Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

2:38 PM


This trip to Saudi Arabia was so different from anything else! Not only because it was a work trip but also because I visited a country that is so different in all senses from the European ones that I am used to.
Apart from the hot weather (27C in the morning, up to 37C in the midday) the limitations for women, the architecture, the wealth, everything was so new for me!

The city is a huge worksite!! You can see the "developmental orgasm" of Riyadh as constructions cover half of the city. Big skyscrapers, shopping malls and maybe palaces will be there the next time (I hope) I visit.

People are quite rich in Saudi Arabia. Ofcourse, they have oil companies. But apart from that they have american companies. Saudis love americans. And according the kings law, in order to open an american company in saudi soil, saudis should have a share. Oh yes, they can be shareholders on McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King, KFC.
Ofcourse women are very limited in that country. They wear every day their abaya, they cannot drive, they have different entrances in everything (cafes, auditoriums, exhibitions etc.) so they can keep seperated from men but they own a driver if they are rich, they can work - and they get paid more compared to men - and well..they can shop all day!
Men are allowed to do more things ofcourse. They can drive, they can sit all day long sipping tea, they can walk alone, they can marry up to 4 women! If they can stand it, ofcourse!
The architecture was something amazing!! Old buildings in the colour of sand and palm trees everywhere in combination with hot and dry climate, create a scenery of a fairy tale. Imagine the land of Aladdin and his magic lamp. Open markets, bazaars and arab buildings. The percentage of men in that areas reaches 90% and you can find hidden (and maybe enchanted) treasures. 
Near to old sandy buildings, huge modern and fabulous skyscrapers cut the horizon and take your breath away. The newly building that looks like a bottle opener is the new symbol of the town. Offices, hotels and shops fill the inside of these modern pieces of art.
Food is something amazing in saudi arabia: Hummous and dates are their traditional food and I totally loved it!!
Saudis pray. They pray every day from midday to 16:00 (everything is closed) and then again when the sun sets. Friday is their holy day so everything is closed until 16:00 as their praying lasts longer and is "obligatory".
Sand is arabias colour
Some fun facts:
- Alcohol is forbidden in the country.
- Smoking is allowed in general but it is banned in most public and government places by law since 2012.
- Drug trafficking is punishable by death penalty. Oh yes, death penalty exists in Saudi Arabia and the condemned to death are decapitated publicly (I was told on Fridays after their Holy pray). 
- The weekend starts with their Holy Day, Friday and ends on Saturday. So basically the week starts on Sunday!
- Saudis have praying time (salat) every day from midday to 16:00. Everything is closed that time. They also pray when the sun sets. Fridays are Holy Days so they pray for longer, from morning till 16:00. Shops open after 16:00.
- There isn't any public transportation in Riyadh. They told me there is a bus line but I didn't see any in the streets. Saudis go around by their own car and since oil is so cheap traffic is too much! (not more than in LA however). They can fill a big cars deposit with 15euros worth of oil!!
- They are building a metro in order to lessen traffic.
- Skies are rarely blue. They have that sandy colour... during April they suffer from severe sandstorms and it is very dangerous to drive around the city.
- People dont walk in the streets because of the heat but also because there are no pavements. Except one street called Tahlia with the emblematic Olaya Towers and I can describe it as the most "westernised" street. There is pavement so people can actually walk and mix up (men mostly ofcourse). Here is where rich people live.
- Kings family consists of up to 22,000 people! They live in palaces and Princes can be Ministers. In towns governs the Emir.
- Saudi Arabia produces every day 12 millions oil barrels!
- In Riyadh I found every single american food chain. From McDonalds to Burger King, KFC, Starbucks etc.
- Mobile phones are registered in the government and are the ID of every single citizen (national or foreign). 
- Tourism does not exist in Saudi Arabia. However, there are many internationals, mostly workers. Many pakistanis that work as taxi drivers. Many philippinese that work in hotels. I met many Syrians, a few Palestinians and some Greeks. It is actually very hard to get a VISA for Saudi Arabia to travel. Someone living in the country has to invite you.

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