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:

My mother has visited us a total of seven times in Saudi-Arabia. We’ve visited many mostly unknown beautiful places in Saudi Arabia together and met many amazing people. During her visits in KSA, we’ve done the following to desert trips: Raghbah tower, Edge of the World, Maraat, Shagraa, Red Sand Dunes, Lake Kharrarah, Rawdhat Khuraim and Riyadh River (Wadi Hanifa)! We also took a weekend trip to Jeddah for some diving and beach time. The highlight of her visits was our legendary Saudi road trip of over 3000km from Riyadh to al Kharj, Hota Bani Tamim, Wadi Al Dawasir, Abha, Jazan, Sabya, Farasan Islands, Najran, Empty Quarter..and back to Riyadh!

 Here are some highlights of one of her visits in images.Mom

On our road trip around Saudi mom and her granddaughter are watching the sunset at Abha mountains. The green scenery there amazed her. Abha is definitely on our list of places to return to again, we were there off-season so many touristic places had already closed.

This is from a weekend in Saudi when it had rained and we found a small lake in the middle of the desert. She walked around in the lovely red sand dunes after having explored the old mud village of Raghba where she got to climb the watch tower for beautiful views.

At her first desert “Hash walk” in the desert, mom climbed the red sand dune just like all her younger counterparts. Climbing up this thing is not easy folks! Going down is fun though and we saw many different styles such as running like mad, jumping and even cart wheels!

In Abha region we stopped to buy honey from this local salesman. Mom ended up buying a huge canister of that honey which was from Yemen and tasted like heaven! Go to this post for more on tourism in Abha and Asir region: Top 10 Things to do in and around Abha.

A souvenir shop we found on our roadtrip. Mom bought replicas of houses of the Najran region. She was delighted to find the exact same ones to add to her collection that she bought on our trip to Yemen a few years back. This is one of the best souvenir shops I’ve been to in the Kingdom.

On Farasan Islands mom was in her element. She swam whenever she got the chance. The water was warm and lovely and there was no one else around. It was pure bliss and my daughter enjoyed those lazy days on the beach and in the water as warm as a bath tub!
We spent one night sleeping on a deserted beach on Farasan Island. It was amazing.

We had so much fun at the women’s souq in Najran. Here mom is trying on Bedouin niqabs.

The magnificent Empty Quarter, Rub al-Khali was simply breath-taking and we agreed to return there one day for an overnight camping trip!

Miss you, mom!

I experienced hands on the generous side of the Saudi people by having the chance to interact with many families through my work. At the hospital a patient would have their own private rooms and the average length of stay would be 8 days. A nurse typically works around 12 hours a day, on average 4-5 days a week. Also the system in Saudi is that a certain nurse is assigned to specific patients only (usually 2-4/shift) and the nurse therefore get lots of one on one time with their designated patients.

At first it was a strange system for me as a western nurse used to having the responsibility of up to 35 patients at a given shift. Then I saw the good side to it, getting to really know your patients and following their progress and treatment. This way their outcome will be better because the nurses can observe the patients closely and report changes to the doctors.

saudi hospitalitySo having this close contact with the Saudi families gave me the chance to experience this amazing side to their culture which is hospitality and kindness to strangers.

I know some nurses who worked in Saudi or even the very same ward would not agree with me and might say Saudis are rude and arrogant. I think this has to do with personality and attitude. My approach is always open-minded and I would greet patients with a smile and “salaam aleikum”. Even though I was not a Muslim at first, I thought it was polite and respectful to their culture and always generated a positive response.

We have a saying in Finland:
Niin metsä vastaa kuin sinne huudetaan
Which translates to something like “the forest will answer you in the same way as you shout into it” meaning basically that if you speak nicely you will spoken back to nicely, or on the other hand if you speak to someone with disrespect, you can’t expect them to treat you with respect. Some expat nurses would always complain about how the Saudis are so rude. Perhaps a look into the mirror could solve this problem!

So that saying is what I like to go by. I think learning Arabic made a huge difference in communicating with the patients as well. They realized how much I respected them by making an effort to learn their language in order to be able to communicate better.

I would say in general, every patient of mine would offer something during their course of stay. Regardless of their background. The poorest sometimes were the most generous. It was touching how they would offer me from what little they had. I would of course refuse but they would literally stuff things in my pockets!

Typically people would give me chocolates, sweets or pastries they had in the room brought in by relatives or friends. On night shifts I would often be asked to join for some Arabic coffee, tea and dates. Some patients would give me juices, laban or water bottles. Basically anything they had to offer, they would give it. I would even be offered a plate of the food they were eating “to go” when I apologized I did not have time for dinner with them.

Many families would ask if I knew about Islam or wanted to learn about it. I would say I was interested and next time I saw them they would have a package ready for me full of booklets, small Quran’s, prayer beads and the sorts.  A beautiful Quran was given to by one of my favorite patients, an old Bedouin couple. It has both Arabic and English side by side, no distracting brackets and a brief explanation of the historical background of the events.

On occasions I received more elaborate gifts like jewellery, perfumes, bags and watches. A princess once bought me the same evening dress I saw her daughter wearing in her room during Eid time. I had admired how beautiful it was and she had sent someone to pick one up from the designer. Needles to say I was overwhelmed!

Generosity was extended to invitations as well, I have been invited to weddings and once to a royal wedding (sadly I couldn’t attend because I was abroad at the time) to family dinners, farms and coffee shops. I only had a chance to go to a few but it was well worth it and the hospitality was abundant.

I think the most amazing act of generosity happened once with another princess patient. She asked me if I needed more books on Islam in my own language. I said I had never really found any books in Finnish but would love to have some. She had me write down what my language was and said would see what she could do. The next time I came to work, must have been the day after, she gave me a whole boxful of books about Islam in Finnish! There was eight different books and of each five copies so I could give to friends and family. To this day I don’t get how she was able to obtain books in Finnish language in such a short time, in Saudi-Arabia!


We took mom to the airport today and the house has been feeling really empty. We all miss her already! Two months flew by so quick..I find myself feeling blue and finding it hard to keep up the blogging because it really is hard work. We kept ourselves busy and met many of my friends here in Riyadh. It was also my mother’s last weekend in Saudi-Arabia so we wanted to do something memorable and visit a special place. We decided to drive out to the old town or mud village of Raghba northwest of Riyadh. Find the full guide and directions to this beautiful desert trek and Saudi heritage site here: Ragbhah and the Rolling Sand Dunes. If you’d like to read more about my amazing mom and her adventures in the “Magical Kingdom” go here: Mom in the Magic Kingdom.
mom in magic kingdom
We walked around the ruins of the Ragba village and even climbed the watch tower. Which was a lot of fun of course, but also a claustrophobic experience! I had to literally squeeze myself through the last part. I have no idea how an adult man could have fit in there! Maybe they used a kid, or a midget for the guarding purposes:) It’s unfortunate that many historical sites have been ruined by graffiti.

If you look carefully you can see mom waiving from one of the holes. This is where she turned back because she wasn’t able to move in there anymore!

I was determined to reach the top. A mild panic ensued when I couldn’t move at one point and there was absolutely no light coming into the staircase from the tiny windows. I was starting to envision in my head the fire squad being called to free the crazy lady that got stuck in the watch tower.

When people saw me up there they started honking their horns and some cars gathered to watch. I guess they don’t see ladies at the top too often. The visibility was perfect, no dust or hazyness after the rains.

Afterwards we drove around the desert looking for water after the rains, and managed to find a beautiful spot in the midst of the and dunes.

On friday we joined an expat gathering in the desert, the occasion, christmas celebrations! Mom said it was the strangest christmas party she ever went to.

A chorus of “angels” sang some christmas carols under a huge acacia tree. The songs echoed beautifully from the mountain.

The highlights of the evening were the fireworks and the bonfire. Lanterns were lit on the side of the mountain.

I’m glad we went because mom got to experience something so different and special on her last day. She also got a chance to do some off-road driving and we had so much fun we noticed only on the high-way that she had forgotten her abaya in the desert! Oh well, she doesn’t need it anymore, at least for a while. She liked it here so much she wants to come back in April.

Another thing I have been missing lately is motivation. I think it might have started from a comment I got from a Muslim blogger girl with a severe case of “holier than thou” attitude. She just had a lot of nasty things to say about me without having a clue who I am jumped to all sorts of conclusions on my character. Anyways I didn’t publish her comment because it was a personal attack against me and I state clearly in the comment rules that such personal attacks will not be tolerated and I wanted to just let it go and move on.

So that and a few other things going on in my personal life and mom being away kind of took me into a slump. I didn’t feel like posting anything lately. I felt like my blog is of no interest or benefit to anyone and nobody even reads it or comments because the posts are so dull and negative or something. I know might sound silly, but I do get those days when I truly think like this.

So after this depressive mood I was thrilled to meet a fan of my blog in person at this very desert gathering. It was a Canadian girl who had recently moved to Riyadh for work at the same hospital I used to work at. She had asked my Finnish friend if she knew who the author of Blue Abaya was and then my friend introduced us to each other.

Wow I was so flattered by her words, I still can’t believe it! She said my blog helped her so much and she had been reading it for some while now. She thanked me for keeping it and encouraged me to write more. She was so sweet! She even said she told all her friends there’s this amazing lady who keeps a blog about Saudi you have to read it!

So I want to personally thank you, dear fan in the desert for your encouraging words! Thank you for the inspiration! I wish you have an amazing time in Saudi-Arabia and make the best out of everything here :) If you need anything I will always be available to help out. Please don’t hesitate to ask!

I also want to thank all my readers and “fans” out there for reading and commenting. I love comments! Please write more comments :) It really means a lot to me and reminds me that there ARE people out there who are listening.

What a busy week it’s been! I really don’t understand how the time flies like this. I thought I just posted the previous Tuesday Ten yesterday! I didn’t even manage to post this on time but better late than never..
Mom is leaving in a few days and we’ve been running around Riyadh trying to get as many things done as possible. Looking for souvenirs all over Riyadh and we went to Diira souq to find the best ones. It seems to be almost impossible to find nice post cards from Saudi-Arabia. The hotels do have some but many look out dated and the places pictured are not even that nice. I guess people just don’t send postcards anymore.

Last Wednesday we went to Intercontinental hotel for lunch by the pool, the weather was perfect! The pool rules say “women are not allowed to sit around the pool”. Pretty annoying, why not even allowed to sit?  What is the harm of women sitting around the pool enjoying the nice weather and having coffee. It’s an international hotel environment and this should be perfectly fine. Only men are allowed to enjoy  swimming, of course. Notice the UFO hat landed in the background which his the ministry of Interior building.

The SHOP&DROP winter campaign is ongoing at Harvey Nichols until Dec 4th. You can donate winter clothes and they distribute them to the needy families around Riyadh. Our clothes were put in the container by some really sweet volunteering Saudi girls. And yes there are that poor people in Saudi so if you’re in Riyadh or Jeddah go participate! The campaign is run by Sawa’ed Atheeb check their site here:

This is actually the old baby swing from my childhood. My daughter loved it so much last the summer, we brought it to Saudi because they don’t sell anything like this here. The kitten enjoys it too!

We went to Ha’ir and Riyadh river area to walk around.  Such lovely green scenery and flowers everywhere.  The date palms had new dates in them. Listening to the Birds singing and just the sound of the water flowing and the wind softly blowing in the trees makes my mind at peace.

The Riyadh river flows through Wadi Hanifa which is a very long lush valley full of agriculture and date farms in particular. There’s even fish in the river and many expats go there fishing on the weekends.

Lots of pink stuff on sale at the Walk For Cure breast cancer awareness event. I got the hair clips and a small bracelet, mom bought a medicine box and some ribbons for her sisters, who have been diagnosed recently with breast cancer.

We had an amazing Thanksgiving dinner at our friends house!

Mom is trying to purchase all her souvenirs this week. Here we are testing out some bokhoor. It’s pieces of special kind of dried wood that smell really good when you burn it slowly on a special kind of burner. This particular piece cost around 1500 SAR!

An evening walk around the neighborhood, we found some villas for sale open for people to walk in for viewing. Mom’s thoughts were it being as living in a jail with those high walls, bars on windows and such a small harsh yard.

We found this flower on sale at IKEA in Finnish it’s called a Christmas Star! The vase is from a trip to Jordan.

And finally this Tuesday, schools in Saudi were closed because it rained. From this picture you can maybe guess why.

I cannot believe how fast this past week went! Actually where did it go? I realized we only have two weeks left with mom staying with us in Riyadh. Times passes too fast when you’re having fun!

This week I met up with some ladies and their kids in Riyadh, all non-Saudis married to Saudis. Among them were some fellow bloggers so it was extra interesting and what a lovely evening it was! I met Tara Umm Omar, the owner of Future Husbands and Wives of Saudis, American Girl from Undertheabaya blog and Umm Lujain author of Ramblings of a Saudi wife, all amazing, beautiful women I was so impressed! Check out their blogs too!

Last weekend we went to a place called the Edge of the World which is located about 70km outside Riyadh. It’s a beautiful place I’ve gone to many times but this time was to show the place to my mom and she was really impressed. On the way we stopped to take pics of some camels. Directions and a complete guide to the Edge of the world can be found in this post click here.

This is the escarpment which is about 500miles long. The “Edge” is the cliff seen here in the far left.

It takes effort to reach it but the views are worth it. Despite the really hazy sky and a sandstorm blowing in the area, the view was stunning.
We were taking a walk in the DQ and I always thought this building looked like a spaceship and wanted to take a pic, but the guards would always forbid photographing it. This time the security officer laughed and just said ok, but please quickly so police won’t see you!
We had some Arab guests over and we served them some Finnish foods. Typical Finnish desserts are these blueberry-raspberry pie and cinnamon rolls called “pulla”. I had pearl sugar and rye flour from Finland to make them as original as possible. For the recipe I use to make the Finnish cinnamon rolls check out this post:
We also served the guests Saudi “wine” called JEW.Non-alcoholic of course.
Mom and my baby are relaxing at the lounge of Yibreen spa we went to have pedicures at.
At the mall we saw these arabic style dresses which my mom likes, but to me these look more Cruella Deville-style. I like wearing jalabiya at home sometimes, they are very comfortable and do also come in more simple designs! Check out the one in the far back it has even a collar the same as the evil cartoon character!

It rained this morning and this is the evidence, a few dots on the dusty table in the balcony. Note that the amount of dust came from just one day, which is typical to Riyadh. It’s pretty frustrating to clean the dust everyday because it doesn’t help to actually spray water form the hose on it, but needs always a thorough wipe to remove this nasty stuff! The lanterns are actually lamps from IKEA which never worked so I just removed the lightbulbs and put a candle in there.Looks pretty nice :)

So this week my daughter has been doing well with her potty training and she’s just over 6 months old. Here she is reading a ducky-book while sitting on her ducky-potty while one of our cats is supervising. Kind of cute I thought.

Until next week!

Last week I skipped posting because I was on a week long road trip around Saudi-Arabia. Our journey was awesome, surprising and eventful. Promise to post about it very soon with pictures from the most amazing places I never thought existed in the Magic Kingdom. For the Saudi Road Trip Part One from Riyadh to Abha post click here!

So here are the Top Ten things from life on the road in Saudi Arabia.

En route on our road trip my daughter met her great-great grandmother in this small village south of Riyadh.It was an amazing experience to get in touch with relatives from many generations away. I could never imagine anyone in Finland having this chance but in Saudi people married early (she was married at 14) and had lots of children so that is how it’s even possible.

It was Eid Al Adha time in Saudi and we saw LOTS of sheep on their way to Saudi families dinner tables. This also meant more traffic on the roads.

We bought five jars of delicious honey in the Abha mountains from this friendly  Saudi man who told us the honey had been harvested in the Yemeni mountains. It was so delicious!
Pink houses are very popular in Abha and Gizan, I really don’t understand why this particular color is so common. I’ve never seen so many pink houses and villas and all sorts of buildings anywhere around the world before. I think it’s funny so many Saudi men actually live in “princess pink” houses! Read my post about the popularity on pink color (especially among men) in Saudi-Arabia here:

I LOVE seashells! Another thing I collect from around the world. My house has LOTS of seashells as decorations all over, and also sand from around the world.

Most of the beaches on main Island of Farasan are ruined with trash! I was so saddened and disappointed to see even the one of the islands upscale hotel, the Farasan Coral resort was ridden with litter! Huge change from last visit in 2008 and big disappointment. To read more about trash and littering problem in Saudi-Arabia read this post:
These women were giggling and pointing at me following me around and acting really immature and rude. They started taking my picture with cameras and cellphones, which I don’t have a problem with per se, but I do when people are openly making fun of me. So I whopped out my BIG camera and started taking their picture, they turned around and got upset. Sheesh.

Back in Riyadh this week at Dirah souq they were selling these huge rings with a container on them.  What are they used for we asked the salesman? He said drugs like hashis!  I think the salesman might have made that up to make them seem more exotic or something.

This is the first all blue abaya I have found on sale in Riyadh at this very same souk. I didn’t like the design of the abaya that much so I didn’t buy it.

My baby has been under the weather this week and that’s another reason I haven’t had time to post. She felt a little better and we took a walk around the Diplomatic Quarter parks. She loves to look at the fountains there and it seemed to cheer her up. The weather was perfect for a picnic this time of the year in the Kingdom the weather is so lovely and pleasant not too hot or cold yet. We are expecting the winter rains to start soon though and that should make everything look more green and more flowers will start blooming soon.


Dear parents in Saudi-Arabia,

I’ve noticed that many of you don’t care too much about the safety of your children in the cars.

I have always wondered how you can have this nonchalant attitude whilst driving among the most insane, irresponsible, reckless maniacs drivers in the world?

You love and cherish your children so dearly, yet you place them under such danger by not securing them in seat belts and car seats!
Don’t you wish to keep them safe in the crazy traffic of Saudi-Arabia? Did you know that Saudi Arabia’s roads are the world’s most dangerous ones? A person is killed on them every 90 minutes. A fifth of them are children under 12 years old.
The next one could be your child. Think about it.

Would you let your child run around on a highway, or play in a busy parking lot? I didn’t think so.
So why do you let your child jump around in your speeding car? Don’t you think its dangerous to let him hang out of the windows? How about having him sit between yourself and the steering wheel? Some people make fun of your careless attitude and say you are using your baby as an Airbag.

Fathers, do you think because you are such great drivers nothing will ever happen to you? Think again.
Do you realize how many children are out there actually driving the cars?

Saudi baby airbag

Have you thought about how many road hooligans there are in the streets chasing women and causing accidents?
There is nothing your excellent driving skills can do to prevent accidents caused by other peoples reckless driving habits.

You might think you don’t need a car seat or seat belts because Allah will protect your family. It’s time to re-think this.
Children are treasures given to you by the grace of God. He has put them under your care. It is your responsibility to protect your child from any harm that you possibly can. God trusts you, are you worth His trust? Parents will be held accountable for this trust on the Day of Judgement.

You wouldn’t let your child go in a lions cage at the zoo and just think Allah will protect your child. That would be careless and irresponsible. Just like having your child in your lap while driving. Or allowing her to stand out of the sunroof while speeding on the highway. Equally irresponsible and dumb as placing your child in that cage. Think about it.

In case of an accident, your precious infant will fly out of your lap like a football, no matter how hard you hold on to him. It’s proven to be impossible to hold on to a child in case of collision.

Did you know that car seats and seat belts save lives? According to various studies they can cut the risk of infant fatalities by up to 80%.  The tools to help parents protect their child the best way possible are out there. Fulfill your parental responsibility and secure your child into them!

You probably heard the Hadith about the Bedouin that left his camel untied. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said to him: “Be wise [first] and tie your camel, then trust in Allah.

Wouldn’t this same golden advice also apply to the most valuable of possessions, your child?
Be wise and tie up your baby in a car seat!
The rest is up to Allah.

Tips on what kind of car seat to get, instructions how to use them and statistics on child car safety:



I saw this idea on Noor’s blog Little Pink Strawberries and I thought I must give it a try too! The idea is to post ten random things from your life during the past week,
So here are ten random things from my life in the Magic Kingdom this week..Mom is staying with us for some while here in the Kingdom and I’m excited to show her all around Riyadh and the nice things there are to do here!

This is the scenery from the “Hash” which my mom refers to as the International Sports Activity Days. It’s basically a day of sporty activities out in the desert with a group of expats. There are Hash House Harrier group meant for expatriates to get together and enjoy the outdoors and wonderful scenery of their new home countries all over the world. In Riyadh the activity is more “secret” though and they don’t publish their information online like they do in other countries.

A man was walking with these funny shoes which look like socks that reminded me of my dad who uses them in Finland. Not sure if my father tested them in the snow yet.

We went shopping to IKEA and saw these clowns going around and people were taking their pictures. Even grown Saudi men wanted to pose with the clowns, it was quite funny. I think the other one (or both?) looked  a bit drugged up! I’m scared of clowns, they are so creepy!

I have some sort of a “obsession” of collecting sand from all over the world. I found some sand I had collected from my last trip to Farasan Islands and put it in this Iittala vase from Finland. The scented candles are Lily of the Valley, my favorite!
Speaking of Sand, this is the view from top of the sand dune I climbed at the hash. It was really tough! It seems as if every time you take a step up you slide two down, progress is SO slow and frustrating. Kind of like progress for women in Saudi-Arabia.

Going to meet the in-laws, we had some souvenirs from Finland with us. Blueberry chocolates and dried Cloud-berry-Strawberry-Blueberry powder which can be used to make tea.

We were offered some Arabic foods, coffee and tea to taste and my mom liked them all except that she mistake the Arabic coffee was tea because of the color and strange taste :)
The  flowers on our balcony smell so nice right now!
October was Breast Cancer Awareness month and the Kingdom tower was pink the whole month to show support to the cause. I wish it was always this color, it’s much nicer than the usual yellow.
Can you spot the third cat in this picture? This week my daughter learned to play peekaboo with the cats. One is hiding under the sheet. The black kitten was born on the exact same day as my baby. I’m happy that my daughter doesn’t seem to be afraid of cats or any animals at all and she is getting used to having pets around the house. The cats are so good with her they never scratch or anything eve if she pulls their tail!

One of the most unsettling aspects of traveling to Saudi-Arabia for women are of course the abayas. The abaya always seems to make women wearing it for the first time feel insecure and very self-conscious. Wearing abaya for the first time feels strange but expats quickly get used to them. That doesn’t mean we would love to have a chance to be without them every once in a while though. 

Women traveling to Saudi Arabia for the first time often would ask questions about the dress code such as: What should we  wear underneath the abaya? Is it ok if the lowest or highest buttons are open? Should the abaya be plain black only? Can abayas have decoration on them? Should I always wear a shayla (head scarf) with the abaya? Will wearing high heels with abaya get me into trouble with the notorious Saudi religious police? Answers to these questions can be found here.

Here’s a list of things to do and places to go in Saudi that do not necessarily require wearing of abaya and a woman could remove hers if she chooses to do so.


The Desert
Any place far off in the desert will be safe for women to take their abayas off when there’s nobody else around.

The most beautiful and secluded place around Riyadh would be the Secret Lake. Women can remove abaya and walk around the lake or climb up the hills for spectacular views. Climbing with abaya would actually be dangerous! Secret lake Riyadh desert
Rawdhat Khuraim  long walks around the huge area without abayas, there was literally no one else there. Also good for some desert female driving.
Thumamah park is a beautiful nature reserve outside Riyadh, we went there for a picnic with no one else in sight.

The historical area which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site is virtually empty from visitors on weekdays. We enjoyed a short walk on a farm and later a picnic in Wadi Hanifa. On weekends an evenings it can get very crowded in the picnic areas and taking off abaya would not be recommended during those times. UPDATE 2016: With the recent huge restoration project in Diriyah and Wadi Hanifa valley, this has become a very popular area an removing abayas is no longer recommended!

Faisaliah tower
Women can take their abayas off at the top of the tower in the “Globe” restaurant, the Cigar club and the viewing platform.

Ladies only Kingdom
For first timers in Saudi it’s always interesting to see how Saudi women really look like behind their veils. Third floor in Kingdom shopping center women shop and work in normal clothing

Quad biking
There are few areas around Riyadh for quad biking but the most scenic ones are Red Sands and Thumamah. During the weekdays its very quiet and women can drive around without being disturbed especially in the mornings. I would not recommend going to these places alone or without males on weekend peak hours though. Guaranteed unwanted attention from the hundreds of male drivers.

Women can take their abayas off as soon as they pass the checkpoint at Jeddah harbour.
In Farasan Islands women can explore the hundreds of deserted islands in peace.

Diplomatic Quarters
The DQ in Riyadh is the area where most of the embassies are located. The huge area has some amazing parks worth visiting. The area is safe for women to walk around in western attire.

Inside all compounds abayas can be removed. Some western compounds even BAN abayas inside!

KFSH Cave park inside the hospital compound has some lovely fountains and places for BBQ’s, which can be accessed by public and no abayas are required there.

Golf clubs
Dirab and Riyadh golf clubs out of the city allow women to golf sans abaya.

Horseback riding
Dirab stables, the stables in DQ and the Riyadh Equestrian club are abaya free zones.

Istiraha and other rentals
An istiraha “rest house” is a place sort of like a vacation rental outside the city where people go on weekends to relax. A family can rent out their own istiraha complete with private swimming pools, yards and housing equipped with living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens.
Another option is to rent a Bedouin style tent which will come with a private area where it’s perfectly fine for women to remove their abayas. Some nice tent rentals can be found in Thumamah park.

Private beaches
Women swim in “normal” swim gear in the numerous private beaches in Jeddah and Al Khobar.

Do you know of any other places worth mentioning?


I stumbled upon this news article on a Finnish tabloid magazine about the GCC youth camp that has been arranged for the first time in a tiny town in Eastern Finland. The article about these millionaire Khaleejis in the Finnish forest made me laugh a few times but it was also interesting. Looks like the reporter has been dramatizing the story somewhat although this might even be her real perception of Arabs. I think this article summarizes pretty well how Finns in general perceive Arab men and the Gulf countries.

What made this story even more interesting to me is the location of the camp. I moved to Eastern Finland for a short while to a small town nearby. Everyone seemed to know one another and there were always rumors about the neighbors. If someone had lots of money they never showed it because Eastern Finns are known to be quite jealous and always talk about other people’s money! The Finns of the Eastern province are also known to be talkative (to the point where they make up or blow up stories), laid-back and humorous but they might also have certain reserves for foreigners (or even Finns from other regions).
The mentality of the people of Eastern Finland shines through in this article and it made me smile.

Another thing worth mentioning: The man interviewed from Finland is the father of the woman who recruited me to Saudi-Arabia. We were even co-workers for a short while in the nursing recruitment agency. What a small world.

So here is the article translated into English:

Filthy Rich Arabs came to do forest work in Savo

Luxury palaces changed to everyday work in autumn Finland

Mohamed Hamed has previously met for example Saudi-Arabia’s and Kuwait’s heirs to the throne.Good relations to the Arab countries rulers made the oil billionaires choose Finland for their camp location. 

Three men are kneeling in prayer at the Vanamola camp grounds in Joroinen, Southern-Savo(eastern Finland). When the religious duties have been performed, the men gather around the campfire to enjoy some arabic coffee. Dates brought from their home countries are offered to guests too.

The majority of the 76 arab men are currently learning how to do forestry in the nearby pine forest. The temperature is only 6 degrees and with the chilly autumn wind blowing on the yellow birch leaves, beanies and quilted coats are clearly coming in handy.

The men are from rich oil countries:Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, UAE and Saudi-Arabia. In their home countries they are used to multistorey palaces and being constantly surrounded by servants. In Finland they must even make their own coffee in pots.

What made the millionaires come to the cold north?
We have a history of many years of co-operation with the Persian gulf councils (GCC) youth ministry. They decided to arrange the first Persian Gulf countries youth camp and the location was finally decided upon Finland and Joroinen, the projects organizer Mohammed Hamed says.

He works as a youth-worker for the city of Varkaus, but has known some big shots from the Arab countries for many years. Close relations to ministers and successors to the thrown played a crucial role when the arab countries started searching for a suitable destination for their youth camp. The camp is the first of its kind in the entire Europe.
-The ones that had been to Finland before described it as beautiful and safe, Hamed knows.

Salman AlMahmood, Abdulla Ebrahim and Mohamed AlRashedi would like to visit Finland again, even though the October weather does not suit the Arab youths that are used to temperatures as high as +60C. 

Life of luxury

The rumor in Savo has it that there could be even royals or at least some sort of sheikhs among the campers, but Hamed does not directly endorse the claim.

We are not elaborating on their backgrounds because we want to highlight everyone’s equality. They are all rich, that we cannot deny though. For them it’s perfectly normal to live in three to four story houses, which in Finnish terms is a sumptuous palace. At home they are constantly surrounded by servants, but this time I have been instructed to put them to work Hamed says.
A Finnish man that has been observing the hassle of the campers reveals that there have almost been some dietary issues. The guest’s religion forbids eating pork among other things and even the animals that have reached the dinner table have their own slaughtering regulations.

But when you ask the campers themselves, they have had nothing to complain about. Mohamed AlRashedi, Salman Almahmood and Abdulla Ebrahim from Bahrain praise the Finns to be open and friendly. The beautiful nature has also made an impact.
They think that Finland has been surprisingly expensive when compared to other European countries. Despite that the men don’t have to worry about lack of money, because the oil countries can afford to take care of their citizens.
-Back home our lives are very simple. We don’t pay any taxes, studying is free and if you want to get married for example, the government will give you money to organize the wedding, AlRashedi says.

Yonsef Al-Saady, Mubarak Jeaithin and Saleh Ghareeh are making coffee by the campfire.

One euro is currently only half a Bahraini dinar, so the men are hoping for some affordable shopping in the next few days. The entourage is leaving to Helsinki on monday, where they are hoping to meet the President of Finland herself. An application requesting to meet her has already been sent, but they do not know yet if it was accepted.
Hamed says getting such a prestigious group of guests to the 5000 inhabitant strong Joroinen was like winning the lottery, because the wealthy arab countries are willing to pay for the expenses of their campers.
-This visit will not cost even a penny to the Finnish government, because the participating countries are paying for every single thing. Instead the guests will leave big money to the surrounding communities and Helsinki, Hamed states.

The camp is organized and funded by the Persian Gulf council (GCC) youth ministry
The EU-like GCC consists of wealthy oil countries such as Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi-Arabia, Oman and Qatar.
Almost 80 guests from different countries are participating in the 10-day camp
The camp programme will consist of introduction to the Finnish culture, meeting with Finnish youths, doing forest work and a friendly football game with the local football team. Next week the campers will go to Helsinki for some sightseeing.

I cracked up when I saw the guy holding the arabic coffee pot over the campfire!