Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Great Riyadh Park Search

Having read about the numerous parks and gardens in Riyadh that provide open, green spaces and enjoyment for families, Hubster and I decided to go on 'The Great Riyadh Park Search' to assess the standard of the parks available should an expat want to join the locals as they picnic within the city limits.  A Park List was generated from an internet search and Mr Finland was invited to join us.

Mr Finland was of the opinion that this mission was what expats do in Riyadh when they are desperate for something to do in Riyadh.  Whatever, Mr Finland!!  The trusty Yukon was hired and off we set.

Our first stop, after picking up coffee at Dr Cafe, was Al Maktaba Park.

Al Maktaba Park

Said to be full of waterfalls, gardens, fountains and a clock tower our hopes were high for a park of magnificence and beauty. Cue 'sound of record scratch'.

Al Makataba Park is undergoing reconstruction as is the King Fahad library (maktaba is Arabic for library) behind which it sits.  In fact, the whole block seems to be ear-marked for redevelopment.  The only water found this day was from the irrigation system spraying the newly sown grass.  And, from what I saw, the waterfalls are not rising from the ashes either.

It appears the new park will be aiming for a more academic ambiance, something akin to the hallowed ground of university green spaces; an environment that allows one to consider their reading material surrounded by the serenity of a perfectly manicured lawn with a fountain in the background; a cool green grass escape from the hustle and bustle beyond the park walls.  Given that Maktaba Park sits in the middle of King Fahad Road and Olaya Street creating such an environment could be challenging.  We do look forward to seeing the result of the current make-over.
Al Maktaba Park co-ordinates 24o 41.19’ N; 46o 41.31’ E

Our second stop, after collecting Nachos from Taco Bell - Hubster claimed to be famished, was Olaya Park.

Olaya Park

Olaya Park was described, on our Riyadh Park List, as a 'cool and flowery refuge during the summer months' and an entrance fee would be required to enter.  After parking the vehicle Hubster checked his back pocket for his wallet in preparation for paying our way into the park only to find entry was free.

Off King Fahad Highway, behind the Takasussi Specialist Medical Center, the centerpiece for Olaya Park is a covered fountain that was turned off the day we went.  However, kids were using the space to roller blade and cycle around while others were kicking footballs across. The park provides playgrounds with swings and slides for the youngsters and a small basketball court for the older boys. There was nothing, we noticed, for teenage girls to do except walk around or sit with their elders.

It was early in the afternoon and a number of families were already enjoying sitting on the rather long grass beneath the shade of numerous date palms. We assumed the park doesn't receive regular maintenance, possibly because the expense is no longer covered by the entry fee. The grass was long and fallen dates were squished all over the footpaths along with wads of chewing gum.

This is definitely a local park and the locals were making good use of it with more families arriving as we munched our way through our nachos and finished off our coffee. We noted, though, that most of these did not appear to be Saudi families - not that I'm an expert on identifying Arabic differences, my only indicator is fully covered women or not fully covered women - leading us to assume that this area is a residential hub for Arabs from other countries.  Much as we enjoyed relaxing in Olaya Park we were on a mission, 'The Great Riyadh Park Search, so we continued on to our next destination Prince Fahad Al Faisal Park.

Prince Fahad Al Faisal Park

Buoyed by the relaxed surroundings encountered at our previous stop we were looking forward to what may await us at Prince Fahad Al Faisal Park. It is, apparently, considered one of the oldest parks in the city with plenty of seating beneath shady trees.

Unfortunately, my ability to read anything - instructions, maps or co-ordinates entered into iPhone Apps - completely failed me so we never made it to Prince Fahad Al Faisal Park.  Instead we ended up here...

Of course, not realising for a second that I got everything wrong, we drove off presuming the park we were searching for had been turned into a football ground - and a beautifully kept field it is. Training was in progress when we peeked through the gate from our vehicle. It was only later, when checking the instructions, that I had to admit I butchered that effort. The map below shows how far out our park search was.

Time was ticking and we still had a number of parks left on our Great Riyadh Park Search list. So off we went to find Camel's Eye Park.

Camel's Eye Park

An internet search for 'Things To Do in Riyadh' often brings up Camel’s Eye Park known locally as Jabal Abu Makhrouq. The park has historical significance being known as the hillock from which King Abdul Aziz would survey the land around Riyadh.

According to our information the park is not open to women though men and children are welcome.   We had come in search of the park on a Thursday afternoon, the one day of the week Camels Eye Park is closed.  I guess the men don't actually want to look after the kids on a weekend do they!

Although the park was shut the hillock itself was visible through the fence and one can see why the founder of modern Saudi would stand atop it on the lookout for trouble.  At the time it was probably the highest vantage point for the whole area.

Camel's Eye Park is a lot smaller than I imagined, though it doesn't matter what size it is, mere female that I am, I'll never set foot in it unless men get sick of baby sitting.  All I can do is take photo's from outside using my iPhone because my Point and Shoot camera is in having the dust cleaned out of it.  Co-ordinates to Camel'e Eye Park for those without a map:  24o 40.43’ N; 46o 43.6’ E

The light was beginning to fade so we high-tailed it to our next park - The Chamber Of Commerce Park.

The Chamber of Commerce/Durfa Park.

It took us a little while to figure out that the Chamber of Commerce Park is also Durfa Park.

The Chamber of Commerce Park (in Arabic that's Hadiiqa al-Ghorfat al-tijaaria) is so called because, according to our internet search, the park was set up by the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce.  The information also talks about colored fountains and cycle tracks for the kids.  The fun park we found is closed and has been for some time. However, that didn't stop families  from being out and about enjoying the great outdoors.

The large picnic/car park.
Al Durfa Park is situated next to the Royal Saudi Airbase which is serviced by a huge expansive car park. Apparently the Saudi Airbase used to be the Riyadh International Airport (this tidbit according to a taxi driver who has lived here for 20 odd years).  It is in the parking lot, thoughtfully designed to include lots of planted trees, that families were taking advantage of the cool air and large space to enjoy early evening picnics.  Kids were out and about on bikes for all ages - one was even getting in some motorcycle practice.

The Man Only cricket pitch.
Off to one corner of the car park was an area, which according to Google is called Eid Musalla, being used as a cricket pitch by hundreds of men.

The knoll in front of the Durfa Fun Park itself, was a popular spot.  In fact I would consider this the prime Bar-B-Q location because it provides the only green grass and, if you can ignore the traffic driving by on the road right next to it, affords a bit of a view over the adjoining car park.   At 5pm The Knoll was already crowded with families and their Bar-B-Q's were spilling down the other side of the hillock toward the footpath blackened by Bar-B's of previous summer nights.  The Chamber of Commerce Park and it's happening car park can be found on the extension of Al Ihsa Road, Co-ordinates 24o 41.85’ N; 46o 43.71’ E

The last two parks on our list for the day were Malaz Park and Al Foutah Park.   Time constraints meant we never made it to Al Foutah.

Malaz Park

Malaz Park is described on our Park List as a well matured park consisting of a few slides and activities for the kids.  In the middle of this winter day a number of Worker Bees were enjoying the green tranquility it had to offer and I imagine that in the evening this park is a popular place for families to picnic.  At one end were a couple of basketball courts for the older boys to utilise.  It's sad to think that girls will not be playing basketball there.  That thought was rather depressing so we didn't hang about at Malaz Park.

Our local park

The parks mentioned above were some of the more popular, medium sized parks in the city.  There are a few larger parks that are mentioned on my Out and About in Riyadh page.   Dotted throughout Riyadh are also a number of smaller greens where residents can enjoy the great outdoors without having to head off to the desert.  A number of sports grounds are available around the city as well, for the boys and men to enjoy some physical activity - usually football.

Most parks also have toilet facilities which are usually clean, though don't go picnicking without extra tissues.  Mr Noor has familiarized himself with a number of these spaces as he knows there are times, as he carts me about the city, that I need to relieve myself. It is always surprising to round the corner of Riyadh's dust colored suburbia to find a welcome patch of green among the buildings.

As it's currently winter the parks are getting quite a bit of use with the cooler temps.  The recent rains have also helped the grass to grow and the greenness was doing my soul a world of good on our Great Riyadh Park Search.

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