Monday, January 28, 2019

Madein Saleh - Stairway to Heaven

The tombs at Madein Saleh were carved by hand with crude tools into the gigantic sandstone rocks outside of Al Ula, Saudi Arabia.  Some tombs were never completed, but those that were all have one design element in common - above the entry door into the tomb, were stairsteps which were to lead the occupant of the tomb to heaven.

Historically this whole area was in a strategic trade route location linking southern Arabia with important locations to the north, like Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Jordan.  This region comprised the Nabataean Kingdom, running from south Arabia along the Red Sea all the way up through Jordan to Damascus, Syria.  The Nabataeans were nomadic Bedouins who became wealthy from levying taxes on the trade caravans that routed through their territory.

When compared with its sister site of Petra in Jordan, which was the Nabataean civilzation's capital city, Madein Saleh is unique in that it is considered more of a wealth of information and an archaeologist's dream, as it is virtually untouched and preserved.  Inscriptions were actually carved into the stone at the tombs of Madein Saleh, providing much more information than is available at Petra.  The inscriptions at Petra were apparently made out of wood, which long ago rotted and along with it valuable historical information.

Madein Saleh is home to more than 130 such tombs, many of the large rocky mountains housing several tombs on one rock.  Once the Nabataeans were taken over by the Roman Empire, cheaper and faster alternate transport using the Red Sea became the preferred method for trade shipments, as opposed to struggling with the harsh elements of the desert caravan conditions.  As desert trade dropped off, the once prosperous Nabataean civilzation suffered and dwindled.

Madein Saleh has been closed to the public in preparation for the development of the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia.  It will be interesting to see how tourism develops here when the site is expected to reopen in 2020.  I'm curious to see how the religious and cultural aspects of life in Saudi Arabia will be affected or bent in order to accommodate interested travelers from the outside world.

My friend Laura of the amazing blog Blue Abaya has written a fabulous comprehensive guide and history of Madain Saleh with lots of fantastic photos - CLICK HERE to access it.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the phenomenal Winter at Tantora Festival going on now through Feb. 23rd, with special weekend concerts and tours of the area, including access to Madein Saleh just for attendees of the event.  Tickets may still be available, and visas are apparently easy to obtain for those wishing to come from outside Saudi Arabia for this very special and unforgettable event.  Information and tickets are available at this site:  Winter at Tantora 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Winter at Tantora: A Magical Mystical Tour

Winter at Tantora is an incredible event like none other ever before here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Amidst the stark picturesque beauty of the city of Al Ula, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Winter at Tantora Festival started on December 20th and will run through February 9th.  Each weekend concert over the eight weeks features a different theme high quality entertainment spectacular followed by a magnificent feast matching the theme of the evening.

The venue for the concerts is a brand new stunning concert hall named Maraya (Arabic for "mirror"), built among the unusual and ravishing natural landscape of Al Ula. Set amidst the gigantic sandstone rocky mountain formations and drifts of soft sand dunes, the beauty of Maraya lies in its simplicity.  The visible exterior surface of the structure is encased in large mirrored panels, which create a wondrous illusion reflecting its breathtaking setting.

The concert hall seats only 500 and the seats are comfortable and cushy white leather chairs. There are no bad seats in this theater, as the aisles between rows are extra wide, and the acoustics, audio and lighting technology are state of the art. To the right, left and in front of the stage, dramatic digital imagery is projected onto the walls and floor, creating a magical experience for the audience.  Behind the stage is an enormous window revealing the backdrop of huge sandstone rocks behind the building. The rocks are lit with colored lighting during the show. The overall experience is one of undeniable wonderment. 

I was fortunate to attend the truly magnificent performance of Lang Lang, a supremely talented and gifted world class concert pianist.  Seeing and hearing Lang Lang perform the amazing pieces he played was an incredibly moving experience.   It was as though the music was actually coming through him to the piano.  He is an animated performer, with tremendous depth and precision.  His concert was flawless perfection.

An additional ongoing fine art exhibition at Maraya during the Winter at Tantora Festival is a visual delight featuring the artwork of Van Gogh. It is a show in itself with his masterpieces projected onto the walls in the large gallery, engulfing the entire hall.  It's almost as if the paintings come to life with imagery and movement.
Van Gogh Exhibition at Maraya, Winter at Tantora - Model: @ParisVerra 
Among the other amazing talents still left to participate in the festival are: Um Kulthum (Jan. 25th); Andrea Bocelli (Feb. 1st); and Yanni (Feb. 8th).  If you are interested in attending any of these events or to learn more about Winter at Tantora, CLICK HERE For the Yanni event, you can get a 20% discount by using this code:  BlueAbaya7   Hurry!!! Availability is limited.

Packages are available for just the one day of the concert or for the whole weekend, including cool tent accommodations (with all the comforts of home!), a variety of inspiring tours, transportation, helicopter rides and hot air ballooning over the amazing landscape of Al Ula, and much much more.

Thanks to my awesome pal Laura / @BlueAbaya, we had an incredible time we will never forget. She knows more about places to visit in Saudi Arabia than anybody I know. You should check her out on Instagram and Twitter - @BlueAbaya, or on her blog Blue Abaya.  I'll be writing more about our adventures from this past weekend so stay tuned!

Laura has also written a fabulous comprehensive guide and history of Madain Saleh, the historical archaeological site outside of Al Ula, with lots of fantastic photos - CLICK HERE to access it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Voices of Arabia Podcast and Susie's Story Event

Aswat: Voices of Arabia is a podcast featuring a variety of interviews of women living in Saudi Arabia.  It was conceived by Robyn, a South African whose home has been Jeddah for the past fifteen years.  Despite having spent so many years in the Magic Kingdom, her knowledge about life outside her compound's walls was limited - so she decided it was time to make the effort to learn more about the people of her adopted land and to share her findings with the rest of the world.  The result was Aswat: Voices of Arabia.

Robyn contacted me about doing an interview and I accepted, so we agreed to have her come over to our home one afternoon.  She made it a very comfortable experience for me - we literally sat on the couch and just chatted, like old friends.  Robyn's voice and accent are so well suited for podcasts.  I love the way she edited the 30 minute episode.  She took out most of the "Uh's," "Um's," and "You know's" that I so often use when I speak - and she made it all flow so nicely. I hope you will give it a listen!  You can listen to my interview on her website "Aswat: Voices of Arabia" or on iTunes.

Adnan (my wonderful husband) and me
Have a listen to her other podcasts too - which include amazing Saudi females who are making a difference and making their marks on the world, such as -
the first Saudi woman and youngest Arab to summit Mount Everest
two Saudi women who were among the first to legally drive in June of this year; 
a young Saudi female musician and composer (very unusual in this culture!);
the first Saudi woman and one of only three women worldwide to dive at the North Pole
a Saudi female fashion designer of sporty abayas; and and more to come!  

Listen to them - you will never think of Saudi women in the same way again!

One other thing...

Just the other evening I spoke to a group at the Jeddah Cultural Exchange Center, whose goal is to bridge Saudi culture with other cultures from around the world. The event was held on the rooftop of their building and the December weather was perfect.  We had a great turnout!  The title of my presentation was "My Saudi Journey - Susie's Story." I spoke about my upbringing in my small hometown on the Arizona-Mexico border, meeting my husband, and how moving to Saudi Arabia has changed my life in so many remarkable ways.  This is the flyer advertising the event -

I'd like to thank all of those who attended my presentation and to Chris of the JCEC for the planning and executing of the event.  I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Russian Interview - Part 3 - My Life in Saudi Arabia

This is the 3rd and final part of the interview I did with Volodymyr for his YouTube Channel.  It is all in English. This 15 minute segment discusses my son's three years in Saudi Arabia when he was a teenager and what my life here in Jeddah is like now.  I hope you have enjoyed this peek into my life!

To Volodymyr - I'd like to thank you for your professionalism and for pursuing this interview with me.  It was fun and some of your questions made me have to stop and think about things I hadn't necessarily thought of.  I wish you all the best with your YouTube Channel, "Saudi Diaries."

In case you missed Parts 1 and 2 of this interview, here are the links:

Russian Interview - Part 1 - How I Met my Husband

Russian Interview - Part 2 on Family, Culture, and Religion 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Russian Interview - Part 2 on Family, Culture, Religion

Part 2 (of 3) of my interview with Volodymr for his Russian YouTube channel covers more ground about my life in Saudi Arabia - touching on Saudi culture, religion, and family. This segment is about 17.5 minutes long.

If you are having difficulty listening to it on this page, CLICK HERE to go directly to the You
Tube page.

Stay tuned for Part 3 coming soon!

To listen to Part 1 - CLICK HERE.  

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Russian Interview, Part 1 - How I Met my Husband

I was recently interviewed by Volodymyr, who runs the only Saudi-focused YouTube site aimed at a Russian audience.  This is Part 1 of 3 of my interview. It's about 20 minutes long.  The first few minutes are an introduction by Volodymyr in Russian.  After that, the rest is in English.  This part covers my early life and how I met my husband over 40 years ago.  The 2nd and 3rd parts will be posted soon.  I hope you enjoy it!

CLICK HERE for the link to Part 1 on Volodymyr's Russian YouTube Channel, where the other links will be posted soon.

I had written about "How I Met My Prince" several years ago in a little more detail.  CLICK HERE to read that post. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Saudi Arabia - Architecture and Art in Abha

The city of Abha is the capital of the Asir Region located in the southwestern corner of Saudi Arabia and is rich in cultural heritage.  It is more than a mile high in elevation up in the mountains, close to the Red Sea to the west and the country of Yemen to the south.  Baboons are native to the region, dwelling in the national parks in the area.

Many Saudis from around the country flock to Abha in the summer due to its cooler moderate climate.  Abha also gets more rainfall than most of the kingdom and boasts rich agricultural plateaus.  The highest peak of Saudi Arabia is located in Abha.  It's called the Jabal Al-Sooda, or Black Mountain, and its height measures an astounding 3.3 kilometers, which is over 2 miles high!  

The old traditional architecture of Abha consists of buildings made of rocks and mud.  Many are more than 300 years old.  The architectural style of Abha was greatly influenced by Yemeni construction.

Art is important and popular in most regions of Saudi Arabia, and Abha is abundant with art.  It could be said that the area is more colorful in its dress, architecture, and art than other more conservative areas of the kingdom.

The Al Miftaha Art Village at the King Fahad Cultural Center attracts many visitors and offers exhibits of all kids of artwork, ranging from paintings and sculptures to archaelogical treasures, handmade crafts and woven items by local artisans, as well as a variety of sourvenirs.

Arabic calligraphy features prominently in a lot of Saudi art.   If you look closely at the painting above, you can see how the Arabic script is incorporated into the formation of the male figures on the right.

The painting above is reminiscent of the clothing, hats, and style of Mexican or South American figures.

I love the eyes of the above painting.

The remaining photos focus on the traditional wall painting art by female artists called Al Qatt, an artform that has been passed down through generations in the Asir region of Saudi Arabia.  Al Qatt utilizes mainly primary colors and geometric shapes and symbols.

Thanks so much to my friend Vicki Callagan for the use of her wonderful photos for this post.