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The Girls are Back in Town

Early in March we had the rare pleasure of two of our daughters visiting us for a week. So, how to entertain two young ladies who are here primarily to see their Mum and Dad, but also keen to get some winter sunshine? Well, with No.3 daughter who leads a hectic and stressful lifestyle as a police officer in Scotland this was primarily a chance to catch up with us and unwind for a few days. No.1 daughter who has an office-based job at home was keen to see a bit more culture, and also pick up some historic and archaeological experiences.

They arrived in Riyadh late Thursday evening off the BA flight from Edinburgh and we spent the following day relaxing in our compound, before a trip out to the supermarket and a slow coffee and cake. On the Saturday we reprised our journey with friends to Painted Rock (see blog dated 24th October 2021) and had a very nice barbeque in the desert west of Riyadh. I returned to work on the Sunday and the ladies had a lazy day soaking up the sun. On Monday I took an early finish to meet Elaine and the girls at a restaurant called “Flour and Firewood”, and there we celebrated No.3 daughter’s birthday.


Flour and Firewood

We didn’t stay out there too long however, as No.1 daughter and I had a late evening flight to catch to spend a couple of days at Al Ula. We stayed in the Sahary resort, which is a permanent substantial campground with leisure facilities and a restaurant; not unlike the Shaden resort where Elaine and I stayed in July 2020.

Over the two days we visited many if the main attractions in the Al Ula area, including Elephant Rock, the old city (now featuring a pop-up Starbucks and a permanent Dunkin’ Donuts) which was hosting an arts festival, and the clifftop lookout over the valley (now named Harrat Viewpoint) where, somewhat incongruously, a Greek restaurant and coffee bar has sprung up.


Restaurant at the end of the universe

We booked two guided tours – one to Dadan and Jebel Ikmah, and the second one to Hegra. The first of these was in a coach tour that departed Al Ula Winter Park area and went the short distance to the bottom of a cliff face. Here were the remains of an ancient Dadanite civilisation that occupied the area nearly 3,000 years ago, and their burial chambers were carved high up into the cliff face above the old village which was being excavated by archaeologists. One pair of tombs were marked by carvings of lions, probably indicating the locations of important people or families. To see as much as possible, we were issued with binoculars and given a commentary in Arabic and English by ground-based local guides. We also had a look over the rope at the edge of the current dig area in the old village.


Modern-day Dadanite busy carving rock

Next, the coach took us to Jabel Ikmah (Ikmah mountain) which is a few miles north of the Dadanite settlement. Here we has a ten-minute walk up into a small ravine where there was a cluster of flat-fronted rock faces with inscriptions on them. The guide explained that this was the “open-air library” of the Dadanites and subsequent peoples. Languages carved included Dadanitic and other ancients such as Thamudic, Aramaic, Nabatean, and early Arabic; and included names of rulers and records of offerings and sacrifices made. There were a wide range of rock arts, inscriptions and petroglyphs and it was very impressive.



Carved rock text in simple form and – impressively – in relief

The wide range of cultures was explained by Al Ula’s strategic oasis location on the frankincense trade routes from the south of the Arabian peninsula to the Mediterranean. We also made a coach tour to Hegra, whiere I had been twice before and it remained equally impressive. The tour guides and organisation has improved further, with our coach from Al Ula taking us to a central tomb in Hegra where we could catch the internal bus shuttle that operated every 20 minutes around a circuit, this allowing us to spend more time at any zone should we wish. My daughter was very impressed with the sights seen in Al Ula area, and I’m sure it will be inspirational for her. On an organisational note, there is now a Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) which is charged with promoting and controlling the unique offerings in the area. Also, the Hegra tour – this time – did not include the old Hejaz railway station at Madain Saleh, this apparently is being upgraded to incorporate a hotel complex and is currently out of bounds.

Meanwhile back in Riyadh, the ladies enjoyed a day out playing cards at another compound nearby to ours, enjoyed some retail therapy and another nice meal out. We reunited on the Wednesday evening, and all too soon on Thursday evening we were back at Riyadh airport waving goodbye to our lovely daughters.

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