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Exploring Saudi Arabia

An inspiring kingdom

“Welcome to Saudi Arabia” were the words I received daily from people in the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2019, the country slowly began to open up to foreigners, and due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the arrival of foreigners stopped for a while. Saudi Arabia today is striving to develop tourism and other major sporting and cultural events. Due to the lack of information about the country, it seemed very remote and mysterious to us. Therefore, people rightly have false prejudices. I am sure that in the future, the stereotypes about Saudi Arabia will disappear. By 2030, the country has a plan to have more than 100 million visitors.


Dammam – the cradle of the oil empire

After landing in the fifth-largest city of the country, which lies on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula, I met an Egyptian named Waled, who lives in Ljubljana, and he selflessly offered to take me and his friends from the airport to Al-Khobar, where I stayed for two days. The warmth and hospitality of the people followed me everywhere. My cousin told me before I left that she wouldn't dare to go there, because she would be afraid. I thought about her words a lot, what kind of prejudices people have who only leave our country once and when they do, they only visit neighbouring countries to go to the seaside. Dammam is the cradle of the oil empire in the country. In 1938, when American companies discovered oil, the country put itself on the world map, and the Second World War prevented oil from being extracted for several years.


On the landscaped coast of the Persian Gulf, I walked for hours and watched the people and was rewarded with beautiful views of the sea. Less than half an hour from Al-Khobar lies the gulf country of Bahrain, so I headed to the border with Bahrain over the bridge which connects the two countries. In good weather, the capital city of Manama is beautifully visible from the coast of Saudi Arabia. On the main road, I noticed that there were already quite a few women behind the wheel. My host Ahmed told me that women are very cautious and slow drivers, which sometimes annoys the male population. It was only three years ago when women got the right to drive cars, and today, women are allowed to leave the country without a man's permission and can go shopping for underwear themselves. Today they have more rights in the country than men, which is difficult for us to understand. In European and Western-style restaurants, women can be seen on their own, something that seemed impossible only a few years ago, but many of the people still feel the presence of the former regime.

Riyadh – a capital city with rapid development

I arrived in Riyadh in the afternoon by bus from the eastern part of the country, the desert accompanied me all the way and sometimes a passing camel appeared along the main road. You should be aware that the distances across the country are huge. In the meantime, we stopped for an hour at a Pakistani restaurant. We were warmly welcomed by the restaurant staff. Since I was carrying a big camera in my hand, the staff asked me to take photos of all the employees – waiters, cooks and dishwashers. Why not, I said. I got food and drinks free of charge, and I sent them the photos when I got home.


During my stay in the capital, where nine million people live, the arrival of Portuguese footballer Christian Ronaldo was raising a lot of dust. People lined up outside the shops of Al-Nassr football club to buy his jersey.

My intention was to visit some interesting sights of the city and its surroundings. Due to heavy traffic, you lose a few hours to get from one part of the city to the other. The metro is still under construction and is not due to open for another year, so all traffic runs on the road. In the centre of the city there are many tall buildings in the style of the world's largest cities, and in the evening Miteb and I visited the business district, which is almost a city on its own. Foreigners can be noticed a little more than in other smaller cities, many people come to the capital for concluding new business opportunities. Today, Riyadh is a large construction site, with new buildings and settlements being built 24 hours a day. The royal dynasty of al-Saud invests a lot of money in the construction of new roads, buildings and new airports.

Jeddah – the capital of the western part of the country

Due to the great distance between the capital and Jeddah on the Red Sea coast, I preferred a domestic flight, because sometimes plane tickets are cheaper than bus tickets, and you gain in time. Jeddah is the second-largest city in the country and has almost 70 km of coastline along the Red Sea. Jeddah is the starting point for many Muslims as they begin their pilgrimage towards Mecca, which is an hour away. I wanted to visit Mecca, but because I am not a Muslim, unfortunately it was impossible.


It is a must to stop at the fish market, where fresh fish are sold daily, as well as crabs and other seafood. There were many people crowded by the fish market, I went to see what was going on and they were having a fish auction. The one who gives more, takes it home. An interesting and unforgettable experience. I have visited the fish market twice, because I love fish. I bought more than a kilo of different fish, then took them to the next room where they cleaned them and then took them to the restaurant and in less than fifteen minutes my taste buds were being pampered with fresh fish.

I was very impressed by a visit to the old part of the city of Al-Balad, which is a heritage site. A labyrinth of streets, markets, small shops, mosques and unique architecture makes you feel like you've gone back in time a few years. I met many people from India by chance and offered them my place to sit in the old part of the city. After a few hours, we met again in front of the sugarcane store, where they treated me to a beverage for my kindness. As I travelled around the country alone and met very few foreigners, I had the feeling that I had caught the right time to travel around the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and that it would change dramatically over the next few years.


The distances across the country are very large, so I recommend renting a car so that you can get to almost every corner of the country more easily.

Saudi Arabia still hides a lot of hidden gems that people will discover over the years. It left a very positive impression on me and I just wish I could visit again soon.

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