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Much travelling

After a few months of low to moderate activity, I have recently had a burst of busy-ness and undertaken a lot of travel.

First up was a trip to Dammam by train, nothing unusual in that per se, but this was the first under my new employment contract with the PTA. The outing comprised of an inspection of the trains and the journey itself, an audit of the safety arrangements at Hofuf (an intermediate station) and a couple of meetings at Dammam, where the HQ of the SRO railway company is located. Now that I am a direct employee of the PTA, I have to make travel bookings through it, and it turns out that the travel agency they rely on cannot book rail tickets – apparently all government and agency inter-city travel in KSA is expected to be by air. After a painful conversation I was told to buy my own rail tix, and then claim back the airfare (!) based on the standard price. As I wasn’t directed to do this in writing I don’t think I will bother as I don't want to have to explain to an auditor in 6 month’s time why I was doing that. At least I can claim the hotel cost back on expenses.

Well, getting money back is OK in theory, but as my iqama still has not been transferred the PTA are unable to pay me my salary as according to Labour Laws I’m not actually on their payroll yet. So, the 6 weeks I have worked are being credited somewhere and I hope I will get the full value as back pay when the admin is sorted. I don’t mind volunteering for work here and there, but if its my main income I can’t do it for too long. Or accrue to much in the way of expenses either!

Next up was a long weekend trip to Prague. This was to help lead and participate in a curling training camp at the Zbraslav Centrum Tresnovka. We were fortunate to secure some World Curling Federation development funding for this and as a result we took 8 of our more enthusiastic Saudi based curlers with us. These are all people who started curling in Riyadh within the last year, and we had arranged a 3-day camp to develop their skills from keen beginners to knowledgeable and technically competent sportsmen and women. The Centre is in a southern suburb of Prague and is a small but very well designed multi-sports centre including a dedicated 2-lane curling ice sheet. There our hosts and trainers Vojtech and Dan were able to provide great coaching, both practical and theoretical. And on top of this they were great fun too, and we really got into the spirit of curling and experienced its special social companionship. Thanks, guys, and thanks also to the WCF.


Having arrived a bit earlier in the day than hotel check-in I was able to make an interest journey to Liberec, a town to the north of Prague where there is the only (maybe) operational mixed-gauge street tramway in the world. Here metre gauge and standard gauge trams share the same tracks. After that back to Prague for a pleasant walk through the city, surely one of the most picturesque in Europe. The hotel in we were staying in at Zbraslav was a former brewery in the grounds of the local monastery. While the rooms were nothing to write home about, the restaurant downstairs was full of character (and characters too). So many things available here that you cannot get in Riyadh! My flight back was with Air Arabia, a carrier I had not used before and which is based in Sharjah, UAE. This airport is only 10 miles north of Dubai DXB and is a low-cost hub. Whilst the aircraft were basic inside, the easy transfer, walking just a few feet in SHJ was much appreciated.


Hotel Darwin, Zbraslav

After a single week at work it was off to Ireland to a family celebration, my aunt and uncle’s diamond (60th) wedding anniversary. This time the flight out was with Etihad via Abu Dhabi to Manchester then a short hop with Flybe to Belfast. Annoyingly despite Flybe being a codeshare with Etihad, Elaine and I were not able to collect boarding passes for the last leg. Whether this was due to some restriction or that Flybe was teetering on the brink of insolvency, I’m not sure. Confusingly our baggage was ticketed right through to Belfast. However when we reached Manchester the flight was operating as scheduled so no delay there.

We had a lovely weekend, catching up with many relatives and slowing down to the more relaxed pace that Ireland seems to offer. I had a nice surprise on the Saturday when daughter no.1 appeared off a ferry from Cairnryan to wish me a happy birthday. We had a beautiful day and drove around Strangford Lough and crossed over to Portaferry, retracing many of my childhood steps when we had long summers with our cousins in their holiday cottage there. On the Sunday the main event was in Culloden, a high class hotel between Bangor and Holywood, and a satisfying meal was had with great company to wash it down with. The hotel was originally the palace of the Bishops of Down and has been very well restored and sympathetically enlarged. 

Portaferryjpg    Cullodenjpg

Portaferry                                                    Culloden Hotel

All too soon the visit there was over. Our return flight was back out from Dublin on Monday morning, and we had an invitation to stay with friends in Donabate, north of the city and not far from the airport. We took the Enterprise rail service from Belfast to Drogheda where we were collected, and we had a pleasant night, topped off with a visit to the local bar in Donabate and a decent Guinness. The flight out was with Emirates and although the aircraft door closed for an on time departure, it took us a further 45 minutes to get airborne. We arrived over 30 minutes late in Dubai, presuming that we would not make the connection to Riyadh (it was a 1 hour connection) and we had to go from one end of the terminal to the other and pass through security. But there was a lady at the top of the ramp holding a card marked “Riyadh” and she escorted us, partly on foot and partly by golf buggy to the gate of the next aircraft with one minute to spare. Great service.

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