Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Month: January 2016

Old Diriyah

Old Diriyah is a site that I’ve been meaning to visit, but had never really gotten around to actually doing it. Then on a whim right after Christmas my Kiwi sidekick and I called our Pakistani driver and had him take us. Old Diriyah is located in the northwestern edge of Riyadh. It’s a historical city that served as the first home of the Saudi royal family and was appointed a UNESCO heritage site back in 2010. Currently there is a large scale preservation project in place so this enormous area can be opened to the public in the form of an open air museum. Although, truth be told- this is years away. The historical city is set in a lush wadi with tons of palm trees and it’s not very often that you get to see much green vegetation living in these parts. We visited late in the afternoon and besides reading a couple blog posts about the site we didn’t really know what to expect.

 

 

 

 

 

The actual historic area is currently closed to the public, but there is a newer commercial area with restaurants and cafes overlooking a man-made park that makes a great picnic spot. Naturally, there is a mosque- which we nearly walked into by accident, so pay attention when you visit. Since it was a weekend afternoon when we visited the place was packed with locals- mostly families there to enjoy having a picnic in the park. There were very few other westerners. We wandered around the area and then walked up to a viewpoint to see the historical site from across the road. On our way back to the main commercial area we were stopped by an Indian man who asked us if we knew where the museum was. It just so happened that we were also trying to figure out where the museum was as we were under the impression that there must be one there. We informed him that we were clueless as well just as 3 men in thobes (traditional Saudi male clothing) walked past us. The Indian guy yelled in their direction “Yallah Mohammed” and all 3 guys stopped and turned around. I’m not sure why, but we found this to be hilarious. Mohamed is one of the most popular names in the world, and they are especially found of it here in Saudi. If you don’t know a man’s name the best thing you can do is call him Mohammed because I promise you have a 50% chance of getting it right!

Foot washing station outside the mosque.

A traditionally painted door panel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the Saudi guys also did not know where the museums was. We would later come to find out that the “museum” we were searching for is in fact not open. The Saudi guys left and we stood chatting with the Indian fellah and he introduced us to his wife and daughter and then we were approached by a young Saudi couple and their toddler. We asked them about the museum of which they also knew nothing about and then they asked where we were from. As it turns out they had gone to college in Michigan so had a true appreciation for a North American winter and we chatted for about 10 minutes. Then they asked for our phone numbers and invited us to come to their place for coffee sometime. Now here’s the thing….I really want some local Saudi friends. I have a million cultural questions I want answered and I’m dying to be invited to a Saudi wedding. I was super hopeful that Naifa and Siraj were my in to Saudi life, but alas they never called.

The picnic area with the old city in the back.

A beautiful Saudi Arabian sunset.

After our little chit chat session we parted ways and went to one of the many coffee shops in the main square. Alarmingly there wasn’t a Starbucks in sight, which is odd because Saudis love Starbucks. Like bigtime love it. We settled in for a coffee and some fantastic people watching. Childhood and parenting in general is pretty much the complete opposite as compared to back home. Discipline is somewhat lacking and most of the time the kids run the show. Often times the family is accompanied by a nanny or nannies and it’s entertaining to watch the kids just do whatever they want. I have witnessed on many occasions a child walk up to a table and take their hand and swipe anything on the table onto the floor. I’m talking like a 5 year old the whole time making eye contact with the parent or the nanny. Now if I pulled that shit as a child (which I wouldn’t have out of sheer fear) I would’ve been punished, made to clean up the mess and then sit in the corner or grounded. Here it’s an entirely different response. No one blinks, so harsh words are given, just a there there type of response and one of the adults will pick up the fallen objects. For me as long as the children are at a distance they can be very entertaining to watch.

We then walked over to the AMA which is an art venue that showcases local artists. If I recall the open hours are from 4-6. They didn’t open right on time, but some persistent door bell ringing on our part seemed to speed things up. The gallery is fairly small, but has a cafe and a gift shop inside. The art is obviously of an Arabic flavour of which I am a huge fan. Visually I think Arabic is such a beautiful language and I love to see it incorporated into art work. The AMA also hosts art exhibits which I think would be really cool to attend. There are a few other stores located near the AMA, but many were not yet open. There is also the very popular Najd Village restaurant which serves traditional cuisine. We didn’t eat at this one, but I have eaten at the other location which I would recommend if you’ve never experienced traditional cuisine which is eaten family style on the floor.

So that’s my take on Old Diriyah. I really hope that at some point before I exit Saudi for good that a portion of the older historical site will open. I’m tempted to contact the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and ask them for a tour. If any of my readers know anyone with connections please do let me know as I would love to tour the old city!!

My Top 10 from 2015

2015 was a pretty epic year of traveling for me. I’ve just switched over to my new 2016 calendar and I counted all the days I was out of Saudi traveling last year. It was 109. 109!!!! How is that even possible? Since the last time I checked I work a full-time gig as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia. But apparently I was on the go a lot. I visited 16 countries over the last year, 11 of them new for me, and I thought I would share my top 10 favourite memories from the last year. Enjoy!!

1. Cyprus

Way back in February I took a trip to Cyprus and my kiwi sidekick and I rented a car and drove around the quaint island. I have 2 favourite memories from this trip. The first was the a day we spend driving in the hills between Limassol and Paphos. The  day was cold and dreary and we visited a local winery and then made our way to a small village that was devastated and deserted by an earthquake in 1969. As we arrived in the village a torrential downpour started which only added to the creepiness of our visit, and we got soaked walking around taking photos. The village is on the way to a town called Lemona. The other great memory I have from that trip was the time a stranger gave us his BMW to drive for an afternoon. You can read about that travel tale here.

Creepy right?!

2. Norway

Two words. Lofoten Islands. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. They are picturesque and have this kinda of awestruck beauty that isolated and desolate places have. Every which way you turn your head was a postcard perfect view. The gagged snow covered peaks drop dramatically into the arctic sea and I would go back in a second. I think an Atheist would have a hard time believing there isn’t a higher power of some sort after visiting this island chain. See for yourself…..

3. Sweden

The whole of Scandinavia is awesome, and travel there is pretty easy. It would be a real shame if you went to Sweden and didn’t visit the Ice Hotel, even if only for the day! The Ice Hotel is an artistic marvel in that every year the design and decor is completely different. Different artists take part every year so the theme rooms change, which you have to admit is pretty cool. It is pricey, but well worth the stay. You can sleep in one of the actual ice rooms, or stay in a heated cabin like we did. Oh, and if you go make sure to do the tasting menu at the restaurant there- it is phenomenal. Maybe you’ll luck out and the Northern Lights will come out like they did for us!!

4. Finland

Dog sledding in Lapland has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was bloody cold, but so worth it.

5. Maldives

This view……I dream about it often. This is one of the most relaxed vacations I have ever had. Ever. It was hard to decide between spa, pool, eat, nap, read, repeat. This is also the place where I attempted to overcome my fear of the water and tried scuba diving.

6. Bahrain

So VIP culture is huge in the Middles East. You rarely see anything VIP in North America unless it’s in a mocking nature, but over in these parts everything is VIP. VIP movie theaters, hospitals, parking spots, entrances. It’s all a little over the top. That is until you catch a ride over the causeway to Bahrain in a vehicle with diplomatic plates and get to cross via the VIP lanes. Yep. And funfact….they have tea boys who come right up to you car to serve you tea, while you wait in line to cross the border.

7. Morocco

I blogged at great length about how difficult it was traveling in Morocco, but one the best things we did while there was take a cooking class thru Souk Cuisine. This class included a shopping trip to buy the needed ingredients in the Medina and was a great way to learn about local ingredients whilst mixing with the locals. Even though Morocco was sometimes very challenging the food was ALWAYS delicious. I would pretty much recommend doing a cooking class or food tour whenever you travel. I’m doing one later this month in Spain and can’t wait!!

8. Bali Indonesia

At the end of August I took part in a retreat on the northern part of the Indonesian island of Bali with 17 other ladies from all over the world. My time there was so needed and really came at a time when I needed to slow down and work through some things on my own. The location was beautiful, as were the many lovely ladies I met. This was a time of much needed R&R and reflection, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful friendships that were formed from my time in Bali.

9. Oktoberfest Germany

Even though I ended up with a GI bug from hell, Oktoberfest was a seriously fun time (while it lasted.) I mean what’s not to love about a group of traditionally costumed and hugely intoxicated people smashing beer steins together while singing traditional German songs at the top of ones lungs. It was a good time, and YOLO you really only do live once so you should go.

10. Sparkling Hills Spa in British Columbia Canada

Last month I took my mom to this spa about an hour from where she lives. This is a place people have been raving about since it opened a few years back and I was keen to see what all the hype was about! The hotel is pretty much the luxury accommodations in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and known for its spa, saunas and heated outdoor infinity pools. The views from the rooms are amazing, as are the 7 saunas and the indoor floating pool with classical music playing under the water. Well worth the visit, and it was a great mother-daughter retreat.

So really that wraps up 2015. It was a pretty great year. I’m really excited to see what is in store for 2016. I’m excited for the new faces I will meet, the new sights I will see, and the changes that will take place inside of me.  I found this quote that sums up my thoughts about the upcoming year perfectly, and my hopes for both you and I…..

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.

You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, for all of us, and my wish for myself.

Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.

Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t prefect, whatever it is; art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing. Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Neil Gaiman

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