Back in Riyadh. Back in the diplomatic quarters. First couple days in the new year, last couple days in Saudi Arabia. So will go this tale. The time has come to wrap up the adventures in the desert for you all. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to write these posts, as time has elapsed since the events have occurred, and my memories and thoughts aren’t as fresh anymore. In spite of that though, I will be able to write to you all about our last couple days, as we did a number of interesting things that are worth writing about, including trips to more souqs, some more street food, some excellent shopping adventures, as well as a visit to Saudi Arabia’s national museum, a gem of a building. Rather than split the last couple days into two posts, I’ll just put them all in this one, and try to keep it succinct. After all, it’s time to move on 🙂 In an attempt to make it easiest on you, you may also want to just browse through the many pictures that we’ve put up from those last days on flickr. They’ll give you a good sense of what we were up to without even reading. However, when you’re done, come on back to see if I have anything interesting to say.
Our depating flight, although scheduled for January 4th, was actually departing at 2am, so instead of having 3 days left, we really only had 2 full days remaining. Because of this, we did a bit of pre-planning on what activities we’d like to do. High on the list of course was having a proper bottle of champagne to celebrate the new year, but just as important to us was to visit the Saudi Arabia national museum. As a result of coming back a day early, we totally lucked out with the visiting hours. After all, they only have one night a week which is ‘family night’ and therefore open to women, and this was the night for it. Lucky us. Of course visiting hours only commenced at 4pm, so we had the better part of the day to do other things.
We got to a late start the first morning, and I set about doing a load of laundry, as I was completely out of clothes to wear (I’d accidentally left some clothes back in Ottawa as it turned out). Patrick had also suggested that we head out for a run around the DQ again, as I had missed a section when I did my perimeter run days before. Sounded like a pretty good idea to me. Any chance to get in a little training is a welcome thing to me. All told, I managed to squeeze in 3 runs, one swim, and a good workout during my time in the kingdom. Not great, but better than nothing. While we did our run, the ladies went our with Helena to a nearby park, where we met up with them later. When these little activities were over, it was time to head to downtown and do some exploring as well as hitting up the museum.
Let me just say that for a museum that hardly gets any visitors, this place was absolutely top notch. It’s very much like the Canadian Museum of civilization. As it turns out, the building was actually designed by Canadians as well. The displays were very well done, and covered the whole of the history of this country. I’d love to try and go into detail of the history, but I know I wouldn’t do a good job. The main point to remember is that it is a very ‘young’ country, politically speaking, on account of the way it came into being. As a result, a lot of the ‘classic’ history of the area is treated in an odd manner, somewhat akin to a ‘time of darkness’ before the prophet mohammed. However, to their credit, there was a lot of work put into all the details of the ‘time of darkness’ as well. There were excellent sections devoted to the earlier cultures that we’d explored first hand like the dedeans and nabateans, including large scale replicas of tombs and scale models of cities. If for some reason you made it to Saudi Arabia, but couldn’t visit the actual sites, this museum would make an excellent reference.
Once we were done wandering the museum (and gift shop, which was curiously a lot like a museum itself), it was time to get back to the business of people-watching and shopping. To those ends, we wandered around the vast grounds around the museum, which are actually part of an older palace of the former king, all re-done to be people-friendly. It’s also the location of one of the few public gathering places, where kids can run and play. It was already getting dark and surprisingly cold though, so we hopped into the SUV and made our way to the ‘junk souq’. Not sure why it’s called that though, as it is a veritable treasure trove of stuff. We spent some time here wandering around too, with Patrick trying on some sharp camel leather coats. We also got some tasty street eats. Even these spots have separate ordering areas for women. Don’t think I’ll ever get over that. The best part about this souq area? It was right beside ‘chop chop’ square. Sick as it may sound, this is the public execution area. No, don’t even ask, I didn’t dwell on it, or see anything. Executions take place on Fridays, and last year, I think there was well over 200 of them. So yes, it does still happen, and they literally use a big scimitar to do it. Creepy.
After getting our fill of the souq (Helena was pretty bagged), we returned to the safety of the DQ, and finished a long-going game of Scrabble we’d started back in Jeddah. I came dead last by a significant margin. Jody won. Letters just weren’t in my favour. It was a nice bit of quality family time, but was also a sad reminder to us of the fact that we really hadn’t seen much of each other in the last couple years. It’ll be nice to have the whole family back in Ottawa starting later on this summer. It’ll be great to be able to cycle over to Manor Park for some training, and pop in on the family and see Helena. But I digress, it’s off to bed again, before the final day in the Kingdom…
The best part about the last day was that we had nothing planned. There were no ‘must dos’ that might trip us up. We’d decided we might like to do a bit more carpet shopping, and I had once secret ‘important’ shopping stop to make with Patrick. What was that stop? Well, back to an outdoor shop. You see, in Jeddah, I’d found what I deemed to be the perfect souvenir for me. Allow me to explain. One of the interesting things Saudis do is picnic. But not in a field somewhere. They do it wherever the mood strikes them. They will often just pull over off the highway and have a picnic. They also don’t use a normal blanket. Nope, they’ll generally roll out a persian rug they pull from the trunk, and eat on that. Well, at the outdoor store, I’d found what I dubbed ‘Tarpets’. That is, a heavy canvas tarp, waterproof on one side, but with an oriental rug print on the flip side. So it looks like a rug, but is a tarp, hence ‘tarpet’. I had to have one. After all, I guarantee no other Ottawan has one of these bad boys. So off we went to find one. I ended up with a sweet little model measuring 2m by 3m. Pretty large, and taking up most of my duffle bag :-), but totally worth it. I can’t wait to rock this thing during parties and in the summer on the deck. You’ll love it!
The final shopping stop was at a real carpet store, and actually located right on the DQ. This was another very fruitful stop, with Jody and I buying our first official hand-made Persian rug. This one is known as a Malaki, and is Iranian made, and a flat weave with the threads loose on the back. Very durable. We really liked the intricacy of the pattern, and it would look great at the foot of our bed. It’s pretty amazing how much these things are worth, even if you buy them overseas, but we’d always wanted one, and have now decided we’d probably like to get some more. Andrea and Patrick are also in the market, and now that they’ve found this guy, they reckon they’ll probably end up with 5 or so big rugs before the posting is up. I wish them all the luck, and look forward to seeing what they come up with.
To celebrate both the trip and the successful souvenir shopping, we decided to have a ‘Saudi picnic’ in Andrea and Patrick’s living room on the new tarpet. Delicious. After eating, Jody and I set about packing up all our stuff and getting organized. The last meal was going to be downtown once again at a fairly well known Lebanese restaurant. We made our way there pretty leisurely, stopping at a few spots along the way, including a visit by Patrick and I to a high-end car dealership. Here, I saw no less than 6 high-end Ferraris. You know, the kind of car they say has a 2 year waiting list to buy. However, here, you can buy on right out of the showroom. What a country of contradictions.
I’m not going to dwell on the actual farewells or the departure, as that is really mushy family stuff, and was pretty standard, so I think I’ll just abruptly end my tale there. The flights to get back to Ottawa went very smoothly, and although I didn’t sleep on the planes, I did manage to squeeze in about 3 hours of sleep in Heathrow on our 6.5 hour layover. This went a long way to rejuvenating me so that I could report in to work bright and early on Monday morning! When I get a little more time and perspective, I’ll probably dash off a prologue of sorts, but for now, I think I’ll take my leave. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of my stories from the road, as well as all the pictures. I do it all for you, my faithful readers and fans 🙂