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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

After two hours of waiting in the immigrations queue, a tall dark Eritrean guy came up to me asking “are you Jorn?”. I knew who he was and said “yes I am!”. He was the driver of the Norwegian Embassy in Riyadh who had come to pick me up at the airport. A few weeks earlier I had contacted the embassy to ask for information about Saudi visa requirements and they had then offered me to show me around in Riyadh if I was every going to come there. Since there are almost no Norwegian tourists in Saudi Arabia they said that they would be more than happy to do so.

Marit, the business trainee working at the Embassy had put together an itinerary for the day and since the Norwegian Ambassador of Abu Dhabi was on visit that day she joined us on the tour.

Ambassadører

Kingdom Tower

First stop was the Kingdom Tower which is a tower built on top of a shopping mall looking like a giant bottle opener with colorful lights in the middle. The elevators took us up to the 156th floor where there was a bridge across the tower with transparent walls. From the top it was possible to see almost as far as the city was stretched and even though there were signs saying “no pictures” I still had to save the magnificent view on my camera. When walking through the shopping mall on the way out I noticed that the shops had no fitting rooms and that there was no music playing in the background. When asking Marit about it I was explained that women had to first buy the clothes and then try them out when coming back to their own homes. And music was simply not allowed in the malls because it can offend religious customers.

business disctrict saudi
As it was already past lunchtime we headed towards our next stop on the program which was a traditional Beduin restaurant close to the old city. The Saudi Arabian food and dining experience was excellent with the highlight for me being the Arabic coffee. It was very unlike other coffee I had tasted as it had a light greenish color and a totally different taste. As we had a closed room the women were also allowed to take off their head cover and enjoy the meal in a comfortable atmosphere.

During the couple of hours spent talking over the dinner and coffee the two women shared their unique experiences about life and diplomatic work as women in Arabic countries. They both had very interesting stories to tell, giving me a deeper understanding of a country that people know little about.

The last stop on the program was old Riyadh where all the buildings looked like pale gingerbread houses. This traditional way of building houses was totally different from the buildings in the business district that we saw earlier. The stop in the old city had made my visit to Riyadh complete. I had gotten to see the modern Saudi Arabia as it is today and the old way that it used to be. I had been given a unique opportunity to experience a country more or less closed to the outside world. I have been left with an impression which will forever stay with me and that has changed my view on Saudi Arabia. 

old city saudi

saudi meal