Recent News

Exploring the Kingdom’s gems

WSB Admin 26/09/2018 0

By Maryann Horne

A few choice words. That was my response when my husband announced we were going to Riyadh. Certainly not the place we had dreamt of. But two years on, Saudi Arabia has grown on us both in a way we did not expect. It’s secret? The kingdom offers an incredibly diverse array of adventures for those who enjoy travel off the beaten track.

Our first trip was a train journey to Houfouf. Al Ahsa is the largest oasis in Arabia. It used to be on the old Ottoman trading route and its Qaisariah souq is one of the most splendid of the peninsula. The Uqair sea fort, where the treaty of Kuwait was signed is also worth a trip, as are the neighbouring caves.

Next was a six-night road trip to the Empty Quarter, Abha, al Baha and Taif. Asir province is close to Yemen in its identity: it is hilly, green and people are as warm and hospitable as the climate is cool.

We visited the highest peak in the Kingdom at Mount Sudah and its suspended village of Al Habala. Baboons lined the roads in places. The honey and handicrafts market knocks your senses and treasures include Yemeni and Saudi “liquid gold” and Assiri embroidery and jewellery.

An absolute must in this region is Raj al Alma. It’s an old village that local people decided to restore without any government funds and have turned into a bright and authentic living museum. Its doors are painted bright yellow, blue and red and colours explode against the black rock.

Spectacular routes carved into the mountains then brought us to al Baha. This region is green and lush. The air is cool and you can picnic by lakes and waterfalls, pick flowers and watch birds with incredible colours migrate further.

Another hidden gem is Dhi Ayn, a 400-year-old slate village nestled against a majestic backdrop of white limestone. Not a plastic sign in sight and the restoration is spectacular. Further along in that direction is, of course, Jeddah and the old city of Al Balad and Taif with its rose festival and flower processions.

The lesson learnt is that we don’t need to go necessarily far or follow the crowds. Sudair, the birthplace of the mother of His Royal Highness King Salman is a great day trip, as is Ushaiger and Sharkra. The date festival in Burreidah is the perfect place to learn more about the Kingdom’s favourite delicacy.

Our children have grown to love packing up the car, setting off on an adventure and getting dirty in old ruined villages and forts. Their favourite of late has been hunting for fossils on the old camel trail just outside Riyadh where they found seashells, fish and bones.

So the next time you hear “there’s nothing to do in Saudi”, just dust down that map, throw caution to the wind and say “let’s go discover”. This country is a gem, just waiting to be uncovered.

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The Alhambra and General Life

WSB Admin 23/09/2018 0

By Sairah Zubair Khan

The Alhambra is known by many names, Qalat Al Hamra, The Red One, ‘A Pearl set in Emeralds’. It comprises a series of palaces, used for leisure purposes by the Sultans and Sultanas of the Nasrid Dynasty, in the first three decades of the 20th Century. Walking around the magnificent palaces in the arid Spanish sun, one’s mind drifts off to a time long ago…

The Sultanas in their finery, surrounded by maids and children. Glancing over the fortified city walls, the heady aroma of roses and orange blossom in the air.

A Palace and Garden built to glorify God and depict the Islamic ideals of flowering trees, rivers and pools of water.

The Inscription above can be seen throughout the palace walls, carved into mosaic and formed on plaster decorative tiles. It translates as “Wa La Ghalib Ila Allah”. “Only God is the Victor” It forms the Nasrid Royal Motto and is present on the Royal Standard.

One of the best-preserved gardens, adjacent to the Palace district is that of the General Life, Jannat Al Arifa (Garden of the Architect). It has also been referred to as The Governor’s Garden and the vegetable garden of the Gypsy Festivity Organiser. A leisure place for the ruling dynasty, to get away from the official state affairs of the Palace.

There is religious symbolism once again that God, Allah is the architect, the Creator of the Universe.

Nowadays it is a venue for music and dance festivals, with flamenco shows in the purpose-built amphitheatre.

The gardens contain water, light and orchards full of fruits and vegetables. Some have described them as being a ‘heavenly vault’. A return to the nomad tent, shutting out the outside world, creating a feeling of ethereal peace and tranquillity. The Jannat prefix refers to ‘the gardens’ as a place of vegetation and cultivation.

Seven vegetable gardens, wildflowers, meadowland and fruiting trees of figs, apricots, pomegranates and orange blossom make up the 500 acres (220 hectares) of the General Life.

The Alhambra Palaces all have elongated patios, with water being the focal point. Inside the General Life, a canal exists. It is named The Acequia. It is an example of ingenious hydro-technology. Water is a vital commodity for the whole town, was drawn from a river four miles (six kilometres) upstream. It reached the Alhambra by a water pipe, the Acequia del Sultan. It became an aqueduct, upon reaching the walled area. Running downhill parallel to the street, then branching off to form pipelines.

The complex hydraulic system that regulates water levels in the pools, is quite stunning. There is great significance and symbolism of water throughout Islamic Culture as shown here in the General Life gardens.

In the Water Stairway, water is the feature of a handrail channel. It is divided into three flights, each with a fountain and handrails that channel cool, delicious running water. The sun shines through the laurel trees, creating a hazy escape on a hot day.

One can imagine the beautiful ladies of the court, retiring to the Patio de la Sultana. A Baroque garden laid out, in the area the of Palace Hammam baths. It has many ornamental water fountains and flowering trees.

The Patio and Court of the Sultana’s Cypress tree contain a central pond with a myrtle hedge. In the middle of the pond, is a smaller pond with a stone fountain. Small fish dance in the water and birds come to drink from the plentiful supply.

The General Life allowed for privacy and solitude. A space where one could look down and observe the ruling kingdom, visitors were not permitted into these private quarters.

When wandering around, absorbing the beauty of the flora and fauna in situ, a smile appears as you begin to relax and take in the surroundings.

As a family, we were visiting for the fourth time, to this magnificent place. Yet each visit resulted in the discovery of a delightful hidden alcove, a cool and shady area that we had missed on the previous visit!

It is true to say, this really is ‘heaven on earth’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WSB Inspiring Women: Aahd Kadiri

WSB Admin 23/09/2018 0
  • Tell us about yourself?

I am an animal lover and rescuer since my childhood; I started rescuing in Saudi Arabian in 2009 as soon as I arrived in Riyadh.

I am a wife and a mother of a 3 years old boy, Noah and 3 fur babies; Bronze, AZ and Teeny.

  • What made you start Tail?

Since I started rescuing in Riyadh, I cared for so many dogs and cats, it started with the animals I rescued and adopted out, to the pets of people I don’t personally know but they know I care for animals and trusted me because of my animal welfare activities.

On a personal level, I had to limit my travel time since I have 3 fur babies and every time I leave them at a kennel when I travel something bad happens, dogs do get depressed when left in a cage 24/7, they don’t understand why they are there and why their family has left them, they don’t get exercises nor the love they need.

So Tail – a home-based boarding facility with no kennels –  was the answer for a lot of other parents who have furbabies and hate leaving them in kennels while they travel. Tail is a one of a kind facility in Riyadh, if not in Saudi Arabia (especially for dogs).

  • How long have you been in business in Riyadh?

Tail was established on Facebook in 2017 by another person (a friend of mine) who also suffered from the lack of good kennels in Riyadh, she started it as a Facebook page but she couldn’t care for big dogs due to her accommodations, so I suggested to be a partner and care for the big ones while she takes care of the small ones; But before even starting to advertise for it, and before receiving our first dog, she had got a job meaning she won’t be able to care for any dogs due to her work of course. So I continued by myself to handle the Tail page and started the business.

Few months after I started Tail, and after the huge satisfaction of all our customers, and after the 5 stars reviews we have got, people started asking us to care for their cats as well, so we have got a new location for the cats boarding, also a home-based facility with no kennels, of course, both homes are under Tail.

  • Have you had formal training in animal behaviour or are you self-taught?

I have been around dogs since I was a child and I also got a lot of training from trainers back home when I had issues with my own dog who had some behavioural issues.

You learn a lot being around dogs especially when you have spent all your life around them. Every dog has his own character and behaviour, but at the end of the day, all dogs can be trained and managed when you have the patience, the persistence and the assertive attitude.

I have read a lot about dogs behaviour plus being around all kind of dogs, from the couch potato to the aggressive ones have helped massively to build enough experience on how to deal with animals in particular dogs.

  • What does Tail offer?

Tail offers home-based boarding facility (for dogs and cats), daycare, pet relocation and dogs training.

  • What makes Tail unique?

Tail is the only home-based boarding facility (especially for dogs) cage-free in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We offer a safe environment for the pets, dogs and cats will be treated like our own pets, because we have pets and we know how precious they are to their families. Walking the dogs in our care is a must, because I know how important a walk is for a dog, it builds an amazing bond with the dog and the handler. Of course, the dogs get a playdate in a secured park and they get to play with each other the remaining of the day inside the house. They are fed twice a day, all at the same time and we make sure every pet is well fed and eating his portion as advised by his parents.

A lot of Tail’s customers have said that their dogs went back to them better behaved than before they come to us.

  • What is a typical day like for you?

Waking up every day at 5 am during summer and 7 am during winter time, walk the dogs. If they are more than 6, I walk twice with them, sometimes we get help from other people. The dogs get their first meal then sleep, the dogs who like water get a pool time under strict supervision (which is in our backyard) and I take them for a playdate in one of the secured parks in the diplomatic quarter for some off-leash time arou4 pm4pm, they get their second meal around 8 pm and their last walk would be around 10 pm.

  • What do you enjoy the most about your work?

Being around dogs is a pleasure for me not a work. Plus, I enjoy watching Noah (my 3 years old boy) dealing and caring for dogs since his early years, this has helped a lot in building his personality.

  • What is the hardest part about your work?

The hardest part: I am always anxious if a pet under our care get sick

  • What advise would you give women considering starting their own business in the Kingdom?

Dare, you can do it, it only need courage and self confidence.

  • Do you have a quote or motto that you live by?

“Stay positive and happy. Work hard and don’t give up hope. Be open to criticism and keep learning. Surrender yourself with happy, warm and genuine people” Tena Desae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DIY Budget Guide to Tbilisi, Georgia

WSB Admin 23/09/2018 0

By Sarah Kaleem Ahmed

After Georgia opened its doors to the world and granted visa on arrival for GCC citizens and residents, the country has become a home to the ever growing tourists and naturally, tourism is their biggest source of income followed by winemaking.

Visa Requirements

For all GCC Nationals and residents, Georgia offers visa on arrival. If you are residing in Saudi Arabia and have an Iqama (residence permit), then here are the mandatory documents you would need to carry with you to get the visa stamped on arrival:

  1. Original Passport (at least six months left for expiry)
  2. Original Iqama (at least 3 months left for expiry)
  3. Original translation of Iqama into English
  4. Travel insurance (AXA insurance has a travel smart plan which might suit your needs)
  5. Hotel bookings (you may or may not be asked for it)
  6. Return flight ticket

How to reach Tbilisi

From Saudi Arabia

The growing demand of people wanting to visit this country has allowed many airlines to include a flight route to Tbilisi. Some of the airlines that fly to Georgia from Saudi Arabia are FlyNas, Gulf Air, Fly Dubai, Air Arabia etc.

Cost: approx. 2000 SAR and above

From Azerbaijan

If you are like me wanting to explore all the 3 countries together, then start with Azerbaijan, and then, move on to Georgia as it’s cheaper that way.

Option 1 -By bus

Cost: 12 AZN

Duration: 11 hours

Departure Location: International bus station, 6km from city centre, Avtovagzal

Option 2 – By train

Cost: 26 AZN

Duration: 12 hours

Departure location: 28 may Metro

Option 3- By Air

Cost: 300+ SAR

Duration: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Flights: Buta Airways, Azerbaijani Airlines

Tip: If you’re landing at Tbilisi airport, then exit the airport and turn right and walk until you find Bus #37 that goes to Station Square as its last stop. Pay 50 Tetri (cents) and inform the conductor about it (she won’t speak English, so be prepared). You can grab a taxi afterwards.

You are better off buying an internet and calling package at the airport itself for easy navigation as the difference between airport rates and city rates is barely 5 GEL. Besides, if you arrive in the evening, forget about getting a sim card from any of the official shops. Local shops do sell sim cards in Freedom square but you cannot trust their accuracy. My sim stopped working for a few hours, lol.

Things you need to know about Tbilisi

  • It’s full of churches and cathedrals. The country follows Christianity as their religion and this is evident in the numerous churches and cathedrals spread not only within Tbilisi city, but all over the country. Some destinations are famous just for the sole purpose of the existence of an old church. That’s Mother of Georgia in the background with wine in one hand and sword in another! That signifies her friendliness and courage simultaneously. These regions have a thing for female figures and role models!
  • There’s a famous church named Jvaris Mama Church and it’s funny that in Georgian language, Mama means dad and vice versa. It’s the opposite in their language!
  • Mini is pretty popular in Georgian history. She travelled from Cappadocia, Turkey to Georgia in the 3rd century to bring Christianity into the country. But, she forgot her cross which is one of the most important symbols of the religion. She couldn’t go back. So, she decided to tie some grapevines together with her own hair and make a cross out of it. That’s why you see her holding an angled cross.
  • If you’re walking around Tbilisi and looking for a clean place to answer nature’s call, head to Seoni’s cathedral. They, allegedly, have the best toilets ever! I didn’t try it for myself but those who did vouched for its cleanliness.
  • Hitchhiking is really safe here. So, if you ever need a free ride and cannot find taxis or buses, just ask and you shall be offered.
  • Georgian people, even though known for their amazing hospitality, do not smile. You see them with straight faces with no signs of politeness whatsoever at the strangers. This was so weird to me especially after coming from Azerbaijan where people were so warm and welcoming despite not sharing a common language. Our walking tour guide, Kate, explained the reason behind the “coldness”. Georgia, being an ex-Soviet Union country inherits the tough look from those times. They believe in smiling only when they mean it. No fake smiles, please 😉
  • They are known for their winemaking. From souvenirs to statues, people to historical places, it’s all about wine!
  • If you’re offered food, make sure to leave some food untouched to indicate that you’re done! Trying to keep a clean plate won’t help in Georgia as your hosts will interpret it as you wanting more food. Hehe.
  • The ancient capital of Georgia was Mtskheta. It was then relocated to Tbilisi due to its warm weather and attractiveness.

Moving around Tbilisi

Taxi: Really convenient and cheap starting at 3 GEL for a 5 to 10 minutes drive. Download Yandex and Maxim apps to make Taxi ordering easy for you and don’t forget to have Google Translate handy for translating messages from English to Russian.

Bus: Bus stops are plentiful and bus journeys are comfortable and convenient. Remember to keep lots of change of 50 Tetri and 1 GEL to hand over to the conductor.

Metro: I found this option to be the best as Tbilisi is well connected across different places. Using the Metro allows you to book your accommodation a little away from the city centre as the metro will connect you back in a few minutes. Get yourself a metro card at the counters and reload as and when needed. Cost: 0.5- 1 GEL per trip.

Walk: The best thing about Tbilisi is that it is so much fun to walk along the streets wandering and appreciating the cleanliness of the roads, the overenthusiastic tour guides selling you their day packages to interesting locations outside the city, the rustic Soviet houses, the magnificent buildings all lit up, the statues standing tall, the blue layers of the beautiful sky with its rich blanket of clouds, the cute dogs staring at you in awe, and the pleasant weather (except during July and August) simply makes this city so wonderful.

What to Eat while in Tbilisi

The Caucasus region comprising of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia are well known for two famous foods: bread and cheese.

And although Georgia has so many different types of food to offer, here are my favourites that are worth a try:

  • Suluguni cheese: This cheese is especially found only in Georgia and is a little yellowish in colour. It is widely used as pizza toppings, pie fillings and sold as blocks in the supermarket.
  • Churchkhela: These are walnuts dipped in fruit juice. They taste fine enough. You’d see them everywhere but the best place to buy is from the old ladies selling it on the street because they make it fresh every day. Cost: 2-3 GEL
  • Khachapuri: These are like fatayer (pies) with a variety of fillings, the sunny side up egg being the signature khachapuri you’ll find everywhere. You’ll also find different types of cheese khachapuri ranging from simple cheese baked pies, to breads stuffed with cheese several times like an Indian paratha. Some of those are stuffed with beef and pork, the options are limitless. Cost: 2-8 GEL
  • Khinkali: Khinkali are basically dumplings with a variety of fillings depending on the area you are ordering them. The traditional cheese ones are slimy and soft with melted cheese and butter oozing out while you eat them. The trick is to eat it in one go with your hand and discard the top part off.
  • Luca Polare Ice cream: I simply loved, loved, loved the ice cream here. It is extremely cheap at only 3 GEL per scoop and has one of the richest ice cream that I have ever tried! Their juices are fresh and filling too priced at about 10 GEL for a large one and you’re better off buying from them than buying from sellers on the street who overcharge you.

Quick things to do in Tbilisi

  1. Take a walking tour with Tbilisi Free Hack Tours:

I wouldn’t have known this city so well if it wasn’t for this tour group. The tour happens on foot and you get to explore the city by walking, stopping to listen to the guide explain the place and then continuing the walk again.

The entire city tour takes about 3-4 hours and happens daily no matter what the weather.

And most of all, the tour is for free! You only pay tips at the end if you like the tour guide’s services and it is entirely up to you how much you wish to give. If you compare this with the other bus or private car tours, the difference is huge! I remember checking with the city’s hop on hop off bus and they were charging around 50 GEL per person for an automatic audio guide for the same places that we saw on foot!

Here’s their Facebook page and email address should you want to contact them for booking your free walking tour in Tbilisi:

Tbilisifreewalkingtours@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/TbilisiHackFreeTours/

  1. Narikala fortress and the Cable Car: One of the must-see places in Tbilisi, the fortress was built by Persians in the 4th century before the city came to exist. It is a small fortress and people trek all the way up to get great views of the city. Be careful though as there’s nothing to keep you from falling off.

The entrance is on the lower side of the fortress. There are botanical gardens on the other side of the entrance. A Cable car ride is another thing you can combine when you visit Narikala fortress.

  1. Time for a Royal bath:

King Erekle bath stands out amongst the 10+ bath houses placed all close to each other in the vicinity. Private rooms are definitely expensive and a group of 4 in a common room would cost 30-40 GEL plus 20 GEL if you wish to indulge in extra scrubbing and massage.

If you want a painful yet cleansing bath experience, go to Queens bath instead. They really scrub the dirt out of you!

The most expensive of all is the Persian bath which in itself is a building worthy of Instagram. All of the bathhouses are located in Orebeliani street and if you ask anyone about them, they’ll be able to guide you to the location. Or, just key in Bath street number 27 into Google maps and it should lead you to the right place.

The key is to visit each one, choose what fits you and bargain hard to get the best price. Don’t forget to schedule your appointment a couple of hours in advance as they can get jam-packed really quickly!

  1. Dine at Shandiz Iranian restaurant: Located on Marjanishvili Street near the Metro station, the Iranian food here was really delicious. Portions were good for one and prices ranged between 15-25 GEL per person.
  2. Buy souvenirs: You’ll find them everywhere. However, buy them in the underground shops of Freedom square and you’ll get a good price. Other places include shops on the Bath street where the lady named Daki, gave us a fair enough price and spoke English too.

Cost: Magnets between 1-7 GEL, Globes between 10-25 GEL depending on size, Horn for 25-50 GEL

  1. Cross the famous Bridge of Peace and take an optional boat ride:

The bridge is beautiful and is instaworthy! It connects the Old town with a nearby Rike park along the Mtvkari river. However, I personally won’t recommend wasting your time and money on the boat ride as the river water isn’t that clean and you are better off watching the city from the cable car above.

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So, that’s all about Tbilisi!

The hottest months are July and August and are not really recommended if you want to escape the heat. April to June is the best time and September is good too! If you wish to spend Winters here, you know when to go 😉 Winters happen at the same time as the rest of the world.

Already been to Tbilisi? Let me know what else you liked there 😉

 

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Take a selfie at Santorini

WSB Admin 22/09/2018 0

By Deepa Thomas-Sutcliffe

Santorini is sure to be on your bucket list for its picturesque sunsets, stunning views and selfie-ready iconic white churches with blue domes. Located in Greece’s Cyclades Islands, Santorini is a short flight ride from Athens and is close to an active volcanic island.

We loved holidaying there, a lovely relaxing counterpoint to the busy Athens & even historic Delphi sightseeing trips. We went in June but it’s an all year holiday destination.

 

Where to stay: You are spoilt for choice and you can find a hotel or caldera hotel to suit every budget. I recommend a hotel in Fira if you are looking for a caldera view and want the pleasure of walking around and staying at the middle of the island. If you are on a romantic holiday or honeymoon, you may like to consider splashing out to stay at Oia.

What to do: Chill, Sunset Selfies, Shop, Sightsee, Walk, Hike up a volcano, Visit a prehistoric town museum, Sunbathe. Santorini offers a holiday of your choice for all ages and interests.

My favourites were the Sunsets at Oia, Akratori Archaeological Museum, Ancient Thira, the Volcano, Megalachori Village & the spectacular Caldera Views. Perissa Beach is great for a nice promenade, posing for scenic pictures and of course dining at the waterfront tavernas.

Must dos:

-A Volcano cruise to the nearby volcanic islands of Nea Kameni and Thirasia. Trek up to the highest point of the volcano, enjoy the hot springs (for strong swimmers) and lunch and chill at a waterfront taverna.

– Stroll through Megalochori Village, which dates its existence back to the 17h century. Home to historic mansions, old traditional houses, pirate hideaways and wine canavas, this is a charming village off the beaten route and well worth spending a couple of hours in. You can dine there, shop in the boutiques and of course take some lovely photographs of the iconic churches with blue domes.

– Get your perfect sunset selfies at Oia: Santorini is interwoven with the sunset, this magical hour of the day when the light makes everything look more beautiful. The sunset in Santorini is considered one of the most famous sunsets worldwide. Oia is the most picturesque settlement of Santorini, a lovely village with traditional character. Built on the caldera cliffs, when it is under the colours of the sunset it becomes even more staggering and idyllic. There are charming white-washed houses, blue-domed churches and marvellous buildings with attuned colours that compose an entrancing scenery. The best place to sit and enjoy the sunset is the remains of the prominent Castle of Agios Nikolaos. From here you can gaze the most scenic view; the spectacular settlement unfolding in front of you, the impressive volcano across the sparkling Aegean Sea and the dreamy horizon.

Of course there are beaches in Santorini too: The beaches are all pebbled & volcanic sand beach though you have interesting colours (Red, Black & White Beach). They are nice to sunbathe on but not very nice to walk on barefoot or even in sandals.

Eat: In a Greek Taverana, Indian Restaurant, Italian Café, You have them all. You will usually adopt a tavern or two near your hotel as your go-to-place for good food. Vegetarians may enjoy the stuffed peppers, tomatoes or vine leaves or the famous Santorini Salad. The olives are fresh and yummy. Non-veggies may enjoy the lamb gyros. Have breakfast at Fira by the Caldera and enjoy the view as you read, perhaps catch up on your email or just chill.

How to get there: Riyadh to Athens: (Aegean Air), Olympic Air from Athens to Santorini. Of course, there are ferries to travel by as well.

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Inspiring Women: Rhonda Rogers of Rhonda Rogers Photography

WSB Admin 29/08/2018 0

“The most courageous act is to think for yourself.“ Coco Chanel

Many of us have admired the adorable newborn portraits from Rhonda Rogers Photography. An expat of 17 years, Rhonda Rogers herself has a lot to teach us about coming into our own in a foreign country. WSB had the pleasure to catch up with Rhonda and learn about her inspiring journey.

Can you tell us about yourself?

Well, I’d like to think I’m a bit of every one of your female readers…I’m a daughter, sister, mother, wife, BFF, academic and woman entrepreneur. I’m an expat for 17 years now and I’m multidimensional, America born & bred and a foreigner. I love every bit of the best of my two worlds. I’m a dreamer and probably a bit of a bleeding heart. I’m proud but try to be humble. I enjoy some of the finer things in life but I strive to be modest and I’m somewhat private these days with a hint of fun & adventure. I believe in quality versus quantity. I believe in giving not for the immediate return but for what you may someday receive in return. I’ve learned not to have expectations so I relish in the small victories.

Most importantly, my little family of five completes me.

When and how did you get started in photography?

I don’t remember exactly when my interest as a photographer began. I was a young Levi’s model in my early 20’s and slowly I shifted to behind the lens, photographing socially. My professional photography work began around 2011, I was inspired by some very personal experiences. I realise something greater than I had other plans for me. Now, I live vicariously through the Mums and Dads and their gift of life that they entrust to me. I jokingly sometimes offer that they go home, catch up on some much-needed sleep and leave their gorgeous little one with me…forever and ever and ever. I know it’s just a dream, but by virtue of being a woman, I am indeed allowed to dream!

How long have you been in business here in Riyadh?

My business began slowly in Riyadh, approximately in 2012. I took two years off to complete my study at Harvard University. When I returned in 2016, it all sparked up again.

Were you trained in photography or are you self-taught?

Proudly, a bit of both and as in all professions, my professional development is ongoing. I learned knowledge is empowering. I research, read and put it all into practice. It’s a learning continuum and it’s fantastic. My professional training comes through mentoring from some of the most stunning international photographers; for example, Kelly Brown, the dynamic Ana Brandt, whose Masterclass workshops take me to the next level of precision.

What makes your photography unique?

I think most importantly is my photography is emotional storytelling, not traditional portraiture. My work is organic, natural and hones in on wholesome family interaction. Most uniquely is the art of newborn baby posing and the props/accessories of our trade; my vast collection of vintage props and handmade vintage & vintage inspired newborn “itty-bitty” clothing for my trade photography. Lastly, I use the finest professional equipment for my trade, from fixed prime to macro lenses and my golden baby from the United States (not available in the Kingdom); my Einstein Flash unit.

What is a typical day like for you?

Ah, that’s easy. I have three doggies. It’s a morning walk along the golf course, then a coffee and ice cold water on my patio overlooking the golf course, post-processing work, the occasional friendly lunch out or host a friend, then plan dinner for my amazing husband after his ten-hour workday.

However, when I have a newborn session, then it’s all bets off! My morning is 3-4 hours of ‘newborn photography as my hot yoga.’ The rest of the day is post processing and cooling my body temperature.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

Babies! The creativity! The beauty of the end result! My gracious clients! There are, indeed, few words to describe their joy when their love is translated in a photograph.

And of course, working inside of a rather gorgeous photo studio.

What is the hardest part of your work?

Professionally, its “breaking the glass ceiling.” After several years, ups and downs, small success, not-so-small challenges, it happened; the privilege of displaying my image galleries in two prominent Riyadh hospitals. It wasn’t only the hardest part but it’s THE milestone for any professional photographer let alone a photographer in a specialized trade such as newborn photography.

Personally, not much play time. The common Coffee Morning or Compound shopping bus is essentially out of the question. But then again, I’ve long enjoyed my places of peace and moments of serenity.

What advice would you give to other women thinking about starting their own business?

Believe in yourself…I promise the rest will follow. Take a look around you, there are inspiring women everywhere. I hope I can serve as a beacon of inspiration and proof that trust in yourself will breathe life into your gift or idea. You may feel lonely from time to time, being an inspiring woman can be that way, so don’t you quit. You’ll know when you’ve burst through that first ceiling because some who mattered are long gone and your new connections are inspiring as well as accomplished women. They are brilliant beautiful women and they often speak an entirely different language: the language of success and inspiration. And unfortunately, it should be said, let no one guide you otherwise and never-ever give rise to anyone who has little good to say. That is a personal problem, not your problem.

Where can creative women go to network in Riyadh?

Ah, another very easy question, the Women’s Skills Bureau, Blue Abaya online social outreach, both fine examples of women empowerment, success and support. I’d also encourage some coffee mornings, they are fun opportunities to see and be seen.

Do you have a quote or motto that you live by?

Yes, one by an icon for the empowerment of women and success, “The most courageous act is to think for yourself.“ ~Coco Chanel

Contact information and social media:

e: hello@rhondarogersphotography.com

m: +966(0)535568714

f: Facebook.com/rhondarogersphotography

i: Instagram.com/rhondarogersphotographyksa

w: rhondarogersphotography.com (under construction)

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Restaurant Review: Zafran Indian Bistro

WSB Admin 28/08/2018 0

Earlier this month, I decided to celebrate the weekend by dining out at Zafran Indian Bistro (Rubeen Square) with my husband. Zafran is part of the Landmark Group, one of the largest retail and hospitality groups in the Middle East, Africa & India and is now a year old in Riyadh.

Zafran Indian Bistro is an award-winning contemporary Indian restaurant that offers North West Indian cuisine.

We entered Zafran and were warmly welcomed by Sahi, the friendly waiter who remembered me from the last time I visited. This was over 2 months ago with a large group of expat vegetarian foodies (yup, vegetarian foodies exist). I was impressed he remembered my favourite orders and even what I ordered for take-out. Zafran offers both booths and tables in the family section and caters to larger group sizes with special table arrangements. They also offer set menus on request. The waiter escorted us to the booth we chose. The Manager, Arthaf, took the time to greet us.

I loved their vibrant décor, there is pop art of Bollywood film posters and magazines scrap on the walls and a plush blue upholstery on the booth and table sofas. The tables and booths are well spread out for diner privacy, something I really appreciate when I dine out.

We were served the complimentary papads with 3 dips – a papaya dip, a mint chutney and a date and tamarind chutney as Sahi took our order. We ordered our mocktails – a Lemon & Mint for me and a Kiwi Mocktail for the hubby. Later, Sahi recommended we try the signature Kashmir Dew (a delicious mix of Fresh Strawberry, Lemon & Mint). All three drinks were delicious and refreshing on a typical warm Riyadh day.

I ordered two vegetarian appetisers for us to share – aloo tikkia and a corn & spinach kebab. Both were tasty though I really enjoyed the aloo tikkia, which transported me back to visits to the famous Juhu beach in Mumbai where I first tasted this delicious snack. The potato cutlet was fried just right and was not oily; the bed of chick pea masala and yoghurt enhanced its overall taste.

While I chose to order my vegetarian appetisers and main course from the regular menu, my husband chose to try the special Big BBQ Menu – non-vegetarian. The Big BBQ Menu offered 5 kebabs – 3 chicken kebabs, a prawn kebab and a lamb kebab with a accompaniment of 3 dips – Pickled hummus, Mint Labneh and a Spicy Tomato & Garlic sauce, a mixed salad and a side of Butter Naans. My husband found the flavours very subtle and delicious unlike some of the other Indian restaurants he has eaten in. He especially enjoyed the Malai Jhinge (prawns) and the Zafrani Chicken Tikka for their delicate yet flavourful tastes. He also commented on the freshness of the salad leaves served in the western style salad with radish and rocket leaves. I tried the delicious Pickled Hummus, an innovative dip that is made with a mix of Indian home-made mango pickle and creamy hummus, delicious with a Naan. Loved the flavour and it was the most delicious hummus I have ever tasted. The accompaniments of Pickled Hummus, Mint Labneh and the Mixed Salad are atypical for an Indian restaurant and obviously to cater to their mainly Saudi guests. Smart move and it worked for my palate too.

For the main course, I ordered the sides version of two curries- one was the Mirch Baigan Ka Salan, which was a subtle mild yellow aubergine curry with some really nice & unique flavours. I also ordered a more traditional Paneer Makhani cottage cheese red curry, which was also scrumptious with its soft crumbled cottage cheese. I ordered a selection of naans & parathas to go with the curries. I like that Zafran offers Mains in both Sides & Mains portions depending on if you are sharing or eating it alone. Portions were very generous even for the Sides.

We took a short break from the feasting to talk to the Chef – Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman,– more on that later. We finished the evening with the crowd pleaser dessert – Gulab Jamun made even more yummy with almond shavings sprinkled on top and a platter of 4 mini – desserts. The dessert platter had Flourless chocolate, Zafrani Phirni, Rasmalai & Gajar Halwa. I absolutely loved the Gajar Halwa and the Gulab Jamun and the others were nice too. My husband, the chocoholic in our family, enjoyed the chocolate cake as he did not find the chocolate flavour overpowering the dessert.

We sat down with Chef Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman, the Head Chef of Zafran Indian Bistro. He told us of Zafran’s plans to expand to 11 restaurants across the Kingdom and of a new branch to open in Riyadh soon. He shared how they work with suppliers to get the fresh produce they serve and use only India’s MDH spices to present the most flavourful foods. He explained the concept of Zafran –known for their North Western Frontier Cuisine of India (especially the delicious kebabs) but also including some of the special flavours of the various culinary regions of India – Andhra, Bengal etc. He also talked about the exciting Promotions they have from time to time including the current Big BBQ menu (August & September only) where they try new dishes and test guest response before they introduce it to the main menu. In the Chef’s words, “the USP of Zafran is the quality of food, the fresh ingredients & spices we use & the experience we deliver. “

Zafran definitely delivers to its customer promise and I would heartily recommend you try it for your next dining out experience.

What we ordered

Starters

Aloo Tikkia (potato cutlet, pan-fried on a bed of chick-pea masala)

Corn & Spinach Kebab (grilled corn and spinach patties flavoured with ginger, green chilli & coriander)

Mains

The Big BBQ (Non-Veg) Menu

Murg Angaar Tikka, (boneless chicken marinated with labneh, red chilli, mustard oil & lemon)

Pudina Mirchi Tikka (chicken breast marinated with mint, green chilli, yoghurt & ginger)

Zafrani Chicken Tikka (boneless chicken breast marinated with ginger, garlic, labneh & saffron)

Malai Jhinge (prawns marinated with cream cheese, labneh & fresh coriander)

Lamb Seekh Kebab (minced lamb beat, ginger, coriander, garlic, green chilli & spices)

Trio of dips – Pickled Hummus, Mint Labneh, Spicy Tomato & Garlic sauce

Mixed Salad

Butter Naans

Veg Main Course

Mirch Baingan Ka Salan (Eggplant & green chillies cooked in a peanut, sesame, coconut & tamarind gravy with a hint of jaggery)

Paneer Makhani (cottage cheese cooked in a makhani gravy)

Selection of breads – cheese naan, garlic naan, lachcha paratha and tandoori roti. 

Desserts

Gulab Jamun (deep-fried cottage cheese dumplings in sugar syrup)

The dessert platter:

Flourless chocolate cake (Dark chocolate cake made with eggs & sugar served with caramel crumble),

Zafrani Phirni (Traditional rice pudding made with milk, saffron, sugar & pistachio),

Rasmalai (Cottage cheese dumplings with pistachio in flavoured milk) &

Gajar Halwa (Carrots cooked in sweetened milk). 

Drinks

Lemon & Mint

Kiwi Mojito (Kiwi, Mint, Lemon & Soda)

Kashmir’s Dew (Fresh Strawberry, Lemon & Mint)

How to find Zafran

RUBEEN PLAZA

Hiteen, Exit 2, Northern Ring Road, Riyadh, KSA

Tel : +966 11 562 2229

Weekdays: 11 am – 11 pm |Weekends: 11 am -12 am

Outdoor Seating: Available | Home Delivery: Available

Convenient Parking Options

Also at Turki Square, Riyadh

www.zafranrestaurants.com

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The Caspian Sea Vs The Black Sea

WSB Admin 28/08/2018 0

Planning my summer trip this year to the Caucasus region, I knew that I had to tick off at least two items off my bucket list: visiting the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Water excites me, so there was no way I’d leave the place without paying a visit to these two water bodies.

Caspian Sea experience

Being in Azerbaijan first, I was looking for ways to see the Caspian Sea. But, the beach was far away from the main city. And public access was little. And dirty. So, after recommendations from the locals there, I found out going either to Dalga beach club or Amboran Beach club would get me to see the clean, well-maintained part of the Caspian Sea.

I paid 20 AZN for entry into the Amboran Beach club for a towel and rental beach chair included in the price. More on my Amboran Beach club experience can be found here.

I hurried to check out the Caspian sea and swim in it but it was so dirty. It looked like any other beach but when I put my feet into it to go into the water, a lot of seaweed looking algae and slimy sand hooked on to me. I hoped that it would get better once I get deeper, but it just got worse. In less than a minute, I called it quits and went swimming in the pool instead. I was told that the water would get cleaner in a month or two but I doubt that it would be the case.

Ambience                  4/5

Public Access            1/5

Other activities        3/5

Cleanliness               1/5

Value for money      1/5

Black Sea Experience

Disappointed, I decided to postpone swimming in the sea for another country. When I moved on to Georgia after exploring Azerbaijan, I had to have Batumi in my list of places to visit within the country. Why? It’s famous for its black sea. Trabzon, part of Turkey also shares the black sea along with Batumi. So, I finally visited the Georgia part of the black sea which is located in Batumi, the second largest city in the country.

In contrast to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea is such a beautiful beach to spend your time relaxing; whatever relaxation means to you be it swimming, sunbathing, staring at the blues of the sky and the sea, or just listening to the sound of the soothing waves. You can rent beach chairs for 3 GEL per chair and 1 GEL for the umbrella.

It isn’t a sandy beach. It’s rocky. Really rocky. Expect a natural, painful pedicure if you wish to walk around without slippers. The sand underneath the rocks is dark grey giving it the name, Black Sea. The best part about this beach Is that it stretches for 6-7 kms which means even on the most crowded days, you’d still find a place to unwind without feeling as if the entire population is at the beach.

There were many ongoing projects of upcoming restaurants, boulevards and entertainment options being undertaken around this beach area at the time when I visited (June 2018). Investing here is a good choice if you have some money to spare. In fact, the place is already well developed with a lot of rides for kids and adults, biking and cycling paths two ways, many benches to chill out on and a lot of rental stalls. There’s a lot in the making. I might have to go back to see what Batumi would look like in a few years.

There is a beautiful musical fountain. The scooters are of different kinds, some able to accommodate up to 4 passengers, priced at 40 GEL for an hour and 20 GEL for 30 minutes. The scooters are usually chosen by large families or Arab women who wanted to have some fun. I chose to opt for a bicycle (bike) instead. The bikes are priced at 5 GEL for an hour and have models suitable for both women and men. You can rent it directly from the vendors and negotiate the price if you need it for more than an hour. Alternatively, you can go to the tourist information centre close to the Batumi seaport and purchase a bike card there. This would help you self-return the bike any time you wish to, even if it is past midnight. Self-return machines are available all around the boulevard area.

If you’re travelling with kids, there are a lot of rides for them (and for you) to try. The Ferris wheel, the go-round cup, the 360 degree bus, boxing machine, shoot and win, are just some of the entertainment options.

I ate at one of the Indian restaurants on the beach. The food was a bit on the high side if compared to the Georgian standard, thanks to the premium location. 70-80 GEL for two. Butter chicken and Chana masala with Naan. It was so spicy that I went on gulping water as though there was no end, haha.

Besides this, the boulevard is surrounded with so many restaurants and cafés that you’d be lost in choice. Often, street Georgian dancing is going on. Others are playing different kinds of music on their instruments. There’s a lot to do and you won’t get bored. And if nothing works, just walk.

Ambience                  5/5

Public Access            5/5

Other activities        5/5

Cleanliness                4/5

Value for money       5/5

The verdict:

I’d choose the Black Beach any day over the Caspian Beach.

What about you? Been to any of these beaches before? Which is your favourite?

Log onto www.yallachaloska.wordpress.com to follow the travel blog

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Leveraging Facebook business for entrepreneurs

WSB Admin 28/08/2018 0

Welcome WSB members & readers from the summer break. For the next few months, I plan to feature an article talking about a social media channel you can leverage to grow your business. This month, I am focusing on Facebook business, a handy, mostly free tool to popularise your business. Over 2 billion people use Facebook every month and you may even attract global customers and fans.

Here are a few ways you can use Facebook to communicate with existing & potential customers:

Facebook Page: As a local business, you can create a Facebook Page which only requires you to create a Page Name (ideally similar to the name of your business), choose a business category, add a couple of pictures (your Logo and a campaign or business pic) and a Call to Action Message – Contact Me, Book an appointment etc. And you are all set with your very own Facebook Page. You can then decide what to post – a photo / a video / a milestone / feeling / activity/ offers / events etc. Post regularly at least daily to attract customers. You can also post in relevant Facebook and What’s app Groups to popularise your page.

Facebook Messenger: Turn on Facebook Messenger for your Page to be able to easily respond to customers. Over 1 billion people are using Facebook Messenger every month.

By communicating through Messenger, you can:

  • Have conversations with people directly from your Facebook business Page.
  • Privately answer questions or concerns from customers about your business, their orders or anything else.
  • Let people know when you’re available to answer their messages and Page comments and messages.

Facebook Events: One of the useful things you can do is create a Facebook event (either visible only to your group or public) where you can list special offers or an actual offline event you are hosting like a Book sale. Events let you organize and respond to gatherings in the real world with people on Facebook. You can create or attend an event for anything from a birthday dinner, a store opening or a charity fundraiser. When you create an event, you control who can attend your event.

Facebook Groups: To build a local community around your business, you may like to tap into people’s passions and interests and create a Facebook Group. Facebook groups bring people with common interests together – travel, fashion, shopping, photography, city or even compound. You can create a Facebook Group under your Facebook Page to maximise the benefits to you but remember to post a lot of community-friendly generic content most of the time. Once or twice a week, you can promote your business in a community-friendly way (no spamming please).

Facebook Live: If you have a Facebook Page, you can create a Facebook Live Video Broadcast for your Page Fans. You can have a Live Broadcast and talk with your customers in real time. You can even respond to them by name, personalizing what you say and delighting them. Please do ensure you have a strong wifi or 4 G connection when you plan your Facebook Live Broadcast.

Facebook ads: If you have a little money to advertise your business, you may like to plan a Facebook ad campaign to target new customers or lapsed customers. Facebook ads allow you to market on Facebook, find new customers and build lasting relationships with them. Choose your audience – based on location, demographics, interests and behaviour. Then decide on your ad type – Photo, Video, In-messenger advertising etc. Set your budget –either for the campaign or per lead – and let your ad bring in new business.

I have experienced some very active Facebook Pages in the Kingdom – for eg. Tail – a pet home boarding service in the DQ and WSB.

If you would like to learn how to use Facebook effectively to grow your business, log onto Facebook Blue Print for snappy 5 min tutorials.

Read on to hear more about the world of branding & reputation in future WSB newsletters or reach out to me and we can have a chat over coffee. If there is a particular subject of interest that you want me to write about, do let me know.

Deepa Thomas-Sutcliffe is a storyteller & career communicator. You can visit her profile on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/deepamthomas or email her on deepathomas@gmail.com
 

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Finding the Joy: From the beginning…

WSB Admin 26/08/2018 0

Some of you may know me as Lizzie Daniell, Lizzie Whizz or Lizzie_Zen from my positive reflections posted daily from my home in Saudi Arabia on Instagram/facebook/twitter–a small positive moment shared daily with the social media reading community.

Recently, whilst on an amazing two-week retreat in Bali, someone reminded me to think big, find the joy and be the best version of myself in every situation! A wonderful statement… but not always easy to follow and do.

This has sat with me especially during quiet times; it got me thinking! How do I do this? Keeping those thoughts alive in everything I experience and do. So, I decided that maybe I should look at a different way of expanding my words and thoughts to cover inner expansion and radiate to all. A two-way medium to share – this is how my ‘Finding the Joy” blog and website began.

We all need a gentle reminder at times to help us think about and experience gratitude for what is good in our lives and how that awareness of joy can change a difficult situation.

There is so much joy around us we sometimes need to stop, honour and see it. It is in every situation, around every corner of our community, and in everyone. We often get hung up on the small things and negatives of situations, as past patterns become our first action. Maybe we need to regroup and think about what is really happening here! Stepping back and seeing it through clearer eyes (with our hearts open) is kinder to ourselves. Let’s be honest, if we don’t honour our experiences, who will?

So as I start to think big, whilst remembering the joy, I ask you to do the same. As my newsletter/website grows I would love you to share your thoughtful stories or experiences with me, to help inspire us all. With much love and joy, Lizzie Daniell

http://findingthejoy.info

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