First night out since I arrived here five nights ago. With much of the daytime spent in my hotel room working and having spent the last few nights in meetings or waiting to be in a never to materialise meeting, getting the chance to check out the corniche and the city’s famous nafoura fountain was very welcome. Driving in a taxi downtown from my hotel felt good. The Moevenpick, or Al-Amoudi as it will no doubt remain known for years, snuggles up to the main Tariq Medina highway, and is handy for nothing save the interior ministry, and tiresome western clothing chains spread in ugly fashion across the shopping area other side of the busy road. Felt even better to be buying cheap shwarma on the corniche road before checking out the unruly shebab on the seafront. They could do with mutaawa being shipped in from Najd out here. Hijazi liberalism was running riot as kids raced around in those superannuated go karts and boys and girls let off fireworks and bangers with (almost) wild abandon. At one point about ten shabab were riding the silly, unlicensed, vehicles the wrong way down the road at a main junction before then crossing it on red. Don’t let anybody tell you this is a police state.
I strolled around checking out the corniche restaurants, thinking of future evenings as I am here for another five nights. Other delights of this almost funky Saudi city are of course beggars, including old haji women who missed the boat back to Africa after the pilgrimage was over. Real restaurants and real shops are always a delight when you’ve been ensconced in hotel land. I soon found the delightfully named “Meed” supermarket and purchased a plastic snake and a Mars bar, eyed up the local garage with its arresting sign (see pic), before making my way down Palestine Street to catch a cab from a very pleasant disco cassette playing driver from Kerrala back to the Moevenpick. A real delight of an evening.