalent of flying towards Glasgow and then landing at Campbeltown as Bursa is on the other side of the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul. I asked my neighbouring Turk what was going on, and he replied that the announcement had stated that there was a problem on the runway at SAW and we would be held at Bursa until it was resolved. Eventually we refuelled and took off again to SAW, arriving there 2.5 hours later than scheduled. Still plenty of time for my connection to Hatay, though. The next leg was uneventful, but HTY was a real backwoods airport. It is near Antakya in south-east Turkey and almost up against the fence with Syria. As we arrived in the dark and took off again with Flynas still in darkness, I didn’t have any real idea of what the local conditions were. Maybe just as well. I eventually arrived in Riyadh some 10 hours after Elaine did. Not the most relaxing of journeys. Also, three landings and take-offs in a country that is neither the origin nor destination point for the journey must be unusual.

The week after arriving back, we went to see that rarest of events in Riyadh – a public entertainment show. This was the USA visual variety act, the Blue Man Group. We enjoyed the artistic aspects of the show, but to put it mildly, the organisation left a lot to be desired. Also the audience – 95% Saudis – had no respect for the act. Those that were there when the show started 45 minutes late spent much of their time wandering about, chatting on their mobile phones, and shouting greetings to their friends who continued to drift in (and out) throughout the show. Goodness knows what the artistes must have thought. In fairness, the Saudis do not have the experience, cultural background and opportunities that those of us in the west have and we should not expect our perceived cultural norms to be the same in a foreign land. Another positive was that the audience was not restricted to men, there were many Saudi women and children there too. Nice to see them being allowed to get out, although there was still segregation in the audience. Men were in the balcony, families in the stalls.

The big news, one that has been reported around the world, is that restrictions on women driving will be lifted next June. This is of course great tidings for the ladies, and as KSA is the only country in the world where they are not allowed to drive on the roads*, it’s an overdue decision. It will be interesting to see how the practicalities will be tackled, with the strict cultural and religious rules. Who will teach the ladies to drive? Will the all-male traffic police be allowed to stop a car driven by a female, or deal with a road collision involving a woman? What is peripheral vision like in a niqab? All interesting questions. I would like to think that the introduction of women driving will have a calming influence on the testosterone-fuelled wacky races that is driving in Riyadh today.

*There are female pilots in the Royal Saudi Air Force, and women are trained to drive trains in emergency mode on the automatic people mover system in the Princess Noura University in Riyadh.

WP_20171010_001 (002).jpg

Ladies having fun driving in a safer environment!

Contacting us is straightforward

* Email:

* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212