Experience iftar at the spectacular Fawanees Ramadan Tent in Riyadh’s Al Faisaliah Hotel.
The Fawanees iftar experience is no doubt one of the best Ramadan tents in Riyadh. Fawanees bestows traditional Arabian hospitality that is synonymous with the spirit of Ramadan and grants an exclusive Iftar experience in elegance and lovely ambiance. Bursting with a selection of mouth-watering dishes, the indulgent spread prepared by the hotel’s talented chefs truly embraces the spirit of the occasion.
At Fawanees you’ll find numerous live cooking stations serving a wide array of traditional Arabic and international cuisines. My favorite Sushi station is here of all the Ramadan buffets in town. They have spectacular ice sculptures, an amazing dessert buffet, immaculate service and for the families with children they have a kids play area. The kids play area has nannies to help watch over your kids so you may dine on the ballroom and have your children well looked after at the kids area, where they even have their own buffet. Kids can play in the soft play area, play games, trampoline or bouncy castle. There’s face painting and many other activities to keep them entertained.
More information on the Fawanees Experience:
ILLUMINATE THE TRADITIONS OF RAMADAN IN THE GLOW OF FAWANEES
The tradition of lighting the lanterns during the Holy Month is believed to have begun in the Fatimid dynasty in 10th century, when they were lit to announce the end of each day’s fast.
Rediscover this tradition with the ‘Fawanees Experience’ at Al Faisaliah Hotel, lit up by numerous lanterns. The largest Ramadan gathering in the Kingdom for over 9 years, Fawanees is the benchmark for radiant Ramadan experiences in Riyadh.
The lavish decor at Faislaiyah hotel’s Fawanees Ramadan Tent
The famous Sushi station with ice sculptures at Fawanees Faisaliyah hotel Ramadan Tent in Riyadh
The details of the Fawanees Ramadan tent in Riyadh:
SAR 375 per person
Children between 6 to 12 years of age dine with 50% discount
Children below 6 years of age dine with our compliments
Ramadan beverages, Arabic coffee and tea included
To avoid disappointment, advance reservations are required. Please call: 011 273 2222″
Time for another Wanderlust in Saudi Arabia post! Let’s discover some of the lesser known areas in Saudi Arabia.
Who knew Saudi Arabia has such beautiful beaches? This beach and shipwreck is located 55km south from Haql city in Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk Province. The place is in natural state, meaning there are no hotels, restaurants or facilities nearby. Just a half-sunken ship and a beach all to yourself!
What a stunning backdrop and contrast the majestic mountains provide in the background of this beach scene. The mysterious sunken ship makes the landscape at this beach look almost other-worldly. On the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba you can see the mountains of Sinai in the distance.
The site is called is Al Bakhera site or ‘Al Mashee Well’ according to the Saudi Tourism authority signpost there. The shipwreck is a Greek vessel that sank there two decades ago. We stopped by this pristine beach with the most crystal clear deep turquoise water for a quick swim on our road trip to Jordan from Riyadh. The water was warm and we could have spent the whole day there relaxing if we had time. I would recommend to bring your own sun shade though!
To reach this beach by road from Riyadh one would have to drive approximately 1500km one way. We made overnight stops along the way though, there’s no way the drive is doable in one go with two small kids. You will find more images from our road trip with the hashtag #saudiroadtrip on my Instagram and Facebook.
This shipwreck is located on a large half-moon shaped bay and only accessible via the road from Haql direction. The entire area around Haql is pretty much endless wild beach coastline, there’s not much development going on outside the city. There’s a few hotels and holiday rentals called “isteraha” by the beach inside Haql city.
The area around the shipwreck would make a really nice camping site. Maybe on our next trip there we’ll spend more time just relaxing on the beach. Spending the night there under the stars would be an unforgettable experience for my little explorers!
For more lesser known travel destinations inside KSA, check out the previous Wanderlust in Saudi Arabia post– also from Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk Province: Ancient Haddaj Well in Tayma
Ramadan Mubarak to all Blue Abaya readers, it’s that time of the year again to reflect on the true meaning of Ramadan. Ramadan in Saudi Arabia is estimated to begin on the 16th of May 2018. To read more about what kind of changes Ramadan brings with it in the ‘Magic Kingdom’ read this post: The Magic Month in the Kingdom.
The following article ‘In Search of the True Meaning of Ramadan’ was published in its original form in Saudi Gazette newspaper in 2013. I wrote the article because each year that I spend in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan, the more all the over-consuming and spending madness is starting to bother me. The true, original meaning of Ramadan has been totally forgotten and it makes me feel really sad to see what is has become for some.
So writing this article, I wanted to reflect back on how I searched for and found out about the true meaning of Ramadan.
Most non-Muslims know this month as the time when Muslims abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours. Before I came to KSA, admittedly, just like most non-Muslims living in western countries, I was pretty ignorant about Ramadan. I knew that this was the month when Muslims fasted from sunrise to sunset, but that was pretty much it.
Before coming to Saudi Arabia, I had heard people in my country Finland saying things like ‘the mohammedians’ can eat only at night because Allah doesn’t see in the dark (seriously some people really think this to be true) or that the ‘mooslomans’ (yes there people who still use these ignorant terms) fast only part of the day because they couldn’t handle a week in row of fasting (like any human could?). It was all made out to be some sort of big joke, this Ramadan thing. After having listened to all this nonsense and misinformation about Ramadan I remember wondering, what was the real reason behind the Muslim fast, because it didn’t seem to make any sense to me. I never bothered to find out the real answer though.
That is, until I came to work as a nurse to the “Magic Kingdom”.
During my first Ramadan in Saudi Arabia 8 years ago, I became very curious to find out more about the holy month of Muslims. Because of my living and working environment in a Saudi government hospital, all this fasting business suddenly became much more of a reality to me.
To my surprise, as Ramadan drew closer, many of my expat friends grew grumpier. “I hate Ramadan!”“Everything is closed, nobody is working”“Muslims skip work and leave all the work for us to do” “Whatever you do, don’t stay in Saudi for Ramadan, it’s just crazy” “they will arrest you if they see you drinking water during the day” etc etc etc.
I did not hear a single positive comment about Ramadan. So naturally, I became somewhat weary of what Ramadan would bring along and started to dread the beginning of it along with all the other expats.
So Ramadan rolled along and the entire hospital turned upside down. Read here what Ramadan is like in a Saudi hospital. Patients ate at the strangest hours, visitors came and went in the middle of the night, Muslim working hours were cut, some Muslim employees would disappear in the middle of shifts, medicine regimes had to be changed and fasting patients could not even be administered intravenous medicines during daytime. It was all very confusing.
Some of the things I had been “warned” about did happen, such as the strange hiding of all foods from sight and some colleagues skipping work. (Read more about it in this post The Different Sides to Ramadan in KSA)
Despite all the weird schedule changes, I could not help noticing other, more positive changes too. There was a remarkable sense of unity, cheerfulness and a feeling of high spirits among my Muslim colleagues. The patients, if possible, became even more welcoming, friendly, and hospitable.
There was a sense of elation in the air that I could not quite put my finger on, but it made me even more curious.
One day as I was doing some charting, I curiously watched as all the ward clerks, nurses and doctors prayed together in the staff room. I finally mustered up the confidence to ask about Ramadan, despite the fact that they were all Saudi males and I felt a little intimidated to approach them on this matter. I remember simply asking “why do you fast during Ramadan?”
I was blown away by the reply. Looking back, the way one of the men explained it to me in such a nice and respectable way was commendable, despite my seemingly super ignorant question. He told me:
“We fast to remember all those people who cannot eat and drink daily.”
“We fast to feel their suffering, to remind ourselves of how blessed we are to have food and water. “ “We fast to feel those same pangs of hunger that our poor sisters and brothers feel daily around the world.”
“We fast to become more generous, to practise self-discipline and to strive to become better Muslims and better people.”
His words had a profound impact on me. Somehow I had failed to see the true meaning of the fast. From that day onward I started to look at it from an entirely different perspective.
I realized that Ramadan is so much more than just abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours. I came to learn that Muslims are supposed to abstain from all harmful acts as much as possible during the month of Ramadan. They should concentrate on becoming a better person and do good deeds to others, give charity and avoid bad and harmful behaviors.
Ramadan can be very different from one person to the other, depending on what their personal goals for the month are. Everyone can set their own goals for Ramadan according to their life situation and abilities. While one person struggles to quit smoking, another might set as a goal to read the entire Quran during Ramadan or start healthier eating habits. Some might plan to pray extra prayers every day, donate to charity or memorize a new Surah from the Quran.
So that day I learned from those Saudi colleagues that Ramadan is also about remembering the Creator, reading the Quran, which was sent down during the month of Ramadan, doing good deeds (out of a sincere wish to do them, not by habit or force), being kind to others, giving out Dawah (teaching, not preaching non-Muslims about Islam) and remembering the poor and the less fortunate.Ramadan is about being humble, modest and abstaining not only from food, but from extravagance, over-consuming, spending, wasting food, money and resources.
Sadly, what I see happening in reality is very disturbing, keeping in mind what I had learned about the true meaning of Ramadan. I saw that many people in Saudi Arabia are doing the exact opposite.
The true purpose of fasting and meaning of Ramadan has been long-lost and forgotten. I see people stocking up on food as if it’s going to run out from the stores, cooking and baking like there is no tomorrow. Women are spending their days in the kitchen instead of focusing on other more important things; some out of their own will or perhaps out of learned habit and routine, some by demands from husband and even peer pressure. Instagram and Facebook becomes flooded with the most extravagant iftar meal images, as if it’s a competition of who made the most food.
When time comes for iftar, often people indulge in huge meals and then lay around all evening snacking on deep-fried, highly sweetened and unhealthy foods. Watching Arabic soap operas on TV, gossiping with friends and staying up all night is very common. Many go to shopping malls which are now open until the early morning hours for mindless shopping, just for the sake of shopping, not need.
Some even force their kids to stay up late or wake them up in the middle of the night so that the parents don’t have to get up early with them. The next day they sleep until the evening until it all starts over again at sunset.
The Prophet Mohammed taught Muslims by his own example to break the fast with simply dates and water, then eat a light meal later. He is known to have kept to the normal daily routines during Ramadan and not becoming nocturnal despite the heat.
I wish people would not forget the true meaning of Ramadan, its purpose, and all the blessings of this month. I hope this post also helped non-Muslim and newbies to the Kingdom to learn something they didn’t know about Ramadan and fasting.
I wish everyone a beneficial, not superficial Ramadan!
Every now and then I get asked questions about my blogging resources and what tools I’m using. I’m surprised to find myself giving advice to newbie bloggers because I never thought of myself as a person in a position to give advice on blogging. I suppose that after 6 years of blogging, a few international blogging awards, and learning to do it all on my own from scratch, I could give a tip or two that someone might actually find useful!
When I started blogging, my computer skills consisted of replying to emails and browsing the internet. No joke! So I had to learn everything from zero. Blogging is actually a never-ending learning process, you learn something new everyday. I’ve tried different things and made lots of mistakes along the way, so this list will be from my experience and pov what has worked for me. I hope it helps someone out there just getting started. I’ve also candidly shared with you the cost maintaining a site like Blue Abaya for one year ( UPDATED FOR 2018) . You will not believe all the expenses that go into it.
Naturally not everyone who starts a blog wants it to grow big or to become professional bloggers. For example many Saudi based bloggers write for their families back home about their life in KSA.
This is a list of tools and resources I wish I had known and used from day one. It would’ve saved thousands of hours of wasted time and from having to pull my hair out and have mini heart attacks every so often.
What I’ve noticed is that quite a lot of people don’t realize how costly blogging actually is and how much hard work it requires. So for those people eager to start their own blogs or just starting out, there’s a few things to consider investing in, if you want your blog to be successful and take it a step further than a personal journal type blog.
At the end of this post you will see the cost of one year of (pro) blogging. I think many will be surprised! Or shocked like I was.
My Essential tools for starting a successful blog:
1. Sign up for wordpress account. I recommend wordpress over blogspot especially if you want to take things the extra mile and purchase a beautiful theme for your blog.
2. Get your own domain name. You absolutely need to purchase your own domain name if you want to have credibility and for the long run if you want to turn your blogging into a business. This way you also get an email address with your own domain name. Domain names cost anywhere between 10-20$ per year. Additional domain name privacy (I recommended to prevent spammers from contacting you) will cost another 10-20$ per year. You can get one domain for free at Bluehost when you sign up!) I went from blueabaya.blogspot.com to blueabaya.com in 2013 by purchasing a domain name and hosting plan from Bluehost and moving everything to wordpress. (From bluehost 15.99 per year and domain name privacy 11.88$)
3. Get a hosting provider. Bluehost has hosting plans starting as low as 2.95 per month, depending on what type of blog you have and how much traffic you are getting. I used this hosting service since 2013. Bluehost have 24 h customer service and tons of handy add ons. (Blue Abaya current VPS cloud server hosting plan is 59.99$ per month, 708$ per year.)
4. Create Blog logo. You could design your own if you have the skills to save money. See the online image editors mentioned further in this post. if you decide to hire someone, the budget option is looking for people on networks like Upwork, Etsy, or Creative Market.
5. Purchase a custom theme. You can get nice themes for wordpress for free from ThemeForest, but it’s worth investing in your theme to make it more customizable, achieve a personalized look and make it easy to navigate. I’m using a drag and drop website builder ProPhoto (199$ for the ProPhoto license + 150$ custom PP theme + 79 $ installation.)
6. Customize and design your site. I designed my own site and learned everything on my own, it’s an ongoing learning process and at first can take months of your time. If you hire a designer make sure they know what they’re doing. Ask to see their verified previous work and talk to previous clients.
7. Watermarking. If your blog is going to have a lot of photography, especially if you are a professional photographer, you will need to get various software to edit your photos with. Photoshop, Lightroom are a must. You’ll also need something to watermark and resize a batch of images at once, the best option for this I’ve found in BlogStomp (49$ one time purchase). BlogStomp will batch resize, watermark, sharpen and rename hundreds of images at a time in just a few seconds.
8. Online photo editors and graphics maker. I use mainly two online photo editors. Picmonkey is great for quick fixes, adding text, image layers, making collages and social media images. Picmonkey costs 4,99$ per month for the upgraded version which I highly recommend investing in. They have the coolest fonts and you get access to galleries of overlays with the upgraded version. Picmonkey is super easy to use even if you have zero experience in editing graphic design like I did when I started! Picmonkey has a vast archive of tutorial videos you can learn with. ( 4.99 per month and 59.88$ per year)
I also love Lightroom CC which is a must for more professional needs in photo editing. LR CC can be used from mobile too. ( I use the 9.99 $ monthly for the basic Photography plan 119.88$ yearly)
9. Online storage. You will need to be able to access your images from various places not just your home pc or laptop, so the best solution for me has been Dropboxpro extra storage. Dropbox is really handy in sharing material too and serves as a backup for your images as well. This will cost you 9.99$ monthly for 1TB. ( 9.99$ x 12 months= 119.88$)
10. Back-ups. You will need to back up your blog regularly, for this I recommend Site Backup Pro which is easily purchased through Bluehost. Cost is 35.88$ per year. Or use a free plugin but remember to do it regularly.
11. Security. Don’t overlook this part! A good password is not enough to protect your site. I have purchased SiteLock which is 23.99$ a year from Bluehost. The amount of hacking attempts and malicious malware this program has stopped is amazing. I’ve been really satisfied with it, it’s worth the extra investment for your peace of mind. Consider that if your site gets hacked or infected with a virus, (like what happened to me before I got the SiteLock) it cost over 300$ to fix it.
12. Mailing list providers. You will need to get an email marketing program like MailChimp or Convertkit to send out email to your subscribers and create signup forms with. Mailchimp is free for under 2000 subscribers, but once you pass 2000 subscribers, it’s 30$ per month. I use Convertkit because of the more flexibility and additional features like landing pages, cool sign up forms and outstanding customer support they offer starting 49$ per month. For a list of over 5000 subscribers the monthly plan is 99 $.( 1,188$ per year)
And the grand total of this thing called pro-blogging?
That is when we count all the one time purchases in the amount.
the annual “maintenance” figure for keeping the blog running, for Blue Abaya is
2,283.56 USD per year.
Add to this list does not count all the $$$ that goes into hiring freelancers for various tasks like the technical stuff or some more advanced graphic design work, coding, web development or a virtual assistant. I spent through upwork on hiring freelancers last year over 800 $ on top of this so the total expenses would be over 3000 usd for the past year 2017.
Shocking right?? I sure am shocked! This was the first time I ever added everything up like this. I kinda wish I hadn’t, it seems like a huge waste of money right now. Then again my blog is very important to me, it’s like my third baby! I’ve invested literally thousands of dollars from my own pocket into it because I believe in Blue Abaya and its future and I know it helps thousands of people. I can say I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved, mostly by just pure will power and probably some famous Finnish “Sisu” in the mix.
Perhaps the single most important tool a blogger needs is passion! You really need to be passionate about what you do or you will not succeed.
For anyone just starting out don’t be discouraged by these large figures, in the beginning you will not need so many upgrades right away and there are some free alternatives, whatever works for me might not be best way for another blogger in a different niche or different set of goals.
For sure a newbie blogger really has to be dedicated, persistent and not give up! You will also need to figure out ways to pay for these blogging bills with your blog which is easier said than done. One such way are affiliate links, (which this post contains, and bloggers should always mention) or advertisements, and creating products like ebooks, courses or webinars..But that’s a lesson for another time.
I suppose next time someone calls me greedy for writing an ebook guide and charging a WHOPPING 4.99$ for it, I’ll direct them to this post. Or when companies want me to write articles which takes me many days to compile and pay me in “exposure” “free meal” or better yet “tweets”. Yeah, I’ll definitely send them a link here :)
Good luck to all beginning bloggers, I wish you all blogging success!!
Are you a blogger? What are your favorite essential tools and resources for blogging success? Please share with us in the comments.
I’m starting a new blog series called Wanderlust in Saudi Arabia! I will share a brief description and images of a beautiful place somewhere in Saudi Arabia in each Wanderlust in Saudi Arabia post. This way I can share with you some of my favorite travel destinations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and bring some light on these lesser known travel destinations. Hopefully these amazing places encourage and inspire people to explore the hidden treasures Saudi Arabia.
The first #WanderlustSaudia feature is the ancient Haddaj well, located in Tabuk Province of Saudi Arabia. We visited the city of Tayma on our recent road trip from Riyadh to Jordan. You can see more images from our Saudi road trip of over 4000km on my Instagram and Facebook page with the hashtag #saudiroadtrip. My image of the Haddaj well was also featured in the Tabuk Tourism instagram account.
The oasis town of Tayma has a fascinating rich history which dates back thousands of years to the Bronze Ages. The ancient well in the center of the city has been used by many different people who stopped by the Tayma oasis on caravan trade routes and pilgrimages. Tayma was always a prosperous city because of its source of water and an important meeting point for different civilizations.
The Haddaj Well is estimated to be at least 2500 years old. It’s quite a large well, 20 meters in diameter and it’s said there used to be 99 camels at once that drew bucketloads of water from it.
Bir (arabic for well) Haddaj, is one of the most famous wells from ancient times and is an outstanding architectural landmark for the region. The well is known to date back at least to the middle of the 6th century BCE, during the Babel occupation. In the 5th century BCE, all of Tayma was abandoned and buried, so the well fell into disuse for many centuries until Suleiman al-Gonaim restored it to a functional state.
In 1373H (1953), King Saud added four pumps to increase production and help local farmers to obtain sufficient water for their crops. The nearby date palm farms still get their water from the well to this day.
Bir Haddaj is mentioned in the Bible in reference to Tayma: “The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty, they prevented with their bread him that fled.” (Isa 21:14.7)
Some interesting history about Tayma
-The only confirmed hieroglyphic inscription in Saudi Arabian soil was found in 2010 on a rock near Tayma. It mentions Pharaoh Ramses III who ruled 1192 B.C.to 1160 B.C
-Tayma also used to be the capital of Babylonia when King Nabodinus lived there in 6th century B.C.
-One of the oldest Jewish settlements of Arabian peninsula used to live in Tayma oasis.
-A Jewish poet and warrior Samuel ibn Adiya, built the Qasr Al Ablaq palace in 6th century BC, which still stands in Tayma to this day.
-A huge 11km long wall dating back to 6th century B.C surrounds the ancient city.
-Two queens have ruled Tayma.
-A Jewish Prince is said to have governed Tayma as late as in the 12 th century AD.
Here are 20 blogs from Saudi Arabia you should be reading in 2016. All of them give a unique glimpse into life in Saudi Arabia from different perspectives. Back when I started writing the Blue Abaya blog in 2010, the Saudi blogosphere was still relatively quiet, but blogging has since become more popular. A lot of expat-run blogs are written as journals of their time living in KSA. When the expatriate returns to their home country the focus of the blog shifts and some slowly fade away.
Only the active blogs that have been running for more than a year, based in Saudi Arabia have been included in this list. The only exception to this is the American Bedu blog, which has not been updated for a few years, but is the pioneer of all Saudi Arabia expat blogs and thus deserves an honorary mention.
In this Top 20 Saudi Blogs listed are some of the most informative, active, versatile, unique, specialized blogs from Saudi Arabia. They’re all written in English language under one of the categories; personal journey, diary, travel, lifestyle, opinion, cooking and parenting.
Most of these blogs are written by native english speakers, but there are a few, who like myself speak English as a second or third language. Some Saudi nationals are on the list too.
Blogs listed in alphabetical order.
American Bedu The first Saudi Arabia blog from a foreigners perspective which posted daily for almost 6 years. Carol passed away in May 2013. Her blog remains a wealth of information about Saudi Arabia.
Black Chick on Tour Terri is based in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and she’s a travel addict. I love her fun videos about life in Saudi Arabia.
Bring the Kids An adventurous American family of six who go on epic road trips and camping in every corner of Saudi Arabia. Great tips for travel and camping with small kids and a wonderful source of inspiration to get out there and explore.
Claire’s Ale Claire blogs from destination KAUST. “Expat life at a Red Sea Resort”, better known as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
Desert Enlightenment This is the go to blog for anything and everything about vegan lifestyle and organic in KSA.
Foreign Girl– Chronicles of a curious expatriate. Margo Catts is a professional writer and editor. Her outlook on life in KSA is positive and her curious nature takes her on some really interesting adventures.
iGina This lifestyle blog by Gina Saeed is now called The Arab Mode. Based in Jeddah, she blogs about a wide array of topics.
Jeddah for Kids The title says it all- This is the go to source for all things Jeddah with children.
Jeddah Blog Everything you need to know about enjoying life in Jeddah can be found in this blog!
Kristine Wanders I love this blog because it reminds me of my “previous life” in Saudi Arabia, before I had kids. The expat life of a single female nurse in Riyadh, traveling the world on the side. Those were the days :)
Kiwi in Saudi A New Zealander in Riyadh. Lots of interesting places to see in and around Riyadh.
My Life in Yanbu Lifestyle and cooking blog written by an Indian expat based in Yanbu. Lots of delicious recipes from the region as well as insight and practical info about life in Yanbu.
Muslim Traveller Travel blog written by a Pakistani expat with destinations in Saudi Arabia and beyond many have not heard of before. My favorite are the Road trips!
Saudi SeasonAn English teacher blogging from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province. Interesting snippets from the life of an adventurous surfer on Saudi Arabia’s east coast. The only person I know who is Surfing in Saudi!
SaudiWoman Written by linguistic professor Eman al Nafjan. This woman is a rockstar. You must read her blog. Valuable insight into Saudi political and social issues from a realistic view point. Eman also writes for Newsweek and many other international publications.
Susie of Arabia Susie Johnson Khalil has been blogging since 2007 and won several international blogging awards such as Best Asian Weblog 2009. Susie is based in Jeddah and she runs a photo blog, Jeddah Daily Photo Journal, posting an image from Jeddah daily since 2008.
The Odysseia Personal journey of a woman from New Zealand in Saudi Arabia. Penelope is based in Riyadh.
The Pink Tarha Three Filipina ladies have written this online lifestyle guide to Riyadh since 2009. Great for new food finds and sale alerts in Riyadh. Winner of Best Website Promoting Tourism 2014 at the SETA’s.
The Same Rainbows End“An American girl meets Saudi boy, adventures ensue.” This is one of the best blogs to show an insight into the “everyday” life in Saudi Arabia, from pov of American woman married to a Saudi.
Ya Maamaa hands-on best parenting blog in Saudi Arabia, written by a Saudi woman and mother of four. ‘Mama B.’ is also a founder of a school The Playroom KSA and a positive parenting coach in training.
Ya Salam Cooking By Noor AlQahtani. “From Tennessee to Riyadh” this popular cooking blog featuring delicious recipes from around the ME.
Have you ever tried golfing in the desert? Ever been to the beautiful desert during the spring time when even the Red Sand dunes are in full bloom after the winter rains? How about a leisurely walk or a sweat inducing run in the desert with fellow expats? Or a picnic to a hidden desert lake?
Spring is the best time to head out for some hiking and camping trips just outside Riyadh. Check out all the desert treks from Riyadh I’ve written about by going to this page: Off the Beaten Path Saudi Arabia.
If you’re feeling too hot for outdoor activities, you can always visit and art gallery or musuem and stay cool. Read some suggestions below on things to do in Riyadh during spring time (around March-April).
Here’s a list of some suggested activities for those in Riyadh this March. Most of the listed outdoor activities could be done in other months too but they are at their best during the spring. ARTICLE UPDATED FOR 2018!
1. Visit the International Riyadh Book Fair. The fair starts normally in the first week of March and runs around two weeks, open daily from 10 am to 10 pm at the Riyadh International Exhibition Center. There is an English books section, a female only area and an excellent children’s book and activity area. Guide to the Book Fair found here: Riyadh International Book Fair.UPDATE Riyadh International Book Fair open in 2018 dates 14th-24th March
3. Visit the National Museum. A fascinating time travel experience on the Arabian Peninsula starting from hundreds of millions of years ago when oil was formed, traveling forward in time through seven exhibition halls until modern day Saudi Arabia. The National Museum will keep you occupied for hours!
Around the museum you will find lovely parks and fountains perfect for a stroll or picnic. Don’t miss the Murabba palace nearby, where King Abdulaziz used to live. National Musuem is now open open daily 8 am – 8 pm except Fridays 4 pm onward. Museum Guide here: Riyadh’s National Museum
4. Visit a compound function. For the expat ladies in Riyadh there are monthly coffee mornings in compounds such as Kingdom, Seder village, Cordoba, and Nakhla compound among many others. Kingdom compound has the largest ladies bazaar in Riyadh, organized every first Monday of the month. There are also bazaars and crafts markets aimed at families which are held outdoors, like the recent ‘The Gathering’ held at Bujairy Square. Al Nakhla compound hosts concerts and buffet theme nights at their Majdoool restaurant. To keep up to date with these events don’t forget to subscribe to Blue Abaya email updates! You can find the form at the end of this post. Like Blue Abaya on Facebook to stay tuned to event updates.
5. Go watch the horse races at Riyadh Equestrian Club. Located next to the Janadriyah village, the Riyadh Equestrian Club is open and free entrance for all. Races start after Asr on Fridays. There’s singles, family and a VIP sections. You can rent your own room complete with private service and brunch included, no abaya needed! Last race for 2018 season 24 th March. Check out this post for more info on the horse races: http://www.nzpounamu.com/2012/04/horse-racing-in-riyadh.html
6. Learn to golf or watch (or participate in!) a golf tournament. The Dirab Golf & Country Club is one of the most beautiful of golf courses in Riyadh and they often have gold tournaments in the spring. Some of the other golf courses are Riyadh Greens Gold Club, Intercontinental Hotel Palms golf course, Arizona compound golf course. Dirab golf club is worth visiting because it has stunning scenery, a nice restaurant, swimming pools and horse stables with beautiful Arabian horses. More pics and info here: http://gavinlee.travellerspoint.com/8/
7. Go to a concert. April is the Europe Month in Riyadh and the various European embassies hold concerts and other cultural events. Check out Facebook page for the schedules and info. King Fahad Cultural center has free concerts almost every week. The Riyadh Music Society organizes concerts in Riyadh, they will be posted on the Blue Abaya facebook page- make sure you’ve liked and followed the page!
8. Desert hiking with expats Check out Riyadh HHH group. You can always enjoy the walking track at Diplomatic Quarter instead. Walk, run or cycle around the 20 km long path. (ladies can join and don’t need abaya!) More info on how to do that here.
Join the Riyadh Road Runners! The running season continues until end of April and all levels of runners are welcome to participate. They have regular 10k runs, more info on their website: http://riyadhroadrunners.com/index.html.
9. Visit Musmak Fort. Open all day from 8 am to 8 pm. Free entry. Friday’s open after Asr prayer.
10. Go to an Art exhibition of Saudi artists. Lots of art galleries in Riyadh frequently host exhibitions. Check out: Naila art gallery, SAMA Art hub, LAM Art gallery, Areej Art cafe, Hewar art gallery, L’art Pur and many others. You’ll find them all on instagram and can follow their updates on the latest expos there .
11. Go fishing at a hidden desert lake. On some years after heavy rains lakes form in various areas of the desert valleys. Check out Shoaib Luha pools, Salbuk dam and lake, Wadi Namar and Riyadh River.
12. Visit a heritage village. The Ushaiger Heritage village is a lovely place to visit for a half day trip, about 1,5h drive from Riyadh. Close by the Raghbah village has a more rustic feel and hasn’t been restored like its neighbor. The crown jewel of Saudi heritage villages, At Turaif in Historical Diriyah is still closed for the huge restoration project. In the meanwhile the adjacent Al Bujairy square is open and bustling with things to do and see. Read more about what you can do there in this post.
I have some very exciting news, I’ve finally finished my first ever e-book, a guide to the Secret Lake! The Secret Lake is a seasonal lake in the middle of steep desert valleys just outside Riyadh. It’s the perfect picnic spot and because of its secluded location, the lake area has remained clean and thankfully crowds have not found this serene place. To protect the Secret Lake nature from being ruined by the masses I haven’t been comfortable about publishing its exact location publicly since I first wrote about it in 2012.
The solution to being able to share with readers how to get there but not post the location publicly and risk ruining it for everyone was to write a guide-book about it. The guide contains up to date detailed instructions, maps and GPS coordinates of the location.
UPDATE 2018: it appears that someone has has burned down the forest at Secret Lake, we found the trees and bushes all completely burned and gasoline bottles were scattered around. There’s also been an influx of visitors to the lake who have left behind their garbage and the current state of this lake is sadly no longer as it was before. I can no longer recommend to go there and have removed the Secret Lake ebook off the site.
I’m so excited about this project and extremely happy with the outcome of the book. It was a much longer and more complicated process to set everything up than I had anticipated. Since this was the first time, for me to write an ebook and publish it, and set up a way for people to download it, everything needed to be done from scratch. I hired someone to help me with the technical stuff because I wanted everything to go perfectly.
I had finished the cover design and the writing part of the book during my winter holiday in Finland, which I had based on three previous visits to the Secret Lake. However once we got back to Riyadh I thought to myself, I must give the lake one more visit before I publish the book, just in case something had drastically changed on the route or any other details that might have been left out. So the very next day after we returned to Riyadh we headed out to the Secret Lake. And boy was I happy that we did! I ended up rewriting almost the entire eBook according to what I saw.
A lot of work needed to be done behind the scenes to set up a way for people to download the ebook. Things got complicated once we realized that my current wordpress theme, ProPhoto, doesn’t support the e-commerce plugin, (among a bunch of other things it doesn’t support!), so we had to set up a new custom sub domain and install & design another WordPress theme to host the ebook store. All in all this has been months of hard work which I put into the guide and I’m very proud of my first eBook, I think it looks awesome :)
I noticed a lot of changes on the route to the lake, which have all been documented in detail in the guide. There’s a huge restoration and landscaping project ongoing in the Historical Diriyah and Wadi Hanifa area which is also extending toward the direction of the lake. So that had some effect on the route and then we noticed some more changes to the last, most difficult part of the road. We actually had to get out of the car to move rocks and pieces of tarmac around to pass some parts, but we managed to get to the lake in just under 25 minutes from Diplomatic Quarter.
And what a sight for sore eyes this lake is! It just gets more and more beautiful year after year because the lake reeds and greenery has expanded and grown. The lake on January 24th 2016 was full of clear water, in the deepest parts it’s probably 3-5 m depth. Hard to say exactly how many metres deep it is but we could see all the way to the bottom when the kids were throwing rocks, it takes some while to reach the bottom. The lake will stay full of water for another couple of months because it’s been a very chilly winter and the water has not had a chance to start evaporating.
We spotted all sorts of little critters and tiny fish in it too. The fish being there always amazes me, it’s the same strange phenomenon as in diplomatic quarter wadi pond, which is shallow but full of fish. I’ve seen big catfish in there and people fish there. I think maybe someone brought a few fish there at some point and they managed to multiply…or something! But yeah, you could definitely try your luck fishing at the Secret Lake too. Who knows what loch Ness monster relative is living in there lol
The tall reeds at the end of Secret Lake
We went to the lake on a Friday and found the entire lake area void of visitors, which is of course great. It’s definitely still a well-kept secret location. I have never been comfortable publishing the GPS coordinates online because my blog has a large audience and reach, so it might be that had I done so years ago, this place would now be in a similar sad state of Lake Kharrarah, another seasonal lake outside Riyadh. Also things published online tend to be more easily shared and copied/republished without permission, so to prevent that from happening I created the eBook guide.
The Secret Lake was much larger than I had remembered, it’s probably about 800m in total length. Walking around the entire lake would likely take an hour or so. We found a small “beach” on the banks of the lake, a soft sand ledge perfect for a picnic or small campfire even.
Watch this clip from the beach:
After our January visit to the lake, I decided to rewrite the ebook so it would be as up to date as possible, so that’s another reason it has taken this long to get things ready. I took photos of signs on the roads and the path to illustrate the way more clearly in the instructions part. I’ve also made some maps to try show in best possible way how to find the lake.
This was such a positive experience creating this ebook that I’m really excited to write more guide books now! Especially to places and areas that I would not be so comfortable to post publicly about. It’s just too much of a risk because unspoiled spots are rare nowadays. Unfortunately not everyone who finds these posts online is a responsible, environmentally conscious person.
If you’d like to check out some of the posts I’ve written about other beautiful Desert locations and outdoor activities in Riyadh area:
Guest post by book addict, literary consultant and blogger Sumaiyya Naseem! Sumaiyya is a bookworm and reading enthusiast from Jeddah and I’ve been following her awesome Sumaiyya books Instagram account for ages. I’m always in awe (and admittedly a bit jealous too) of how she has the time to consume all the great books she posts about. I asked Sumaiyya to share with us her top recommended books from the Middle East.
The following is her top 15 book choices written by authors from the Middle East region. I loved this list and found so many great book recommendations I can’t wait to get a hold of some of these gems. Have you read any of them? My personal favorite from the ones I’ve read on this list is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. What’s yours?
Here’s Sumaiyyah’s tip for finding these books for readers living in Saudi Arabia: “Some of the books are available in Jarir bookstore and Virgin (usually), but it’s best to order them from Amazon (they ship to Saudi post where people can pick it up) or Book Depository (free shipping).
Must Read Books By Arab/Middle-Eastern Authors
“Once in a while there are readers who realise they have limited themselves to a particular genre or literary comfort zone. So they decide to read diverse genres or explore various cultures through literature. In the middle of ‘Read More Books by People of Color’ what is often overshadowed is remarkable works by Arab or Middle Eastern authors.
So, here are some of the best books by Middle Eastern authors that you should definitely check out!
A mysterious family curse, a clairvoyant and her jinns, and two young women at the heart of it all. This is a beautiful, powerful book with strong female characters, a lot of history and family secrets. It also has its fair share of young intellectuals (in Café Kundera of all places) and the search for identity and heritage. The Bastard of Istanbul is definitely a must read and a wonderful introduction into the world of Elif Shafak.
“That was the one thing about the rain that likened it to sorrow: You did your best to remain untouched, safe and dry, but if and when you failed, there came a point in which you started seeing the problem less in terms of drops than as an incessant gush, and thereby you decide you might as well get drenched.”
Rumi lovers this is the book for you. It spans two eras in time – the time of Rumi and Ella’s story in present day England – connected through the story of Shams of Tabriz. You will want to take your time with this book and you will definitely enjoy it. The Forty Rules of Love is woven with Shams’ wisdom and Ella’s rediscovery of her Self and love.
“The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time.”
This is a beautiful book but it is filled with despair and sadness. Kemal falls in love with a shop girl while he’s engaged to be married. What follows is Kemal’s obsession with collecting anything that reminds him of her and their time together. Orhan Pamuk wrote this masterpiece after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. But the book doesn’t end with its pages. There is an actual Museum of Innocence curated by the writer which contains every item that is mentioned in the book.
“It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it. Had I known, had I cherished this gift, would everything have turned out differently?”
This is easily one of the best books I’ve read, especially in terms of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It spans four generations and five countries and it captures the sudden shift in the lives of the people of Palestinian and how it affected the generations to come. In the heart of it all there is love, loss and the struggle of living with memories of the past.
“We come from the land, give our love and labor to her, and she nurtures us in return. When we die, we return to the land. In a way, she owns us. Palestine owns us and we belong to her.”
Told through the eyes of an ‘obsessive introvert’ Aliyah, an old unmarried woman in a society that shuns women like her. Aliyah finds solace in her solitude and most of all through her love for the written word; every year Aliyah translates one of her favourite books intro Arabic. The book begins with an old woman turning her hair blue after she overhears her neighbours commenting about the whiteness of her hair, and when it ends it leaves us deeply satisfied and wiser than we were before. This is a must read and the book that made me feel like I was ignorant when it came to literature.
“No loss is felt more keenly than the loss of what might have been. No nostalgia hurts as much as nostalgia for things that never existed.”
Here’s another must-read for young Muslims, especially those growing up in the West and those who are unable to define their identity. It’s a powerful book that will help you understand the difficulties of living in a non-Muslim community, and it will also help you appreciate the beauty and diversity of our Muslim community. Never before was a book so powerfully close to home for me.
“…Her eyes sparkle like she’s about to cartwheel through a mosque.”
Youssef Al Makki lives in a one-room house with his Mom. His father is dead and he daydreams about leaving struggles behind by entering the world of acting and films. That’s until the day he comes face to face with the father he thought was dead. Now he is pulled into the world of the rich where his father is a powerful businessman. Youssef suddenly has everything he ever wanted but he is forced to choose between the comfort of luxury and the life that was once completely his. Another must read that exposes the search for identity in a tumultuous world.
“His anger took many shapes: sometimes soft and familiar, like a round stone he had caressed for so long that is was perfectly smooth and polished; sometimes it was thin and sharp like a blade that could slice through anything; sometimes it had the form of a star, radiating his hatred in all directions, leaving him numb and empty inside.”
This a wonderful book that follows the story of Shelina who has decided to go for an arranged marriage the Muslim way. She has given up her hopes of marrying John Travolta and is now searching for the One and in her journey she ends up discovering herself and her faith. This book will answer your questions, speak for the troubles you might face and guide you towards your own faith.
“Poetry is designed to inspire love, and islam is about falling in love with the creator of the universe.”
9. One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling by Hanan Al Shaykh
This is a bold retelling of the famous Arabian Nights tales of the One Thousand and One Nights. It’s dream-like, magical and yet aimed for adults. It’s quitean interesting read and definitely a must read considering it’s one of the first takes on the literary heritage by a woman.
“A truth once seen by a single mind ends up by imposing itself on the totality of human consciousness.”
Based on the story of the writer’s uncle, Hassan Awad Aboulela a famous poet of the 1950s, this story follows the events that lead to a family in turmoil. It’s a great book that will introduce you to Sudanese history and culture, told through the love story of Nur and Soraya.
“The sweetest things in life were not necessarily what one strove for and grabbed. Instead, many many times the All-Merciful, the All-Generous would give His servants without being petitioned, without waiting to be asked.”
The eleven stories in this short story collection will help you understand the struggles that Muslim immigrants face in Britain. It’s a wonderful book in which the writer puts difficult feelings into simple words and showcases the reality of life.
“And why is it that so many years later it is so easy to distinguish the bullies from their prey? Adult bodies surrounding the children of long ago. The years have changed nothing.”
This historical fiction is a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and definitely deserves to be on the list. It’s an imagined memoir of the first black explorer of American, a Moroccan slave Mustafa al-Zamori. Mustafa’s narrative gives a different perspective of the famous expedition across America.
“A name is precious; it carries inside it a language, a history, a set of traditions, a particular way of looking at the world. Losing it meant losing my ties to all those things too.”
Even people who don’t read books often know about this gem by Khaled Hosseini. Female solidarity, surviving under abusive patriarchy and an unstable political scene give this novel its voice. The book is an example of brilliant storytelling, memorable characters and amazing evolution of solidarity from the seed of hatred. Mariam and Laila will forever be the best female characters created by Hosseini.
“A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing. It isn’t like a mother’s womb. It won’t bleed. It won’t stretch to make room for you.”
This is another beautiful story by the famed Afghani author and it was also turned into a movie. It depicts the change in Afghanistan as a result of political conflict through the stories of two best friends who are pulled apart after a life changing incident during a kite flying competition.
“It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out.”
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it’s the story about a divorced American journalist who falls in love with an Egyptian-American conductor. She goes to Egypt and into her past to understand and discover the story of her ancestors – Sharif and Anna – who had fallen in love nearly a century ago. This is a wonderful read about love across cultures.
“But things move on and by the time you’ve plotted your position the world around you has changed and you are running -panting- to catch up.”
See any of your favourites?! Here are a few more titles for your interest!
Sumaiyya Naseem is an English Literature senior at Effat University. She’s a reading enthusiast, writer, blogger and an independent literary consultant. Sumaiyya is also a member of The Literary Girls book club in Jeddah and is the Editor in Chief of two student magazines at Effat University: Ethos and Effateez.
Believe it or not, it gets cold enough in Saudi Arabia for wearing winter coats! Although admittedly, for a Finn such as myself, the +24C temperatures feel more like the perfect summers day weather, whereas in Saudi Arabia you will start seeing people in wool coats around then. Did you know that in Saudi-Arabia’s Northern areas it sometimes snows during the winter?
The traditional Saudi winter coats, the farwa and the bisht, come especially handy when out in the desert where temperatures can quickly drop close to freezing after the sun has set.
A Bisht is a traditional Saudi cloak which is normally seen worn over the thobe at important occasions and celebrations such as weddings. These bishts are a very thin, sheer fabric. There’s also a type of winter Bisht made of thicker fabric perfect for the Saudi winter.
A Farwa is an even warmer and thicker winter coat, especially great to wear out to desert camping trips. Whereas the Bisht fabric is normally more rough to touch, the Farwas are soft and snuggly. Some farwas are incredibly heavy and thick, I swear you could wear these out to an expedition of Antarctica and survive!
The two best places to find these coats in Riyadh are the Al Owais souk and the Bisht souk (which I just coined btw) in Deerah.
I actually bought some Bisht and farwa for myself and family as gifts, which I’m going to take with me to our winter holiday in Finland! This also means the Saudi farwa will be going through vigorous testing in extreme Finnish winter weather conditions, ya’ll. I promise to report back how they perform. You can check out some pics from our previous winter holiday in Lapland here.
The Farwa coats range in price depending on where they are made (KSA vs abroad) and what materials have been used. Farwa Handmade in Saudi Arabia will cost more but is also harder to find. The most expensive ones will have the real lamb skin as lining and can go up to 2500 riyal in price such as the below examples of an exceptionally high quality Bisht found at the Bisht Souq in Deerah.
Farwa Handmade in Saudi Arabia
The Bisht souk in Deerah has better selection of winter Bisht in different colorful designs, all handmade from natural materials.
Bisht souk Riyadh
baby farwa in Al Owais souk
This is what they tried to sell as ‘farwa for girls’ at Owais souk. Doesn’t look very traditional to me..
This pink bisht is now mine :)
Tips for buying a farwa or bisht:
1. Always bargain from the price given and then bargain again. If the price doesn’t move then move your business to the next shop and you will see how the prices suddenly drop.
2. Find out where the coat is made and what materials were used, always support local produce if possible.
3. Try it on! Don’t be shy even if you’re a woman to try the coat on top of your abaya. I have bought several traditional farwa for myself in the “men’s” style. They are way more attractive and better quality than the ones aimed at female customers and quite frankly I don’t care if people think I’m wearing a “man’s coat”. You will find with the gold trims and embroidery some men’s designs are actually quite feminine.
4. The farwa and Bisht are both supposed to be very lose when worn so you can wrap it around, so don’t buy one that’s too small, the sleeves will be too short.
5. Check prices from several shops before buying to see the price range.
6. They have sizes for babies and toddlers too, don’t pay more than 100sr for those.
7. Yes a woman can wear a Bisht and farwa too. You will love it.
8. If you like the Bisht size but it’s too long they can normally fix this for you on the spot at the Bisht souk, they have many tailors there, expect to pay around 20 sr for adjustments.
9. For the cheapest, thin version of farwa which are usually made in India you will expect to pay from 100-300 riyal. The thicker and the more decoration it has the more it will cost.
10. The farwas don’t have buttons, you’re supposed to wrap it around and hold it closed with one hand. The bishts will have strings to close it lightly.
Location of Bisht Souk in Deerah
GPS coordinates: 24.629248,46.712315
Location of Al Owais Souk:
GPS coordinates: 24.737758,46.661482
Have you bought a farwa or bisht? Did you ever wear it outside Saudi Arabia?