Tag Archives: Riyadh hotel

Living the Vida Riyadh

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What a week I’ve had!

Seems like someone pinched my mojo last week  and it’s been an effort to write anything.

It all started when I ventured out of the hotel, picking up a taxi for the 10 minute ride to a local mall.

I had a one hour window before the next prayer call and figured I could carry out my business there within that time frame. Of course, the mojo slayer had other plans for me. Wallace and I had visited this mall only days ago so I knew it was ‘just up the road’ and ASSUMED the taxi driver knew that as well. Afterall, he had nodded positively when I asked for Azizzia Mall and began texting a message while he drove. By the time I looked up again I saw we were at an underpass and clearly heading in the wrong direction but he assured me all was well and I TRUSTED him to deliver me to Azizzia. Twenty five minutes later I demanded that he stop and let me out of the car which he initially refused. I screamed at him, ‘Stop this bl**dy taxi NOW!’ which caught his attention and he stopped in the middle of a turning lane while I threw some money at him.

I sat on a rock beside the road in this strange suburb crying  while men tooted at me and others slowed down to get a better look. A kind looking taxi driver pulled up and having no alternative way of getting home I jumped in.

‘Where you go?’

‘Azizzia Mall, minfudluk’

‘OK’,  he reassures me.

Within minutes we were on a highway lacking exits and heading the wrong way-again.

‘Ureed* Azizzia!   Ah-zi-zzzzi-a!!’  I cried out

‘Ayna*??’  This guy either didn’t know/didn’t understand or was taking me for the ‘proverbial’ ride. I felt like a ‘trophy’ passenger put on display for all the other male drivers who crane their necks to catch a glimpse of a woman.

After a random tear or two, I composed myself and directed him  to take me  to the city centre.  Back at the hotel, I got out of the cab to the sounds of the prayer call.  It was a  one hour, 100 riyal tour of Riyadh and that’s how it goes some days.

Hotel life is limiting especially when you live out of a suitcase and without the comforts of home. We moved to the other side of the hotel here because of a chattering jack hammer outside our window only to find the jack hammering has not only followed us but has continued throughout the area for the past three weeks.

My oven from hell continues to convert my roasts into charcoal so I took evasive action.  I ordered room service and tracked down a real estate agent. Within 24 hours Wallace and I were standing in a beautiful garden shaking hands with our new land lady. The villa we chose is a woman’s delight with a large garden ensconced with mature palm trees and reticulation sprinklers, a  garden hose and NO water restrictions. The  land lady also contracted with us to put in a swimming pool for our hedonistic pleasure and I can finally thumb my nose to every hotel that has denied me access to a pool here, just because I’m a woman.

My next challenge was to find the whereabouts of  the Express Courier documents my son had posted to me on the 2nd  of July.  Tracking the documents online I discovered that ‘failure to deliver’ was their status and checking my mobile, I knew that no one had rung me to confirm delivery. Trouble was, there was no indication of  where they were now located and no contact number to call and find out. The hunt began with my first question: what’s the name of the postal service here, what are they called?  I tried to Google and simultaneously the internet chose to die. Ah, yes, when you’re on a roll the cyberspace minions come out to thwart just like the taxi driver minions and the oven minions (told you it was from hell!).  Wallace uses the analogy of the Truman Show to reflect our life sometimes: In the movie Truman decides he wants to break out of his routine life and see the world but  is thwarted by Christof, the TV producer of the show Truman unknowingly stars in. Christof cues actors and even elements of the weather to keep Truman from escaping. It works like this:

‘Cue the oven from hell, Jeannie’s planning a succulent roast.’

‘Cue the clueless taxi drivers, Jeannie’s going shopping.’

‘Cue the Asian financial crisis, Wallace and Jeannie are in Indonesia’

‘Cue the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Wallace and Jeannie are in Goa’

‘Cue the internet, the prayer call, the jack hammer………’

It makes me laugh the way Wallace says it and it also reminds me that this is life, our life and the life of an expat is not for the faint hearted.

P.S.

minfudluk=please

ureed=I want

ayna=where

10 days after being lodged, Saudi Post delivered our ‘Express Courier’ mail.

Tour de Riyadh Part 1

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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..

Exiled Expat

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Bottle Opener vs Veiled Woman

Bottle Opener or Veiled Woman

This week I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an expatriate or expat for short.

The first answer that comes to my mind is,  an expat is someone who works in a foreign country.

Deciding to Google the term I found the following definition in an online dictionary:

‘In a sociological context, an expatriate is one who is a resident in a foreign country and it can also be defined as  someone who is exiled or banished from their native country.’

OK, so the first part is obvious: I am a resident in a foreign country.

The second definition though got me thinking.

When I lived in other Arabian countries I felt like a resident there but somehow I feel like I am an exile in Riyadh.

It isn’t my first city of choice but it’s where the shrinking job market brought  Wallace and I  to. 

We’ve been banished until we can pay off our mortgage back home.

Of course all the perks help and there are plenty of those to keep us happy but they come with a price.

For Wallace, it’s all about finding the right people to build the team  to bring about the change management the client requires.  The client in turn has negotiated the contract fee to such a paltry sum that the packages on offer aren’t  that exciting for high calibre people. Throw in all the cultural restrictions that make up Riyadh and you’re faced with an uphill battle. 

The hotel where I am staying has seen better days, there are some great facilities-spa, sauna, gym and pool but as a woman I am not permitted  access to them (they are also under renovation so Wallace can’t use them either).

This is the second hotel we have lived in and there are plenty more (in our price range) out there with hit and miss functionality.

I’m sick of moving   and loathe packing and unpacking  but what choice do I have?

All the compounds in town ( think gardens, villas,  freedom to swim)  are full and there are waiting lists of 50-200 people on each  and as each day passes by I feel the walls of hotel life closing in on me.

Come rain or shine my passion is to drink that first cup of coffee out in the garden  surrounded by sweet morning smells; it’s my way of connecting with the Creator.

 Here , there is one window to view the outside world and it is chin high so I stand on tippy toes to look out.

Directly in front of me and only 800 metres away is Riyadh’s tallest building, the Kingdom Tower, also refered to as Mumlika by the locals.  To some men it looks like a bottle opener but to me, it  appears as a veiled woman standing sentry in my path for freedom,  much like my own Mum did when I was a  teenager. Each morning I drawback the bedroom curtains and see her there reminding me to wear my abaya before I stepping out in public, sending subliminal messages to all women in Riyadh that the boys who built her are in charge of us.  Between her legs is a shopping mall  and there ain’t much else a woman can do but shop around here. Shop for what? All the pretty clothes that  will remain  hidden under an abaya? All those  stunning  evening gowns that will only be seen by other women or a husband at best?

 Wallace has just rung to invite me out for dinner, his radar obviously telling him that his Missus is having a bad day.