Escape to Egypt

November 28, 2014

Finally… the long awaited day is here. My first trip out of Saudi Arabia since arriving here about 4 months ago.

For at least the last 5 years of my life, I don’t think I’ve gone 4 months without flying somewhere or going somewhere on some sort of trip or adventure. But then I moved to Saudi Arabia and suddenly, I’ve been living in the same city for 4 months without going further than maybe 75km from my home!!

I struggled to decide where I should go on my first bit of vacation… so many options!! (First world problems. I know) Would it be a trip home… or a weekend in Dubai… or somewhere warm and sunny and beachy like the Philippines… but at the end of the day, I only got 1 week off work and decided to go to Egypt with my good friend Amelia for my first weekend off plus a few days… and then… maybe Dubai or Bahrain for the next weekend… hadn’t quite decided yet.

Amelia and I stayed in Riyadh Thursday night instead of taking off right away after work because we were attending the Caledonian Ball… which was heaps of fun.

So Friday noon… we headed to the airport. Airport security in Riyadh… so lax compared to US airport security! And being a woman… definitely a bit of an advantage because you get to skip the long lines to go through the scanner as women go through a seperate area… and there’s a lot less females travelling out of this place than men!

Seriously, I’m so thrilled to have my passport in hand again… and to be able to travel…. eeeeek!!!

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Waiting in the airport… listening to the muezzin call out adhan… the call to prayer… resounding through the airport… it was beautiful!

Eventually we boarded our flight to Egypt… via Saudia Airlines… our first time flying with them. Mafi alcohol on this flight. But that’s ok. We’ll survive!

Really unique thing about flying with Saudi Airlines… before the plane starts moving towards takeoff or anything… a prayer/several verses from the Quran are recited over the cabin speakers. From what I could find on google, it is called a dua’a which is an act of supplication. To summarize, the dua’a recited praises Allah and gives thanks that we have this means of transport and if it is Allah’s will, we will safely arrive at our destination and we will return.

“O Allah! Protect me and protect what is with me (my possessions), and deliver me (to my destination and delivery what is with me the best of your delivery. By Allah I commence (my journey) and by Allah I seek to accomplish (the purpose of my journey) and by Muhammad (s.a.w.) I have set out (towards my destination). ‘O’ Allah make me overcome all (my grief); and make easy for me all difficulties; and give me more of goodness than I hope for; and keep away all evil of which I am apprehensive for my health.” “O the most Merciful”.

Even though my personal beliefs are a bit different, it is very unique to experience this part of the culture!

So… we flew… only about 3.5-4 hours to Cairo. Never thought I’d be living on a few hours away from Egypt! Arrived in Cairo in the evening. Didn’t realize we’d need to purchase a visa at the airport in order to get into the country. Cha-ching… there goes 200 riyals. Oh well. Got through customs and all that just fine. But wow, the terminal was stale smelling! Ugh.

And… we stopped at the duty free… in the first liquor store I’ve been in in 4 months!!! Had to grab a bottle of wine.  Not because we so desperately needed it, but having been denied the opportunity to purchase alcohol for the last 4 months… it’s really just something we had to do 🙂

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We’d heard many sketchy things about taxis in Cairo. Like, never ever get in a white taxi. So, we found a fairly legitimate taxi service near the exit of the airport arrivals terminal, and the driver brought us to our hotel… the Fairmont Nile City... about 20-30minutes from the airport.

Coming from Riyadh, we’re used to fairly high security to get into everything… but even here in Cairo, there were bomb dogs at the hotel gate sniffing the car and guards checking the trunks and everything. Even the entrance of the hotel had a xray scanner for bags and we had to go through a scanner as well!

The hotel was gorgeous though! Marble. A waterfall that rang along the elevator tower. Beautiful flowers and sculptures.

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And the service was wonderful. The gentleman behind the desk was young and friendly and upgraded us to a Fairmon Gold level room with a view of the Nile… we’d get free breakfast with our upgrade… access to the lounge where there would always be  coffees and juices and snacks available… plus free Egyptian wine and beer samples at happy hour every afternoon.

Our room was beautiful… and we had a gorgeous Nile River view… at night right now so we couldn’t really see the river itself. But still. I can’t believe I’m in Egypt in this wonderfully historical land… literally across the road from the Nile River. That most famous river of all I think!

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We were pretty exhausted by this time… so we headed to one of the restaurants in our hotel for some dinner… sushi and dumplings!! How non-Egyptian! 😮  And of course… a celebratory glass of red wine!!

imageimageimageNow… off to bed as we only have 2 full days in Cairo and so much to see!! Egyptian museum tomorrow!!! And I can’t wait to see this place in the daylight!!

This trip has been off to a great start and I’m so excited to see what the next few days bring… and to cross an item off the bucket list… the Pyramids of Giza!

Weather Report: Desert Rain

November 18, 2014

For the first time since arriving in Saudi Arabia, it rained.

And I nearly cried.

I come from British Columbia, the Fraser Valley to be specific. An area of Canada where it rarely snows (surprising right?!) but almost always rains! We probably get more rain than sunshine in the valley… which means that we are constantly surrounded by lush, drippy greenery… and many lakes and rivers.

And I moved to the desert. Where rain rarely happens! But when it does… it is a big event!

It also causes a lot of problems if the rain amounts to anything substantial as why would a desert city build any type of effective rain drainage systems right?! Roads flood, sewers overflow, etc. It’s a bit yucky.

And you know how at home, when it hasn’t rained in weeks and it finally rains again, the oils and such that have collected for weeks on the roads get damp again and turn roads into absolutely skating rinks?!! Well… imagine what the roads are like when it hasn’t rained in months and months!! Disastrous. If Riyadh traffic was bad before the rain… its absolutely treacherous after the rain!!!

Also… at home, when it rains, it smells like damp earth and wet evergreens and fresh and new and bright and cheery… when it rains in Riyadh, it smells like a thousand wet dogs who haven’t been washed in years! Definitely not the same fresh smell at all!!!

But, the rain is a beautiful thing. The sound of rain drops on palm trees… and knowing that tomorrow in the desert things will come alive and flowers will blossom and bits of grass and greenery will start to grow and embrace the sunshine that will come again in the morning… until they fry to a crisp in the scorching heat. But never mind that. It is beautiful for the moment!

I was at work when I saw patients coming in with speckled clothing… and then heard rumors that it was absolutely pouring outside. So I took off in a hurry to go see the rain for myself. I found people clustered around the doorways, videoing and photographing this monumental event. Or just waiting for the rain to subside before making a run for their vehicles or their ride…

So I joined the crowd of people photographing/videoing the event…

Even my weather app shows the weather to be pretty crazy in Riyadh… thunder and lightening today even?

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I went to play football (known as soccer to us Canadians) with some friends at a compound… and when we came it out was all damp and rainy too… raindrops on the windshield of the car… amazing!! 🙂

imageThis is a pretty cool shot taken by a friend of Riyadh traffic… featuring rain and a lightening bolt!

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For the record, it rained a couple times in Riyadh in the space of a few weeks… From about the middle of November to the beginning of December. But nothing since then.

Also… fun fact… Average rainfall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is approximately 104mm or 4 inches per year. In comparison, average rainfall in Chilliwack, British Columbia is about 1667 mm or 65.6 inches. Bit of a difference?! How did I go from one extreme to the other??!!

“Over all Saudi Arabia provides extreme weather condition that may prove hard to adjust at first but once you settled down in this wonderful nation the ever changing cool and hot weather condition will prove to be easy to adapt to and seeing the rain fall at some time of the year is enough to give excitement to everyone.” So states saudiarabia-travel.org.

I think they’re trying to convince us that it is a wonderful climate to live in? I wouldn’t say that website would convince me to live in Saudi Arabia. But I do agree… it is a wonderful nation and the climate is not as terrible as one would think. I suppose if there was massive A/C failure across the city, I’d probably disagree greatly! But when the A/C works… it is completely tolerable. And while sometimes I miss the rain, I don’t miss the 190 days of grey dismal dreariness that is the norm back in BC!!

Enough about weather now.

Weather girl… signing off

 

Rugged, Rocky, Remote: The Desert

November 14, 2014

On a warm sunny late fall weekend… I got to do my first hash run out in the desert!! I’d heard about these hash clubs before I moved to Saudi Arabia and was excited to try it!

Now, you’re probably wondering what a hash is… and thinking of a substance that is definitely mafi qwayas in Saudi Arabia. Well. It’s nothing like what you’re thinking.
According to Wikipedia (I know… not the world’s most reliable source, but it gives you good info and a basic rundown when you need it.)

Hash House Harries or HHH or H3 or simply referred to as hashing, is an international group of non-competitive running social clubs. An event organized by a club is known as a hash or hash run, with participants calling themselves hashers or hares and hounds.

In other parts of the world, drinking beer or ginger beer at the end of a hash run is a huge component of the event. Some groups describe themselves as a “drinking club with a running problem.” However, here in Saudi Arabia, there is no drinking involved. We do quench the thirst the run has brought on with some cool water and fresh oranges though and just enjoy meeting new people and catching up with old friends, socializing, maybe enjoying a good BBQ or campout at the end of the run…

We drove out of the city and the awful smog that constantly surrounds Riyadh… and way out in to the desert… along a highway… and then down a bumpy gravel road… and then down a little track that was dusty and even bumpier with deep ruts… following the little arrows the hares had laid out for us to follow…

The sky was a beautiful blue… the sun so blissfully warm… the sand and rocks a warm brown… absolutely gorgeous in such a dry dusty desert sort of way. Completely different from the lush green mountainous views I’m accustomed to back home in British Columbia!

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Before beginning the hash run, we all gathered around in a circle. As the newbies, we had to stand in the center of the circle and all together, shout out our names and where we are from and what we are doing in Riyadh, as loud as we could. Everyone cheered and laughed and welcomed us. Then, one of the hares (leaders) described the different trails for us… either a long walk, a short walk, or a run. We decided to do the long walk. (It’s still a bit too hot out here to go running mid day in the middle of the desert!)

Today we are hiking around Faisal’s finger… a beautiful natural rock structure that looks remarkably like a finger actually… hence the name!

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We set off on the trail… up some hills… past an absolutely stunning outcropping of rock… a large escarpment that actually runs for miles and miles through the desert…

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Up and around Faisal’s finger…

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Down and around the backside of Faisal’s finger… bypassing a bit of a wadi or valley… and along the edge of the wadi… watching the sun begin to sink down along the horizon… silhouetting the other hashers further on the trail…

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Back to our starting point… following the chalk marks the whole way…

Near the start of the hash… was the most beautiful vantage point of Faisal’s finger… you could see the finger, as well as the sharp point of the escarpment where it almost meets the finger, and as some point in history, may have been connected to Faisal’s finger… but time and nature eroded the rock away between the two…

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Back at the starting point, I climbed up a small ridge that looked out into the valley beyond… beautiful flat and desolate desert for miles with beautiful cliffs jutting up from the desert far in the distance… rock and rugged and absolutely beautiful!! This far out in the desert it is so calm and peaceful. Walking in silence, hearing the gentle whistle of the wind blowing about me… absolute stillness and serenity… I am absolutely in LOVE with this country. It is stunningly beautiful, in a way I’ve never seen before in my life… the culture, the people… the opportunities it has provided me with…

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These people especially… they’re a wonderful group of friends and I am so blessed to know them and to be having experiences like this one with them!

As the sun was starting to set, we quickly headed out of the desert as we didn’t want to get caught out there after sunset as it would be very difficult to find the path out again!

However, in our rush to get out of the desert and on to a decent road by dark, we hit a very sharp rock which punctured the tire and suddenly we had a flat tire to change.

And so… the sun set on my first hash run… my second desert experience… one of the most beautiful hikes of my life!!!

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Goodnight and Goodbye… with much love like always… from the desert to you, wherever you may be…

Annemarie

Sandy Shenanigans

November 9, 2014

Bored out of my tree this morning… and feeling a little sick (bad cold) and sorry for myself… weekends are the one time I’d really love to call home and get in touch with everyone… but during the day while I’m wide awake… they’re all sound asleep! Ugh… that time difference.

Anyways… somehow one of my friends must have known I needed a little pick me up and called unexpectedly to see if I wanted to go quadbiking out in the Red Sands. I was thrilled! Haven’t been out to the sandy desert yet!! So she picked me up along with a friend and we headed out to the Red Sand dunes! It was a beautifully sunny day… A relatively “cool” 30 degrees… perfect weather to be out in the sunshine…

It was about a 40minute drive out the city… out of the smog and into the beautiful fresh air!

We hired a couple quads to go zipping around in the dunes…

The sand dunes are absolutely gorgeous! The beautiful, rich red color… the blue skies… the vast sweeping desert… so wild and desolate and dry… but so gorgeous!!
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Driving the quad bikes was absolutely amazing! I havent driven anything in 3 months, so it was fun to finally be behind the “wheel” and tearing up and down the dunes in any direction I wanted to go. Maybe odd…. but the movement of going up and down the dunes and the feel of the sand beneath me reminded me a lot of the mountains and snowboarding or snowmobiling… the way you climb a hill sideways and crest it at an angle rather than going straight up and over as you don’t know what is on the other side… my dad taught me that about sledding and snowboarding… Those lessons served me well while quad biking in Saudi 🙂

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Even did a small bit of hiking and climbed to the top of a dune… got hips of fine little red granules in my shoes… but mafi mushkela… it was worth it…

imageIt was just absolutely beyond gorgeous out in the desert and I was so happy to be out and free… and driving… and just enjoying the warmth of the sunshine (in a non-scorching sort of way) and the fresh air… all the negativity of my earlier experience rapidly faded into the background as I revelled in the joy of zipping around on my quad bike through the dunes!!

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To be honest… it really was a wonderful experience all around… i’ll quickly forget about the negative experience at the beginning… especially since it was followed up by this…

And… to top it all off… I got to see camels for the first time… just roaming around along the side of the road as we drove away from the sand dunes…

I even got a car selfie with “Alice the camel… who only had one hump”

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And so ends my first desert experience… heaps of fun!! Definitely can’t wait to get out in the desert again!!!

much love from the sandpit… more sandy shenanigans coming your way…

xo

Annemarie

Seriously Proud to be Canadian

October 24, 2014

Today… what a great day. I went to my first formal ball here in Riyadh (actually in my life to specific as we definitely don’t have “balls” at home… other than the balls you play games with of course. haha).

And there is definitely no better place to start off the “social season” in Riyadh than with my own embassy, the Canadian embassy!

The Canadian Red & White Ball is something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks… since I first heard talk about it shortly after I arrived in Riyadh actually. The chance to get dressed up in a beautiful gown, enjoy a really nice meal and some beverages with friends… a little music and dancing and a whole lot of laughter…

After much thought and several shopping trips… I finally found an appropriate dress and shoes to wear to the ball. I know it seems silly and trivial, and it probably is… but it was really difficult trying to decide what to wear to my first ball. (First world problems… I know!) The term “ball” itself conveys a certain degree of formality… and therefore, I’d have to dress up significantly. And then hearing from many people that girls tend to wear full ball gowns and everything to these sort of events, I knew I needed to find something pretty fancy.

Riyadh is filled with shops carrying absolutely beautiful dresses… big ball gowns, cocktail dresses… extravagant… elegant… super sparkly and sequined or simply stunning… Eventually, I found a beautiful black dress that was somewhere in between cocktail dress and ball gown… and I found a stunning pair of shoes… my first pair of Prada shoes.. with just enough sparkle! So…

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All dolled up… a pre-party selfie…

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I headed out to the DQ with a few friends to our friends home where we would take a few pictures together and hang out for a little bit before the ball started. Since we aren’t allowed to take cameras or phones into the embassy, we needed a group shot before we left…

image However, there was a professional photographer there, so we had a picture taken on arrival… as well as a few throughout the night. It was great!!

imageimageI was seated at a long table with a whole bunch of people from the hockey crew and we had a riot all meal long… we spent hours talking and laughing outrageously at everything. It was great fun!

On a more serious note… For Canadians all around the world, this week was difficult. A soldier standing duty at the National War Memorial in Ottawa was killed in a shooting.

Earlier in the week, another Canadian soldier was killed in a hit and run attack also. So I think we all feel a bit less invincible than usual. As Canadians, we know that we are well liked around the world in general. I like to consider us the Switzerland of North America… pretty neutral. But these attacks remind us that we are not exempt from the tragedies that occur in other countries in the world on a daily basis.  As Prime Minister Harper said, “This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world.”

http://www.680news.com/2014/12/24/rewind-2014-ottawa-shootings/

For those of us Canadian living in Riyadh, the Canadian Red&White Ball definitely came at a time when we were all feeling pretty proud to be Canadian and much more patriotic than usual! So when the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, stood up and sang the Canadian anthem … a capella… (first in French because that is how it was originally written), and then in English and we all joined in, I sang my little heart out, through the giant lump in my throat, with goosebumps and a little shiver of patriotic!! I’ve never felt so close to my homeland and so proud to be Canadian, although being so far from home and in a country so different from the one I grew up in!

The singing of the Canadian anthem was definitely my favourite part of the whole evening!! Without a doubt!

But what an amazing experience…Really!!! There are not many Canadians who can say they’ve been to Saudi Arabia, or to Riyadh. Not many Canadians have had the unique opportunity to experience this culture and to find themselves completely immersed in it and actually really enjoying it. Not many Canadians have been able to just chill at the Canadian embassy on the weekend after a game of street hockey, nor go to a ball at their embassy. But yet, this is a relatively normal experience here in Riyadh. So… I consider myself to be absolutely fortunate and incredibly blessed to be having these experiences here… meeting so many new people on a regular basis… building some great friendships with people from all around the world… and really just loving this life I’m living!! I can’t wait until the next Ball!!!!

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With much love from Riyadh to you… wherever you are in the world…

xo

Annemarie

Riyadh 2014 Terry Fox Run

October 31, 2014

Today we run… or maybe walk… but either way, we participate in the Riyadh 2014 Terry Fox Run. As Canadians… and oncology nurses… it’s amazing to be able to participate in this event in honour of one of the most influential athletes/humanitarians in Canadian history… and to raise money for the Terry Fox Foundation. “A single dream. A world of hope.”

Terry Fox, aka Terrence Stanley Fox, was a Canadian who was passionate about many sports but unfortunately developed Osteosarcoma and had to have his leg amputated. Despite this amputation, in 1980, he began the “Marathon of Hope” and attempted to run across Canada in order to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. Unfortunately, after 143 days and 5373 kms, he lost his life to the cancer. But, he created a lasting legacy and the Terry Fox Foundation was created and every year, Canadians around the world run in the annual Terry Fox Run which has ben held every year since 1981.

So, as a group of Canadians… and girls of various other nationalities… we registered to run in Riyadh and this morning… got up bright and early to run at Salwa, a large compound near the outside the city of Riyadh.

Didn’t have time for coffee before leaving for Salwa… but no worries at all… they had Tim Hortons at the starting line!! This guaranteed that we wouldn’t be running as it is pretty difficult to run with a coffee and donut in hand… But we had a very joyous walk.

imageimage The sun was out, it was beautifully fresh and gorgeous. We shared a lot of laughs… starting out by laughing at ourselves as we were clearly not the brightest runners in the race… the start and finish line were both in the same place and somehow we started the race backwards…  we ran the wrong way through the finish line and backwards down the course. We were wondering if we were going the wrong way… we passed a lot of people going the opposite direction from us.. before we clued in that in fact we were going the wrong way. Felisha thought it was a hoot that we were just walking the wrong way and wanted to continue that way. Of course I was shwaya embarrassed… who runs the wrong way through a race?!! Only the crazy Canadian girls! Eventually we decided  it was silly to continue going the wrong way and turned around and went back and walked the correct way through the race path around the compound.

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I had so much energy… probably just because I was in such an absolutely fabulous mood… so I played a bit of EDM (electronic dance music) and we walked/danced our way through the race… singing and laughing and just generally absolutely enjoying ourselves!! These girls… they really are amazing company!!!! Mafi homesickness when I’m around them!!!

So we reached the finish line and took the required finish line photos… Not posers at all!!!! :S haha.

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Side note… Saudi’s don’t recycle. There are no recycling facilities… to my knowledge anyways. I always feel absolutely horrible when I have to throw away the 5 million plastic water bottles I drink from in a week into the regular garbage!! But… we found recycling at Salwa!! A bin for compost, waste and plastics!!! Vivian and I just had to take a picture with it!

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And then… we had brunch with all the race participants… waiting eagerly for our names to be called in the raffle for fabulous prices… none of us won anything though 😦 But… it was a great way to start the morning…

Looking forward to the next run… the next adventure… the next bit of awesomeness that Riyadh delivers me…