Category Archives: traveling

A Thank You Note to YOU!

Dear readers,

it has been a while since the last time that I have been active on this blog. In fact, I am surprised that even during the months of my return to Germany, there were still one or two occasions on which I had enough words in order to leave them on here for you to read. Each of my returns to this blog has indeed been a pleasure for me. It’s like coming back to something that once has been a piece of myself, and would I not love writing down my impressions so much, I surely would not have said this now.

And yet, despite my absence and this blog being just the remains of my (rather limited) observations, there are still several people visiting it every day. I did not know how many people would come across this when I started publishing my articles. I thought that this website would just be sitting here, discovered only every now and again by the one or the other poor soul. But now here I am, checking the statistics every day and seeing how my words have been read by more than 30.000 people and counting.

Today I thought that it was finally time for me to come back and thank all of you, whether you are new or old readers or whether you are Saudi or not, for being my virtual guests day in day out since the appearance of this blog on the internet.

I did not start writing all of these posts because I wanted to become famous or anything of that sort. I wanted others to read what I had to say about a place so little people have access to. Read, take in the words and maybe even think about them for a moment or two before they went back to watching the news on the same place I was writing about.  The fact that there are so many of you who keep reading, or at least visiting seems to show me that my intentions worked and I am very happy to have you as my readers.

I also want to thank all those of you who don’t just read all of this but  contact me personally. All of the comments and E-Mails I have received over the past year have indeed been a pleasure to read and answer.

Thank you for the praise, the encouragement,  the questions and criticism some of you have shared with me. I did not think that I would ever make it this far, even though in the big picture it is just a tiny step in the whole wide world of possibilities and achievements I have yet to get to.

I hope to keep hearing from you as I am, after various encouragements from my readers, turning all of these notes into a book made of my old and new thoughts, impressions and ideas about living in Saudi Arabia.

I wish I was able to write all of this in Arabic for my Saudi visitors to read as well, but my Arabic course has only covered the very basics so far. 🙂

Well, I might be gone by now but the doors to my thoughts and impressions shall remain open to you at least for a little bit longer.

Why Do You Write About the Good Things?

Those of you who have been reading my blog might have noticed that the significant majority of my articles on this blog have a positive tone to them.

Considering the fact that I have dedicated this site to live in Saudi Arabia, which is unfortunately not seen in a positive light by many people from the outside, many of my readers probably ask themselves why I am keeping a blog that talks about the positive things of Saudi Arabia rather than the whole injustice and all the other questionable things that are going on there as well.

In fact, one of my relatives who has been to Riyadh, too, asked me this question a couple of days ago after I told her happily about all the positive feedback I am getting from my Saudi and non- Saudi readers.

“You must be very talented”, she said. “I have no idea what good things there are that one could talk about considering Saudi Arabia.”

In order to clear at least some of my possible bias, let me say that I am indeed aware of the fact that there were also things during my stay in the kingdom which I did not like and did not agree with. I am also aware of the fact that certain social norms and laws seem or are very unjust in comparison to what we western people know from our societies.

My contributions on here are not supposed to be some sort of propaganda that sugar-coates literally every single aspect of living in Riyadh. Since some people may think that this is exactly what I am doing, I just want to clarify that this was definitely not the motivation for all this.

But then, some of you may ask, why am I writing down the good things instead of challenging what is not so good?

Three hours after I got on the plane from Frankfurt to Riyadh, I got into a conversation with my neighbor who later on became a good friend of mine. “I am excited about my new life”, I said. “I will finally get to know something new and will have some material to write a book about.” This is where my friend told me to be careful with what I published online while in Saudi Arabia. There are certain things which are not supposed to be discussed, hence freedom of speech is rather limited in this country as some of you may have noticed. Maybe it would have been one of my tasks, as someone reporting from this place, to challenge certain things and point out what is not so good. But given how much of such content is already out there, I really started to ask myself who would read my articles if I would just re-write the horror stories that so many before me, including the official western media, have already published? If people wanted to read about what is bad, there would be no reason for them to read my blog. They could look up all the other websites and books instead, reading what they were expecting to read: How terrible of a society Saudi Arabia is. I would not take anything away from them or deprive them of valuable information by not being pessimistic.

So I needed to choose another perspective under which I would compose my articles, which does NOT mean that what I have been writing about so far was all made up.

I knew that I could just as well have written a whole bunch of stuff about everything I did not like, about everything that made me want to pack my bags and leave for good. I could have chosen to be fully affected by negativity and spend nine months in fear, depression, cynicism and homesickness, ruining my mental health as not too little expats in Saudi choose to do unfortunately. But I did not. I wanted to tell others why it is not the end of the world to live here, taking away at least some of the fear that so many foreigners have.I came to the conclusion that looking for some positive things would be much healthier than pointing my finger at everything bad.

You see, the way we perceive things are all a matter of perspective and a matter of choice. In the case of Saudi Arabia probably even a matter of circumstances. A foreigner will have  a different view and a different story to tell than a domestic worker or a local or someone whose marriage to a local turned into a disaster or an expat stay at home mom who has nothing to do all day than look after her child and stay home. So when you reflect upon all the things I have written over the previous months you should keep in mind that this is the story of my circumstances and they are not universal for everyone.

What also contributed to the way I wrote was the fact that I had something to do every day and that the people around me were good to be with. I was lucky to be a student in Riyadh, going to class every day. I had the opportunity to have contacts with other people, not isolating myself entirely, as some other foreigners choose to do. Had I not have my classes, I would probably have turned into a sad, depressed person because there would have been nothing to keep me busy. If you have nothing to do and don’t know why you should be getting up every day, every country will turn into a horrible place, be it Saudi Arabia, Germany, Iceland…you name it.

And this is exactly why I tried to point out something good about the kingdom. Next time you ask yourself that question, remember that everything is a matter of perspective and circumstances.

Beautiful Places in Riyadh: A Trip to the Edge of the World

This place is commonly known as "the edge of the world".
This place is commonly known as “the edge of the world”.

Recently, somebody stumbled upon my blog through the search term “beautiful places in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia”.  As I have been on another quite amazing trip today, I thought of writing about THE most fascinating place in Riyadh in case there are any other people looking for things to do in the kingdom.

Today I have visited a place that is called “the edge of the world”. It is not the edge of the world literally but it is a place with a fantastic view that may make the one or the other think about the edge of the world.

After driving in the desert near Riyadh for several hours, we came to a place from where one has an impressive view into the valley.

For me it was just a picturesque little spot where one would just feel free while enjoying the view.

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This place seems to be popular by locals and expats, based on the remains of ashes in the sand. It seems to be a nice location to come to for a picnic and grill some food. I was told that it gets especially full in the afternoon. Deserts can be very romantic, too. If you choose to come here when it gets dark, you can bring a tent, make a campfire and watch the stars and (mostly) full moon. Either from your fireplace or from the roof of your car. I will make sure to try this out in the remaining ten months that I have in the kingdom.

If you decide to come here (and I would really recommend you to do so), beware that there is no real road in the desert and that the ground is covered with stones and small rocks. For your own safety, make sure your company and you do the trip to this, and any other desert, in two cars. For the desert, a Jeep or some car simillar to that would do best and always have at least one spare tire with you. Getting a flat tire in a desert like this one is easier than you think.

Places like this one are really worth a visit. Personally, whenever I go on such a trip and get to see such landscapes and camels on the street and all the other things Riyadh has to offer, I immediately know that it was surely worth moving here.

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Desert Landscapes, Camel Farms

Even though I planned on staying home over the Hajj break, so I could study the material that I have missed, I could not resist and go on a short trip to the desert, about two hours away from Riyadh.

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It was more of a stony desert, so I couldn’t find any “desert diamonds”, which are small pieces that look like glass and look like diamonds once polished properly. These can only be found in deserts with more dunes and less stones. However, my company and I found some very interesting looking stones, that looked very much like fossils.

I walked around the place in my abaya despite the burning sun, just in case some locals may show up and I must say it was quite hot but not as hot as I feared it would be. It was not hot enough for me to pass out during our two hour stay, so it can’t have been too bad. Furthermore, that large black cloak prevented the majority of my body from being grilled in the sun. I knew that there is also a practical part to these kinds of clothing. One most always see the positive side of things! 🙂

As we were on our way back, we passed by a camel farm. It was huge, pretty much in the middle of nowhere and the camels there were just so cute! Black camels, light brown camels and even white camels. But not some sort of yellowish white but very light and clean white. Maybe I would even have bought one, if they were not so expensive and if I didn’t have a cat at home already, not to mention how gigantic camels are.

But even though I will probably never own a camel, I at least have this picture to remember this little guy who came to “greet” us, as we were on our way back home . 🙂

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Jordan Calling!

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A few days after my arrival in Saudi, I searched the internet for Arabic proverbs, proverb and quotes addict that I am.

The proverb that I stumbled upon on someone’s Tumblr account was: “Who lives sees, but who travels, sees more.”

As I travelled to Jordan a while ago, I agreed with this proverb more than ever. Maybe even more than with some Friedrich Nietzsche quotes.

Many people prefer going somewhere fancy over vacation. Places like Paris or Monaco. I am not trying to say that there is anything wrong with visiting modern and luxurious places, but unfortunately I have gotten to know way too many people who consider this sort of vacation the only one worth going on. That I find a tremendous pity.

Jordan has so much to offer to those who come there.

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It starts with the location itself. I have spent some time  in Madaba, a small town some 30 and a little something kilometers from the capital Amman.

It was a rather small place and visibly not as wealthy as Riyadh or Dubai, with all its old buildings that could really use a restoration, the streets full of plastic bags and the nomads along the streets. But to me this was exactly THE thing that made this place so interesting. It was simple but this simplicity seemed to have its own story, as opposed to places with luxury hotels that are all the same, except for the prices that are higher than the sky scrapers in New York City.

The street right next to my hotel was full of souvenir shops. One set up neatly next to the other one, the various, colorful items catching the eye of the passing tourists.

Madaba is famous for its mosaics, that make up the majority of souvenir items, followed by Dead Sea products.

The people in Madaba were very friendly and warm hearted. Sometimes I would even forget that the reason for their obvious kindness, was the wish to sell some of their stuff to me.  In every shop that I went into, I was offered some very delicious but a little too strong tea, smelling of  overwhelming sweetness and various herbs.

Once I had accepted and finished my tea, the salesman was very willing to sell me my purchases with a discount of 10 Jordanian Dinars, which is close to 10 Euros.

With my souvenirs packed and the remaining sweet taste of tea in my mouth, I was on the way into the desert and from there to the Jordan river.

Forget about capacious shopping malls and spa resorts. All a person needs to relax and really find oneself, is a beautiful place with picturesque landscapes. Landscapes, such as the ones that Jordan has to offer. I have never felt as relaxed and inspired as in the moment of observing the mountains and the desert of Madaba and what would a visit to Jordan be without washing your feet in the Jordan river?

Later that day I went out for dinner in one of the restaurants. The place was full of people in a great mood. As I passed by a table with formally dressed gentlemen at it, one of them looked at me and said, or better yelled with laughter: “Order whatever you want! It’s on the house!” I knew that he didn’t mean it but one could feel the contagious good mood in the air. The room was full of laughter, traditional Jordanian music and the smell of shisha smoke overlapped with the scent of my chicken and Jordanian bread dish.

People in Jordan are way more open than the ones in Saudi, as I found out later. When I walked down the street at the end of the day, two teenage girls leaned out of the window of a passing Jeep and shouted: “Welcome to Jordan!“ in my direction, their voices young and cheerful, their hands waving at me. I couldn’t resist and smiled back.

Life is such an amazing thing. All we have to do is to look at it from the right perspective and even the poorest and simplest places will turn into fascinating destinations.

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