I’ll admit that I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Saudi Arabia.
They just started a “tourist visa” for the first time very recently. It’s always been family visits, business visas, or pilgrimage. Now that they have an online tourist visa option, and since I needed to change my plans away from going to Beirut, this was a good option.
Growing up in the West and with the things we constantly hear about Saudi Arabia, a few things struck me immediately. First, the plane announced that they would stop serving alcohol and hour before landing in Jeddah, because of Saudi laws. Second, I was surprised to see that the visa agents for the facility at the airport were all female, wearing military uniforms, but wearing niqab (the face veil that covers everything but their eyes). Seemed really foreign to me that they were speaking PERFECT English, doing official duties, interacting with foreign men, and had their faces covered while performing these official duties. These are my “western guy new to Saudi Arabia” first impressions.
As we were flying in, I had a window seat view of the world’s tallest flagpole and the giant fountain, so that was nice.
My suitcase didn’t show up, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We had to walk through the baggage claim area and look at every suitcase with a “Is this your suitcase?” Q&A with the agent. Mine was blue, I told him to stop asking me about black & green & red. I know what it looks like, this was just a giant waste of time.
With the time difference and the time wasted with the suitcase process, I arrived at the hotel close to midnight and was exhausted.
Having platinum status, they put me on the top floor and gave me a pass to the executive lounge for free breakfast in the morning, which was nice. I also found it REALLY funny that they’d put the name of the hotel on the window. Why?
Taking a tour through the hotel, this wasn’t the only odd thing.
Welcome to “The Texan Restaurant”, where the bathrooms are labeled as Squaws and Chiefs.
Also, they clearly haven’t cleaned the brass in the elevator in…a while.
And I liked the note apologizing that they hadn’t added the butt-washing hose to the bathroom during the remodeling. Yes, it’s a great feature, but I hadn’t ever thought someone would apologize with a note in the room for not having it.
I caught a taxi into the old town, and it was pretty well deserted. It was a Friday, which is their religious day for going to the mosque and not working, so there wasn’t much activity. I meandered through the alleys and old buildings. I really liked the layout.
The only people I saw were the foreign labor force out running errands. Transferring money to their families back home, buying some necessities, etc. — I saw no Saudis on the street.
This is one of the gates into the old city and the start of the old path to Mecca for the pilgrimage.
The old city has some really amazing blends of old meets new. Several of the buildings appear to be falling apart, but other older elements looked preserved.
The square around Bab-Jadid was cool. I imagine it has a ton of activity on work days.
Heading north with an uber, we passed this really cool mosque. It’s called the King Saud mosque. Saw nothing about it online beforehand, but I wish I’d known to check it out. The architecture looks awesome.
Everywhere I went in the Middle East on this trip, Mohamed Salah was famous. Huge. I don’t imagine that the Arab world gets a lot of world-famous players to idolize, and he’s on ALL of the ads for every product you can imagine.
In the evening, I caught a ride up to Moon Shell, the only vegan place in Jeddah. It was awesome! I had a really great matcha latte and a blueberry cheesecake. Both were amazing.
Late in the evening, I caught a taxi up to the airport. I inquired about my bag, and it wasn’t there yet. I checked in for the flight to Oman and left detailed, clear instructions on sending my suitcase to my next destination. I had 0 hope, which later turned out to be accurate for how disorganized and incompetent the Jeddah baggage services team was. This was a good sample of Jeddah from a short-notice change to my trip.
This entry was posted in Jeddah, Middle East, Saudi Arabia