The Real (Unexpected) Saudi Arabia – Part I

“There is nothing in Saudi Arabia, why would you go there?”

“It is too dangerous there and women are not respected, don’t go!”


People talk, and talk nonsense without then really understanding what is really happening on the ground. A lot has to do with media portraying Saudi Arabia (or the Arab world) in a certain way, however, to make up your own mind it’s important to see the whole story and not just one side. Next to media, fortunately now we have blogs where people who stayed in those countries can give a different perspective.

And this is my story about Saudi Arabia and its people.


I arrived in Saudi in November, and lived there for about 4 months. Not much, but enough to say that I loved being there. Why?

First of all, I am not the ordinary girl that should be attracted to cities like Dubai, therefore I got along very well with what I found in Saudi. In Riyadh, to be precise.

Well life there is simple: there are compounds for expatriates to live in, with restaurants, mini markets, bowling, pools, gym and for the luckiest ones, also tennis and basketball courts. And outside there is the real Saudi: office buildings, villas, many restaurants, hotels.. as normal as it should be. The only fact is that women need to cover them with long (and beautiful) “abaya”. Foreign women included, although, for us, it’s not mandatory to cover our head.

Honestly, the abaya should be a trend around the world, as you can literally go to the supermarket with your pijiama inside and nobody will notice it! It saves so much time! XD


Is it true that women can’t drive there?

Yes, it’s true. This is every man’s dream coming true, as they constantly complain about women not being able to drive. However, and I must say this, I have seen so many men in Riyadh being horrible drivers, not knowing the basics of parking a car that sometimes I really had to control myself to not park them myself. Lucky (for me), I am a very ‘patient’ person ;).

It can get a bit annoying to always ask for a ride, but Uber in Riyadh is so comfortable and pretty quick, that you forget you even want to drive. Especially when traffic gets too hectic.


Aren’t you disrespected as a woman?

No, I’m not disrespected by anyone as a woman. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the only place I’ve visited till now where I can get anything for the simple reason that I am a woman. There are no queues for women in line if you wait to grab your coffee, usually, men are so kind that they let you go. Same thing happens in the supermarket, where they even help you to put your heavy grocery bags in the car. You don’t see this anywhere else in the world!

The only thing I got a bit disappointed and I can’t wait to see the changes around this matter is the fact that women can not go to watch football or any other sports related matches. Saudi is changing, so hopefully some good news for us will be coming up quite soon!

I’ve been living in so many countries now, and I consider Saudi as one of the safest place, in terms of daily danger and respect for women. You have my word that the well-known “street harassment” does not exist there, while (sadly and unfortunately) it’s now all over some specific countries that you probably are already considering for your next travel destination.

Anyhow, there is always the keyword to remember, wherever and whenever we travel to different countries: respect for other cultures. Either if you are a man, woman, girl or boy.


So, let’s go to the point: What is Saudi Arabia today?

For this particular section, I have to thank my good friend Abdullah Al-Eisa, Saudi citizen, for all the wonderful clicks he kindly gave to me to be able to write this blog post. (You can follow him on Instagram for a daily dose of Saudi spectacular spots: @aleisa_abdullah)

Riyadh is constantly developing, with new projects on the pipeline and more ones to re-open (hopefully soon). One major project that I used to study back in the days when I was related to the Construction sector is the “King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD)” : 59 towers to be built in an area of 1.6 millions square meters.

A proper Financial District in the heart of Riyadh:


Saudi KAFD

Tahlia Street is the main road in Riyadh, where you can find lots of restaurants of all kinds: Italian, Lebanese, Armenian, Arabic.. everything you dream of! And as an Italian, I suggest you go taste the delicious food at Eataly: Chef Stefano will be there to advice on all the main dishes of the day. A truly italian atmosphere!

Saudi Al Faisaliah

(The photo represents one of the main street in Riyadh: King Fahad Road)

Arabs are very similar to Italians, with their way of talking, joking, speaking a bit loudly too. We get along very well and I honestly felt at home while in Saudi! I met some of the kindest and most direct people of my life. A lot of talks, jokes, eatings, but also a lot of business. Straight to the point: that’s what Saudi people are and that’s what makes business work smoothly. Rare to find nowadays.. So, you Saudi, have all my appreciation! 🙂

And yes, they are also keen on posing for you when you ask: “Can I take a picture of you guys?” 


– They were just random people sitting outside a coffee shop drinking arab coffee, they probably thought I was a bit crazy, but never mind! –

I still have a lot to say about Saudi Arabia and its natural spots that will make you wanting to book the first flight to Saudi, therefore, an other blog post will follow soon!

For now..  Thank you Saudi for showing me what you really are! I really hope that the world will soon realise your big potential.

Shukran Habibi!