Riyadh by night - Al Olaya district
Leaving a hotel room at Al Olaya, the "quartier chic" of the Saudi capital, leads to a colorful walk between the buildings of the financial center. Riyadh's icon, the Kingdom Centre or "Mamlaka" dominates, being visible from almost anywhere. Its design is repeated on the nearby bush cuts like a 1/100 scale reproduction of the remarkable yet simple architecture.
Palm trees have been arranged all along streets like straight linear oases but skyscrapers replaced tents as a modern remake of desert life.
Banks and hotels occupy most of Al Olaya skyscrapers, with a consequent intensive use of glass. The flat material is given a less boring appearance when combined to curved architectural elements and angular lights pointing to the wide sky of Riyadh.
At some time, the walker feels like being in any modern district of a Western city. Al Olaya shop windows remind you of Barcelona or Milano as long as you don't let your eyes escape to the third dimension.
Walking down Al Olaya street
You won't meet people when walking Al Olaya street unfortunately. The use of cars is overwhelming and the extra wide walkways are empty. The only encounters are those buildings that point out each time a gap is left between the constructions around you. Hamad tower showing its plumage...
...Al Faisaliah tower, lit with white, a rare color at Al Olaya.
And finally, the astonishing Narcissus hotel with is contrasting look, like if relocated from Warsaw. Is it still Saudi Arabia?
Al-Disah valley and its Oases
We left Duba on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia on the way to Al-Disah, climbing from Al-Amoude towards the thick dark mountains to the East. No doubt a few minutes only elapsed before the mountainous landscape started transporting us into another world, the one of the numerous wadis and their scattered acacia trees.
After an hour of driving, we reached something different, a whiter sand, with various species of oasis trees. Singing exotic birds invited us to leave our vehicle and hide beneath a large acacia for a coffee break.
We were wondering where to move next when a passer-by told us to follow the road till the end, you "mafi maaloum" he said? "Don't you know that you have to go there? Just keep driving till the road ends"...
And suddenly...Al-Disah mountain passage
The paved road ends for sure, with no vehicles other than off-roaders daring to continue towards the appealing valley. Our vehicle was no off-roader however, and we decided to continue walking when a safari style open roof 4x4 appeared out of nowhere; on its door: "Tabuk Tours"! Yes, it was a 1970 Toyota Land Cruiser with two rows of open air seats offering a 7km trip till the end of the drivable path. The 45 years old vehicle, worth a scrap value and driven by the 75 years old Abou Majed who's humor matches the best of the solo performances, adds to the charm of the inestimable trip!
Here we go inside Al-Disah magic mountains.
Kids on horses offer an alternative ride to those who fear the breakdown of the dismantled yet brave vehicle and were pleased to give us a free trotting show.
A few meters after the start of the escapade, locals sell hot drinks and snacks under a thick oasis. The welcome is warm, the faces smiling and a loud "hallow, how are you?" escapes from everyone's mouth making us return the same salute, denoting the victorious arrival of the first tourists, in a country where no such activity ever existed. Saudi Arabia or KSA if you prefer, is changing.
Rocks, iron, copper, the Al-Disah colors
The trip occurs between massive mountains of a reddish appearance, colored by iron, possibly copper and probably other metals and minerals expelled by the ancient volcanic activity. A thin water stream flows all the way and all the time bringing some freshness to Al-Disah microclimate.
Rains sculpted the mountains and created forms that resemble everything on planet Earth, whether nature or man made.
Some are man made for sure like these holes in a rare white and smooth rock.
For a while, I remembered "The land of black gold", that Tintin episode happening in similar mountains where Emir Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab hid from Bab El Her insurgent. I was just expecting to encounter the cheetah...
The trip ends at this diamond shaped window, ideal for a selfie.
At last, remember to find the indestructible, uncomfortable, breezy, noisy, vibrating and charming tour operator's vehicle to enjoy this experience and make it memorable. Don't go there with a Lexus!