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13 days ,  Nov'11- Sept'14




Kind of travel:
Business travel

10days in Nov'11 and 3 days in Sept'14

Do I need a visa:
Oh my god!
really forget getting a tourist visa, so business is your option (unless you opt for pilgrimage one).
Don't expect a straightforward process, both times I applied for it by consulate in Milan it turned out a pain in the ass and I got rejected twice for silly bugs in the documentation. Overall it took 2 months

How I moved:
From Riyadh to Jeddah by plane, from Jeddah to Taif by bus and around the cities by taxi.

Freezing or baking:
In September it's still very hot and humid in Jeddah, while mid Nov it's ideal since you won't need even a sweater.

Where I slept:
I was there for business so I experienced the high KSA hotel standards (Hilton ), whose ratio quality (medium-high)/price (150€ for a single) according to me it's not worth.

What I liked:
it's really another world whose charm, you agree or not, is his uniqueness: segregation between male and female, the Islamic laws, the religious police (Muttawa)... Then the complete lack of tourists will make you feel an explorator and the country is likely the safest in the world where people (men) are very relaxed interacting woth you. As highlight Jeddah old town (Al-Balad) at sunset during prayer time has a special vibe.

What I disliked:
Getting the visa has been a nightmare. No major ighlights.
You might find not at ease all the time you'll do whatever involving the presence of females.
Why the hell am I not allowed in Mecca?

How much daily:
hard to say when travelling for business, in general don't expect a cheap place this is mainly do to the fact you hardly manage to backpack there.

What you do need:
Be aware of the Islamic rules in particular avoid any interaction with women (even sitting near them on the bus)



First of all I'm wondering how you could get into Saudi unless for business or if you are a muslim pilgrim. In the latter case you won't be reading this report, while in the former it won't be your choise to go or not: so it's a nonsense to discuss about being worth to travel there.
For sure it's hard you will be really enthusiastic of a travel in Saudi: the reason might be the few highlights of the country, the hassle to get the visa or such strict rules that even to the most opened minded western seem just a meanigless lack of freedom.
I am not saying that there's nothing interesting in Saudi (the fourth empty desert, the mosques, the islamic architecture, the welcoming inhabitants....), but you can experience the same in neighbouring countries like Oman without all such troubles.



Once landed in Jeddah, as it hadn't been enough pain to get the visa in Italy, also to have it stamped turned out a sore. In fact due to the introduction of the bio metric recognition (eye reading, fingerprints...), I had to queue hours to pass tje immigration. And finally I could touch the KSA soil!! (no I didn't kiss it, religious police might have not appreciated!).
Hilton Hotel (30min by taxi) is high end hotel (150$ single room per night), but far from the city center (30min by taxi). On the other hand it's conveniently positioned on the promenade where it's a pleasure to have a walk. Right the boulevards along the promenade are curiosly dotted with several contemporary art big installations, the last thing I expected to see in Saudi honestly, but it's worth to have a look if you are around.
Since you shouldn't forget I was in Saudi for business, I spent my days travelling by taxi and meeting people. Anyhow I didn't miss the opportunity to have some sight-seen in the week end.
As concern moving around, if on one hand it's tough to enter the country, on the other, once inside, it's possible to travel without any issue; you will be 100% safe, despite feeling, in particular on the public means of transport, an alien.
Since Lonely Planet was claiming it to be an highlight I visited the town of Taif , 3h by bus from Jeddah , I was supposed to see a rose-perfume factory. Not only I didn't find anything, but also the town itself is quite unremarkable and the trip to get there undescriptive. While up side it has been to meet and chat with some Sasdis on the way: I remember my seatmate on the bus writing on his cellphone he was not a good Muslim, but he was scared to say because he was sure the guys behind us could sue him to the Muttawa (religious police).
Definitely more interesting than Tiaf turned Jeddah old town (Al-Balad). First of all it's quite unique in KSA since there's nothing similar to that in Riyad. Expect a very run down place (at the end it's his beauty) with narrow streets characterized by the typical closed wooden balcones, from which women can see outside without being seen.
The place is very lively in particular when the Suq (market) is taking place, but when it's prayer times (30min, 4 times per day) everything stops and the atmosphere get unreal. You'll be the only non-Muslim walking there, so pay attention to your outfit (no shorts!).
There aren't real highlights (beside a small old house), anyway his charm is to poke around, in particular in the prayer time during sunset.
If you are looking for an highlight you can reach 20min from taxi from Al Balad the King Fahd's Foutain: it's a fountain jet watering to 300m height, ranking as the highest in the world. Go there in the evening, since lit it's more scenic and in the morning it might be off.
If world record stuffs is your thing, don't miss the Saudi Flagpole in Jeddah: it is the tallest flagpole in the world since 2014 and its 570kg heavy and 50m long flag is huge. Amazingly I had the chance to be there exactly the day the flag was unfurled: the National day in Saudi Arabia, the 23rd Sept 2014.
Second leg of the trip was Riyadh, reached by in 1h flight. The capital it's very different from Jeddah, since while the latter is characterized by old houses with wooden balconies, the former by high-tech skyscrapers. In particular I got impressed by two of them: the 'necklace like one' (The Kingdome center) and the one with the ball on top (Al Faisaliyah Center). Both of them you can climb up and enjoy the view eating on at the restaurant (if your wallet affords).
The center of Riyadh definitely is worth a visit given few interesting highlights: fist of all the well preserved Masmak fortress (a mud citadel symbol of the city). Then in the very nearby there's the Deera Square , a public space, in which public executions (usually by beheading) take place. It is sometimes known as Justice Square or Chop Chop Square. After Friday prayers, police and other officials clear the area to make way for the execution to take place. After the beheading of the condemned, the head is stitched to the body and the body is wrapped up for the final rites and taken away. I didn't attend and I don't think you'll be allowed, but you can always try.
After have a look from outside to the superpolished Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque, anyway according to me the unmissable highlight is the National Museum of Saudi Arabia. You will get an unique insight on the KSA history (depiste a biased point of view), in a well organised set up.
Finally the last evening I struggled for the dinner since being with a female colleague of mine: we got rejected by the normal restaurants till we found one with the family section: here we enjoyed a delicious camel baby, a typical Saudi dish.



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