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Monday, 28 February 2011

The One With All The Pictures!

Saudi is not really seen, by most, as a beautiful place. I believe that everywhere has beauty, it is down to interpretation. Saudi has some beautiful sites and some beautiful people. I will go into that more on another post. But here are some of my favorite pictures of our stay here so far!

The One With The Bucket List!

A friend recently introduced me to this concept. It is something I have always done mentally, but never really had a name for it!

I wonder where the name comes from - after some thought I am presuming it stems from the phrase 'kicking the bucket' - would make sense, a list of things to do before you die!

Sounds a little depressing when you put it like that!

But as with everything, the glass is either half full or half empty, and by the end of my days I want this bucket to be FULL, overflowing!

So what I have done so far??

Well, I have found my man, got married, had my 2 beautiful kids, have a house and have made the huge leap to travel.

That's a good start!

I have spent time studying but for many reasons, still do not have my degree - that's a must for me!

So the places I have been:

Well the UK obviously, England, Scotland and Wales - still need to do Ireland!

We went to the Maldives for our honeymoon, what a surreal and magical place that is. tiny little islands dotted about in the clearest ocean, with sand that feels like custard powder, pure magic! And the fishing, WOW! I managed to put them all to shame! :-)

We have done Mexico, where I finally got my dream of swimming with dolphins in an ocean sanctuary, this was a perfect slice of heaven for me! Oh and Paragliding, now THAT was awesome!

Dominican Republic, this was nice, but I am not sure I would go again. Although watching Jason swim with sharks was somewhat amusing!

The UAE, one of THE most memorable trips of my life!!!

Italy, well I went here as a teenager on a school trip, I would love to go back and see it as an adult and enjoy it from a completely different angle!

Spain, the Costa Brava!!! This was my first ever proper holiday abroad! I went when I was 17 with my boyfriend, mmmm memories!!!!

Majorca, I think most Brits have been here at some point. A wonderful Island ranging form the tacky to the rich!! A great place to go for a little R and R, that's not too far from the UK!

And of course, Saudi Arabia. Now this is a place that not many can add to their list! Being here I feel I have seen a little secret part of the world that only a few are blessed to see!

So what to do next, well I have many many things that I still want to do!! Some may not be possible, but I shall do my best to do them at some point in my life, I would love to see the capital city of every country in the world, I know this will most likely not happen, but I shall see as many of them as I can!

So things to see:

Australia, all the obvious things, great barrier reef, Sydney Harbour etc etc
USA - Here I would LOVE to travel round in an RV for a few months, see it all!
New York at Christmas time, every time I see a Film that has New York at Christmas, those trees bring tears to my eyes!
The Amazon Rain forest - WOW!!!!
Madagascar - WOW, again!
Mauritius - I had originally always wanted my honeymoon here, I remember doing a project on it when I was a kid, I was amazed by the place!
South Africa - Here, I want to see Great Whites, the Big Five and everything else this place has to offer!
Hong Kong - An absolute must!
Drive across Europe - this is a journey I have completely planned, drive from the Middle East back to the UK, that would be epic! Including Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France!
Thailand - if nothing else from here, the tranquil beaches, islands and ocean!
The Great Wall of China - what an amazing site that would be!
Lapland - The pure magic of this type of trip, especially with the kids being young!
Aurora Borealis - The world at it's most beautiful!
Hawaii - if things go to plan this is where I would retire to, live in a little wooden shack on the beach, where I never have to brush my hair and be the funny little English Psychologist that everyone comes to for therapy!!!!! :-) but more seriously, this would be the perfect place for us to retire, the weather, the views and the ocean!

There's probably many, many more places that I have in mind, and places that I don't have in mind but would revel in the opportunity to see!

As for things to do!!!! :

Publish my own book
Swim with Dolphins in the wild
Volunteer work in Africa
Get my Psychology Degree
Walk in the foothills of the Himalayas
Ride in a Helicopter
Ride a Camel
Ride an Elephant

but most of all, find peace and happiness!

This last one is possibly one of the most difficult things to find in life, we spend our entire time striving for this one thing, this is the journey I am on, and out of all the things on the list, this is the one I most hope to achieve for it is not superficial, it cannot be bought with money and no plane can take me there. It comes from within and comes from those around me, My husband and my 2 beautiful children, who get me one step closer to achieving this goal every day, and as we all see these other things together in life, we shall all find the peace and happiness that we look for!

My wonderful family, all of you, this is for you!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The One Where I Started To Cook!

What's a girl to do in Saudi? Some would say not much, but I have no problem with boredom so far.

However, kids and husband all at school, there is a whole day there where I could be working, and let's be honest money is always needed for something!

I have been offered a few jobs since being here, being English is a real plus for teaching work overseas. But if I am honest the pressure of being away from home all day when the kids could need me made me anxious. In other countries it wouldn't be so much of an issue, you need to get home, your drive, call a taxi, here it really isn't that simple! So we decided it was for the best that I stayed at home!

But I still needed a job!

Well everyday, I cook for the family, or at least I am supposed to! What's a few extra meals added to the mix? Here, Ellie's Kitchen was born.

I made up menus, cake choices, order forms, bills, price lists, and we even started doing a pizza night on a Thursday (which is our Saturday!) First few weeks were great, everyone supported my new little enterprise, and I am pretty sure they even ordered dishes they wouldn't normally eat! After a few weeks the ordering began to quieten. So a little injection of life into the kitchen!

Here I started doing choices every night, whereas before it was a case of one meal a night. I now have a menu of up to 6 o r 7 choices every evening, including vegetarian dishes. Also the pizza nights and the cakes are still going strong. I am able to make an honest and somewhat respectable living! And the added bonus is that I have tried dishes I wouldn't have done before, I can now make fajitas from scratch!

I am sure everyone thinks that it all runs smoothly when they receive their food and it is all prepared in a dignified manner! Mmmmmmmm - they didn't see me drop the lasagne the other night, nor do they see the panic when I realise I am an ingredient short! :-)

Why has it worked?

Well in a western country this probably wouldn't work, but when you have a group of expats from various countries living in a small community things are very different. Here there are many single people, who quite honestly don't want to bother with cooking every night and who can blame them?! Yet this said, they still want home made food. Not only for nutritional reasons but also emotional. For some it reminds them of home.

It also works because things round here spread like wild fire!!! I began with just a small group of the teachers we knew and before long people noticed us driving around every night with little parcels of food, and they wanted in on the action, and I was more than happy to oblige!

This week, I am now preparing almost 60 evening meals for people on our compound. I had a huge order of cakes and food at the weekend for parties and again this weekend.

It works!

I now work!

This is just another example of making the best of what you have to hand and that you can do whatever you set your mind to! Not only do I get the pleasure of people eating every night and enjoying my food, I get paid for it and my family are happy as they get a choice of food every night, not to mention that they are actually getting their dinner on the table every day!

Bon App├ętit!!!!/pages/Ellies-Kitchen/121966614540742

Saturday, 26 February 2011

The One Where There Was Christmas in Saudi

So as you have read, it was too expensive to fly back for Christmas this year, and with the snow problems last year, a little fear was involved too!

In true Lloyd family form, Christmas began December 1st! Christmas music blasting out, the decorations at the ready and home made (non alcoholic of course) mulled wine!

The burning question - what goes on first the lights or the tinsel??? Every year my husband asks me this, if you don't know the answer just ask my kids, they know!

We managed to bring a Christmas tree back after the summer holidays - one case filled with the tree and one filled with the decorations! So up with the tree, with Sir cliff in the background. A friend came round to help, or rather supervise, but the help wasn't required it was just nice to share the Christmas spirit. A lot of people here are away from their families, which I imagine is easier to cope with any other month of the year, but Christmas is a time for families, and to us, our friends are family. Especially when living overseas like this, you make friendships, close friendships, very quickly. It's survival.

Continuing with the decorations, up went everything on the ceiling, around the doors and even the air conditioning! By the time it came to putting the lights on the window, I was the only one left standing, barely, and the lights looked like some type of Harry Potter shield, needless to say in the cold light of day I changed that!

We managed to have everything we needed for the perfect Christmas, the only thing missing was the pork and beer! We had our Christmas table stocked with all the usual treats, we had Christmas wrapping paper, the music, the movies and even chocolate advent calenders for the kids! Inside it felt like Christmas. Outside it was 28 degrees, so not so festive!

Next came the obligatory Christmas party. What I love about being here, is that you can do this sort of thing and people are overwhelmed with joy. To have the same kind of party back in Britain would have been strange, but here it is really appreciated. And our party wasn't just British ex pats, in fact not even just Christians, we had Muslim guests who thoroughly enjoyed themselves too. Engaging in the festivities and the warmth of friends!

We had home made mice pies, a Christmas log, sausage rolls (made from beef but taste strangely like pork ones!?), mulled wine, the only thing missing was the crisp, crackling winter fire!

Not for long!

My clever husband had a trick up his sleeve!!!

One little download from the net and boom, we have a real fire film playing on our TV! Much to the delight of our guests!

Next was Christmas itself. As we saw all our friends leaving to go back to their native lands, a slight feeling of melancholy came over us. I was missing my Dad and Aunt terribly by this point. We knew we had made the right decision though. The emotion really came to a head when we went to a church service just before Christmas day.

The warmth in that place was wonderful, and the words the Pastor spoke touching. It was something we really needed at this point, and brought us closer to enjoying Christmas.

I must also add here that just before Christmas the kids received a letter each from Santa, the relief in their eyes that he knew where they were and could still deliver their presents was simply magical!

Christmas morning came.


Two overwhelmingly excited children ripping at the paper, with giggles and screams, we could have been anywhere in the world at that point. What made it special was that we were together. Even more wonderful was their Nan, who was back in the UK, called on skype, we angled the laptop camera so she could join in with us. Technology is a wonderful thing, on December 25th 2010 it brought 3 generations together in a moment of pure magic!

Christmas dinner was wonderful, the turkey, the herb butters, we even got sprouts and parsnips when were in Dubai ready for this day! Truly fabulous!

We had a great Christmas, it just took a little more planning and organising to make it happen here in Saudi. This just proves that it is possible to do anything, anywhere. It isn't always about where you are, it is about where you heart is and who shares the moment with you.

The Lloyd Family, once again proved that we can pretty much pull off anything if we set our mind to it. We are a very determined little foursome when required!

God Bless Us, Every one!

The One Where We Went For a Long Drive!

So I have realised that once again I have been neglecting my blog, so a little catching up to do!!!!

So we went for a drive!! Well more of an expedition than a drive. A 4000km round trip from here in Khamis to Dubai.

We had made the decision that it was too expensive to fly home for Christmas, but obviously Father Christmas had lego obligations or else there would have been one very upset little boy on Christmas morning, wondering what he ever did to offend Santa!

Well, you can't get lego here, so Dubai it is. I LOVE adventure and what better way to see Saudi and the UAE than to drive.

Everybody told us it couldn't be done, we wouldn't cross the border, it would take too long or we would be hijacked in the desert. Let me assure you none of this is true! In fact the complete opposite!

We started off at about 5am KSA time. The car was packed - every eventuality was covered by mommy, tent, food, blankets, first aid kits, plenty of food and water, and a whole file full of every bit of information we could possibly need! We managed to be in the desert mountains as the sun rose, which was a magical and beautiful site to begin our journey with.

The kids were fully equipped, with their DVD players, colouring books, toys and their little lunch boxes and I have to say they were excellent the entire journey, and that I did not expect! We kept in 2 hourly contact with some friends back at the compound so if they didn't hear from us, they knew we could be having problems!

We headed up Route 10, which is a very long road taking you almost to Riyadh, we went as far as Al Kharj, the road splits here, up to Riyadh or carry on Route 10 going East across the Kingdom. We passed a place called Harrad and then straight on to the border.

This journey was pleasant enough. It is possible to see beauty in the most desolate of land. I found the scenery stunning and always changing, quite remarkable really. We passed through towns, we passed fields FILLED with hundreds of camels, we passed entire fields filled with green green grass, which seems somewhat of an oxymoron in the middle of the desert, and into the empty quarter, which in itself is a magnificent place. The site of the dunes, always changing colour, and vast area of nothingness! A man can easily get lost, not just in the physical sense but the emotional and metaphorical sense too! We saw the sunset over the empty quarter another amazing site!

On such a long journey - of which this took about 10 hours, one must be prepared to relieve oneself in the most undignified manner - in other words, pee in the desert! We had this down to a fine art by the time we reached the border. Only problem is the flies - you are introducing the only liquid into the desert for miles and miles, and the flies want fluid, so be prepared to be swamped with flies and killing dozens for the next 50km that have got into your car!

So the border crossing, we arrived here about 7pm, a surreal site in the middle for the desert, the empty quarter, nothing for miles and miles and yet suddenly all these lights, people and cars! This was the bit we were most worried about, we had been told by some that non GCC citizens could not cross this border.

From beginning to end it took just under an hour. All it takes is to be organised and not panic. Here is a little checklist that was valid for us as UK nationals, GCC residents in November 2010:

Exit KSA:

White paper for vehicle export – stamped at various points
At final checkpoint keep the paper
Immigration – check and stamp passport

Enter UAE:

Park car then enter white immigration building on left
Go to desk – produce passport
Visa application for each passport
Don’t fill in ‘travel with/accompany’ as all have own forms
Adults have eye scan
Pay 125 AED at counter opposite immigration desk
Officer post sticker on visa form
Back to immigration desk have passport/visa stamped
Drive car to customs park in inspection area
Get out to get stamp
After customs need to buy insurance – 100 AED for 10 days
Final checkpoint – check passports and collection of white paper with stamps

Simple as - congratulations you have now entered the land of alcohol and no abayas!

Everyone here was wonderful, helpful, polite and kind. In fact all the way through Saudi this is what we experienced. My husband always tries a little Arabic with people and being the local novelty, the white British family, people just want to be in your company!

So now we are in the UAE!

We continued along the same VERY long road. After a total of 14 hours on the road, we were all getting a little tired.

We found a hotel, a very plush hotel I may add, and stayed there the night. We enjoyed a nice shower, beautiful sea views, room service, overpriced alcohol and THE most comfortable beds known to man!

We set off after breakfast and a walk on the beach. We were about another 4 hours from Ras Al Khamiah where we were staying. Going through Dubai was amazing. Seeing all those buildings you have seen on the TV up close. The place is huge, and although there is a lot of sparkle, there is clear evidence of the economic demise that the whole world is suffering. Unfinished building work everywhere!

We finally got to our hotel - the Hilton in RAK, the city hotel though - a fraction of the price of the hotel and spa, yet you can use all the facilities of the beach hotel! Bargain!

Unforunatley when we arrived there was no booking and with it being Eid it was fully booked! I have to say the staff were wonderful, after such a drive and a very tired little family, they were great, it was the booking companies fault not Hiltons!

Finally we got sorted, unpacked and and ate dinner!

The holiday was fabulous, lazy time by the pool and on the beach, sipping cocktails by midday and Christmas shopping in Dubai! All in all, it was fabulous, we stocked up on all the things we miss out on here, like salted butter, Stilton cheese and even bagged ourselves a non alcoholic Christmas pud!

Then it was time to leave, but there was one more adventure in store - the road trip home!

We stopped off in Dubai on the way back, unfortunately I was quite sick the day we left, so was quite uncomfortable for me, but we were ok! Through the border, across the empty quarter and we finally reached Al Kharj at about 2am! (well we didn't leave Dubai until about 3pm!)

Armed with our sat nav - we found a hotel. The hotel looked nice from the outside, but what's that saying, never judge a book by it's cover! That was invented for just this situation! The lift was a little scary, and then into this room, well sort of 3 rooms, with the most dodgy doorbell ever heard!

not wanting to investigate things too much, we kept the lights dim, and both shared a single bed each with a child held tight!!! We just needed some sleep to continue!

The next morning we woke, still in our clothes and just got straight in the car and left Faulty Towers!

It took about another 7 hours to get home.

At the very spot we saw the sun rise on the way we saw it set on the way home! Simply beautiful!

Home at last, unpacked the car, nice hot bath, with my lush products and fell into a nice cosy bed - far cleaner than the previous bed!

All in all this was one of THE best adventures of my life.

We met camels in the road!

The kids saw what others only ever see in books!

We shopped!

We relaxed!

We had alcohol!!! :-)

And we achieved the seemingly impossible!

The moral, whatever you want to achieve in life, you can, whatever you want to see in life, you can, and whatever you want to get from life, you will!

We were blessed to have this experience and cannot wait for the next road trip!