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  • Writer's pictureVoita

First impressions

I remember one year flying from 85F in Spain to -5F in my hometown within half a day. It knocked my breath out; it was too cold and I could't draw in any air. Flying- from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia is sort of a similar experience.

everyone neatly lined up

Dammam airport

clean, comfortable, quiet

I left the Dammam arrival space at 11 at night; I originally booked a morning flight, but since it didn't fill I was rebooked onto the evening co-share. Getting a SIM card - process requiring a local friend in India, or 24 hours in Pakistan, in both countries highly controlled, took about five minutes; like the immigration officer the shopkeeper was wondering if I hadn't scribbled in the visa myself. At least he didn't try persuading me I was born in Pakistan; I'm still not sure if the immigration lad was trying to pull my leg or was being serious.

morning flyover


700 Saudi Riyals ... or 185 USD

Dammam airport is huge and with plenty of quiet, carpeted space. I was actually sorry I only had three hours to sleep there as it seemed to be the most comfortable public airport space I've seen to date. I had to skip exchanging money as the fee would make up over 50% of the cash I had been let with. If you're going to Pakistan sometime soon and want a starting cash, enough for a ride to hotel and first night, let me know.

quiet streets

and villas

Early morning flight to Riyadh revealed first sights of the barren landscape interrupted with large cities and connecting highways rivaling Ceausescu's promenades in Bucharest. I kept dozing off, running behind on sleep.

guest room in my saviour Anas' house


Ibrahim was a friendly taxi driver and that's not an oxymoron. He let me pay on credit; I paid at a gass station where he now has fuel "in reserve" for when he comes 'round next time. Genius. Road out of the airport is lined with convention halls and universities for both genders from all over the Arabic world. Each could house several of Ceausescu's palaces - seriously, look the dude up.

If you suddenly came to possessions of infinite amounts of money with a history of being bullied by older guys, what'd you do? I am happy the US didn't find all this oil on its soil; now the world has a chance to grow into balance. And both Saudis and UAEs are growing much faster than we did as Europeans / Americans.

Al Masmak Fortress

start of the tour

our volunteer guide saud

In Riyadh, each house is a palace, or at least a villa. One of them belongs to my host, who let me in and went back to work. I got my own little guard house, with a warm shower and massive lunch.

1937, 1 year before the oil turnaround

the country so far had 7 kings: father the founder and his 6 sons

building material: mud and straw

In the afternoon I joined the cultural tour by an organization that's been around for over a decade. Back then all foreigners who could come in were scientists and other specialists; thence the name, Scientist's Gift Organization. Now the spectrum is much broader and the project got a breath of new life as this decade the Kingdom is devoting to diversification and tourism is meant to become one of the pillars of its new economy.


TV show filming

burning scented wood as a sign for guests to leave

Fortress in the city centre, central part of the Kingdom's 100 years old history, was but a prelude to the core of the afternoon - a visit to the city's largest mosque, the house of the Organization, and inevitable introduction to Islam. As a young religion it still carries many insecurities and feels the need to justify its existence and separate itself from its Godly colleagues.

It was an exquisitely pleasant afternoon filled with chatter on religion, some of which I expand on in this Business Class post, wrapped up by a dinner in one of the most authentic (perked up for tourists) restaurant in the city.

entering restaurant

'old' well

First impression in one word: unreal.


PS.: The post on Islam might come later, once I have a bit more time to do it justice.

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