Author Archives: Laura

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

Riyadh’s Top Ten Eats With Kids-this is my article which was first published in Destination Riyadh’s October 2013 issue. Here are some of the best places to eat out with your children in Riyadh! Including child-friendly restaurants, bakeries, ice cream parlors, Friday Brunches and more. Please feel free to add restaurant suggestions! What are your favorite restaurants in Riyadh that you especially enjoy going to as a family with small kids? Do you know of any nice restaurants with a family section, a play area or activities for kids while the adults can (at least try to) enjoy their food in peace? Below are my top ten restaurant recommendations, but Riyadh has a lot to offer and new restaurants keep opening all the time, so likely I might have to make a new list again in a few years time :)

Piatto-Italian restaurant

Location: Exit 5 opposite Chinamart.

Special for kids: Make your own pizza, free Italian gelato from the bar with the kids meal, lots of high chairs and open seating area surrounding a fountain. Children receive an activity kit which is also their menu to keep them busy before the food arrives.. The kids meals are always served before adults. Overall a very family-friendly atmosphere and as a bonus there’s a large play and game area upstairs which will keep children busy for a long time!piatto play areapiatto courtyard

Chuck E. Cheese’s

Location: Olaya Street next to

Special for kids: This place was made for children! Serves great pizzas and other small snacks, two floors full of fun and entertaining activities and games for kids of all ages. Chuck E. the mouse performs every night and they have a small gift shop. Option of hosting your own parties in a private room with Chuck E. the mouse.

chuckecheeses riyadh

Marta’s Cakes Bakery

Location: Next to Pancake House and Salehia dates on King Fahad Rd.

Special for kids: Decorate your own cookies and cupcakes! Children will enjoy immensely the pleasure of creating their own designs combining ready-made decorations, colorful frostings with cool icing bottles! Upstairs can be reserved for private parties and they make amazingly creative cake creations here. Marta’s Cakes offers different ready-made party packages which include activities such as cupcake or cookie decorating, bracelet making, balloons decorations and invitation cards.


Café Ceramique restaurant

Location: Sahara Mall food court

Special for kids: Best of all of course the excitement of making your own ceramic art while eating out!  Children and adults can choose to paint and decorate vases, figurines and other ceramic art. The creations can then be taken home. Café Ceramique also has the option to host private parties.

Outback Steakhouse Australian restaurant

Location: Localizer Mall second floor

Special for kids: Children’s menu, friendly and helpful staff. Every Friday Outback has kids activities such as face painting, balloons and a kids play area with consoles.

Mirage Chinese Restaurant

Location: Takhasousi Rd. next to Euromarche

Special for kids: This place is the closest that Riyadh might come to an aquarium! Large fish tanks all over the restaurant will fascinate the kids and keep them busy. Dine in a private cubicle with its own fish tank! In the center of the restaurant there’s a pond where large colorful goldfish can be seen swimming.  Above the pond there are bridges that lead to small ‘dining chalets’.

aquarium mirage riyadheats-7.jpg

Coldstone Creamery: Ice cream Bar

Location: Hayat Mall second floor

Special for kids: The way this place makes and serves ice cream is like watching a circus performance! Scoops of ice cream literally flying in the air as the skilled waiters throw show off their ice cream bar tending skills. Kids and adults will be gasping in awe! A vast selection of ice cream in all colors of the rainbow which can be combined with new and exciting flavors like real chocolate chip cookie dough or brownies. Create your own ice cream from an endless selection of toppings. Also available are yummylicious ice cream cakes, ice cream cookies and cute ice cream cupcakes.

Munch Bakery

Location: next to Sheraz restaurant on Abdullah ibn Sulaiman bin Hamdan rd.

Special for kids: Possibly the best cupcakes in town, coming in all the flavors you could possibly imagine sold in a super cute shop with a small cupcake cafe. The bakery also sells lots of imported candies and sweets you won’t find elsewhere in Saudi-Arabia. Cake masterpieces on display and the best place to order a professionally made party cake. Choose from hundreds of readymade themes and designs. Bring along your own laptop or iPad with the image you want in your cake or even a toy and they will transform it into an amazing cake!

munch cakerycake

Buffalo’s Restaurant

Location: Tahlia Street

Great food and fun kids menu, especially awesome with kids for breakfast. Order a smiley face omelet or a huge portion of American pancakes. Large kids play area with plenty of activities.

 riyadh buffalos pancakes kids breakfast

 Friday Brunch 

Location: Brasserie restaurant in hotel Faisaliyah Fridays from 12-4pm.

Al-Orjouan restaurant, Ritz Carlton Hotel Friday’s 1230-4pm.

Most of the international five star hotel chains in Riyadh offer very nice Friday Brunches.  One of the best ones to take your kids along is Rosewood hotel Faisaliyah. Kids have their own buffet, there’s a chocolate fountain, popcorn machine and their own cozy area with plenty of activities and a small library.

Another great option is the Ritz Carlton Friday Brunch at their Al Orjouan restaurant. Kids have their own separate play area where qualified nannies watch after them while parents enjoy eating in peace upstairs! The kids have many different activities to choose from and of course their very own brunch. Wonderful service for parents and kids too!


Destination Riyadh Magazine together with Blue Abaya are hosting a ‘Name That Place’-Quiz to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s National Day, 23rd of September!

By recognizing the historically significant place pictured at the end of this post, you get a chance to win a Saudi-themed smart phone cover of your choice from the Inspired By Arabia store.  If you’re not familiar with the newly launched Destination Riyadh magazine, their concept in short: “City insight on the Go. A portable guide to Riyadh, with a splash of local lifestyle.” Many are familiar with its hugely popular sister publication Destination Jeddah magazine, the must-have city-guide magazine for all Jeddawis!



Which historical site in Riyadh is this?

 In order to participate, just type the correct answer (or your best guess) in the comments section in the following format: A, B, C or D. And that’s it! The winner will be drawn from all the correct answers!

photo (1)

Name That Place! Is it..

A) Murabba Palace

B) Diriyah City Wall

C) Masmak (Musmak) Fort

D) Qasr Al Hokum

The contest will run for three days, ending Wednesday, 25th September midnight KSA time. Winner will be announced on Thursday 26th September! To keep track of the contest, check the Destination Riyadh Facebook page, the Blue Abaya blog fanpage or the Blue Abaya Photography Facebook page.

The covers are available for the following phones: iPhone 5c, 5, 5s, 4, 4s, 3g, 3gs, iPod touch and Samsung Galaxy 4.

UPDATE from Destination Riyadh Team: ANYONE can participate, the phone cover will be sent to the winner directly!!

Only one entry per person please, Thank you and good luck!


Are you a new expatriate arrival in the Saudi Kingdom? Already been in Saudi Arabia for years, but never thought you should learn Arabic? Read these 12 points why you should learn the local language and get motivated to start today!

12 reasons you should learn Arabic:

  1. Make new friends and connect with people! Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world with over 20 countries that have it as their official language. Even after you leave the Kingdom or when travelling in the ME it will come in handy!
  2. Challenge yourself! Set a goal to learn the alphabet and basics of the language and then treat yourself to something nice. This will keep you motivated and focused.
  3. Exercise your Brain! Learning a new language is a great ‘workout’ for your brain! Not only will it stimulate you but also it will improve your memory.
  4. Don’t get fooled in the souk! Learning the numbers and basics for haggling will help you when dealing with the shopkeepers. arabic text circle 300
  5. Earn respect! Your Arabic speaking colleagues, clients, guests or business associates will be honored that you have taken the effort to learn their language and hold you in high respect.
  6. Bridge cultural gaps! Many Saudis would love to chat with foreigners but often the problem is the language barrier. Take down that barrier and be surprised!
  7. Know where you’re going! Sometimes when travelling in the Kingdom you will only see road signs in Arabic. If you’ve learned the alphabet you will be able to read the cities from the signs, how cool is that?
  8. Boost yourself-esteem! You will feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as your skills improve.
  9. Bond with your kids! Take the time to learn one word or letter with your children everyday. Buy a blackboard where you can practice at home. It will be fun to learn together and kids often beat adults in the learning game.
  10. Feel empowered! Your newly learned Arabic skills will make you feel more in control of your life as an expat in the Kingdom, you can now handle many everyday life situations yourself without getting frustrated.
  11. Impress your friends! Lets face it, learning a new alphabet and an exotic language such as Arabic sounds pretty awesome! The secret is that it really isn’t as difficult as people think it is ;)
  12. Your turn! Add to the list and let us know in the comment section what are / were your reasons to learn the beautiful Arabic language :)


If you’re still not convinced, check out also Blue Abaya’s post: Expats In Saudi Arabia And Learning Arabic.


This article was first published in the Women’s Skills Bureau September 2013 Newsletter.


When I first met Sinta, an Indonesian housemaid turned into a prisoner of a hospital room, her entire being had an effect on me that I’ll never forget. Sinta’s sincerity was so genuine it made her appear almost child-like in her trust of others. The kindness of her heart shone through the lovely but shy smile on her face. A smile that would light up the whole room and bring a special kind of glow to it. Sinta was one of the most approachable and accepting people I’ve ever met. She would make everyone feel at ease from the minute they’d meet.This is the first part out of three of her story which I think is too long and too much to digest in one post.

Find Part Two here. 

Final Part of Sinta’s Story here.


Sinta’s story of how she ended up living with “Mama Ameenah” in that tiny and murky hospital room was told to me by the Malaysian nurses on the ward. They and Sinta had become friends because they understood each others languages. Sinta spoke some Arabic too, but she was not fluent, nor was I when I first arrived in the Kingdom to work on a surgical ward.

Sinta had been in her late 20’s when she left to Saudi-Arabia’s capital Riyadh to work as a housemaid in a large Saudi household. She was from a tiny impoverished village, had no education and could barely read and write. She knew Arabic mostly from memorizing some Quran.

Sinta had a teenage daughter and a 9-year old son together with her husband, who by profession was a mechanic, but unable to find a job or support the family. They lived in severe poverty and something had to be done. It was Sinta who had decided she would go to the Saudi Kingdom to try to earn a living for the rest of her family as a housemaid. She’d heard it was good money, enough to send both her children to school, feed and clothe the kids, her husband and her own mother who lived with them in their small and humble house. Sinta had dreams. She wanted to ensure her daughter would be able to study and have a better life than she did and that her son would one day become a doctor. She was ready to sacrifice everything for their well-being.

Sinta’s new family was a typical upper middle class Saudi family living in a large villa in Riyadh’s suburbs with many family members under the same roof. Sinta’s main duty besides cleaning and cooking was to assist with the elderly mother who she affectionately called “Mama”. Her Mama was the sweetest woman and always treated Sinta with kindness and generosity. The rest of the family however did not share the same affectionate approach.

One of the sons with his family and a 40-year old spinster daughter lived in the same villa. When Sinta’s work with the Mama was done, the Mama’s children took care that she didn’t get a moments rest in the day. Especially the daughter, who spent all her days sleeping in, shopping and gossiping until late at night, would take advantage of Sinta’s kindness and hardworking attitude forcing Sinta to work until late at night serving her.
Sinta’s duties would never end but she did not complain. She just said alhamdulillah (Thank God) for what I have! A big and house to live in, food to eat, a soft bed to sleep in and money to send home.

During the six years Sinta had worked in the household, the son, who was also her sponsor, had never allowed her to go for vacation to meet her family. Her passport had been taken away on arrival. Sinta had been out of the villa on a few occasions to go to the store with her Mama. She’d been given a mobile phone but was hardly ever able to use it because she had to charge it from her salary of 600 SAR a month. Despite her difficult situation and unfair treatment she remained grateful and hopeful, believing her employer’s empty promises “soon you will get to go on vacation, just a few more months!”.

Sinta never had a day off, she was made to work by the spinster daughter on Friday’s too. She laughed when she told me of the one and only time she’d been given the day off. Sinta had been sent to the son’s second wife’s villa ‘to unwind’. In reality, she was made to clean there all day. But her Mama’s kindness and their friendship kept Sinta hopeful and patient that one day all her hard work would be rewarded.

Then one day her life changed forever. Sinta’s Mama had been ill for a while, complaining of abdominal symptoms. She’d been accompanying the mother to various doctors appointments and procedures to try find out what was the problem. The doctors had finally decided to schedule a gastroscopy for her after the relatives had pushed and insisted upon it for months.

When the day of the procedure came, the Mama had been leaving to the hospital without Sinta which left her heart-broken from worry. She was due to return in the evening. Before the Mama left the house she had asked Sinta to prepare all her favorite foods, as she would be so hungry from the three days fast she was put on prior to the gastroscopy. She promised Sinta they would have a big party when she came back. Sinta had been very pleased and went in the kitchen to prepare.

In the afternoon the family was alerted from the hospital, their mother had been rushed to the ICU because of complications during the procedure. Her heart had stopped. She was now unconscious and connected to machines, the doctors were unsure if she’d ever wake up.

Sinta rushed to the hospital together with the rest of the family. Sinta was so shocked and terrified of the sight of her Mama, lying lifeless in a maze of tubes and loud machines she’d never even imagined could exist that she had fainted on the spot. In the meanwhile the sons had been extremely angry at the hospital staff asking how this could have happened, demanding to know the reason that lead to her state.

The doctors told the family she was brain-dead and paralyzed. Because of an allergic reaction during the procedure, the mother had a major seizure which they were not able to control and it eventually lead to her heart stopping. They managed to revive her but she didn’t gain consciousness.

The sons were outraged when they learned that their mother had been given a drug she was allergic to. Their mother’s severe allergy to this particular drug was well-known by everyone in the family and had been documented and labeled everywhere on her file and electronic patient records. Despite all these precautions the staff had administered the drug intravenously (into the bloodstream) with the devastating consequences.

The family was understandably horrified, devastated and outraged, after all this was supposedly the Middle-East’s leading hospital, full of international expertise and the latest state of the art equipment. How could this have happened?! The family launched complaints, filed a medical error report against the hospital and they appealed their case with the Emir, after being rejected by the Ministry. They demanded financial compensation and for their mother to be taken care of in the same hospital for the rest of her life. The mother would require expensive medical equipment and around the clock medical care because of her state. All this was of course very expensive and required a medical professional’s supervision.

Perhaps from their anger, the family could not think clearly what was best for their mother. Having her stay long-term in a hospital setting would expose her to multiple risks, some even life-threatening ones such as multiple drug resistant bacteria. Her care on the ward would cost hundreds of thousands of riyals daily. They wanted the hospital to pay for their disastrous mistake.

Eventually the administration of the hospital had to bend to the family’s demand to admit their mother to a ward on the hospital permanently because of the cardinal error the hospital had made. Sinta was assigned to be their mother’s private sitter, never leaving her side or the hospital. Sinta ate, slept, prayed and showered in the room over four years. She hardly came out of the small dark room and never left the ward. It would become like a prison cell to her.

“Mama Ameenah” lay in her bed motionless, with the same expression on her face. Her eyes were often open and at times it seemed as if she heard and understood the conversation, but there was never confirmation that it was true. Sinta didn’t give up trying though. Sinta kept talking to her, relating to the daily events and played Quran tapes from her little recorder next to the bed. Since the hospital didn’t provide any kind of rehabilitative care, this was the only stimulation the patient ever got.

Sinta took care of the Mama as if she were her own mother. I was amazed by how her spirit had not been broken despite her fate. I found her positive attitude and thankfulness remarkable. As I watched Sinta hold the Mama’s hand, softly talking to her, I realized how this was something really special in a world full of cold and selfish people.

Part Two: My friendship with Sinta, planning for the future and her escape

Part Three: The world as Sinta knows it ends, Sinta’s disappearance

Top Ten Things To Do During Eid Al-Fitr Holidays In Riyadh
UPDATE 23rd June 2017: Blue Abaya wishes everyone blessed Eid Al-Fitr 2017! In Saudi Arabia the 25th June is expected to be the first day of Eid in 2017. Most companies and businesses in Riyadh will be closed for the first three days of the Eid celebrations. A few malls and restaurants remain open, but many times Riyadh dwellers find themselves puzzled during this time, what is there to do in the city during Eid?
Every year the Riyadh Municipality organizes various celebrations and festivals all around the city. There are events designed for families, some for ladies only and for men only. Most of the festivities concentrate on celebrating the Saudi heritage with traditional dances, music, poetry, foods, displays by craftsmen and craftswomen, exhibitions portraying the Saudi culture and traditional handicraft markets. Everyone is welcome to join these celebrations!
 For the full list of updated celebrations and locations for each year, visit the Ar Riyadh website or look out for the Riyadh Municipality Eid Al Fitr newsletter which is distributed in the large shopping malls before Eid.
  1. Participate in the King Abdulaziz Historical Center celebrations. Every year the biggest and best celebrations are held in a vast area spreading around the Historical Center buildings and the National Museum. Traditional Sword (Aardha) dances, Najdi music, songs, and poetry recital fill the warm evenings and nights in a beautifully decorated setting. Enjoy a picnic in the National Museum Gardens watching the fountain and light show. Children will enjoy playing on the grass fields and running through the cooling fountains.
  2. Explore the Qasr Al Hokum  Square festival area surrounded by Saudi history. Highlights of this festival, situated next to the Al Musmak fort and Deerah souvenir and antique souk, include traditional folklore tents, handicrafts markets, Saudi food stalls and lots of activities and games for children. This area is usually separated for men and women.
  3. Watch the Eid fireworks show organized by the Riyadh Municipality. The fireworks  schedule changes every year and information provided by Riyadh Municipality is unfortunately often incorrect and confusing. (Please check the schedule of 2016 from Arriyadh website or Eidalriyadh site . The best places to view the fireworks from are the King Fahad football stadium, the suspension bridge and the water tower viewing platform, located next to the National Museum.
  4. Dine outside with views to both Mamlaka and Faisaliyah towers which will be specially lit for Eid. Café Lenotre and Lusin Armenian restaurant on Centria Mall’s third floor both offer family seating areas under  the stars and cooling mists. Reservations during the first days of Eid are an absolute must.
  5. Check out the spectacular views from the Deerah water tower viewing platform. The tower is located inside the small amusement park next to the National Museum. From up here you can and get a bird’s eye view down to the festival area, the beautifully lit mosques, historical buildings, festive lights and decorations of the area. Also one of the best places to watch the fireworks from.  Admission into the amusement park is 10 SAR and an additional 5 SAR to go up the tower. If you’re aiming to see the fireworks arrive at least half hour early.
  6. Go to Historical Diriyah Bujairy Square to enjoy Eid celebration festival. Watch the Ardah dances in a historical setting. Lots of nice restaurants in the area like the Saudi traditional food restaurant Najd Village and Bab al Yemen.
  7. Spend a nice evening outdoors at Kindy Plaza Square inside the Diplomatic Quarters. A large plaza where kids can ride bikes, hover boards, roller-skate etc. Outdoor seating area for cafes such as Dr. Cafe. Beautiful Al Kindy Mosque and parks nearby
  8. Mingle with the local ladies at the Women’s festival building in the King Abdulaziz Historical Center. Mothers and daughters can have henna tattoos made, watch theatre and comedy shows, have face paintings made and the height of the evening a chance to watch Saudi women dancing and singing traditional Saudi songs.
  9. Men and children will enjoy the activities at the Show’s Square off exit 10 next to the AlSager Aviation Museum. This huge area has lots of motor sports and can be visited by the whole family. High Diving Show, motorcycle show, modified cars show, wall trampoline, flying trapeze, remote-controlled cars shows and competitions.
  10. Take the family or a group of friends for a fun day out in Thumamah sand dunes. Choose from Quad bike rentals, camel rides, kite-flying,horse back riding, or dune bashing and sand boarding. Rent an outdoor istirahah with a traditional Saudi tent and enjoy a meal by the camp fire or inside the air-conditioned tents.

The Holy month of Ramadan changes the daily rhythm drastically in Saudi hospitals. Basically the hospital, just like the rest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, becomes alive at night and quiets down for the day during the Muslim fasting month. Read more here on how the Saudis usually visit the sick at hospitals.

Needless to say the amount of visitors during Ramadan will at least double, especially during the last ten days. Visitors will come late and stay until early morning which is allowed because of the changed visiting hours. Visitors will bring along vast amounts of arabic foods to break the fast with like sambosa, all kinds of tiny pastries, cookies, dates, chocolates etc.

saudi woman hospitality ramadan

Large Saudi families come to the hospital to join in Iftar together with the sick family member.  It’s not uncommon to find the entire family eating with their hands, on the bed sheets spread out on the floors! Saudis will generously give the nurses a taste of everything, sometimes offering huge trays full of different sweets or salty snacks.

Another peculiar thing that happens during Ramadan is handing out money to nurses. Patient or relatives might slip Riyals into the nurses pocket or openly offer money anywhere from 10 to 1000 riyals at a time. The gesture usually makes nurses feel somewhat awkward and because of cultural differences might be misinterpreted to be some form of bribing. Nurses are naturally not supposed to accept the money very few will reject it every time especially because the person offering the money will become very upset if rejected and they can be extremely pushy and just stuff the pockets with the money. The reason behind this is Saudis wanting to give ‘charity’ and do good deeds during Ramadan and the families wanting to show their gratitude and appreciation to the nurse.

Only a few patients will be observing the Ramadan fast, and if they do, they will also abstain from all medications including injections and intravenous drugs during daylight hours. That makes it a bit difficult to accommodate the medication regime to the fasting timetables. Basically it means that the medications normally given around 8-9 am will be given at fast breaking time around 6:30 -7 pm. The next dose will be at midnight and finally just before the morning prayer at 4 am. This can cause problems with the efficiency of treatments with antibiotics and pain killers.

For some patients it’s fine to fast (health-wise) and it will not make their condition worse. Every once in a while there will be a patient who insists on fasting even if doing so will severely adversely affect their health. The patients don’t want to miss out on the blessings of fasting. Some are diabetic which means their blood sugar levels will be uncontrolled and it might put the patient in risk of coma, or they will refuse insulin injections resulting in sky-high blood sugar levels. Patients with bowel problems might get complications like obstructed bowel, liver patients may suffer irreversible consequences that may even need surgery and then there is the odd patient who will even refuse to be operated on.

Toward the end of Ramadan the emergency room usually begins to fill with patients suffering from bowel obstructions, liver coma, severe dehydration and so on. Many are elderly patients needing full time hospital care meaning that the hospital will be full to its maximum capacity and often patients are left to wait for an available bed in the EMS. Patients suffering from gastrointestinal diseases and disorders, diabetes, metabolic disorders and other diet controlled conditions further crowd the ER beds making it the busiest time of the year in the hospital. Nurses and doctors are often exhausted from the workload this month brings along.

The Muslim medical personnel will often opt to work night shifts to make fasting easier or alternatively if they wish to work days they can work shorter hours. The total amount of working hours during this month for Muslim nurses, doctors and other muslim personnel is also cut down. Generally there will not be any operations other than the most urgent ones.

The patients’ sitters will all usually be fasting and the hospital kitchen provides food for them as well as the fasting patients in the early morning hours. A three course ‘breakfast meal’ called sohoor will be distributed at 2 am well before the Fajr prayer.

The iftar meal, complete with dates, laban (buttermilk), soup, vegetables, rice and meat, dessert and juice will be distributed to the rooms at 6 pm. Even if a patient is not fasting, they will usually be up all night chatting with relatives, reading Quran or watching Arabic soap operas or the live televised show from the grand mosque in Mecca. This makes the night shifts exceptionally busy and hectic while the day shifts are slow paced and quiet.

I personally enjoy working during Ramadan, patients and relatives are in good spirits and it’s nice to spend some extra time with them in the rooms having some Arabic coffee and sweets. Generally the atmosphere is more laid-back and patients are not complaining as much as usual ;)

One of the most popular outdoors activities for locals and expats alike is going out to the nearby desert for some quad biking. Quads, four wheelers, sand buggies, whatever you call them, it’s always a blast to drive them! The best thing is women can also drive, even in an all-women groups.

The Thumamah sand dunes outside Riyadh are a popular place for renting quads on the weekends. There’s a stretch of over 20 km next to the highway lined with quad bike rental places. They also have Saudi style tents with their own private yards for rent which would be ideal for families. There’s camel riding, horse back riding and other desert activities to enjoy.

The rental guys will be helpful in choosing the best bike and showing how it works. If they see a group of women going out on their own sometimes they might come with you some distance in case you get stuck and need pushing help.

To reach Thumamah drive out of Riyadh toward the Janadriyah festival area, you will pass it and the King’s farm on the left hand side of the road. Continue on this road and you will soon see the sand dunes on the left of the road. The rental places are on the side of the road and they are easy to spot with the bikes lined in rows.
The further you drive out on this road, the better. There are literally hundreds of rental places here. The further out of town you drive the less people there will be around and the prices become cheaper. The sand dunes have less trash and there’s not as much disturbance.

When you see a nice spot just make a turn left to the dunes and drive to whichever rental place you like. It might be worth shopping around a bit for a better price. If you go on weekdays during daytime there will most likely be nobody else around. On the other hand weekend afternoons and evenings turn this place crazy busy, dusty and crowded!

Prices will range according to bike size from 100-300 SAR an hour. You can choose a bike with gears (recommended) or an automatic one. There are even very small bikes available for the children to try safely. You will need to get one of the larger size bikes to be able to climb the steeper hills and venture out to the dunes.

Bashing in the soft sand is really fun but can also be tricky. You need to be careful watching out for sudden steep hills, thorny bushes, holes and large pieces of trash.

Sometimes a nuisance for the female bikers are the “shabab”. These Saudi men are curious and persistent and will sometimes follow unaccompanied women around. To avoid this it’s best to go during daytime and to places further out away from the crowds. It would be advisable to have a male accompany you during weekends and the peak hours. I’ve noticed that if these men keep bothering you, the best way to send them off is to start taking their picture.

Look out for falcons which can often be seen hunting in this area.

Everyone gets stuck every once in a while! The trick is to avoid driving too slowly, especially when going uphill! Don’t stop the bike uphill, only on a flat area or slightly downhill. If you get stuck get off of the bike and try pushing the bike out slowly while giving a little it gas.

Women can remove their abaya out in the desert if they so wish and it’s actually much safer to drive without it! The abayas hems that might get stuck in the wheels and engine. I’ve managed to ruin three abayas like this! If you keep it on, make sure your abaya doesn’t get tangled and burned from the hot engine.

Unfortunately many areas of the beautiful Thumamah sands are ruined with trash left behind by bikers and campers. Don’t leave any trash behind and pick up any that you can!


I’m excited to announce some new developments for Blue Abaya! Some of you may have noticed that “Blue Abaya Photography” has started a fan page on Facebook. Blue Abaya has also opened a store on Society6, a network where artists all over the world sell their artworks.

The Blue Abaya Photography store offers Saudi themed art prints, stretched canvas, iPad covers, laptop and iPad skins, throw pillows and stationery cards. These items will be the prizes for Blue Abaya’s first ever giveaway!

To celebrate Ramadan, Blue Abaya wants to thank all the fans for the continuous support by offering you amazing prizes from the online store! These would be ideal as Eid gifts or Saudi themed souvenirs to take back home to your loved ones.

It’s very simple and easy to participate in the giveaway with just a click of your mouse. Anyone in any country can participate. There are different ways available how to earn ‘points’ which each count as votes, which the Rafflecopter program will automatically draw a winner from after the giveaway ends July 20th.


The only obligatory step is to ‘like’ Blue Abaya Photography on Facebook. Do this by signing into your FB account and then just click ‘like’ on the giveaway box below. If you’re already a fan on FB, just click on the “I’m a fan” option and you will be automatically added to the system. After doing this the program opens up the rest of the options!

You can tweet about the giveaway, pin it on Pinterest, or leave a blog post comment for example. You can share it everyday to earn more points, the more you have the better your chances to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There are three different prizes up for grabs worth up to 120 USD. You can participate in each giveaway once daily. To view the different giveaways, click on the little arrow on the side of the image in the giveaway box to browse.

The prizes are a choice of iPhone cover by Blue Abaya Photography, check out all the available designs here. The covers fit iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, 5, iPod touch and Samsung Galaxy S4.  Made of impact-resistant, flexible plastic hard case.
Here are some examples of the phone cases, there are over 20 designs to choose from in the store.

The second prize is an iPad cover of your choice from the Blue Abaya Photography line, check out all the available designs here. The iPad cover fits on iPad 2nd, 3rd, 4th Gen and iPad Mini.
These are some of the covers available in the store:

The third prize is a Throw Pillow size 16″x16″ of your choice from the Blue Abaya Photography store. Check out all the designs by clicking this link.
Some of the pillow case designs:


The Saudi summer is long and HOT! If you find yourself “stuck” in the Magic Kingdom for the summer, you will most likely be looking for activities to pass the time. Especially since schools are out and children are at home, families are desperate in finding things to do in Riyadh. One of my personal favorite areas in Riyadh is the Diplomatic Quarter, often referred to as “the DQ”.

The DQ was originally built to accommodate the all the foreign embassy staff and diplomats, but nowadays anyone can live there in one of the many residential areas. The DQ is so large it’s almost like a small town right next to Riyadh. The diplomatic quarters can easily be reached from the city center within 10 minutes by following the Ouroba rd to its end. Once you’re inside, it feels like any normal neighborhood anywhere in the world, lush and green and peaceful. You will forget you’re in Riyadh and it’s such a refreshing change to the concrete jungle. Check out this post for more info on the diplomatic quarter parks and gardens.riyadh dq discover


In general, everyone is allowed to enter the dq and the parks are public areas. When asked, many Saudis will remember weekends from their childhood spent playing and picnicking in the diplomatic quarter parks. In the 90’s these parks and gardens were hugely popular among Riyadhis, the DQ was the place to be on weekends. However the rules tightened a lot after the terrorist bombings about ten years ago. The National Guards who guard the entrance gate are known to be whimsical and sometimes illogical (in other words racist) of who they let in or not. There are no residential passes and sometimes residents of certain nationalities are given a hard time at the gate too.

If you come on weekday mornings you could say you’re visiting the embassy, and they should let you in. There are lots of companies and businesses that have their offices in the dq, why not combine running some errands in the Quarter with a stroll in the park afterwards. Unfortunately like most compounds in Saudi Arabia, the Saudis and Arab nationals will have the most trouble entering, especially on weekend evenings. In general the more ‘western’ you look, and if you speak English, the easier entry will be.

Best thing in my opinion for women is that abayas are not compulsory inside the DQ area.  This enables us women to enjoy outdoor physical activities even during the summer without dying from heat exhaustion! When entering the Diplomatic Quarter from Circle 1, there is an Info-point shortly after on the right hand side with two large maps of the area.

Here are Blue Abaya’s Top 13 recommended things to do in the DQ during the summer:

1. Enjoy a fun day at the wave pool. The Sports Club outdoor pool area is definitely one of Riyadh’s hidden gems. A large wave pool, children’s pools, water slides, sun chairs in a garden setting and a restaurant offering healthy meals and fresh juices. What more can you ask for? Ladies and men’s days separately, membership required to enter, visit the Sports club for the details. *Update: Some expat ladies have entered the wave pool without membership for a fee of 50sr this year 2014.

2. Take a long unwinding walk on the nature trail that encircles the diplomatic quarters. The track can be accessed from many places along the parameters of the DQ just look for the signs ‘walking trail’. One easy starting point is next to the Tuwaiq Palace. Along the 20km of the track,  you can find flora and fauna which are all endemic to the Arabian Peninsula. There’s breathtaking scenery of Wadi Hanifa on one side of the quarter and spectacular views to Ritz Carlton from the other side. During the summer, walking in the very early mornings or late afternoons and evenings is best. Luckily there’s a nice cooling breeze from the valley and you can take a rest at one of the numerous shady parks along the way.

3. Enjoy an outdoor breakfast at the beautiful Kindy plaza. Sit in the shade next to the cooling fountains and choose from a variety of different breakfast places such as Kudu’s, Diet Center, Dr Cafe, Quiznos and House of Donuts. Seating is open area, for singles and families alike. Children and teenagers can enjoy playing, bicycling or roller skating around the spacious plaza.

4. Visit the Prince Salman Science Oasis located off circle 4 inside the Sports Club facilities. The center offers interesting and fun activities for children and is a learning experience for the entire family. During the summer the center organizes various science courses for children.
5. Wander around the beautifully designed and lush gardens of the diplomatic quarter. Each has a unique design, indigenous plants and flowers, rest places, shaded walkways and playgrounds for kids.  All parks have attractive fountains to cool you down.

6. Visit the luxurious women’s only center Manahil for a day of pampering. In addition to the spa and salon services, Manahil also offers a design shop, restaurant, gym, indoor pool, dancing and swimming classes for children and adults.


7. Dine in a relaxed and open setting at the Italian restaurant Scalinis, located in the Fazari plaza. Delicious Italian meals, abaya free area and no reservations required. UPDATE: They opened a outside seating area and added Sushi to their menu in 2016.
8. Take your bike out on the walking trail for an amazing work out with the best scenery in Riyadh! Make use of the numerous exercise stations along the track. Women can bicycle her freely without having to worry about their abaya getting caught in the wheels.
9. Feast your eyes on the eclectic and fascinating architecture of the Diplomatic Quarter buildings. World renowned architects contributed to the diverse and unique architectural style faithful to the Najdi region. Be sure to check out the Cultural Palace, Tuwaiq Palace on the edge of Wadi Hanifa, the Fortress America and Kindy Plaza mosque and surroundings. From the embassies special mention goes to the Japanese, Ethiopian, and Indonesian embassies and the official residences of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Check the map at the info point (circle 1)for the embassy locations.
10. Play a game of football, basketball, cricket or any of your favorite sports at the Yamamah park located off circle 8. The park has a large and shady fountain area, huge playgrounds, a large grass field, soccer and basketball courts, a mosque and a track perfect for walks and bicycling in the shade.

11. Enjoy the cooling breeze and fantastic views down to Wadi Hanifa with its hundreds of palm trees and historical Diriyah in the distance from the Annafel park. This park, located on the walking track close to Tuwaiq Kindergarten off circle 8 has three waterfalls and is the perfect place for a picnic and the sunsets from here are amazing!

12. Take horseback riding lessons at the Al Aghar Equestrian club. The club also has a closed-off poolside area available for renting by the hour, open to non members and families. Separate ladies and men’s days.  Family day is Friday.

13. Enjoy lunch or a refreshing drink on Riyadh’s only non- segregated outside terrace located on the plaza off circle 7. Choose between Crepe World, Starbucks, Subway and Dunkin Donuts and sit under the cooling mists feeling worlds away from Riyadh’s hustle and bustle.

The following article takes a look at and analyzes a group of well-known blogs written by foreign wives of Saudis, the three popular expat blogs about life in Saudi Arabia; two American bloggers American Bedu, Susie of Arabia and one blogger hailing from Finland; the Blue Abaya blog. The article discusses what all these blogs have in common, how they offer a unique perspective, a window into the Saudi culture and family life behind the scenes. “Exotic Paradox- Expat’s Blogs in Saudi Arabia” written by Naima Rashid, was first published in Newsline November 2012 issue. 

Exotic Paradox: Expats Blog in Saudi Arabia 

“For several reasons, the Saudi culture is impenetrable to the outsider. An almost sacred guardianship of private space makes access to it pretty near impossible. A large part of life in Saudi Arabia takes place indoors or in metaphorical ‘chambers’ accessible only to insiders.socotra yemen profile pic

A curious axis around which are clustered three of the most interesting expat blogs is matrimony. Foreign wives married to Saudis have long held the banner high for cultural chronicling in the form of blogs. Their initiative created a niche in a territory that was virgin when they started, but which has since thrived. The best known among them come from cultures diametrically opposed to the Saudi culture, namely American and Finnish. “
“These blogs go by names seeped in a charge of orientalism that comes from juxtaposing evocations of opposite cultures and to some extent, a sense of free-spiritedness and rebellion (‘American Bedu’, ‘Susie’s Big Adventure: An American woman moves to Saudi Arabia’, ‘Blue Abaya: A Scandinavian Princess in the Magic Kingdom’). “

“…the authors, coming from Western cultures and a background in Western education, bring a natural ease of expression, documentary zest, outspokenness and an analytical bent of mind to bear upon the superset of their experiences in Saudi Arabia. Being married to Saudis, they have a direct canal to the culture they are tackling through the deep end – direct immersion. Where their clarity of observation, their willing embrace of a foreign culture, and the amusing contrasts between an Eastern and a Western culture meet, a thing of great value and beauty is created.”

 “The third blog in the trio is called Blue Abbaya. Much younger than the other two, “Laylah”, in her early thirties,  is a Finnish nurse married to a Saudi, living in Riyadh and blogging since 2009. Susie and Carol have openly divulged their identity, but Laylah blogs with more discretion, and while her blog is all about Saudi culture through the prism of her personal experiences, she doesn’t always divulge her personal coordinates as openly.”


“Her blog has a more distinct character than the other two, and her writing, detailed and diary-like. She has a very strong personality that comes across quite forcefully in her writings – witty, unforgiving in her sarcasm, sharp in her observations but aggressively positive in her conclusions. Between her spirit of forward motion, and her signature bite is the spice that marks her writing.”graphic-horse-outline


“Reading her blog, one traverses two regions equally mysterious to many – Finland and Saudi Arabia, and her blog pierces the mystery of both lands to offer us a window into both cultures through the eyes of somebody who embodies them both to some extent.


After surviving the tragic-comical challenge of a wedding à la Saoudienne, it’s been a mildly bumpy ride, to say the least, but her Finnish hardiness has helped her keep her feet firmly on the ground. Some unavoidable, amusing and enlightening comparisons between the Finnish and the Saudi way of life, whether they emerged unconsciously as survival tactics, or as a conscious reflection about the cultural polarity she embodies, make for some delightful traipsing for the culture vulture.

Scandinavian ice and deserts of Arabia are physical reliefs, but like all environment, they become landscapes of the mind at some point. In ‘Blue Abaya’, blue is the colour of the Finnish sky, and the abbaya is a cultural norm of Saudi Arabia. In its name and its nature, the blog is defined by the richly opposed but co-existing worlds that the author is part of, and the best and worst of which peppers her real and virtual space.


“In one post that went on to become a hot favourite, Laylah is choosing her make-up style for her first Saudi wedding. Before she concludes upon an understated European look, she runs her readers through some popular make-up styles, naming each one with her characteristic sly wit. The list includes the poison-ivy look, the Herpes look, the raccoon look, the peacock look, the angry owl look, the Boy George look, the spider look and last but not the least, the measles look!


As a general rule, nurses are great people to gossip with in Saudi Arabia. The nature of their work and the sheer range of exposure across all social classes that they have access to in the course of a working day make them great story-tellers. Perhaps, the best stories they have to narrate are those relating to royalty and its pomp and decorum  as they have witnessed in the corridors of the VIP wings in hospitals.


Some of Laylah’s most delicious anecdotes are about royalty are set in the King Faisal Hospital, Riyadh, where she works. ‘The Princess and the Pimple’ is a tale about a spoilt princess who wakes up one morning with a pimple on her face and throws a tantrum, as a result, her pimple is treated with more protocol than other human lives.


The Royal Morgue’ is an unforgettable Chekhovian sketch of what happens when a member of the royal family is deceased in a hospital, the image of princesses in expensive abbayas and smelling of high-priced attars accumulating like ravens around the body of the deceased and the nurses hiding in the corridors and making themselves scarce for fear of offending anyone from the royal family.


Unsurprisingly then, the most colourful yarns in Saudi Arabia, the most informative as well as the most entertaining, and the ones that rip open its cultural core, lie beyond the bland prose of newspapers, beyond the country’s few bookshops and television channels, along yet another diagonal axis.”

        –  Naima Rashid 


 The entire article can be read on Newsline, this is an excerpt from the original article.

For further information about the Blue Abaya blog please read this post: Blue Abaya Interviewed-What is life in Saudi Arabia really like? Check out Blue Abaya’s start here page.