The Edge of the World

March 2016

Back in Riyadh again…

The Edge of the World… one of the major “tourist”attractions near Riyadh… a must see for any expat in Saudi Arabia. Check out Blue Abaya’s Guide to the Edge of the World as well… http://www.blueabaya.com/2012/08/guide-to-edge-of-world.html

Not too far outside Riyadh, the Tuwaiq escarpment drops away to nothing but hazy desert for miles and miles as far as one can see. The cliffs are magnificent and terrifying… but so breathtakingly beautiful.

We rode out across the desert in strong, sturdy 4×4 vehicles… across soft sand and rocky desert… through a small flat plain with scrabbly bushes and many camels…

…Up steep hills to the top of the escarpment.

The world just seemed to drop away. It did really seem like the “Edge of the World!”

In the bright sunlight, (thank goodness for the cool breeze!),  we climbed up loose rock covered hills, and down another steep rocky hill and over to a narrow point, protruding far above the desert floor below…

Heart pounding I stepped out onto the mandatory precipice for a quick photo… hoping the unruly wind wouldn’t suddenly push against me, as I felt quite feeble and insignificant so high up there on that rocky ledge…

A friend climbed up to a small cave at the top of an even higher rock formation… and dropped his sunglasses. We watched them free fall for what seemed like hours until they disappeared from view and smashed at the bottom of the cliff…

Ummm yeah… now I’ll definitely be even more cautious around that edge!!! :/

It was absolutely worth the bit of anxiety climbing over the rocks and standing on those rock Ledges… the view was just so stunning…

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So, If you’re not living in Saudi Arabia or have never had the chance to live in Saudi Arabia… I hope you do get the chance to go and visit this beautiful country  and experience its culture and unique natural beauty for yourself someday!

Dubai Weekend Getaway

January 2016

What do you get when you combine a British Couple about to get married, living in the Middle East, with their friends from various other British Commonwealth countries?? A Dubai Hen-do/Stag-do party weekend!!

A close friend of mine from Riyadh got engaged last year, and with her nuptials coming up quickly… we wanted to get out and celebrate her last few months as a single lady. Plus… I’d been in Saudi for nearly 3 months already now without leaving once… I was definitely in need of a time out! And… a few of us had plans to leave Saudi Arabia for good at some point in the coming year. So, ultimately it was a combination of masalama parties (a couple of the crew were leaving Riyadh soon…and I was starting to consider handing in my resignation also), birthday celebrations, but largely a hen do/jack n’ jill/ bachelorette party.

6 of us, including the bride and groom, headed out of Riyadh one Thursday… Dubai bound! We checked into a hotel in the JBR where we all shared a lovely suite with a full kitchen and sitting area… Not that we used the kitchen for anything more than storing champagne and OJ and making mimosas 👌🏼

The squad hit up Meat Co for dinner on our first night in Dubai, at Dubai Souq Madinat Jumeirah… a resort built to look like an authentic Arabian city with bazaars and traditional Middle Eastern shopping built between lovely waterways that allow the resort to be explored by boat also. The souq offers stunning views of the Burj Al Arab and is gorgeous during the day but also at night!

Meat Co might be one of my favourite restaurants… they always have a fabulous wine menu and the steak is always fantastic! So over a couple bottles of wine, looking out at the Burj al Arab, gloriously lit for the evening, watching boats pass in the waterway, gentle background music (a luxury we rarely have in Riyadh that always indicates freedom to me!), slightly humid and vaguely cool early February weather… we had a wonderful dinner of friendship and great conversation!

After dinner, we walked around the souq to Trader Vic’s for very large cocktails in super funky cups… and a little dancing of course. What’s a hen-do without a good dance party?!

Friday morning, I woke up super early, and I wasn’t the only one! The bride and groom to be were also up already with the sunrise, so we took in a little fresh air and morning sunshine along The Walk Dubai and even dipped our toes in the water as we walked along Jumeirah Beach also. The sun was blissful and the water perfectly refreshing… it always amuses me to see the camels on the beach… such a stark contrast between the very modern high rise hotels and apartments in the background and the camel as such a traditional Arabic symbol.

Then… champagne o’clock!!!! Standard Friday fun in Dubai is never complete without a boozy brunch!!!

On the menu… the Bubbalicious Brunch at the Westin Hotel Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina!

I don’t even know where to start, but I’ve never seen such an incredible display of food!!!! And booze!! The setup was beautiful… wine and and a huge assortment of cheeses and meats and breads set on wooden benches and wine barrels, a sushi bar, a taco stand complete with margaritas and mojitos, a full pig roast, a Pimms stand, plenty of vodka options including watermelons filled with vodka/run, and even a burger joint… and a gorgeous display for Hendricks gin!! There was even a dark room with all sorts of glow in the dark food and fun!! And our glasses were constantly being refilled with champagne… and I think we tried a few too many of the drinks options… but hey. It was fun!!! So much laughter and just relaxing in the sunshine, palms waving overhead, a view of the ocean in the distance…

And after our liquid lunch(I mean after we were sufficiently stuffed with food!) and brunch closed down, we headed to the disco at the Westin for some old school tunes and more fun. Singing and dancing with the girls… tequila shots for the girls back in Riyadh… it was so much fun!

Being the rookie bruncher that I am… I probably needed a little nap after brunch and the disco… and that nap might have turned into a full on snooze that lasted til the rest of the crew showed up back at the hotel at midnight!!! Not sure where they all went while I was sleeping but they clearly had a good time!  A couple of us headed back up to the hotel rooftop bar to finish the night with a last drink and beautiful view of Dubai!

The next morning… I didn’t have to leave Dubai on Saturday until quite a bit later in the day, so I woke up and went for a lengthy run/walk through the Dubai marina and along Jumeirah Beach. Spending so much time in Saudi, not having the freedom to get up and run out my door, only being able to run freely in compounds or in the Diplomatic Quarters, always means I’ll take advantage of any opportunity to run on vacation outside of Saudi!! And the Dubai Marina is always gorgeous… whether walking around and people watching, or actually seriously getting a sweat on and running it fast! Although I always seem to forget how much more humid Dubai is than I think it is!!!!! Doesn’t take much to work up a sweat!

We finished off the morning with a little shopping and wander through the Walk again… checking out the little market held at the end of the walk every weekend… the outdoor gym… and the seriously awesome whips parked curbside along the walk…

And… last order of business before we all headed out to the airport… a trip to Dubai is never complete without a stop at Barasti… and we all needed lunch and pre-Riyadh drinks!!!

Anyways… that was pretty much the last of my big Dubai weekend… Last thought, is that I will never fly Flynas again. (sorry friends who work for Flynas!) Here is my little review of Flynas. Not worth the cheaper flight… the lines are SUPER long and completely unorganized!! Rather than line up by destination, its just a bulk line for all Flynas flights with airline agents constantly coming along and calling out for people still waiting to check in for flights leaving too soon for them to make it though the whole line! And those of you who life/have lived in the middle East know the frustration and ridiculousness of queues(that really aren’t queues at all) here! Plus… no booze in the Flynas terminal! couldn’t even get a drink to relax after the frustration of dealing with the check-in lines. Not cool.

Fortunately… I had a flying pal so it wasn’t so bad 🙂 And made it to Riyadh just dandily in time to get home for a decent sleep before heading back to work for 5 days before 2 weeks vacation in Vietnam with my bestie!!!!!

And… super excited for my friends to get married in May! Vacation time is booked off to attend the wedding!!

xx. Vietnam adventures upcoming. Stay tuned.

Volunteering with 10KSA: Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

As I was leaving North America, Breast Cancer Awareness events were in full swing all over Canada and the USA. I was really hoping that somehow, I could initiate or participate in a some type of event or activity to raise awareness in Saudi Arabia and have a positive impact on women’s lives.

In my previous year in Saudi, I’d seen some of the devastation of breast cancer among the women of Saudi, and in my experience, it seemed to hit so many of them and at such a young age as well. (Maybe that’s just because I work in a large chemotherapy clinic so my exposure to women with breast cancer will be quite high given the volume of patients we see on a daily basis.)

However, the sad truth is that Saudi Arabia, like all countries in the world, has significantly high rates of breast cancer. Unfortunately, awareness is not as high as it is in the Western World. Many women go undiagnosed for years until the symptoms of advanced disease bring them into the hospital for treatment which ultimately results in reduced survival and less positive treatment outcomes, as well as increased pain and suffering.

Many women also lack the education and the awareness to monitor their health and perform monthly self exams to monitor their health, or the awareness that a mother or sister or auntie with breast cancer could indicate a significantly increased risk that they themselves might develop breast cancer. They’re not educated that lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits and unhealthy body weights increase their risk of developing cancer in general but also breast cancer. Many women also lack the access to resources such as family physicians, or proper medical care to monitor their health, assess and diagnose also.

So, my wish actually came true. The opportunity to volunteer for a large breast cancer awareness event came my way only a week or so after returning to Saudi, through a friend of a friend, who was organizing and recruiting all the volunteers for the event.

The event was being developed by an organization called 10KSA, a subdivision of a greater organization called Alf Khair, started by Princess Reema bint Bandar. The goal of Alf Khair is to empower the women and youth of Saudi Arabia, and to make the people of Saudi Arabia, the best they can be, and the countries greatest natural resource. 10KSA is a holistic health initiative, and the primary focus is raising health awareness throughout Saudi and the world. This would be 10KSA’s first event and breast cancer was the focus.

The event itself would be held in December and the goal was not only to focus on breast cancer, but also holistic health in general. And the highlight of the day was to be the formation of the world’s largest human health awareness ribbon. The current world record was held by India, but 10KSA was hoping to break that record and get 10,000 women together to form the new largest ribbon. The event would also focus on various other ways to promote health and wellness also though.

As it was to be a very large event, thousands of volunteers were required to run the event. I was hoping I could do some education on breast cancer, but unfortunately those roles were taken by the various hospitals and organizations holding awareness booths at the event.

I ended up joining the team of first Aid volunteers, originally as just one of the volunteers, but as I wanted to get more and more involved in the activity, it escalated into then becoming head volunteer of the First Aid team and planning/coordinating the First Aid Plan for the event as well as train the First Aid volunteers.

I still wanted to do more… so my friend suggested I help recruit volunteers and do some of the orientation sessions for them also. So I got to meet so many amazing Saudi women through this. And it was so fun to tell them about the event and share my passion for this with them… because then they would also get really excited and happy about this opportunity… it was just so inspiring to see them all coming together!

Altogether I think we recruited well over 3000 volutunteers. My first aid group made up a very small portion of this, roughly 30 volunteers in total, plus the team of doctors and nurses from the university hospital.

The weeks and months leading up to the event were ridiculously busy. I was working full time as well as trying to participate as much as possible in training sessions and planning for the event. Many evenings were spent running off after work to an office somewhere to orientate the volunteers to the purpose of the organization and the event and determine their role at the event, as well as assisting with task specific training once the women had been selected for various roles. But I thrived on every minute of it and loved the opportunity to interact with Saudi women who were excited to volunteer and participate in this potentially historical event…

Until this point, my interactions with Saudi women had been restricted largely to work, but this was a huge opportunity to work with them outside of work… to inspire them and be inspired by them… to work together to create something amazing for the women of Saudi… to feel strong and empowered together… It was beautiful!

The planning and promotion of the event lasted for a couple months… with a woman flying to Australia in a small plane even carrying the 10KSA logo on her plane when she stopped briefly at the Riyadh airport. The symbolic 10KSA Wings of Hope could be found at various venues throughout Riyadh… including shopping centers… and even at King Faisal Specialist Hospital for a few days!

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There was even a theme song created for the event which went on to win an award at the California International Shorts Festival as the best music video!

As the day to the event grew closer, my days filled up with work and training volunteers, and mostly… figuring out how first aid was going to work at the event and developing the first aid training program for the first aid volunteers!

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I met Princess Reema, a beautiful person with a vision for the people and especially the women of her country… I was so inspired by her and her goals and commitment to raising awareness and empowering women!

In general, being a part of the event and all the planning was just an incredible experience. I met so many women who inspired me. And to be part of such a major event organized by women for women… my heart was so full and happy!!

And in the final days leading up to the event, I made many trips to Princess Noura University, the largest all-female university in the world, so large it even had it’s own train system inside, to the sports complex where the event would be held. There was so much organizing to do yet… determining how first aid services would be available throughout a venue that large was quite a challenge. I met with the emergency doctors at the Princess Noura University Hospital to plan how we would provide support throughout the venue the day of the event… Fortunately, we would have a couple of doctors and a team of nurses from the university hospital to offer support (and supplies!!!) the day of the event, as my first aid volunteers would really only be providing very basic care in case of any emergency.

It was really  amazing to see the sports complex transformed into a health and wellness event, with amazing displays including beautiful photographs from Saudi and artwork by Saudi women… and an incredible Active center for promoting fitness and active lifestyles…

And of course, the massive stadium where the ribbon formation would happen. Princess Reema went up in a big lift up over the field to see what the view would be like for the photographers who would be photographing this historical event…

And the last day before the event, all the head volunteers and main organizers and supporters of the event, me at the complex for a last run through… and an amazing family photo.. it was so incredible for me to be there, with all those women, women dedicated to making a change in Saudi… I felt so blessed!!IMG_5847And that’s about it… bring on the big day!!!

The End… or is it?

July 26, 2015

I sat in King Khalid International Airport… for the last time?! Noooooo….

After days of not working… waiting for Ramadan, Eid and everything to finish so I could sort out the last of my paperwork… I finally was ready to go. The stress of the last couple months has been incredible… worrying about when and if I would actually be able to leave and go home. And then once all the paperwork was complete, the tears I shed while trying to find a flight and get the hospital to sign off on the ridiculous amount of money it was going to take to get me home…

But in the end it all worked out… like it always does. It just takes a little faith… or a lot!

I am beyond blessed to have spent a year in Saudi Arabia, working with some extremely wonderful nurses and patients. I’ve learned things and grown as a nurse, an individual… I’ve seen things that blew my mind and opened my eyes… I’ve had experiences I never dreamed I’d have.. It’s been a crazy, hectic, stunningly brilliant year.

Since I was stuck in Saudi Arabia for a good week + longer than planned, I had the priviledge of going to a good friend’s birthday party. It was probably the best night I’ve had in Saudi!!!! The vast majority of my closest friends all gathered together… Hawaiian themed… a DJ… and lights and laughter and sparkles and happiness. My heart was filled to bursting by the end of the night!!! (See pics in previous post).

Sometimes I just really can’t believe how lucky I’ve been here… the relationships I’ve built. They are going to be so special to me for the rest of my life. Without a doubt!! I know I’ve said it before… but nights like that night remind me of it again… the relationships we build here are so intense. The friendships you form last a lifetime. You meet people you have so much in common with… people who love adventure and travel and are experiencing this incredibly unique experience with you. Being away from family you really cling to these people… the good ones… the genuine ones… the fun ones… Someone you just met a few days ago could so quickly become one of the closest friends you’ve ever had!!

My last night in Saudi I could hardly sleep I was so excited/anxious/just generally ready to get going back home!!!

Sunday… my last day in Saudi… spent frantically rushing around the hospital grounds… cramming stuff into suitcases and boxes because I’m an epic procrastinator… but I got it all done. I even spent some time on my unit saying hello and goodbye to everyone. Pretty sure I hugged nearly the entire department. It was so good for my soul. All those hugs… all the love…. !! Then when Sunday evening came around and my driver arrived, I had actually been ready to leave for a good half an hour already!! I said goodbye to my flatmate… and my very first home away from home… and off I went to the airport.

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As I sat in the airport, I heard the last prayer call of the day over the speakers… resounding throughout the vast spaces of the terminal. It suddenly struck me that this would be the last prayer call I’d hear for a long time! As frustrating as it can be, planning my life around prayer time, making sure I’m not stuck at a mall during prayer, or showing up at a restaurant during prayer time when everything is closed, going for coffee at work only to find when I get to the coffee shop that it’s closed for half an hour for prayer… I really do love the sound of the prayer calls… the diligence and devotion of the Saudi Arabian people to their God and their religion…


So… I am incredibly sad to be leaving Saudi Arabia right now. I’ve fallen in love with Riyadh, with the people of Saudi, the culture, the country in general… and then the entire expat community… I love this place and the people!!!!

But… in 24 short hours I’ll be reuinted with my real family. And I am ecstatic!!!!!! It’s been such a long nearly 6 months away from them all. My niece is 2 now and she is SO grown up!!! I can’t wait to see her and hug her and play games with her… Go on dates with my baby brother… go to my brothers wedding and welcome a beautiful new sister into the family… spend time with my parents… I’ve missed chatting/arguing/debating with them… and especially… to be home with my sister when she has baby #2…!!! And then of course… all the outdoorsy stuff I don’t get to do in Saudi Arabia… like run by the river, go on long hikes in the mountains, rollerblade down the road, bike on the dike, wakeboard and spend days at the lake swimming and relaxing on the boat in the sunshine…  It’s going to be absolutely brilliant!!!!

Follow along as I spend some time at home… before signing a new contract and heading back to the sandpit to my Saudi family. Because I’m so not even close to being done with Saudi Arabia yet!!!!

Eid Mubarak

My sincerest apologies that this is a little late… I have a really bad habit of starting a post and leaving it in my draft box…

So I actually began this on the first day of Eid… And Eid is over now… But…

Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim friends around the world! I hope you had a blessed Ramadan and had a blessed Eid al-Fitr!  

It’s 3am in Riyadh right now and I’m wide awake, sitting in the blissful warmth outdoors, letting it bake into my bones… Listening to gentle water movements from the pool… And all I feel is gratefulness.

Earlier today I was so upset with Saudi Arabia… I felt like nothing was going right all day and all the little frustrations built up to a point where I was just raging!

But a couple hours later… A beautiful dinner with friends at a gorgeous gem of a hidden Riyadh restaurant… Several very intense games of mafia… A lot of laughter… And my mood completely reversed!

How much you enjoy life in Riyadh is absolutely all about the company you place yourself in and the people you surround yourself with. I am so blessed to have a multinational and multicultural group of friends who I’ve shared some incredible experiences with!!  Dinner conversations are stimulating and thought provoking… And filled with laughter and fun and completely trivial discussions as well! They open my mind to new ways of thinking… To new opinions and beliefs… They’ve helped me to grow as an individual in so many ways!

And as far as religion goes… Ramadan has officially come to an end. The last month has been filled with many discussions about Islam and the purpose of Ramadan… I’ve learned so much!!! For those of you who don’t know, I’ll include a couple links to sites with more information about Ramadan… but briefly: Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar calender and a month of fasting for Muslims around the world. Ramadan begins on the first sighting of the new moon, and ends 30 days later with the next sighting of the crescent moon. So as you can imagine the crescent moon is hugely symbolic of Ramadan and Eid.

However, Ramadan is not just fasting, it is abstaining from smoking, sex, drinking and from anything excessive or inappropriate. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, about 17 hours depending on the time of year and the location one lives in. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very young and the sick are excused from fasting. As a nurse, especially an oncology nurse, we have to check with our patients to ensure they are not fasting. It is a difficult thing to tell them not to fast as we know how important it is for them. However, for patients going through chemotherapy, they’re very sick and need to eat to keep up their energy, and especially they need to drink a lot of water as chemotherapy is very toxic and needs to be flushed from the body!

The purpose of Ramadan and of fasting in general is to cleanse the soul and the mind, focus on God. Fasting (sawm) teaches spirituality, humility and patience. Spiritual rewards for fasting, especially during Ramadan are multiplied. Fasting and restraint from everyday enjoyment and curbing wicked intentions and cravings are considered to show obedience to God, and amend for past sins, and mistakes.

During Ramadan, Muslims request forgiveness from sins and pray for direction and guidance for the future, and try to cleanse themselves through self control, prayer, fasting and acts of faith and charity.

Fasting begins at sunrise and the last meal before fasting begins is called suhoor. The first meal that breaks the fast at sunset is called iftar. Prayers are called salet, and Muslims pray at least the 5 prayers a day if not more. Towards the end of Ramadan in Riyadh, the prayer call goes out much more frequently than usual and prayers last for much longer than usual also.

The mood here during Ramadan is special. Everyone is in vacation/holiday mode.  From friends who have fasted in other places in the world and are now here in Saudi fasting during Ramadan, they say it is actually much easier here than elsewhere. Muslim staff work reduced hours during Ramadan, making life easier for them! Working a 12 hour shift while fasting would not be easy! Especially as many people tend to spend a lot more time sleeping during the day, and are awake a lot more at night, so having to be awake all day to work would be additionally challenging. It is an entire month of the year when families spend a lot of additional time together visiting, sharing meals, etc.

While I did not fast during Ramadan, I had many friends who did, and I had the pleasure of breaking fast with them on more than one occasion… many hotels and restaurants here have large buffets for iftar… like the Ritz-Carlton and the Narcissus Hotel… I enjoyed a few of these meals with my Arabic/Muslim friends or with my Western friends…

Now it is the end of Ramadan, and the Eid celebrations had begun. The mood is so upbeat and happy in Riyadh and around the world. Seeing the Eid al-fitr live feed on snapchat was amazing… But even more than that… Being surrounded by people celebrating Eid… It’s wonderful!

Eid is basically a celebration, and Eid al-Fitr is a feast/festival to celebrate breaking of the fast. It is the first Eid of the year and occurs after Ramadan. The religious Eid is a single day that occurs on the conclusion of 29/30 days of fasting. Special Eid prayers are performed on the day of Eid. But the celebration continues for 3 days in most Arabic countries. Many charitable gifts and donations are given at this time. People celebrate with many dinners and special events with family and friends. It is a happy time of year… and I don’t mean this offensively at all but the it reminds me a lot of Christmas at home!

The city is decorated with hundreds of flags for Eid on all the overpasses on onramps… there are beautiful purple and green and white trees everywhere… lanterns and beautiful cresent moons everywhere for decoration…

And people everywhere wishing you “Eid Mubarak” which is the traditional greeting. Mubarak means blessed and Eid is celebration. So: blessed celebration!

People appreciate it so much when we say Eid Mubarak to them! My friend and I were going to the DQ on Friday afternoon and when we said Eid Mubarak to the guards at the entrance they were so happy and excited, saying Eid Mubarak sisters back to us!

So… I wish peace and happiness, grace and forgiveness to all my Muslim friends around the world, and all my friends actually!! This is a special time of year for Muslims… But it really is a time for peace and respect all around the world. It’s a time for us all to open our eyes and appreciate the different cultures and religions around us…

So Thankyou Saudi for giving me the experience to really experience Ramadan and Eid… For opening my eyes to this beautiful culture…  

Iftar Buffets: Perks of Ramadan

Ramadan… the holy month of fasting in Islam.

Days of depriving oneself during the day… Followed by nights of family time and friendship… and food and drink that is much more appreciated than usual.

Being non-Muslim, I didn’t participate in fasting. But I was somewhat deprived of food and water during the day as I couldn’t openly eat or drink at work.

Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast… the first meal Muslims eat after fasting all day long. It starts immediately after Maghrib prayer, the sunset prayer. (Almost sunset below… over the fountains at the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh).

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Riyadh has many beautiful hotels which hold large Iftar buffets. The Ritz-Carlton is supposed to have one of the best. This was the first Iftar buffet I experienced with friends.

So much food. It was unbelievable! Salads, seafood, hummus etc. Huge platters of kabsa and a full roasted lamb… a pasta station… traditional arabic foods… and a massive dessert buffet with traditional Arabic sweets, heaps of baklava, fresh fruit and a massive chocolate fountain… it was SO good!!

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I ate dinner with a few of my Western and Arabic friends… it was a beautiful evening of laughter and food and just enjoying the opportunity that Saudi has given us to celebrate together… this religious and cultural holiday!

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The next Iftar buffet I went to blew the Ritz out of the water! The Narcissus hotel… probably one of the most gorgeous hotels in Riyadh… smaller than the Ritz… but it smells amazing inside… florally… I couldn’t place the scent initially… but then I clued in… the Narcissus is a flower… obviously they’d make the hotel smell like the flower it is named after!

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I went with a group of girlfriends… one last supper together before I move back to Canada… one last Iftar buffet as Ramadan was due to end the next day. The East meets West buffet. Initially we were seated outside, but when we requested to be moved inside as it was too noisy outside with all the air conditioning… they seated us at a long table in a beautiful private dinning room.


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The food was absolutely heavenly. Tempura prawns… the best item on the menu. Beautiful scallop salad. Sushi. Traditional Arabic food. Indian food. Italian. Salads. Beautiful meats. Fresh fish. Fried goodness. And then… beautiful deserts… more chocolate fondue… And then… Saudi Champagne, arabic coffee and dates… peppermint tea after dinner…

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The food was INCREDIBLE!! Definitely the best buffet I’ve ever had in Riyadh… but it was really the company that made the night so special! We arrived around 630 for dinner and definitely didn’t leave until almost 9. I’ve never spent so much time over dinner as I do here in Riyadh! But generally, you get into conversation and enjoy the time with friends and before you know it you’ve spent a few hours over dinner.

imageimageimageAnd then… probably one of the highlights of the evening… a beautiful baby grand piano in the lobby of the hotel… I couldn’t resist sitting behind it and stroking the keys… couldn’t play it though because I’m pretty sure that would have offended more than a few people! Music is almost never played in public in Riyadh… and especially not during Ramadan. So I’ll have to wait to play a real piano for another week or so until I’m back home…

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So Ramadan for me hasn’t been about fasting… but it has been about family… my Saudi family. It’s been about culture. About educating myself on Islam and the traditions and beliefs and values. It has been really wonderful.

Dubai World Cup: 20th Anniversary

March 28, 2015

The day is here. The 20th Anniversary celebration of the Dubai World Cup, the richest horse race in the world! The Dubai World Cup is technically the last race of a series of races for the Dubai World Cup Night. There are nine races in total, 8 Thoroughbred contests and 1 purebred Arabian contest.

The Dubai World Cup is known as the richest horse race in the world as the purse is 10 million USD!!!!!!

It is held at the Meydan Racecourse (Meydan meaning, a place where people congregate and compete, in Arabic). The Meydan Grandstand is absolutely massive!!! It’s 1-mile long… honestly… and holds 60,000 spectators.

I actually can’t believe I’m here… in the Middle East… in Dubai… about to go watch horses race around a track!! But let’s be real… I’m not really going to watch the races. I’m going for the chance to get really dressed up.

A big part of the race is that everyone dresses up in their best outfits… hats for the ladies… dapper gentlemen all suited up… and there’s even a competition for best dressed!

Obviously… we had to have some champagne to celebrate before leaving… and it’s a good thing we did cuz it put us in a better mood to deal with the heavy traffic on our way to the Meydan Racecourse!image

When we arrived, the party was in full swing! So many people everywhere… and so many gorgeous people!! The hats… the shoes.. the dresses… and even the men in their suits… The fashion “show” was definitely amazing!!!

Click this link to see some of the amazing outfits on display at the 2015 Dubai World Cup… A few of the beautiful people… the hats… the fireworks, etc.
We found our friends sitting on couches down near the track, in between a beer garden and the Moet tent! Quite the ideal location actually!! 

I made my way to the Moet tent with a couple girlfriends, wanting to celebrate this very special occasion with a glass of bubbles. But… I couldn’t get just a glass… I had to get a whole bottle. Mafi mushkela… They handed me the champagne along with a little plastic bag with ice… so I could keep it chilled. Obviously champagne is the perfect accessory to any outfit!!imageimageCheers to the Dubai World Cup!

The group I was with placed informal bets on all the races. It was great fun as it kept us all a little more focused on the races instead of the drinking… and it was fun to actually win the pot once!!imageIt was incredible to watch the horses run past… hooves thundering… people cheering… so much excitement in the air… The last race… the 10million USD purse… was one by Prince Bishop. We went down near to the track to get a good view of the horses running past… it was intense!!!

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IMG_0827I had so much fun meeting a bunch of new people… Hanging out with the rugby crew from Riyadh… The whole night was just filled with laughter and happiness and wonderful friends!!!   And… the best part of the whole event… the fireworks at the end of the show. I’ve seen some pretty amazing light shows in Vancouver during the celebration of lights… and some of the people we were there with have seen NYE fireworks in Dubai, or Sydney, but everyone said this was infinitely better than any fireworks display they’d ever seen! And I agree. It was absolutely EMOTIONAL!!! The music… the beautiful fireworks… just the fact that we were in Dubai at the World Cup… something a year a go I’d never have even thought I’d be doing… it was just a little mind blowing.

 After the fireworks show… the after party started… a concert by Kylie Minogue. Everyone was laughing and dancing and having a good time… so much fun!!!   Honestly… The entire experience was just unbelievable. I have to pinch myself somedays. I feel like I’m living a dream life!!! When I think about what my life was like a year ago as what it is like now, it’s so completely different and upside down and just so amazing! Not saying it’s necessarily better now, but definitely different and I’m loving this phase in my life now and the opportunities I’m being given! Like this experience!!!!

And essentially … that was the end of the celebration of the Dubai World Cup…

There were some silly moments on the way out the door… roses were handed out… someone in a thobe may have been chased around the grassy patch in front of the grandstand by one of the girls… many songs were sung very loudly on the bus on the way back to the hotel…

imageimageAnd that was the end of the 2015 Dubai World Cup. What an amazing experience… can’t wait to come back again next year!!!!! But before that… the Ruby 7s in Dubai and the Formula 1 races in Abu Dhabi?!!!! So much to look forward too!!!!

xo