Last weekend we visited one of my favorite spots in the desert just outside of Riyadh, a beautiful place I have coined the “Secret Lake”. Secret, because not so many people seem to know of the existence of such a hidden gem so close to Riyadh, which I think is actually for the better. Unfortunately many of the most popular, picturesque picnic and camping areas have been ruined by litter! One such example is another desert lake, Lake Kharrarah at the Red Sand dunes, which on the weekends hosts half of Riyadh for a picnic!
But not the Secret lake..not many people know about its location, which I think is good for protecting the nature of the area. Many places in Riyadh sadly have been destroyed because of influx of too much traffic, people visiting and littering the places. To keep the location generally “secret“, I won’t post the coordinates and map publicly. I would not want the destruction of Secret Lake on my shoulders.
UPDATE 2018 April: Someone has burned the forest at the Secret Lake and all the trees have been destroyed. There has not been enough rain this year and the lake is dry as of April 2018.
Back to the story about our visit to the Secret Lake in November 2012. During our previous trip to this amazing desert oasis in May 2012, the lake still had deep water in it. Surprisingly there was so much water that sea weed and even fish were living in it. I was amazed by this tranquil and green place midst the harsh dry landscape. The area seems like the last place you would ever find water in! The first time I visited Secret Lake was back in 2009 and it still looks pretty much the same, untouched by mass loads of picnic goers and trash.
However, when we visited the lake in November 2012, most of the water had dried up and in the lake’s place was a beautiful green meadow full of flowers. At the end of the lake there’s large green willows growing very tall reeds. A cacophony of birds and frogs can be heard there but mostly not seen.
These kinds of temporary desert lakes form after heavy rainfalls, normally occurring during the winter months. Because the surrounding area is so arid, all the rainwater flushes down the dry hills into the valleys, from where it travels to the lowest grounds forming seasonal lakes such as this one.
The wind blows softly through the reeds, swishing them back and forth. It looks like waves in the ocean.The sound is so peaceful, so calming.
I could stare at it for hours and not get bored!
Delicate like little snowflakes.
My friend Mandi who writes the blog Under the Abaya came with us and I’m so glad she enjoyed the trip despite the lack of water! After our little picnic we decided to climb up the hill to catch a better view of the lake.
My husband watched the babies next to the area we found water at, while Mandi and I made our way up the hill like nimble mountain gazelles (not).
A small sign of life peaking through from the rocks.
It was very quiet and we were now the only people there.
The sun was setting behind the hills and the light started to color the valley first a golden hew and then a beautiful pink color.
The view from the top is beautiful!
Mandi making her way down. Be careful of the loose rocks especially when coming down.
This area is rich in fossils because it used to be the bottom of the ocean some 50 million years ago. I found this rock which I call the “caterpillar fossil”.
The dried up river bed. We were in a hurry to leave the site shortly after sunset because it becomes very difficult to drive here in the dark. We had such a lovely time despite the lake being dried up! When we visited in November the winter rains had not come in yet and it had been a really hot summer, so that might explain the drying up of such a huge amount of water.
P.S You’d definitely need a SUV to reach the location because the roads are in terrible condition. With a normal car you’d be looking at a 1-2 km walk to the lake from where you must leave the car, which is not at all bad when the weather is nice!
PLEASE take all trash away with you! Please protect the Secret Lake and leave nothing else behind than your footprints.
UPDATE: Available now the ebook guide to the Secret Lake with GPS- coordinates, maps, directions and more!
UPDATE: January 24th, 2016. Lake is full of deep, clear water!
UPDATE February 19th 2016 Lake is still full of deep blue crystal clear water.
UPDATE: December 2016: There is water in the lake following November rains.
UPDATE 2018 April: There has not been enough rain this year to fill up the lake and it’s currently completely dried out. There’s also been a fire at the forest part and sadly all the trees have been burned down.
The Blue Abaya blog recently won gold at the Expats Blog Awards 2012! Woohoo!! I am so thrilled! A huge big shout out and thank you for each and every one of you who voted.
I want to take the chance to thank all the readers and fans out there for all the amazing support and positive feedback you’ve given me during the years. I’m really touched and even a bit overwhelmed with the blog love you’ve shared!
When I started blogging in 2010 I never thought (or wanted) my blog would become popular or win any awards, so that makes this extra special for me. I just wanted to share my experiences and spread some much needed positivity into the Saudi blogosphere. Soon I noticed writing made me feel good and it became a sort of outlet to my creative side so I continued.
Today, as a mom of two under two year olds, I barely have time to sit down anymore. I often feel frustrated and have so many ideas on my mind it seems like I’m going to explode if I don’t get to somehow express myself! I also have heap loads of photos waiting for watermarking and editing. There’s so many places I visited that I want to let people know about! Events I want to attend and then share my experiences about..
Blogging takes so much of my time it has started to feel like a job. If not full-time, then at least part time. The only difference from a “real” job is that I don’t get paid. But positive and encouraging feedback keeps me motivated and keep giving me reason to continue!
Some readers might remember a while back I wrote a humorous post exposing some hate comments called Blog Hate Mail: Hall Of Shame.
Thank God 99% of the feedback is positive and I’ve been told once you have people stalking your blog and writing anonymous offensive comments that means you’ve really made it. LOL I’m not sure if I agree with that observation, I think they’re just people with empty lives and nothing else to do!
I have decided to make a quick compilation of some of the blog love Blue Abaya has received during the years along with some of my favorite shots from around the Magic Kingdom..
Some of these comments were left on the Expats Blog page and others on various posts on Blue Abaya. I appreciate all comments, please keep them coming!
Here is the Blue Abaya Blog Fan Mail: Hall of Fame
“I love your blog, it makes me laugh at work when all I want to do is take cover. I find it witty, intelligent and extremely resourceful. I must admit that I often come here on a daily basis to check if there is something new. My advice to you is to keep writing as you are clearly blessed to be able to write so well. It would be haram if you were to stop.
Lotsa love and encouragement always,”
“Thanks for your wonderful blog. I lived in the kingdom for 9 years 77-86 and was a journalist for Arab News. Your blog helps me keep up with the changes–important for me as I frequently speak on the kingdom”
-Jean Grant author of Burning Veil
“Seriously, I thought my life ended after I moved to Riyadh this Summer, but after discovering your blog today, I realised there is so much fun to be discovered! So thanks so much for that (: Also, after a bit of reading, I can safely assure you that you’re aMazING! Eeek, I love what you write! Your positive tone, unwavering Eemaan, and refreshing outlook on life has presented Saudi to me in a whole new perspective.”
“You should write a book! seriously i would buy it asap you writing skills are intriguing and I’m sure you have so many stories to tell. Ever thought about it? You’ll give Jean Sasoon and her false stories a run for her money.”
“I’ve noticed that you surely use a LOT of time and work hard to create your posts. Your blog is so informative and rich, showing KSA from a different and thus interesting perspective. And the photos make it feel just like a free holiday in a country where I’ve never visited.
Anyway, keep up the good work, Laylah! The fact that someone plagiarizes you only proves that your blog is very good. ;)”
“I love your blog so much, I am from Canada and find it so interesting hearing a “western” view of the very different country of Saudi Arabia. I find it funny to see that the women in Saudi Arabia find Western women as interesting as I find them. If I could I would like to go to Saudi as you have described a very positive interesting and beautiful place. Keep on telling it the way it is as I look forward to reading your blog…I have read every post!!
-LauraLee from Canada
“you are the best example to follow and learn from .. Don’t give up. You bring up a high ratios of people via your style of writing, the correct beautiful words & eloquence, thank you for everything …I am sure that you will be rewarded for changing this world to better..”
“I spent more than a year in Riyadh struggling with the culture shock before I accidentally found Blue Abaya’s blog. It made me understand, be more aware, and laugh. It opened my eyes to see the positives in KSA and see the humor in the negatives. I look forward to each blog; it’s a family event for us to read the new blog together, laugh together, then discuss it. THANK YOU Layla!”
“When I moved to Riyadh from the US two years ago I was in culture shock and very depressed to be in such a foreign and strange place. Blue abayas blogposts helped me cope with the craziness and look at the negativity of this country from a different light. Layla put humour and sarcasm in such bizarre situations that made me only laugh and actually look fwd to hear about more experiences … Everyday is a new experience in Ksa… Love ya Layla hope u win!”
“This blogs makes you believe that ‘LIFE’ do exists in KSA :)”
-Mohammad Ali Sohail
“The best and the most interesting blog I have read so far. Talented writing about important topics in KSA and the writer has great sense of humor as well. Also the photos of the blog are amazing.”
“By far the best Saudi expat blog! Blue Abaya gives true insight on the pleasures and hardships of being an expatriate (woman) in Saudi Arabia, all the while maintaining a great sense of humor. This blog has had great impact on me personally, as well. I discovered it a year before moving to the Kingdom and started following it faithfully, as each post gave me courage and reduced my anxiety about moving to this foreign land. Not only that, but it inspired me to create my own expat blog. Thank you Blue Abaya, keep up the amazing work! :)”
“Blue abaya’s style of writing is witty and funny, she candidly describes exactly the same frustrations, trials and tribulations ex pats face living in the kingdom, she tells it so well! Keep up the good work!”
“Laylah tells us her real and personal experience inSaudi and that is why I love her blog. Although I may not totally agree with everything but she is one of the rare expats who truly embraces a different culture and doesnt complain too much hehe. She has a positive outlook on life and hat is how everyone should live be it in KSA or USA. Love you Laylah”
“Blue Abaya gives a wonderful insight into Saudi Arabian culture and isn’t afraid of being critical. It is always a pleasure to visit her blog because there is always something new and interesting to discover.”
“I nominated Blue Abaya for a listing and an award because it presents a real slice of life in SA, plus the photos are beautiful and Laylah is honest and insightful. Her photo journal at http://imagesofsaudi.blogspot.gr/ is also amazing. I don’t have much time, but I always make a point to stop in. You should, too.”
“Her blog opened new worlds and countries(Finnland, Saudi Arabia) to me, and reading differences and similarity brought me to be a person to adapt and accept differences in my own life as well. I love the way she expresses her experiences.”
“I am an avid fan…as others stated before, you have a unique style of communicating…open, funny and honest. I also live the experiences though your blog even though I have been living in KSA a number of years, guess am not as keen or adventurous…so it is fun to visit all the places from the comfort of my home LOL keep on blogging!”
“Laylah, just wanted to say that I adore your blog and check in a couple times each week to see if you’ve posted anything new. When I first stumbled upon it I was absolutely delighted because although I’m America, my Dad’s family is from Suomi. And I’m in grad school studying the Middle East and Arabic. You offer unique observations and help demystify Saudi. I even cited your blog for my undergraduate thesis about modernity in Saudi Arabia. Keep it up and let the haters hate!”
“If only, every culture around the world would have a Laylah.”
“I’ve been a reader for a while now and every time I come to your blog it amazes me. Your stories are interesting yet different compared to many other blogs, and at the same time your writings are honest, but Oh, for Pete’s Sake, you do your best trying to be fair. Afterall we Finns know a little bit about honesty, or at least we are supposed to. I don’t think many readers can get this.
I know it’s hard to get accustomed to a new country and their traditions and cultural settings. I’ve been thru that too. But you coming from Finland to KSA. I don’t think I could have done that. Too many restrictions, but yet you seem to look at the glass half full! Keep on writing!
Blue Abaya is a fantastic blog. The writing is entertaining, honest, and compassionate. The pictures are excellent, and the mood and feel of the blog transport me. I love the mix of cultures— glimpses of Finland and views of the Desert and real life in Saudi Arabia. It’s one of my very favorite blogs.
Thank you all for the blog love!
You’ve probably heard about the crappy customer service in Saudi-Arabia before. Disservice, un-service, no service, customernoservice..WHAT service?
To give you a better idea of how things work (or don’t work) in the Magic Kingdom, read this experience with SAMSUNG Saudi Arabia customer services. More specifically Samsung in Riyadh and their washing machine maintenance and repairs. UPDATE: Since this post was published, I’ve tried posting it numerous times on Samsung Saudi Arabia’s Facebook page, Samsung KSA on Twitter and every time instead of someone contacting me and apologizing (at the least), the Samsung people have just deleted my comments! And then blocked me too. Same happened to friends who tried to post on Samsung KSA social media accounts complaining about their service. I think they owe us a new machine after putting us through living a month without a washing machine, with a newborn baby and a 1,5 year old, and both babies sick with vomiting and diarrhea.
Sometimes I’m lost for words when describing these things. It makes my head hurt and I can feel how my brain cells are slowly dying from trying to handle the ultimate stupidity. I try not to think about it too much in fear of permanent brain damage.
Let me tell you that writing this post literally made me sweat in agony. Experiencing this in real life however was something else altogether. The customer service here can only really be understood by someone who has had the “privilege” to experience it.
Like those moments when you called the plumber to come “plumb” something, he comes and pours water on it and says “ma’m it’s plumbed”.
Read our ordeal with our broken Samsung washer-dryer.
The Curious Case of Samsung Godfathers and Washing Machine Eating Mice of Saudi Arabia
Our a little bit over a year old Samsung washing machine breaks. An error message appears on the computer screen when the machine tries to start rinsing cycle. I inform my husband. We suspect a problem with the drain or filter. Husband calls plumber and cleans filter.
Plumber arrives, checks drains. Pours water in them. “Kulu kweis. Mafi mushkila.”
Husband calls Samsung maintenance service telling them our machine is broken. They promise to send “someone”.
The first Samsung maintenance dude arrives. Cannot diagnose problem, finds no issues, machine appears to be working when he checks. Note he checks the machine with no laundry in it. DUH!
An hour after his “check-up” I run a cycle of laundry, it happens again, husband calls him to come back. Dude says he will come back Saturday and order the spare parts to fix the computer board. As if the problem is in the computer screen itself and not the actual machine. Silly me for thinking that when an error message appears, it means there’s a problem somewhere else. The maintenance dude naturally knows what he is doing right. RIGHT?
After about 192 calls to Samsung that week the same dude finally comes and changes the computer board. They test it, now with laundry inside (which my husband insisted to put in) and it seems to work. Charged 700 SAR for all this.
I start doing laundry. The same freakin problem comes up and I scream a little bit inside. I am starting to have a huge pile of laundry by now. The laundry room has started to stink.
Husband calls Samsung and says the machine is broken again. “We will send someone” they say.
The someone comes after about 36 phone calls to Samsung asking when is mr. Someone coming.
He tries to check the machine, opens up the backdoor and takes some wire out.
Diagnosis: The lock and the computer board has to be changed.
Excuse me? Samsung dude #1 already fixed it and we paid for it.
Dude #2 says when dude #1 changed the computer board he should have also changed the lock because if he doesn’t they’re both going to break.
OK so you’re telling me he kind of un-fixed it? Like, as in BROKE it more?
Dude #2 leaves saying he has to now order the spare parts from somewhere (maybe somebody will hand carry them from China, on a donkey?)
Husband calls Samsung, nobody knows anything.
Laundry room has now started to seriously stink. Stink as in MOLD, MILDEW stink. Plumber comes. Says the nasty smell is coming because we’re not using the washing machine which normally would flush the drains. Pours water on drain, leaves.
Thank you Samsung for the lovely TOXIC home odors.
The same dude comes back again after a few days with a co-dude. They change the computer and the lock. Next he cannot locate the wire which he had removed the first time for reasons not understandable to people with logic. (try looking in your arse perhaps? ) After an hour searching an area of about 3 square meters they finally relocate the mysterious wire. Dude #2 puts the thing back in.
Machine does not work.
Another two hours goes by and either dude #2 or #3 can figure out what’s actually wrong with the machine.
“Too much work, can’t be done here” he says. “we need to take it to the workshop“.
Husband says sure, take it. “Oh but we don’t have a car big enough to transport things in.”
Wait a second, WHAT? You’re telling me you’re a maintenance dude for SAMSUNG which mostly makes large home appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators, and you drive around in what? A Morris Mini or a Toyota Corolla? Somebody please tell me this is a joke right?
They leave and say “someone” will call you tomorrow.
Big surprise! No news from Samsung! Husband gets upset and refers to Samsung customer service as “piece of crap”. He calls them to schedule a pick up. Samsung Riyadh say next available appointment is following Monday. This is totally unacceptable after waiting two weeks already and especially after the unprofessional maintenance disservice. Husband demands to talk to manager. “No manager here sir”. Husband asks to leave a message for the manager to call him on Saturday.
The smell of mold in the laundry room is getting stronger and stronger. Plumber arrives. Pours water in drains and also on the floors. Smell of mold then spreads to entire apartment.
Toddler is now down with a bad flu and vomiting all over the place.
Saturday rolls along.
Husband receives SMS from Samsung Saudi call center saying your appointment has been CANCELLED. Husband goes nuts. Is now referring to Samsung maintenance as “piece of s**t”.
Calls Samsung, asking for maintenance manager. The employees at call center are all Saudi females with the same default replies:
“we don’t have a maintenance manager, only a call center manager”
“we can only reach the manager by email”
“I will send the manager an email and he will get back to you”
So to reach these mysterious managers (all Saudis of course), who seem to enjoy the status similar to some sort of untouchable, unreachable “mafia Godfathers”, the call center ladies have to send emails.
Nobody knows where these “Godfathers” are located or what they look like.
The Samsung Godfather then either gets back to you, or doesn’t, depending on his mood or how busy he is with his other ahem, “businesses”.
Later that day, the phone rings. Lo and behold, it’s the SAMSUNG Godfather. He listens to my husbands complaints and promises to call back. The Godfather named Raed Al-Something NEVER calls back. He probably got busy smoking cigars or just didn’t bother.
The toddler is very sick now, vomit and diarrhea is everywhere, no washing machine. Funtimes!
Husband calls Samsung customer service call center everyday, over and over. Same monotonous replies from the call girls. No signs from Godfather.
Baby is still sick.
Plumber arrives to “flush the drains”. This time is met by crazy Finnish woman who tells him some facts about plumbing, drains, mold, moisture and health. After the Plumbing-101 quick course the plumber laughs in disbelief but does what the woman instructs him and opens the drain up. He tries to remove the mold and then pours Chlorox in the drains. The smell is gone but is replaced with dangerous chemicals.
Fed up and furious, husband decides to locate the secret office of the Godfather. He goes to the Riyadh Samsung maintenance manager in person on Wednesday morning. Husband is now referring to Samsung customer service as “piece of *#%# s**t”.
The Godfather, Mr. Raed Al-Hamaad is smoking cigars in his office when husband enters. It is hard to see the Godfather from all the smoke in the room. The Godfather seems very pre-occupied and doesn’t look up from his computer screen the entire while husband rants about our situation. He only nods and writes something down. I guess he was busy reading emails.
The same day around 2 pm someone calls saying he’s on the way to pick the machine up. Really? Could this be it finally? Did the Godfather push some buttons?
The Samsung dude #4 asks for directions and husband explains the way to Diplomatic Quarters. The dude does not know where it is. The hero gets lost and calls husband. They try to figure out where the dude #4 he hasn’t the slightest clue where he is. Husband spends the next hour on and off the phone trying to locate the hopeless case. The Samsung dude is Yemeni so his understanding of Arabic is not the problem.
It’s 4 pm now and we do not know where he is nor does he know where he is, other than it’s bound to be somewhere in Riyadh. Husband asks the Samsung dude to stop somewhere on the side of the road and give the phone to someone around him. He does this and then husband tells the random person on the road that this clueless dimwit needs to be sent into the DQ. Turns out the dude was right next to the gate all along but didn’t realize (or know how to read).
A stubborn camel would’ve made it from the SAMSUNG store into DQ by this time.
Husband specifically instructs the samsung dude what to say when entering at the gate and IF the security doesn’t let him in, to STAY at the gate so husband can fetch him. It’s now nearing 5pm and there’s no sign of the dude, husband calls 15 times in a row before he finally picks up.
The dude left. Went back to the store. AFTER 3 HOURS OF DRIVING AROUND YOU FINALLY FOUND IT AND THEN YOU LEFT? O-M-G.
Turns out the Godfather had not sent one of his official men but an Iqama-less random Yemeni dude to us. Which the gate security naturally turned away. Husband is now referring to Samsung customer service as “%$#@ piece of *#%# s**t”.
Husband leaves to Samsung store to kill people but on the way there Mr Someone calls him says we are on the way. They actually come, make it inside the gate and have a big enough car to take the machine. “A few days”, they say.
Newborn baby is now sick. Smell of mold still lingering in the house. Smelly laundry in the baskets and on the floors.
Plumber comes and says “you need a washing machine”. You don’t say??
Saturday rolls around again, husband calls and Samsung says tomorrow, inshallah. We’ve all heard that before. The next day it’s still being fixed. Same thing the next day.
Without asking if anybody is actually home, another Samsung dude calls in the middle of the day and informs they’re on their way to bring the machine back.
Machine arrives and the dude starts checking if it works. I tell him we need to put laundry in it and wait the entire cycle to see if it works because the problem arises when it’s full of water and clothes.
He doesn’t get it and keeps pressing on the buttons. I try to explain again, this time speaking veeryy sloooowly. Now he thinks I don’t understand how a washing machine works and starts explaining the process in full detail. I give up trying to explain and hope for the best.
Out of interest I ask him what caused the problem in the machine. He tells me it was…..
wait for it…
A MOUSE. A mouse that had chewed up the wires in the machine and gobbled them all up. EXCUSE ME? A mouse ate my washing machine?
Wait a sec..You’re telling me a mouse entered my house? A house that’s full of cats? Wouldn’t they kill the mouse before it passed by all the delicious foods awaiting in the kitchen cupboards and made its way to the irresistible washing machine wire it was craving to chew on? Would it not leave droppings and some signs of itself?
Has anyone ever heard of a washing machine eating MOUSE before? I thought so. Do mice even live in Saudi-Arabia?
I felt so sorry for him for not coming up with a better excuse. It might have been more convincing had he blamed at least a gerbil because I had gerbils as pets when I was a kid and boy do they know how to chew things up. But a mouse? Get real dude. So DUMB. It’s like when a seven year old comes to his parents saying “a mouse chewed up my homework”.
I have a pretty good idea who “chewed up” that wire, Shamsung!
Well at least the machine seems to be working now and I don’t know what we would’ve done without our amazing friends and neighbors who helped us do the laundry during this whole anguishing ordeal.
What words would you use to describe this service?
A few months ago I was nominated for the Expats Blog Awards 2012 by a Californian expat Kat who writes the Living In Greece blog. A big thanks for her for the nomination and also for letting me know of this new expat blog portal!
Do check out her excellent blog (and of course vote for her too!) here: http://livingingreece.gr/
I got so busy with my newborn I totally forgot about the competition until recently when I saw other bloggers posting about it! There are many great expat blogs nominated as well, American Bedu, Jeddah Blog, and Undertheabaya to name a few. Honestly speaking I think American Bedu should win because she is like the queen of the expat Saudi expat blogs :)
But if you like Blue Abaya and would like to give me a review then you can do it here: http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/566/blue-abaya
I would really, really appreciate it!! It’s worth browsing through the site to find more blogs and info on the countries too.
The competition is partially based on reviews left by the fans and readers so I would really love if you guys could leave comments and feedback there! Just a short sentence saying why you like Blue Abaya and why it should win the best Saudi expat blog title.
On a side note, I have started to post images on my photo blog again! I can’t promise to post there as often as before but will try my best. http://imagesofsaudi.blogspot.com/
I have recently started a Facebook page for Blue Abaya too! I wish I had done that when I started but better late than never! I’m posting about events and things to do around Riyadh as well as just everyday Saudi life, photos and random stuff on there. http://www.facebook.com/BlueAbayaBlog
Thanks to all the fans and readers out there around the world! I love hearing the encouraging feedback from you and it gives me so much motivation! Now if I could only find the time to post more! Next week I will be in Dubai and you can follow our road trip there on my FB page. See you there!
Thank you for being there for us from the moment you heard we were just a tiny little peanut growing in mommy’s belly. Thank you for helping mommy during her pregnancy and especially for taking natural childbirth classes with her and becoming a certified labor coach to help us come to this world. We are very proud of you. Thank you for being there when we first opened our eyes and saw you and mommy for the first time. Thank you for protecting us from all the unnecessary interventions at the hospital and for giving us a peaceful and safe journey and first few days into this world.
Father’s Day is celebrated in Scandinavia on the second Sunday of November which was this previous Sunday. Happy Father’s day to my own father and to my amazing husband who gets to enjoy two Father’s Days a year! But he deserves it! I want to dedicate this post to my dear husband and the father of my children.
On this Father’s Day we want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. You are the world’s best dad!
Thank you daddy for all the times you rocked us to sleep in your arms, even though you were so tired yourself. Thank you for all the hours you spent walking around trying to help us sleep and for the lullabies you sang to us. Thank you for reciting Quran over us when we were sick or tired and easing our discomforts. Your voice is like magic to us. Thank you for letting mommy sleep in on weekend mornings and for the special times we spent together playing.
Thank you baba for making me breakfast every morning and taking me to daycare. Thank you for all the fun times we spent at the park, sliding, climbing and exploring the places. Thank you for reading me a bedtime story every night, it is the best moment of the day when I get to lay my head on your shoulder and sleep. I will always remember those precious moments with my daddy. I love you baba you are my habibi.
Thank you baba for never ever loosing your temper with us and always having so much patience with us even if we were driving you up the walls.
Thank you isi for learning some Finnish language and for understanding how important our other roots and culture are. The best memories from summer are from our other home country with you at the summer house, thank you for taking us every year.
Thank you for all the kisses and hugs and love and affection you shower us with. They mean more than any gifts to us and make us the happiest and luckiest children in the world. When we are older we will take care of you. We love you always, daddy.
Il Terrazzo is a lovely outdoor buffet restaurant in the very heart of Riyadh. This Brazilian barbecue restaurant is situated on a large terrace overlooking the fountains and courtyard of Rosewood hotel Al Faisaliyah. You can dine under the stars while enjoying a fantastic view of the Globe on top of the Faisaliyah tower.
This is my all time favorite restaurant in Riyadh and I’ve been to it numerous times. It’s always been a big hit to bring our first-time visitors to Riyadh to Il Terrazzo.
During the hottest summer evenings there are cooling mists and fans on the terrace, while in the coldest winter months they offer warm blankets to snuggle under the heaters. A rarity in Riyadh, this terrace is not gender-segregated or “boxed-up” but totally open and mixed with lively music is playing in the background.
The ambiance here is relaxed and as “normal” as it gets in conservative Riyadh. Large groups of expats can often be seen dining here. The laid back atmosphere and beautiful setting makes Il Terrazzo a popular choice among couples for romantic date nights.
At the center of the restaurant there is a buffet island with salads and appetizers on one side and desserts on the other. At the table the customers will be served to side courses such as rice, vegetable and potato dishes accompanied with different sauces from a revolving multi layer tray, which you can combine with the different meats. The open fire-barbecued meats are served to the table at frequent intervals by the friendly and always smiling Kenyan waiters.
The waiter will serve a different meat on each round from a long bbq stick. The variety of meats range from beef, lamb, goat, chicken, fish, beef, kudu, jumbo prawns and even camel. It could be said this restaurant is not for vegetarians! They give you a card which has a green color on one side and red on the other which, when flipped to the red indicates to the waiter that you’re done with the meats.
For starters indulge in the 5 star salad buffet full of fresh colorful produce. This is by far the best salad bar in town in terms of variety, freshness, quality and presentation. Additionally there are soups and freshly baked breads to choose from. The drinks you order separately and they have a great Saudi Champagne and some excellent non-alcoholic wines on offer too.
You will literally feel like bursting from all the juicy meats, combined with the tasty side dishes on offer, but be sure to leave space for dessert! The dessert buffet is diverse and you can find high quality freshly baked cakes, pastries, puddings, chocolates and some Arabic sweets as well as specialty desserts. The desserts are presented in beautiful ways and usually they come in small portions which is great if you want to taste more than one or two different ones. A variety of fresh exotic fruits are also available. Everything can be topped off with a choice of sauce!
If by now you are not ready to be towed out with a Toyota pick-up truck, there’s also an ice cream bar with a choice of delicious flavors and more sauces!
The buffet costs 200sr per person excluding the drinks. The restaurant offers a nice Saudi champagne and for those who want to splurge a bit, an excellent selection of non-alcoholic wines and sparkling wines which will be served from a standing ice cooler.
Another great thing about this restaurant is the professional and helpful service provided by the friendly African waiters. If informed beforehand they will sing a Happy Birthday song while playing African drums and a small Birthday cake with sparkling candles. Certainly a night to remember! Keep in mind Il Terrazzo can only be visited by making a booking and it’s advisable to do so well beforehand for weekends and bigger parties. The buffet starts at 8pm every night continuing to around midnight.
For more restaurant reviews go here: http://blueabaya.com/p/riyadh-restaurant-reviews.html
Food: **** 1/2
Value for money ****
Toilet cleanliness: *****
Kid Friendliness: ****
Romance Factor: *****
I’m so happy to announce that we were blessed with a healthy baby boy a week ago. Everything went well with the labor this time around, thank God we were able to avoid another awful birthing experience in Saudi Arabia. We were lucky and blessed to have a beautiful, all-natural birth with a midwife. Something which would be a given in my home country Finland, where most hospital births are handled by our highly educated and trusted midwives (Finland has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world) as opposed to the greedy, cesarean section-pushing obstetrician which are the norm in Saudi Arabia, and all over the Middle East. I must say I could not have succeeded in having a VBAC without the support and presence of my husband, my own certified labor coach (for real!). It was the most amazing experience of our lives. We are so proud of our little peanut, his birth weight was 4 kg and he was 53 cm long.
The little man is keeping us very busy.
The hospital we went to is a large private hospital in the center of Riyadh. The reason we went there was actually to be able to have the labor with a western midwife who works there as a Head Nurse, as opposed to a doctor which we would be forced to have in any other hospital. My first delivery in another large private hospital in Riyadh ended up being one of the worst experiences of my life. After 26 hours of labor we were pushed and bullied into having a C-section. So we were really hopeful to have a VBAC this time, our midwife was very supportive and encouraging, saying we had a 80-90% chance of succeeding.
I had been told by all the doctors I had seen (there were over 15 in different hospitals all over Riyadh which I went to in search for a pro-natural pro-VBAC physicians) for the entire nine months, that this would be practically impossible. These physicians only discouraged me and pushed me for another c-section. Some told me I was crazy, or stupid to even think of trying to have a natural delivery after a cesarean. They said my uterus would rupture and the baby (and maybe even myself) would DIE. Listening to this same crap for months literally had me feeling hopeless and with little trust in my abilities to birth “normally”. I had lost most of my hope to actually succeed in avoiding another c-section, and in most likelihood would have ended up having another “emergency cesarean” if it weren’t for my awesome husband. Side note, we took birthing classes for 12 weeks when we were expecting our first-born, check out AMANI birth if you’re interested in childbirth classes in KSA. I highly recommend them.
Birthing in Saudi has become such a business it’s actually sad to see how far people have gone. Many if not most of the women going to private hospitals are now opting for elective c-sections. Having experienced both a natural birth and a c-section, I cannot fathom how anyone would choose to have the surgery if they don’t have a medical reason for it. That said I did have a nightmarish experience. C-sections are very hard to recover from compared to normal delivery and major abdominal surgery is a huge risk both to the mothers and the babies. The c-section rate in Saudi-Arabia is sadly very high, one of the highest in the world.
All this laboring business has somehow become about making the delivery most convenient for the mothers (although I still don’t see how major abdominal surgery would be convenient for anyone). Nothing about child-birth seems to be natural anymore, it’s all about getting the baby out as “easy” as possible with least damage down there to the woman and then after the birth going overboard and showing off. Many Saudi women are so concerned that their husbands would take a second wife if they get damaged from childbirth and this is even openly discussed among women here which came as a surprise to me.
I was shocked how the hospital was offering all sorts of “vanity” services to mothers who have just delivered, as if the baby itself is secondary importance. Most important thing here seems to be looks. The hospital catalog was more like a five star hotel directory. The services on offer tell a lot about the priorities of women giving birth nowadays.
Where are the most important service for new mothers; breast feeding support and lactation consultants? How about nutritional advice and exercise support? What about informing mothers of post partum depression symptoms and how to get help? Which of these services actually support bonding of a healthy mother and a baby?
The sad truth is breast-feeding is not at all encouraged and all newborns will be offered formula from day one, unless the parents specifically refuse it. Even if parents specifically refuse formula feeding, the baby is still at high risk to be fed formula while the parents are not watching. The nurses will secretly give it in the nursery just to keep the babies quiet, or because doctors ordered it for “low blood sugar levels”. We always kept our babies in our room at all times and watched them if they were in the nursery for doctor check-ups. There is no respect for parents wishes in most Saudi hospitals, sadly.
What normally happens here is infants will spend most of their time in the nursery, where nurses change diapers and give formula feeds, then bring the tightly swaddled babies to the rooms for viewing.
We were actually told by the pediatrician that our baby was in fact starving and NEEDED formula. Unbelievable. How did the human race survive without these genius doctors, I wonder? We of course refused and they got even more upset. For the record our baby has gained 200 grams in just six days on breast milk only, despite the fact that infants normally LOSE weight for the first two weeks.
Only in Saudi? In-room maids and private nurses so that mothers don’t have to “lift a finger”.
The most shocking service to me was the piercing of the newborn babies ears “while the sleep”. In my country it’s simply not common at all and girls get ears pierced at the around the same time they would start doing other “beautification” such as wearing make-up. So to me personally, piercing a babies ears has always been strange, but I understand that it’s a cultural difference. But to do it on the first days..and while the baby is sleeping? As if they want to say babies will not wake up to having a piece of their earlobe chopped off?? Quite frankly in Finland this would be categorized as child abuse.
I’m all for women being able to look and feel beautiful after delivery! It surely makes us feel better after all those 9 months of feeling bloated and what else..But maybe this is going a bit overboard. It’s not Oscar night, it’s a special time with your baby.
The price of this service “Elite package” is mind-blowing. 5200 SAR for room decorations! That’s almost 1400 US dollars! For the love of God I just don’t see the point. Even if you swim in money, it’s just too much. I would like to see how the bed of mother is decorated with flowers, crystals and lights, it must look like a spaceship.
And after they are done entertaining the guests for a good 4-6 days..How to get all this stuff out of the hospital?? Answer: Hire a TRUCK.
My husband had ordered these balloons for me and the baby, I thought it was so sweet of him, even though I told him to please not waste money on it. I know in Finland people would probably laugh their butts off if they saw someone bring all these balloons to the hospital, but in Saudi these are actually really modest!
And now I’m off to feed our little prince again!
In case you haven’t heard of them, InterNations Expat Community is a very useful site aimed at expatriates residing in Saudi Arabia (or anywhere in the world). InterNations offers a platform to share information, network, meet other expatriates and find interesting places and things to do. The Inter Nations community and forum require you to send request to join, which you can do it for free here: http://www.internations.org/saudi-arabia-expats. Once you’re in you can join all kinds of activity groups, tours and and ask questions from experienced expatriates in your area.
Blue Abaya is one of the InterNations recommended expat blogs and I did a short interview with them some while ago. You can read it on the InterNations site as well.
INTERNATIONS INTERVIEW WITH LAYLA, AUTHOR OF THE POPULAR EXPAT BLOG BLUE ABAYA
– Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Saudi Arabia, etc.
I’m a Finnish medical professional who moved to Saudi-Arabia four years ago for a position in a large government hospital. Originally the plan was to come for one year and then go back home, but you never know where life will lead you! Read what happened to me in this post: How I met my Saudi Prince
– When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I actually first started a blog about Saudi when I relocated in 2008 but I only wrote a few times and then deleted it (which I now regret because it was full of those funny first encounters of Saudi culture) because I simply did not have the time to continue. I started again after my life had settled a bit from the hectic first two years. After reading so many negative and biased views from other blogs, I wanted to write about Saudi in a more light hearted but also realistic perspective and to help expats find activities around the Kingdom. Having a Saudi husband gives me a special insight into both the local and the expat life of the Kingdom.
– Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I like some posts about Saudis I’ve encountered as patients most and then the cultural comparisons of the Finns and the Saudis are always fun to write!
– Tell us about the ways your new life in Riyadh differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Yes it differs a lot of course! There are some things that are better now, some worse like the obvious no driving for women. I find the relaxed pace of life here is more suitable for my nature and I love the weather (except sandstorms!). Everyone experiences culture shock; people just go through it differently. I think I had an easier time than many because I had previously lived and worked abroad and was used to scenery changes since childhood.
My culture shock presented itself as an unexplained anxiety and restlessness which I treated by keeping myself active and making many friends as well as getting to know and understand the local culture better.
– Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Saudi Arabia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think I was fairly well prepared, but could have read up more on the local customs and culture and especially religion before coming! I was in the impression that the hospital’s three week orientation program would prepare us but I was very wrong! Knowing just the basics of Islam I think should be included in the orientation especially the medical professionals would benefit from it greatly and it would prevent many misunderstandings from occurring.
– Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh there are so many stories! I think some of the funniest happened with patients and lack of understandings of each other’s cultures. Encounters with Bedouin patients would be among the funniest, because their style and outlook on life is just so different from ours. I have written about many such experiences on the blog :)
– Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Saudi Arabia?
1. Keep your mind open, always try to take things with a pinch of humor and surround yourself with positive people.
2. Try and find out as much as you can about local customs and culture before you come and once you’re here, ask the locals and get to know them. Don’t get stuck in the closed (minded) expats circles only.
3. Keep in mind that although this is a Muslim country not everything you see around you is from Islam. Don’t judge the book by its covers or the religion by some of its followers. Always try to find out for yourself and don’t listen to or believe in the rumor mills.
– How is the expat community in Riyadh? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is very lively and there are many different nationalities to make friends with. Unfortunately some nationalities prefer to mostly socialize with their “own kind” and sometimes very tight knit groups form. Saudi Arabia, I’ve noticed, has the tendency to make people feel very patriotic and hold on to their own customs and beliefs very rigidly. This can unfortunately lead in some cases to the expatriate becoming extremely negative towards the host country.
Some western expats that live in closed compounds hardly ever interact with other nationalities let alone locals, which I think is a shame. There are of course many like-minded expats out there who have no problems making friends across borders, ethnicities or religions which makes Saudi-Arabia such an amazing place to make new friends in. I have made true friends from around the world here and am truly grateful for that. It was one of the reasons I came here!
– How would you summarize your expat life in Saudi Arabia in a single, catchy sentence?
Life in the Magic Kingdom is full of surprising adventures and undiscovered beauty for those who seek them!
The Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia celebrated its 82nd “birthday” or National Day on Sunday the 23rd of September 2012. As usual, the streets were full of Saudis celebrating the National Day. In addition to everyone having Sunday off, King Abdullah had given an extra day off for government employees meaning many people got to enjoy a four-day weekend in Saudi Arabia.
All the main streets and roads were lined with Saudi flags. There must be literally tens of thousands of them. I wonder where they store them afterwards?
This year people had already began celebrating on Saturday and the streets flooded with cars flying Saudi flags and people hanging out of them. Tahlia street was fully packed with cars and young men dressed in the most creative outfits. Radio stations were playing patriotic songs and songs praising King Abdullah. Everything seemed to have turned green, including the Faisaliyah and Kingdom towers.
We went out on both evenings to see the celebrations. According to Arab News article there would be celebrations in Kindy plaza at the Diplomatic Quarters where thousands of Saudi flags would be distributed and there would be a special program there. We live nearby and went to check it out, there was nothing there to our disappointment! Strangely the article also said malls such as Panorama and Hayat would have programs for kids, but in reality the malls remained closed on Sunday. I wonder how many people went all the way to these locations only to find out there was nothing there.
Read on to find out all the cool activities and events we found around town!
*please note the below images are property of Blue Abaya and copyrighted under KSA and international copyright laws
There were many other events around town though and we headed to check them out. There was a small festival area set up in the historical Diriyah area. We drove around the Wadi Hanifa and saw many families had set up fires and BBQ’s around the wadi. The weather is finally cooling down and evenings in the wadi are very pleasant.
The Diriyah festival had some traditional dancing and music, poetry recitals, small handicraft market and camel rides.
I love how so many Saudi women relax and let go of their cultural restrictions in public on occasions such as National day. It’s always so much fun to share a laugh and so many insist on having their pic taken by me :)
Everyone was in high spirits and donning at least a Saudi flag or something green!
At the festival area I was busy taking pictures of all the people who were requesting to be photographed. I could have stood there all night because people were literally lining up.
My friend is becoming a celebrity in Riyadh because she always appears in my photos and people are starting to recognize her, asking if she’s “the Blue Abaya lady” :)
I love you! This is what some children came up to say to us! How can your heart not melt being surrounded by all this kindness and love?
The boys were asking, Please please take my picture too!
My daughter was scared of the coffee making baba. The first thing she said when he took her in his lap was “aiti!” which means mommy. My little shy pumpkin.
Meanwhile on the streets kids were hanging out of car windows, doors, roof tops and even sitting on top of the cars! But thank God this time the cars were not really moving anywhere, the traffic was completely halted.
Older men enjoyed the fun in their “pimped up rides”. LOL so funny to see what people come up with.
And what would National Day be without a Saudi religious police (muttawa) patrol? Here they are supervising the celebrations on Tahlia street.
my daughter in her cute Saudi traditional outfit waving her flag :)
It was a very Happy Saudi National Day!
There is no wrath like the one of a pregnant Finnish woman whose long awaited Finnish mega chocolate bar has been stolen by the Saudi postal guy. AGAIN.
Don’t attempt to steal chocolate from a pregnant woman. Ever.
So my long awaited package from the online Finnish food store called Suomikauppa arrived today. Husband picked it up from the P.O BOX, since Saudi-Arabia hasn’t arranged actual addresses for its citizens yet. Oh well it’s only 2012 and such an advancement can’t be anticipated for another 20+ years. I mean they don’t even let women drive yet so why would they be so advanced to have physical addresses? That’s just pure vanity! Is it a coincidence that the Saudi Postal services are responsible for both driving licenses and addresses? Hmm..
Now let me tell you how many times I have ordered from this online store. About like 100 times. Ok. How many times do you think I received the entire order? 0. Don’t get me wrong, the customer service in the Suomikauppa is excellent. They know what the word service means. Unlike in Saudi-Arabia where people think service means “sit on your ass all day tapping on your iPhone ignoring anyone who speaks to you and only answer back in a rude tone showing as little interest as possible while maintaining eye contact with the mobile device only.” oh and “never, under any circumstances answer the land-line phone”.
My package was very much anticipated this time because:
A) it contained a large Finnish chocolate bar which I have been craving for a long time now. This is like the best chocolate in the world, no joke people.
B) it contained my favorite Finnish coffee. I tend to get very grumpy sometimes if I haven’t had my caffeine fix. Also I’m pretty darn bored of drinking instant coffee which to me tastes more like boiled old dish water and should rather be called instant diuretic.
C) It was supposed to contain a surprise on behalf of the store rewarding my returning customer-ship.
D) I’m pregnant and craving this specific chocolate.
I had also ordered baby foods (yes I have to order some baby food all the way from Finland because it’s healthy and organic and babies love the taste and nothing like it is available here because healthy baby food in Saudi equals chips and nuggets). I also had some special rice and rye oatmeal in there.
I bet Mr. Saudi Post Office Guy aka Mr. Ruthless Thief already recognizes this package when it comes to the office. He probably has his fingers itching to take it into the back room for “inspection”. One time he was so thorough doing his inspection that he had sacrificed his safety and taken a bite or two out of the chocolate bar. He dutifully placed it back into the package though.
And what about that time when Mr. Chocolate Monster Maniac had to finish off the entire Fazer Blue chocolate bar, just to make sure no part of it contains liquor or, God forbid a hidden machine gun? His heartfelt dedication is admirable. I am still touched that he left the empty wrappers behind, like as a sign of his hard work and devotion.
This time some pretty committed guy had opened my package and as usual rummaged through it. As I went through the contents it became evident that both my chocolate AND coffee were missing. Un-friggin-believable. Worse yet, it looked like the “surprise” has been taken too since there is nothing extra in the parcel. I am guessing they sent candy of some sort but it wasn’t mentioned in the list of contents.
I. Was. Fuming.
Why does he always go for the largest chocolate bar? Can’t he for once take the salmiakki, you know the ammonium chloride??
And the healthy foods are all there again. Of course. Why would he consume anything healthy?
WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?
Does Saudi postal services employ starving people off the street who are forced to eat whatever edible they can find in the parcels? Are the employees told to actually taste stuff? Are employees indulging in expensive goods sent from around the world, perhaps taking small bits home to share with the wife? Do some of these employees have huge stashes of stolen goods at home? Is there anyone supervising this zoo? Are there surveillance cameras? Do they employ ex-convicts only? What is this place anyways?
Where is that machine gun!?
I wanted to storm into the post office right there and then to find the guilty parties. I would find him even if he was hiding under all the boxes munching on my delicious chocolate. Does he even know how to make filter coffee, huh? I bet not!! This was the last time I was going to just rant about it. Something needed to be done. My husband was not too keen on my idea, knowing that I might need to cool down a “bit” before entering the office. I insisted he take me there but it was already closed (lucky for them) so we have to wait until the next day.
In the meanwhile I went to their website in hopes of finding a way to make a complaint. Not a huge surprise this was not possible. I saw a customer service number, but ignored it, being so accustomed to government offices or any other businesses here who predominantly employ Saudis not picking up the phone. Then something must have clicked in my head (I’ll blame it on the pregnancy brain which is lacking intelligent activity and possibly operating on two brain cells at the moment) because I changed my mind and called.
Lo and behold someone picked up after all the ‘press this or that button stuff’ was over. And get this. They spoke English. That’s not all folks. He actually tried to find out what had happened.
He tracked the parcel and asked me did we sign when picking it up. I told him of course, isn’t that the only way to receive it. Turns out if you already signed it, there’s nothing they can do for you. Even if they go to the dude that mishandled your parcel, he can always say they took it, not me!
Ok this makes sense in a way. HOWEVER why is the customer not informed of this policy when he picks up the parcel? I have heard stories of everything under the sun (including Victoria’s Secret panties) being stolen by Saudi Post officers. So why not have a system in place to try stop these violations? They should warn the customers to open it up at the office before signing just in case something has “disappeared into thin air”. And then there should be a system where you can file a complaint of missing goods. And someone should actually follow that up. On top of that there should be consequences for the violators. But this is veeeeryyyyyy complicated and advanced. Can this kind of development be expected to happen in Saudi-Arabia any time soon?
This is what the chairman of the Saudi Post has to say:
“Over the ages of human civilization and history, civilization experts confirm that post has been an important component in attempting to identify the progress and prosperity of nations, as it is one of the engines of sustainable development of human societies in its different stages, and in the moral values of society, the postman is always one that we desire to come to our doors.”
What does the Saudi Post tell us about the progress and prosperity of this nation? I don’t need a civilization expert to figure that one out.
I would love to have the Saudi postman come to my door with my parcel next time. Oh ya I forgot we have no addresses.
Until next time then, when I personally open the parcel at the office..
Watch out Mr. Chocolate Monster!