Category Archives: studemt expat blog

Guest Post:24hrs in Riyadh- Female Solo Travel in Saudi Arabia

Yes, you read it correctly. I did actually put the words Saudi Arabia, female and solo travel next to each other and I am just as excited about that possibility to occur as some of my readers may be confused. 🙂

For a blogger or a writer of any sorts, there is nothinng better than getting in touch with his or her readers. Since I started this blog, I have received many  E- Mails from Saudis and internationals, journalists and PhD students, filled with praise for my work or questions regarding my experiences in Saudi and of course some occasional, inevitable criticism.

If any of you are reading this right now: Thank you very much for your time, you are what keeps my work going. I love you all, even my critics!

A couple of months ago, just as I was pacing in front of the lecture hall before my first exam of the semester, I received an E-Mail from Kiera, a lady living in Dhahran who asked me what I would recommend for a short trip to Riyadh. I stood still for a second. Traveling alone in Saudi? As a woman? ALONE?? That was definitely interesting! Women traveling in KSA was nothing new but the ones I knew of did so in groups of at least three in the company of their personal driver.

I immediately forgot about my exam stress as my head started filling with questions. My trip to Jeddah at the end of my stay in the Kingdom ended up not happening so I didn’t really know what to tell her. I admired her decision to take a trip to Riyadh by herself. I wished I would have had the time and the courage to do the same so I did the best I could and told her about things I had done in Riyadh and some of the things I wished I had done, had there been more time and more opportunities.

Today, I am beyond happy to share her story with you! To give you a taste of what awaits you, here’s my favorite quote so far: “People in Riyadh are open-minded but the laws are strict somewhat”.

Coffee Mornings, Stroller Tanks and Other Stories

What would your first thought be if you got out of the house, walked up to the street of your compound and saw dozens and I mean dozens of buses standing there neatly along the sidewalk? Mass evacuation? That’s probably what you think but no, that just means that a bunch of women from all over the city have assembled on your compound today because it’s coffee morning time.

A coffee morning is pretty much something like a bazaar that takes place on a compound and is mostly for all the expats. Sellers bring all of their stuff and people come in to buy it. You can get pretty much everything from abayas to traditional souvenirs to shawarma.

These coffee morning events can become very full. This is because coffee mornings are a woman’s pretty much only opportunity to leave her compound once a month  and interact with other women from other compounds.

The worst crowds form at the abaya stands. Since the whole thing took place where I live, I got up a little earlier and used the few minutes I had to look for a new abaya without being surrounded by several other women, who were indirectly trying to crush me between them.

I have made the discovery that there also are abayas that don’t button up in front but that you put on over your head. Dear women, if you get your hands on such one, I’d recommend to buy it. With that one you won’t have to bother about the buttons opening when you are outside. You just put it on and basta. No messing around with buttons.  In the end it looks more or less like an oversize dress even and it can also have decorations in other colors than black.  On such gatherings you can also get designer abayas, which look pretty unique and abayas made of more natural material so you don’t boil as much during the summer months.

There are also some remarkable pieces of jewelery and art you can get. The great thing about buying things in this country is that prices are always negotiable. All ou have to do is, once you show interest in an item, put on a sorry face, like you really regret that you don’t have enough money to buy it. That usually works the best and can bring you a nice discount.

As I already mentioned, you can also meet new people or realize that nationalities you were not aware of live in Riyadh as well. I heard people speak Russian several times today. I assume they are either Russian or Uzbek. In fact, the whole event today made me think of that one exhibition building in Minsk where all the bazaars take place. Something like the Middle East bazaar or honey bazaar. It was just like home, except it was not as hot as it was during my last visit in Belarus.

Let me tell you however, that such coffee mornings are not necessarily for everyone. The amount of people there is huge. If you are claustrophobic, you better stay home.

Apparently strollers are multifunctional now. If you show up there with your child, you can use your stroller as a sort of mini tank that will help you to get your way mercilessly  through the crowd. What women do here, is they just push the thing in front of them like it’s a tank going through a forest and the other people around are the trees that have to be gotten out of the way.

It’s funny to see what ” survival of the fittest” has turned out to be about in modern-day consumer society.