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: instagram.com/blueabaya

Saudi-Arabia is a country full of beautiful places to visit for those willing to make the journey to get there..While there are regular flights from Riyadh to Abha, we wanted to show my visiting mother as much of the largely unknown countryside as possible, so we decided to go on a road trip around Southern Saudi-Arabia, traveling with an SUV from our hometown Riyadh down to Asir region and the Farasan Islands. The distance between Riyadh and Abha is around 1000km when you drive on the route 10 through Al Kharj. We chose this route because my husband has family in Kharj, but according to the map the road via Muzahmiyah (route 30) the drive would be slightly faster (approx. 8h 30 minutes).

What an awesome way road trips are to explore the Saudi Kingdom! I love the fact that you can stop wherever and whenever you like to check out the surroundings. During our trip it was Eid Al-Adha holiday and my husband had almost two whole weeks off work which we took advantage of. We planned to have the following itinerary: Riyadh-Kharj-Layla-Wadi Al Dawasir-Khamis Mushayt-Abha-Jizan-Farasan…and back. But we ended up improvising and changed plans on the way, (we actually drove to Najran and Empty Quarter too) which makes road trips all the more fun!

In this post you’ll read about the journey from Riyadh through cities of al Kharj, Wadi Al Dawasir, Khamis Mushayt all the way to Abha which is about 1000km total drive. Check out all the amazing things which you can do in and around Abha in this post: Top 10 Things to do in Abha. More about the rest of our road trip in this post: “Saudi Road Trip

Road trips in KSA are fairly easy to make since the highways are mostly in excellent condition and well, gasoline is basically free. Or at least it’s cheaper than water.

There are affordable car rentals everywhere and we had our eye on a nice GMC Suburban but the agency screwed it up last-minute. So we ended up having to take whatever was left so last-minute: a crappy Land Cruiser. Sitting in the back seat of this so-called vehicle reminded me of the times I road on the buses in the Ecuador mountains. Fun times!

Lucky for me I was assigned the back seat and got to experience the constant rocking, bouncing, grinding and swirling motions of the car to its full effect. We left two hours late from schedule because we had to clean the car after the previous users. Apparently that’s not included in the service here. It might be a good idea to check on this before you rent.

roadtrip saudi riyadh abha

My little girl was only 7 months old at the time we took this trip and she was just such a little trooper. Sat in her car seat for hours without any complaints. We read books, played, watched the scenery and slept in the back seat while my mom was the head navigator in the front, My husband being the only one licensed to drive by Saudi terms (the one with male organ) was the designated driver, although I was dying to drive just a little bit in remote areas.. Which I finally did get to do while driving on a beach on Farasan Islands.

Our journey was so long and I took literally over a thousand pictures so I decided to divide the journey into three parts. All in all it was an amazing, surprising and enjoyable experience. The occasional setbacks and all the hours spent in the car were well worth it!

On our way out of Riyadh we saw many trucks carrying full loads of sheep on their way to Saudi dinner tables. During Eid it’s custom that Saudi families slaughter sheep for the special occasion.

saudi truck sheep

In Kharj we stopped to meet my husband’s great grandmother, my daughter’s great great grandmother! Her eyesight and hearing is a bit impaired and she didn’t expect us but nevertheless welcomed us into her house with such warmth and hospitality.
Births were not registered in Saudi back in the day so she did not now her age but estimated it to be near 90. She had 14 children that lived to adulthood and over 100 grandchildren. Imagine how many great great grandchildren that means!

While we were served tea and fruits by this sweet old lady, she told my husband how she had scolded some family members for not accepting his choice of wife because I was not Saudi. She said the most important thing is who she is and told him that she liked me and my mother. It felt so good to hear this. As the eldest family member her opinion will have powerful influence in the extended family.

We were shown all around her house and she would not let us leave, insisting we stay for lunch. She was amazed to hear we were intending to drive all the way to Abha that day. So we thanked her profusely and continued on our journey. This was one of the highlights of our trip.

The area around Kharj is dotted with green farmlands and date palm trees. My husband’s family has a farm in the town of Hotah Bani Tamim and we stopped by to take a look. It was like a small oasis! Huge palm trees, obese lemons and pomegranates. Nearby were some ruins of an old mud village.
In case you wondered, this is what an obese (raw) lemon looks like:
The road between Hotah and Wadi Al Dawasir was (according to the map) supposed to pass by a town called Layla. But we never found it! It remains a mystery. There was supposed to be some amazing caves near Layla, a town named after the tragic love story of Layla and Majnoon, the Arab equivalent to Romeo and Juliet.

This ^ is camel herding for the modern day (or very lazy) Bedouin.
Not much to see for about the next 500km. Read about what happened to us during this part of the trip, the terrifying near-death experience.

We reached Wadi Al-Dawasir and it seemed to be such a charming hillbilly town. The atmosphere was pretty laid back, men were sitting on couches at the gas station. Strangely there were no women in sight on the streets. Then we spotted a child driving a car, which is really not such an uncommon sight in the Kingdom. Women are not allowed to drive so the boy was most likely taking his mother around town for some shopping.

Finally we reached Khamis Mushayt, a small city next to Abha. It was very late so we only stopped at McDonald’s for a quick fix of ice cream. I was standing in line at the family section when a Bedouin man cut me in line(what line?). He started asking for a menu and didn’t understand the stuff was all up on the board. I cracked up when he started asking for “gambaari” He wasn’t asking for a drink but SHRIMPS! He kept repeating gambaari, gambaari, jib gambaari!
Dude haven’t you been to McDonald’s before? Mafi gambaari.

We reached Abha in the middle of the night. I recall it being almost 2 am. My husband went to the reception of the hotel we had booked. We wanted a family room with two bedrooms. They had an issue with this. They questioned him about my mother! Who is this lady and would not believe it’s his MIL despite the same surname. The staff told us to go to the police station and get a clearance that we were related! The nerve!

I was pretty pissed off at this point because a) It’s 2 am for God’s sake! We are checking into a family room with an infant, just let us go to sleep. b) if this isn’t my mother than who the heck is it? c) if she’s an unrelated random female why would she be travelling with us? c) if it were our Indonesian maid you would have no issues with her staying with us and d) are you implying that we are up to something haram in your hotel? Yet another example of customer “service” or should I say disservice in the Kingdom. This was the only hotel that asked for proof during our whole trip.
Needless to say, we changed hotels. But not to the above ‘I’m Hotel’-hotel! Duh we can see that you’re a hotel!

Abha turned out to be a very green and colorful city surrounded by lush mountains. Unfortunately very few traditional houses are left in the city. Most had been torn down. We headed out to the Asir National park, such a beautiful place!

Asir National park is famous for its baboons. Some of them were behaving aggressively toward the baby, showing their teeth and making weird noises. Unfortunately they seemed to be accustomed to tourists giving them food. I saw one man feeding them popcorn in order to get better pics!

We bought some delicious honey from this man. The honey was from Yemen and the man from Tahamah.

Unfortunately it was considered off season because Saudis find it too cold beyond October to visit the mountainous areas of Saudi and many of the tourist destinations were closed. As we wandered around the national park my mother and I surprisingly encountered some odd and even hostile behavior from Saudi men and women. I found this strange because I had heard people of Abha are friendly and welcoming. They shouted at us insults in Arabic, thinking we were Americans. I hate it when some people think you don’t understand when they say right next to you “hadi amriki”. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure that one out.
The three men in this picture were pretty rude and aggressive toward us. Still don’t understand why. My husband was walking further away from us with the baby so he couldn’t do anything. Later a group of young women followed us pointing and giggling. I guess we just look so amusing!
We found a perfect picnic spot! Or so we thought. Funny how Saudis are usually really private and don’t like people intruding on their privacy. Our picnic spot had lots of traffic and many “invaders” walked and talked loudly in their mobiles right next to us. Some Saudi women took their sweet time and the one in this above pic was stumbling around in high heels, peeking from underneath her scarf which she had thrown over her whole face. It was so weird I could only watch in amazement.
Look at this mess! Clean up after yourselves people! Would you throw this garbage on your mother? No? Then why do you throw it on your motherland!?
Mom and the little bear watching the sunset.
What is this? A stranded cruise ship?
Nope. It’s the Green Mountain. On top a restaurant and viewing platforms with magnificent views of the city.
On the green mountain we found what I would call the best souvenir shop in Saudi-Arabia! Loved these miniatures of the traditional houses of the region. They make pretty lanterns too. I bought similar ones from Sana’a a few years back.
When we were leaving Abha we managed to get lost a few times. Actually it was kind of my fault. I was acting as the navigator in the front seat and was reading the map. I opened the window in high speed and whooosh! The map was sucked out of the window before I could even say oops. That is what happens when you’re born blonde people. But hey we accidentally found this village of traditional houses so it didn’t really matter much. Or at least that’s how I like to see it.
Our journey continued to Jizan. The road from Abha to Jizan is very scenic and we stopped many times to take in the scenery or to get some snacks. Here a man selling corn on the cob.
Like I mentioned before in this post “I See Pink, people”  pink houses are very popular in this region! This one’s pretty lonely out there.
The baboons are a menace! They roam in large packs and jump around the roads all the time. Many had ended up as roadkill.

The winding roads in the mountains had occasionally only “suggested” speeds. Actually it doesn’t really matter what they tell you the speed limit is. Speed limit by Saudi terms means the limit is how fast you are physically able to drive under the specific circumstances. In these roads that would be about 140km/h.

The only time you will see a Saudi man driving 40km/h is when he is checking women out. So much for the suggestion. LOL

 

 

Recycling, preserving the environment, conservation and green thinking are all mostly alien terms in Saudi-Arabia.

Wasting, exploiting the environment, littering and materialism are the way of life in the Kingdom.

“The GCC has the world’s highest levels of domestic waste, after the USA, generating more than 22 million tonnes of household waste in 2009. More than half of the waste, 58 per cent was generated in Saudi Arabia. Apart from domestic waste, additional refuse comes from littering parks, gardens and from the waste dumped in the seas and on beaches.” http://recycle-saudi.com/home.htm ( sadly this recycle site no longer exists)

stop trashing ksa

This is really a huge disgrace for the Kingdom as a Muslim nation. Islam teaches people to preserve nature, not to use anything excessively and to conserve the environment. Humans were entrusted by God with the responsibility of taking care of the earth. Here are some quotes from the Quran and Hadith: 

“Now, behold! Your Lord said to the angels: I am placing upon the earth a human successor to steward it” (Al Baqarah 2:30)
Rampant corruption and disorder have appeared in the land and in the sea because of what people keep doing. He will let them taste some of their doings, so that they might return to the Right Path.”(30:41)
 
“The Prophet Mohammed told his companion, Saad, that he was using an excessive amount of water to make ablution, (wudu) saying do not waste (water). Saad then asked if there could ever be wastage if water was used for the purpose of wudu. The Prophet’s reply was, Yes. Even if you are by a flowing river.”

 

Have people totally forgotten about this responsibility? Are they just ignorant of these teachings? Are people too proud to clean up after themselves or to recycle? What causes this atrocious negligence and irresponsible behavior?

How can people do this to their own country? Do they not love it? When I see places like this I think, they must really hate their country, why else would they throw trash on it?
To be fair it’s not just the Saudis who pollute this lovely country; many expats participate in it too. Mostly from third world countries, where the concept of recycling and reducing waste are foreign. Unfortunately the culture of littering is a problem all over the ME and both expats and locals from the region are engaging in the littering and remorseless wasting of resources.

There have been numerous grass roots efforts to change public opinion about recycling. Most campaigns are met with resistance and even ridicule. People simply do not take it seriously.

This past week was “Saudi Green Revolution Week” a campaign to promote environmental awareness in the Kingdom launched by Naqa’a Environmental Enterprise http://naqaaenterprise.wordpress.com/
Naqa’a was founded by a group of bold women from Jeddah who stepped forward to introduce revolutionary environmental practices across organizations in the Kingdom.

“The Saudi Green Revolution Week is a social initiative by Naqa’a Environmental Enterprise. It is a revolutionary movement of young people united to elevate the public’s awareness about the much neglected issues of the environment in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Green Revolution Week is a campaign of awakenings, new beginnings and hope for a healthier and cleaner Saudi Arabia. The campaign maybe for a week, but the Green Revolution is an ongoing movement towards an eco-friendly society; and ultimately a Greener planet.”

Jeddah is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Its beaches and parks are ruined with rotting litter. There are ongoing campaigns and efforts by locals to clean up the beaches and the Corniche, but it looks like a never-ending battle against the masses of trash. After the clean-up, more trash appears.

Typical attitudes: “The guy in the yellow overall will pick it up anyway, so why bother“. “I’m not a cleaner or a maid, I don’t pick up trash”. “Recycling is for freaks and weirdos, not cool people like me” or “I just don’t give a damn”.

What can be done to change the attitudes and spread awareness in Saudi? How to introduce these green values on the youth without them making a mockery of it?
Perhaps one way of waking people up is by making them realize that the plastic bag they have just tossed on the beach/street/park/desert will some day come back to them. What goes around, comes around. The plastic will dissolve into the ground water or animals will eat it. The chemicals will go up the food chain, until it reaches the human again…Their stomach..their bloodstream.
We should be kind to mother nature and treat her well, as we would our own mothers.

 

Pink houses, pink villas. Pink trousers on fellas. Pink in the bathroom pink in the garage. Pink at the mosque, is this a mirage? Pink at the gas station! Is this a pink nation? Men with pink shoes, shirts and jeans,  can you tell me what all this means? Is there pink in masses, or is it just my rose colored glasses?

Pinkness seems to be everywhere in the Magic Kingdom. Surprisingly enough it doesn’t look like Saudi men have any problems living in pink houses, wearing pink clothing, going to pink mosques, pumping gas at pink gas stations or even driving in pink cars. Coming from a culture like mine where men are too “macho” to even glance at pink stuff, this strikes me as odd to say the least.

 

me weird, but I find this fascinating. The more I have started to think about it, the more I’ve begun seeing pink stuff! Everywhere. Maybe I’m just a nutter and this whole pink fixation is in my head. Or then it’s those rose colored glasses on my head?don’t mean to say ALL Saudi men dress in pink clothes but it’s not totally uncommon to spot pink items on men. Unlike in the west, it seems to be socially perfectly acceptable here.

saudi religious police muttawa

Also, pink houses and buildings are common. I started paying more attention to it on our road trip to southern Saudi. Special mentions go to Abha, Kahmis Mushayt and Gizan for men living in pink accommodation. What’s up with that? Did Saudi-Arabia just get an enormous amount of pink paint for free? Do the wives love pink so much they insist on it?

This got me thinking.. What might be the reasons behind the use of color pink in so many places? I mean I have never seen men so comfortable with pinkness anywhere in the world before or so much pink being used on buildings. For example a man driving around in a baby pink car in Finland would get VERY long stares, perhaps disbelief and laughter from women and in worst cases even land him in a fight.

Paint the house bright pink and people will think this dude also sees flying pink elephants. Or alternatively that he is a mere doormat and the wife obviously made the final decision on the paint color. Showing up at an ice hockey game in tight pink jeans and pink tennis shoes would be almost suicidal. The cultural differences of  how people perceive pink are striking!

So are men in my country and in the west in general just so insecure that they are terrified of using the color pink in fear of it somehow diminishing their manhood? Are Saudi men more secure in their manhood? Is it a cultural thing? Is pink just perceived as a gender neutral color in Saudi-Arabia? Why so much pink but not for example red, another “feminine” color? Is it only in the west that pink is perceived as a women’s/girl’s color?

This pink mystery reminds me of a true story that happened to my american friend who lives in Riyadh. She was in a shopping mall with her 1,5yr old son. His hair is a little longer which is unusual in Saudi but many parents in the U.S. find cute. A Saudi woman with a baby stroller stopped to talk to her asking, is this your daughter? My friend said no it’s a boy. So this Saudi lady dramatically threw her hands in the air looking toward the sky and began praying: “Oh Allah guide this woman to the straight path!” “Guide her to cut the sons hair!” “He looks like a girl, guide this poor woman!” She told my friend she MUST cut his hair because he looked like a girl. My friend was appalled at the woman’s behavior. Nevertheless she tried to be polite and said pointing to the woman’s baby dressed up in an all-pink outfit “What a beautiful girl you have mashallah”. The woman replied: “It’s a boy.” My friend asked why is he dressed up in PINK? She replied: “Oh, I don’t believe in colors being gender specific.” Btw my friend is an Arab Muslim. So long hair on boys=big problem, haram, makes boys look like girls=haram. Pink outfits on boys=no problems, doesn’t make boy look like a girl at all. Maybe Saudi men are dressed in pink as babies and get used to the color as being part of their wardrobe? So what do you think? Have you noticed this phenomenon? Why do you think pink is so popular?

P.S please note this post is labeled under humor and not to be taken overly seriously :)

Here are my top ten restaurants in Riyadh. There are so many good restaurants it’s not easy to pick only ten!
I am always amazed to see restaurant reviews on sites like Tripadvisor and others. They have stuff like McDonalds, Chilis and TGI Fridays and various average burger and pizza places on the top of their lists.
I would not place those places in my top 100. I would not even call McDonalds a restaurant!

So what makes a great restaurant?  It’s not only the good food, but the atmosphere, ambience, decor and service are all very important too.
Some restaurants in Riyadh are ridiculously overpriced for what you get in return and you’ll find they are not included in this list.

Restaurant in Riyadh are not in any particular order.

1. Il Terrazo Brazilian restaurant in Faisaliyah hotel. Situated on a terrace overlooking the Globe and the Faisaliyah courtyard fountains, this is a buffet restaurant serving a multitude of meats barbecued on the open grill. Good music, relaxed atmosphere, heavenly food, excellent Saudi “champagne”, no gender segregation. 

2. Tao Lounge on Tahlia street. The ultimate hip hangout for the trendy complete with high ceilings, comfy sofas, unbeatable ambiance and excellent international cuisine. Update: Bistro by TAO at Najoud mall is worth going to for some delicious cakes and specialty desserts, innovative and creative menu.

3. Lenôtre restaurant in Centria Mall. The famous French restaurant branch in Riyadh can be found on the third floor of the mall. They have a wonderful outside terrace overlooking both Faisaliyah and Kingdom towers. Delicious food and heavenly desserts! Owned by a Princess, and it is one of the few places in Riyadh where women can dine outside. 

4. Najd Village Restaurant next to Prince Sultan university. This is THE place to go for expats in Riyadh and also popular with locals. The restaurant is built in a traditional Saudi house and serves original Saudi cuisine. An experience not be missed especially for first timers in Riyadh! read more form this post: Al Qaryah Najdiya- Najdi Village Restaurant.

5. Rosso Italian at Four Seasons Riyadh- five star service and five star delicious food cooked by Italian chefs.

6. PAUL on Tahlia street. Especially lovely place to have breakfast, freshly baked croissants and breads from the famous bakery. Outside seating area is also open to ladies. Read a detailed review here: PAUL Restaurant and Bakery Riyadh.

pauls riyadh bakerypaul bakery riyadh

7. Maya Chocolaterie on Tahlia street. A chocolate lover’s paradise. This restaurant is all about chocolate, they even have liquid chocolate flowing in pipes! Indulge in heavenly fondue, rich aromas of the desserts, exquisite chocolate delicacies and get on a sugar high!

8. Mirage Chinese restaurant. Asian cuisine in a delightful setting, large fish tanks all over the restaurant will keep the kids busy. Guests can dine in chalets set over small pond with large goldfish in it. For a list of the Top restaurants to take the kids in Riyadh click here!eats-8.jpg

9. Nozomi, Tahlia street. Chic, low key ambiance, delicious sushi, fantastic service, gorgeous setting. For a list of the Top most romantic restaurants in Riyadh, check out this post: Top 14 Most Romantic Restaurants in Riyadh.

10. Elements in Four Seasons Kingdom Center. A new restaurant with an exiting concept of four different interactive open kitchen stations. Very impressive modern decor and relaxed atmosphere. For families they have amazing brunch with kids own buffet and play area on Fridays.

What is your favorite restaurant in Riyadh? For a complete list of Blue Abaya restaurant reviews click here!
If you’re in the Eastern Province, here is a list of the Top 10 restaurants in Dammam, Khobar, Dhahran and Jubail: Top Ten Restaurant in the EP.

Make sure to stay tuned for more great restaurant updates by Blue Abaya by subscribing with the form below!

Sauna..for most people the sauna might sound like a luxury, a special treat or something very exotic. For us Finns the sauna is a part of normal everyday life. Finns have a saying, Sauna is the cure for all illnesses”. It’s a necessity, not a luxury. For the five million inhabitants of Finland, there are over 2 million saunas! That makes for almost a sauna per household ratio.finnish sauna cure for all

Saunas are everywhere. You will find saunas in almost every house, in some newer city apartments, Apartment buildings’  basements, at health clubs, public pools, summer cottages,in hotel rooms etc. There are electric saunas, wood-heated saunas, smoke saunas, barrel saunas, sauna boats, balcony saunas, smart saunas, infrared saunas.. The favorite and most traditional form of sauna for the Finns is wood-heated stove sauna, where water is thrown on the hot rocks piled on top of the stove. This creates a soft enveloping steam into the sauna.

The traditional Finnish sauna has a specific way it needs to be heated and there are some rather peculiar traditions and practices involved, especially weird and fascinating, even scary for the first time sauna-goer. Finns take pride in their saunas and foreigners will without exception be invited for a sauna session.

The Finnish FIL’s have a reputation of “testing” the foreign spouses of their daughters in the sauna to see how “manly” they are. This is of course done tongue-in-cheek, but nevertheless it’s best to be prepared!

Here’s a humorous “Finnish sauna-making guide ” for all the foreign son-in-laws out there!

If you are a foreign guy (even more so if you’re Arab or Saudi) married to a Finnish woman, be prepared for the ultimate acid test when you land on Finnish soil. The FIL’s will surely have their fingers itching to get you into the sauna to test out your manhood and compatibility with your Finnish spouse.
 
Do not sweat(no pun intended). Here’s a step by step guide to survive your first sauna ordeal with flying colors. By following these instructions you will prove yourself worthy of his Finnish daughter.
After landing in Finland you will immediately be taken from the airport to the summer cottage for survival camp.
Be warned that there will be no running water, plumbing or even electricity in some cases.
Upon arrival act calm and ask where the outhouse is (you might need this information sooner than later).
Remember to make polite remarks on how the grass and garden looks so well groomed and how the cottage seems so inviting (even if you feel like running back into the car and heading to the nearest hotel).
 
Most likely next you will be asked to heat up the sauna. You must understand that sauna is a sacred place for Finns. Finns used to give birth in sauna. Sauna heals the body and the soul. DO NOT at any point, under any circumstances attempt to make fun of the sauna traditions. That will be your last joke.
To heat the sauna, you will need wood. Go and chop some up, carry it inside and place into a neat pile like this:
This would not be the best moment to be lighting a fireplace for the first time. You will need to know at least the basics on how to get the fire going without getting smoke into the sauna. There is something called a smoke sauna, but that is too hardcore for you.
 
After you have got the fire going in the stove (kiuas)without burning up the whole sauna, you must fetch the water. Take the buckets and fill some with rain water and others with lake/sea water. Put rain water only in the “löyly” bowl to prevent the stove stones from going bad.
Remember to keep checking the temperature of the sauna, you are aiming for 70-80C, not 100C. Heating up to 150C will NOT impress your FIL. That will burn down the sauna. You will need to add wood about every half hour.
 
Next you will assemble the vihta. This is a ‘whisk’ or ‘whip’ made of birch tree branches. Its used to beat yourself with while sitting in the sauna. You need to gather branches from a certain kind of birch and tie it up in a bunch. If you are lucky your FIL might assist you in this. Sometimes families have ready-made dried ones you just need to soak in water to use.
 
When using the vihta, start by beating your back and arms, then move to your legs. Be sure to hit yourself quite hard so that the skin becomes very red. You will be surprised how nice it feels.This means your blood is now circulating really well! Do not use the vihta like a camel whip! That will cause the leaves to fly all around the sauna.
If your FIL is impressed by your self-beating skills, he may ask you to beat his back for him. This is a great honor. Do not beat him too hard even if tempted.
You might be asked would you like a men’s sauna or a family sauna. Men’s sauna means you bathe with the men of the family, naked. Family sauna means you bathe with your wife and children, also naked. Don’t freak out about the nudity, it’s a perfectly natural thing and Finns won’t look “there”. Easiest for you would be family sauna, but if you do end up with the men, you can always use a towel to cover when you go outside for a cooling and swim.
 
In the sauna you will start by throwing water on the stove (kiuas). The steam this creates is called “löyly”. It is considered polite to praise the sauna and the excellence of the löyly. Try to stand the heat for at least 5 minutes then go cool off. The Finns will be throwing lots of löyly so be prepared not to chicken out too soon.
If you are next to a water source, you will need to go for a swim (even if the water is only 15c which is seen as normal). This will be seen as manly and give you high points in the eyes of your FIL (and maybe your wife). Extra points come from a spectacular jump accompanied by a magnificent roar.
If you don’t at least dip yourself in the water (not just the tip of your toes but entire body), you will fail the sauna test. Thank your lucky stars you didn’t come in the winter time when you would be required to roll around in the snow or dip into the frozen lake! The cold water stimulates the blood circulation and afterward you will feel like a hero because of the endorphines running through the body.
 
After the cold shock some people like to hang around outside chatting, having a drink and enjoying the scenery. Then the sauna bathing continues like this in cycles of hot and cold. Do at least three cycles to prove your stamina.
 
Don’t worry if everyone sits quiet as a mouse on the benches. Mostly Finns will just sit quietly without feeling awkward. Sauna is not a place for debates or lively conversation, but rather self reflecting and silence. The children in Finland are taught “In the sauna you must be as quiet as in the church”. Finns don’t know how to small talk much either.
When you’re finished wash yourself with birch tree soap. Mix hot and cold water from the large barrels in your washing basin. Rinse off with rain water.

finnish sauna cure for all

After the sauna cool off with a cold drink in the sauna dressing/living room or outside on the deck. Try some delicious sausage (makkara) cooked on the sauna stove served with hot mustard. Remember to once more praise the löyly to your hosts!
 
Hopefully your FIL will approve your sauna performance and you will be accepted into the family! Good luck!
 
Love,

Many of the blogs on Saudi you will find authored by western wives of Saudi men. I guess we have a lot to share about multicultural marriages and raising kids in a foreign country so different from our own. Keeping a blog can also be sort of outlet to rant out negative feelings. Sharing ones experiences can help in processing and coping with the sometimes stressful life situations a foreign wife to a Saudi can find herself in. Or blogging might just be something she enjoys doing to fight the Saudi boredom!

For anyone interested in Saudi-Arabia, multicultural marriages and parenting or expat life, these blogs are worth looking into. Here is a list of ten blogs maintained by western women married to Saudis in alphabetical order:

American Bedu   http://americanbedu.com/
The veteran of “Saudi wife” blogs, American Bedu is a former CIA agent that married a Saudi, now widowed and fighting her own cancer battle back in the U.S. Lots of info on everything about Saudi, lively discussions, posts everyday.

Susie’s Big Adventure http://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com/
Susie is an american woman who moved to Jeddah with her Saudi husband, her blog tells of her journey in the Kingdom, also contains lots of news, links and other info on Saudi.

Arabia Saudyjska  http://arabiasaudyjska.blogspot.com/

A Polish woman that maintains an interesting blog about Saudi-Arabia written in Polish language, but you can always use google translate to read it. At the moment she is taking a blogging break.

The Camel and the Kangaroo http://thecamelandthekangaroo.wordpress.com/
The newest addition to the list comes from down under, she is an Australian woman newly married to a Saudi.
Looking forward to reading more from her!

Little Pink Strawberries http://littlepinkstrawberries.blogspot.com/ NOW www.nooralqahtani.com!

Noor is a talented graphic designer and her blog Little Pink Strawberries has lots of cool freebies and she keeps and Etsy Shop too. She actually has two blogs, her other cooking blog which is full of delicious recipes is called Ya Salam Cooking and can be found here: http://www.yasalamcooking.com/

Nzinghas Soapbox http://nzinghas.blogspot.com/
This blog has been inactive for a while, but nevertheless it’s worth reading because it’s funny, the author is very witty and according to her own words “too bold for most”.

Ramblings of a Saudi wife http://lostinriyadh.blogspot.com/
This blog by a lovely Canadian woman is fun to read and contains lots of hilarious parenting humor among other things from Saudi life.

Saudi Birth Story  http://saudibirthstory.blogspot.com/
A blog by Aisha Al-Hajjar, a Bradley Method birthing teacher, writer and founder of AMANI birth center. She has a passion for natural childbirth. Her blog has lots of info about birthing and also includes the birth stories of her own 8! children.

Under the Abaya http://undertheabaya.wordpress.com
Written by “American Girl”, this blog is her touching personal journey of relocating to Saudi-Arabia to raise her daughter despite a failing marriage to her Saudi husband.

The Same Rainbows End http://thesamerainbowsend.com
By Nicole Hunter-Mustafa

Enjoy!

Top Ten Amazing places to visit in Saudi-Arabia by Blue Abaya-Explore Arabia:

1. Hegra, AlUla If you visit only one place in Saudi-Arabia, let it be AlUla and its heritage gem Hegra (also known as Madain Saleh). The other-worldly scenery, breath taking nature, and rich history make it a destination worth exploring for many days. Hegra is not only the tombs of the ancient Nabatean people and Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO listed world heritage site, but it offers much more for the tourist to explore. The Hijaz railway built Ottomans runs through it. Nearby the town of AlUla boasts a beautiful oasis, a well preserved Old Town, and the Lihyan Kingdom sites Lion Tombs tombs, Dadan Kingdom and Jabal Ikmah, a canyon full of inscriptions up to 3000 years old dubbed ” The Open Library”.

A modern wonder an Guinness World Record holder Maraya concert hall rises like a mirage in the desert in Ashar valley of AlUla. Read more about visiting Hegra here: Saudi Arabia’s mysterious ancient city Hegra-Mada’in Saleh.

Want to see more amazing places in Saudi Arabia? Follow me on instagram here: Viking in Arabia 

Saudi Arabia’s Crown jewel, Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza at Hegra, AlUla

camel, maraya, alula

Camels in front of Maraya, AlUla Saudi Arabia

hot air balloon, saudi, alula , winter at tantora festival

Hot Air Balloon Festival in Hegra, AlUla

AlUla Old Town

Corridor in AlUla’s Old Town

2. Najran The colorful city of Najran on the Yemeni border offers an unforgettable experience for travelers. Its unique history, architecture and culture blends in with the neighboring Yemen. Najran is a very tourist friendly destination in Saudi-Arabia that pleases even the most experienced traveler. Inscribed as Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO heritage site in 2021, the Hima Rock Art site is located in Najran. 

Amazing places to see in Saudi Arabia: Najran

Traditional Najran heritage house

3. Farasan Islands A favorite diving destination of Jacques Cousteau, Farasan Islands have more than just private beaches and sand for every visitor to enjoy. The Islands are a bird watchers paradise and also have mangroves and endemic Gazelle species in addition to the numerous historical sites on the main island.

Read more about Farasan Islands here!

Al Rifai house in Farasan Islands, Saudi Arabia

Amazing places to visit in Saudi Arabia: Farasan Islands

Farasan Island pristine beaches

Farasan islands magroves

4. Empty Quarter It is not empty. It is full of beauty, silence, wildlife and tranquility. 

Amazing places to visit in Saudi Arabia: Rub al Khali, The Empty Quarter

5. Al Soudah The Asir National Park and the Al-Soudah area near Abha are a lush, breezy paradise best visited in the hot summer months. The park offers trekking, camping sites, cable cars, and plenty of other outdoor activities in addition to interesting architecture and friendly people. Check out Blue Abaya’s Top recommended things to do in Soudah, Abha and Khamis Mushayt here!

Amazing Places to visit in Saudi Arabia: Misty Mountains of Soudah

soudah, sunset, view, girl

Amazing sunset views on top of Saudi Arabia’s highst point, Soudah mountain 3000m from sea level.

6. Wahba Crater This volcanic crater lies 700km from Riyadh towards Taif. It has amazing scenery including lava fields, an oasis and salt pans and can easily be explored by foot. The site makes for an unforgettable camp out experience.

7. Al Lith

Al Lith is a small town about 275 km south of Jeddah. It is the port of departure for diving the Farasan Banks eco system. This is Saudi-Arabia’s best diving destination, with incredibly clear waters, amazing wrecks and abundant marine life.

women diving, freediving, saudi

Snorkeling in amazing Red Sea of Saudi Arabia

coral reef, boat trip, red sea saudi

Amazing Crystal clear waters of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast

 

8. Edge of the World One of the most spectacular views and amazing places to visit in Saudi-Arabia can be experienced from the Edge of the World which is part of the 800km long Jebel Tuwaiq Escarpment. When looking to the horizon from the edge it appears as if the plains continue endlessly. For the location and directions how to visit this magical place, go to Blue Abaya’s Guide to Edge of the World. Grab a free ebook guide to the Edge of the World HERE!

Amazing places to visit in Saudi Arabia: The Edge of The World, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Amazing Edge of the World, Saudi Arabia

 
9. Taif

The mountain city of Taif is famous for its roses and rosewater. In the spring the flowers and the whole area are in full bloom. Taif is also known for its glorious old palaces, fruit farms and the Al Hada mountain cable car with thrilling views. The best time to visit Taif is from March to through the summer months, when it’s cooler than the rest of the country due its elevated location.

rose farm, Taif, braided hair with roses

Amazing experience in Saudi Arabia: Rose bath in Taif

palace, Taif, old house, heritage , kaki palace

Colorful architecture of Taif grand palaces in Taif

Katib palace, taif, taif doors, saudi heritage

Amazing architecture of Katib house in Taif, Saudi Arabia

 

10. Qassim The northern towns of Buraidah and Unaizah in the Qassim region offer rich cultural heritage and history. Unaizah has ancient farmlands, beautiful unique mosques, historical sites and an excellent traditional marketplace.

qassim marketplace unaizah
Saudi doors, qassim, colorful doors, Saudi heritage

Amazing traditional door in Unaizah, Qassim Saudi Arabia

 

 Don’t miss also Al Balad Historical District in Jeddah, one of Saudi Arabia’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites.
albalad, coral house, unesco site, saudi

Amazing coral houses and architecture of AlBalad historical district, Jeddah

 
These are just a few of my favorite amazing places to visit in Saudi Arabia, for more beautiful places to see in Saudi Arabia go to the Explore Arabia page. 
 
More adventurous travelers will enjoy treks Off The Beaten Path in Saudi Arabia !

Don’t miss out on more travel inspiration from Saudi Arabia in the Wanderlust Wednesday KSA posts on Blue Abaya!

make sure you Follow on instagram to see the latest travel news including Saudi e-visa info: Blueabaya instagram

Post updated 08/2021

Ten Amazing Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia

Ten Amazing Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia

In Finland where I’m currently writing from, this time of year (and for a very long time) it gets really dark, murky and gloomy. I haven’t seen the sun for over a week and I’m already feeling depressed and out of energy. Everything seems so expensive and has a tax on it. Public transport around Finland costs almost as much as international airfare. For example a train ticket from Helsinki to Oulu would cost around 120 euros. Gas is also ridiculously expensive and driving becomes costly due to all the other fees that go into owning and keeping a car. I went for a coffee and paid 24 euros for a sandwich, coffee and water! Things like this make me miss Saudi Arabia, and it makes you realize how lucky we are to have them as a part of everyday life.

When we think about it, we start to appreciate some things we often take for granted in Saudi-Arabia. So I thought I’d compile a list of ten things I like about living in Saudi. Yes, there are lots of good sides in Saudi life -believe it or not!

1. The sun!
The sun shines by default everyday of the year. It’s easy to be in a cheerful mood and to keep energy levels up with so much sunshine. No need to take vitamin D supplements since we can have it naturally from the sunlight, which is a much better way to absorb vitamin D anyways! Another thing many enjoy is sunbathing, people who live in compounds are lucky to have beautiful swimming pool areas perfect for lounging and swimming in the sun all year round.

2. Inexpensive food
Groceries are so much cheaper in Saudi than for example in Finland or most western countries. Everything except the imported stuff is affordable and good quality. There are countless restaurants to choose from and most are very reasonably priced and eating out won’t make a huge cut in your budget. Saudi foods are delicious and available everywhere for cheap prices.

3. The desert
I just love going to the desert and to experience the absolute silence that falls upon you out there. That is where your soul rests. There’s always something interesting out there to find and explore and it’s so easily accessible. Check out these 10 Beautiful places in the Riyadh desert

4. Mosques and athan
Every neighborhood has a mosque or two and they are all look different. It creates a peaceful atmosphere hearing the athan (call for prayer) throughout the day, even inside shops and at the hospital.

5. Tax-free income
This is definitely a big plus too with obvious benefits! Salaries also tend to be on the higher side compared to what expats would earn in their home countries.

6. Untouched places
There are not many places left in the world where tourists can have the entire site to themselves. Saudi has plenty of historic sites, nature reserves and other places around the country that remain unspoiled by mass tourism. There are spectacular World Heritage sites like the tombs in Madain Saleh and ancient city in Najran, virtually empty of visitors. One of my favorites are the pristine beaches you can have all to yourself, like the beaches in Haql north of Saudi Arabia. Elsewhere in the world tourists pay $$$ to find such places.

7. Women Only
Sometimes it works for your advantage, especially at the airport! Enables faster security checks, passing men in queues and so on. Ladies branches of banks are a breeze and it’s nice to go to the gym or swimming pool and know for sure there’s no men lurking around! Also I’ve noticed as a woman it’s perfectly fine to jump the line if there’s no female section, nobody will dare protest a woman walking straight up to the counter.

8. Cheap Travel
Travel around Saudi and around the Middle-East is affordable. In the Kingdom the roads are mostly in very good condition and the petrol is almost free making driving around the country easy. Domestic flights and flights to neighboring countries are cheap.

9. Red Sea
I don’t live on the coast, but just being so close to the Red Sea and being able to go to the beach or diving so easily makes for one of life’s little luxuries. The Saudi side of the coast is still mostly untouched by mass dive tourism and reefs remain healthy and rich in marine life unlike the neighboring Egypt side. Farasan Islands is a paradise that only residents of KSA can currently enjoy.

10. Unique historical sites

Saudi Arabia is a closed country to the outside worlds but those of u who are lucky to live there have the unique opportunity to explore and discover all the world class heritage sites like Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO listed sites: Madain Saleh,  At-Turaif historical city in Diriyah, Al Balad district in Jeddah and Ha’il archeological rock art sites.

What are the good sides of Saudi in your life?

Let me share a story and a valuable learning experience from our Saudi Road trip.

So we were cruising on the highway in the rented SUV somewhere between Kharj and Wadi Al-Dawasir surrounded by literally NOTHING else than rocks. The scenery out there is just flat. Not even the random camels you often see roaming in the desert could be seen, let alone any sort of vegetation. Not even a twig. Just flatness. And rocks.

This sign indicates there would in fact be camels around but I think they just put it there for looks.

This was the most interesting scenery and the only pic I took for about 500km. So now you get the idea of how desolate and completely void of any life or human settlements this area is.

So back to the story. I was sitting in the backseat next to our six month old  breastfed baby who was playing with toys in her car seat (or so I thought). I was pumping milk and had the lights off in case some over enthusiastic idiot drove too close and got all excited from a glimpse of that glamorous sight (let me tell you there is nothing glamorous or exciting about pumping milk, but with Saudi guys, you never know). So in order to save time I figured I could just pump the milk and give it to her in a bottle instead of having to make another stop for breastfeeding.

My mom and husband were listening to some weird radio program that sounded like it was being broadcasted from outer space. It was the only channel available in English out there. I think it was the news but I could be wrong because like I said it sounded like it was coming from light years away or another era. But anyways they had the volume so high I could not even hear the breast pump making its usual yatouhuuyatouhuuyatouhuu -sound.

Suddenly I realized the baby was making a gagging sound. Ok I was not so alarmed at first because my baby has some sort of obsession of sticking fingers in her mouth so far that it makes her gag. And she thinks it’s funny! This baby does not have a sense of humor! I mean who does that anyways? And please don’t tell me there’s something called baby-bulimia because there’s not. It’s just her thing ok.

So I told her to stop (as if it helps) but it just got worse. My husband switched the light on and we saw she was really gagging on something this time. From this point on the story becomes a bit blurry in my mind.

I shouted to my husband to stop the car because the baby was choking and he braked so hard the car almost flipped. We stopped on the side of the highway where maniacs are speeding by at 300km/h. My husband and mom ran out of the car to her side and took her out of the car seat. Did I mention I was still attached to the breast pump? Oh and that mom was not wearing her abaya.

It was so dark they couldn’t see clearly if there was anything in her mouth. I had taught my husband basic CPR skills in cases of emergency and stressed the importance of the “no blind sweeping” rule. I was so proud that he remembered it when he was forbidding mom from doing it! I saw the baby’s face turning increasingly red from gagging. Which could be seen as a good sign because at least there’s still oxygen in her system.

The only thing I could think of was to get to her. So I just threw the bottles on the floor and got out of the car with my ta-tas peeking out of the abaya (which I only realized later).

I took the baby and automatically started doing what I had been practicing many times with a dummy in Life Support classes. Somehow time stopped and things slowed down like in the Matrix movies except that thankfully I didn’t have to dodge any bullets. I was thinking to myself this is not happening. I am not going to let her choke here, in the middle of the desert! There is no time for an ambulance or even helicopter to reach us(and where the hell are we anyways, next to rock number 76,945,412?) I was determined to get the thing out of her.

Looking back I cannot believe how calm I was. I kept hitting her in the back to hope something would fly out but without avail. My baby was starting to get limp and blue and had stopped gagging. So I decided to look once more in her mouth by shining the iPhone light in there. And lo and behold there it was. A piece of clear plastic stuck down her throat.

I managed to get it out  while my husband was holding the light and mom keeping the baby still.THANK GOD she started breathing normally again! I just held her and cried out of relief. She had reached out to a small plastic wrapper on a juice and started chewing on it. Despite the 100 toys I had given her to play with in the car seat! Babies!

It was really quite a scare. Without knowledge of basic life support and CPR, the baby most likely would not have survived. The incident shook me for a long time and the thought of loosing her there and then sends chills down my back!

So what lessons can we learn from this story?

-Learn basic life support skills, and teach your partner and other family members too.

-While pumping breast milk in car in Saudi-Arabia, remember to close your abaya when finishing and getting out of the car

-That said don’t pump milk in a car in Saudi-Arabia.

-Or rent a car with tinted back windows

-Always keep your iPhone charged on road trips in case accident

-Babies like to chew on plastic bags

-Babies like to play with anything ELSE than their own toys

-Always keep your baby in a car seat

-The scenery between Kharj and Wadi-Al-Dawasir  most likely the most BORING you will ever see in KSA.

-Saudi radio stations suck

 

Learn CPR:
http://globalcrisis.info/cpr.html#baby
Why you shouldn’t blindly stick your fingers in your babies mouth:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1342520/pdf/jaccidem00006-0058.pdf

Here are 10 amazing innovations, inventions and inspiration that you may not know come from Finland, Europe’s 6th largest country with a population of just 5.4 million. For more awesome facts about Finland, check out this post!
1. Sauna All Finns love sauna! We have over 2 million saunas in Finland, that’s on average one per household. Health benefits of the sauna include: lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, cleanses skin from toxins and impurities and blemishes, aids weight loss, relaxes muscles, decreases swelling and reduces stress. Did you know that back in the day, Finnish women gave birth in the sauna! Learn more about Finnish sauna traditions here!
 finnish sauna cure for all
2. Nokia
Did you know that there is a town in Finland called Nokia and the mobile phone company started out as a wood mill in the 19th century? Nokia also produces raincoats, tyres and rubber boots!
http://www.about-nokia.com/history/pictures.php
 
3. Xylitol
The amazing health discovery for dental health is a sweetener derived from the Finnish Birch trees. Xylitol’s health-promoting effects on teeth have been proven in many scientific studies. Xylitol cuts off acid attacks, prevents cavities, reduces the amount of plaque and prevents mothers infecting their children with caries. Xylitol also reduces children’s ear infections.” http://www.foodforlife.fi/english/finnish-innovations/xylitol-combats-cavities
4. Angry Birds Everybody knows Angry Birds but did you know they were created by a Finnish computer game company called Rovio? Today the Angry birds are popular all over the world and in Finland they have Angry Birds amusement parks, beauty products, evening gowns and everything under the sun in the Angry Birds theme.
 
5. Education System Not an innovation per se, but something to be very proud of! Countries all around the world (including very recently Saudi-Arabia) are trying to find out the secret to the success of Finland’s education system which consistently tops OECD charts. Learn more here “Saudis could take lessons from Finnish Schools”
 
6. SMS
Unfortunately the Finnish man that invented SMS messaging never earned a penny for his idea! 
 
7. Benecol The miracle product Benecol, which started out as a margarine that contains sterols and stanols which have been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol levels is now sold worldwide. 
 
8. Santa Claus The REAL Santa, Mrs. Santa and the Little Elves live in the Arctic Circle in Finland at a place called Santa Claus Village. The Santa Claus Village has a fully functioning post office which receives millions of letters from all around the world. Each and every letter will be replied to by Santa’s Little Helpers. You can write to Santa from this link. It’s not only children who write to Santa, sometimes he gets letters from adults seeking for advice in difficult life situations. Santa Claus could be called the world’s most famous Goodwill Ambassador!
rudolph pink nose reindeer finland
 
9. Ice Skates Apparently us Finns have already been ice skating for about 5000 years! No wonder Finns have the best Ice Hockey Team in the world! World Champions 2011!
 
10. Salmiakki
Only Finns will agree: Salmiakki, also known as salty liquorice, which is actually (Ammonium Chloride mixed into black liquorice!) is Finland’s gift to the world! Check out this HILARIOUS blog called Salmiyuck to find out how special this stuff really is! Adventures in Salmiakki, reviews of the endless world of wonderful salmiakki products. It is certainly an acquired taste ;)