Sunday, January 29, 2006

Weekend - shopping/driving

Decided to borrow an Embassy car and get out and about again this weekend. Riyadh is a big city but we're getting our bearings and finding our way around. If you know the names of the main arteries and use the two towers as reference points it's actually quite hard to get totally lost!
Just next to the school is the Granada Centre - a huge, brand new shopping mall with Carrefour hypermarket. It even has a small amusement park inside complete with rollercoaster!
Most public amenities - cafes, restaurants, swimming pools, buses etc. - are segregated with separate seating sections for men only or for families. We had our first experience of this at Starbucks in the Granada Centre, where we stopped off for a quick Latte. The main counter/area is pretty sparse - more a takeaway booth than a proper seating area, but when you go round the back to the Families Entrance you find about twelve private booths, each with a floor-length curtain across the opening to protect your privacy;

we actually found it to be a nicer experience than Starbucks in the West, where you have much less personal space and there's generally more noise and you're more aware of all the other customers around you.

Riyadh is not a good place for the avid people-watcher. The women are covered from head to toe in black specifically to stop you looking at them, and nobody does anything out of the ordinary, but on the plus side it's a very peaceful atmosphere and you don't get groups of hoodie-clad youths throwing litter and swearing on street corners.

We also had our first go at driving in Downtown Riyadh on a Thursday night. Remember, Thursday is our Saturday so we're out and about after dark on the busiest night of the week - VERY SCARY! I don't have any photos because we were all hanging on for dear life. Olaya Street - one of the major shopping roads - is four lanes in each direction, the traffic lights stay red for ages so all four lanes were packed with stationary vehicles all seeing how close they can get to you without actually touching your car. Nobody was happy with the lane they were in. Cars in the left lane want to turn right at the next junction, cars in the right lane want to turn left, cars in the middle have no idea where they want to go, and so on. Then the split second the lights turn green the air is filled with the car horns of impatient drivers itching to get going. It's like Wacky Races!

We were glad to get home.

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