Sunday, December 29, 2013

My First Day in Saudi Arabia

I can't believe that it's time for my first blog post from Saudi Arabia! Honestly, nothing felt real until I got off the plane and through customs. 

In my abaya and hijab after a long flight!
My flight left from Dulles International Airport at around 6:30pm after a short delay. Overall, I think the flight took around 11 hours or so with our landing in the capital city of Riyadh at the King Khalid International Airport at around 3pm (Saudi time). There is an 8 hour time difference between D.C. and Riyadh and needless to say I was quite tired after the flight.

Some observations I made on the plane: 
-Before the flight took off there was a saying from the Prophet Muhammad on travel. Unfortunately I can't remember where it was from.
-We each received sleep masks, socks (weird right?) and toothbrushes with toothpaste.
-There was a touch screen TV in front of everyones seats with old and new Arabic films, American films, Foreign films along with some Islamic television programs.
-There was a lot of tea and coffee served.
-This is for Rebecca Miller as requested. There was no announcement on the flight for when we had to put on our abayas and hijabs (If you don't know what those are do a quick google search), we just put them on a half an hour before landing. For those of you who don't know, by law women in Saudi Arabia have to wear the abaya in public. 

After landing and getting through customs we all packed into a van with our suitcases (literally there was no trunk in the van so our giant suitcases were stuffed in between our seats). The drive felt very long because there was a lot traffic in the city and several of us felt carsick after the stop and go motions of the van. It was a great experience to go through the center of Riyadh though and I got to see some of the city's famous buildings like the Kingdom Centre. It's ridiculous how excited I felt being able to read a lot of the signs and advertisements that where in Arabic along the highway. Some of the sign names in English were quite funny, like the shoe store Athlete's Foot (the name doesn't really make you want to buy their shoes too much). 

Kingdom Centre, which is the second tallest
skyscraper in Saudi Arabia. 

When we finally arrived at the hotel, we were happy to see that InterContinental is a fabulous, beautifully designed establishment. We each have our own singles that are suite-style. As gifts from the Ministry of Higher Education the girls received hijab pins and the boys received cufflinks. The representatives from the Ministry said that everything was paid for, our meals, the food in our hotel rooms, and even room service if we so wished. At 7pm we all ate together at the hotel's restaurant that was a buffet. This was no ordinary buffet though, it had tabbouleh, fattoush, hummus, kibbeh and more top-quality Arabic food. We were even served some Saudi non-alcoholic champagne, which was delicious. All of us left dinner for our hotel rooms feeling comfortably satisfied. 

My hotel room.
Overall my first day, well more like half-day, was pretty fabulous in Saudi Arabia! Tomorrow we visit King Saud University, the Prince Talal Charity Foundation and the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center. Stay tuned for more blog posts and pictures!

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