Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Al Balad

Last night Mark, Megan and I, along with our friend Belky, headed into Jeddah tonight to go shopping at Al Balad.  This section of Jeddah is near the city center and contains lots of these little shops called "souks".  Mark left work early at about 4 pm so he could drive us down to the city.  This shopping area is only open late in the day so there is no point to head down there any earlier than this.  In general, it is not acceptable to take pictures with people in them unless you have permission to take them so we don't take a lot of pictures when we go into Jeddah.  So here is a little blurb and a picture from a publication here at KAUST about this area. 

Known by many as a shopper's paradise, the various souks of Al Balad ("the town" in Arabic) offer the adventurer everything from gold to frankincense and electronics to abayas.  Starting at Nassief House, look beyond the shops and meander through the narrow alleyways lined with three- to five-story buildings harking back to the days when Jeddah was a walled city and just four gates allowing restricted access.  Constructed of coral and clay, the height of the centuries-old buildings provided the residents daytime shade on the ground and rooftop breezes in the evenings.  Unique wooden shades on the balconies provided ventilation and privacy while still affording those inside a good view of the street.

On the way down, we spotted an On the Border and since there is not a lot of Mexican food here, we had to stop and have dinner.  We arrived right at the end of prayer time which was perfect and we were seated and had a really nice dinner. 

That's our car in front of the restaurant.

Some of the guys that Mark works with recommended that we park a little ways away from Al Balad and take a taxi in.  The streets are very narrow in that section of town and it's hard to find parking.  Although Megan really didn't want to take a taxi (even though she had never been in one), we decided that it was the best option.  So we asked our very nice Philipino server where was the best place to get a taxi.  Next thing we knew, he was out on the street trying to wave one down for us.  Although he was not successful (very busy street), we thanked him generously.  He recommended that we drive down a little further where there was a mall and we would easily be able to find one there.  When you get a taxi in the city, you bargain the price before you leave for your destination.  The servers at On the Border told us that they will try to charge you 20 SAR ($5.33) but we should only pay 15 SAR ($4).

So we hopped in the car and drove down the street a little ways to a mall - I can't remember how to pronounce the name of it and definitely wouldn't spell it correctly so I'm not even going to try.  We got a taxi and bargained for our ride to Al Balad, hopped in the car and off we went.  Our taxi driver was Pakistan and was a very friendly man asking us where we were from.  He spoke a little english but not very much.  It was a little bit of an exciting ride as it always in Jeddah and he dropped us off in front of the Corniche Building which houses a bunch of shops on the bottom floor.  You walk through and you are in this amazing shopping area.  It is definitely NOT a mall.  The streets and walkways are concrete and very uneven.  And all the shop owners are trying to get you to come and look at their wares.  They will call out to you "Sister, this one is...." and show you what they are trying to sell.

A rack full of abayas

Our main goal was to purchase Megan an abaya as she has been wearing one that we borrowed from Belky.  She wanted something that had tighter sleeves around the wrist and something that looked "young".  We must have looked at 9 or 10 different shops until she found one that she liked in a small size.    She finally picked one out but it was a little long so the shop owner cut and hemmed it for her while we waited.  We paid 80 SAR for her abaya ($21) which was WAY less than what I paid for mine at the mall.  I snapped a picture of Lizzie wearing it this morning because Megan wouldn't model it for me.  She liked the colors on the sleeves and you can see the sleeves have a sheer black with the pattern continued underneath it.  The scarf comes with the abaya and is trimmed in the same colorful fabric although we haven't ever worn the scarf.

After we purchased the abaya, we just did a little more shopping for the holidays.  I bought a couple of presents to send back to the states, some additional presents that I can't mention in case my kids read this, a cute yellow pair of shoes for Megan for 35 SAR ($9.33), and tennis shoes for Spencer 45 SAR ($12).  We were approached constantly by many different men selling the exact same cologne and many beggar women asking for money.  You have to say a firm no when you're not interested in something but the shopkeepers will keep showing you different things they want to sell.  And you always need to ask for a discount.  If they say no, you can start walking away and they will usually give you one.  I'm not that great at the bargaining yet but Belky does really well so she helped us out!  I will have to learn this fine art.

So when we were done shopping, we had to find our way back to a place that we could pick up a taxi.  We found one and again bargained for our ride back to where we parked our car.  At first the driver wanted 30 SAR and we said no and he came down to 20 SAR.  This ride back again was interesting.  We went on all these backroads to get back to the mall and then had to cross a street with no light and cars coming in all different directions.  Thankfully we made it across safely - yikes!  We stopped in the restroom at the mall and then got in the car to head back to KAUST.  We stopped on the street on the way out to snap a picture of King Fahd's fountain which is the largest fountain in the world.  It shoots water 1024 feet above the Red Sea.

Not a great picture because we weren't that close but you can see a couple other pictures on wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Fahd's_Fountain

I hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season!  It still doesn't quite feel like Christmas here.  We have a small tree and stockings hung up but no snow or cold weather just is very different (not that I'm complaining).  Only a couple more weeks until the kids are out of school for winter break and we head off on our holiday to Athens!  Can't wait!

Thanks for reading!!!

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