Ah, that's better! Fresh from a weekend getaway in the nearby Kingdom of Bahrain our batteries are recharged, and we're ready to take on whatever Riyadh has to throw at us.
Life here is very nice: there's a great social life, nice shops, and although we face an ever-present threat from terrorism the threat that I feel most regularly is from mad motorists. As I've said before, overall we feel safer living here than we did in the UK.
Having said that, life for an expat in Saudi does have its difficulties and restrictions (I've written about many of these before: shop opening times, lack of entertainment, restrictions on women's rights and appearance etc.), and every few weeks we feel the need to get away to -- from our perspective -- relative normality. Bahrain is the perfect oasis for such a retreat, being the closest country to Riyadh at a mere four hours' drive away, and managing to remain an Islamic state without the harsh restrictions of Saudi Arabia. A couple of days spent moving freely, not wearing an abaya (that's Karen, not me) shopping all day, drinking alcohol in public (but only in hotels and certain restaurants), and even eating pork are just as refreshing and renewing for us as a weekend at a health spa.
Oh the cinema! I've always loved going to the movies, and now that I only get to do that a few times per year each visit is precious. We saw Night At The Museum, with Ben Stiller. A pretty silly, formulaic romp but very funny and entertaining nonetheless. Weird casting though: Ricky Gervais as the Director of the Museum of Natural History in New York, and Steve Coogan as a miniature Roman Centurion? I think this is Ricky and Steve calling in a few favours to get a leg up the Hollywood ladder. Still, I don't want to put you off, and it is jolly good fun.
Highlight of the weekend was brunch at the Ritz Carlton: a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. "All You Can Eat" makes it sound very Berni Inn, but that's the deal. The food is excellent and freshly cooked. There are friendly and eager chefs dotted around to prepare your omelette/fresh pasta/deep-fried shrimp/crepe whenever you fancy, there was a sushi mountain and a chocolate fountain, and a bottomless well of sparkling wine -- it was wonderful.
Lowlight of the weekend came, predictably enough, as we reached the Saudi border on the causeway at the start of our homeward journey. We seemed to have arrived just after the problem started, as we were third in a queue of traffic that ended up about twenty cars long by the end of the two-hour wait. "System is down" was the only explanation we received, and the officials didn't seem to have -- or want to use -- any kind of manual backup for the computerised passport checking system that had just decided to crash. And we were in the VIP Fast Track lane for Diplomats; I shudder to think how long the queue in the regular check point was getting, although we could hear their horns blaring clearly enough from the other side of a block of buildings and a row of palm trees. Having finally got the PC going again (they'd probably just upgraded it to Windows Vista!) all we had to do was survive the four hours on the motorway through the desert in the dark while avoiding the young Saudis hurtling past us at 180Km/h on both sides.
Can't wait til next time!