Regular readers will know (just search the blog for "Bahrain" if you don't believe me) that the Kingdom of Bahrain is a favourite weekend getaway destination for people who live in Saudi Arabia, Ex-pats and Arabs alike. A couple of days break, away from Saudi restrictions, in relative normality (for a Westerner) can be a great battery recharger. Women do not have to cover, they are allowed to drive (Heaven Forbid!), you can drink in public (well, in hotels and restaurants), and you can even go to the cinema. We didn't on this trip, because the film choice was pretty dire. We were hoping to see The Kingdom -- the new action movie based in Riyadh and starring Jamie Foxx, but it has been banned in Bahrain. We hear that they're showing it in Dubai though, so maybe we'll see it next week. Yes, the cat's out of the bag now isn't it. We're off on another jolly next week, taking the children to Dubai for five days. It'll be expensive, but as with Bahrain, this'll be the last time we'll visit Dubai in the foreseeable future, so we want to say Goodbye in style.
Anyway, back to the weekend just gone. The drive to Bahrain from Riyadh is just under 500km, 400km of which is through desert, so with scenes like this:
...for four hours you'd better have some quality in-car entertainment. Enter Karen with her podcast-laden iPod, and we while away the journey listening to Jonathan Ross's Radio 2 show and Mark Kermode's movie review show from Radio 5 Live, with Simon Mayo. Karen was an avid Radio 5 listener when we lived in the UK, and when she got her iPod last Christmas was pleased as punch to find all her favourite shows available for download from the BBC. Makes me wonder what she'll do when we return to the UK: podcast or radio proper?
We finally made it to the King Fahd Causeway, and I thought I'd better grab some photos for posterity.
Half-way over the first half of the causeway. In the distance you can see the midway island that constitutes the border between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The famous "The Fun Starts Here" sign on the Bahrain side of the causeway. It's usually after dark by the time we reach it, so here's a rare daytime photo.
We stayed at the Movenpick Hotel near the airport. We'd been told that the famous Friday Brunch was cancelled this week because of Ramadan, and when we checked in on Thursday Ramadan was indeed still in effect.
The hotel pool with it's "infinity edge" and the sea beyond. There's actually a grassy bank and a short beach between the two, but approaching from the hotel lobby the pool seems to go on forever.
The pool next morning. The "sea" is in fact a man-made lagoon. When the tide is in (see previous pic) the water is only about six inches deep, but at low tide the lagoon empties completely, leaving a much less attractive large sand flat.
On Friday morning we read in the local paper that Eid was officially upon us, as Saudi authorities had officially confirmed a sighting of the New Moon the night before, so from then onwards it was back to life as normal. Too late, alas, for the brunch, but never mind.
Obviously this guy on stilts was in the Mall as part of Eid celebrations. Less obvious was the reason all the young Arabs were running round and round him like a Maypole.
On Friday evening we had a reservation at a restaurant we'd read about called Bam-Bu! (the exclamation mark is part of the name), in Adliya District. The Movenpick has its own fleet of luxury cars, so when you order a taxi you get one of these for a fixed price which you pay at Reception in advance. A little more expensive than regular taxis but not much, and way more stylish. All well and good, except it took the car 15 minutes to turn up, making us late for our reservation. The restaurant wasn't busy so it didn't matter in the end, and the Audi A8 which finally swept us off was very nice. I mentioned in the last posting that Bam-Bu! advertises all the Chinese food you can eat, and all the Stella you can drink for a fixed price. Made it sound a bit chav, but when we got there we were pleasantly surprised. The restaurant was tastefully decorated and nicely lit and with both indoor and outdoor dining areas (although why you'd want to sit out and eat dinner in 80% humidity is beyond me). Their tag-line had led me to expect a buffet at best, and a feeding trough at worst, but not a bit of it. This is an à la carte Asian restaurant serving a fusion of Chinese and Thai dishes. Everything is cooked to order in a spotless kitchen, visible through a large plate-glass window, and only the freshest ingredients are used, with no MSG in sight. In short the food was really good, and all beers and wines are included in the price, so you can spend several hours leisurely sipping wine, ordering the occasional dish to share, and chatting, all for BD13.500, which is around £20 per head. Wish we'd found this place earlier!
Karen enjoying herself at Bam-Bu! Sorry for the poor picture quality but RiyadhCam is not good in low light.
We returned to the hotel for a nightcap in the bar, where a live band (well, boy-girl combo: he on keyboards and laptop backing tracks, she on vocals) were playing, and very drunk Arabs were tottering across the dance floor on their way to and from the toilets. I would've got RiyadhCam out but it was a bit too dark, and I didn't want to get into a fight.
We had a large breakfast on Saturday morning then headed out to the pool, with the intention of spending all day there and skipping lunch. Ah, what little we knew.... It got to mid-morning and we learned that the hotel was doing "Intercontinental Lunch". Guess what that is? Yep, Friday Brunch, but on a Saturday! Yippee! (oh dear, we're already full from breakfast). Quick, let's do another few lengths to work our breakfast off, then get showered and changed and back down!
Yes, I'm afraid to say we partook fully of the brunch, which was superb as always (and the free-flowing bubbly always helps). Considering this was a last-minute thing we actually adapted our plans pretty well, and finished brunch just in time to take another hotel taxi (BMW 750i this time, for which they tried to charged me BD7 instead of BD5 because the other, lesser vehicles were 'not available'. I gave them one of my looks, and they relented) to The Warbler -- a sports bar inside another hotel where they were showing England v Estonia in the Euro 2008 qualifiers. Just what I needed, two hours in a smoky bar drinking pints of Tetley Bitter and watching England on the big screen with a pub-full of England-shirt-wearing Brits (where do they all come from?). When we got back we went straight up to the room for some Rennie and a lie-down. Karen had to take another lift because there was no room for her with me and my stomach.
Sunday morning and after a final couple of hours by the pool we check out and set off for home, and another four hours of straight, featureless road through the desert. Glad I'll never have to do this drive again.