Rookie Mistake, Part II: Getting It Right

Read any guidebook, magazine article, or travel post and you’ll get the same tips about Paris: Don’t go in August unless you want to wander an empty city. Greet shopkeepers when you enter their places of business. Keep your voice down. Dress well. In Madrid, don’t go looking for dinner before 9:00. In London, don’t ask for a napkin. In Dubrovnik, don’t be shocked at topless sunbathers.

But there aren’t any guidebooks for Riyadh. Why would there be? Jordan and the ruins at Petra are just right there, and wild and beautiful Oman with its world class diving is right there, and Egypt and the Pyramids are just over there. Nothin’ to see here, folks. And no tourist visas to be had. Besides–it would take some mighty sights to make the trouble of being here (“Women have to wear what? Businesses close when?“) worth it.

So as a new expatriate you have to figure stuff out on your own, with information gleaned from friends you don’t have yet. I’m surrounded by great people I’m looking forward to knowing, but my half of conversations in the gym so far have gone something like this: “Where are you from? Glasgow/Madrid/Amsterdam/London/Sydney? That’s awesome! Thursday night socials are good? Yeah, this compound sure does seem great. Hope to see ya again!”

We still have a way to go.

This past Thursday night (previous post) was one of those learn-as-you-go experiences. Learned: Don’t go on routine errands on Thursday night. Looking back, this should have been obvious, and the takeaway is one I’ve known and used before when traveling. I’m a morning person (who likes to stay up–bad combo), and most of Europe and the Middle East stay up late. So…if you get up early, you can have the place to yourself. An early-morning run in Paris one time took me to the courtyard of the Louvre, where there was Not One Soul. Putting the pyramid behind me, I could imagine it was all mine. In Croatia, being an earlybird let me see this:

Early morning from Motavun, Croatia

In Riyadh, getting a minimally early start on a Saturday got us in and out of IKEA in a half hour. WITH shaded parking. It got us everything we needed at the hardware store, and–courtesy of my new Muslim Pro prayer times app–outa there five minutes before the cash registers would close for noon prayer. We got to meet new friends for a late lunch at a Najd Village, a traditional-style Arabian restaurant, where the meal looked like this:

Arab dinner at Najd Restaurant, Riyadh

There were about ten of us, so yeah. There were leftovers. I wish there had been labels in the dishes. Most are rice-based, with various twists. The large platters are the meat (chicken, in this case). The brown blobs are a delicious puffed, slightly sweet bread. I was very grateful to have an abaya with narrow sleeves, since all the reaching is done on hands and knees, across the cloth. And I did a fair amount of reaching.

Next, we got to the grocery store about five minutes before it re-opened after afternoon prayer. Found everything we wanted there. Plus a thing or two we didn’t.

Camel meat at the grocery store

Well, yet, anyway. When I enter “camel” in Epicurious, I get two results, neither of which actually use camel. One merely suggests you have camels standing nearby for atmosphere (“Rockin’ Moroccan Stew”), and the other is a recipe for spiced honeyed locusts from the Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook, which claims that a certain group of fantasy people would have preferred dog or camel in their stir-fry. I’ll keep working on it.

No, we came home, left the city to the night-crawlers, and cooked a terrific dinner. I didn’t set out to write a food blog, so no step-by-step photos, but this one ought to be shared: Lamb with yogurt mint sauce (sauce courtesy of Ina Garten), couscous with onion and apple, and ripe honeydew. All enjoyed on our patio on a warm (but not too hot) summer evening.

P.S. For followers of the Instagram Kitty Chronicles (a number that’s surprising me), Yard Kitty seems to have defeated Roof Kitty in the battle for our back yard. When I came outside from clearing the first round of dinner dishes off the patio he was on top of the table, licking out the bowl that had held the lamb. Today, Yard Kitty, now napping in the back bed, a lord at ease in his realm. To the victor go the spoils.

Come to think of it, I feel kinda the same way. Take that, Thursday night. I OWNED Saturday.

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