In this edition of Hello from… Denise Winston shares with us about her vacation in Jeddah…
Admittedly, I don’t like staying in the Kingdom on my breaks. Travel from here is quite a bit cheaper than from the United States so while in Saudi I’ve taken as much advantage of that benefit as possible. I’ve been to Egypt, Sri Lanka, Ireland, France, India, and South Africa and most of you have read about every single adventure. Despite the distinct lack of savings as a result, I would do all that travel a thousand times over. So you can imagine my disappointment at having to stay in the Kingdom this past spring break.
You see, for most international travel your passport must have minimum 6 months validity. I learned this fact while trying to plan for our break in late March. Then I found out that Saudi requires expats to have at least 3 months validity on their passport to even exit the country! Who does that? As a result, I had to stay in the Kingdom for the break and get my passport renewed.
There are two places Americans can go for passport services in Saudi- Riyadh or Jeddah. Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia and, while it does have some tourist sites, I wanted to take some time to relax. That’s what led me to Jeddah. Jeddah is located on the west coast of Saudi on the Red Sea. I’d only been to the airport there en route to somewhere else so I knew very little about Jeddah. As the break grew closer I found myself more and more excited to actually travel inside the Kingdom and the city I chose did not disappoint.
I stayed at a well hidden and out of the way resort especially for expats. It’s been successfully operating under the radar for the past 20+ years. For this reason I won’t divulge the name or exact location. Amenities included a private beach, a saltwater pool, great cuisine and an obliging staff. Though the rooms were simple, they were clean and cozy. My only two complaints were 1) the resort was so far away from everything. Traveling to anywhere in the city took at least 35-45 minutes. 2) Drivers in Jeddah were astonishingly expensive. I’m talking 150 SAR (Saudi Riyals) each way so about 80$ USD round trip! This is more than quadruple what I pay in Ha’il where a one-destination trip will only cost you 30 SAR. The cost of the resort was reasonable, though I paid less in Egypt and there I could also have a glass of wine ☺.
Most of the sites I saw in Jeddah were from the car. I saw the Floating Mosque, King’s Fountain, and the construction on a building that, when complete, will rival the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I made the full trip to the historic shopping district of Al Balad. It was beautiful. The people were inviting and the outdoor souq was lovely. I went at night and I found an actual antique genie lamp that I had to buy. I got a few more touristy trinkets, I met three owls and I even caught a show! It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Saudi. I also met some friends at Red Sea Mall. This place was a little piece of heaven. There were so many Western stores: Louis Vuitton, Mont Blanc, and Starbucks just to name a few. I found a Gallery One art store and got a print that will be prominently displayed in my stateside home. The mall was so big compared to the malls we have in Ha’il. I also noticed the customer service in Jeddah was much better. I don’t know if this is a result of having so many tourists frequent their city or what, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I also enjoyed the relaxed culture of Jeddah. Coming from a very conservative city it was refreshing to be out in public without a scarf on. I also noticed the staring, which is so much a part of the culture in Ha’il is not as prevalent in Jeddah. Locals see you and greet, but for the most part, they don’t gawk. This in itself was a gift.
A Little Bit of Luxury
Ha’il, the city where I teach in Saudi, is not known for their spa treatments. I know some people that get treatments in Barzan, the women’s shopping and service district in Ha’il, but I’ve heard mixed reviews. Not wanting to chance it, I would always wait until I traveled to get a spa treatment. But Jeddah was a different story. It had a Waldorf Astoria Hotel and that hotel had a luxury spa!! The Waldorf Astoria in New York is on my bucket list; so going to the location in Jeddah seemed like a step in the right direction. The hotel looked like a palace. The spa was a dream. I had a hot stone massage and a facial. I couldn’t take pictures in the spa because that’s not allowed, but I got great shots of the lobby. Believe me, if I could spend all my time in this place, I would. I would literally live in this hotel like an eccentric character in an indie film. Every amenity you could think of was there and the cleanliness was such a welcome change from what I’ve seen elsewhere in the Middle East. I walked away completely rejuvenated.
Renewing My Passport
My original purpose for going to Jeddah was to get my passport renewed, a process that turned out to be an adventure all its own. Before going to the U.S. Consulate you’re advised not to bring a mobile phone or a purse of any kind because you cannot enter the premises with it. Everywhere you look there are armed guards. There were no fewer than three security checkpoints. By the time I went through all of them, I thought I really had committed a crime! I know it was all for safety and rightfully so as there was violence near the Consulate as recent as last summer. However, it’s still a little off-putting to walk past a small gang of soldiers with machine guns on your way to fill out forms. Inside I found the workers friendly but curt. They want you in and out and their level of efficiency shows it. My appointment was at 1:15 and I was done by 1:30! It took longer to get in than it did to get my passport ordered. I return later this month to pick it up.
My Saudi tour wraps this month and I will be returning to the States in June. Then a new adventure awaits!