Cristina Tung Ziarrusta, born to a Basque mother and a Manchurian father, has worked as a flight attendant for the past five years, and in corporate aviation for the previous ten. She’s lived in England, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Now she’s back home, and divides her time between London and Bilbao.
We’re lucky enough to be able to share this entry of hers with you, which we hope will be the first in a long series of Cristina’s traveling experiences. This young Basque woman has had an intense career for the past fifteen years in aviation that has taken her all over the world.
She’s been an active reader of the blog for a long time, and we’ve finally convinced her to share her traveling experiences with us.
She debuts with an entry dedicated to one of the most closed and yet fascinating countries on earth, the land of the 1001 Nights, where “Lawrence of Arabia” took place, and, above all, the home to one of the world’s largest religions, Islam.
The Kingdom, Saudi Arabia
By Cristina Tung
Modern Saudi Arabia is a mix of old and new, and Riyadh, its capital, is one of the most fascinating cities in the world, combining skyscrapers, modern architecture, and shopping malls, with historical monuments and old markets, all surrounded by the deserts of central Arabia.
Most visitors will discover a country which is very different from the politically-biased media depictions of it. Unfortunately, unless you get a work permit or business visa, Saudi Arabia remains closed to tourist visitors, except for religious pilgrimages. Saudis, women and men, are friendly, welcoming, and have lots to tell about their history and traditions.
Food-wise Saudi Arabian cuisine is very varied, traditional dishes like ‘Kabsa‘ (spiced chicken or lamb, and basmati rice) or ‘Couscous Tabbouleh‘ (vegetarian salad), and all food preparations follow Islamic dietary laws (neither pork, nor alcohol), and although the country is somehow isolated, all foreign cuisines are represented, from top restaurants to the basic western fast-food chains.
In the supermarkets you will find the very same products and ingredients you would in Europe.
Here’s a few tips for new visitors:
- In public segregation between male and female is the norm in the country, women wear an abaya(a black loose full-length outer garment) on top of their clothes, you can get them at any market and in high-end designers shops. It’s fine not to wear it at the airports, and most hotels will be able to lend you one when you arrive for the first time without it.
- Watch the roads, drivers in Saudi have a tendency to reckless driving.
- Drinking alcoholic beverages is prohibited in the kingdom.
And some of my favourite places:
- King Abdulaziz historical area, and the exceptional National Museum, to time travel into Arabia’s history.
- Jarir bookstore, where you can find books on everything, in any language, plus all sorts of technical gadgets, ideal to spend a few hours browsing.
- The Globe Restaurant, at Al Faisaliah Tower, for wonderful views of the city and European cuisine or High Tea.
- Spazio 77, Italian food, at the top floor of Kingdom Tower, another one for great views, and very friendly staff.