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Italy / Women Drivers

King Salman (bless him) declared an extra two days of public holiday at the
end of Ramadan / start of Eid-al-Fitr, so I was able to extend my planned
9-day holiday to be a 11 days break. We had booked a holiday villa near
Sorrento, Italy and we were able to change flights and extend our stay by
the two days. The plan was for our 3 daughters and their 2 boyfriends to
join us for 7 of the days and so we had a lovely holiday there.
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View from above Sorrento looking towards Naples (distant left) and Vesuvius

I had not been south of Rome in Italy before (apart from a sea journey into
Brindisi and then by rail up the east coast to Faenza and thence to Florence
back in the late 1980s) so this was new territory. No.1 daughter had visited
Sorrento on a school trip over 10 years ago and had told us about it and
clearly enjoyed her time there. So we booked flights from Riyadh to Rome and
then travelled by train to Naples, picking up a hire car there. At the end
of the holiday Elaine went back to Scotland with the rest of the family and
I returned from Naples to Riyadh.

Our villa was in a picturesque village overlooking the Amalfi coast (the
south side of the Sorrentine peninsula) with glorious views. We had some
relax days at the villa, and some days out exploring the area. Destinations
included Sorrento town, Naples city, Pompeii excavations, Herculaneum
excavations and a boat trip to Capri. I have rarely been anywhere as tourist
oriented as Sorrento and Capri, in that respect they are on a par with
Venice. The tourist : locals ratio on Capri seemed to be about 90 : 10, but
even so the prettiness of the place just seemed to soak them up. The ferries
and tour boats arriving and departing Capri's Marina Grande port was on a
busy-ness level of Hong Kong, amazing.
Capri funicular from the port to the main town

Pompeii and Herculaneum sites are fascinating and well worth the visit. Both
are still being developed and are expanding as the 10m plus volcanic ash
frontier is still being dug away, exposing more areas. Pompeii is much
larger and involves a lot of trekking, whereas Herculaneum is compact but
better preserved and has (in my opinion) a better sense of community and
humanity. Pompeii has some spectacular sites such as the forum and
amphitheatre, and quirky but well known ones too - I never thought I would
take my wife and daughters to a brothel! One down side to Herculaneum was a
disappointing lunch in a café near the station of modern-day Ercolano which
serves as a tourist trap. We were lured in by its appealing look and
interactive waiting staff, and the menu prices seemed reasonable too. When
paying the bill, the food cost had more than doubled by the addition of
service charges and us having the temerity to use extras such as table and
chairs for eating our lunch. We realised that the bills were not presented
at the tables but at an indoor till point / argumentarium where the staff
pointed out that the charges were itemised in the small print (in Italian
only) in the English version menu. Daughter no.2's boyfriend, who had taken
the task of paying had managed to reduce the more outrageous and arbitrary
"miscalculations" to down to basic trade description fraud levels and I made
a decision that goes against my principles, to pay the remaining charges and
get the heck out, on the basis that we were on holiday and didn't want to
stay a minute longer. Blackbeard and Dick Turpin would have felt at home
there. Caveat emptor as the Romans would have said.  
DSC_0458JPG  Pompeii and Vesuvius

Naples is a big city (3rd largest in Italy after Rome and Milan) and is a
major port and manufacturing city. Some areas are quite inviting, and a
first impression made me think it might be rising above its Mafia reputation
(unlike Ercolano). That said, the girls kept tight grip of their handbags at
all times. There are a few nice areas, there is an interesting walk through
the old city on the Via Sapienza, there is the National Archaeological
Museum (which contains much of the valuable items recovered from Pompeii and
Herculaneum), and the St Elmo Castle on the hill above the city with views
down onto the city, the bay and Vesuvius in the background. The castle area
is well served with funicular railways, and three of these climb the hill on
different faces to reach the heights. (There is also a funicular on Capri
from the harbour to the main town, which we used). Naples also has a small
metro system, and unusually Line 1 performs an underground spiral to gain
height under the castle district. Naples is also the home of the pizza, so
naturally that had to be sampled. And Neapolitan ice cream too. The
football World Cup was in full swing and the Italians weren't getting much
interest in it, they hadn't qualified this year and this seemed to be a
national embarrassment. People in Naples seemed to be supporting Argentina,
and the reason given was that Maradona (who is managing the Argentina side
this year) played much of his club football for Napoli. As Scotland hadn't
qualified either (a regular situation since 1998) we were able to empathise
with the locals.
Naples and Vesuvius. (Herculaneum and Pompeii are out of sight to the right).

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia had qualified this year and whilst the
"Green Falcons" are minnows in a big pool, have amassed quite a following
with many charter flights operating from KSA to cities in Russia. For a
country here with minimal commercial and product branding compared to other
places, there is a lot of support to be found in unusual places.
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KitKats on sale in KSA supporting the World Cup team

From 24th June women drivers have been allowed onto the Saudi roads. And
after three days, I haven't seen any of them yet. The press is full of it of
course, not just in KSA but worldwide as this was the only country anywhere
in the world to have had such a restriction on its female population. Some
of the western press articles have been condescending, referring more to the
other areas where KSA has still to take action to meet their norms. However,
in the 2+ years I have been here, I have seen huge social change and think
that the Saudis should be praised for the recent achievements, and yes, I
agree there is still some way to go.

From the USA's "Washington Post" on-line newspaper : Saudi women hit the
road as legal drivers for the first time Sunday, with a mix of celebration
as one gender barrier fell and some activists called for the repeal of
Minutes after midnight in Saudi Arabia, a leader in the right-to-drive
movement, Manal al-Sharif, launched the Twitter campaign #Miles4Freedom to
seek an end to the kingdom's guardianship system, which requires a woman to
get approval from a male relative for decisions such as travel abroad. The
end of male-only driving is seen as part of gradual cultural changes led by
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the next in line to the throne.
But allowing women to drive - like many changes in the ultraconservative
kingdom - has been met with opposition from some conservatives and
underscores deeper internal tensions over the crown prince's challenges to
the old order.
Some women immediately got behind the wheel in their first legal road trips
as drivers in the kingdom. "I thought I would never witness this day," said
<>; one of the
many social media posts hours after the law took effect. "I'm incredibly
happy Congratulations girls we did it." As the first female drivers took to
the road in the eastern city of Khobar, onlookers cheered
ights-activists-remain-jailed-180624080615030.html> as police looked on. "We
are ready, and it will totally change our life," Samira al-Ghamdi, a
47-year-old psychologist from Jiddah, told Al Jazeera. She was one of the
first women issued a license under the new law.

And from the Saudi newspaper "Arab News", a more upbeat story: World
applauds as Saudi women take the wheel.
The world awoke on Sunday to images and video footage many thought they
would never see - newly empowered Saudi women taking the wheel and driving
their cars.
As the de facto ban on women driving ended after more than 60 years, women
across the Kingdom flooded social media with videos of their first car
trips, while some police officers among the large number out on the streets
distributed roses to the first-time drivers.
The celebrations even reached as far as France, where Aseel Al-Hamad, the
first female member of the Saudi national motorsport federation, drove a
Formula 1 racing car in a special parade before the French Grand Prix at Le
"I hope doing so on the day when women can drive on the roads in the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia shows what you can do if you have the passion and the spirit
to dream," she said.
In a tribute to Saudi female drivers, the Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji
released a special video of a song she performed live in Riyadh at a concert
last December "Today women in Saudi Arabia can legally drive their cars,"
she said. "Congratulations on this achievement, this one's for you!"
Back home in Saudi Arabia, the atmosphere was euphoric. "It's a beautiful
day," businesswoman Samah Algosaibi said as she cruised around the city of
"Today we are here," she said from the driver's seat. "Yesterday we sat
there," she said, pointing to the back.
"I feel proud, I feel dignified and I feel liberated," said Saudi Shoura
Council member Lina Almaeena, one of the first women to drive in the
She told Arab News that the event was changing her life by "facilitating it,
making it more comfortable, making it more pleasant, and making it more
Almaeena urged all drivers to follow the traffic and road safety rules.
"What's making me anxious is the misconduct of a lot of the drivers, the
male drivers. Unfortunately they're not as disciplined as they should be.
Simple things such as changing lanes and using your signals - this is making
me anxious.
"But I'm confident: I've driven all around the world when I travel,
especially when I'm familiar with the area. It's really mainly how to be a
defensive driver because you have to be."

Good luck to them all. I will be reporting on how they get on, and how
society changes to help them.

Elaine cannot drive here yet, there is a defined list of preference for
getting a place at the driving schools / test centres, or even for getting a
western licence or an international driving permit commuted for Saudi use.
- 1st priority - Saudi nationals
- 2nd priority - non-Saudi relatives of Saudi nationals
- 3rd priority - ex-patriots
And there are no timeframes announced for the 2nd and 3rd categories yet,
this is expected to be done once the flood of Saudi nationals eases off. But
that's detail, and the historic nature and progress made of the 24th June
2018 will echo on for years to come, I hope.

Car driving in Italy was totally different from that in KSA. It was nice to
be back on European streets, but you do get used to the wide straight Saudi
roads. On the Sorrentine peninsula in particular there are some very narrow
and winding roads and squeezing past other cars is part and parcel of the
experience. More worrying was the swarm of motor-cyclists and moped users
who got about twice as fast as us car users and showed no regard for rules
of the road, nipping in and out of slower traffic and overtaking even in the
most inappropriate moments. The accident rates for these people must be
horrendous, and I was surprised not to have witnessed any accidents. At
least they all wore crash-helmets, unlike the riders here in KSA.

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