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Spring has sprung / New car

Some years we see very little, if not no rain at all in Riyadh. Yes, well it’s a desert country, I hear you say. In other years we do get some, and February and March are the most likely months. The first harbinger is the appearance of a few scattered clouds in the sky. Yes, these are rare too, we can go for 6 months without seeing any at all. Next up is a warning message, sent in Arabic from the General Directorate of Civil Defence to all mobile phones which when translated reads:

“Forecasts received from the National Centre of Meteorology indicate that moderate to heavy rain will fall in the Riyadh region (and it names all towns likely to be affected) from (date) to (date). The Civil Defence calls upon everyone to take caution and stay away from the valleys and the streams of torrents, dams and water pools and adherence to his instructions. May God make it rains of goodness and blessings. Your cooperation is our goal, and your safety is our goal.”

I have commented on the rain here in the past so I won’t do so again. But the rain does bring a freshness to the air, and drybernating (I don’t know the correct word but this seems to work) plants spring to life. I mentioned a couple of years ago a visit we made to Rawdhat Kuraim (the King’s Forest (see blog entry, February 2020) and so after a bit of rain this last week, we thought it might be a nice day out for a dog walk. We went back there and parked the car. This time the difference was stunning. Have a look at these pictures: trees, bushes, grass, buttercups, daisies and hundreds of butterflies – this could be anywhere in western Europe! The difference of course is that in a few weeks all the grass and undergrowth will disappear and only the bushes and trees will remain. And even that landscape is verdant compared to the areas nearer the city. 


One hour from the city


And not too sparse either!

But in the last two weeks the seasons have changed with the equinox and daytime temperatures have risen again and are well over 30 degrees C. In another couple of weeks we will be back to the mid 40s. This time of year, and the corresponding fortnight in autumn are my favourite times in Riyadh.

This was the first run outside of the city in my new hire car. I now have a Toyota Raize, which is small SUV, and the driving position is quite a bit higher than the previous saloon car I had been driving. But I nearly didn’t achieve the hire at all, as after I had agreed an acceptable price for a long term hire from the agency, the chap went to put my details on the registration document, and found that he couldn’t. And the reason was that because I am a resident and hold a current multi exit/reentry visa from KSA, there was a risk that I could take the car abroad without permission. However if I paid an extra 100 SAR per month this could be overridden. What nonsense! After a prolonged argument and him phoning his head office this “restriction” was disapplied. But it is interesting to note that in the world of joined-up data, my country entry status was visible to a car hire agency. Is this good or bad – discuss. I’m pretty sure that civil liberty minded folk in the UK would be up in arms about it, but strangely I wasn’t too worried, I guess I am becoming conditioned to the complete lack of privacy that joined-up data brings. There are some benefits too, if I were to have an accident and the traffic police or Najm got involved, I would not have to show any ownership / rental / insurance documents; the system would tell them that the car is legally hired to me and that I have full insurance. I think that part of my lack of worry over privacy is that I know that my stay in the Kingdom – no matter how long – is temporary, and the state probably has all sorts of access to my records here, as everything is linked by intelligence systems. But I do strictly guard my UK information and am careful with all my home personal data. I don’t see this as having double standards, more a recognition of the situation I find myself in.  

The traffic in Riyadh continues to get busier than ever, and the metro system has announced an opening date of April 2023. My own role in the Transport General Authority’s Railways Directorate doesn’t encompass the metro as a construction project, but once it is open I will have a professional interest if there are any accidents to investigate. And of course, I hope there won’t be. The connecting new bus service which has dedicated bus lanes on some of the main roads should start coincidentally with the metro, as it will act as a feeder service to the stations. Buses have been running over the new routes in “shadow” mode for over a year, presumably to help the traffic get used to seeing them on the roads. Most of the roadside bus stops are completed. When I say bus stops these are not what you would expect to find in most countries, because all are fully enclosed and air-conditioned, to provide a comfortable environment for travellers. Some of the metro stations still have obvious signs of construction activity, so whether this is last-minute finishing works, or if it will mean some access challenges until they are completed, we will find out soon.

There are several main roads in Riyadh where dedicated bus lanes exist, and these are tarmacked with red-coloured asphalt and marked as Bus Only. Unfortunately, the violation enforcement cameras are not yet active. One route I use regularly is King Abdulaziz Road and chancers whizz down them overtaking us law-abiding motorists who stick to the authorised lines. Hopefully one day soon they will all get a hefty fine and the buses will be able to travel there as intended.

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