Tuesday, January 26, 2010

some airlines to use

Ok, so because a lot of expat time in Saudi is spent figuring out how to get out of Saudi, I thought this might be useful for those of you who are there and thinking "I need a break!" ...one myth that you might think when you get to Riyadh is that travelling must be cheap because everyone is doing it all the time. Nay. Thou art wrong. It's true people travel all the time and it's not because it's cheap, it's for sanity. Unfortunately, aside from major hubs like Paris, London, Frankfurt,etc. you are often looking at flights with connections when you go on vacation - something you will despise, but slowly, in time, accept.

For what it's worth, here's a breakdown of popular airlines in Riyadh:
Qatar - good food (like so good that you'll ask your neighbour if they're going to eat the cake or not), good service, online check in has some glitches, overall, one of the best in the region to fly with. On the expensive side.

Emirates - good food, good service, but long distances usually result in insanely long layovers in Dubai. Good news is that they will provide you with a hotel stay in Dubai as long as you call in to book it. For whatever reason the demographic makeup of this airline seems to be a lot of working class from the middle east. Also, tix tend to be pricey.

Lufthansa - your standard airline, generally reliable unless snow closes down their Frankfurt airport... This is a pretty popular option for those who can't afford the long Dubai layovers of Emirates. Don't expect anything more than average, but at least they are generally better than Air Canada - the national blight and terror of the skies. Unfortunately, when the two are paired together for routes and there are problems, you can be sure neither airline will take the blame.

Turkish Airways - decently priced, so it's popular with travellers. Don't spring for their business class, it's a waste. Planes are not the nicest, but they do the job, i.e. they haven't crashed in a while ha ha ha...ok sorry, couldn't resist.

Etihad - haven't flown with them but heard good things about them.

Saudi Arabia Airlines (Saudia) - haven't flown with them but heard bad things about them.

It's not a complete list, so feel free to chime in readers, if you've had a good or bad experience with an airline flying out of Riyadh. I am all ears if you have recommendations on what airlines to use.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the utter quiet

For those unemployed expat women who come to Riyadh accompanying their husbands who have jobs, compound life is very quiet. Aside from sometimes hearing kids playing on the street, it's just always quiet, always sunny, and it can be isolating if you allow yourself to stay cooped up. For those who are more introverted and lean on others to pull them into a social network, it can be lonely.

On the flipside, those who attend compound events and go on the shopping bus regularly can find themselves quite busy socializing. Some women get really into hashing and desert trips. Some get onto the coffee morning circuit and even make good money selling their crafts or sausages, or what not. And a lot of women elect to sign up for a teaching job at an international school, though the hours can be bad and the pay isn't high.

For many, all the available quiet time could drive you insane, though I view it a bit differently. Riyadh is usually a place of transition for couples and families - and the quiet affords you all the opportunity to indulge in the hobbies that you've always wanted to pursue, and gives you time to reflect, something you usually don't have time for when you live in the West. And as always, time away from home gives you an appreciation for the luxuries you've had the good luck to grow up with.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Departing Riyadh

no, no, its not what you think - not for good. What with all the travelling I've been doing lately, I thought I'd post something I wrote waiting for my plane at Riyadh's airport.

It’s a very special place. It’s almost always clogged with men travelling in packs. Abayas are not required at the airport, but given the amount of men around who do not consider staring rude, I tend to keep mine on until I pass through customs.

Security is always interesting because women go through a private section to be searched. Sometimes this can be nice, because on occasion they'll shuttle the women through ahead of the men. Most recently I was greeted by an arab woman who was on her cell phone during the entire search and communicated using gestures and angry noises. Maybe she wasn’t angry, but her eyebrows were certainly drawn that way. This was the first time my bra went off during a search where security wanted to know what was inside (answer: my metallic boobs). Also of note - the men’s prayer area, denoted by a large section of rugs. It’s quite a sight to see people on it in the open. At any given time, about half of them are engaged in the holy act of napping.

There’s a lounge at the airport that people can pay to get into. It costs 100 riyals and is totally not worth it. Firstly, it’s tiny. Secondly, the food sucks. Thirdly it’s always crowded. Fourthly, the bathrooms are never free. Fifthly, four reasons are enough to steer clear, let’s not be greedy.

I confess I am one of those hoverers during boarding. I always bring a big carry-on with me so I like to be among the first to board the plane to get that coveted storage space. I am seasoned in the art of strategic lineupping. Of course, even if you’re first in line you won’t necessarily be boarded in an order that seems logical and fair. Occasionally, depending on the airline and the types of people with tickets on your aircraft, you can have "the dome" formation of line-up, which is not a lineup, it is a bottleneck rush of madness.

Despite its drawbacks, the big crowning glorious prize is that at the end of it, you get to board a plane and go on a trip to visit friends or family, or be a tourist. For that, many expats would agree, the price they would be willing to pay is limitless. I'm no exception!