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 70 countries and I'm always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

If you live in Saudi Arabia chances are you’ve heard the word ‘wasta’ mentioned before. A wasta is a widely used term for a well connected individual in the Arab world. It refers to using one’s influence or connections to getting things done, cutting through bureaucratic red tape, having exceptions made to the rules, or assisting with employment or education opportunities.

The use of wasta (sometimes referred to as vitamin W) is endemic in the Middle East region and particularly in Saudi Arabia. The word wasta translates roughly to “connections” or “influence” and the Arabic origin means “intermediate”. In short, a wasta is a very influential person with good connections who can get things rolling for you.

Although using wasta is a common practice in the Arab world, the phenomenon of ‘who you know’ can be found everywhere in the world. Networking and social connections are forms of “wasta” in every culture. Some societies view using “wasta” as highly unethical, unfair and showing lack of integrity.

My home country Finland is one of these countries where using ‘wasta’ to achieve something is deeply frowned upon. It’s everyone for their own self, independence is highly valued. It would be considered shameful to land a job based solely on your connection, instead of being qualified for the job. This mentality can partly explain Finland’s rank in the corruption studies, where it’s frequently ranked the #1 least corrupt country in the world.

Coming from this background and upbringing then transitioning to the Saudi ‘world of wasta’ has been difficult. I had to accept the fact that wasta is a way of life in Saudi Arabia and the region in general, and that will not go away any time soon. I learned that I don’t have to accept and approve of the concept, but I can learn to deal with and work with the system the best of my capability.

But why is using these connections more widely culturally accepted and practiced in Saudi Arabia, compared to in the western countries?

The reason is because the roots of  the wasta tradition are in tribal family structures. Saudis (and Arabs in general) have stronger social networks, and they will do anything in their power to serve family and friends. Saudis have very strong family ties and it’s not always about the immediate family, but the entire tribe. Moreover, in some cases it might be considered shameful if a Saudi doesn’t become a wasta for the people of their own tribe, even for relatives they’ve never met before.

Wasta can in some instances be more valuable than money and having wasta definitely makes life in Saudi Arabia much easier. It could be said that the wasta “system” is good only for those who are able to utilize it. For those outside of the system it can feel very frustrating and unfair.

That said, wasta in Saudi Arabia can work on all levels of society, just on different scales. Wasta shouldn’t be confused with the actions that come with it. In Saudi Arabia wasta is no doubt used also for the negative things such as favoring unqualified applicants for a job or giving out scholarships to under performing students. On the other hand having an influential wasta can sometimes even save lives.
keep-calm-cause-i-have-wasta-WM

 

Wasta is often used by Saudis to land a place in university or a job in management or other sought after placements. The sad truth is, the person who used wasta to obtain that position often went past many much more qualified candidates. That’s why many Saudi companies have incompetent and unmotivated staff. Because of  influential wasta backing them up, they won’t have to fear loosing their jobs even if they don’t perform very well.

A wasta is sort of like a genie in a bottle, but better. Instead of three wishes you can get as many as you wish!

Watch the clip of the genie VS wasta to understand the power of WASTA ;)

 

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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

Excited to announce Blue Abaya’s recent interview and collaboration with Riyadh’s Radisson Blu Hotel!

 The following is my interview with Radisson Blu hotel in Riyadh which contains some sightseeing & activity tips for newcomers and business travellers to Saudi Arabia’s capital. Read the article based on the interview “An Expat’s Guide to Riyadh by Blue Abaya” on Radisson Blu site here.

 

1) Why did you move to Riyadh and what were your thoughts before going there? How did you prepare?

 

I moved to Riyadh in 2008 to work as a nurse in a large governmental hospital. Prior to arrival in Saudi Arabia I’d been in contact with a few nurses that were already working at the same hospital, and chatting with them was reassuring. Back then there wasn’t much info online and expat blogs were non-existent back then! The recruitment company also gave us material to read through in preparations for the move and dealing with culture shock.

 

2) As an ex-pat, what is your view of Riyadh now compared to perceptions at the outset? How has it changed in recent years?

 

Riyadh has changed so much since then! New buildings, shopping malls and restaurants are literally popping up like mushrooms after the rain. The overall atmosphere and ambience has become more relaxed too. I definitely like the Riyadh of today more in terms of available activities and ways to spend free time.

When I came it was difficult to find women’s gyms and good spas, now there are several top notch places to choose from all over the city.
It’s great to see how much variety there is nowadays in Riyadh when it comes to dining out, there always something new and exciting to try out. Another improvement is local tour companies who have began to cater to the expatriates and foreign visitors by offering city tours and day trips to some very beautiful places just outside of Riyadh.

iloveriyadh

3) What – in your mind, are the absolute must-see attractions in Riyadh for business travellers or holidaymakers, and why?

I think it would be a great idea for the travellers to see both the modern city life as well as the traditions and heritage of Saudi Arabia. For example, combining some attractions from the city center such as the Kingdom Tower SkyBridge, Al Faisaliyah tower and the High Tea at Globe restaurant with a sightseeing tour at UNESCO World Heritage site, Historical Diriyah.

Another must see place is the National Museum, this is one of the best Museums in the entire Middle East and visitors get an excellent introduction to the Arabian Peninsula’s history, culture, geography and religion. The surrounding area of the National Museum, King Abdul Aziz Historical center, has enough attractions and activities to keep the visitors busy for the whole day.

A visit to Riyadh would not be complete without a trip out to the desert. Highly recommended would be visiting either the Red Sand dunes or the spectacular ‘Edge of the World‘ which both offer unforgettable experiences for travellers.

 

4) What are your favourite places to eat in Riyadh and why?

That’s a tough question to answer! There’s simply so many great places. it really depends on what you’re looking for, budget-wise, and who you’re eating out with.

For first time visitors to Riyadh, the Najd village restaurant is a MUST visit! The restaurant which is built as a replica of the traditional mud houses typical to the Najd region, serves delicious Saudi cuisine in private majlis (living rooms). It’s great for groups and families.

Another favorite is the Brazilian restaurant ‘Il Terrazo‘ which is located on a terrace overlooking the Faisaliyah tower. it’s a buffet restaurant with great ambience and food, the best thing is to be able to sit outside with such a lovely view.

Friday Brunches are a popular way to spend Friday afternoon’s in Riyadh. Most of the 5 star hotels offer them but my favorites are the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons spreads.

For breakfast my favorite is Paul’s on Tahlia street. They are open on Fridays and it’s always a pleasure to be able to enjoy breakfast outside, weather permitting of course. Paul’s has their own bakery shop where you can pick up freshly baked breads, mouth watering cakes, pies and their famous croissants.

 

5) To what extent is there a strong sense of community among westerns in Riyadh, and if I’m a traveller, where would you recommend going to meet other people from the same walks of life?

The western communities tend to be restricted a lot by the compounds where they live in and most people socialize within those circles. Because of the cultural restrictions and laws of KSA, it’s not easy to organize large gatherings among expatriates especially mixed gender crowds.

The Diplomatic Quarter is a good place to start. the ‘DQ’ as locals call it is a gated area where the foreign embassies are located and many westerners live there. The area can be accessed by public and especially westerners should have no trouble getting in.
There are quite a few interesting tourist attractions in the DQ. There are over 30 beautifully landscaped lush gardens in the area, a 20km long nature walking trail which encircles the quarters and provides spectacular views to Wadi Hanifa. The architecture in the Diplomatic Quarter is the work of internationally renowned architects from all over the world, making the area even more appealing to visitors.

6) What would be your number one tip for people journeying to Riyadh – if you could only pick one

Come with an open mind and don’t be afraid to explore the city, you won’t regret it!

 

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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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

The following is my personal love story from the ‘Magic Kingdom’ of Saudi Arabia. How I met my Saudi Prince post was originally published 2012 on the 4th anniversary of the day I randomly met who I thought was (and is) the most handsome and charming man I ever laid eyes on. I had left Finland to work in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh in a large governmental hospital. The plan was to stay a year, maybe two exploring Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia as a country and culture had fascinated me quite some time before I’d made my final decision to take on the challenge of relocating there as a single western woman.

Before I left to KSA some of my friends, family and co-workers used to tease me that I will never come back to Finland if I go to Saudi Arabia. They would jokingly say things like “you’re so pretty an oil Sheikh will surely kidnap you and lock you in his palace” “a rich prince will sweep you off your feet, you’ll move to a palace and have 20 kids with him” and so forth.

My reply to them was: “not in a million years! I would never marry a Saudi guy!”.

Lol and now 7 years later, here I am, married to a Saudi guy and we have 2 kids (at times it does seem like there are in fact 20 of them in the house). So I called this post “Saudi Prince” because of the irony of it all.

Disclaimer: My husband is not from the Saudi royal family and no we don’t live in a palace either. 

how I met my saudi prince

..Exactly four years ago my shift at the Saudi hospital had started out like any other night. The allocated patients kept me busy and life seemed to be rolling on as usual. Little did I know that night would change my life for good.

I was thankful to have my friend “Katherine” working on the same shift, it was always a relief having another westerner and English speaking person to talk to during the night shift. We had again agreed to exchange our patients over to each other to enable a break in the middle of the shift.

The moment that would change my life happened very randomly. I was looking for Katherine to ask her which coffee she wanted from Starbuck’s. It was my turn to fetch that night’s caffeine dose and I was on my way down to the coffee shop. I saw her nurse presence light on in one room and decided to pop my head in quickly.

As I peaked in, Katherine was chatting inside with the patient and his relative. The Euro Cup football match was playing loudly on TV. She excitedly motioned me to enter the room further so curiously I did, at the same time asking what her Starbucks order was going to be.

As I glanced at the patient sitting there on his bed, something strange happened. As if time had stopped, like a missing piece had fallen into its place. A handsome young man looked back at me, equally baffled by the moment. For just a few seconds our eyes met and then both of us shyly looked away. I greeted the men with salaams and smiled. They replied back politely, not even looking at me for long but eyeing the floor or the TV. I had learned by now this was a sign of respect, not disrespect as my own culture would tell me. They did not want to make me feel awkward.

I felt a rush of blood going to my head, I was blushing now. Oh how I hated when that happened! I wanted to leave, but then I felt a certain curiosity of this man who I thought was probably one of the most handsome men I had ever laid eyes on. He had a certain sparkle in his eyes that intrigued me and his smile seemed to light up the room. I didn’t want to leave anymore.

I lingered for a moment, asking about the game on TV. The truth is I knew nothing about football, the only thing I cared about was the Italian football team, for other reasons than their skills. He made a joke about the Italians and we all laughed. I told him I was rooting for Italy and more jokes were thrown around. Secretly I was thinking to myself how the patient actually reminded me of an Italian football player with his long black hair brushed up in a ponytail and his smiling dark chocolate eyes.

When I couldn’t think of any more excuses to stay in the room I left to fetch the coffee. I kept thinking about the patient and wanted to ask Katherine about him. I felt drawn to go talk to him more. Later that night my chance came when Katherine and I swapped patients for her break.

Katherine had informed her patients she was leaving for an hour and meanwhile nurse “Layla from Finland” would be taking over. As she was leaving she teased me, “he will call you for sure, something tells me he wants to see you again. When you walked into the room it was like something made a “click” sound! I swear I could hear it!”

About five minutes after she left, the call bell rang. Room 42. It’s him! I was nervous to enter and felt my heart racing. The young man asked if he could get a pain killer. Sure, I said and left to check his files. When I returned he thanked me for the medicine and shyly asked a few questions about me.

I was amazed how it felt so easy to talk to him, his English was perfect and I forgot he was even Saudi. It was as if we already knew each other somehow. It became apparent that we had actually lived in the same area in the U.S as kids. What a coincidence! We talked about Finland and at some point I mentioned how we have so many moose there but I couldn’t remember how to say the plural. What was it, perhaps mooses? He laughed and told me it must be meese! To this day I remember that silly joke and how it made us both laugh so hard.  His smile filled my heart with joy.

Thinking back to that day and where I was in my life I realize how fortunate I was meeting this remarkable man. From that night shift, it has been a long, sometimes extremely hard but rewarding journey to where we are now. We have had to overcome so many obstacles on the way.

No one believed in us in the beginning, except us.

Never in a million years did I think something like this would happen to me when I landed on Saudi soil. When I left Finland for Saudi, people used to tease me, you will find a Saudi Prince there, fall in love and stay forever! I told them, in your dreams only! I guess sometimes fairy tales do come true.

 

 

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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

Your Complete Guide to Al Janadriyah Cultural Heritage Festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia brought to you by Blue Abaya.

An Updated guide to visit the National festival of Heritage and culture can be found here: Janadriyah 2016 Festival Guide. 

Find all you need to know about the Janadriya festival including the dates and visiting hours for 2015, family and single days, maps, location, directions, programs, pavilion guides, tips for parents, activities for everyone and much more! Dates planned for the Janadriyah festival in 2015 are: February 4th- February 22nd 2015.

What is the Janadriyah (also spelled Jenedriyeh, Jenedriya, Janadria, Al-Jenadriyah, Arabic: مهرجان الجنادرية) Heritage Festival?

An annually held, heritage and folk festival of Saudi-Arabia. Janadriya will be held this year for the 30th time in the Janadriyah village on the outskirts of Riyadh. The Janadriyah village was built specifically to host this festival. This is the largest festival of its kind in the Gulf, attracting millions of visitors from all over the region each year (in 2014 over 3 million people visited the festival during the course of three weeks).janadriyah guide s

A large festival area, which covers 1.5 sq km is divided into sections according to the different Provinces of Saudi Arabia such as Jizan (Gazan), Asir, Riyadh, Hail, Tabuk, Eastern Province, Makkah, Medinah, Taif, Al Baha, Qassim, and Najran. Each Province area will have buildings which are replicas of the architectural style typical to said region. Each year there’s a visiting country at the festival and in 2015 it will be Germany. Germany will have their own cultural pavilion at Janadriyah, all the info and their program can be found here: http://germanyinksa.com/

“The annual Jenadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival, organized by the National Guard under the command of the Crown Prince, plays a crucial role in preserving the Kingdom’s national heritage. The festival begins with a traditional camel race and is intended to embrace all aspects of Saudi Arabian traditions and culture.” Official Janadriyah site (Arabic): http://www.janadria.org.sa

“The National Festival for Heritage and Culture at Al-Janadriyah is the most important national occasion expressing the ancient Saudi history and the perception of the booming present to paint a creative canvas. From here you can smell the perfume of originality which emphasizes our Arab identity and enhances our national heritage.” Saudi Tourism page

 

Janadriyah festival riyadh

Experience, discover and explore Saudi Arabia’s biggest Cultural Folk and Heritage Festival, Janadriyah.

 

Where is Janadriyah Village? What is the location exactly, driving directions, map of area, GPS co-ordinates?

GPS co-ordinates:24.958592,46.794462

Location Google Mapshttp://goo.gl/maps/184ur

The Janadriyah Village is located on Janadriyah Rd, opposite the Salwa Garden Village. Further along the same road are the King Abdul Aziz Race track and Thumamah National Park sand dunes. Three roads from Riyadh lead to Janadriyah. Check the Google map to see which one is closest to you and for driving directions. It takes about 30- 45 minutes from Riyadh city center to reach Janadriyah depending on the traffic.

Attached Google maps location of the festival area.

google map janadriyah location

Screenshot 2014-02-18 23.03.45

When can I visit? Can I go with my husband/family/single male friends? 2015 dates and timings as follows: The festival “operetta” grand opening is for males only and the consecutive weekend is also male only.

Family days are when single women (on their own or with their family members) and married men with their families are allowed to enter.

Note that sometimes single males might be able to enter with a large group of expat families (eg tour group) by sticking with the group strictly at all times. The religious police are on the look-out for single males and all single males will be escorted out of the festival if found unaccompanied by family members. The Haia are very strict in particular with the Saudi youth, however expats might get some leeway in this matter.

What can I do at Janadriyah festival? There are so many places to see and things to do that one whole day is not enough to see everything. Upon entering the festival area, make sure you grab the map of the area from the info stands, they have English maps too and will happily advise you with any questions.

You can watch camel races, or ride a camel, see falcons and Arabian horses, see what the interiors of houses of different areas in Saudi Arabia look like. You can try traditional foods, watch sword dancing, learn about the history of Saudi Arabia, visit small museums, art exhibitions and much much more. For the Top Ten Recommended Activities at Janadriyah click here.

janadriyah aardh dancing swords saudi

Is it safe? Can I go with my small children? Can I go alone as single female? In short, yes. The same precautions, which you would take at any larger event apply. The biggest safety risk would be to lose your child in the vast and crowded area. There are some measures parents can take to prevent this. Read Blue Abaya’s Guide “Janadriyah Festival with Children” to find out more.

The Saudi National Guard and CPVPV members (Hai’a, religious police) are present in all areas of the festival ensuring the safety of the visitors.

How do I get there? Where do I park? Keep in mind that millions of people visit this festival every year and the crowds can get overwhelming in the evenings after Ishaa prayer and the parking lot becomes chaotic. It might be very hard to find the way back to your car or even to get out of the parking area. There are taxis waiting at the gates of the festival, so if you arrived with taxi, you can get a ‘white taxi’ back to the city without prior reservation. For those arriving with drivers, the easiest way to exit the area during the worst rush hour would be to have the driver wait at the side of the main road, directly opposite the gate and just walk there. If you wait at the gate for your driver to arrive, it could take up to an hour to enter and exit the parking area!

Why should I visit the festival? Find out the answer here! 

Have fun and enjoy the experience!

 

gold burkha saudi janadriyah

Pictured famous Expat blogger ‘Susie of Arabia’ and one of Saudi Arabia’s top female photographers, Samia El Moslimany, having fun at the Janadriya festival in 2014.

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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

185 things to do in Saudi Arabia! All the best Saudi Arabia ‘Top Ten’ travel posts that have been published on Blue Abaya are now easily accessible at your fingertips all in one place. Find travel inspiration and things to do in Saudi Arabia from Riyadh and beyond.

In this compilation of guides and listicles you will find…

Things to do- lists from Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha and beyond. Outdoor activity guides, travel tips, hidden gems, sightseeing locations and desert hiking treks.

That’s a total of 185+ Things to do in Saudi Arabia!

Click on each post title to open the post and read the article!

You can also check the Explore Arabia page for a list of all the Saudi Arabia travel destination posts

185 Things to do in KSA

 

TEN AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SAUDI-ARABIA

“1. Madain Saleh, 2. Najran, 3. Farasan Islands, 4. Empty Quarter, 5. Al Soudah, 6. Wahba Crater, 7. Al Lith, 8. Edge of the World, 9. Taif, 10. Qassim”

10 amazing places to visit in saudi arabia

15 THINGS TO DO IN RIYADH IN THE WINTER

15 outdoor activities that are perfect for the pleasant winter weather.

 

THINGS TO DO IN JEDDAH ON WEEKENDS

Fun things to do with the whole family in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city Jeddah.

 

THINGS TO DO IN AL KHOBAR 

How to spend the perfect weekend in al Khobar?

TOP TEN THINGS TO DO DURING EID AL FITR HOLIDAYS IN RIYADH

“Most companies and businesses in Riyadh will be closed for the first three days of the Eid celebrations. What is there to do in Riyadh during Eid? Every year the Riyadh Municipality organizes various celebrations and festivals all around the city.”

TEN BEAUTIFUL PLACES TO DISCOVER IN THE DESERT 

“it’s not just a pile of sand and rocks.”

RIYADH’S TOP TEN EATS WITH KIDS

“The best restaurants and bakeries in Riyadh that families with small children will enjoy.”

restaurant reviews

TOP 13 THINGS TO DO IN RIYADH’S DIPLOMATIC QUARTER 

“One of my personal favorite areas in Riyadh is the Diplomatic Quarter, often referred to as “the DQ”.”

diplomaticriyadh

TEN POOLS IN RIYADH TO COOL OFF IN THIS SUMMER!

“There’s no doubt that summer is here to stay. It’s getting hotter by the day with recorded temperatures reaching almost 50C! Lots of women are looking for swimming pools in Riyadh that could be used by females only.”

top best swimming pools riyadh

TOP TEN RESTAURANTS IN THE EASTERN PROVINCE (DAMMAM, AL KHOBAR, JUBAIL)

“All types of restaurants were included in the survey and each person was allowed to vote for their top three favorite restaurants. The criteria for picking the top restaurants were: Quality and taste of food, service, ambiance, and price-quality ratio.”

EP Foodies

TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND ABHA

“At an elevation of 2200m above the Red Sea level, the mountainous Abha region enjoys pleasant weather year round. Asir region has plenty of attractions to do and it might be a challenge to decide between all of the fun and interesting activities.”

abha top ten

TOP TEN THINGS TO DO AT JANADRIYAH FESTIVAL

“The annually held Cultural Heritage festival Janadriyah, is undeniably one of the most important cultural events of the year and a must visit for all expats in the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia.”

experience janadriyah

THE TOP 14 MOST ROMANTIC RESTAURANTS IN RIYADH

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

romatic restaurants 300

SAUDI-ROAD TRIP TOP TEN

“We took my mother along on a week long road trip adventure around Saudi-Arabia. Our journey was awesome, surprising and eventful.”

Saudi road trip200

 15 THINGS TO DO IN RIYADH IN THE SUMMER

“Many expats and locals find themselves “stuck” in Saudi for the summer with nothing to do, fearing death caused by boredom. Not everyone is lucky enough to escape the Saudi heat. Here are 15 things you can do in Riyadh to beat the heat!”

15things to do in riyadh

TEN THINGS TO DO IN AL-BALAD HISTORICAL DISTRICT, JEDDAH

“I will never become bored of wandering in the narrow alleyways, discovering brightly colored Mashrabiat and rawashaan, the specs of color, the friendly people, the smells and sounds of Balad. Al Balad will literally tickle all your senses. Here are ten reasons why you should not miss a visit to this unique heritage site!”

10 things to do balad jedda

10 THINGS TO DO IN RIYADH DURING SPRING

“Have you ever tried golfing in the desert? Ever been to the beautiful desert to see the stunning Red Sand dunes, which are now in full bloom after the winter rains? How about a leisurely walk or a sweat inducing run in the desert with fellow expats? Spring is the best time to head out for some hiking and camping trips just outside Riyadh.”

riyadh spring activity

11 WAYS TO CURE THE DREADED SANDPIT BOREDOM

” Life in Saudi Arabia is of course different to what most are used to back home, but it’s only going to be boring if you choose to make it so! Staying active and connecting with the local culture will always help with dealing with culture shock and getting settled in the land of the sand better.”

I LOVE RIYADH KINGDOM

TEN THINGS TO DO IN HISTORICAL DIRIYAH 

“Riyadh’s Historic district and UNESCO World heritage site has finished the first phase of the huge restoration project. It will become the world’s largest open air museum when finalized”

diriyah top ten things to do

TOP TEN RESTAURANTS IN RIYADH

“Here are my top ten restaurants in Riyadh. There are so many good restaurants it’s not easy to pick only ten!”

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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

The Blue Abaya blog has reached over 3 MILLION views and it’s time to say a huge big heartfelt THANK YOU for all the readers and fans of Blue Abaya for the continuous support and encouragement since this blog started in 2010.

To celebrate this milestone and share some love, we’ve collected some of the lovely comments Blue Abaya readers have left here on the blog over the past 4 years.  More testimonials can be found here: Blue Abaya Hall of Fame: Blog Fan Mail

Words cannot describe how grateful I feel and how humbling it has been to read through all these comments again, now that they’re all in one place it feels more profound…this has been the best reward for blogging so far and makes all the hard work worthwhile. I must come back to this post every time I feel I need a kick in the butt or when I have those days that I feel nobody reads my blog and I need a little reminder, that yes, there are people who read and appreciate what I do. Which is really amazing and something I appreciate immensely. -Laura (Laylah)

Blue Abaya Testimonials & Blog Love est. 2010:

“When I moved to Riyadh from the US two years ago I was in culture shock and very depressed to be in such a foreign and strange place. Blue abayas blogposts helped me cope with the craziness and look at the negativity of this country from a different light. Layla put humour and sarcasm in such bizarre situations that made me only laugh and actually look fwd to hear about more experiences … Everyday is a new experience in Ksa…Love you Layla!”

 

“If only, every culture around the world would have a Laylah.”

 

“Blue Abaya gives a wonderful insight into Saudi Arabian culture and isn’t afraid of being critical. It is always a pleasure to visit her blog because there is always something new and interesting to discover.”

 

“…Of all the ramblings I just wanted to say I found your site & musings the most informative & realistic.And by far the most tongue-in-cheek humourous!
I am under no illussions now about what I am coming to, yet at the same time filled with a sense of positivity to see, experience & sample as much as I can with what there is on offer. I am even looking forward to the move with excited trepidation, though I know it is going to be a challenge of note.
I just wanted you to know that all your ramblings are very appreciated & that a simple picture of your great dane touched my heart (we have had 6 over the years) as did a simple little patch of wildflowers in the desert.And allthough you have highlighted the hard truth realism, it’s the human factor that embodies your spirit of positivity, that shines through and triumphs any of the adversity……
Thank you for shining your little light!…”

 

“Great article! you should be in Shura Council instead of those dysfunctional members who hardly address the issue of poverty and inequality.”

 

“you are the best example to follow and learn from .. Don’t give up. You bring up a high ratios of people via your style of writing, the correct beautiful words & eloquence, thank you for everything …I am sure that you will be rewarded for changing this world to better..”

 

“I spent more than a year in Riyadh struggling with the culture shock before I accidentally found Blue Abaya’s blog. It made me understand, be more aware, and laugh. It opened my eyes to see the positives in KSA and see the humor in the negatives. I look forward to each blog; it’s a family event for us to read the new blog together, laugh together, then discuss it. THANK YOU Layla!”

 

“Please never stop writing! Reading your stories is the last thing I do before I go to bed. I feel I already know you. You are an inspiration to all of us by your positive attitude and your humour. God bless you and your family :). Xoxox from Ottawa”

 

“I am Saudi and I was looking expats experience about Janadriah and found your blog! I’ve never been to this blog before, and surprisingly, I finally find someone who talks about the KSA with true and fair stories.
I am really proud of you and people like you..!”

“…From your new follower.. please dont stop what you do cause unknowingly you are helping and changing people’s lives.. you are a blessing and continue to be one. May God bless you always. In your cause may Allah bless you.”

 

“That is the most sweet letter I’ve read. I’m so touched and really overwhelmed.
People like you, Princess Laylah, are always a delight to have around.
Hope you stay in Saudi forever. We need people like you.
I hope I can talk on behalf of all the patients, if not all Saudis, and say THANK YOU for you to come to the desert land and help in healing and make it better for those who needed it the most. For your merciful work and efforts and for your gratitude.
We feel humble by your kindness.
Wish you all the best and happiness in your life.””Excellent photographes once again ms Layla! You are a spokesperson for the Saudi Kingdom.”

 

“Her blog opened new worlds and countries(Finnland, Saudi Arabia) to me, and reading differences and similarity brought me to be a person to adapt and accept differences in my own life as well. I love the way she expresses her experiences.”

 

“People like me would never find out about these place if not visiting your site.Thank you and keep sharing!”

 

“you have encouraged me to start my own blog! you are a force to be reckoned with laylah.. you had me laughing so loud.  thanks, just the pick-me-up i needed ”

 

“I love your blog, it makes me laugh at work when all I want to do is take cover. I find it witty, intelligent and extremely resourceful. I must admit that I often come here on a daily basis to check if there is something new. My advice to you is to keep writing as you are clearly blessed to be able to write so well. It would be haram if you were to stop.
Lotsa love and encouragement always,”

 

“You should write a book! seriously i would buy it asap you writing skills are intriguing and I’m sure you have so many stories to tell. Ever thought about it? You’ll give Jean Sasoon and her false stories a run for her money.”

 

“Mashallah sis……I’m so HAPPY I discovered your most interesting blog. It was very informative and I feel so refreshed after reading your stories and checking out your most AMAZING pictures!……May Allah bless you and us all for all our good deeds in this life and Inshallah grant us the hereafter!  Jazak Allah Khair!”

 

“Better than National Geographic : ))) thanks for sharing”

 

“Thanks for your wonderful blog. I lived in the kingdom for 9 years 77-86 and was a journalist for Arab News. Your blog helps me keep up with the changes–important for me as I frequently speak on the kingdom”

 

“Inspiring work , Realizing there is more things beyond camel ,desert and palm tree ”

 

“Hi, I am a regular reader of your blog from India and reading your blog makes me really feel that I have travelled to Saudi and I am experiencing all the beautiful things you decribe. I love your humour and satire and I have spent many a enjoyable hour browsing through your site. This is the first time I am commenting though .Keep up the good work and God bless your family.”

 

“Your blogs are really informative.. Being busy in work left my exploration hobby aside, but thanks to your articles we get to know so many things about the kingdom..”

 

“I’ve noticed that you surely use a LOT of time and work hard to create your posts. Your blog is so informative and rich, showing KSA from a different and thus interesting perspective. And the photos make it feel just like a free holiday in a country where I’ve never visited.”

 

“How beautiful! Your pictures are so vivid Layla! I am new to this blog but loving it already!”

 

“I’m few months in Arabia and your lovely blog is helping me to survive here!! thanks for all your suggestions!! I have a 3 years old daughter and it’s hard to keep her busy, but I,m trying everything you suggested!!!thank for sharing with us your experience!! hope to meet you!”

 

“Salam alaykum
I discovered your blog few days ago while searching for swimming pools for women in Riyadh. You really have a nice blog and really informative. I learned a lot of things about Riyadh and Saudi people (I am not saudi, I am from Algeria liviving in Riyadh). Please keep blogging.
Thanks”

 

“Love your blog and thank you for providing the information about life in KSA.”

 

“Hi! I read your blogs and I wanted to say thank you and keep writing! Your photos are always so beautiful.”

 

“Your blog is very unique, I love seeing the personal pictures you post as well as your captions…
…I’m living the Saudi life vicariously through your blog.”

 

“I read your blog and I love it!! You give me hope for my life in the future….

…The thing I love best about your blog is the pictures. Lets face it; a pictures worth a thousand words. I feel like even if I never go to Saudi I’ll have seen it all.”

 

“…I love that your blog also has a personal touch- you share some of your experience in KSA, which can be very useful to people in similar situations. Your blog shows that working and living in KSA is not scary but can be even enjoyable.”

 

“…I love this blog so much. I live in Scotland and it seems whenever I’m really cold and miserable, you’ve posted something awesome with beautiful pictures.”

 

“…as i said before,you make saudi look like a charming place to be,and i really like how positive your blog portrait saudi and brings the good in a time where bad is what all being said about it….”

 

“Thank you very much for your informative blog. I spent a good part of the afternoon today, reading and learning interesting tidbits about life in Saudi…”

 

“assalamu alaikum sister mine is to say jaza killahu khair, for making the world see one of the authenticity of Islam’s prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) sayings may Allah make it easy for all of us.”

 

“Seriously, I thought my life ended after I moved to Riyadh this Summer, but after discovering your blog today, I realised there is so much fun to be discovered! So thanks so much for that (: Also, after a bit of reading, I can safely assure you that you’re aMazING! Eeek, I love what you write! Your positive tone, unwavering Eemaan, and refreshing outlook on life has presented Saudi to me in a whole new perspective.”

 

“Thank you for your courage, commitment, and honesty”

 

“Hi !
I just wanted to thank you for your website, I love it … I’m a french student in arabic language, I lived in different arab countries but I’ve been dreaming of visiting/living in the Kingdom for a long time now, and I hope that one day I might be able to (though I’m a convert for now I can’t, because I don’t have a mahram). Meanwhile your blog helps me a lot to learn and discover things about this country (other than the usual bad stuff your hear in the media), so thank you again !
Best regards”

 

“This blogs makes you believe that ‘LIFE’ do exists in KSA :)”

 

“The best and the most interesting blog I have read so far. Talented writing about important topics in KSA and the writer has great sense of humor as well. Also the photos of the blog are amazing.”

 

“By far the best Saudi expat blog! Blue Abaya gives true insight on the pleasures and hardships of being an expatriate (woman) in Saudi Arabia, all the while maintaining a great sense of humor. This blog has had great impact on me personally, as well. I discovered it a year before moving to the Kingdom and started following it faithfully, as each post gave me courage and reduced my anxiety about moving to this foreign land. Not only that, but it inspired me to create my own expat blog. Thank you Blue Abaya, keep up the amazing work! :)”

 

“Thanks for showing us the real and contrasting sides Laylah. Write more about the ordinary side of KSA.”

 

“Thanks a lot for the beautiful pictures. who would have thought KSA has such beautiful scenary….”

 

“Assalamu 3alaykom wr wb sis,
I ran across your blog recently, and I’ve enjoyed receiving your articles in my inbox, and browsing the archives. I really appreciate the work you’re doing, and I sincerely hope you’ll continue to write. Already you’ve inspired and encouraged me in the few weeks I’ve been acquainted with your blog, so I’m sure you’ve done the same for countless others. There will always be those whose wrongdoing discourages us and makes our work feel pointless, but Allah is the final Judge and Rewarder – keep writing to please Him
Your sister in Islam <3″

 

“Haha Laylah, you made my morning at office again – what a fun to read your humorous post!…”

 

“…thanks for your blog, its making this city a little bit easier to live in.”

 

“Hi. I just found your blog yesterday, but Have read through a lot already. Very very interesting posts… I hope you’ll write a whole lot more…”

 

“I just found this blog, and as a new expat in Riyadh I can’t begin to thank you enough. I will be reading the whole site over the next few days. The pages I have seen thus far are very well written, informative, and genuine. Thank you for taking the time to do this…”

 

“We are moving to Saudi next year and I just love your blog. Keep us updated on living in Riyadh. So looking forward to it!”

 

“Hey,
I had heard about your blog for a long time and I recently started reading it. I really appreciate your work as a recent expat to the Saudi community…”

 

“Hello from Canada, I Love your sense of humor. You made me laugh, and I really needed that today.”

 

“Blue abaya’s style of writing is witty and funny, she candidly describes exactly the same frustrations, trials and tribulations ex pats face living in the kingdom, she tells it so well! Keep up the good work!”

 

“Laylah tells us her real and personal experience inSaudi and that is why I love her blog. Although I may not totally agree with everything but she is one of the rare expats who truly embraces a different culture and doesnt complain too much hehe. She has a positive outlook on life and that is how everyone should live be it in KSA or USA. Love you Laylah”

 

“I am an avid fan…as others stated before, you have a unique style of communicating…open, funny and honest. I also live the experiences though your blog even though I have been living in KSA a number of years, guess am not as keen or adventurous…so it is fun to visit all the places from the comfort of my home LOL keep on blogging!”

 

“That is sooo unbelievably beautiful! And magical! I wish I handled cold better I might try to go! Thank you so much for sharing these. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

 

“I’ve been a reader for a while now and every time I come to your blog it amazes me. Your stories are interesting yet different compared to many other blogs, and at the same time your writings are honest, but Oh, for Pete’s Sake, you do your best trying to be fair. Afterall we Finns know a little bit about honesty, or at least we are supposed to. I don’t think many readers can get this. I know it’s hard to get accustomed to a new country and their traditions and cultural settings. I’ve been thru that too. But you coming from Finland to KSA. I don’t think I could have done that. Too many restrictions, but yet you seem to look at the glass half full! Keep on writing! “

 

“It’s pleasure to read your opinion about our lifestyle and culture in Saudi Arabia, it means a lot to hear this type of positive reactions about Islam and people here….”

 

“Asalamu alaikum,
I am on Blue Abaya because I love the writing, the pictures and more than everything to see an outspoken successful woman making the best of her life in KSA….”

 

“You make me no longer dread the impending move to Saudi! Thank you for you always entertaining commentary and wonderful outlook on life! You are fantastic, mashallah!”

 

“Was gifted your web name by a precious friend about to join the expat life. As a RN in South Africa with a few RN friends in Saudi I am amazed to see how beautiful it actually is through your hard work. Blessed thank you so much.”

 

“Wonderful blog and website. It’s been so useful since we arrived in Kingdom.”

 

“Thank you so much for your postings. Every since childhood I’ve been fascinated by the cultures of the dessert! Your pictures and posts make it come alive for me.”

 

“…Thanks for putting out such great information for all of us to access. It has been very helpful to me as I weigh my options.”

 

“I love your blog so much, I am from Canada and find it so interesting hearing a “western” view of the very different country of Saudi Arabia. I find it funny to see that the women in Saudi Arabia find Western women as interesting as I find them. If I could I would like to go to Saudi as you have described a very positive interesting and beautiful place. Keep on telling it the way it is as I look forward to reading your blog…I have read every post!!”

 

“Thanks for all of the good info. We are scheduled to arrive in country this summer. I’m trying to gather any “doss and don’ts” that I can. Love your blog!”

 

“Your blog is very informative, interesting and fun to read.  I’m definitely a fan!..

 

“Blue Abaya is a fantastic blog. The writing is entertaining, honest, and compassionate. The pictures are excellent, and the mood and feel of the blog transport me. I love the mix of cultures— glimpses of Finland and views of the Desert and real life in Saudi Arabia. It’s one of my very favorite blogs”

 

“This is so beautiful…I think you should publish a book with all these amazing photos of The Magic Kingdom. Just like you did the photo blog…I would definitely buy it.”

 

“Laylah, just wanted to say that I adore your blog and check in a couple times each week to see if you’ve posted anything new. When I first stumbled upon it I was absolutely delighted because although I’m America, my Dad’s family is from Suomi. And I’m in grad school studying the Middle East and Arabic. You offer unique observations and help demystify Saudi. I even cited your blog for my undergraduate thesis about modernity in Saudi Arabia. Keep it up and let the haters hate!”

 

“Hi Layla,
I just moved to Riyadh and I found your site helpful, funny and beautiful.I am Saudi by the way .
Thank you so much”

 

“This is the only blog I read. Enough said.”

 

“Wonderful post and photos such a positive message that you are sending!
You make me wish I were in Saudi Arabia! Did I just say that out loud???”

 

“Layla,
My son is an expat working in Arabia and, like others, I was apprehensive about his safety. I stumbled on your website and it made a huge difference in easing my mind. Thank you.
I am now looking forward to traveling to Riyadh to visit him. I would love to be there during Janadriyah…”

 

“You’re article deserves standing ovation, I dont know if you’re a Saudi or not But if you are you have my Oscar layla, I wish there are more people like You this world would become a living heaven!!” 

 

Thank you each and every one who commented! Words can’t describe how grateful I feel and how humbling it has been to read through all these…this has been the best reward for blogging so far and makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Love, Laura (aka Layla)

 

 

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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

How can a pumpkin cake be life changing, you ask? Well have you met a person who never tried pumpkin cake before?

Can you believe I lived on this planet for over 30 years without having experienced pumpkin cake, pumpkin bread or pumpkin cupcakes? This might come as a surprise to my American friends who are currently going through a pumpkin recipe frenzy for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Pumpkin recipes are literally coming out of every tube right now! Pinterest is on fire with wild pumpkin combos such as pumpkin pie fudge, pumpkin cinnamon rolls or how about pumpkin butter or ice cream?

Let me explain that in Finland where I come from, using pumpkin for desserts and cakes is virtually unheard of. Pumpkin is like a strange-looking hybrid between an exotic fruit and a basketball for us. It also does not smell that great, which implies it would not taste great either. Who in their right mind would eat something called KURPITSA anyways? If you’re curious about what Finnish baking is like and for some of my all time favorite traditional recipes, check out my Finnish Baking Pinterest board. Noor over at Ya Salam cooking is a fan of Finnish treats so you should check out her recipes too!

I must mention that while I was a kid my family lived in the U.S, and I do remember tasting pumpkin PIE.. Maybe the ones I tried were just terrible, but for some reason I never liked it. In fact the consistency and taste of the ooey gooey pumpkin filling just somehow put me off anything pumpkin related for 30+ years.

But as the curious person that I am, I thought, why not give this pumpkin thingy a second chance?

As I was looking through Pinterest for a pumpkin recipe that inspired me, I came across this recipe found on Nancy Creative’s blog. This was it I thought. The recipe sounded delicious and it sure was. It not only made me fall in love with the flavor, but I became obsessed with trying out other delicious pumpkin recipes. I could not believe what deliciousness I’d been missing all these years. My life definitely changed for the better :)

(Don’t miss these incredibly amazing recipes including many other pumpkin recipes I’ve gathered on my “Awesomest Recipes Pinterest board“!)

For some even stranger reason my husband, who spent half of his life in the States, was not a fan of baked pumpkin goodies either. In fact, he seemed very anti-pumpkin when I brought up the subject of going pumpkins one evening. I was so pumped up from excitement about my new found fascination for pumpkinery, that I could’ve started baking on the spot.

Me: I found an awesome pumpkin recipe, I want to try it.
Him: I hate pumpkin pie.
me: It’s not actually pumpkin pie, it’s pumpkin cake, same like banana cake or bread..
him: what? it can’t be good though.
me: why? Don’t be so anti-pumpkin. I don’t like pumpkin pie either, but when pumpkin is combined with the right ingredients, it’s supposedly amazing actually.
him: I don’t think so, pumpkin always tastes like pumpkin.
me: but this is not as pumpkiny as the pie. I don’t think there’s as much pumpkinness to it.
him: pumpkin just tastes so…pumpkin!
me: but you have to try, I promise it’s not going to be too pumpkinnish. I’ll make these tomorrow, just get me pumpkin first.
him; ok. but I doubt I’ll like them.
me:  you’ll love them, trust me.

pumpkin nutella bread recipe

And guess what? He not only loved it and finished the whole thing within hours, but requested I bake another two :)

Sometimes husbands just need some convincing and a gentle push because they might not be aware of what they’re missing out on!

Below is my version of the recipe from NancyCreative which was adapted from ‘Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More’ book.

FROSTING:
Life Changing Pumpkin-Nutella Cake

Life Changing Pumpkin-Nutella Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground Finnish cardamon (I could not resist adding this to the recipe!)
  • few drops of vanilla essence or 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/4 cups canned pure pumpkin puree (I used fresh pumpkin and it makes a world of difference!)

Instructions

  1. Position your oven rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 5″ loaf pan; set aside.
  2. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cardamon and vanilla in a medium bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined; set aside.
  3. In another bowl, or bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs on medium-high speed for two minutes or until lightened in color. Add the brown sugar, mixing for about 2 minutes, then the granulated sugar, mixing for about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
  4. Drizzle in the canola oil with beater on medium-low. Reduce speed to low and add the pureed pumpkin. Mix until thoroughly combined. Add the dry ingredients in two additions and blend for 10-15 seconds just until incorporated. Don't mix too much!!
  5. Spoon the batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool loaf in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack. You really do need to bake these on low temperature for long time, mine took 10 min more to finish than the stated baking time.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
https://www.blueabaya.com/2014/11/pumpkin-nutella-cake-bread.html

Heat a small jar of Nutella for 30sec in the microwave. Drizzle on top of the loaf. And you’re done!

I will add that this cake is absolutely heavenly even without the Nutella on top! It’s so super moist and rich in taste it’s perfect on its own too. But the Nutella does complement the flavors nicely :) Lets face it, anything drizzled with Nutella is delicious! So can you imagine how good this is? Give it a go and please let me know how it came out in the comments!

pumpkin nutella bread recipe

P.S. A Finnish friend of mine tasted this cake and she was super impressed and surprised how yummy this was, having had the same weird feeling toward using pumpkin in baking as me. We both thought this cake tastes a lot like the Finnish gingerbread. I highly recommend using fresh pumpkins for this! If you’re clueless (like me ) how make the actual pumpkin puree, check this tutorial by Sweet Spot blog: Home Made Organic Pumpkin Puree!

Enjoy!

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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

Whether people have travelled to Finland in order to experience Aurora Borealis or have seen them in photos or videos, Northern lights – as they’re also referred to as – are spellbinding for almost everyone. Here are ten interesting things you might not know about the amazing auroras, written by Thomas Kast, Aurora Borealis photographer and enthusiast living in Finland. All images on this post were provided by Thomas Kast, check out more of his amazing imagery of Finland’s Northern Light’s and guides on how to shoot the Auroras at his website Salamapaja.fi. If you’re interested in Finland’s Arctic Circle and Lapland, check out this post for more breathtaking images and information: 10 Cool Things from Lapland

10 Amazing Things about Northern Lights in Finland

10 Things you didn’t know about Northern Lights in Finland

1.  The words Aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn) and boreal (the Greek name for north wind) create the name Aurora Borealis. Auroras can also be seen in the Southern hemisphere, where they are called Aurora Australis or Southern lights.

2. There are many tales and beliefs about the mysterious Aurora Borealis. One folk tale from Finland tell the story of an Arctic fox that runs across the fell mountains of Lapland. Up and down the fells its way leads through a wintery landscape. The fox’s tail sweeps snow high up into the sky, and that’s how the Northern lights appear.

3. Northern lights are formed high up in the sky; 80km and higher. That’s why clear skies without clouds are needed. For some reason most clear nights in Finland, and the best times for seeing Auroras, occur around both equinoxes (September/October and February/March).

Northern Lights in Finland

4.     Auroras originate nearly 150,000,000 km away from Earth. Our sun sends clouds of charged plasma particles towards Earth, which is called solar wind. If that wind is strong enough, it penetrates our magnetic field and enters Earth’s atmosphere. There, the charged particles collide with oxygen and nitrogen to create colorful light. Auroras are ‘born’.Magnificent auroras over the frozen Baltic Sea.

5.    Most commonly Northern lights are visible in Northern Scandinavia (Lapland), Northern Russia, Alaska and Canada. In favorable conditions the ‘aurora zone’ expands further South.

6.    At the end of summer, the midnight sun fades away in Finland, making way for darker nights. Only then it becomes possible to see auroras. Many people are not aware that the season for Aurora-spotting in Finland begins as early as September and continues until March.

aurora reflections in finland by thomas kast

7.    During solar max the sun produces many bursts on the surface releasing solar wind. That is the best time to travel and hope to see auroras. Solar max occurs about every ~11 years and right now we are in solar max (2013-2015)

8.     Northern lights can appear in different shapes. A green curtain stretching all over the horizon is very common. As that curtain rises higher and travels through the sky more details can be visible, such as fast-moving needles. When the solar wind is strong, the lucky ones can see a corona opening up right above in the sky. Countless rays spread out in multiple colors. This usually lasts less than a minute. It is like looking into the soul of Northern lights and for many it is considered the most powerful experience.

Aurora Borealis Corona

Aurora Borealis Corona

9.  Auroras can be in the sky for only minutes or as long as the whole night. The colors are pale and usually not as vivid as in photos. The reason is in the camera, which is able to record these colors much stronger.

10.    To bring back some nice photos, a camera with manual mode is needed, as well as a tripod for sharp images and a flashlight. Temperatures at night can be anywhere between +5C…-40C, so spare batteries and appropriate clothing are a big advantage.

Only a small percentage of people actually live in the ‘aurora zone’ where Northern lights are seen frequently. That, and all the uncertainties of seeing the magic Aurora Borealis, makes it so special to see them. Every night is a surprise, you never know what to expect. After all, it’s up to that fox sweeping up snow into the sky..

Aurora Borealis Finland

 

“Northern lights are one of nature’s most amazing miracles”.

Thomas Kast is a landscape photographer living in Finland, spending countless hours in nature to capture auroras. Sign up at his blog Salamapaja to follow his adventures in chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland’s Lapland.
You can also follow Salamapaja on Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook
 
 

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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

It’s my pleasure to share with you a guest post written by an amazing lady I’ve been blessed to have “met” through blogging. Jenny Ballif has been a fan and follower of Blue Abaya blog for many years and two years years ago she contacted me with a very special request.. Jenny and I both share a special love for books and reading to our children so she wanted to send me some books that her kids had already outgrown.

So imagine my surprise when I heard that Jenny wanted to send us a total of 27 children’s books all the way from Nevada! I was not only super excited, but touched by this generous and warm gesture. A few weeks later we received the package along with a beautiful letter. My daughter was ecstatic and we went through all of them in one sitting. Some of the books Jenny sent have now become our kids favorites. Each night they want to read “Good Night Moon” and they are OBSESSED with the book they call “Dum Ditty Dum” (Hand Hand Finger Thumb). We are so grateful for this gift!

our new books

Anyways enough about the books, here are Jenny’s five reasons she would want to visit Saudi Arabia! The images she sent me from her area in Nevada have a remarkable resemblance to the geography of Saudi Arabia don’t you think? Do leave her a comment below :)

5 reasons an American wants to visit Saudi Arabia

A few years ago my husband and I met a man from Saudi Arabia. When we told him that we wanted to visit his country he said “That’s crazy! It’s a good crazy, but it’s crazy! I never meet Americans who want to go to Saudi Arabia.”

I’ve met several. I can’t speak for others, but here are five reasons why I dream of visiting Saudi Arabia, or one of its neighboring countries:

1. Arabic.

Languages have different feelings to them, and I’m not exactly sure what it is about Arabic that gives it such an exotic yet comfortable feeling. The script is beautiful, the grammar intriguing and different. And it’s more in-the-throat, like I’m holding all my sounds behind my tongue for a moment before letting them leave to convey meaning.

2. Families mean more.

Everyone I’ve ever met from the Kingdom, Oman, or Jordan visits their family at least weekly. They have closer contact with their extended family than many people I know in America have with their immediate family. The stronger family ties is a quality that I love about Eastern cultures.

3. I’m fed up with commercialism and materialism.

I know that I can’t escape commercialism by going abroad. This preoccupation with acquiring more stuff is a world-wide disease. But we tend to worship it more here in the U.S., and in Islamic culture I see an emphasis on the nonmaterial that is refreshing.

4. I want to understand Islam better.

This one sometimes gets a sharp reaction. Yes, I know that corrupt political systems have done bad things in the name of Islam. But when I look at the tenants of the faith I see such commonality, such similarity to my own beliefs. I would love to hear the call to prayer sounding from the mosques, and observe how the rituals of Islam effect ordinary people in their everyday lives.

5. I love dates.

The medjool variety in American grocery stores- they’re not bad, but the real dates that I’ve had from the Middle East, ahhh, those dates are phenomenal.

So someday, inshallah, I hope we’ll get to visit Saudi Arabia. But if not, I’m glad that I can catch a glimpse through Blue Abaya.

nevada collage

Jenny Ballif is a writer, doula, language enthusiast and mother. She lives in Southern Nevada with her three kids and husband.  Jenny blogs at The Write Shelf and you can find her personal website here, where you can read her touching journey through surviving and overcoming cancer at a young age and postpartum depression later on in life.
 

“I’m currently the At-Home Parent and “Mom” is the best, and hardest, job I’ve ever had.”

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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

September 23rd 2014 marks the 84th year of the Unification of Saudi Arabia by King Abdul Aziz Al Saud. To check out the year’s 2015 National Day festivities, go to this post: Saudi National Day and Eid Al Adha 2015. Saudi Arabia is gearing up for the festivities and KSA’s biggest cities Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam- Al Khobar are arranging all kinds of events and festivals to celebrate the occasion! Most people will be off from work and the schools will remain closed. This means lots of traffic jams due to the amount of people celebrating on the streets. Personally I don’t mind spending the National Day in Riyadh because there’s so many interesting things to do and everyone seems to be in such a joyous mood. I know many expats and Saudis don’t necessarily share the same view on this and rather stay home and hide under their blankets.

This could be partly due to lack of knowledge about the ongoing events around town. People tend to avoid the city center where thousands of people flock in their decorated cars, packed with Saudis of all ages dressed in green, waving flags and singing songs. The good news is there are places away from that area worth going to. Check out some of my photos from the previous year’s National Day celebration in Riyadh for ideas.

For 2015 as National Day coincides with the start of Hajj, there will be no fireworks this year and the festivals will be delayed until the weekend. A new festival area in Riyadh is the Bujairy area in Historical Diriyah which is a beautiful place to visit on its own. Check it out here: Riyadh’s Historic District Ad’Diriyah

september 23 national day

 

The places to be on National Day in Riyadh are: national day celebrations riyadh

Most of these location have pretty much the same programs for families. There’s traditional Saudi foods, arts and crafts, heritage displays, info on KSA tourism, folklore tents, traditional dances, music, songs, poetry, plays etc etc..Most events start around 6pm until midnight. According to the organizers: “the program, which kicks off on Tuesday afternoon will include video presentations, laser shows, fireworks and military performances. There are in addition to several recreational activities, heritage and sports programs suitable for all members of the family. the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh will be among places where the celebrations start at eight in the evening on Tuesday. Another important site is the King Abdullah Park in Malaz where the festivities will begin at 5 p.m. continue into the night. As usual, King Abdulaziz Historical Center will showcase the typical Arabian tent, heritage products, textiles, handicrafts and children’s theater.”

If you decide to go to the King Abdul Aziz Historical center area, you can listen to the ‘Rababa’ , the Arabian Violin. This thousands of years old instrument has only one chord! The simplicity of the Bedouin love songs combined with the rababah is something very unique and worth experiencing, even if you don’t understand the lyrics.

rababa player saudi arabia

My favorite part of National Day? Dressing the kids up in the cutest traditional Saudi attire! For mr. Peanut, it’s a thobe, Saudi sandals and a little cap. For my little Saudi Princess, she wears a beautiful green or fuschia dress with gold coins and then a gold coin ‘crown” on her hair. The combined cuteness of this is almost too much to handle!baby thobe boybaby thobe

Whatever you decide to do, I wish everyone a nice National Day in Saudi Arabia!

national day saudi arabia flag

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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 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!