Friday, December 30, 2022

Saudi Arabia: Late For an Important Date

Here we finally are, in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. We were a little worried about this trip to be honest. I generally try to avoid going to Muslim countries with Lydia as there are a lot of rules that I don't want to break. We had the impression that Saudi Arabia was going to be a very strict place, and for example Lydia would need to have her hair covered when she was in public. It ended up not being like that at all. We saw a lot of local women with their hair uncovered. Younger women in particular. I'm definitely glad we decided to come because the country greatly exceeded our expectations.

We had lunch at Zaatar W Zeit which seems to be a Lebanese company, but they sell manakish which I've read to be described as Arabic pizza.

The manakish was excellent and I would definitely eat here again. It is comprised of a dough crust with different toppings. We had to honor the name of the place and order the za'atar filling. Za'atar is absolutely delicious and is can refer to a particular spice but in this case refers to "the name of a spice mixture that includes the herb along with toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac, often salt, as well as other spices." It was mysterious and delicious.

This restaurant was an auspicious start to our time in Riyadh. The guys behind the counter were incredibly nice and at one point the cook in the back waved at me through the window to the kitchen. They must not get a lot of foreigners around here.

We popped over to Starbucks which was nearby. It was raining today and I could tell that this must be a rare event because several locals were taking pictures out the window.

There was also an amusing episode where Lydia asked the cashier if they accepted gift cards. Cashier says yes. Lydia proceeds to whip out a gift card in the shape of a little Christmas tree ornament and the cashier quickly says "oh no we don't accept those". We're probably all going to jail now for carrying religious artifacts.

I've been excited about doing a "date tasting" for a while now. In the US we seem to only have one or two varieties of date available, namely the medjool cultivar. But just like apples and pretty much every other kind of plant, there are hundreds of varieties of date and I would like to eat every last one of them. Not only are there a lot of varieties, but they seem to be sort of like the coconut where they can be eaten at different stages of ripeness for different textures and flavors. Sign me up for that immediately! We took an Uber but it let us out at an unfortunate place and the streets had become rivers from the rain. Unsurprisingly this desert city doesn't have great drainage set up for rainstorms.

After a lot of jumping over streams we finally made it to what Google Maps refers to as Riyadh Seasonal Dates Market. That's such a boring name in English but fine. My dreams of trying all the flavors were partially dashed though, because this market was more of a bulk operation. There were no artfully arranged charcuturie boards available where I could try every kind at once. Sad.

I picked a guy that seemed nice and we did some commerce. I have no idea what I bought but I seem to now own several pounds of it.

One memorable part of this giant date market was that there were dates pits everywhere on the ground. These guys are living the highlife.

We attempted to visit the National Museum but it was inexplicably closed in defiance of its posted business hours. That is all.

I tried to do a culture nerd learning thing and it was closed. That's on them. So next I went to the mall. They made me do this!

The Al-Mamlaka shopping mall wasn't just a great place to show off my rainwear, it was also the way to get to the top of the 99-story Kingdom Centre skybridge viewing area.

The waiting area for the elevator had a view of the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh's lobby.

The interior at the top of the building gave me major St. Louis Arch feels.

It was a little cloudy up there but you could still see some views.

Funnily enough if we have the time we love to go to the movie theater in other countries. For example I can still remember the time I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at a theatre in Toyko in 2008. I don't know what it is but the magic of film combines with the magic of travel to create a full blown David Copperfield Las Vegas residency in your brain. ANYWAY, we checked out the theatre in the mall to see what was showing. There was a particular thing that I would have liked to have seen that they weren't showing, so I started to turn around to leave, and someone who seemed like the manager ran out and insisted on giving us a tour of one of the theatres that wasn't in use. These are like the nicest people on the planet. I legitimately felt bad that we didn't buy a ticket but that was just because they didn't have anything showing that sparked my interest.

You know I had some Saudi McDonald's. That is how I do.

A popular style among the young ladies seemed to be to wear the bottom gown part of the uniform but not the head covering. Or to have a head covering that was more ornamental but didn't actually cover their hair. They definitely seemed to be experimenting with their culture which I thought was awesome.

I had some serious documentation of my order to take back to my filing cabinet at home.

I was surprised to see so many American brands here as in my mind this was a place forbidden to Americans until very recently.

Conde Nast Traveler:

"Until 2019, visas were only issued for official business purposes or for religious pilgrimages to Mecca. Conservative laws and dress codes were enforced by the mutawa (religious police) who made arrests for playing music, wearing too much makeup, or being seen in public with a member of the opposite sex. These laws began to change in 2017 when Mohamed bin Salman became the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and launched Saudi Vision 2030, a campaign to modernize the country and reduce the reliance on oil revenue. He stripped the power of the mutawa, and women were issued drivers' licenses for the first time. Additionally, movie theaters were built, international music festivals held, and tourist visas became available to visitors from 49 countries, including Americans."

My date tasting dreams came true with Bateel: a fancy date store.

They had all the flavors of the date rainbow. They also had chocolate covered and stuffed dates but I did not want to sully the sanctity of my date experience with any nonsense. Only date flavored dates for me today, thanks.

Here I had my first ajwa date which seems to be the Cadillac of dates around these parts. It is apparently grown around the holy city of Medina, and even has a few call outs in the Quran. Smithsonian Magazine: "While the proverb “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is known in much of the world, the Muslim equivalent is “seven dates a day keeps the doctor away.” The Prophet argued that seven dates in the morning protected one from poison and witchcraft. This gives the date a sort of mystical property, almost supernatural." I have eaten enough dates today to make me immune from witches for months.

We bought several boxes of dates to take home to our people, totaling more than $260. Whatever I'm on vacation. You won't be judging me when you get poisoned.

Many samples were sampled.

Back at the Aloft Riyadh Lydia went to work on my case of dates I bought at the market. Apparently dates also help with cervical dilatation so she really better slow her roll.

Lydia liked to play this game where she would constantly blab Ernie's name, which we were trying to keep secret, with her big blabber mouth. This ruined a lot of good videos. Sad.

No comments:

Post a Comment