Saturday, 21 January 2012

Can You Drink the Tap Water in Riyadh?

Newcomers to the city ask, "Can you drink the tap water in Riyadh?"  My response - Yes and no.  The day I arrived Hubby told me not to drink the tap I turned on the tap to have a little taste and see what it was like.


After hubby gave me his soundless tsk, tsk shake of the head action that says "don't you belive anything I say?  why do I bother talking"  and I respond with "is there a problem??", he regaled me with a tale of water illness.  Not his water illness.  The guy upstairs.

This gentleman had only been in Riyadh a short while and became sick as with debilitating symptoms. (Sick as what?  Just sick as!)  Apparently the doctor said, "Have you been drinking water from the tap?  Don't drink the water from the tap."  This advice was duly passed on to other compound residents and Hubster has taken it to heart.

So, based on a tale of someone else's illness, and excluding the water in which my cafe bought coffee is dissolved which, for some unfathomable reason I presume is OK because it's coffee and it's boiled at high temps, and of course the coffee and tea served up at friends homes (they fill the jug from the faucet), I do not drink Riyadhs tap water.  Not for making my tea or coffee at home or for boiling my pasta.

The thought has crossed my mind that I'm being silly, but I dismiss that rapidly, particularly as the musculature in my nether regions that specifically supports the back exit have real issues containing sudden watery gushes from the bowel accompanied by abdominal spasm.   Being caught short is not pleasant! Something I learnt on a European excursion some moons ago.

There is a rumour that some compounds put their water through an extra filtration process.   If it's true, ours is not one of those.  Our water gets pumped into header tanks and falls, with excellent pressure I must add, to our taps.

We just don't drink it.  We drink bottled water.  Big, small and in between bottles of water. 

We even fill our iron with bottled water.  If not, each time I push the Puff of Steam button globs of salt spray out on the shirt I'm ironing.  It probably doesn't do the clothes any harm, it's just somewhat annoying.

It used to be a hassle carrying all those bottles from the supermarket, particularly as we drink a lot of water, then the couple who lived next door to the guy upstairs moved out. We bought their water cooler. Fabulous.

Nestle and Al Manhal both deliver the large bottles, or rather employ some burly chaps from foreign lands to bring the water right to my door, and the cost is minimal.

Now I have to be careful I won't suffer from some form of plastic poisoning because I'm one of those terrible people who refills the little plastic bottles of water at least a couple of times before biffing them. 

Mr Noor is often requested to pull into a dairy to buy a bottle of water because I've run out whilst being carted about town in back of his taxi.  He never lets me go in on my own.  Never.  I tried once, he overtook me running.  Given that the place had blokes hangin' out the shop door with eyes definitely not being averted as I abaya flapped my way over, it is probably just as well.

If you walk the Riyadh back streets, particularly in the inner city, you come across drinking water stations.  I have never felt the urge to utilise them.  Workers, on the other hand, use them frequently.  Buying bottled water is not in their budget.

I shy away from these stations.  Call me whatever name you want, but locking lips around a fountain nozzle that has been used by someone of questionble origin and health status is not my thing.  I'm just not thirsty enough for that on my hikoi (maori word for long walk) around town.

Can you drink the tap water in Riyadh?  People do, I'm just not one of them.

Ka Kite,

Friday, 20 January 2012


The other night we went back to Anthrium for dinner.

It's located on Abdullah Bin Sulaiman Al Hamdan Street.  Our first visit was because a friend suggested we go there to experience some exquisite French dining in Riyadh.  He also said it was expensive, which explains why, on that visit, we only had coffee.  Hubby wasn't hungry enough to spend money. 

He did like this sign outside though:

The downstairs dining is windowless so on this, our second visit, we headed for upstairs in the hope of getting a window seat to look at views, something I have come to realise I really miss with my dinner, apart from wine. 
The food is beautifully presented and quite delish though I would say more Asian than French.  I left with the impression this is Riyadh's attempt at fine dining outside of five star hotels, complete with bow tied and attentive wait staff.

Unfortuantely my camera work on this visit is not up to scratch at all, so I will have to go back just to get a few more shots, but here's some of what we dined on.

The sushi dragon looked very impressive...

...but the highlight of the meal had to be the sorbet.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Hofuf and the Caves of Ali Baba

We tiki toured (kiwi term meaning 'go for a drive') to Hofuf one day, a good three hour drive from Riyadh, in search of the legendary Caves of Ali Baba.  Finding them was much easier than finding our hotel in town, but that's another story.

It pays to know the Arabic name for the caves as the locals are less familiar with' The Caves of Ali Baba' than with 'Jabal Al Gara' which, we eventually discovered, is their local name.

The security man we came across at our hotel not only knew where the caves were, but had us follow him in his car to the correct highway, then gave instructions on how to get to the correct township. 

Once in the town it only took us two attempts to find the right place after asking a local Bangladeshi directions.  He gave us the intruction, 'Go strraight', go strraight' (for best effect use the appropriate accent), but didn't mention, probably because of limited English vocabulary, 'Stop at the place with the carpark out front and steps up to a takeaway shop'.  We figured that out on our second time round the mountain block.

Our first view of the sandstone mountains that have been carved over time into a row of enormous sentries guarding the pathway to the caves, was quite breathtaking.  At least, we went "Wow!"

There is a well kept footpath that dissappears around the sandstone mountainside and, if you're the highly imaginative type, you can quite believe you will have to say 'Open Sesame' at some point to be swallowed into the mountain caves.

Unfortuantely, reality isn't quite that romantic.

The entrance to the reputed den of Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, a split in the sandstone mountain face, is quite clearly marked.  Once inside we found a surprising amount of room and it was a much cooler temperature from that outside. 

We went exploring the alleys and passageways, some that led to caverns large enough for a family to sleep in, which is exactly what they were doing so we left them there.  Another family had brought their lunch (something we wish we had done) and were searching out a suitable cave for dining purposes.

Some passageways became so narrow one of us couldn't make his way through to explore the other side, even after removing his shirt in the vain hope it would make him slimmer. 


Mum and I had no such difficulty slipping through the somewhat dark linear cracks that eventually opened up into larger spaces, some with shafts of light filtering through as a reminder the hot day was waiting for us outside.

We spent quite a bit of time at this location before driving off to findi, a little further down the road behind the shops of the township, another cavern in the mountain face which others believe to be the caves of the Ali Baba legend.  Two rather large phallic sandstone pillars mark the entrance to this  cave.  They also provided the only shady spot for parking our vehicle.

This cave has the obvious hand of the human evident within it and wasn't nearly as interesting as the others.

We enjoyed our time walking, exploring and oft times squeezing through the cave system on which the tales of Ali Baba is supposedly based and highly recommend it should you ever get the opportunity to head over to Hofuf.

Ka Kite,

Friday, 6 January 2012

Saudi Arabia's Jewelry Extravaganza

Saudi Arabia is full of rich Kings, Princes and Princesses who swan about in long flowing caftans atop camels with oil at their feet and extravagant jewelry dripping from, well, everywhere.  At least that's the word in the west.  Expats who live here are lapping at the feet of luxury.  Ok, so some of that is true.

One day, mother and I were invited to experience what can only be described as a Jewelry Extravaganza in Riyadh.  A fellow Kiwi, and long term Saudi resident, took us along to her favorite jeweler shop to meet her favorite designer.

If we had known we would be able to remove our abaya's while admiring expensive jewels we would have dressed a bit more glamorously but our lack of fashion did not detract from our day.  The young man presenting the jewellery is a talented designer and the kiwi ladies who took us out for our day of precious stone adornment have engaged him to produce some stunning pieces with stones bought at gem parties.

We had a fabulous time draping ourselves with numerous, beautiful pieces. Here's a taste of our day.

For someone who doesn't like shopping I admit not minding this jewelry extravaganza in Riyadh one little bit.

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Hofuf Out With The Locals.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, we embarked on a long and arduous journey to Hofuf in search of the legendary Caves of Ali Baba and ended up experiencing a Thursday night out with locals.

We hired the trusty GMC Yukon and took my mother along for the three hour ride.  As per usual our map consisted of instructions garnered from the internet.

Most people presume such instructions include GPS co-ordinates.  Our Yukon doesn't have GPS.  We could purchase a mobile GPS thingy, but we don't want one.  I mean, how much fun is there in actually knowing the way?  Very little.  We are of the 'Point Your Nose That Way I'm Sure We'll Find It' brigade.  GPS mapping is a complete contradiction to our style of adventure.

Of course such sense of adventure does not mean our journeys are without stress.  What would be the point of a stress free adventure?

Suitably ill-prepared we packed the vehicle and set off.

At one point in our journey we thought we had taken a wrong turn.  Our directions told of an alternate highway, however, the miniature version of the map that I could fit onto a printed page made the actual turn off to said highway....obscure.  When one has left the main drag and is cruising along barren, narrow, bumpy and empty roads for long periods of time, one can start to question whether THAT turn-off was THE turn-off.

Our only sign of humanity was the occasional car going the other way and a hazy set of structures on the horizon that may, or may not, have been a town.  It turned out to be the Aramco Compound.

We breathed a sigh of 'we are not alone' and continued on.  Our perseverance paid off and we came across the other highway with a sign to Al Ahsa and a lot of trucks going our way.

We stopped en-route so mother could get a photo taken alongside free ranging camels. 

Once Al Ahsa was in sight we decided that, prior to heading to our accommodation, we would do a little tiki tour, otherwise known as drive around.

Hofuf/ Al Ahsa is an older city.  There are numerous narrow streets with  run down buildings that still house local residents and businesses.  We came across the market center which was closed for the afternoon and drove by the old fort that I had put on my list of things to see...will have to see it next time.

About the only helpful thing to come out of our recon decision was finding, on entry to the town, a McDonalds to use the toilet and a Segafredo with WIFI just next door.  We came back often.

After our city tiki-tour, instructions to the hotel were retrieved from my bag.  They proved totally useless.  Asking people for directions once we reached the conclusion we were lost, proved equally frustrating.  

Hubby was driving and the numerous requests to go back to Segafredo's so we could use his laptop to look up Google Maps fell on deaf ears until, with stress levels running high from going round in long but continuous circles, he decided to pay heed to good advice.

At least it would have been good advice except that Hofuf was not, at the time of our visit, on Google Maps list of 'towns with directions'.  We left Segafredo's having copied the names of streets from the net, hopeful of success.... and failed miserably.

Another trip to Segafredo, this time to get the phone number of the hotel and call it for instructions.
Where are you?
By McDonalds

Unfortunately there are, we discovered, two McDonalds in Hofuf/Al Ahsa and the bloke on the phone gave us instructions from the other one.

Back to Segafredo's.

The young barista got much better at hand signal communication and pigeon English by the time this day was over. 

Fortunately two Saudi men were having coffee in the shop.  One spoke English, one did not.  The one who did not knew exactly how to get where we needed to go, right down to the last traffic intersection.  The one who did, wrote it all down.

Their directions took us past the second McDonalds.

Finding our hotel had taken us almost as long as finding Hofuf.   The whole affair was quite exhausting.

After a little kip, we headed out for dinner and to see the sights.  The gentlemen who had given us directions had recommended visiting the 'place with moving lights'.  They had given us directions to that as well.

We spent the evening at a local park with rides and music and a fountain light show.  We tried some freshly baked local bread made with dates...very nice. 


And we watched an acrobatic troupe performing.  The audience had to be split up to watch the show, men one side of the outdoor auditorium, women the other.

The women got a real treat.  The troupe performed right in front of them, tight leggings and all.  The men's view, reported Glenn, was terrible.  They couldn't see much at all.  We did wonder if, the next night, the seating arrangements would be changed.

I sent Glenn a text while Mum and I were seated amongst the ladies. 
'Where are you sitting?
'Next to the guy in white'...

Smart arse!


The ladies we were sitting among were very friendly and starting chatting, asking where we were from, how we liked Hofuf, how long we were staying - all in English.  My Arabic is not going well at all due to the local persons proficiency at my native language.  The young women even flipped up their niqab's so we could see how pretty they were!  I have to say, I was surprised and possibly slightly afraid.  Niqab flipping at fun parks was not what I expected to see and I could imagine the Morality Police blaming such activity on the terrible influence of the western women present!  But the ladies were so charming and so much fun, that any thoughts of trouble left as we shared a laugh on the seats of the outdoor amphitheater.

We had a great time at the park.  It was nice experiencing a Thursday night out with the locals in Hofuf and we were looking forward to the next day and the Caves of Ali Baba.

Ka Kite,

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