Author Archives: Laura

Hello there! I'm Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I've visited 75 countries and I'm always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram:

Riyadh expatriates are always on the lookout for new and refreshing things to do on weekends.  There are many places in and around Riyadh which remain mostly unknown to the public, to find some of these ideas for weekend activities go to Blue Abaya’s Things To Do in Riyadh page.

One such ‘hidden gem location’ are The Diplomatic Quarter parks, which no doubt make up one of the most relaxing and serene places you can find within Riyadh’s city limits. Green, well-kept areas, amazing unique landscaping, lush gardens, open spaces to freely walk in, the sight and sound of water, children’s outdoor play areas, quiet and clean picnic areas, can all be found in the DQ, just a five minutes’ drive away from Riyadh’s center.

The following is my article on the Diplomatic Quarters parks written for Women’s Skills Bureau. In the guide you’ll find directions how to find one of the most beautiful and scenic gardens of Diplomatic Quarter, with plenty of activities for the little ones to enjoy as well.  For more activities and restaurants inside the diplomatic quarters, check out Blue abaya guide: 13 Things to Do in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter
riyadh dq discover trail
Riyadh’s hidden gems-the Diplomatic Quarter gardens


The Diplomatic Quarters hosts some of the most beautiful, green landscape and fascinating architecture in Riyadh. The Diplomatic Quarters was built on the edge of Wadi Hanifa in the 1970’s as living quarters for diplomats and the embassy area. Today the “DQ” is like a Green Eden midst the harsh surrounding desert, its parks like a refuge from the pollution and noise of bustling Riyadh.

What many if not most expats miss from our home countries is being able to walk, those free open spaces and green scenery. All of these can be found in the Diplomatic Quarters gardens. The entire DQ is an abaya free zone and resident expats can often be seen in regular clothing here. Unlike the rest of Riyadh public parks, the DQ parks are well maintained and trash-free (well most of the time they are!).

There are over 30 parks, deemed gardens in the DQ, scattered over the different residential areas and along the walking track. The track is about 20 km long and runs around the entire perimeter of the DQ. Views from the walking trail down to the Wadi Hanifa valley and its hundreds of date palm trees are spectacular. The edge of the wadi itself resembles a canyon, creating a stark contrast with the sea of palm trees below. In the distance, the palaces and mosques of old Diriyah can be seen.  All that can be heard is the song of birds and the sound of a cooling breeze from the wadi.

The gardens were designed by a group of international landscape architects, their aim to preserve the natural environment using only native plants and natural materials. The seeds for the plants were gathered in the deserts and then planted in the gardens and all around the DQ area. The idea was to create a sustainable environment keeping in mind the natural flow of water and the existing formations in the landscape.

All of the plants that have been used in the DQ parks are endemic to the Arabian peninsula. Juniper, Acacia trees, Aloe Vera, Jasmine, Fig trees, Jujube trees, Prickly Pear cactus, and many others. The gardens have different flowers in bloom year round.

The gardens have been designed to have something for everyone. There are tranquil and serene areas for a more peaceful experience as well as children’s playgrounds, football fields, basketball courts and skating rinks to please the more active visitors.

 There are grass fields, fountains, picnic areas, pavilions, courtyards, benches, shaded walkways, private seating areas, beautiful fragrant flowers and interesting rock formations for the visitors to enjoy. Each park has a distinct theme in design and vegetation which makes discovering new parks interesting and rewarding.
What makes the parks even more relaxing is the presence of water. The countless fountains, water channels and waterfalls create a constant calming sound of running water. This is like music to the ears for Riyadh’s desert dwellers.  Every park has at least one
fountain and the larger ones have sections of the park completely dedicated to different kinds of fountains.

 For families with children these gardens make for an enjoyable day out. Children of all ages will enjoy the playgrounds which have everything from swings, slides and suspension bridges to imaginative climbing gyms. The grass fields are perfect for running around and picnics. The largest parks have mosques adjacent to them and all parks have toilet facilities.

The best time to visit the gardens is in the mornings or late afternoons when lots of children come to the playgrounds. They’re open all day and everyday of the week and open to everyone, free of charge.


Here are directions to the “Al Aarudh” garden, one of the largest in the Diplomatic Quarters with three different playground areas, two fountain areas, a grass field and mosque. Enter DQ from the North gate (access from Mecca rd.) immediately after entering you will see roundabout number 1. Go around it so that you take a left (the third exit) and continue on this street which goes into Hajar residential area. Drive on this street past the Indian and Guinean embassies on your right until you see the walls of the garden and shortly after the entrance to the park also on the right hand side. Park your car anywhere on the street.



Saudi-Arabia…such a hopeless place to ever even dream of finding a life partner, a soul mate, or the love of your life..The country that strictly forbids mixing and all interaction between the sexes. How could anyone meet a member of the opposite sex here, let alone go out on a date, or fall in love?

Surprisingly there are countless love stories to be told that started in Magic Kingdom. So many of my friends found love here it’s actually quite amazing! Ironic perhaps, that out of all the places in the world, these couples met in the strict Saudi Kingdom. As a tribute to all these lovely couples I’ve compiled a list of short love stories from Saudi-Arabia. You can read our love story here: How I met my Saudi hopeless place

Couples that found love in the hopeless desert Kingdom:

A Finnish man met a stunning Yemeni girl randomly one evening at a cafe..It was love at first sight. They are now happily married residing in Jeddah and have one adorable baby girl.

An Australian nurse met a U.S Marine at an embassy function. She thought he was cute, but not her type. He fell head over heals for her. They were friends first but soon fell deeply in love..They had a dream wedding a few years after when they moved to the U.S. They now have a beautiful newborn daughter.

A Finnish nurse met her Palestinian husband at a desert camp. They were inseparable from that day onward. They are now happily married residing in Riyadh.

A Finnish nurse met an all American guy at a compound party. They worked at the same hospital and started dating. Soon they left the Kingdom together to make a new home and life in U.S.A. The are now happily married and have a sweet little baby girl.

Another Finnish nurse met an American soldier at an embassy party. They started dating and soon decided to leave the Kingdom to the U.S. This adorable couple had their fairy-tale wedding in the Caribbean.

A Finnish party girl and a Lebanese guy had a crush on each other. They often saw one another at parties where he DJ’d. The beautiful couple fell deeply in love and share the same passion of travelling the world. They got married and had three weddings, traveled around the world and are now back working in the desert Kingdom.

An Irish nurse met a Lebanese engineer at a golf club. They shared the same hobby and soon realized they had a lot more in common too. The couple had an elaborate wedding in Beirut where they now reside.

A Finnish nurse met an American guy at the Hash Harriers outings. They shared the same interest in sport, photography and nature. Soon they fell in love and set out to Finland for their wedding. The stunning couple reside in Riyadh where they both work.

A Lebanese nurse had given up on ever finding a soul mate, she had worked in KSA for many years before she was invited to the Hash group gatherings. She met a lovely American guy there and got hooked on both the desert and the man. They had an amazing wedding in Lebanon and returned to continue work in Saudi-Arabia.

A Swedish nurse met a fellow Swede at a compound gathering. They became good friends and soon realized they had grown to love each other. The couple moved to Sweden where they got engaged soon after.

A Lebanese male nurse had a crush on a colleague, a Finnish nurse for a long time until he had the courage to ask her out on a date. They fell instantly in love and moved in together. They soon got married and then had a cute little boy.

Two Canadian nurses arrived to work in Saudi Kingdom at the same time. They met at the hospital orientation program. The couple started dating, but found life as an unmarried couple very difficult in Saudi and decided to return back to their home country together.

A Malaysian nurse met an American army official at a compound party. They started dating and later went to her home country for marriage. They now have two kids and continue working in the Kingdom.

found love in magic kingdom


There are many other stories out there..These are just the tip of the iceberg. So what is the secret behind all these love stories from perhaps the most un-romantic, strict country in the world? I guess it might have something to do with the fact that many of the expats coming here are like-minded and share the same interests. They already were open-minded enough to make the move to Saudi, so many of them are open to inter-cultural relationships. Expatriates can actually have a lively night life in Saudi-Arabia and many of these couples met a party or other expat gathering.

I’ve also noticed a phenomenon that is quite common; a lot of the women coming here are in bad relationships back home and moving to Saudi for a temporary work placement often leads to them seeing things in new perspectives. They realize they were just dragging along in an already doomed relationship. Moving to Saudi is a sort of an unconscious way to break off from that relationship.

I will leave you with a Valentine’s day card my 2yr old daughter made at Kindergarten..I’m so proud of my little artist! Ok maybe the teachers helped her a bit :)


One of the nicest things to do in Riyadh during the weekends is having breakfast out. There are many places around town to enjoy a great start for the day with a cup of coffee and delicious breakfast for relatively affordable prices. One of the newest additions to Riyadh’s breakfast scene is PAUL restaurant and bakery on Tahlia street. For those who are not familiar with this restaurant, PAUL is a famous French patisserie and bakery founded back in 1889 and ever since they have been cherishing their recipes for home made fresh breads and other produce. PAUL has branches all over the world and this one is the second one in KSA, there will later be PAUL’s branches in some of Riyadh’s malls and int he Eastern province. Update: PAUL has now opened branches in Hayat mall and Nakheel Mall in Riyadh. For more Riyadh restaurant reviews click here.

pauls riyadh bakery briochettes

Briochette from Paul’s bakery Riyadh.

Entrance to Paul’s bakery Riyadh.

PAUL Riyadh Tahlia street branch.

Fresh from the bakery

PAUL opens at 8 am every morning and the breakfast is served until 12 pm on all days except Fridays when they close a little bit earlier, around 11. They open back up again for lunch at 1pm.

Some mouth watering specialties form the bakery; the olive foccacia bread and the different kinds of brioche.

These reminds me of the Finnish sweet cardamon bread, pulla! Click for recipe!

And another reminder from Finland, my mother makes blueberry pie that looks just like this one! It was delicious (but not as good as moms of course).

This cake looks amazing.  It was called chocolate macaroon cake. I actually ordered a slice of this but got something else pretty funny served to me. Read on to find out what happened..That means also I have to go back just for this!

Croissants! Plain, cheese and zaatar. Perfectly crisp outer layer with a soft and delicious inside.

PAUL’s Freshly baked breads and baguettes.

PAUL has the cutest high chairs for kids I have ever seen! Check out these little cuties! So sophisticated!

We arrived at PAUL on a Friday morning at 9.30 am, thinking we are early birds..Wrong! The place was already bustling with life and most of the tables were full. The restaurant has three adjacent sections to sit in the family section and also a small outside terrace, but they told us it’s closed.

Paul’s signature black and white checkered floor greets the visitors at the door and continues onto the first dining space which has the feel of a cafe somewhere in France. The other two areas in the back seem more like living rooms with plush chairs, sofas, paintings hanging on the walls and chandeliers. The look is typical to the other PAUL branches, although perhaps not as cozy and the attention to detail is not quite the same. Nevertheless the look in PAUL is something very different and refreshing in Riyadh.

The menu is pretty simple, they have three different breakfast packages all include choice of hot beverage, freshly squeezed orange juice and additionally choice of one viennoisserie and omelette. The full breakfast with all proponents is 59sar. I was disappointed that my favorites, pancakes, crepes or french toast were not on the menu. They didn’t have any especially designed menu items for kids either.

We ordered two set menus and some hash browns for the side order. The waiters were all friendly looked very French in their outfits, although all were from the Philippines :) The service was a little bit slow and sometimes forgetful and they seemed to be lacking coordination between the staff. They brought a complimentary basket of freshly baked breads which all looked delicious, but they came to the table cold. My husband thought that since this is a bakery, all the bread should be served warm so he requested for the bread to be warmed but the waiter forgot to bring the basket back.

Delicious freshly baked breads basket at PAUL’s Riyadh

I wanted to try the famous Paul’s Pain Au Chocolate for my viennoisserie choice but they said only cheese and zaatar croissant were available, they had ran out of the other options. We ordered one zaatar and one cheese croissant. Another waiter brought us two cheese croissants. Again, they were cold and we asked them to be warmed for us. They came back quickly and are served with PAUL’s own butter and strawberry jam. The croissants were perfect, crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. Easy to break pieces off and not the chewy kind you sometimes get.

Omelet and hash-browns from PAUL’s

After a while they brought the omelet and hash browns. The omelet was was OK, but nothing special. The hash browns were absolutely lovely, very crunchy outer layer with a flavorful inside, both omelets and hash browns were served hot.

I was surprised that they didn’t bring everything to the table at the same time, for example we had to ask for our coffees to be served because there was no sign of them although we had gotten all the food already. The coffees were both good and were accompanied by a cute little sponge cake.

I went to take some photos from the bakery side and decided to order slices of the irresistible blueberry pie and the above pictured macaroon cake, both 19sar. They told me to go back to the table and the cakes would be brought there.

After 15 minutes with no sign of them, we asked the waiter and they brought this to the table:

An upside down cake?

I flipped it over the right way and it looked much better for the picture. It wasn’t what I had asked for, but I decided to keep it to avoid further confusion with the waiters.

The taste was much better than the appearance, which looks a little bit dry. I can say this chocolate cake was far from dry! It was heavenly! So smooth and rich in chocolate flavor, yet not overly sweet and I was able to finish it easily. Would be even better with a scoop of real vanilla ice cream.

The Blueberry pie was equally delicious. It tasted very similar to the one my mother makes in the summer from fresh berries picked from the nearby forest. The blueberries in the filling were fresh and plentiful, it was creamy but light and perfectly sweet for my taste buds. The extremely thin crust was not to my liking but my husband liked it very much (although he remembered to say my mom’s is much better). This would be great with that vanilla ice cream too!

The restaurant has these ceiling to floor windows which are blackened from the outside but you can see out from them. This means also that the restaurant will become very hot and uncomfortable inside. After five minutes of sitting near the windows we had to ask for the A/C to be turned on because we were really sweltering in our winter clothing. After a while it got better, but it still felt somewhat suffocating.

As polite and friendly the staff was, I feel they would still need some additional training and a little bit more attentiveness.

Star ratings:
Overall: ***1/2
Ambiance: ***
Food: ****
Decor: ****
Service: **

Toilets: ***
Value For Money: *****
Kid Friendliness: ***
Romance Factor: ****

Cleanliness: ****


Riyadh and Romance don’t exactly go hand in hand do they? Despite its boring reputation, Riyadh has some surprisingly romantic restaurants where lovers can find a nice quiet spot.

I’ve noticed that some of the best restaurants in Riyadh are also the most romantic. With the upcoming Valentine’s Day next weekend, many couples are going to eat out in Riyadh. Here’s my top list of romantic restaurants found in Riyadh for some tips on where to head for that special Valentine’s Day romance!

top restaurants riyadh romantic

1. The Globe, Cristal and Cigar Lounge Faisaliyah Tower
Probably the best views in town. Dine high above the city lights indulging on exquisite dishes made by some of the world’s top chefs in a luxurious setting. Extra bonus the ladies can take abayas off if they so wish. The exclusive culinary festival ‘Globe Summit’ takes place here a few times a year, not to be missed for the ultimate dining experience.

2. Spazio, Italian restaurant, Kingdom Tower
The second best views in town. Good food and lovely ambiance. Enjoy some sushi and a chance to walk on the Sky Bridge with amazing views of Riyadh.

3. Mondo Italian restaurant, Intercontinental Hotel
One of the only places you will find a table next to a water source. Mondo has an outdoor seating area by the poolside. Fantastic, well presented food, divine desserts, candles and romantic music.

4. Appetit Kitchen Tahlia Street
What could be more romantic than an evening out in Paris? Appetite Kitchen is as close to the real thing as you can get in the sand pit! Dimmed lights, cozy atmosphere, sophisticated music and best of all, a candlelit dinner!

5. Cento Per Cento Italian on Olaya Street
Book your own beautifully decorated private room with a set 7-course menu for an all out evening.

6. Fairuz Garden King Fahad rd.
Beautiful interior design, dim lights, blue colors, excellent Lebanese food (and music!)..  You can book a table in advance which the staff especially decorates with rose pedals and candles. Choice of sitting outside on the rooftop terrace with a view to the Kingdom tower.

7. Maya La Chocolaterie Ourouba rd.
The ultimate place for all chocolate lovers, the chocolaterie offers an extensive menu of pure indulgence in a warm atmosphere with soulful music playing in the background. This love clinic will get your endorphins running high!

8. L’Olimpo Italian restaurant end of Tahlia Street, Dhabab rd.

This restaurant looks like it belongs somewhere in a small idyllic village in Italy. The decor inside is romantic with pretty fountains all over, it seems as if stepping into another country. Choice of small outdoor seating area or private rooms in the upper level.

9. Hediard Tahlia Street
Another option for family section dining under the stars. Prime location on the rooftop on Tahlia street, good food and service.

10. Azurro Italian,Ritz Carlton
This Italian poolside restaurant will make you feel no less like royalty.  Six star service not comparable to anything else in Riyadh, extraordinary dishes created by a real Italian chef, beautiful decor and views to the spectacular indoor pool area (which is closed to visitors during dinner hours!). What more can you ask for?

11. Lenotre Cafe,  Centria Mall 3rd floor
Lenotre has some of the best desserts in town, especially the chocolate dishes are amazing. Served in a fabulous setting on a terrace overlooking Olaya street and the Kingdom tower on one side and Faisaliyah on the other.

12. La Vela italian, Centria Mall 3 rd floor
You can either dine inside in a beautiful intimate setting or outside on the terrace with views to the Faisaliyah tower and down to Tahlia street. Candles, dim lights, great ambiance and tasty desserts!

13. Amore Tahlia Street
The name says it all, this Italian has some of the best pizzas and pastas in town which will make you fall in love all over again :) Service is excellent and dinner is served in a modern setting.

14. Scalinis Italian in Diplomatic Quarters.

This Italian restaurant is located in the Fazari plaza area and open to everyone. Female guests can remove their abayas if they want. Nice decor, great food and one of the safest places to dine for those looking for muttawa-free areas.

What are your favorite romantic restaurants in Riyadh? What would you add to this list?

Special mention goes to the Najdi Village restaurant!

Rawdat Khuraim-An Oasis in the Saudi Arabian Desert. Directions and GPS Co-ordinates to Rawdat Khuraim (also spelled Rawdhat Koraim/ Rawdhat Kuraim) can be found at the end of this post! More information about this desert oasis, also known as the King’s Forest, can be found here: Rawdhat Khuriam-The King’s Forest.

The beautiful desert gardens of Rawdhat Khuraim can be found about 100 km outside Riyadh in the middle of the desert. An abundance of trees, bushes, birds and flowers will surprise first time visitors. Rawdhat Khuraim is like a green oasis suddenly appearing from the desert. Rawhdat Kuraim is also commonly known as the ‘King’s Forest’ because a part of the huge area is closed off from public, forming the King’s private farm. However a vast portion of Rawdhat Kuraim is open to the public year round. Please be informed that the Rawdhat Kuraim is best visited after heavy rains in the winter and spring time. On years with little rainfall the are can be very dry and arid with little vegetation.

The best thing about the Rawhdat is that it’s fairly easy to reach from Riyadh and that no motor vehicles are allowed beyond the fenced area. No quad bikes or SUV’s madly racing around! Just silence interrupted only by the chorus of birds and sound of the the leaves rustling in the wind. Perfect for a picnic or long walks in the “bush”, exploring the desert flora and fauna.

oasis desert saudi arabia

 rawdhat kuraim kings forest saudi arabiarawdat khuraim flowers

Rawdhat Khureim is fenced all the way around and accessible by foot only. You must drive next to the fence and when you find a spot you like, park your car and then proceed on foot. The further away you walk from the fence into the park, the greener and quieter the area gets. Saudis usually stay close to the fence and don’t walk further inside the area.

The area inside is clean and free of trash, which is unfortunately a rarity for picnic places in Saudi. It’s a lovely place to go walking, bird watching or just for a picnic and women can take their abayas off if they wish because there’s typically nobody else around. On a weekday you can have the entire place to yourself.
The best time to visit the Rawhdat is during the cooler winter months and spring when the garden is in full bloom and a grass carpet appears after rains.  Migratory birds stop here and it’s a bird watchers paradise.
After rains in the winter and spring months small “lakes” and streams form in the Rawdhat. This is when lots of Riyadhis will come to the area for picnicking on weekends. If it gets crowded it’s best to drive up North around the gardens, a trail runs next to the fence all the way around the area. A 4×4 vehicle is needed when driving on this trail!

Overnight camping is not allowed inside the area and visitors should leave the park before 10 p.m when the rangers start roaming the area. Caution should be practiced when making open fires and visitors are expected to keep the place clean. Don’t leave any trash behind and try to pick up anything you see. There are large trash cans outside the area.

Directions: From Riyadh take the Dammam highway (route 40E) toward Rumah. After about 40 km turn left to Rumah. Then drive another 55km and you will see signs for Rawdhat Khuraim on the right, just follow the signs and the green oasis is very easy to spot from the highway.
Turn towards Rawdhat Khuraim and by following this road you can the enter the park from anywhere you like, left or right hand side of the road. If you continue straight on this road you will reach the King’s farm which is off limits to public and closed off with a large gate. To the left of this road the red sand dunes can be seen behind the garden.

For the most quiet places drive off to the right from the road, around to the back of the area beside the fence until you see a nice spot. The area is so huge you can drive for half an hour along the fence and still not see an end to the park. Alternatively you can go left from the road next to the red sand dunes but this place usually is more crowded because it’s easier to reach. You can drive here with a normal car but if you wish to venture further you will need a 4×4.

 GPS Co-ordinates:
Latitude: N 25.35209°
Longitude: E 47.45373°
N 25° 21′ 15” | E 47° 17′ 50.2”


Google Maps location click here.


Warnings and tips: 

-Watch out for the thorny bushes especially at night. Don’t wear flip-flops or crocs the thorns might puncture the shoes!(trust me it hurts)

-It’s best to leave the area before dark if your car is far away from you, carrying all the stuff back to the car in the dark is a nightmare (been there done that, see above)

-Don’t take a strollers here that have air filled tyres, the thorns will puncture the wheels. Strollers with very small wheels might be hard to manoeuvre in the terrain. (pushing a stroller with flat tyres in the desert makes for a good work-out though)

-If you make a fire, use one of the fire trays that you can buy at all of the gas stations on the way to the desert. They are much safer. It’s not allowed to use the garden trees for firewood so bring your own, it can be purchased on the road to the garden. (remember to bring a lighter so you don’t have to rub sticks together  until your hands get blisters in them and then walk around the rawdhat looking for someone to borrow a lighter from and then get lost in the process and end up scaring your wife into thinking you got eaten up by some desert lizards.)

-Make sure you know where your car is parked. If you walk around and don’t pay attention to your surroundings you WILL get lost. (not fun especially in the dark and carrying a baby, see part one)

-If you have children with you make sure they are wearing proper shoes like sneakers and long sleeve trousers. Don’t let them out of your sight they might easily get lost!

-Don’t leave food lying on the ground, ants will soon take over your picnic. Instead, hang the foods packed in plastic bags on tree branches or keep them in the cooler. (ants especially enjoy climbing into opened cans of 7 Up in the dark)

-Don’t play loud music here. It annoys the heck out of people who drove 100 km to enjoy the song of BIRDS not your crap. (includes watching loud Youtube videos from your iPhone)

-If you sit under a big acacia tree, check first if it has birds nests in it. You don’t want bird poo-sauce on your sandwich (or any other food for that matter, trust me on this)

-Before you leave, try to check the weather forecast for sandstorm warnings. Check this post to find out what happens if you don’t.

-Pick up all the trash you can carry out, do a good deed and you will feel good, promise!


Liked this post? For more desert treks outside Riyadh click here! Don’t forget to subscribe to Blue Abaya to receive updates to your email!



Some of my readers have been asking me to write more about my travels and favorites spots around the world. I really love to explore new destinations and often suffer from severe travel fever if I haven’t gone to a new place for a while. I prefer going to destinations that are on ‘roads less traveled’ and not very touristy. Sometimes I travel for great diving spots. Other times just for the culture. Or just a great beach! So far I’ve been lucky to have visited 59 countries and I dream of visiting many more..

Discovering new places makes me feel alive and I’m constantly planning on new adventures. There are so many amazing places I want to visit..but right now my life is hectic with the two babies and I’ll have to keep the travel bugs in check until the kids are a bit older. I also want my kids to grow up seeing as many different cultures and places in the world as possible..hopefully that would make them more open-minded and tolerant toward other cultures but also instill a sense of pride of their roots in both Finland and Saudi-Arabia.

Here’s a list of the countries I’ve been to so far..

Finland (well obviously lol)

United Kingdom
Sri Lanka
Hong Kong
South Korea
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Cayman Islands
Equador, Galapagos Islands
South Africa
Tanzania, Zanzibar


Czech republic










That’s 70 countries if I counted correctly :)

Here’s my quick bucket list:
Mongolia. Japan, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Namibia,  Zimbabwe, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Brazil, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Madagascar, Eritrea, Djibouti, Senegal, Romania, Nepal, Bhutan, Syria, Comoros Islands..was that another 50?

Which one of the places on my been to list would you like to hear more about? One of my favorite travel destinations so far has been Galapagos Islands.


“Forget love, I’d rather fall in chocolate!”

Can you imagine a restaurant where you can not only eat and drink chocolate, but smell its fragrant aromas, experience the different textures, feel its silky softness, taste exotic and surprising chocolate flavors and be surrounded by flowing liquid chocolate! All that in a space decorated with delicious chocolate-y colors! Sounds like a chocolate paradise, and Maya La Chocolaterie could be called just that.Maya la chocolaterie riyadh restaurant review

Maya Chocolaterie Riyadh Ouroba rd branch

The motto of Maya La Chocolaterie is “chocolate for a better world”. Maya has three branches in Riyadh; one on the end of Tahlia street, one in Hayat mall and the newest one opened on Ouroba Road at the Oasis business complex.

I’m so glad Maya opened its new branch because the restaurant on Tahlia, although excellent in food and service, lacked a nice atmosphere. Maya’s Tahlia branch is small, crowded on weekends and worst of all full of partitions, making the entire place feel suffocating. They don’t even play music there to soften up the ambiance.

Maya Chocolaterie Riyadh Tahlia branch

Maya La Chocolaterie on Ouroba however is open and airy inside and the place is very inviting.  Here you are welcomed with a cozy and laid back atmosphere and it’s not as crowded as its sister branches. As an added bonus they play groovy and soulful music matching the warm chocolate theme. You forget you’re in Riyadh once inside this little chocolate haven!

Inside the Maya restaurants they have a shop for all sorts of chocolate delicacies, pralines, truffles and cocoa. Maya is the ultimate place for a hot chocolate and a delicious dessert to go with it. It’s one of my favorite spots in Riyadh for sure.

Maya La Chocolaterie offers an extensive menu of pure chocolate indulgence. Starting from their specialty hot chocolates and signature fondues to the delicacies from the decadence boutique or the home made pastries; Maya will surely get you on a sugar and endorphin high. The only problem with eating here is the menu: it has too many tempting options to choose from and you can’t possibly eat that much chocolate on one sitting!

Maya Chocolate Shop

Maya Chocolaterie Riyadh Chocolate bar

Something quite awesome about Maya are the huge churns filled with liquid chocolate. They have milk and white chocolate churns that lead to pipes that running along the ceiling carrying the liquid gold all over the restaurant!

Our dining experience at the newly opened Maya was very enjoyable, especially on a cold winter night there’s nothing better than warming up with a cup of hot chocolate.
Maya’s signature chocolate fondues are a must try. Comes in white, milk or dark chocolate flavor and also sugar free options are available. You can choose a variety of different items to dip in this heavenly liquid. The chocolate is served from a fondue pot that has a candle underneath keeping the chocolate at an optimal temperature.
We started the chocolate feast with milk chocolate fondue wit a platter with mini cakes, marshmallows and strawberries to go with it.. The chocolate itself is divine. Dipping just about anything into this stuff would taste good! Even cardboard paper! Some of the little cakes that came with it were a bit dry but it didn’t keep us from gobbling them all up dipped in the delicious chocolate.

Maya has an interesting selection of different hot chocolates to choose from. White chocolate, dark chocolate, African, rose and orange flavors all sounded tempting. We settled on Rose and Java blend and also tried some of their coffees.

The waiters here are always super friendly and swift and we quickly got to sip on our chocolate elixirs. There is truth to the saying chocolate has healing powers. The smooth rich flavor of the hot chocolate was absolute perfection. So silky and soft and somehow soothing and relaxing at the same time. One of those moments when you taste something so good you can only smile, sit back and enjoy.
The Maya menu is impressive. It’s hard to choose from the list because well, you want to try almost everything. Thank goodness they also have sugar free options available for the health conscious and diabetic customers.  I didn’t find Maya to be a particularly kid friendly environment, it’s more for adult taste in the evenings and they didn’t even have high chairs at the new branch. They do have a kids menu with chocolate pizza on it!
We tried their Belgian waffle and Chocolate Crepes for “main course”. The waffle too was a bit chewy but the chocolate drizzled on top saved it. The crepe is filled with milk chocolate and comes with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and more chocolate drizzled on top. I was surprised that the dish wasn’t overly sweet with all that chocolate going on. Their milk chocolate is something I would love to drink straight from a bottle, it’s just too good to be true.

For “dessert” we had the brownie mousse which is served in a dark chocolate shell. It was easy to finish the mousse, which was light and fluffy in texture, but the chocolate cup was too much to handle! Talk about chocolate overload. The waiter recommended a Maya specialty dessert, the cardamon and milk chocolate mille Feuillee. I’ve always been a big fan of cardamom and I think it goes with lots of things but hadn’t tried it in chocolate before. This dessert reminded me of Finnish Christmas foods where we use lots of cardamon. The taste of cardamon was not overpowering and it was just a subtle touch that partnered well with the chocolate in the cake. Delicious!The chocolate feast started to make us dizzy and giggly from the sugar high. Modern science has proven that eating chocolate produces certain “love hormones” in our bodies which makes us feel happier and in a similar state of being in love. Visiting this chocolate “love clinic” released so much endorphins and serotonin it certainly kept the spirits high for a long time. It’s the perfect place for a romantic night out in Riyadh!

Maya Chocolaterie website:

Branch reviewed: Ouroba Rd Oasis business complex

Star ratings:
Overall *****
Value For Money:****
Kid Friendliness: ***
Romance Factor: *****



We hardly ever hear the candid voices of Saudi men in regards to relationships, marriage and thoughts of living in a tribal society.
The following post is written by an anonymous Saudi man. He could be anyone, his thoughts and feelings are probably shared by many others out there. I came across this post on Facebook and found it so interesting and compelling I felt it should be shared with more people. I asked the author and he agreed to share his thoughts on Blue Abaya.

In his post, which he says was written as a sort of apologetic letter to all the women he hurt in his life, the writer goes through tribalism and its deeper meanings in the society while trying to explain to himself, and to the women who came across his path, the reasoning behind his actions. The piece has very insightful analysis about tribes, “meta-tribes” and the complex matter that is marriage in Saudi-Arabia.

The problems that arise from tribalism are numerous and seemingly only negatively effect the Saudi woman. In reality the strong tribal practices in Saudi-Arabia today have negative effects on everyone on all levels of society.
Read more about tribalism in Saudi-Arabia here.

More from Anonymous Saudi: Darbawiya-The Saudi Punks. 

Another reason I want to share this post is I often feel like the western media is portraying a false image of Saudi men. The illusion is of somewhat brain washed, rather boring men going about their monotonous days without much feeling or thought about life or how it would’ve been had he been born without the y chromosome.

The truth is Saudi men have hopes, dreams and fears just like any man in any other country. Especially the new generation seems to have a lot of frustration toward the contradictions and hardships they face in their every day lives living in a tribal society such as Saudi-Arabia.

What I thought makes this post special is the fact that Saudi men are usually private about these personal affairs and we hardly get a glimpse into the depths of their minds.

It’s long, but a great read. Feel free to share it.

“Why am I not married, or in a serious relationship and the Meta Tribe”

Plain and simple, the reason why I am not in a serious relationship of any kinda goes back to 1 reason, reverse tribalism or Meta Tribalism. It might not be a term you can google as I have coined it lately. This is, of course, my own perception and reality might be a little different or inconsistent with it since this is not a research paper. But in this post I will try to explain what Meta Tribe means and how it affects my love life and how I chose to deal with it.

Intro to tribes

So why does the need for tribal societies to marry off their young to other “compatible” tribes exist? its kind of a known fact that tribal marriage rituals were created as a system to insure money doesn’t fly far off a group of people, as well as to minimize threats on a group of people and to minimize the influence of a stronger tribes and groups of people on this said family or tribe. This is also a criteria of what is considered a ”compatible” tribe. If a family or tribe has the same power amongst other tribes, or the same financial level, this will insure that money doesn’t fly to others who are greedy or that the other tribe aimed to take advantage of the other tribe’s social status or power, also this makes sure that civility dictates when conflicts arise as so much more than just 2 people are involved. Of course all these hazards could be minimized if the marriage happens between two of the same tribe.

This of course rises from weak judicial systems and weak civil society institutions as well as the lack of insurance and retirement plans and social security where people are forced to huddle up in “tribes” to protect themselves. This is also why we see a high dependance on the young in a family to taking care of the elderly of these tribes. The elderly depend heavily on the young to survive. Of course these reasons might look like they disappeared now days to some or they are under a layer of ignorance and tradition, but I assure you that those are some of the reasons why marriage rituals in tribal societies exist and why they continue to exist.

Meta tribes

What is interesting in my opinion is the backlash that non-tribal families had because of this. Since tribes have a strong political and financial power, non-tribals fearing for their well being around much more powerful groups started grouping together. Non-tribals started creating Meta Tribes amongst like minded and financially compatible families around them for the same reasons that Tribals created tribes. Similar marriage and partnership rituals grew out of this too. Families will choose to reject suiters for a lady from an “incompatible” because of the family’s social status, religious values, financial situation, association with other families that might or might not be of compatible nature. This is just about talking about neighboring families in the same city, imagine how it would be if a suitor was from another country. This also applies if a man decides to get married from another “incompatible” family, the family of the man would object almost as much as a lady’s family would, even though its easier for a man to do what he pleases legally, but a woman would need the approval of a legal guardian. This is what I call reverse tribalism, or Meta Tribalism, and it does exist.

Me my family

So before I come to the conclusion, a little bit about me must be communicated. I am a proud person, I hate begging for acceptance. I grew up being a non-tribal geeky nerd kid in the center of all Saudi Arabian tribalism. I was called gay for having a softer west saudi arabian accent, this explains why I learned to merge accents and adapt my language. I was picked on for being different and a geek and a person of higher grades. I was also picked on for being more westernized as I grew up on lots of american TV and media. I was an easy target for everyone. When I lived alone in my college years I learned to be proud of who I am, be an individual and not care about what others think, I found acceptance between a great group of friends. I know what I want to do and who I want to be. I can’t go back to that fool was begging for acceptance from a society that rejected him. I learned to be proud and bend for nobody. I also learned that I don’t like most people. Dont get me wrong, I don’t mind most people, I am pretty social, but the people I like close to me are very rare. It takes me on average a 2 year relationship with a person with constant hanging out to even consider them close friends., if they manage to be my friend for that long. I also have a very specific way of life and a set of beliefs that finally made me a happy person. I won’t go into details as some of these believes and choices might get me killed or put one of my family members in danger. I know what I want to accomplish in live, I have specific goals in life and those goals are my compass and will bend over and down to have them accomplished. If I cant get them accomplished, then I will die trying. I want to create a sustainable game industry in the middle east, and I want that to be my legacy.

I also met many women in my life of course, some were saudi and some were from other countries, and I know my taste in women now. I know what I want in a life partner and I know what emotions to look for in myself as signs of compatibility and chemistry. I know my skills as a person and I recognized my faults as a human and I do look for a partner in life that completes these faults to create a solid unit. A person that shares my believes and enjoys being part of my way of life. A person I can be part of their lives and a best friend amongst their friends and a friend to their friends too. I am not a kid falling in love and I am not a naive brat who just wants to piss off his family. I know what I want and what I need. This being said, most of the women that meet these criteria for me are women who are not from this country, and I have met a lot too, but chose not to persue them.

My family is a simple family from a non-tribal decent. My mom is from a simple family from makkah and my father is from a simple family in Madina. Two holy cities, the pressure I feel to be a good human being. My two parents focused on their education, got scholarships to go to the US and get their higher degrees from esteemed US universities, amongst them is UCS. They both got their PHDs and during their PHD days is when I was born. They have achieved high status in the community and they are known to be trust worthy and they are respected by everyone. They provided a life that is unimaginable to a young non-tribal in saudi. The house was full of love and acceptance even though the world outside the house didn’t accept me or love me. They offered me the best education, the best nutrition and care as well as everything they ever could give me to make me feel comfortable while in saudi. I have never mentioned their name is shame, EVER. I have high respects for what they have accomplished in their lives and I love them unconditionally as they loved me unconditionally. Nothing is perfect though.

The issue with my family does rise with their commitment to the Meta Tribe I spoke up earlier. Due to their experience in life they have seen many people dealing with the backlash of marrying from outside of the meta tribe as well as deal with some complicated political and sociological problems after a divorce, especially if kids were involved. They have seen the pain that people went through and have seen how much damage that has caused not to the married/divorced people themselves but also for their direct and indirect families as well as for their kids. Those negative effects do happen from time to time and solving them is never easy. They don’t want their baby, me, that they have nurtured for so long to be in pain or suffer from such issues, and that is understandable. They want me to have the life they have found to be the best for me, with nice daughter of their friend’s. They have expressed firmly mamy times that they would never accept a non-saudi or a girl that is not from a compatible family.

Some of my experience

As the nature of Riyadh’s ultra conservative social structure (capital of Saudi where I live currently), I am not really in contact with many saudi women, except virtually online. I met people in real life that I have known virtually for a while, knowing someone virtually doesn’t count in the bigger picture of “knowing them”. The social structure doesn’t allow me to observe their behavior around their friends, and it wouldn’t allow me to observe their behavior around my friends. I don’t consider that “knowing” someone at all. Not that I judge people who do, I just know myself and know how I feel about it, it just doesn’t suite me. The women that I do meet in my social circles are not really my type too, its already a rare occurrence to meet a saudi woman in my circles, and the ones I meet are not my type at all.

So why don’t I venture into other cities in saudi you say where people are dominantly less tribal? It just doesn’t serve my goals, other cities just don’t have the jobs or opportunities that Riyadh has. My goals come first. I tried to get to know a person that lived in another city once or twice though. For instance, I knew this one girl for a while online and we were good friends and she was from a “compatible” family, but once we hungout in another neighboring country for real and not online while we were traveling, it just didn’t fit in inside my head, the whole experience was weird, I wasn’t myself and she wasn’t herself that I knew online. It was a complete mess, I didn’t feel the relationship at all and it felt like I was digging myself a huge hole. I ended up panicking and doing something that I will always regret, I called her fat just to break up with her. I will always be a horrible human for what I have done. I don’t want this type of crap to happen to her or anyone else so I will save the whole world my crap by going far away from the online saudi dating scene. If that lady was reading this, I am forever sorry.

I once met a person that I thought could have been the one here in Riyadh, geeky, intelligent, strong woman, ambitious and has high hopes and plans for herself that had the same believes that I had. We dated for a bit before she decided to break it off. Her reasons? She was tribal and she already had an experience convincing her family to be in a relationship with a incompatible tribal guy. She decided to spare herself and myself the pain of dealing with that again especially since I was non-tribal. I don’t know if that was an excuse or if she was lying or not, I don’t care anymore. There was other big issues with both of us that would have broken us apart regardless, but it sucks that an external force was the cause. what I do care about is the possibility of that ever happening again in Riyadh. When will I ever be able to meet someone who is compatible with me on that level? I never had in the last 5 years.

So how about arranged marriage right? How about my family choosing and introducing someone to me right? Not that I have anything inherently against this approach. different people, different methods. Arranged marriages tend to focus on compatibility beyond anything else, it does have a high rate of success due to the reasons I mentioned way earlier in this post. On the other hand, this method does depend on the son or daughter sharing the same values as the family, which is not the case for me. Even if I did go that route just to date and get to know the person, I would be reluctant to share with them anything that is considered perverted, blasphemous and weird by the status quo, and I am full of those and all about them. They are the basis of my personal believes and personal structure. Sharing any personal information about myself would put my family in danger, physically, or maybe just socially if any of that information seeped out to their “friends”. I really want to protect my family from any harm, they have always been nice to me and I am not an ungrateful bitch. I also don’t let my family buy underwear for me, its really awkward to think they are choosing where my penis will go.

I have met some non-saudi women that were amazing, and I almost fell in love with one of them as I was trying to test out the waters and see if my family would approve of someone from a neighboring country that had similar cultural background. The attempt ended in very passive aggressive fights and it only boiled more aggression and late night crying of my mother according to my own sources. I decided to save that girl the trouble of dealing with all of this, and in turn inflicted same pain that the saudi girl once inflicted on me before. The circle of paid and hurt keeps going around. It has to stop.

Dealing with it

dealing with not having a partner is becoming a huge hurdle in front of my own goals, Its really hard to focus on work when your heart is empty. You need a life partner, a cofounder, for your life, someone that would accept the things your family rejected about you. This is the source of my current depression as my emotions started to be a hurdle in front of my goals, and I feel trapped.

One might debate the usefulness of Meta tribe in a civil society that is developing in saudi, but its completely irrelevant to my believes and my way of life. I am not planning on being in saudi for a long time as I do want to move somewhere else and I do have the means to do it and plans are already in motion. In those other places, civil societies do exist and the need of a meta tribe is completely irrelevant and is instead replaced with a smaller social circle of friends that share the same values and you best of all, you get to choose them yourself. And as I am not an ungrateful brat to my family, I promised myself never to get married to anyone they don’t approve of. Its the least I could do after all the great things they offered me to be who I am. That leads to never meeting anyone they approve of, hence the decision not to get married.

Their decision to commit to the meta tribe does push me away from them, and does their inability to ever accept my way of life and my own believes, but thats another issue and I am ok with that. What I wonder sometimes about is my ability in the future to withstand dealing with them and caring for them due to giving me so much but taking away the most important thing away from me right now, the freedom to choose who to love.  I will refrain from getting married and see me go into a downward spiral of bullshit and they will feel me being pushed away from them as time goes by. We will see if they stomach to see their little boy be alone in his life due to their commitment to the meta tribe.

I am still struggling with the fact that I will remain alone the most of my life though, never allowing myself to fall in love again. Wondering if a person able to not fall in love? Am I destined to fall in love over and over again and then continue to break hearts along the way? Mine as well as others? I now live my life clinching to any piece of love I could find, any hug and kiss counts to keep me alive, every cuddle and every sigh and moan adds a day or 2 to my heart. I don’t want to hurt people around me, but I need the blood of your hearts to survive. Share some with me willingly, and I will share some of mine in return before we both move on. stay around as long as you can.

Maybe things will change in the future, maybe it won’t. I don’t want to over think it when I am with someone, but its completely unfair for the other party not to know the truth about what goes on with me. I know this post started very informative, but then turned into a sappy bs whiny story, I just really had to get it off my chest. I also know that women have it worst 10 folds but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt for us men. I know you feel even worst and that you get the shit card, but that doesn’t mean that the source of our issues is not the same. Regardless, women problems are worst by far, just having a legal guardian is messed up enough. With this attitude, if I was a woman, I would have committed suicide a long time ago. Bravo for being so strong.”

By Anonymous Saudi man

If you wish to contact the man who wrote this post, please email him at:


Happy New Year 2013 to Blue Abaya readers!

2012 was a great year for Blue Abaya and I want to thank all my readers for the continuous support and positive feedback. I could not have done without you! There are moments when I feel exhausted and discouraged but your comments and encouragement to continue have given me the motivation to try and make Blue Abaya even better, interesting and more useful in 2013.

2012 Blue Abaya came as a finalist in the annual Bloggies Awards in the Best Asian and Middle Eastern category. Blue Abaya won the Gold medal at the Expats Blogs Awards for Best Saudi Expat Blog of the year 2012! Thank you again for the votes!

In case you missed any here are some favorite posts and highlights from 2012.

Check out the popular desert trek guide to Edge of the World here.

Princess And The Pimple: Story of a Saudi Princess who wakes up one morning with a huge pimple on her face. Her mother takes her to the emergency room VIP section where the royal pimple receives more medical attention than the dying baby next door.

Another funny story of the royal family check Royal Morgue

Read an Expat’s Tale From A Saudi Jail post to hear how one of my friends got arrested by the Saudi religious police. She found herself thrown into a Saudi jail where she was harassed by the Saudi female guards and not allowed any contact with the outside world.

2012 our dreams came true and we finally found an apartment inside the Diplomatic Quarters. Moving in was nothing short of a nightmare! Read the hilariously horrible ordeal here:

Saudi Dude’s Guide To Finnish Coffee Drinking Ceremony. Learn the crazy coffee drinking ritual of Finns, complete with guide how not to get stabbed while greeting a Finnish man.

Ramadan Junk Food And Fungus burgers.
Saudi -Arabia has a big problem with junk food. Check out the Hardee’s fungus burger too!

Find out what the Saudi Post Chocolate Monster did with my chocolates this time!

We were blessed with a son in 2012 and my husband is and has been such a great father and support for me that I dedicated a post to him:
We Love You, Baba



Now it’s your turn!

I want to hear from you readers what kind of posts would you like to see more or less of in 2013?
Do you like the local guides and to hear about my travels around Saudi-Arabia and the ME?
What about the cultural comparison posts where I highlight the fascinating differences between the polar opposites Finland and Saudi-Arabia?
How about posts about current happenings and on goings and health care sector related articles?
Or perhaps more of real life stories and rants from life in the Kingdom?

I would really appreciate the feedback!

A few exciting plans are coming up for Blue Abaya in the future..stay tuned..

I wish everyone a fantastic year 2013!

Christmas decorations such as trees, ornaments and other holiday season decorations are pretty much non-existent in public during the holiday season in Saudi Arabia. Christmas is viewed as strictly a Christian religious holiday and all items that celebrate it are supposed to be forbidden here. Christmas trees are viewed as religious or pagan symbols by many people around this neck of the woods and would most certainly be confiscated by the notorious Saudi religious cops were they to come across any. Despite the lack of holiday spirit in the public sphere, many expats and even locals celebrate the holidays in the privacy of their homes. Compounds will have Christmas bazaars going on starting from November where all the decorations can be found and bought. Scroll down to read where you can get christmas trees in Riyadh and how I found mine from the Black Market half-accidentally.

Oh Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
Thou tree most fair and lovely!
The sight of thee at Christmastide
Spreads hope and gladness far and wide
Oh Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
Thou tree most fair and lovely!

Saudi version:
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
thou tree most scarce and forbidden
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
where are thy branches hidden?
The sight of thee in Saudi-land
Spreads fear and loathing in the sand.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!

Thou tree most scarce and forbidden.

The only Christmas tree that I know of on public display in Riyadh was in Hayat mall and it was not even decorated. It’s pretty amazing how they pulled that one off without the Hai’a (Saudi religious police) having a say. Maybe there were too many women with nail polish around on that day for the religious police to notice anything else. My friend sent me this pic:

Christmas tree inside Hayat Mall in Riyadh Saudi Arabia.

I chuckled. How could the muttawa possibly miss this?

The only way I knew people got Christmas trees in Saudi was if they had shipped theirs in. Like my friend Nicole, also married to a Saudi, who managed to ship in a pretty large fake tree among her stuff from the States not so long ago. That’s why I had given up on the idea of ever having a tree here. But I knew I wanted one and especially because I want to share this childhood memory and Finnish holiday traditions with my children.

So here’s the story of how I found a “Black Market” christmas tree in Saudi Arabia.

How I found my own fake tree was by pure accident. I was in an area in Riyadh which could be called a ghetto, looking around for some decorations. We went there knowing they sell Christmas-sy decorations such as lights and those colorful frills people here use on Eid. I love having those beautiful lights in the house during the darker winter months.

I entered one of the shops that sells all sorts of tawdry stuff and plastic crap. In Finnish I would call it a rihkama store. The place was packed with people and I saw an entire shelf full of what could not be mistaken for anything else than Christmas ornaments. I was shocked a little but happy to have found them. Out of the blue I asked the salesman if they happened to have Christmas trees for sale.

The look on his face was as if I had just asked him for drugs.

The salesman turned red and whispered back to me, yes we do have as if he was letting me in on a state secret. I remained calm but inside I was now very excited. I had not expected this at all! Christmas trees for sale in Saudi-Arabia? No way!

I excitedly asked what sizes they had since I didn’t want to leave the store dragging a huge log behind me. He tried to show me the sizes with his hands while constantly eyeing the nearby Saudi customers with suspicion. He pretended to arrange some boxes around while doing it. I asked if the trees were decorated and did they have a stand. His nervous replies started to make me nervous too.

I told him I needed to see it before I could buy anything. The salesman hesitated but then motioned me to follow him. My heart was now beating faster as I realized my dream of having a cute little tree might come true after-all but at the same time I was nervous because the salesman was acting like we were about to commit a horrid crime.

It felt like he was a drug dealer about to show me his stash of cocaine.

The man walked to an aisle in the middle of the store fearfully glancing around, now visibly anxious and fidgety. He said “if any man with beard come, problem”.

I nodded and said mafi mushkila. He kneeled down and removed the screws that had been loosely placed on the bottom of the corridor shelves. The front came off and revealed the long cardboard boxes hidden inside.

Now two Saudi women walked by. The salesman scrambled quickly closing the door and stood up while I pretended to browse through the cheap alarm clocks on top of the shelf. I wondered what my husband would say about the tree.

The women finally left and the salesman opened the door again. I could see three different sizes of boxes. He asked me which one I wanted. I told him I would have to see the actual tree before purchasing, but I wanted the smallest one. He opened one of the boxes and showed me the top of the tree which in all honesty looked really darn crappy, but beggars are not choosers.

“Will you take it ma’m?” I told him yes, I will take “it”!

The man pulled the box out of its hiding place. Suddenly the box fell apart and a portion of the tree was now showing.

My heart almost stopped.

The salesman panicked and started shouting in Hindi to his co-worker while trying to hide the branches with his arms. The co-worker flew to rescue with two large white plastic bags.

With trembling hands they shoved the tree box in the plastic bag and placed another one on top covering all the green parts.

He told me he would take this “ahem” to the cashier to wait for me. Luckily it seemed as if the Saudi customers around the store were oblivious to our sneaky Christmas tree business and no bearded men were in sight.

With my heart still racing from the adrenaline rush this piece of green plastic had triggered, I tried to pick up some decorations for the tree. Strangely they were all out on display. I found colored pine cones, ball ornaments, frills and stars. One salesman even brought a big box of stars to me.

I wondered why it was acceptable to sell these ornaments but the actual tree was treated like the anti-christ.

When I was done I apprehensively approached the cashier. I tried to wait for a moment when there was no queue but that was not going to happen on a busy evening like this. When my turn came I quickly handed him the basket full of tree decorations. He glanced around from the corner of his eyes and took the things directly into a plastic bag.

Next I wondered how I was supposed to tell him about “it”. I said there was ‘ahem ahem’ something for me here. I tried to look for the white plastic bag and noticed it stashed behind his chair. The cashier did not understand my code language for hidden christmas tree so I had to point to the bag and say I think that was mine. “Oh OK ma’m”. He did not even touch the bag.

At this point my husband suddenly rushed into the store. My first thought was my husband came to warn me about approaching muttawa but he wanted me to hurry up because the children were crying in the car. I pointed to the tree bag saying that’s ours. He asked, “are you sure? Why is it there?” I told him yes I’m very sure. So then my husband just threw it on his shoulder unknowing it was in fact a Christmas tree.

I tried to act normal but couldn’t help laughing at the situation and the very pale face of the cashier. My husband with the tree hanging on his shoulder asked what’s in here anyways? Weren’t you supposed to buy some candles? I told him “oh, nothing special, I will tell you later.”

So we ran to the car parked close by with the Christmas tree on my husbands shoulder. He opened the back door and threw the bag in. We ran not because we had just purchased a black market Christmas tree but because of the crying babies, but admittedly it might have looked suspicious. I giggled about the experience for a long time and managed to keep the tree as a surprise for my husband.

The next day I set up the tree and decorations. Although very small, it didn’t look too bad at all. My husband laughed when he saw it and realized that he had been running around the ghetto with a Christmas tree on his back!

I was happy to have this little reminder of my own culture and family traditions in my Saudi home.

For me Christmas was never a religious holiday, it’s a family tradition and a strong part of our culture. It’s all about just spending quality time with family, sharing gifts, eating some traditional Finnish foods which I have come to love.  It all reminds me of my childhood and the most cherished moments I have with my family are all from the seasons holidays!


P.S. I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t realize that christmas for most people living in western countries, is actually a cultural celebration and family tradition more than it is a religious holiday.  I’ve even come across people who say celebrating christmas is like you’re worshipping a pagan god. Another misinformed belief is that having a tree has something to do with celebrating Jesus (pbuh) birthday which is not true.

Yes, there are people around the world who do celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. They view Christmas as the birth date of baby Jesus (who is a Prophet in Islam too btw) For me personally and millions of others, the holiday has never had that aspect to it. Nowadays Christmas has become sadly very commercial and not as much the family holiday it used to be. Atheists and many people of other faiths (even Muslims) do celebrate Christmas too btw, which proves even more the point that it’s simply not a religious holiday for everyone.

P.P.S. If you’re looking for a tree in Riyadh you might want to check and ask around the riyaleen stores in Um alhammam area and Deerah souq. Go to the Filipino stores area in Batha Also check the compound christmas bazaars and coffee mornings.