View from Al-Mamlaka (Kingdom Tower) at 300 m, 1000 ftDuring the Eid break, when most students left the KAUST campus to vacation in such exotic places as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, and India, I booked a ticket to Riyadh, the capitol of Saudi Arabia. I had a great time in Riyadh! (I wonder how many Americans will say that?) I met up with some old friends and made a few new friends as well. Traditional hospitality in this part of the country is incredible - I ate very well and was only able to pay for one meal during my travels (the meal I ate with American friends) and I drank more tea and coffee in four days than in the past four months combined! I owe a very special thanks to Mohammad, Abdulaziz, Mohammed, Abu Malek, Mrs. McEvers, Abdulrahman, Mishaal, and Mohammad for going out of their way to make me feel welcome.
Riyadh, situated in the heart of Saudi Arabia, conjures in the Western mind images of desert, camels, men in long white robes, women in long black dresses, mud houses, expensive sports cars, and religious police. I encountered all of these things in Riyadh, (even the religious police!) but there is so much more to this ultra-modern city and the people who inhabit it. This is not your grandfather's Riyadh, anymore.
The skyline is dominated by two very tall skyscrapers, Al-Mamlaka (Kingdom Tower, shown here) and Faisalia tower, which is famous for its multi-story rotating restaurant. The streets are wide, straight, and clean - a stark contrast to Jeddah which is a much older and congested city.
There are some (relatively) old parts of the city too. Most of Riyadh as it exists today was built within the past 50 years or so. The old style mud houses can still be found (some of them crumbling away) in old downtown and the Ad Dir'iyah area, in the Northwest corner of the city.
Since I arrived at KAUST, I have felt that there was something very important missing from daily life. In Riyadh, I found what was missing: visiting with families, meeting new people from many different backgrounds, and just hanging out with friends and cruising around the city. I have been missing normal daily interactions with people who are not students or faculty and who live in a real city, not a compound. My days in Riyadh with Abdulaziz's and Malek's families, and hanging out with all of the other friends, new and old, have refreshed and revitalized my spirits. Four days away, and I have rediscovered a love for travel and developed a new respect for the everyday people of this country. Thanks again guys.
So much happened in Riyadh that I will have to cover the trip in future posts. Hopefully, I will have time during the next few days between studying my brains out for finals and organizing a new research project. Ma' salama!