After last week’s stay in Dhahran I spent two nights in Saudi Arabia’s second largest city- Jeddah. Together with a colleague we could explore the city a little bit and do some sightseeing, unfortunately I didn’t really have any chance to go for a run. The plan was to catch up on running later at the third and last destination on this trip.
Jeddah is a city inhabited by 4 million people and considering it’s in the Middle East can be quite daunting for foreigners. A complex road network, common lack of addresses and street names, taxi drivers who have no clue how to get to places, or ever-present roadworks make an impression of total chaos. On the other hand though everything somehow seems to work :).
In Jeddah there are essentially two areas worth visiting: the old Jeddah (Al-Balad) and the Corniche which is a seaside promenade. In Al-Balad you can see old-style, traditional houses, many of them looking as though they are about to fall apart; souks- traditional spice, nuts & dates, clothes of shoes bazaars; and local people, shopkeepers and craftsmen leading they normal lives. You need no more than an hour to see the whole old town and get a bit lost following the narrow roads and paths to experience this historic port town and the crossroads of many trade routes. I must state here that I felt completely safe there as a foreigner. There were no odd looks or dodgy people interested in the heedless strangers.
Corniche is a completely different place- it’s a fairly recently built seaside promenade and resort area with ultramodern skyscrapers, beautiful villas and fancy hotels such as Hilton or Waldorf Astoria. Most importantly though it’s a place where Saudis hang out, especially after sunset when the oppressive heat dies down and temperature becomes more bearable. Whole families come for a walk, many of them bring blankets, food and drink and sit down on the beach or on one of many lawns and enjoy themselves until 3 or 4 AM. It’s already a pleasant place and will be even better soon once it is fully completed- still a lot of construction in progress.
As I mentioned I had no chance to run there though. About 1.5-hours’ drive north of Jeddah lies KAEC- King Abdullah Economic City. In 2005 Abdullah, the previous King of Saudi Arabia, announced his great, ambitious and long-ranging plan to create a handful of new cities in order to decrease congestion and relieve pressure on the ever-expanding cities like Riyadh and Jeddah and to bring in foreign investments.
The first part of KAEC was opened in 2010, while the whole place was originally supposed to be ready by 2020. Now I understand it’s going to be 2035. Within the whole projects there is a large deep-water port (King Abdullah Port) and country’s first high-speed railway line. In the vicinity there is also one of the world’s leading universities- KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology).
KAUST itself is a remarkable place that makes a lasting impression- I could certainly write a whole post dedicated to KAUST and its vicinity.
I stayed for a few nights in a place called Bay La Sun in KAEC and there I took the opportunity to go for a run a bit longer than the runs I did in Dhahran. I did almost 11 miles of pretty much running in circles in a relatively small area: along the beach, around a business area, and along some roads that (for now) lead nowhere. I set off at around 6 PM when it was still light and hot, so the beginning was a bit tough. But once the sun set and the temperature dropped to comfortable 18 degrees it was quite pleasant. I was done after 1 hour and 45 minutes.
The next day I was really loath to wake up early to go for a 10k run, so instead I chose a much shorter, but way more intensive workout, namely running on stairs. At my disposal I had 11 floors, in total around 230 steps. In a space of 10 minutes I ran up and down 3 times. 10 minutes sounds like nothing, but already after the first run up I was drenched in sweat! A great strength workout, I totally recommend.
With this blog entry I finish my Arabian adventures. Saudi Arabia is doubtlessly a fascinating place where strict religious orthodoxy contrasts with brand new investments worth hundreds of billions of US Dollars and where enclaves such as Dhahran Camp, KAUST, or KAEC offer a somewhat distorted view of the rest of the country, but on the other hand are great places for expats.