Travels – Diary of a Serial Expat http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com Expat destinations off the beaten paths Tue, 12 Sep 2017 14:32:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/wp-content/uploads/logo-2-161x150.png Travels – Diary of a Serial Expat http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com 32 32 68156955 Tourism in Saudi – Dhee Ayn in the Baha Region http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/saudi-tourism-dhee-ayn-baha-region/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/saudi-tourism-dhee-ayn-baha-region/#comments Mon, 11 Sep 2017 16:39:48 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3873 Did someone actually say “Tourism in Saudi”? Is that even possible? Yes it is true that the country has been closed to tourists for many years but it is starting to open up…. slowly. OK very slowly but that doesn’t meant there is nothing to

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Did someone actually say “Tourism in Saudi”? Is that even possible? Yes it is true that the country has been closed to tourists for many years but it is starting to open up…. slowly. OK very slowly but that doesn’t meant there is nothing to see, quite the contrary.  Believe it or not, Saudi Arabia is a country with many hidden secrets and Dhee Ayn is one of them.

Dhee Ayn

Inside the ancient village

Over the last vacation, we decided to  finally explore this country and we opted for a road trip. Our main objective was to reach the Farasan Islands but as it is so far from Jeddah, we thought we would make use of the pit stops we would necessarily have to make to discover more than just one place. One of the planned pit stops was Dhee Ayn or the Marble Village as it is sometimes referred to. I chose this spot quite at random really. We had been invited to spend the night at a friend’s house near Baha and I simply looked on google maps for something interesting to see before we would arrive at our first destination. And I am very glad I picked Dhee Ayn. It turned out to be an incredible place, in many ways.

How to get to Dhee Ayn?

Let’s start with the location. Click HERE to access the google map pin and get some driving instructions from where you are. From Jeddah,  we followed the coastal highway –Route 5- to Mudhaylif, then the mountain road –Route 246- all the way to Dhee Ayn. This is the fastest and shortest way and it is very easy to get there this way. The other option via Route 15 may be more scenic but it is much longer. Also during the Hajj season, the roads around Makkah are blocked and you will have to make an even lengthier detour.

Dhee Ayn

Road 246 leading to Dhee Ayn is a mountain road.

What is Dhee Ayn?

Dhee Ayn is basically an old traditional Saudi village with houses built of flat stones using an ancient technique that required pretty much no mortar or cement. What makes Dhee Ayn even more interesting is that the entire village has been preserved! This is really unique because most, if not all, of the ancient village structures of Saudi Arabia have long since disappeared. Ancient houses and old villages have been destroyed to make room for newer constructions or have been left to crumble down. In fact, as you keep driving towards Baha, you will see many remains of old watch towers, houses and walls.

Only the people of Dhee Ayn seem to have understood the importance of preserving their history, their ancient craftsmanship, and some memories of time long gone. They all agreed to not only keep, but maintain all the old houses as well as the luxuriant gardens below the village in which they still grow bananas, lemons and basil among other things.

Dhee Ayn

Let’s start exploring. Up we go…

Is it worth it?

Totally. It is worth the long and tiring drive. It is totally worth the small entry fee. It is totally worth the leg cramps you’ll get from climbing to the top of the village. It is worth it big time! Just check out some of the pictures I took.

Dhee Ayn

Last bend before you arrive in the village. The view over the “Marble Village” is amazing.

Dhee Ayn

You start the climb into the village from the car park. A small hut offers cold bottles of water for sale. You WILL need them.

Dhee Ayn

View over the luxuriant gardens of palm trees, banana tress, lemon trees and aromatic herbs. The new village is visible in the distance.

Dhee Ayn

Visitors are allowed inside the ancient houses.

I also made these videos:

Baha Region (3) Baha Region (11) Baha Region (15) Dhee Ayn (2) Dhee Ayn (1)

After we finished walking around the village, climbed up to the highest house, went down to check out the two small waterfalls and the lush gardens, we stopped to picnic. They have set up some family size picnic “huts” with a clever car park space right next to each hut and a central playground area for children. The little huts are clean and shaded. Perfect picnic spot.

Dhee Ayn

Car park and picnic area

After that we went back on the road to our friend’s house near Baha. This time we took the scenic mountain road. Very long and difficult drive but OH MY GOD we were treated to the most spectacular views. Panoramic mountain scenes at every bend. We kept oooohhhhing and ahhhhhing all the way. The whole area around Baha is amazing and the road itself is worth the trip.

Dhee Ayn

View from the top of the mountain road on the way to Baha.

Dhee Ayn

Baboons live in those mountains and they often come to the side of the road hoping to get food.

We arrived late at our friend’s house and were received with the legendary Saudi hospitality. We were made to feel right at home and the whole family came to meet us. They even took us for a drive around the area. They knew the history of every small village and family. They showed us what we would have missed on our own. If you are lucky enough to know someone in the area, try to get an invite. It won’t be hard as it seems to be in the nature of Saudis to make people feel like welcomed guests. This would give you a different view of things and will make your trip even more amazing.

The next day, we left our hosts to continue our road trip. They recommended we keep following the scenic mountain road down. They call it the tunnel road because there are more than 20 tunnels. The road is spectacular but also dangerous in some places and it is better to avoid driving there at night, especially if you are new to the area and/or not used to mountain roads and their very sharp curves. We reached Abha a few hours later and there too, some surprises were waiting for us. But that’s another story…

Would you consider visiting Dhee Ayn? What else is on your Saudi bucket list? Let us know in the comments.

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Expat and Muslim in India http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-and-muslim-in-india/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-and-muslim-in-india/#comments Sat, 29 Oct 2016 15:23:48 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3522 India is notoriously difficult to define or understand, so perhaps more than in other reviews, this piece is a reflection on my experiences rather than an overall judgment of the nation. India is, in theory, a pluralistic, democratic and secular state where the population is

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India is notoriously difficult to define or understand, so perhaps more than in other reviews, this piece is a reflection on my experiences rather than an overall judgment of the nation.

India is, in theory, a pluralistic, democratic and secular state where the population is overwhelmingly Hindu, but at least 14% are Muslim. This may sound like a small percentage, but with an overall population estimated at around 1.2 billion, this means around 180 million Muslims. Not surprisingly, Muslims feature heavily in the national psyche, and some of India’s most famous icons (such as the Taj Mahal) were built by Muslims.

expat and muslim in india

Taj Mahal, Agra

Islam in India

Islam was first introduced to India in the 7th century AD, when Arab merchants intrigued the locals of southern India with their faith. In the 8th Century Arab invaders crashed into the northwest of India, in the area now known as Sindh, a province of Pakistan. These two events (and the histories that followed) shaped the experience of Islam in India today; in the south, people see Islam as being woven into the local fabric of life, a sense of ‘adopted’ religion, while in the north, it’s not uncommon to hear of Islam referred to as somehow foreign, and ‘forced’ upon the locals.

Whatever the perception, Islam is undoubtedly central to the idea of the modern Indian identity. Gandhi himself is known to have taken inspiration from, and to have held admiration for the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) and many of his family. One of India’s scheduled languages, Urdu, is a kind of Persianised Hindi, written in a modified Arabic script to aid recitation of the Quran for young learners. Music and films often lovingly hark back to the lavish, cultured Mughal Empire, the Muslim dynasty that ruled parts India for centuries.

No discussion of Islam in India would be complete without mentioning Sufism, the mystical practice of Islam, that largely aided the spread of Islam in the region. Sufi practice was quickly adopted by many, perhaps due to its parallels with existing Indian philosophy and spiritual practice.

India has also been the crucible for much Sufi thought, and thousands of shrines exist to pay tribute to these spiritual philosophers. In such a diverse and broad community, it’s inevitable that other groups would emerge, including Bohra, Khoja and Ahmadiyya, all with their own understanding of Islamic teachings.

Expat and Muslim in India

Being expat in India (particularly a white-skinned expat) is an identity unto itself – I was afforded special treatment while there, and religion was never really part of the discussion. I guess it was assumed that I must have been living a lavish life where God played no large role.

I occasionally had to explain to people that I was Muslim, or that my Hindi was inflected with certain Arabic words because it wasn’t Hindi at all – it was Urdu, the language of Muslim India. The reactions I would get were usually accepting, but uninterested. I got the feeling that was the general feeling towards Muslims from non-Muslims; “it’s fine to be Muslim, but I’m not, so no need to talk about it!” On one occasion I was told to say the Hindi “danyavad” for thank you, instead of the Urdu “shukriya”, because “this is India, and we hate Muslims”, but this was on just one occasion, and it didn’t escalate into anything more. I wonder if he would have said that, had he known I’m Muslim.

Additionally, there seems to be an assumption in some quarters that a white Muslim is simply a typical foreigner going on a temporary spiritual experience while on holidays (like so many do). I got this feeling from some people (who thought Islam was my “interest”), including men at mosques, who talked to me like they had “seen it all before”.

On the whole though, my experience of being expat and Muslim in India was one of being left alone, to “do my thing”, and not given much attention other than for the fact that I was a white-skinned foreigner.

Jama Masjid seen from Meena Bazaar, Delhi

Jama Masjid seen from Meena Bazaar, Delhi

Being Muslim in India is…

I often hear various slogans expressed about Muslims in India; “they’re free”, “they’re just as Indian as anyone else”, “they’re persecuted”, “they’re restricted”, “they’re oppressed”. All of them are true to some extent, however the level of acceptance or oppression seems to depend on a variety of elements, including level of society, level of education, region, city, part of the city, and the political climate of the time. Very occasionally discrimination flares into violence, although considering the demographics, this is less of an occurrence than the media would have us believe.

Sometimes India could be the easiest place on earth to be Muslim, because the number of Muslims and the lack of government diktat on religion allows each person to explore the religion themselves. Halal food is widely available and religious holidays like Eid are protected and celebrated. However, without the backing of a community, Muslims may find themselves discriminated against in Hindu-dominated areas.

On balance, it’s safe to say that being Muslim in India is a widely varied and complex experience, and there is probably one different definition for each Indian Muslim that exists.

 

Thank you very much Tim for sharing your experience and helping us understand the Islamic culture of India a little better. To find out more about Tim’s expat experiences, travels and awesome photography, go over to his blog Urban Duniya.

 

More Expat and Muslim stories HERE.  I would love to hear about other countries, so if you’d like to share your experience as an expat and Muslim get in touch right now!

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The One True Universal Language http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/the-one-true-universal-language/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/the-one-true-universal-language/#comments Sun, 14 Aug 2016 13:31:08 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3446 Is childhood the best universal language in the world? I spent a few weeks in France this summer to visit my family and to catch up with my best friends from university. It’s been many years since we met up and we now all have

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Is childhood the best universal language in the world?

I spent a few weeks in France this summer to visit my family and to catch up with my best friends from university. It’s been many years since we met up and we now all have kids in toe.

While I never worried about the kids getting along or finding a way to communicate despite a language barrier (my kids speak English and only a few words of French) I was truly impressed by how easily those kids managed to spend so much time together and never appear to have a problem getting through to each other.

Every time, the same thing happened: the would observe each other for a few minutes then before you knew it they’d act like they had always been friends and language wasn’t even an issue at all. Without realizing it, my kids would soon be shouting out words in French while their new friends would call after them in English, all of them naturally mimicking the words, expressions and intonations of the others. Even more amazing: they could speak the other language without a hint of an accent!

universal language of children

I guess little talk is needed in that situation

And then as my friends and I were chatting, it hit me: Kids are kids! No matter where they are born, where they grow up or what language they speak. They have no problem understanding each other because they have the same games, the same desires to play and explore, the same curiosity, the same apprehensions, they throw the same tantrums, and break the same rules. Of course we all raise our kids differently but parents are parents and kids are kids. Simple as that!

Children seem to understand each other because they look at life and the world around them with the same eyes. To any child in the world, a football is to be kicked, a bike is to be ridden, sweeties are to be shared and enjoyed. You don’t need to speak the same language to play with building blocks, racing cars, dolls… Children understand each other despite the language because they can pretty much anticipate the other child’s reaction to the game or the situation, like when we took the children to the zoo. Not exactly hard to interpret what the others are saying when they see the lion, or when we come close to the playground. Childhood really is a form of universal language.

universal language of children

At the zoo.

universal language of children

Inside the lemur enclosure.

universal language of children

Animals and children understand each others too.

And so while my friends and I reminisced the past, shared our present and planned our future, our lovely children played together, oblivious that there was such a big barrier between them.

Or is it such a big deal? Is language really a ‘barrier’? Or is it only an issue  for self-conscious adults?

I think it’s time we take a leaf out of our kids’ book and stop making life difficult: we adults are so similar to other adults, just as our kids are to other kids. We parents complain about the same stupid things our kids do. We who work full time understand the stress of the professional environment. We who love to travel can easily share the excitement of discovering a new place… no matter what language we speak…

Think of the possibilities if we stopped worrying about our differences and started to simply be together: language is only a barrier in our mind.

What if we stopped calling it a ‘barrier’… would we still struggle?

Do you agree? What would you say is the best universal language?

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I’m not a photographer and it’s OK http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/im-not-photographer-ok/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/im-not-photographer-ok/#comments Sun, 07 Feb 2016 13:43:47 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3138 I’m a mother, a teacher, a blogger and quite a few other things, but I’m not a photographer. I do like clicking away on my phone and keeping pictures as souvenirs. I do love showing readers of this blog what my life as an expat

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I’m a mother, a teacher, a blogger and quite a few other things, but I’m not a photographer.

I do like clicking away on my phone and keeping pictures as souvenirs. I do love showing readers of this blog what my life as an expat is like, but I’m not a photographer.

I did try to become better at it: I bought my first camera, a digital point and shoot but still… quite a big step from my regular camera of choice: my Blackberry 5mp camera. I even tried to take online classes to learn how to use my new camera and compose pictures but that’s not for me. Too technical, too boring sorry, can’t be bothered.

Then I heard about photoshop and softwares to make pictures look amazing, and I did try a few. Spent hours working on my raw shots to make them look spectacular and the results were quite good really. But you know what? I can’t be bothered anymore with those either…. Too much time, efforts, headaches and frustrations. It has even stopped me from putting online thousands of pictures I wanted to show you. It’s crazy. And. It’s not worth it!

I’m not a photographer!

And you know what? It’s OK. I’ve decided it’s OK to not be good at it.

I do like many of the pictures I took over the years. I love looking at them and having all the memories and emotions come right back to the surface. I love showing you guys the good, the bad and the ugly of my expat life.

So my pictures will never make the cover of National Geographic? It’s OK.

I’ve decided not to be ashamed of my pictures anymore. They are what they are and what I always wanted them to be: a raw, direct and uncompromising glimpse of real life as an expat.

I’m not a photographer… still, I got loads of pictures I’m proud of. What do you think?

Balad, jeddah

Jeddah old city

Naseef house, balad, jeddah

Roof top view in Jeddah old city

tunisia tourism

Salt flats, South Tunisia

canal du midi, France, UNESCO

Slow boat ride on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Canal du Midi, France

tunisia tourism

Salt Flats, South Tunisia

London, Camden

New constructions reflected in an older building, London, UK

Camden (5)

Different styles of architectures in London, UK

saudi arabia mecca

A real life picture of Mecca, with its hundreds of cranes

tripoli, libya

Sea view in Tripoli, Libya

tripoli

Tripoli, sea view

tripoli

Tripoli Towers, Tripoli, Libya

Egypt, cairo, citadel

View over Cairo, Egypt from the Citadel

Egypt, cairo, Nile

Sunset over the Nile from a traditional Egyptian river boat

Black Mountain region, France

View from a mountain top in France. The Mediterranean Sea (which is 70 km away) can be seen as a thin ray of light in the background.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

My very first picture of the Kabaa in Mecca

London Eye

View of the London Eye, London

London Eye

View over London, UK from the top of the London Eye.

Hammamet, tunisia

A narrow alleyway in Hammamet old Medina, Tunisia

Hammamet, Tunisia

Little hidden gem off the main road, Hammamet

Hammamet, Tunisia

Empty beaches, Turquoise waters, Hammamet

tunisia, mosque

Inside a small road side mosque, south Tunisia

Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Masjid al Haraam

One of my favorite picture of Mecca, Saudi Arabia

IMG_20150722_123745

Inside Masjid Al Nabawi, Madinah, Saudi Arabia

mecca, masjid al haraam, saudi arabia

Praying just in front of the Ka’baa in the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

 

These are probably my favorite pictures ever. While the technique is probably lousy, I’m hoping something of the moment and the emotions felt can transpire. And if it does, then that’s enough for me. So get ready for more pictures and less fuss.

After all, I’m not a photographer, right?

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Expat & Muslim in Iran http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-and-muslim-in-iran/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-and-muslim-in-iran/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 14:39:46 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3020   Iran is one of only a handful of countries around the world that declares itself a fully-fledged Islamic republic. Not surprisingly, simply naming itself an Islamic republic doesn’t make Iran a utopia for Muslims, despite the ‘idea’ of Islam being infused through the government

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Iran is one of only a handful of countries around the world that declares itself a fully-fledged Islamic republic. Not surprisingly, simply naming itself an Islamic republic doesn’t make Iran a utopia for Muslims, despite the ‘idea’ of Islam being infused through the government organs.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan

 

While under sharia law, Iran differs from many other Muslim nations (and, arguably, from others’ understandings of sharia law) for various reasons. Pressures of a relatively educated, diverse and liberal populace, generational changes and international politicking all result in inconsistently evolved legal and social systems, which are simultaneously way ahead and far behind other countries in the region.

Iran also has a long, rich non-Islamic and pre-Islamic history of which it is justifiably proud.

 

Islam in Iran

Iran is about 97% Muslim, of which about 90% is Shia and the remaining 7% Sunni. Therefore, to a large number of Muslims around the world, the Islam which is practiced in Iran may seem rather unfamiliar. Even among Shia Muslims, there are differences between what is practiced in Iran and in other countries.

Islam in Iran is noticeably politicised and reactionary. Iran became an Islamic republic after the 1979 revolution in which the strictly secular and modernising Shah (king) was swept aside. It seems that what followed the revolution was as much an effort to institute Islam in an official manner, as it was to undo the ‘Westernisation’ that the shah had implemented. Conversely, many of today’s youth are non-religious and take a dim view of practicing Muslims – but this seems to be more of a reaction to government policies (which of course all bear the ‘Islamic’ banner) than an outright rejection of Islam. Above all, however, respect remains for Iran’s pre-Islamic culture. In such a reactionary environment, in which history, politics and religion are all muddled together, what it means to be a Muslim in Iran is a dynamic, but confused concept.

Shia tradition runs deep in Iran_ the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad

 

Expat and Muslim in Iran

Being an expat in Iran, I was swamped with hospitality and open invitations to come home for dinner! For the most part, Iranians love foreigners, and that includes Americans too. In fact some people I met seemed slightly disappointed when I revealed I’m not American! It is said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and the absence of large numbers of foreigners, especially Americans, in Iran seem to have made Iranians very fond of them indeed!

Being an expat and Muslim in Iran is another matter. Because of the reactionary nature of Iranian politics and society, many educated Iranians would rather have religion left out of the conversation; they consider it a ‘dampener’ on what was otherwise a developing friendship. Many educated Iranians seemed to expect me to drink, party and live an otherwise “Western” lifestyle, and were visibly disappointed if I declined to take part. (Again: reactionary – in Iran, it seems, you’re either a debaucherous Westerner or a stone-age Mullah.)

Muslim values seem much closer to the hearts of people in other sections of society, however, and faith is genuinely appreciated and practiced.

Regardless of who you’re speaking to, you will nearly always be treated with respect as a guest in the nation – and in Iran that’s an experience vivid enough to cut through all of the socio-political white noise. Iranians, I can honestly say, are some of the kindest and most intelligent people I’ve ever encountered on my travels.

 

Being Muslim in Iran is…

Muslims in Iran will find their faith confirmed, reinforced, challenged and possibly even dismissed by members of society, but never disrespected. At a practical level, Iran being an Islamic republic, one never needs to worry about finding halal meat or taking time off for prayers. Sometimes the constant government preaching about “Islamic” policies becomes irksome, but you’ll never be alone in thinking so.

Overall, being expat and Muslim in Iran is an easy, if thought-provoking experience – keep an open mind, and enter the multilayered Islamic Republic of Iran.

 

Thank you Tim for sharing your experience with us.

If you don’t know Tim’s work, you should head over to Urban Duniya, his own lifestyle blog about all things expat, travel and cultures. He is also a great photographer and his blog is sure to inspire you.

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I’m off to Tunisia, no Matter What! http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/going-sousse-tunisia/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/going-sousse-tunisia/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 10:14:41 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=2052 I love Tunisia. If you’ve been following this blog, you know one of my purpose is to shed light on Tunisia and show the world what fantastic opportunities this little country has to offer to travellers and explorers of all kinds. Well, Tunisia is very much in

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I love Tunisia. If you’ve been following this blog, you know one of my purpose is to shed light on Tunisia and show the world what fantastic opportunities this little country has to offer to travellers and explorers of all kinds.

Well, Tunisia is very much in the news these days, unfortunately it’s for all the wrong reasons. Even since some nutters decided to open fire on tourists killing 38 people in Sousse, Tunisia, medias all over the world have been talking about how dangerous Tunisia was, Airlines and Tour Operators have cancelled flights and holidays deals and tourists have pretty much all fled the country.

Sousse, Tunisia

Tourists queuing to leave Tunisia at Enfidha Airport after the attack in Sousse. – Photo Credit

Already back in March (2015) an explosion had killed a group of tourists in the capital city Tunis.

As a result of those attacks, the Tunisian people is suffering from yet another blow to their main (if not only) source of income. Tunisian people are poor people, life is very hard most of the time and summer is for many the only chance to get some decent income and make ends meet, feed their family and pay bills. No only that but the government has now declared the “state of emergency” in all the country so once again the Tunisian people find itself living a restricted life, under closer surveillance and everything else this measure entails.

Now what?

Well I’m gonna tell you what is going to happen. I’ve seen it all before with my very eyes. Back in the summer of 2012 (shortly after the Arab Spring Movement started in Tunisia and all over North Africa and the Middle East) I travelled to Tunisia from the UK… in an empty plane! I talked a lot with the plane crew and they knew the season was over, ruined and that Tunisia was doomed financially for at least a few years.

Sousse, Tunisia

Hotels in Sousse and all over Tunisia are now empty. Photo Credit: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

The same is going to happen again. The summer season is completely ruined this year and in the future Tunisia will struggle to rebuild trust and re-start its tourism-lead economy. In the meantime what of the hundred thousands of people who depend on tourists to make a living? I’m not talking about Airlines and big hotels, I’m talking about street vendors, small restaurant owners, local guides…? Tunisia is not like the UK, there is no welfare money to fall back on! Those are going to suffer. BIG TIME!

So what can you do, you ask? Well for a start, read and share this post, and any other posts which are intended to help Tunisia rebuild that all-important trust with holiday makers. If you had planned on going to Tunisia please don’t cancel. And you if are going to Tunisia like me (I’ll be there soon) take the time to talk to the people, eat in their restaurants, buy their souvenirs and show them YOU CARE.

For people in Tunisia it’s not all about money, it’s also about people! We must do what we can to show people in Tunisia that we KNOW they are not responsible for those terrible acts. Many reports have now surfaced since the attacks, about how Tunisians did everything they could to protect tourists, from shielding them and making a human chain around hotels to throwing projectile onto the attackers and even running after him at great personal risk.

These days there is another country which makes the headlines: Greece and its failed economy. Ever since Greece made the news, blogs and social medias have been full of reports of people flocking to Greece and its pretty islands to “help the economy and the Greek people” (can you tell I’m slightly skeptical on all those people’s real intentions?).

While millions rush to Greece to make the most of the low prices and wonderful beaches, how many will remember Tunisia and the Tunisian people?

I’m heading to Tunisia tomorrow, I’m taking some measures of precautions for when I am in Tunis, especially at the airport but other than that I plan to enjoy a relaxing holidays, spending time with my family (in-laws) and setting the first step in motion to make Tunisia my future home.

what about you? Will you share this post? Will you help?

 

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I Love Expat Life & I Love Holidays! http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/life-in-saudi-arabia-holidays/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/life-in-saudi-arabia-holidays/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 12:49:50 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=2939 What do you do for your holidays when you’re an expat? I mean aren’t we technically already on holidays, since we’re abroad and living in the sunshine all year long, surrounded by palm trees with the beach nearby? To be honest living in Jeddah feels

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What do you do for your holidays when you’re an expat? I mean aren’t we technically already on holidays, since we’re abroad and living in the sunshine all year long, surrounded by palm trees with the beach nearby?

To be honest living in Jeddah feels a lot like being on holidays. I’ve been trying to describe what living in a compound feels like to my family and friends back home and the closest I can explain is by comparing it to living in a holiday village.

Life in Saudi arabia

Where I live at the moment (my employer provides me and my family with free housing on their compound) looks like a gigantic holiday village. It’s self contained for one and it’s got everything you need so you don’t actually have to get out unless you want to.

Then there is the Jeddah weather, awesome weather, summer all year round with temperatures between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius at the moment (July 2015).

There are some swimming pools in the compound to cool us down, hundreds of ACed shopping malls not far to while away the hottest hours and spend our hard earned salaries.

life in saudi arabia

When daily life looks like you’re on holidays.

And just look at the place! With the clear blue sky, the palm trees everywhere… it’s hard to feel like I’m going to work when I walk to my office in the morning. And at night when I look over the roof tops from my windows, I am still totally overwhelmed by the view of those rocky mountains.

life in saudi arabia

Walking to work or relaxing outdoors – Hard to tell, isn’t it?

Still, summer is the time for holidays so let’s talk holiday plans then. Life in Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer for a family like mine which is why we decided to spend the majority of our holidays in Jeddah. From here we have made quite a few days trips to Mecca and we plan to visit Madinah next, maybe next week.

After that it’s finally time for the “real” holidays as we are flying to Tunisia. If you’ve been reading this blog a while you know that Tunisia is my favourite country in the world and that we have been travelling to Tunisia for our holidays for years. But this year, our holidays are gonna be much more than just holidays…

holidays in Tunisia

A few years back (flashback) my husband and I started dreaming of Tunisia, not just for quick visits during the holidays but as the place we loved the most on this Earth and where we could see ourselves settling down.

This is Gabes, where my husband is from and where most of his family lives:

life in saudi arabia life in saudi arabia Tunisia in pictures

Well, thanks to our life in Saudi Arabia and the big fat salaries they are paying us here to teach English, we have managed to save enough money to build our dream house. It’s hard even for me to truly comprehend how fast it all went. All it took was 10 months of savings the best part of 2 salaries to afford to build a house from scratch. Can you believe it? Sometimes it feels insane! In the UK we were struggling to make ends meet, we couldn’t afford to dream let alone make our dreams happen, all the while leaving a very comfortable life.

And now, on our very first holidays since we signed a contract in Saudi, we are going back to Tunisia with enough cash (yep cash, no mortgage) in hands to start the construction of the house of our dreams.

This is terribly exciting, exhilarating and a little overwhelming. I feel (almost) like a grown up now with that whole building-a-house thing, and there will be challenges ahead of course and grown up decisions to make…

So this holidays, besides the family reunions, delicious food and trips to the beach, there will be meetings with some architects, the construction team, we’re gonna be talking budget and deadlines and materials, floor plans, planning permission and a lot of other things, which up until now I had only ever heard of and wasn’t sure what they meant.

So here we are, about to embark on yet another incredible adventure and once again the line seems blurred between our daily lives and our holidays. I don’t want to throw a big fat “I love my life” and rub it in your face so I’ll just say that I’m very grateful that the life choices we’ve made a few years back are allowing us to live life to the fullest and make our dream come true.

What are your plans this summer? Tell us about what you’re doing and where you’re going? Any exciting change coming your way?

 

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London: Love at (not) First Sight http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/london-pictures-buildings/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/london-pictures-buildings/#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2015 21:45:39 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=2915 London, UK. The first time you either love it or hate it. The second time you can allow it to grow on you. For me love wasn’t at first sight, I have always hated London. Then last year, two things happened: I was forced to

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London, UK.

The first time you either love it or hate it. The second time you can allow it to grow on you. For me love wasn’t at first sight, I have always hated London.

Then last year, two things happened: I was forced to live in London for 2 months without any job or activity to keep me busy and I had just bought my first ever camera (a small Panasonic Point and Shoot).

So, camera in hand every day I went out, I started to observe things around me, shooting everything in sight without too much worry about how I was doing it. Let’s face it, I’m rubbish at taking pictures but as the saying goes “practice makes perfect” so I just took pictures of everything.

I’ve compiled a few of the best shot of the kind of creative, interesting, quirky architecture that caught my eye (and my lens) in London.

Looking through the pictures and looking back over my time in London it slowly dawned on me why people can be crazy in love with London.

So what do you think? Love it or hate it? Tell me about your relationship with London.

 

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Holidays in France – Canal du Midi http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/holidays-in-france-canal-du-midi/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/holidays-in-france-canal-du-midi/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 11:31:26 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=2876 It’s summer, it’s holidays (well for many people) so here comes a major dose of travel inspiration. About this time last year I was in the South of France with my family and I finally did something I had been wanting to do for years: a day trip

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It’s summer, it’s holidays (well for many people) so here comes a major dose of travel inspiration. About this time last year I was in the South of France with my family and I finally did something I had been wanting to do for years: a day trip on a slow boat on the Canal du Midi.

For those who don’t know, the Canal du Midi is a World Heritage Site and it’s a real feat of engineering built over many years from 1667 to 1694. The Canal is a network of 360 km of navigable waterways linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in France. Along the canal, more than 320 structures allows for the smooth transportation of boats, products and people.

I started my cruise in the city of Beziers, one of the most famous points in the Canal due to the Locks of Fonserannes, a water staircase of 8 locks that brings boats up and down the river Orb.

Anway I’m just gonna let the pictures below speak for themselves.

Starting point: beziers

Beziers (2)

The cathedral is best seen from the Canal, on land it is always hidden by buildings

Beziers (1)

This view is exclusively reserved to people on the Canal.

Early morning start

Early morning peace at the port

Early morning peace at the port

Ready to go

Ready to go

Our boat for the day

Our boat for the day

Highly recommended

Highly recommended

 

Cruising through the canal

DSC00089

the cruise (5)

the cruise (3)

the cruise (2)

P1000115

 

The Locks

People manning the locks

People manning the locks

Fonserannes Locks - one of the 8 gates

Fonserannes Locks – one of the 8 gates

Door opening to allow boat in

Door opening to allow boat in

Water coming out of the lock allows boat to go down one leve

Water coming out of the lock allows boat to go down one leve

Doors closed - water starts rising under the boat

Doors closed – water starts rising under the boat

 

 Town of Colombiers

Arriving in Colombiers

Arriving in Colombiers

The Marina

The Marina

Colombier port

Colombier port

Had to lower our heads to go under that bridge

Had to lower our heads to go under that bridge

Quaint little town

Quaint little town

Picnic Lunch along the canal

DSC00063 Colombiers (3) Colombiers (2) Colombiers (1)

This short day cruise left me wanting for more. Along the Canal we met some people who had rented their own boat and were spending a whole week or more on the Canal, visiting towns and cities along the way. That’s for next time.

Have you ever seen the Canal du Midi? Would you add it to your bucket list?

 

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On the Move Again – Part 4/4 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-move-to-jeddah-saudi/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-move-to-jeddah-saudi/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:03:42 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=1981 Finally!!! I’ve made it, I’ve finally moved to Saudi Arabia. As you may know it has been a long and bumpy ride but here am I now, blogging for the first time from my new home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I already have so much to

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Finally!!! I’ve made it, I’ve finally moved to Saudi Arabia. As you may know it has been a long and bumpy ride but here am I now, blogging for the first time from my new home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I already have so much to tell you and show you about my new life. Things are happening faster and better than I could imagine but first let me tell you about my expat move to Jeddah.

Ok let’s start with a quick flashback. Last summer (August 2014) we left Libya via Tunisia to travel to the UK in order to move to Saudi Arabia… I promise the list doesn’t get longer, four countries and that’s it (well if you don’t count the month I spent in France visiting my family). Unfortunately instead of a quick visit to the UK I had to wait a total of 5 months before I could travel to Saudi Arabia. Yep, that’s a long time but I’m not gonna bore you with that, I’m sure you can imagine how it felt. Anyway after 5 months of waiting I finally travelled from London, UK to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

 

map of Saudi Arabia in the world

Details of the Journey:

Travel Time: 6 hours flight from London Heathrow to Jeddah International Airport + 1 hour transfer

Transport: Direct flight with Saudi Airlines

Budget: Economy class tickets for me and my children was paid for by my employer

Travel Tips: When flying long distance with children, I wouldn’t recommend night flights. What happens is that the children sleep in the plane, you don’t and when you land early in the morning the kids are all rested and full of energy while you are exhausted. Not good.

 

Flying with Saudi Airlines:

From London Heathrow (Terminal 4) to Jeddah International Airport you can get a direct flight of about 6 hours. Costs vary but it’s always a good idea to book well in advance and to remember that Friday and Saturday are the days of the weekend in Saudi Arabia.

Luggage Allowance from Europe is up to 32Kg per passenger + hand luggage + laptop bag + handbag

Meals and drinks are served on board (no pork, no alcohol), in flight entertainment is provided in Economy class. Children get a really nice goodie bag while adults receive a little in-flight pack with socks, a tooth brush and toothpaste, ear plugs…

I was totally impressed by:

How fast things went in London Heathrow. Being one of the main airport in the UK I was expected long queues and was bracing myself for a hard time, especially with two little ones in toes. Well all in all it took me less than an hour from car park to waiting lounge. There is a special, slightly faster queue for families and even passport and security checks were much faster than usual.

The luggage allowance is generous enough, even for a family of expats like us, besides the lady at the check-in counter was nice enough to accept all my bags, even though they were heavier than normally allowed. I had misread the guidelines and thought bags could weigh up to 32kg while in fact they shouldn’t be more than 23kg. With a big smile and very friendly attitude she made this check-in one of the smoothest I’ve ever had.

There is a prayer area in the plane for Muslims (other people are welcome to use it too) and for those intending to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca (Umra and Hajj) there is an announcement during the flight to indicate when we have reached the Meeqat (the geographical point where pilgrims start their special devotions and rites).

The not so good part…

Apart from being very tired the next day, there wasn’t any problem, it was all quite smooth. Arriving in Jeddah was easy and going through customs in Jeddah International Airport was not problem.

Do you know this move to Jeddah was no piece of cake and was actually a journey across 5 countries?

living abroad living abroad living abroad

living abroad

 

Expat move to Jeddah – First Impressions:

With my experience as a serial expat I have now taken the habit of writing down my first impressions within 24 hours of arrival. No matter what you may think those first moments will NOT stick in your memory: you’ll be exhausted, there will be too much to take in, you will have jobs to do pretty much straight away… many things contributing to wipe out those precious memories.

Now just in case, here is a map of Saudi Arabia with Jeddah (my new home) clearly marked. It helps to understand as Saudi Arabia is a huge country with a variety of climates and landscapes. As you can see Jeddah is on the cost of the Red sea, about 800km away from the capital Riyadh, which is landlocked.

map of Jeddah Saudi Arabia

So here were my first impressions stepping onto Saudi soil off the plane and 24 hours into my new life:

  • Where is the green? getting out of the airport it felt like someone had placed a colour screen over the whole place and had forgotten to include some green. Everything was sand/orange colour. Really had to wait a long time into the drive to my new house to see some green.
  • So many construction sites: on the road, buildings, bridges, train station…. you name it, every piece of land is being built on. Honestly there were cranes and road blocks and construction sites everywhere.
  • One thing I noticed and which I was not ready for is that Saudi desert is more rocks and mountains than sand. Unlike Libya or Tunisia the soil here is very rocky and the city is constantly pushing mountains (literaly) and carving them to make more space.
  • The weather is GREAT: nice and hot. Remember I arrived in December after 2 months in London so the heat was welcome. The air was fresh and pure and had that quality that you find near the sea like a very slight smell of sea air. The day I arrived temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius. You gotta love Jeddah and I do!

That’s about all I got from my first 24 hours. Let’s face it I was exhausted and now, only a few months later I really can’t remember much of the first 3 days… so glad I wrote it all down.

I can’t wait to write more about Jeddah, it’s simply amazing so far and I have so much to tell and show you. Internet is playing up quite a bit in my house, which is why it took so long to get that first post online, but I’ve already got pages and pages of notes about working here, shopping, the weather and my first visit to the Holy city of Mecca.

In the meantime if you’re looking for great info on expat moves to Jeddah i’m happy to recommend this awesome blog Banker in the Sun written by Rashad Pharaon, with very insightful posts and interviews on life in Saudi Arabia.

 

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