Monday, July 12, 2010

so THAT'S why they don't fly Saudia...

I finally made a trip to the main Saudi Arabian Airlines office in Riyadh. The reason being that the flight I requested was not available as an electronic ticket, so I had to get a paper one. Lemme give you a piece of advice. If you find out you can't get an electronic ticket, do not bother with Saudia, because for the money you will save with the cheap flight, you will be paying out emotionally and with your time instead.

After being informed by the booking assistance Saudia guy on the phone that I needed to go to a travel agent or saudia office to get my ticket, I asked my husband's office runner to help make a booking. In the evening I proceeded to Saudia head office (the big one off King Fahad near Panda Supermarket). If you have never seen a typical Saudia travel agent work, let me paint the scene for you: a Saudia employee sits expressionless and motionless staring blankly at a computer screen while you approach the counter - he types so slow you have to double check whether you are in real time or whether you have slipped into a slow motion wormhole - he gives you a number that reads 87 while the electronic counter behind him reads 70 - ten minutes later he is still in the exact same position serving the exact same customer - you realize you could be there all night. The office was just stuffed with people, a total mess, and the men's section was a million times worse. After hearing that a friend had waited six hours at that very office, I decided to leave and tackle the task the next day.

The next morning, due to a lack of consensus on where I could pick up my ticket, I visited three different travel agencies and a Saudia office near the airbase, only to be sent right back to the Saudi head office. Finally I resigned myself to the fate of sitting in the pile and took a number from the front desk. Once I got to the counter, it took another twenty minutes to get my precious paper ticket.

My advice if you still decide you want to risk visiting this office is: 1)get the lady in your life to go 2)make sure you have your passport 3)make sure you get a number directly from the employee as they have stopped distributing them from the dispensers 4)go in the morning 5)bring a book or something to stab yourself with, anything to relieve the boredom!

I have heard really mixed things about Saudi Arabian Airlines. On the one hand, some people say the flights are on time and have good leg room. On the other hand, I've heard that VIP's and HRH's that show up last minute are given priority over proper ticket holders who get bumped off their flights, and the planes seem to have more unsoothed toddlers on them wreaking havoc. And now I have witnessed the abomination that is their head office...hmmm....

Saturday, July 10, 2010

You speak english?

So I think one of the good things about Saudi Arabia that isn't mentioned enough is how much English is spoken here. Many of the major road signs and signs in the malls are written in both English and Arabic. Even your trip to the grocery store is aided by bilingual signs and bilingual labels on products. You can bank in English, get your internet set up in English, basically live your life in Riyadh in English. My Riyadh readers must think I am a little insane suggesting this, but actually I feel quite grateful that enough people speak my native tongue here that I can get by in my day to day life without having too much difficulty with language barriers.

Don't get me wrong, it can definitely try your patience when you have a communication breakdown with your driver. Questions that you know for a fact cannot be answered with 'yes' or 'no' (e.g. 'where the hell are we?') can and will be answered with 'yes' in the car when a driver doesn't understand you. As far as I am concerned, this is the international test of English: ask a question that begins with who, what, where, when, or why. If the person answers 'yes', it means they do NOT speak English and though they may look nice, they will NOT be able to help you!

But on the whole I find it astounding how many people in this country are bilingual or trilingual. I am most ashamedly monolingual despite having two official languages in Canada. The truth is that we are only truly bilingual in pockets and the vast majority of us are English-speaking with an elementary school sprinkling of French stored somewhere in the back of our brains. Here is a random sampling of my French: je ne sais pas mon ami, mais ou est le gateau? Le fromage est dans la salle de bain avec le croque monsieur chateau frontenac louis riel decoupage cuisinart.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Luthan Spa

Ladies! I went to the Luthan Spa for the first time this week and it was more fabulous than I thought it would be and just had to share. I went with a very dear girlfriend of mine, which made it a lot of fun because we got to dissect the experience as it happened. Ok, so the first remark I have to make is that this spa was very nice. It had that mmmmm spa smell and it was decently decorated.

Here is the locker room where we took off our clothes and took pictures of each other. Now now, we had robes on. I know this might sound ridiculous to some of you, but my friend and I had a discussion on how much clothing we thought we should wear under our robes. In the end, it was no different than any other spa in the West.

The photo snapping came to an abrupt halt in the lounge area after we were told to put our cameras away, which I suppose should have been obvious. Due to my deep commitment to this blog and to you, my dear readers, I secretly took pictures anyway ha ha ha suckers. Check out the relaxation room! It had individual water beds where you could rest from all the hard spa work!

We got a tour of the facilities and there was an impressive collection of specialized treatment rooms for an array of therapies, like Ayurvedic treatments, Balinese massages, and Mermaid MRI. Ok, it wasn't a Mermaid MRI, it was a heated waterbed massage thingy, but the full body machine was in the shape of sparkly shell. I swear it on my life. They also had quite a selection of steam and sauna rooms in the pool area with different themes, like a Moroccan Hammam and an herbal sauna that smelled like heaven. None of the treatment rooms were set up for more than one person, so that's something to keep in mind if you go with a friend. You ain't gonna be yapping through your mud wraps unless you make good conversation with walls and ceilings (I admit this happens at home sometimes). You will also want to book in advance if you are getting a package done because even though the spa looked pretty dang empty when we got there, they insisted it was a busy day.

Anywho I had a wonderful massage there, a hair treatment, a facial, and a back mud wrap. They were all very nice, barring the painful bits during the facial, and it really was a wonderful day, made even better by the company I had with me!

Luthan Spa website

Monday, July 5, 2010

the curious case of cryptic closures

Crazy caption?

I'm talking about this strange phenomenon in Riyadh where we find stores, restaurants, and retailers in general closed for no apparent reason. Y'all know what I'm talking about? With the exception of the 'safety' hours between 10am - 12pm, and 4pm - 6pm, I often feel I am rolling the dice in attempting to visit a retail space. I say this because even when you have the exact prayer times in front of you, sometimes you can arrive at a place to find it closed, and you will not have the luxury of an explanation.

Take for instance last night. Hubster and I came out of an appointment downtown at 7:45pm. We got into our driver's car and decided to head somewhere to eat. In the car we checked the prayer times on the internet, the next one being at 8:17pm. Perfect, we had just enough time to get settled and order somewhere. At a traffic light, we saw Tony Roma's and decided we wanted to eat there. So we jumped out of the car and raced across the street to it only to find that at 8:00pm all the lights were off, the curtains were drawn, the place was closed. We called our driver to make a U-turn and hopped back in the car confused. So we had the wrong prayer time?? Nope. Hubster double checked, it was 8:17pm, Tony Roma's just decided to close for god only knows what reason. At this point our choices were to eat an expensive meal at a hotel where prayer is not observed, eat cheap garbage quickly at a mall food court, or go home. So we went home.

We once visited a mattress store on three separate occasions deliberately trying different days and different hours to see if it would be open, but it never was. The last time we went, there was a single light on, taunting us, as if to say, 'wouldn't you like to know who turned this one light on? well he is in a place called Not Here.'

Well anyways, one reason why some stores are closed in the afternoon is because many retailers choose to have split hours that run from 9am - 12pm and then 4pm till 8pm-ish. The other closures I just chalk up to randomness. Coming from Canada where hours are clearly marked on doors and websites, and employees answer phones when you call them, I just can't describe the level of confusion I felt when I first moved here and began encountering this regularly. On the whole it just means you need to put some planning into eating out or visiting certain stores in the evening, but some days I miss the spontaneity of just being able to wing it and have simple things work out. One respite is that all the major grocery stores appear to be exempt from this random closure thing, so I am at least uber thankful for that.

You would think we should be used to sidestepping prayer by now. True, we've gotten much better, but as you can see, we are not always successful - even after a year and a half!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Riyadh Recipe for Spectacle

Whisk together in a large bowl:
1 cup waiting for hubster to finish work
1 cup driving through heavy traffic to pick up hubster
2 cups hunger
2 TBSP waiting for hubster to come out of office
1/4 cup driving to wrong restaurant
2 cups walking to right restaurant
5 cups simmering Saudi heat

Pour mixture into large pot & place on stove on high heat. Then pour in:
1 TSP miscalculation of prayer time
3 TBSP staring at closed restaurant
1/4 cup of restaurant remaining closed while everything else opens

Bring mixture to a boil. Pour out onto sidewalk.

If you have followed the recipe correctly, you should see a woman loudly and repeatedly knocking on the glass door of a dark restaurant with shades drawn, with hubster standing a ways back holding inner counsel on whether intervention is worthwhile or hazardous. Next, you should see the shades slowly pull up, watch the door unlock, and see the woman walk into a room full of quiet restaurant employees staring at her while she pretends nothing has happened.

You may wish to garnish this dish with hubster's chuckling.