We got up at 3am, the taxi was coming at 4. We put our sheets and towels, the toaster and the kettle and all of our spare food in the bin (because we were not allowed to leave anything in the rental house and there was no one to see us off and take our stuff). Then we turned off the power, slammed the door and left. That all felt slightly unreal.
It was quite cold at the bus station, and there were a lot of people standing around waiting - the bus was a few minutes late. We weren't too worried because we had allowed ourselves heaps of time before the plane was due to leave.
At Heathrow we found the check-in area for "BMI", and found there was a choice of internet check in (which we couldn't do because we had already packed our printer) or self check-in. The first step was to have an attendant weigh our bags ... which he did and declared us to be way over ... We argued a while saying it hadn't been so on the bathroom scales at home, so he reduced it a little and then sent Peter down to the cashier to pay excess baggage. He said we would have to pay 56 pounds, so we weren't too upset - but in the end it turned out to be 172 pounds.
THEN the attendant looked at our tickets and said we were at the wrong check-in - the Riyadh one was way down the other end in the corner of the airport. We eventually found it - not actually clearly marked as BMI, a spare check-in area with temporary signs. They weighed our bags and said they were OK ... but we couldn't get our money back!
But that was the only "bad" thing that happened. The plane was only about half full, and we had two seats by ourselves near a window (not in the middle section). As we got close to Riyadh, sure enough all of the women on the plane started slipping on their invisibility cloaks, so I did too. One western woman who didn't have one (and was wearing a strappy top) was peering around with alarm or amazement (?) on her face. As we got off the plane the hostess commented that she really liked my abaya, saying it was better than hers!
Customs and Immigration
We've heard that getting through customs can be rough, they sometimes go through all your stuff. But we had also heard that wearing an abaya can help.
As it turned out, customs was fairly quick and painless. There was just one moment after we'd had our passports checked, Peter was walking on a little ahead of me, and I got called over to another counter. The chap looked at my visa (Business Visa) and raised his eyebrows and handed my passport to another chap and they frowned and chatted a bit. Then Peter came across to see what was going on, and showed them his too. Then they smiled and waved us on. We wondered whether they just thought I was on my own which might be strange ... dunno really.
Anyway, we popped out at the airport looking for the all-important card held up with our names on ... no one.
We waited, we walked up and down, we said 'no thanks' to dozens of taxi drivers ... still nothing.
After about half an hour Peter remembered that he did have our recruiter's phone number stashed away somewhere, so we dug in our bags and found it. And Peter managed to use his British phone to make the call. Sure enough, he was "on the way" thaving just picked up another teacher who had come via Air France and her luggage had all gone missing! Off-loaded in Paris.
A few minutes later he phoned us, he couldn't find us. Well, he was looking in the Domestic terminal, wasn't he?
There was a HUGE bed (ahhhhh! at last.) I was soooo tired, and (being diabetic) feeling rather hypo having not eaten since lunch on the plane. But they (the French chap who recruited us and the Arab "rector" of the University) had a little welcoming ceremony, we had dates and green coffee, and they gave us a book about Riyadh, a letter of welcome, a mobile phone each, and 1000 Saudi Riyals (about $100) to get us started.
Then we went out for dinner at a fish restaurant - it seems weird in the middle of the desert! It was already about 10 pm. We had a huge delicious feast, and around midnight the rector guy suddenly looked at me and said "she's tired, we need to go". I guess it was pretty noticeable!
(We really hadn't thought much about the fact that it was the fasting month of Ramadan, and this would have been the normal eating time.)
First Shopping Trip
Then there was the problem of breakfast. They said someone would take us shopping in the morning, say 10 or 11 am. I pointed out that as a diabetic I would likely need something to eat earlier than that. So they agreed someone would drop some food in around 8 am, then take us shopping later.
At least that's what we thought they said. So about 8 am, I had been pottering around since 6 (restless as ever) and Peter was still asleep, when a chap who spoke no English knocked on our door. By means of a phone conversation with the rector (whose English is mumbly at best) we worked out that we were shopping now. So the other lady, Amani, grabbed the clothes she had arrived in the day before - still waiting for her bags to arrive from Paris - and we all went to the shops.
Most things had English writing as well as Arabic. Our problem was, what could we cook with a stove-top and microwave, one frying pan, no microwave dishes, a few melamine plates ... you know what I mean. We had a teeny tiny fridge - well it was one of those hotel mini-bars, full of over-priced drinks (which we pulled out and stashed in a cupboard. We wanted to buy enough for a couple of days.
And we didn't know how long we would be here before we got to our apartment, but I thought he had said it might be three weeks.
So as I write mad-dog Pete is out there with the Englishmen, trying to walk to the nearest shopping centre, a Carrefour. It's very close, 100-200 metres I would guess (and I'm not good at guessing!) but the temp is 40 something degrees at least. And it will be harder carrying stuff back. He really wants a toaster. Give the Aussie some toast and he's happy as a pig in mud! I fried some bread in the pan for breaky, but it's just not the same. And the microwave didn't have a grill like the ones we had in China, Turkey, and the UK!