Wallace hired a smart-looking Chrysler sedan and we spent the weekend exploring Riyadh.
Every few kilometres we ooh-ahhed at yet another shopping mall and stopped by to explore a couple.
What’s good about us as a couple is that I like to window shop and Wallace likes to inspect the fit outs.
We both enjoy good coffee and exploring new cafes which every mall has.
The Marina Mall was our first stop, strangely named as Riyadh is land locked and the mall doesn’t even have a water feature. Ultimately it’s just another mall filled with dress shops and the proverbial high-tech amusement park for kids.
Kids have all the fun in Riyadh: fairy floss, popcorn, dodgem cars, whirly rides and rollercoasters, all under the roof of practically every mall. Mind you, once they reach double figures many are left to themselves without much to titillate them.
Our intention was to do a big shop for groceries and as we pulled into our favourite supermarket, the shutters went down signalling prayer time. It was 6.45pm so we decided to check out a boutique hotel on the corner for a bite to eat.
Wallace and I agreed the fit out was 5 star as we relaxed in leather lounge chairs in the lobby.
We discovered they only served breakfast and lunch but offered us their café menu.
‘Do you have apple pie?’, I asked the waiter
‘No Madam, but we have pineapple pie, it’s delicious’
‘Sounds lovely! I will have a piece of pineapple pie and American coffee with milk on the side, please’.
Wallace ordered a tuna sandwich and coffee and we sat back well pleased with our new-found sanctuary.
Fifteen minutes later the food arrived and I jumped into my pie while Wallace unwrapped the first of two large pita rolls stuffed with tuna. (Pita is Arabic for sandwich, no doubt)
The pie was truly delicious but with each bite I knew it was apple.
The waiter returned to ask if all was in order and I said,
‘This is apple pie’.
‘Yes, madam it is apple pie.’
I felt a Greenpeace moment coming on. (see my blog entry: With Apologies to Greenpeace)
Well satiated, we returned to the supermarket to see the shutters coming down once again-another prayer call!
It was 8.15 pm.
Wallace quickly sped off saying, ‘ Let’s go for a nice drive, shall we?’, before giving me any time to react.
True, as a guest in this country I need to know the prayer times before I step out but I haven’t reached the point of keeping a time-table in my bag yet. It’s another loss of freedom for me, being able to just get up and go out to shop, eat, walk, drive a car, wear what I like ….
Riyadh is a sprawling city of about 1600 square kilometres and we drove around observing how three lanes are turned into five, and how to make a left hand turn from the extreme right lane. We also saw a couple of teens holding on to the sides of a mini bus while rollerblading-nothing unusual in that-here.
At 10pm we came across Granada Mall all lit up in neon and decided to shop there. Half of Riyadh had the same idea as we struggled to find a parking spot. Inside there were children squealing with joy at a performance on a stage hosted by someone with no idea about decibel protocol. Why aren’t these kids in bed, I thought to myself. Then again, Saudi families love promenading around malls and they do it so well after their obligatory afternoon nap.
I hadn’t taken a nap and though tired, I was just glad to find a place to buy my groceries. Carrefour supermarket has 30 check-outs yet at midnight we still had to queue. Venturing to the food court, we couldn’t find an empty seat so we ate our ice cream while pushing the trolley past families eating American fast food, shwarmas and hommus.
Wallace and I got back to the hotel at 1am and hauled our shopping through the lobby and into the elevator.
As I got into bed I realised it would take a while to acclimatise to the ways of Riyadh. It is different but it is doable.
I’m getting there..