...and his girl left behind. Justin Chambers is going to Antarctica as a chef, and leaving behind all that is normal, for a whole year. Together, but apart, we will document our experiences (well, he'll give me the info verbally and I will turn that in to a blog post!!) as we live in two quite different worlds for those 12 months.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My last day in Saudi

I haven't already mentioned that in Saudi the weekend is Thursday and Friday and everyone works through 'our' Saturday/Sunday weekend as normal practice.  Which is why we were able to shop on Sunday.  Pretty much nothing happens on a Friday.... and imagine, no pubs or clubs, no music - it's banned too - no movie theatres, strict internet censorship and no lounging around in cafes drinking coffee for hours with friends...

It's a SHOE store!
My last day was Tuesday and Bronwyn had taken the day off work to join Louise and I in a girly day, and the last one out and about in Riyadh for me.  It worked well to do those last minute things before flying out that evening.  When we picked up Louise she had it all planned out.  Seriously, I can't believe how lucky I was to get to spend time with someone whose knowledge of the city and surrounding areas is amazing.  First stop... Shoe Palace.  You are met at the door by chandeliers and a massive glass vase and flower display.  It is as large as a small-medium Woolworths supermarket and it is here that the shoes are bedazzled and the handbags are supplied to match.  There was an unbelievable amount of lace, sparkle and designer labels but shoes and handbags are extremely important to the Saudi woman when those are the only things that can be seen outside of an abaya.  And you would have to be prepared to spend a pretty penny at Shoe Palace. 

We went to Al Guthmi next, a two storyed fabric shop... nope, you don't order it to be made in to something, you just order the fabric.  Again, a chandelier - they LOVE their chandeliers here - but this time over a grand marble staircase to the upper floor.  Think of a fabric, any fabric, and you can purchase it right here.  

I asked Louise and Bronwyn to help with a gift for my Mum so the next stop was Traditionals, a store for authentic artifacts from the region, better than what you would get from a souk but not hideously expensive.  What a lovely store.  I found some lovely little trinkets there for Mum but I could have spent a lot more time and a lot more money... ones bank account and ones suitcase can only take so much though!  Besides, Louise had a surprise instore for us...

The doors were the height of the whole bottom floor and were opened by a white gloved doorman before we could even see he was there.  Louise just has a way, and a confidence, and she had just led us in to the most stunning of jewellery stores where the very rich come to purchase their jewellery to go with those shoes and handbags we had 'visited' with earlier.  And we didn't want to buy... we just wanted to gawp at what we would never be able to afford but still we were led to armchairs and out came the black velvet boxes.   Well.... where does one start... a sapphire ring with a stone as big as my thumbnail, an emerald necklace and matching earrings and a 5 carat diamond ring worth 2.5m riyals... that translates in to around $800,000 and we were allowed to try on.  The store was Fatahi Jewellers and they were polite and hospitable - I don't think I would get in the door of a store that sold that kind of jewellery here let alone receive that kind of service when they know you won't be buying.

Coffee was needed after that and where better to go than a VERY swanky designer mall - which noone was shopping in - and in to a very swanky French cafe that hails from Champs Elysees in Paris and serves world famous macarons?  Obvious choice really.  We chose from Coffee, Cassis, Lemon, Rose, Raspberry, Coconut to name a few and took a seat in a wee parlour all decorated with blue velvet upholstery... and walls!!!  One could almost get the giggles really.  Fench music, fantastic service, pastel coloured, gold rimmed cups and saucers... La Duree was a little slice of heaven.  Even the coffee was great.  And, when prayers started we were welcome to stay.  Ahhhhhh.
Louise had mentioned the first time we 'hung out' together that there was a great place that did stuffed pigeon, a bit of a local favourite.  (Farmed, not wild I should add.)  I asked if we could possibly try that for lunch today.  So, off we went to a pokey corner shop and Louise marched in and order up stuffed pigeon for three.  It is stuffed with a full flavoured and herby rice before cooking then wrapped in a sheet of the thinnest bread and served with a soup made with the juices from the bird.  I should thank Justin at this point for being the person that made me comfortable eating with my hands because scooping the rice up with that paper thin bread... oh man!  I LOVED it.  I don't try 'different' foods easily but was so glad I did this time.  I mean, it wasn't that daring... it tasted a lot like chicken after all.

We took the elevator down to the basement after lunch, walked across to the opposite elevator and up to the same level as Louise's apartment, and voila.... we were at the clinic where she works, which parts of used to be her old apartment.  We had a look around the facility and were very impressed,  said goodbye, then left Louise to get on with her work.  
It was time to head back to the compound and for me to pack, ready to leave for the airport.  I was a bit worried about the weight of my luggage - I had my crystal tea set in my suitcase! - but as it turned out, everything was fine.  My 'friend' from Singapore airlines who had assisted on my arrival appeared out of nowhere as I approached the check in desk and was at the gate for boarding.  (He now knew that Brian was from the NZ Embassy.) Brian and I had gone to the other end of the terminal for a drink and hadn't heard the boarding announcement - it didn't help me that they were all in Arabic anyway! - so as we wandered back to the gate we were approached with 'last boarding call Madam'... ooops, I have NEVER been the last one on to a plane before.  Full of apologies I rushed to the gate and presented my boarding pass only for it to be exchanged for another that said 'Business Class'.  Well, talk about giggles again.  What a great ending to a great day.  I think I boarded the plane in a state of euphoria.  'Good evening Mrs Chambers',  'Can I help with your bag Mrs Chambers?',  'Would you like a drink Mrs Chambers?... you can have wine once we are in the air', 'Would you like a snack Mrs Chambers?'..... oh man.....

I do have to sincerely thank Bronwyn, Brian, Louise and even a couple of Singapore Airlines employees for each contributing to my Saudi experience in some way.  I feel as though I packed a whole education in to seven days and have to say... I would definately go back again.

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