The Eighth Wonder

Lists of the Seven Wonders of the World have been constructed from the Ancient Greek Herodotus of 425 BCE to today’s online voters (1). Each of these lists has missed out on the architectural beauty that exists in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Rich in varying textures and usage, its buildings and landscapes include ancient mud-thatched forts neighboring contemporary shopping centers.

Al-Faisaliyah Tower is one of these steel constructions of 30 floors made to resemble a ball-point pen, as the reflective golden globe restaurant rotates at its axis. Pictured on many postcards, Al-Faisaliyah was the tallest building in Saudi Arabia in 2000 (2), allowing its diners to view as far as the deserts through floor to ceiling, triangular panes. A year later, Kingdom Tower, 65-stories of ultra-modern accommodations took its record (2). It places as the world’s third tallest building with a parabolic arch (3).  Its peaks connect on the 99th floor by a sky bridge with panoramic views (4). Out of the three entry levels of luxury shopping, the first is open to general public. While, following cultural practice of gender segregation, the next two floors are reserved solely for female shoppers and staff. Here, one would find skinny jeans from Saks 5th Avenue to go beneath an abaya from Bedoon Essm.

Traveling north through the business district of Olaya and then following highways west to the desert, sculptures of an older medium are found. Built of mud and thatch, the ancient city of Al Diriyah was established in 1744 to serve as a military fortress against the Ottoman Empire (5). Once called ‘Najd’, meaning western-lying area, Diriyah sits on the outskirts of modern-day Riyadh and is the original home of the Saudi royal family (6). The siege of Diriyah, in 1818, caused its rulers to flee the damaged fort and rebuild a new life in Riyadh (5).

After many years of abandonment, a major restoration project started in 2000, keeping with traditional architecture (5). Sites include ceilings made of exposed wooden poles, open air windows of triangular cut-outs, and large dungeon-like doors of blaring geometric designs. In 2010, the Turaif district of Diriyah, which includes Salwa Palace and archeological finds, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site (5). Today, tourists can take part in traditional meals with floor-style seating, at Najd Village (7).

In contrast to the expected browns and beiges of the desert, Diriyah’s grounds are naturally sprinkled with date trees, streams, and greenery. On the edge of Diriyah lies Wadi Hanifa, a valley extending 75 miles from northwest to southeast. Traditional folklore presents a history of fertile farmland, which explains the origin of the city name Riyadh, ‘a garden’. As the capital city quickly expanded, pollution and climate change was found to be the cause of disturbed ecological balance, resulting in drought. While some areas of the wadi still remain dry, Ar-Riyad Development Authority has preserved parts of the wetlands for recreational activities (8).

Riyadh is a place that is often a mystery to those looking in from the outside. Its short history of vast development and the pressures to let things be, has produced a wondrous blend of old and new.

najd village

 

(1) Seven Wonders of the World

http://geography.about.com/od/lists/a/sevenwonders.htm

(2) Al-Faisaliyah Center

http://www.emporis.com/buildings/125879/al-faisaliyah-center-riyadh-saudi-arabia

(3) Kingdom Centre

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_Centre

(4) Kingdom Tower

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/saudi-arabia/riyadh/sights/architecture/kingdom-tower

(5) Ar Riyadh: The Birthplace of a Nation

https://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A2KLqIERJntWhl8AiLw0nIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByNDY3bGRuBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDdmlkBHZ0aWQDBGdwb3MDNQ–?p=paul+mcdowell+euronews+al+diriyah&vid=3fdcd9b0a2e3ce4bfde85ffe001ca368&turl=http%3A%2F%2Ftse2.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DWN.CX9S6V7P%252fXdRkggK6LumWg%26pid%3D15.1%26h%3D168%26w%3D300%26c%3D7%26rs%3D1&rurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Daypq3lgP1uA&tit=Arriyadh%3A+The+Birthplace+Of+A+Nation+-+Life&c=4&h=168&w=300&l=301&sigr=11bj5p8j3&sigt=11bdahe5t&sigi=12nl9obgv&age=1413829903&fr2=p%3As%2Cv%3Av&hsimp=yhs-prodege_001&hspart=prodege&type=search_6&vm=p&param4=1270166858&tt=b

(6) About & History

http://www.seekteachers.com/country-info.asp?country_id=18&attribute_id=2165

(7) Najd Village

http://najdvillage.com/#c

(8) Wadi Hanifa

https://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?wp=GC51R22&title=wadi-hanifah-stair-stepping

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5 Best Hangout Spots in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Ever been to a country that has no movie theaters, clubs, or bars? This is Saudi Arabia!  With about 9 out of 10 workers in this country being expats, we must creatively find ways to have fun. If you happen to make it to the capital city of Riyadh, here’s some tips to make this city feel a little more like home…

1) Hike w/ the Hash

Most major cities around the world have Hash House Harriers (HHH), a group of hikers that get together and explore the local terrain. What makes Hashing in Saudi so special, is the differing landscapes of the desert.  With the permission of authorities, it gives foreigners-only the opportunity to mingle freely, sans abaya (black cloak women wear), and build valuable contacts to make life in Riyadh much easier.  The best part is stumbling across unique finds, like desert diamonds, hieroglyphics, or desert roses.  To seal the memory, end your hike next to a campfire, feet in sand, watching the sunset.

*Locations: Changes weekly.
*Price: 10 SAR/week.

2) Hamam at Direm Beauty Center

Basically, during Hamam, an old lady gives you the best bath of your life! You can find everyone from soon-to-be Saudi brides to curious expats getting this treatment done. It can be compared to the body scrubs of Turkey or the jjimjilbangs of South Korea. The entire treatment is done in a wet sauna, where the woman slathers you with mixtures of soap, oil, and mud.  After she removes a layer of your DNA, you may find that you are a shade and a pound lighter. It’s an interesting experience that has you walking away with skin so soft and clean, as if you were just born yesterday.

*Location: Take Exit 5 at China Mart/Carrefour. Make a U-Turn. Then get onto the service road (be careful not to enter the highway on the right). Direm International Instititute de Beaute is a white building on the right.
*Price: 130 SAR

3) Eat at Najd Village

If you want to experience what ancient Saudi Arabia was like, you must visit this restaurant! When you first walk in, the stone walls encase you like an old fortress. Simple rarities here, like the rich color patterns found in the painted doors, gold Arabic antiques, and plush green grass, are a joy to see.  Every group is  given a private eating room with wrap-around floor seating. The meal is started off with the traditional Saudi dates and tea. And then you are served huge dishes that meant to be shared. Here’s one of your few chances to try camel!.. Don’t forget your camera. This restaurant is a unique experience that you may want to capture.

*Directions: On the corner of King Abdullah Rd and Abo Baker Rd. Across from Prince Sultan University
*Prices: range from 10 – 135 SAR

4) “Visit another country” at the Diplomatic Quarters

Similar to compounds, but on a grander scale, the Diplomatic Quarters is an expat’s road to freedom. These mini international neighborhoods are neutral grounds, where foreigners can do various activities that may not be available on the outside. Often, different embassies will throw a festival for any given holiday, have outdoor movie showings, or BBQ’s. For runners who are confined to the “dreadmill”, the greenery of trails is a dreamland.

This picture is from the blog – Shards of China, by Nicholas Kellingley. If you enjoyed it you can find more material here at http://shardsofchina.wordpress.com and you can also follow him on Twitter – @ShardsofChina

5) Shop and Eat at Al Faisaliya Tower

If you’re looking for a fancy night out on the town, you must pay a visit to The Globe restaurant at the top of Al Faisaliya Tower.  Here you can taste a variety of European meals, High Tea, and deserts, at a table that overlooks all of Riyadh. If this doesn’t fit your tastes, step over to Il Terrazo restaurant, an all-you-can eat Brazilian barbeque. This open-air, but misted, restaurant plays music (which is absent in most public places) and is a mixed gender zone. Once the sun sets, step out onto the observation deck for a 360 degree view of the city, with the desert in the background. Then walk off the food, in the expansive mall below.

*Directions: Major landmark on King Fahd Rd and Olaya St.
*Prices: 100 – 200 SAR for The Globe
200 SAR for Il Terrazo

Is This What Armageddon Will Look Like?

Today has been an eventful day.. As I was heading out to the desert for a hike there was a light sandstorm, followed by a blinding rainfall. It’s flooded every week I’ve been here, so far. The weather had turned our convoy around, which was upsetting since I needed a break from the city. One of the old ladies in my car says, “Here… have some chocolate”. To my surprise, Vodka-filled chocolate. These sneaky Irish.. That didn’t quite make my day as she hoped, but thankfully my friend in a car far ahead called me about the perfect weather at the meeting point. 

This hike was at the Graffiti Rocks, an archaeological event that I’ve been looking forward to. So after relaying the phone call and casting a vote.. we turned back around and gave the weather another try. Once we arrived, it was absolutely gorgeous! The sky was the clearest blue, that I’ve seen so far here. Not a cloud visible in the sky, yet the sun was not beaming strong at all. These trips are the highlights of my weekend, being able to congregate with foreigners from all corners of the world, hearing all the languages. All the women can’t strip off their abayas fast enough. All the kids can’t wait to break out in a run.

The landscape this week was different than the other locations. Instead of the rocky ground, that pounds your joints by the end of the hour hike.. this one was black rocky mountains, sitting on top of a soft red, beachy sand. Beautiful contrast. For these grounds, you have to venture out a little further from the city.

It was a difficult climb, so the smartest move is to step on the same secure rock as the previous climber. From a distance we’d probably resemble a trail of different colored ants. At the top of the mountain, we find many mounds of rocks, which happens to be ancient tombs. I guess that’s easier piling rock, instead of digging 6ft in this terrain.

We leisurely work our way down the hill with a Spaniard family behind us, which gives my roommate and co-teacher the opportunity to practice their Spanish, and for me to ease-drop on the French clique in front of us. I hate the amount of French language I’ve lost along the years. At the bottom there’s long, flat sandy ground. Enough to make a runner break out into a sprint. I told my crew to go on ahead a little, solely for this purpose. It was short run, but sweet.

We come to a rest stop, where water and oranges are waiting. This is where we got our first glimpse at hieroglyphics. I interpret it to be a man riding on a camel. Then, directly above some fool defaced the rocks w/ initials. How in the world can someone be so naïve to add their modern marks to an ancient site, I have no idea! But it sorta pissed the anthropologist within me. We climb up another difficult hill to see graffiti of camel, antelope and maybe some sort of bird.. along with perhaps an ancient language that actually looks like Korean. Awesome finds!!

Hash Guy is at the bottom of the hill cooking sausages for 200 hungry hikers. The line goes through the parking lot. Some families are out on their beach towels and lawn chairs, around their private campfires. You look up and see the ship-shaped kite blowing, with the clear blue sky in the background… Then, we hear a yell… Some guy’s telling everyone to get down from the rocks and start packing up. We look to the left, and there’s a HUGE sandstorm coming over the hills. Imagine the movie “Twister”…

Everyone’s taking pictures and videos.. I’m one of these crazy ones, who wait til the last moment as well. So we jump into the car, and the storm basically chases us. The cloud looks so thick, that you could imagine the thing picking up our car and everything in its path. We decide to sit it out on the side of the highway for an hour, while the entire sky goes black. It eventually clears a little, and we start inching our way back to the city. By the way, I’m now typing this in the car, as we drive 10mph. Needless to say, it has been quite an interesting day.

Update: So apparently the storm traveled the 100km (60ish miles) to the city..I had my apt cleaned RIGHT BEFORE I left… Spotless! And I return to a thin layer of red dust on literally everything! Grr

Beautiful Contrast

Before landing in Saudi Arabia, I had a pitstop in Qatar.. It was a beautiful descend!! Some of the most popular sunset pictures taken, are over either an ocean or a desert.. I got to see a perfect combination of both 🙂 I now see the necessity of investing in a nice camera, especially if I continue to travel.

Once stepping off the plane in Saudi Arabia, and taking the van to my new living quarters, it was a different kind of beautiful. The grandness of the buildings, makes you feel that you are living among royalty. Especially when passing the compounds of Princess Noura University… and then you come across all of the rubble on the backroads, to remind you that every city holds a lower class.

I’ve never seen a city so ‘brown’ in my life… Sand/dirt/concrete everywhere! But not dirt, as in soil, more like construction site dirt. You could say its a pretty solid city! Imagine, every patch of grass you would normally find in a damp climate, it’s replaced by this stuff… and palm trees. And this combination is what oddly makes it so beautiful. I’ve always related palms with sand, BUT I felt it common sense that an ocean must be nearby. But, a desert??