Blimey, I don't post anything for a couple of days and I get loads of email asking me if the novelty's worn off - can't get a moment's peace! (but I'm glad so many people are checking here for new stuff) :)
Anyway, I told you last time that I had a busy weekend coming up, with two dinner parties, my first go at driving here, and then quadbiking, and that I'd tell you all about it, so here we go....
On Wednesday and Thursday evenings we attended two "do's"; one at the Consul's house (about 30 people, including the Ambassador and his wife), and the second at the Deputy Head of Mission (DHM)'s house; about twelve adults and eight children. The first was a buffet style indian meal (delicious) and the latter was a sit-down dinner party (again very nice). Both events gave us a good chance to meet other embassy staff and their partners, and we spent most of the evening picking their brains about life in Riyadh. Also, because both houses are just a few minutes' walk from ours I could have two lemonades instead of the usual one ;)
Had my first taste of driving here on Thursday. Riyadh has the highest road traffic death rate in the world, and the standard of driving is very, very bad. People never indicate, ignore lane markings, get in the right-hand lane at traffic lights then turn left without indicating, etc.
Having been duly warned to "be careful out there", I borrowed a Land Rover Discovery from the embassy (you have to pay so it's sort of hiring the car only cheaper) on Saturday morning and steeled myself before venturing beyond the sedate streets of the DQ.
First job was to fill up with petrol. The tank showed 1/2 full when I rolled onto the gas station forecourt and told the attendant to fill 'er up. He put in 50 litres of petrol which cost me SR45 - about £7. Petrol's almost free here!
We then left the DQ and hit the highway, choosing the quiet weekend roads for our first trip out and sticking to the freeways for the most part.
First stop was Saco World, which is a huge new home improvement store (bit like B&Q), and where I splashed out on a pack of 5 plastic coat hangers for each of the children; they must've known there was no need to thank me, because they didn't.
Next stop was Jarir Bookstore, which sells everything from books (obviously) to computers (less obviously), and where the children bought silicon "skins" for their iPods. The skins are about £20 at the Apple Store, but we paid about £4 each (not the genuine article but just as good).
Then it was on to Carrefour hypermarket for food shopping. the place is pretty big and I deliberately timed our arrival so that we'd be inside shopping when the call to prayer started, because all the shops here close for prayers several time a day but if you're already inside they lock you in and let you carry on shopping until it re-opens about 25 mins later. I won't bore you with what we bought, but we did see some intersting things. For example, there was a good selection of shoes and the clothes were VERY cheap, if a bit asylum seeker-ish in fashion. We also saw our first evidence of censorship: Saudi culture is very conservative - all women are completely covered in black when in public and displays of female flesh are not allowed - so the authorities censor certain images coming from the West - in magazines etc. Here it was in the music CD section, where you could buy a Britney Spears or Mariah Carey album, but their bare shoulders and legs on the cover photo had been covered with black marker pen.
On the driving front: we did see some crazy antics by others but never felt in danger ourselves. It was more amusing than anything else, but I expect I'll feel differently when I first experience downtown Riyadh in the rush hour.