What is there to do in Riyadh? Part 2

Expats to Riyadh often ask ‘What is there to do in Riyadh. Here’s a few things we have done to date:

Visit the Car Junk Yard

Obviously a man’s haven, unless you’re a female car wreck fanatic, the car junk yard is an area to the south of Riyadh where all the beaten up cars go. They’re pulled to pieces and you can buy parts. Given the huge number of accidents in this city, you can bet this place is huge. We found some really old classics – a Studebaker and Thunderbird – that just need someone with TLC, time and know how to do them up.  Hubster was tempted, but common sense (when exactly will you have time for this?) got the better of him, so the classics were left for another day.

The Car Junk Yard is on your right down Al Hair road and is not to be confused with the Car Cemetery which you can spot beneath the Hanging Bridge if you’re heading out of town along Jeddah road. 
Go for a picnic

Later in the afternoon or early evening for obvious thermal reasons is best. Where can you go? Outside the city, almost anywhere! Just drive off the side of the road in a spot that looks picnikable. That’s what we’ve done.

There are green areas in the city where you can picnic, places like Salam Park (see below).  I have figured out that my definition of ‘green area’ differs greatly from the local meaning.  I’m talking ‘Kiwi forest, lush grass’ green. I may be plum out of luck looking for that in Saudi Arabia, but being an optimist, am ever hopeful.

We found a fast flowing stream on our way back from the Car Junk Yard.  It’s fast flowing, dirty as, with it’s origins unknown (to Mr Noor our Riyadh encyclopaedia), but full of things that jumped and made plopping sounds on landing – I’m presuming fish of some description.  It’s obviously a popular picnic spot with the locals because Mr Whippy was in situ and it wasn’t even dinner time. (I have since discovered it is called the Riyadh River).

The boys looking for fish
Given up on the fish.  Now throwing stones.

Picnic view
Riyadh’s Mr Whippy
Visit Salam Park

If you drive south down King Fahad Road, hang a left into Tariq ibn Ziad and a right into Salam, you’ll come to the entrance of Salam Park, a park that does have grass, quite a bit of it.  We sat on the hill overlooking the lake and watched weekenders riding the peddle boats.  There are fun rides, horse rides and train rides for the kids. 
We arrived fairly early in the day, so the park was quiet, but around 4ish, it started to fill.  We left soon after.  I wish we’d stayed because I wanted to see how families behaved at the park.  Did they bring frisbees to throw to each other, or cricket or footballs for whanau games?  That’s what we’d do for whanau get-togethers back home.
I’d sensed, from our early day visit, an atmosphere of dampened down control.  Not what I’d expect at a family park.  I’d expect a sense of relaxation, release, fun, letting loose, laughter and friendly tom foolery.  It did cross my mind there may be a few ‘secret meetings’ at the park.  Or newly married couples getting to know each other.  That would definitely contribute to the subdued mood.  Maybe, with more people the atmosphere would change.  I’ll have to go back to find out. 
About the only thing I knew for sure is that the people would have picnics.  That is one of the positives I love about living in Saudi Arabia – the locals enjoy picnics. 
Outside the entrance a number of vendors had set up selling cheap, colorful junk that the kids love and the road was typical Riyadh bedlam.  I must be getting comfortable here because the car pile up outside popular destinations with road blocks, tooting horns and drivers who think the road revovles around them, is starting to feel normal.
There would be photos of Salam Park on my blog, but someone wiped them off the computer.  Suffice to say, he has been warned off coming near my laptop again without good cause.
Wadi Hanifah

Wadi Hanifah is a nice place to visit.  We’ve been a couple of times on the bike and taken the pre-requisite picnic. It’s surprising how much cooler the air temperature is in the Wadi – we noticed it immediately.

Wadi Hanifah, according to our map, is located along the western perimeter of Riyadh city and there are a number of entrances to it.  There are picnic spots all along the Wadi and a walkway. We’ve come across joggers, walkers, fellow picnickers and casual cyclists.  Now that the temperatures are more bearable people are heading outdoors.  To date we have visited the more northern parts of Wadi Hanifah. There is some spectacular housing up on the hill and, near Dariyah, some ruins can be seen from the road.

The wadi road has speed bumps all the way along which makes it a slow ride but on a nice morning, there’s no need to hurry.

Glenn’s pride and joy

Wadi Hanifah

 Visit the Riyadh Zoo

Having visited a few of the pet shops in Riyadh and seen fully grown, porcupines, hyenas and monkeys caged for sale, and knowing how the ‘lower class’ humans are regarded in this country, I admit we were wary about the local zoo. But, we were pleasantly surprised. The Riyadh Zoo is not what I would describe as first class, but the animals seem well cared for, and the enclosures were clean and quite spacious.

The white tigers are huge, so is the rhino.  I don’t recall seeing any camels, but then ‘duh!’ a trip to the desert or Camel Market will find plenty of those. If you go to the zoo take a picnic, there’s sufficient room to spread a blanket and the ‘restaurant’ wasn’t much to speak of when we went.

There’s a phenonemon at this zoo that could only happen in Saudi Arabia. We were somewhat annoyed at the children throwing water bottles into the seal pool, but then realized they were trying to get the seals to play with them which, eventually, they did.

We watched as orangutans took empty chip packets, fill them with water and tipped it on the ground for cooling. Where did the chip packs come from? Thrown in by the ape spectators of course!

The chimpanzee was the most entertainment.  He’d sit on the rocks near the mass of peering humans and wait for things to be thrown in, and he wasn’t disappointed. Full water bottles were sent his way, and he’d unscrew the tops, drink them and turf the bottle. Juice boxes landed in his hands, and he took the straw, popped the top and drained it before ripping open the box to lick out the dregs.

Of course, we had to have a go. I had fruit (nectarines and bananas) in my bag for lunch and handed a stone fruit to Glenn who threw it into the enclosure.  The chimp picked it up and munched it. ‘Got any more?’ says Glenn.  I gave him another.  This time he showed it to the chimp first, to tease him a little. Mr Chimp, who by this time had moved closer to the edge of his enclosure and was sitting on his haunches in anticipation, raised his arm and beckoned with his fingers for the fruit to be sent his way.  He caught it in one hand, without moving from his spot and ate it. He did the same with the banana, hence our need to visit the zoo restaurant. I’d run out of snacks – for myself, not the chimp.

At most zoo’s there are ‘Please don’t feed the animals’ signs everywhere. We have no idea if throwing food to the critters is an allowed activity in the Riyadh Zoo or if, this being Saudi, people just do what they please – I’m guessing the latter.

Ka Kite,

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