Saudi Arabia is not popular target for tourism, especially Riyadh located just in the middle of dusty landscape of sand dunes. I got two flavors of my stay there: I could observe most orthodox enforcement of Islamic law and try to see whatever was worth to see and reachable in time and distance.
For those of you who have no idea how interesting is alloy of modern country combined with medieval’s way of ruling by law of Sharia let me just point out some of immediate observations:
Women are worse kind of human in Islam, it is obvious, but in KSA women cannot drive cars, they cannot go to school without permission of male “guardian” or they cannot exercise in public. Add to it black abayas as the only option of outfit, including foreigners e.g. business women traveling to KSA. To me it sounds like a way to keep men out of any temptations of sexual nature – all the same fatty black ghosts with the only purpose of what, breading? This is a mess.
Men and women cannot mix in any place; sex separation is visible in every place starting from public transportation, through separate parks and gardens (e.g. “women and families only”) or even separate line to McDonalds.
For the prayer all public places are shut down; it happens at least three times in typical business hours and causes nearly half an hour lag in activities – all shops, cafeterias in the mall were closed in front of my eyes, astonishing view the first time.
They say the law is monitored and enforced by mutaweens, religious police; I have not seen them in action though and I do not miss it at all.
What I was missing however was smoking ban. Saudi Arabia is of these places one can smoke virtually everywhere. As a non-smoker I was attacked by nicotine choking fumes in every possible place: in food courts, shopping center passages, streets and taxis, except for the office, for sake of sanity.
Nicotine cancer however is not most recognizable way of dying there. It is death penalty, beheading executed publicly by a curved sword, a tradition with hundred years of history (another facet of orthodox Islam). If you really want to see it on your own, you have to be precise and patient – it is done every workday at 9.00am in Dirah square, aka “chop chop square”, and takes just couple minutes; you do not know however what day it happen, it is not announced in any way, so you have to try day by day. I gave up before even getting there, I visited Dirah square only once on my way to Al-Musmak castle and Big Mosque located next to each other. If your sick desire consumes you, there is no simpler way than watch the beheading video online.
Looking back on the Riyadh itself, for me it is one-time-visiting location. Fashion & Food is the only enterprise, modern architecture along one road and a few historical places I have seen, and you are done. If you have more time and have rented car, you would get more going outside Riyadh either going after desert safari or heading to Jenadriayah culture festival happening early February. I was at good place and right time but having neither car no free time (damn it!).
What would I import back if I could? Certainly fuel prices being literally ten times less expensive than in Europe, zero income tax that, and maybe couple wifes 😉