It took us about 24 hours to get here, what with our layover in Zurich, so we all arrived pretty wiped out. Bleary eyed, we stumbled into the terminal to be met by embassy expediters and wisked into the VIP lounge – not the real, ROYAL, VIP lounge, but VIP lounge none the less. Beige stone, carpets, chandeliers, burgundy velvet upholstered furniture so low I had to do a deep knee bend and then some to sit down. The only other occupants were Saudi men dressed in their white ‘thobes’ – long robes, with the red checkered scarf and black headpiece to hold it on – think Yassar Arrafat. Actually their mocha skin, black mustaches, and black eyes are stunning against the white. Very becoming garb. Two of the American staff there to meet us – women – were in abayas. They had brought us loaners – mine was about a foot too long. Eventually we were led to the embassy vans – fully armored – and taken to the Intercontinental.
It is Ramadan here, so breakfast for the infidels is well hidden away from those fasting – down a long corridor to another building, up to the 6th floor, down another corridor and behind a screen, is a lovely room overlooking the city with a buffet of all you shouldn’t eat – pastries, smoked salmon, cheeses, lots of middle-eastern thing, beef bacon, turkey sausages, fried potatoes and eggs to order. On my NEW regime, I pass all this up for excellent fresh fruit, low fat, very good yogurt which I top with honey, and a slice of fresh whole grain bread. This huge hotel is nearly empty, as far as we can tell. Maybe because of Ramadan.
For the Saudi’s Ramadan fasting starts at about 3:30 a.m. – when you can distinguish a black thread from a white thread. It lasts until about 5:30 – sunset. One breaks the fast by consuming a few dates and water. If you happen to be driving at sunset, there are boys at traffic lights handing out little boxes with a bottle of water and dates. A charming touch.