I live by the mantra ‘I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. As a travel junkie, I have made it my life’s mission to visit as many countries and learn about as many cultures as I can during this lifetime of mine. It might sound corny, but I have always firmly believed and later experienced how bigger and better of a person I become with every journey I embark on. It makes you more open and knowledgeable, and humble. Once you see all that beauty, you realize how small but at the same time big and significant you are. Like that isn’t rewarding enough, as a designer, I get to be so lucky to draw inspiration for new projects along the way. You would not believe how much creative drive is generated when you travel. So, having been to many places, (and with many more left to see), next on my list was Saudi Arabia.
The Aussie Goes to the Middle East
Having always been intoxicatingly fascinated by the Middle East, the culture, the climate, the architecture, lifestyle, and religion, it was only a matter of time when I would actually get on a plane and head out to the exotic continent. Saudi Arabia is famous for their strict visa requirements, however, if you do all the paperwork properly, you can get your visa in less than a month and the whole procedure costs a reasonable amount of money. Women willing to visit this wonderful part of the world must travel with a spouse or on a business permit. I have been accompanied by my husband.
However, given that the Australian and Middle Eastern cultures are nothing alike, and me being a type A control freak, I decided to go armed with knowledge – the dos, the don’ts, places to see, food to taste, the proper attire, all of it. I visited Riyadh, but Jeddah was my dream destination so I couldn’t wait to get there. Besides a couple of travel guides I picked up at the bookstore, I wanted to know where to go in Jeddah and feel like a local, as this is one of my ultimate goals on travels – to find places regular tourists don’t and just blend in and pretend like I belong there even just for a minute. I think this is the only way you can truly get to know a place, genuinely.
The Rule Book
When traveling to a country more conservative than your own, you must think ahead and plan your wardrobe carefully. I knew I had to wear conservative clothing which includes ankle-length wide and loose dresses (no pants are allowed) and a head scarf – clothing that does not attract attention. I believe in saying “When in Rome (do as the Romans do)”, and I didn’t want to get in any unpleasant situation which could ruin my experience of this beautiful country, so I decided to wear head scarf everywhere except in my hotel room. It was an unusual experience. I also packed minimal makeup and went for a more no-makeup makeup look, and paid special attention to skincare, as the weather conditions are quite different. So, do not forget your moisturizers, cleansers, and toners as your skin will endure sandy weather (even when you don’t see it, it’s there). So, it is of the utmost importance that you pack all the skincare you can possibly cram in your makeup bag.
Sights and Culture in Saudi Arabia
There are places that are restricted to foreigners in Saudi Arabia, and on top of that, places that are restricted for women, but there is still much beauty left to see. There is the King’s Fountain, the breathtaking Floating Mosque which looks even more spectacular when the tide is high and let us not forget the place I spent hours just getting lost in my own thoughts and beauty – the Fakieh Aquarium. There are, of course, travel guides for those considering Jeddah as their next destination, so make sure you have your schedule planned beforehand.
No Wining, but Yes Dining
As you surely must know, since Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country, alcohol is strictly forbidden, but that does not mean that you can’t enjoy fine dining. If you are not a fan of unfamiliar foods, there are always familiar western choices, like the Cheesecake Factory. If you do wish to dine like the kings do, then you must visit Al Khayam and relish the great food and luxurious ambiance that only Arabs seem to do right. What I liked the most was a great service and more than friendly stuff of restaurants we were visiting. Almost all the people we have met along the way were very kind, and if I ever had any prejudices about this country I got rid of them forever. Unfortunately we haven’t had an opportunity to meet any locals, and that is the aspect of this trip that I regret the most.
Take Me Shopping!
The thing that a fashionista cares about most (I have, to be honest) is doing some great shopping, and Jeddah does not disappoint, oh no sir. First of all, there is the Mall of Arabia, which is staggering in both size and extensive offer. This mall will not empty out your wallet as it only houses fast-fashion and mid-range brands, but if it is high-end and luxury you are looking for, then the Red Sea Mall is the place for you. A great thing about this mall is that it also features local brands, so you might even pick up a few exotic items while you are at it.
Travelling to this great but in many ways different city might sound like a little out-of-comfort-zone idea, but I must admit, I enjoyed every moment of it.