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:

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

For updates on events and celebrations in Riyadh follow us on Facebook by clicking here!

Something new and exciting on Blue Abaya.. I decided to start a series of posts, kind of like a photo challenge of day to day life in Riyadh after some readers have been asking me to share more family photos and to show what the everyday life is like in Saudi Arabia.. . Many of you have been waiting on me (for ages, I know…) to share some recipes of the food I’ve posted on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, so this will be a great opportunity to share some of those as well!
Another common request is to share some tips on how to keep toddlers entertained, cool toys we discovered, fun craft projects we made or favorite family outings in Riyadh. Also in store some recommended restaurants, new interesting finds and products I’m going to review for you..So stay tuned for more of these. I’m actually quite excited to start this because I know it’s one of my favorite things to see on other blogs, just the day to day stuff and how people are living all around the world, so I’m sure others will like it too!
I’m going to tag these posts under a new category “Saudi Life’.

toddleranddaneWe missed our dog so much while we were in Finland during the summer, she’s about 8 months old now and pretty huge but still considered to be a puppy I guess :) We first called her ‘Blue’ because she’s a Blue Great Dane and had the most beautiful baby blue eyes when she was little. For some reason my daughter began calling her ‘Misu’ which actually means something like “kitty” in Finnish. I thought it was so funny and so we stuck with it!

I met up with some of my Finnish friends at their hospital housing complex  for a book club meeting and some great food.. we had to “smuggle” the kids in under abayas because there’s a ‘no kids allowed’ rule. We had a lot of fun and exchanged books, all in Finnish language!


My kids have nicknamed one of my friends “mummi” which means grandma in Finnish, even though she is nowhere near grandma age, but they think she’s just as cool as their real grandma so she should have same name. So mummi came to our house and my daughter played manicurist for her. Result was fabulous! She even gave my friend a face painting with the nail polish as a bonus :)IMG_7559.JPGThe past weeks have still been way too hot to go out during the day and during August it was well over 115F (45C) each and every day. We’ve been stuck indoors for most part of the day for 6 weeks, which totally sucks! The kids are literally going off the walls after having spent 90% of their time outdoors during our Finland vacation. Such a drastic change. Sometimes it makes me feel the kids are missing their childhood and I feel guilty for not being able to give them a more happy and normal childhood playing outdoors.

Things were not much better inside the house when we came back from holidays. We have central A/C, which dates back to the stone ages I think, because it was 95F (35C) upstairs with central AC blasting on MAX and 90F downstairs! Needless to say it felt like we were going to melt. On top of that the water from shower is burning hot during the day because we have a water tank on the roof which is not covered from the sun. I’m sure many people have the same problem and can relate.

So in order to try and lower the indoor temperature to something more bearable, we had to install two extra split units and put fans to blow the cooler air around. The coolest result right next to the AC unit, with all these gadgets blasting is now 77F, 25 C. Better than before and at least I can wear some clothes now instead of going around half naked!

chaThank God we live close by to some of the most beautiful parks you can imagine, with streams of water that cool and kids and the dog can play in. It’s a blessing, and at least we can go in the evenings when the sun is not going to burn us alive.


A recent awesome discovery at the Panorama mall: The Candylawa store! It’s not just a super cool candy shop, but they have a cafeteria and DYI sweets stations such as make your own lollipops or marshmallows and then this section which interested me the most, arts and crafts supplies! Not easy to find in Riyadh. They also had crafts classes for kids and possibility to have private parties hosted in their party area. They are located behind Hamley’s toy store in Panorama mall.candylawa riyadh dyi lollipops

Something our kids love to do for hours on end is playing with water and what a better way to try and cool down during the hot summer days. I’ve come up with several super simple and fun games for them to play with in the kiddy pool on the patio. This one is “animal fishing” which is as simple as: Through all animal shaped bath toys and small plastic animal figurines that you can find in the pool. Run the water from the hose so the water keeps circulating the toys around the pool as if they’re swimming. Give the kids fishing nets (ours are from an aquarium store) and start fishing! Each kid gets their own bucket to where they can place their catch. When everything has been caught, they love dumping them all back in from the buckets. bucket catch

kiddi poolThe simplest of games are sometimes the most fascinating to kids! While playing they practice hand eye co-ordination skills, fine motor skills, learn counting how many animals they have, and of course naming the different animals! If you can’t get your hands on fishing nets, substitute them with kitchen utensils like a ladle, skimmer or even a pasta spoon will do! Be creative and use your imagination!2014-08-07 12.54.58

Ok so on to the recipe which is Finnish Macaroni Casserole, I’ve seen some people call it the Finnish version of Mac n cheese too. This is a very typical Finnish “everyday” food called makaronilaatikko which I make from time to time because it’s a favorite with the kids. This is a great opportunity for us sneaky moms to hide vegetables in the food :) I normally grate carrots or some other mild tasting veggie I have at hand to make it more nutritious. Since the prep and cooking time for making the macaroni casserole is long, I always make two at the same time and then freeze the other one for later.
makaronilaatikkoThe recipe I use as the basis can be found here  (in Finnish). The following makes for one large portion so if you want to make more, then double the recipe.

Finnish Macaroni Casserolemc n cheese

500-600g elbow macaroni

400g lean minced meat

1 large onion

2 tsp salt

rapseed oil for cooking (or any oil you like to use)

200g Philadelphia cheese or other similar cheese

2-3  carrots grated

ground black pepper

ground all spice

paprika spice

3 large or 4 small eggs

7 dl milk

on top approx 200g grated white cheese such as emmental

Boil the macaroni as per package instructions, rinse, drain and then pour back in the kettle. In a saucepan sautee the onions, add the meat and melt in the cheese, mix in the  grated carrots. Add spices according to your liking but make sure the taste is strong enough so it won’t be “watered down” when you add the filling. Pour the sauce in with the macaroni and mix gently until it looks the ingredients are evenly distributed. Now pour the whole thing into a greased oven pan, I prefer to use the clear or white glass pans. In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and add the milk, mix until clear. Pour on top of the macaroni mix, make sure you pour it evenly throughout. Bake in oven 200c for about 30 min on the lower rack. Take out of the oven and add the grated cheese on top, then continue baking for another 25-35 min until the cheese on top is golden. Before serving let the casserole sit for a while so that it settles, the next day it will best for cutting off “pieces” from it like cake :) Kids enjoy eating this with ketchup and husband’s prefer hot sauce :) Enjoy!


Sometimes I make three because I make one dairy free version for my allergic son. I replace the milk with soy milk and leave the cheese out too.

And finally a beautiful quote ‘I love you more each and every day’. So true! i love you more

I wanted to share something very powerful that touched me deeply today, a song called “We Are Here” by Alicia Keys, one of my favorite artists of all time. Please listen to it. If you don’t listen to music for religious reasons, then read the lyrics.

Dear Alicia, Thank you for this wonderful song and the touching message. I admire your courage, your beautiful character and amazing talent. You are like a ray of light in the dark, a true shining star. You bring depth to such a superficial industry. With this song you spread warmth and meaning to a world full of cold and selfishness.. I hope your message reaches millions and I wish for them to feel the same peace, love and hope in their hearts as I did, while listening to your song. with love and my utmost respect,


Alicia Keys explains about the meaning of the lyrics, which you can read on her Facebook page:

“The day I wrote this song, I was sitting in a circle of people of all ages and we were asked, “Why are you here.” Why am I here?? This really hit me on a deep level. I realized no one had ever asked me that question before.  As I prepare to give birth to a new child, I can’t help and think about the world I’m bringing my baby into. No matter where we come from, when we see the state of the world today, we can all feel the growing frustration and desire to make a difference. And we all have a voice – we just need to know how to make it heard. I have a vision that I believe is more than a dream, that I know can be our reality. I believe in mutual respect and cooperation among all peoples and all nations. It is time to end all forms of racial injustice for our black brothers and sisters and all people of color. I believe we have an ability to end poverty, oppression, and hopelessness that often breeds despair, terror, and violence.  I believe in Peace & Love & Unity. I believe that this vision can be a reality.  And, it’s not about me. It’s about WE. Together we can give birth to a kinder and more peaceful world for ALL children. Our souls were brought together so that we can love each other sister, brother. We Are Here. We are here for all of us. That’s why #WeAreHere.”

So I had to ask myself the same question, why am I here? The answer depends on the point of view I’m looking at the question.. but I wanted to answer specifically in the context of this blog, why am I here, on Blue Abaya? I would say..

I am here to help others.

I am here to bridge cultural gaps.

I am here to surprise you.

I am here to bring West and East closer together.

I am here to spread positivity.

I am here to initiate change.

I am here to make you smile.

I am here to help you think out of the box.

I am here to open your mind to something different.

I am here to learn.

I am here to connect with people all around the world.


Now I ask you, Blue Abaya readers, why are you here, on Blue Abaya? What brought you here? I would love to hear from you! Yes YOU!  Please leave me a comment below, I would be so very grateful!we are hereP.S  I wrote this quote with my daughter while we did watercolor painting :)

While a part of the Saudi society is sometimes seen as moving backwards in time, there is another part, less known, which is going in the opposite direction. The western media will rarely show us this side. I recently learned about the Takalamy initiative. I would describe the Takalamy initiative as..inspiring, empowering, forward-thinking, hopeful, enlightening.

Takalamy- She speaks. These young Saudi women are speaking their minds, and you should listen.

“Our Story: Two of our Takalamy team members decided to take on the challenge for their senior project and create a short, complex 10 minute movie.

The script was written as a narrative that highlights issues that arise from the clash of traditional vs. modern ways of life for a Saudi female student abroad.

Instead, the team decided to place multiple opinions into one voice, by interviewing some of the female college students abroad about their opinions on different topics. We hope this will help Takalamy take its initiative forward, and make a difference to the local community.

We are a number of Saudi females with an objective of creating a platform that encourages the outflow of thoughts and opinions, and make it easy for everyone to voice them. We realize the importance of freedom of thought and speech and hope to give Saudi women, and men, a safe place to practice this freedom.

What drove us to take this initiative is the need to emphasize the importance of equality in the advancement of society. We want to be thought provoking and spread ideas. We aim to be unbiased, open-minded, community oriented, interactive.

Mission Statement: We aim to encourage women to speak their minds aloud in order to express their presence in the saudi Arabian community and help their opinions shape its future.

Vision statement: By breaking gender barriers we aim to expand the notion of what it means to be a woman in Saudi Arabia to embrace and celebrate equality, opportunity, empowerment, self-fulfillment, independence, and development. We want to put the power of words as the force for positive social change.”


The following are some of my favorite quotes from the video, which can be viewed at the end of this post.

3 Words to Describe Saudi Women:


“Hardworking. Hopeful. Family oriented.”

“Determined. Struggled…. Adaptive.”

“Fearful in the sense that Saudi women realize they are oppressed in certain ways but too afraid to do anything about it, but at the same time they are very strong to be able to withstand those circumstances.

Cultured, because they hold on to their culture and they really love it.”


How would you describe freedom?


“Freedom is synonymous with choice.”

“The freedom to choose in everything. To overcome social restrictions.”

“To have the tools to live your life to its fullest.”

“The ability to make your own choices and to speak your mind in a society that respects that, even when they disagree with you.”

How would you describe power?


“Everyone deserves to be powerful over their own self and there shouldn’t be an over-ruling power that tells you and dictates to you who to be and what to do. That is something I believe in. Is that really possible in there being a power over you?”

“Power is media and its influence.”


What’s your opinion on male guardianship?


“I find that the concept of guardianship is restrictive,

it’s offensive to society, offensive to men and to women.

If I need a male guardian to protect myself from the ‘other men’, what does that say about those other men around me? I think more highly of the ‘other men’ in my society than they do of themselves.

Men should think higher of themselves! “

“I think it is very unfair for a woman to be restricted in the sense that she has to ask permission for everything she does.

Someone is in control of her entire life. “

How can you really reach your limits and do great things if you constantly have to ask permission?” “I hear this all the time:

‘Women are the most valuable jewels of our society, so we have to protect them.’

This is not only a very condescending argument, but also it’s also completely illogical.

You cannot justify dominance based on how valuable the people you’re oppressing are.”

What do you think about our society’s perception of marriage?


“The type of people I know back home wouldn’t say, ‘I’m not going to marry her because she studied abroad.’ I think it exists though, it definitely does.” “We think in our culture that a man or marriage, completes you, which is so wrong.

Nobody will complete you.

you have to be happy on your own, then find a partner to walk with you.”

“Forty years ago, or even 10 years ago, there was a stigma attached to a girl studying abroad, on her own. But I think in terms of education, we’ve moved a long way from that prejudice.”

What’s your opinion on societal barriers we create that limit honest conversation?


“You are not you. You are your name. And your family, and your siblings, and your parents. So whatever I say reflects on them so much that it could harm them. And that is terrifying. That is what stops so many women from doing things.”

“A lot of people are afraid of society’s judgments. It does not only apply to women. Men, too, are very much restrained in their ability to speak freely. We’re programmed that way,

the suspicion of being judged follows us, no matter how far we are from home.”

What is your biggest achievement?


“My choice to pursue music as a serious profession. By far, that is the thing I’m most proud of.

It’s my choice and it’s the bravest, hardest thing I’ve had to do.”

“Starting my own fashion house starting with a dress designed with hand-made seaweed paper. One of my dresses was featured in Vanity Fair Magazine which lead to me launching four fashion lines. My clothing is represented in New York, Deli, Bombay, Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai, Jeddah and Riyadh.”

“Being true to yourself in a world that is trying to make you into someone else.”

“Finishing my architectural degree

 finding that thing I am passionate for and pursuing it.”

“Creating a social media site about all the exciting things now happening in Saudi Arabia.”

What Advice do you have for Saudi Women?


“Don’t be afraid to follow your passion. Go for it.””Make success a habit.

You consistently make a commitment that you will work through your fear everyday. You’re going to work your craft every day and make it a conscious decision to put aside everything that doesn’t matter…It’s a habit, a commitment.”

“If you see an opportunity, take it, but don’t compromize who you are.”


What would you like to see change in the future?


“Men are not always aware of the benefits of change, but we [women] are. The first thing I would like Saudi women to do is to try to change their outlook and ask questions about what they want rather than to be told what they want.” “If we allow ourselves to be driven by fear, the thing that frightens us the most will haunt us. We have to learn to speak up and know we are not alone in the struggle and others will support us.

No one can know the struggles of a Saudi woman better than another Saudi woman.”

“People are starting to realize they can make a change and that it starts from within. Some women are finding a voice for themselves and achieving more because they realize that.” “We’re taught not to ask questions.

Ask questions, questions are fantastic.”

“Change is inevitable.

We can change, and still preserve our culture and our religion.”

Watch the entire video here:


For more information:





Participants: Sara Al Mutlaq, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. Architecture

Naeema Al Hazza, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, Bio Chemistery (Major) Cinema Studies (minor)

Haifa Al Sudairy, Georgetown Universtiy, Washington, DC, Middle Eastern Studies, focus on Women in Islam

Rotana Tarabzouni, University of California, Los Angeles, Masters in Communication Management, minor in Music

Sarrah Yousoef, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Economics major, Religion Minor

Razan Al Azzouni, School of Museum Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, Fine Arts and Art History, Studio Arts Degree in Sculputre and paper making

Saja Kamal, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts

Dania Al Rashed, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, Journalist and Political Science

Dalal Al Bwardi, Grad Student, Emerson College, Integrated Marketing Communications


I’m looking forward to hearing more from the Takalami initiative!succeed

The National Museum, which is part of the King Abdul Aziz Historical center in Riyadh, is one of the largest in the Middle East and undoubtedly the most famous and most visited museum in Saudi Arabia. An impressive collection of artifacts, scriptures and antiquities are inside this two story building covering 28,000 square feet.  The Museum is distinguished for its comprehensive exhibits presenting eras and topics in a successive manner, starting from the creation of the universe until the Modern Age, with a main emphasis on the history of the Arabian Peninsula.

In this Riyadh National Museum guide you’ll find all the info you need to visit the museum and learn about the fascinating history of the Arabian Peninsula.

Riyadh National Museum Guide

For those not able to visit Riyadh’s National Museum in person, you can do a virtual tour here and download a copy of Riyadh National Museum guide here. Some key artifacts of the National Museum are currently “on the road” in North America in a touring exhibition called Roads of Arabia, Unearthing The Ancient Past.

“Roads of Arabia features objects excavated from several sites throughout the Arabian Peninsula, tracing the impact of ancient trade routes and pilgrimage roads stretching from Yemen in the south to Iraq, Syria and Mediterranean cultures in the north. An eye-opening look at the largely unknown cultural history of the Arabian Peninsula, this exhibition draws on recently discovered archaeological material never before seen in North America.”

The museum is open everyday but do check the opening hours and which days are designated for families, singles and school visits. The entrance fee is 10sr. Make sure you reserve at least 2 hours to go through everything the museum has to offer, but if you like to stop and read the exhibits and watch the movie then you would need closer to 4 hours to thoroughly enjoy it.

All the information provided in the exhibitions is in both Arabic and English, there are also interactive displays, audio tours and video clips, all bilingual. You don’t necessarily need a tour guide, but in preparation it’s recommended to read and Download the Riyadh National Museum Guide here. You can see the exact location on the Google maps by clicking here.

EDIT 2017:

OPENING HOURS and VISITS : The Riyadh National museum is now open all day from 8 am to 8 pm daily, except Fridays from 4 pm onward.  Both singles and families may visit the museum.

national museum opening hours

The eight Exhibition Halls of Riyadh National Museum are:

Man and the Universe

Did you know that oil was formed from remains of billions of marine animals and plants or that Saudi Arabia was actually the bottom of the ocean some 50 million years ago?

Arab Kingdoms  

The fascinating history of Midian, Kindah, Tayma, Al-Ukhdood, Nabatean, Himyar and many others. Did you know that horse were actually domesticated 9000 years ago in the Arabian Peninsula according to a very recent finding from the Al Majar excavation site?  The oldest signs of human civilizations in the Arab peninsula date back over 100,000 years.

Pre-Islamic Era

Time of “Jahiliya”, Makkah as the Peninsula’s religious, cultural, intellectual capital.

Hall of the Prophet’s Mission

Remarkable, touching and inspirational lifetime story of Prophet Mohammed which every visitor should take the time to read.

Hall of Islam and the Arabian Peninsula 

Science discoveries, the golden age of Islam. Did you know that Arabs were the first to count the sun’s movements and confirm the earth was in fact round?

Hall of the First and Second Saudi State

The First Saudi state was established in Diriyah in the 18th century. if you wish to visit the historical Diriyah, check out this article: 10 Things to do in Historical Diriyah 

Unification of the Kingdom Hall

King Abdul Aziz Al Saud mission to unify the Arabian peninsula tribes and declaration of the United Saudi Arabia in 1351 AH (1932 AD). This is where you get to go to the movies! Watch out for the real canons which blow smoke into the theatre.

Hall of Hajj and Two Holy Mosques History of Mecca and Madina

If you aren’t Muslim, this is probably the closest you’ll come to going to these two Holy sites. Very impressive ending to the National Museum tour!

kaaba cover

The cover of Kaaba door in the Hajj and Holy sites section. More images from Riyadh’s National Museum in the gallery below.


Share this post on Pinterest! Pin the below image to share with friends and save the Riyadh National Museum guide for later :)


complete guide to riyadh national museum

Riyadh National Museum Guide

Have a look at other sightseeing places in Riyadh from: Things to do in Riyadh 

Al-Balad, which literally translates to “The City”, is the historical area of Saudi-Arabia’s second largest city Jeddah. Founded in the 7th century, Balad historically served as the city center of Jeddah until the big oil boom when most families started moving out the area. Al Balad Historical District, which was just recently added into the UNESCO World Heritage sites list, is my absolute favorite part of 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.

10 things to do in al Balad Jeddah

10 Things to do in al Balad Jeddah

Here are ten reasons why you should not miss a visit to this unique heritage site! For the best info on the history and background of different areas and buildings, it’s recommended to take a tour of Al Balad district with an experienced and knowledgable local guide. When mom and I last visited Jeddah, we were fortunate to have the awesome ‘Susie of Arabia’ who writes the blogs Susie’s Big Adventure and Jeddah Daily Photo, as our personal guide. Susie is, like myself, a self-proclaimed door addict, we share a love (or obsession?) with the colorful doors and windows of Balad. I think we spent a good three hours just looking at different kinds of doors (poor mom)! We walked around for the entire morning until early afternoon, Susie showing us around her favorite spots in Al Balad. Susie is an American woman married to a Saudi, she’s been living in Jeddah for almost the same period of time that I’ve been in Riyadh (soon 7 years! ). This is my mom posing with Susie:Things to do in Al Balad Jeddah

Top Ten Things to Do in al Balad Jeddah

1. Do some real life time traveling and discover the rich history of the Balad district. The two gates to the Old City, built in typical Ottoman style, are the Gate of Medinah (Bab al Madinah) and the larger more well preserved Mecca gate (Bab al Makkah). Beautiful, intricately designed old merchant houses can be found all over the area, the most famous being Al Naseef House (Beit al Nassef). This stunning building has been fully preserved and is now open to public as a museum. Another museum worth visiting is the Jeddah Municipality Museum. The very first school-now museum, in the entire Arabian peninsula is located in Al Balad (Madrasa Al Falah).

Al Shafei mosque which is also known as the “Ancient Mosque” dates back to  7th century AD. This mosque is undergoing a huge restoration project because over the decades it has ‘sunk’ into the ground which makes it look like it’s being swallowed by the earth. Sadly many if not most of the residential buildings have been neglected. If restoration and preservation projects are not urgently undertaken in the area, most likely this architectural gem will slowly perish. Some of the houses have suffered extra damage from the floods and entirely collapsed into the streets. What is most unfortunate is that government seems to be more focused on developing other areas of tourism and skyscrapers and other modern buildings are making their way into this historically unique and invaluable heritage site. Hopefully action will be taken before this treasure is lost forever.

al balad skyscraperjeddah oldest mosque jeddah ancient mosquemosque ancient jeddah2. Practice your photography skills. Whether its street photography, architecture, food, portraits or even macro, Balad offers something of interest for all photo enthusiasts. The best time to visit would be early weekday mornings. If hustle and bustle is what you’re looking for, a Friday afternoon will surely deliver just that.fruit souk jeddah3. Meet the friendly and welcoming people. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation, you won’t regret it! Saudi families and lots of different nationalities still live in the old houses of Al Balad.jeddah welcome4. Explore what the famous Balad souk Al- Alawi has to offer. Find shumagh, abaya and scarves in all colors imaginable, leather bags, shoes and sandals, jewelry made from coral. Oud, frankincense, Arabic perfumes, oils and incense burners to use them all in. Sample the dates, spices, Arabic coffee beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. Or how about some fresh hibiscus flower tea known locally as ‘Karkade’?frankincencesouk albalad5. Sample the food of Al Balad’s small food stalls. Delicious, cooked on the spot snacks and Arabic breads can be found at every corner. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Prices start from 1sr for a shawarma!balad food stall6. Shop for authentic Saudi Souvenirs. If you’re not the tourist type that goes for plastic camels or burkha clad bopple-heads, Al Balad’s souk is the place for you. Some items of interest would be frankincense, which comes in several different forms and varieties and the ‘Saudi style” incense burners to use with it. There’s huge blocks and little cubes which can used like chewing gum, frankincense essential oils are famous for their healing properties and can be used both internally and externally. You can also find other Arabic perfumes and Oud here. Exotic spices and dates can be found in abundance as well as beautiful lanterns, colorful scarves, Saudi style leather sandals and much more.

Check out Inspired By Arabia for al Balad inspired home decor, accessories and art.jeddah street vendor20140815-200237-72157235.jpg7. Marvel at the mosques. Some of the tiniest and dare I say cutest mosques you’ll ever encounter can be found in Balad’s narrow alleyways, nestled between houses, shops and walkways.albalad mosque8. Climb to the rooftop of Al Naseef house just before Maghreb prayer time to catch the sunset over Al Balad’s rooftops. the sound of the beautiful Athan (call of prayer) being called out from all over the city will overwhelm your senses. An experience you will never forget.jeddah history9. Obsess over doors and windows. Balad is a dream come true for all kinds of architecture lovers but especially captivating for those of us who just can’t get enough of all kinds of doors! The historical area is famous for the bright colored window and door covers called Mashrabiya and  Rawashaan. The window covers were designed to catch the breeze and cool the houses but at the same time to allow the womenfolk inside some privacy by blocking the views.saudi color door jedda green and blue al balad balconies  10.  Relax and unwind at a Sheesha cafe. Stop by one of the small outdoor sheesha (also known as hookah)places or if the hubbly bubbly is not your cup of tea, try some Arabic coffee instead. (unfortunately these places are for men only..) sheesha street cafe jeddah  More ideas of Thing to do in Jeddah here: Jeddah Staycation with Kids- Why you should visit Jeddah

Blue Abaya has been MIA while enjoying a nice relaxing break midst the Finnish summer. Every year we visit my home country Finland, where my family speeds most of the time at a so called ‘summerhouse’, typical for Finns to retreat to during the very short-lived Finnish summer. Normally these summer places are humble and simply equipped with just the essentials, luxuries are left for the city life.

The most important thing is being close to nature, which is very important to Finns. Days go by mostly doing outdoor activities like swimming, cycling, hiking in the nearby forests picking wild berries, sailing, visiting nearby islands, playing on the beach or just fishing…

gone fishing

I love my little country so much I thought I’d take the chance to share a piece of what my Finland looks like. If you’re not that familiar with Finland as a country, check out 10 things I miss from Finland, and you will understand why we want to visit every summer!

The beauty of Finland’s nature is truly at its best during summers, when we have the luxury to enjoy almost 24h of sunlight in some regions. The famous ‘Midnight Sun’ creates spectacular sunsets all summer long. You can see those and more photos from our previous summer vacations in Finland here!

finland postcard greetings

In this Blue Abaya post you can find 10 Amazing Innovations and Inventions that come from Finland, one of them being the famous efficiency of the Finnish Education system. If you’re interested in learning more about the secret behind Finland’s school success, go here: “What Saudis Could Learn from Finnish Schools”. 

So does a Saudi guy enjoy being in Finland and how does he cope with living in such ‘simple’ conditions at the summer cabin, almost like a Finnish bedouin? It could be described as a parallel universe compared to the dry, harsh deserts and life’s little luxuries in the ‘Magic Kingdom’? Find out here.

We’ve been lucky this summer, the weather has been super amazing all over Finland. The temperature has been closer to +30 than the average +18C of a typical Finnish summer. Finns are known to be hardy and we don’t get bothered by cold weather during the summer, in fact it’s not uncommon at all to see people enjoying swimming and sauna in just +10. Check out here what Finnish cows do when temperatures hit +5c!


Speaking about sauna, a Finnish tradition and a part of our heritage which we take great pride in, I’m so glad to see how much our children love sauna and swimming.  These little Finnish-Saudi people would surely swim and bathe in sauna all day long if they could have it their way! The sauna we have at our summer place was built in the 19th century and has been in use by my family ever since!

Did you know that Finnish people used to give birth in saunas? The labouring women used to get relief from the heat and warmth of the sauna steam and warm water was always available there. For more Finnish sauna traditions read this post “Saudi son-in-law’s Guide to Surviving Sauna“.

Something we all look forward to every summer is devouring some Finnish delights. Our favourites are mom’s blueberry pies, Karelian pies, rye bread, fresh berries (forest strawberries, blueberries, raspberries all grow in the wild at the summer house), fresh fish from our own nets, baby potatoes, salad from the garden and of course ice cream! This summer I taught my kids and nieces how to make Finnish sweet cardamon bread ‘pulla’. We made all sorts of different shapes of pulla and had a blast. Happy memories to remember for years to come. Recipe for this delicious treat can be found here!

pullaHow has your summer vacation been? Did you stay in your home country or you travelled somewhere? My husband and I were super lucky this year we got our first chance since having the kids for a getaway trip just the to of us! My family took care of the kiddos while we visited the stunning Croatia.


Learn all about the Holy Month of Ramadan and Eid al Fitr holidays in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the following Blue Abaya posts.

The first post on Ramadan is back from 2010 when the blog began and it’s called ‘Magic Month in the Kingdom‘. A good read for those not familiar with Ramadan or for expats living in Saudi Arabia or anyone interested in learning more about the holy month of Ramadhan.

Last year I wrote a post called ‘In search of the True Meaning of Ramadhan’. In this post I talked about how I sometimes feel the real meaning behind the fasting has been forgotten and instead the month has become all about spending, splurging, over-eating, junk food, partying all night, and sleeping all day.

antique quran goldSince I worked in a large government hospital in Riyadh during the course of three Ramadan’s, naturally I wanted to highlight on how the month changes the daily routines of the hospitals in Saudi Arabia. As you may already know, the opening hours and working times change during Ramadan in KSA. This also effects the entire hospital in some positive, some not so positive ways. Read more about it in the post ‘Ramadan in a Saudi Hospital‘ and ‘Ramadan and Overcrowding Hospitals‘.

Ramadan is also a busy time for the Saudi religious police, also known as the ‘muttawa’ or Hai’a. The members of the Commission for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue will be on the look out for all things haram in the shopping malls, reminding people to go pray and enforcing strict dress code. This year the MOI issued a statement that expats eating or drinking during daylight hours will risk being flogged and or deported from the Kingdom. More about that in this post (written tongue in cheek) Ramadan-The Favorite Month of the Saudi religious Police.
Ramadan in Saudi Arabia can be and is a wonderful experience for many. However, the non-Muslims and some expatriates might find this month especially gruesome due to certain rules and regulations. Read here about the two sides of Saudi Ramadan.

After the month of fasting is over, Muslims celebrate Eid al Fitr, which this year 2014 will be 12 days long holiday during which most government offices will be closed. There are some interesting activities and events organized by the Riyadh Municipality every Eid. Here you can find a list of Top Ten Things to do during Eid Al Fitr holidays in Riyadh. Check out these posts for photos from the previous years’ Eid celebrations in Riyadh.

Ramadan Mubarak to all, wishing Blue Abaya readers and their families a month full of blessings, joy, special moments with family and peace.



My dearest daughter and son,

While you’re both fast asleep in your beds napping, I’m thinking about the two of you, here in a hospital bed waiting for spinal surgery. All kinds of thoughts are running through my head. You both are always my first concern and I can’t help thinking of what were to happen to you if something God forbid, went terribly wrong in the operation and you would be left without a mother. All mothers have probably thought about this scenario at some point, what would happen to their kids. So I need to write this “letter” , just in case the unlikely happens and you’re orphaned and for a peace of mind before surgery.

I want you to know how much I love you, but I can’t find the words to describe it. I want you to know I will always love you. I want to be sure you always know that you are both very special and beautiful to me. If you were to have to live your life without me here there are some important things I want you to mom

What worries me a lot is you living in Saudi Arabia without me, which is especially worrisome when it comes to you my dearest daughter. As a Saudi girl and woman you are going to face many many hardships in your life and even more so if you live in Saudi Arabia. Unless the laws change, legally you will never become an adult, a man will always make the ultimate decisions in your life. Right now it is your father, but later on, ironically it could be your baby brother that becomes your “guardian”. I want you to go out and see the world, travel and learn new things. You will find out why I love traveling so much, and it will open your eyes and your mind.

My deepest concern is that this country and the current mahram system will hold you as a prisoner both in the physical but also the emotional sense. You my daughter, unlike your brother when he becomes of legal age, will not be able to freely leave this country to study or explore the world. You won’t even be able to visit your family and relatives in Finland if your guardian, whoever it is, decides so. Naturally I have discussed and agreed with your father that you’ll always be able to visit Finland, your other home country. If God forbid, something happens to him and your guardian would be someone else from the family, I fear it’s highly likely you won’t be allowed to leave freely anymore for reasons I’m not going to into now.

This is why it’s of utmost importance that you know who you are and where you come from. You’re just as much Finnish as you are Saudi. Never ever forget that. Don’t let people tell you that there’s something ‘wrong’ or bad about your mothers culture and country. Know that you should be absolutely proud of your Finnish roots, just as much as your Saudi heritage. Finland is the world leader on so many arenas, always making it into the top ten lists when comparing countries worldwide. What makes this even more remarkable is that Finland is a nation of only 5 million people. So you can and should be very very proud.

Learn about Finnish history, how we fought ourselves free from the Russian rule on our own and how the entire nation came forth together to build it again from scratch. Know what SISU means. Sisu, ultimate resilience and perseverance, is what got Finns through tough times and how we survived hardships. My Finnish sisu has helped me through a lot too and I can already see it in both of you. Never give up on your dreams, you can do anything and become anything you want to. If Saudi Arabia does not give you that option then you should go to your other home country to pursue your dreams.

Never become anyone’s puppet or doormat. You should respect your parents and elders and take their advice, but remember that respect goes both ways. Whatever you wish to do and what makes you happy should make your parents happy too. Don’t fall into the trap of people telling you something is ‘haram’ or unislamic, when in reality it’s your Saudi patriarchal, tribal culture speaking. It’s of utmost importance for you know the difference between these two.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re a ‘bad’ Muslim,or that your mother was not a ‘real’ Muslim, or an infidel. You are not a bad Muslim. Your mother is not an infidel just because she wasn’t born Muslim or doesn’t dress or act in a certain way. Only God is your judge, not your relatives or your neighbors, always remember that. Don’t be afraid to use your brain and find out, this is what God tells us in the Quran. There is so much ignorance surrounding us here in Saudi Arabia that we need to learn to ignore it and see the true Islamic values from the tribal mentality.

My dear daughter, don’t ever let a man decide on what you wear, ever. You are not owned by anyone, you are your own person and your thoughts matter. Whatever you choose to wear is your decision alone. Respect the culture and abide by the laws, but never, ever let anyone force you. Family honor is not dependent on what you wear, or who you marry; everyone is responsible for their own actions.

My dear son, growing up as a Saudi male in Saudi Arabia you will live a privileged life, much easier than your sisters in many ways. You will on the other hand be handed big responsibilities at a young age. You might be taught that you are to watch over your sister. Never take advantage of that situation. Respect goes both ways. As much as you will watch over and protect her, she will watch over and protect you. You are equal, never forget that. She is just as capable of making decisions on her own as you are. Never undermine her decisions or feelings, or underestimate her capabilities. Always support each other, you are a team, not enemies.

Read and learn about our religion, don’t blindly follow what those before you did, for maybe they were wrong, as God clearly states in the Quran. This means that you should find out for yourself, use common sense and not accept something just because a certain person told you so. If I hadn’t used my brains, followed my heart and listened to common sense, I would never have found Islam. What you will see happening around you is people turning their brains off when it comes to religion. Always keep yours switched on.

As much as I am proud of my Finnish culture, I want you to know that I came to this country because I wanted to learn about and experience the Saudi culture. Most expats will say they came for money. I did not come for money, but to explore. You will learn that your mother did a lot of things differently from others, and that is because she is different. And that’s not a bad thing at all. You, my children are also different. Don’t be ashamed of being different. Take pride in your mixed heritage and don’t let anyone tell you either culture is better than the other.

I want you to also learn about your Saudi roots and history. Explore and get to know the heritage and traditions of different regions. You will be amazed at how colorful and beautiful clothing people used to wear, it wasn’t all a sea of black until very recently. Don’t fall into the trap of the rotten tribal attitudes and thinking of one region or tribe superior to another. Be proud of your Najdi roots, but in a healthy way, not to the point of mocking others. And if you ever hear someone using the term “tarsh bahar,” vomit of the sea, when referring to a person, then do your mother a favor and punch them in the face.

As a Finn, it’s very important to me to keep in touch with nature and animals. Both have always been a big part of my life. The nature and wildlife is very different and beautiful in its own way in both your home countries and you are privileged to be able to experience them both. Always help and be kind to animals. You will find out why your mother is more attached to animals than to many humans. A pet will love you unconditionally, they will be faithful and loyal and never leave or hurt you. God created all animals, they are not unclean to have as pets or evil in way. If anyone tells you otherwise that is superstitions and culture talking, not religion.

I have so much to say but little time. I hope both of you are dreaming beautiful dreams right now, and when you wake up you will continue to dream, and never give up those dreams even when you grow up from your little tiny baby beds.

With my deepest love,
Your mom

It was a sweltering + 44C  last day of May in Riyadh Saudi-Arabia today. Meanwhile back in my home country Finland, they’re experiencing temperatures around+ 10C, which is actually quite normal for this time of year even though it might sound freezing cold to Saudis.

Despite it being only 10 degrees above zero, I bet you, there will be Finns driving around in their convertibles with the roofs open, wearing shorts and sandals and the bar terraces will be full of people drinking while soaking in the sun. It doesn’t really matter how much the outside temperature is, as long as it’s May, June or July, that equals summer for Finns and making the most out of it!10377162_347131542102807_5790858859814538420_n

Going to the beach or park for sunbathing when it’s 15C out is seen as completely acceptable and normal.  Finnish summer is very short and unpredictable, temperatures can range from 0-35C.  Believe it or not, they will issue a heat wave warning in Finland when the temperature raises above 25C. I have to admit us Finns are a bit crazy when it comes to temperature extremes. The Saudis might just be our polar opposites when it comes to tolerating heat and cold. I made this tongue in cheek temperature chart from which you can really see what I’m talking about :)the Saudi - Finnish temperature extremes chartHave a nice summer everyone and stay cool!