Rosewood Saturday Market buffet

What I’ve been up to – September

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty glad summer has come to an end. This may sound strange coming from a person who adores the sun and loathes cold weather, but even for me summer in Jeddah is a little too much, especially when it gets humid (bad hair month alert!) at the end of the summer. The other reason is that July and August are very slow here, with few events to write about, and that is not fun when you’re home and want to work. Luckily, September brought more activities for me to cover, and as a result I’ve been fairly productive this month. Read on to what I’ve been up to!


Vienna's Belvedere Palace
Vienna’s Belvedere Palace

It’s been a long summer without fun trips or travels for me, but this month my article on Vienna finally came out. This is easily one of my favorite European cities, as I love how elegant, clean, multicultural, and relaxed it is. I visited the capital of Austria twice, once with Ahmed while backpacking Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Vienna in 2008, and last year on another trip combined with work for Ahmed. The pictures are from this last trip.

Park in Vienna
Park in Vienna
Mozart monument
Mozart monument

Health & food

Chocolate Soufflé - Photo courtesy Park Hyatt Jeddah
Chocolate Soufflé – Photo courtesy of Park Hyatt Jeddah

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right: Chocolate soufflé is not the healthiest of foods. But we, at Saudi Gazette, decided to start a new series of articles on the weekly Wholesome Living page featuring mouthwatering dessert recipes revealed to us by the best chefs in town and with a healthy twist. If you’re curious what ‘healthy twist’ Park Hyatt Jeddah’s Pastry Chef Ibrahim gave to this delicious chocolate soufflé click here for the recipe.

Another ‘more or less’ healthy dessert was given to me by Monir Hossain, pastry chef at Rosewood Corniche Jeddah. He prepared me a delicious berry shooter and gave me several tips to make it guilt-free. Who doesn’t like berries at this time of year?

Fresh and tasty raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are combined with a velvet white chocolate mousse in this recipe.
Fresh and tasty raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are combined with a velvet white chocolate mousse in this recipe.

For those eager to kick off the new school year with real healthy meals I wrote another article on healthy back-to-school snacks, which, by the way, are also perfect for adults who want to bring their own food from home.

One article I was very excited about was something on health trends that are a waste of money. I think we all fall for them sometimes – well, I do, for sure! I used to think that coconut water was the sports drink par excellence and used to take my multivitamins daily. Now I know better…

My editor asked me to write an article about health stores in the Kingdom. Although I have written about Abazeer before – an amazing organic store whose owner I was lucky enough to interview two years ago – I thought it wouldn’t harm to highlight again some of the stores I love in this country. It wasn’t easy to complete the list, though. Saudi Arabia clearly lacks options when it comes to eating healthy. Check here what I came up with.

Rosewood Saturday Market lunch
Rosewood Saturday Market lunch

Last but certainly not least, Rosewood Corniche Jeddah also invited me to try out their new Saturday Market lunch. The hubby and I went together and were positively surprised by the variety of fresh foods – Mongolian, Italian, Chinese and South American – on offer. The lunch buffet is a fun way for families to spend their afternoon, as people choose their own ingredients and then have one of the chefs prepare the dish on the spot. The interaction is fun for both kids and adults. Read here my review.

Delicious desserts at Rosewood's Saturday Market lunch
Delicious desserts at Rosewood’s Saturday Market lunch
A collection of freshly baked breads at Rosewood's Saturday Market lunch
A collection of freshly baked breads at Rosewood’s Saturday Market lunch

Local news

US Consul General Todd Holmstrom and his wife Alexandra receive a warm welcome in Jeddah.
US Consul General Todd Holmstrom and his wife Alexandra receive a warm welcome in Jeddah.

Last month I already got the opportunity to meet the new US consul general in Jeddah, Todd Holmstrom, at his residence for an interview. This month the consulate officially welcomed him during a dinner reception, which I also attended and wrote about.

Something completely different: In September, the 33rd international agriculture, water, and agro-industry trade show took place in Riyadh. Grabbing any possibility to promote organic food in the country (or anywhere, for that matter), I called my contacts at the Organic Farming Project and arranged an interview with the general manager of the Department of Organic Agriculture, which is part of the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture. Luckily, the article became quite a hit.

Labor and Social Insurance Law in Saudi Arabia - photo credit Jochen Hundt
Labor and Social Insurance Law in Saudi Arabia – photo credit Jochen Hundt

In other news, a new book on Saudi labor law was launched this month and I met one of the writers for a brief talk. I think the book could be very useful for expatriates living here. Who wouldn’t want to know his rights when working or doing business abroad? Unfortunately, the book is in German, although they are thinking about translating it. Until the translation is out, at least the article contains some interesting facts.


Runkeeper - my favorite app to track my workouts
Runkeeper – my favorite app to track my workouts

Who would have thought I would ever become a tech geek?! Not that I consider myself one now, but I do regularly write about apps. And all apps I include in my articles are 1. free and 2. tested by me. This month, I wrote about the best apps to track your workouts and five fun & educational apps for the back-to-school season.


We’re getting towards the end of this post. Thanks for your patience if you are still reading!

Bill Clinton (left) and John Maino performing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (photo courtesy of Saudi Gazette)
Bill Clinton (left) and John Maino performing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (photo courtesy of Saudi Gazette)

Have you yet participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? For sure you have seen it at least on your Facebook wall. I, for my part, long thought about whether I should participate or not (if I was going to be asked, that is). At last, I decided I shouldn’t. Read here my concerns about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

And then there was the Saudi National Day on September 23. I already wrote about it in my previous post, but apart from that I worked hard on a few articles for our special supplement on that day. I did a long write-up on the country’s King Abdullah Scholarship Program and interviewed several students abroad about their experience.

One of the pages in the supplement was about Saudi citizens’ dreams for their country. Under the title “I have a dream”, I interviewed a male banker, female general practitioner, and male entrepreneur about their dreams and wishes for the Kingdom.

All in all, it was quite a fun month at work. Hopefully more interesting events, interviews, and perhaps trips are coming soon!

Saudi National Day

Saudi National Day 2014

Saudi flags all over the city, green trashy stuff in the stores… Saudi National Day 2014 is around the corner! Every year, Saudis celebrate the day that King Abdulaziz declared the Saudi Kingdom on September 23, 1932. Though, every year? Not really.

Celebrating the country’s unification – and patriotism in general – is a rather new phenomenon in the Kingdom. Up to a decade ago, the only two celebrations this country knew were the religious holidays, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. The first marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, while the latter is when pilgrims from all over the world come to Makkah for the Hajj, or pilgrimage.

A holiday to celebrate something secular was off limits, at least for the powerful religious authorities. Even the prophet’s birthday, thought to be on the 12th day of the third Islamic month, is celebrated by people secretly, as the country’s clerics are afraid an official celebration would lead to idolatry.

Saudi flags all over the city
Saudi flags all over the city

However, things have drastically changed following 9/11 and Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004, as well as with the new king, Abdullah, who inherited the crown in 2005. The authorities increasingly saw the importance of nationalism as a useful way to replace tribalism and increase loyalty to the country. In fact, one of King Abdullah’s first royal decrees was to make September 23 a holiday.

What started small has been growing year after year. Even in the four years I have been here I can see the difference. Today, the stores are full of green garlands, stickers, flags, wigs, and other plastic gadgets. All over the city, the green Saudi flag with on it a white Arabic inscription – the Shahada: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is God’s prophet” – underlined by a sword are waving in the wind.

All major roads in the city have these flags
All major roads in the city have these flags during this time of the year.

For the authorities, Youm Al-Watani, Arabic for National Day, is a good reason to hail the country’s royal family, who gloriously unified the country, the prosperous state of the nation, and the progression it is making on all possible fields. This year in Jeddah, cherry on the cake of the National Day celebrations is the raising of the highest flag in the world. That the city is still lacking basic utilities such as sewage, sufficient hospital beds, and safe roads is something the authorities seem not so concerned about, though criticism is far from absent.

For most youngsters, the celebration is a good excuse to party in the streets and madly drive around the city – in other words, making as much noise as possible. The municipalities may have organized some festivities, including fireworks, the majority appears to be more interested in creating a lot of chaos on the roads all over the major cities. In that sense, the way Saudis celebrate their feelings of “patriotism” on their country’s national day isn’t all that different from, let’s say, the Dutch Queen’s (or currently King’s) Day and other independence day celebrations.

Taha Al Sabban - Sea 1

What I’ve been up to – August

Just like July, August was still a quiet month. Not many events took place in the city, and I sometimes struggled to find topics to write about. The few events I attended and the interviews I did carry out were exciting though. Here is an overview of my published articles of last month.

Art & Culture

"Formation" by Abdulhalim Radwi
“Formation” by Abdulhalim Radwi

Ayyam Gallery Jeddah opened a very interesting exhibition on the beginnings of fine art in Saudi Arabia. In fact, they already launched the show, which will run until October 16, in July, but I did not have the chance to attend the opening, so I did an interview with the gallery representative in Saudi Arabia that came out in the Saudi Gazette on August 9. (See also the cover picture, “The Sea 1″ by Taha Sabban.)

Visitors trying one of the activities at iThra Knowledge Riyadh

Saudi Aramco’s initiative to organize exhibitions that combine knowledge, science, and culture under the name ithra Knowledge also opened in Riyadh during the Eid holidays. Unfortunately, I could not attend the opening myself, but the organizers sent me all the information needed and asked me to write about it. Read the article here.

Smoke art photography in Gaza
Smoke art photography in Gaza

As there were not many art shows in the Kingdom, I looked abroad for inspiring art and found this Palestinian “Smoke Art” that made headlines all over the world. You may disagree whether this is real art or not, but it did make a statement. Read the article here.

Anas Arabi improvising a rap for the audience.
Run Junxion’s Anas Arabi improvising a rap for the audience.

Last, but definitely not least, there was the exciting launch of Saudi hip-hop band Run Junxion’s latest album, “Shock “N” Awe”.  I wrote about Saudi hip-hop before, when several artists made an amazing song together with German hip-hopper Max Herre and performed their creation at the German Consulate. Run Junxion was present there as well, but stood in the shadow of Qusai aka Don Legend the Kamelion. This evening, they were the stars of the show, and their new cd did not disappoint the fans who had come. Read my article here.


Healthy salad at Rosewood Corniche Jeddah
Healthy salad at Rosewood Corniche Jeddah

Of course, I also had several health articles for the Wholesome Living page in store. One of the things I wrote about is how to recover from the Ramadan ‘Jet Lag’. You see, most people here live at night and sleep during the day in Ramadan. During the Eid festivities, people even stay up until after sunrise, go to bed around 9 or 10 a.m., and wake up at 6 p.m. If that’s your rhythm it is not easy to get back to normal when work and school start again, but with these tips it shouldn’t be too hard.

7-minute workout by Ben Wiseman, published on the New York Times website on May 9, 2013
7-minute workout by Ben Wiseman, published on the New York Times website on May 9, 2013

Something I’ve been trying to incorporate in my own fitness routine is the 7-minute workout. Although this came out more than a year ago in the New York Times, I found it so inspirational I wanted to write about it. So I did. There is even a website that helps you time your exercises. (Note to self: I should really start doing this highly effective and efficient workout, but I’ve been struggling to stay motivated.)

Grand Hyatt’s Damai spa in Singapore
Grand Hyatt’s Damai spa in Singapore

Remember I went on a media trip to Singapore several months ago? One of the things I did there was a spa review. Not a bad job do I have, right? If you’re curious about my experience, read the review here.

And, perhaps not that wholesome, but I wrote about the ‘good ole’ burger. I’ve been noticing a trend here that sees traditional burger places (e.g. McDonald’s, Burger King) losing business to the benefit of fancy and gourmet burger joints that offer higher quality beef, more customized burgers, and a cosier sitting area. Apparently, this trend is not unique to Saudi Arabia, but happens in the States as well. Read my article here.

Local news

Interviewing Mr. Todd Holmstrom, the new US consul general in Jeddah
Interviewing Mr Todd Holmstrom, the new US consul general in Jeddah (Picture by Jason Raskin)

A nice opportunity I got this month was to interview the new US consul general in Jeddah, who had arrived only a few weeks prior to our meeting. All I can say is that it was interesting to meet him, and that the interview can be found here.

Other local news I reported on: Saudi Arabia blocking a deal on a threatening greenhouse gas (which made it to the front page) and how many residents here shiver in their offices despite the sweltering summer heat.

About the former I can say that I wish I could have interviewed the Saudi negotiator, Taha Zatari, prior to sending the article to the editor. Unfortunately, he called me on the day the story came out in the paper, and although his arguments were quite legitimate, he repeatedly told me not to quote him because he was not authorized to speak to the press. He proposed to get me in touch with someone who was authorized to speak, but he never got back to me. Which I think is a missed chance, because I would have liked to also tell the other (i.e. Saudi Arabia’s) side of the story and create more awareness on the issue. Unfortunately, I could not convince him that I was unbiased because of my European roots.

Regarding the story on shivering residents, I remember freezing in the office during previous jobs and even in my current office whenever I go there. I just can’t understand why some people put the A/C on such a low temperature when it is extremely hot outside. It is such a waste of energy and not healthy at all. I may write more about this in the future.


Arab Vines - the latest social media hype
Arab Vines – the latest social media hype

One of the editors asked me to write about technology, and while I am not really a tech geek I think it is quite nice to do some research on things I am not so familiar with. For our LogIn page I wrote this report on Arab Vines, a funny social media hype. Read the story here.

To conclude, I wrote an opinion article on the TV anchor that had appeared without headscarf on the Saudi TV. According to Western media, this had led to an “outrage” in the country on social media. According to my own research, the Western media heavily exaggerated the issue. Read my opinion here.

So that is it! How was August for you? What did you do? Enjoying summer vacation or working hard in the office for all other colleagues that were on leave?


Cordoba – or how we found a new love

One of the places during our trip to Spain and Portugal that most surprised us was Córdoba.

We had both been there before, nine years ago, but not together. While I remember being overwhelmed by the beauty and spirituality of Cordoba’s Great Mosque, I do not remember being very impressed by the town itself.

One of Cordoba's numerous patios
One of Cordoba’s numerous patios

Ahmed felt the same. Perhaps, our love for Seville left us blind for other marvellous towns.

How different was it this time! We loved the place from the moment we arrived. Probably it helped that we were very happy with the hotel we stayed at and the view from our window:

View from the window of our hotel room.
View from the window of our hotel room.

But also when we took the bus to the old town were we surprised by the maze of charming streets, colorful patios, numerous statues and other monuments, including churches and synagogues, and the Alcazar.

All these little gems notwithstanding, what stands out and should be on everyone’s number 1 thing to do here is the Great Mosque/Cathedral. I wrote about it in the Saudi Gazette. What follows is a copy of the article that appeared in the Saudi Gazette on July 25. Find here the original piece.

Codoba's wall
Codoba’s medieval city wall


The Great Mosque of Cordoba

A reminder of Europe’s interfaith history

Cordoba Mosque

Spain’s culture is full of reminders that the Iberian Peninsula was once occupied by a Muslim population consisting mainly of Arab and Berber ethnics. Encompassing nearly 8 centuries, the Islamic Al-Andalus period left a clear Arabic influence in the Spanish language: Some scholars estimate that around 8 percent of the words found in the Spanish dictionary have Arabic roots. In terms of monuments, the highlight of this period most often mentioned is the imposing Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex located in the Spanish southeastern town of Granada.

More patios with flowers in Cordoba
More colorful patios in Cordoba

The Alhambra complex and its Generalife gardens are indeed extraordinary and should be on anyone’s bucket list, but of more significance for the Muslim traveler is the Great Mosque of Córdoba, also known as the Mezquita.
The mosque, built initially by Abd Al-Rahman I and with various later additions, is an architectural marvel that leaves Muslim and non-Muslim visitors alike in awe. It is not difficult to imagine how this magnificent structure was a center of worship, religion, philosophy, anatomy, geometry, and all the other sciences the Al-Andalus scholars excelled in.

Cordoba's wall and minaret
Cordoba’s city wall and the mosque’s minaret, which was later converted in a bell tower

The story goes that when the exiled Umayyad prince, Abd Al-Rahman I, fled from Damascus to current-day Spain, he bought half of the Visigothic Church of St. Vincent on which the Mezquita is built for the Muslim community’s Friday prayers. Soon, this space became too small for the fast-growing population, and in 784 A.D. the emir bought the other half as well, erecting a mosque that he hoped would be on par with those built in Jerusalem, Baghdad, and his home-town Damascus.

His descendants expanded the structure, built a new minaret, and adorned the mihrab, the niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Makkah, with gold mosaics, a gift from the Christian emperor of Byzantium. Remarkably, though, the mihrab in the Great Mosque of Córdoba does not point south-southeast toward Makkah, but south. While in that time it was not uncommon for the qibla (the direction of the Kaaba) to be a bit off, the reason it is here is probably because the mosque was built retaining one of the walls of the old church. The structure reached its current dimensions in 987 A.D., when the outer naves and courtyard, used for ablution and full of orange and lemon trees, were completed.

The nihrab
The mosque’s mihrab, the niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Makkah, is adorned with 1,600 kilogram of gold mosaic cubes.

Soon after and due to internal conflict, Córdoba fell in a state of steady decline, eventually leading to the fall of the caliphate in 1031.

Thereafter, several dynasties ruled the city, but it lost its domination to Seville until in 1236 the Christian Kings “reconquered” Córdoba from the Moors.

While building numerous new churches, the center of the mosque was also converted into a Catholic church, although only very small alterations were made. A chapel was built within the mosque, and the minaret was transformed into a bell tower.

The cathedral built in the middle of the mosque
The cathedral built in the middle of the mosque

Nearly three centuries later, however, King Carlos I — allegedly against the wishes of Córdoba’s city council — approved the construction of a Renaissance altar area, choir and nave, largely altering the look of the mosque. Unsatisfied with the result, he famously regretted to the priests who built it: “You have built what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world.”

Regardless how history shaped the building for better or worse, the result remains simply awe inspiring. Visitors enter the Mezquita through the ablution courtyard, now called the Patio de los Naranjos, where lush citrus and palm trees protect the queues, waiting to buy their entrance ticket, from the scorching Andalusian summer sun.

One of the mosque's many entrances (not open for the public)
One of the mosque’s many entrances (not open for the public)

Once inside, the peace and harmony of the large space overwhelms its visitors, as rows and rows of columns —a total of 856 remain from the 1,293 original pillars — and red and white striped horseshoe arches dazzle even the most seasoned traveler. The entrance side is the original part of the mosque built by Abd Al-Rahman I. Though quite dark, it is easy to imagine how full of light the mosque must have been when all original 19 doors were opened at the time of the caliphate, with the courtyard palm trees providing a natural continuation of the columns inside, leading Pakistani poet Muhammad Iqbal to describe them as “countless pillars like rows of palm trees in the oases of Syria.”

The columns were made from pieces of the church that had occupied the place previously, as well as from destroyed Roman buildings, while the red and white stone and marble were found in the region surrounding the city.
Opposite the entrance is the mihrab, spectacularly adorned with 1,600 kilogram of gold mosaic cubes shaped into flower motifs and inscriptions from the Holy Qur’an. This is the latest and most sophisticated addition of the mosque and according to many one of the most magnificent mihrabs worldwide.

Interior of the Great Mosque of Cordoba
Interior of the Great Mosque of Cordoba

In the center, the serenity of the structure is interrupted by a resplendent cathedral that boasts light and vertigo into the low-ceilinged mosque. Like Carlos I, many Muslims regret the building of the Christian structure, saying it destroyed the serenity of the place, and it is not difficult to understand that Muslim worshippers feel offended when security guards brutally order them to stand up when they prostrate in reverence of such marvel, while up to today it is still in use for Catholic services. Several incidences took place in recent years, and Spanish Muslims have lobbied to allow them to pray in the cathedral.

But to say the sacred place belongs to the Muslims is historically incorrect as well. After all, prior to the mosque the soil was home to a Christian church. Rather than claiming it to be either Christian or Islamic, the site is the ultimate reminder of how intertwined the two religions are. For Muslims, the mosque may prompt them of the Islamic Golden Age, during which people of the three monotheistic religions lived together fairly peacefully. For Christians, the mosque is a living proof that Islam is not something alien to Europe: Its existence is intricately part of European history. In fact, it were the scholars in Al-Andalus who transmitted the works of Greek scientists like Aristotle to the hands of the Christians, eventually leading to the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, which rescued Europe from the Dark Ages and led the continent to blossom.

One of Cordoba's many patios
One of Cordoba’s many patios

Remarkably, the current monarchs of Spain directly descend from the Catholic Kings that expelled the Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. In a sense, they represent the continuation of the “Reconquista,” the reconquering of the peninsula from the Muslim rulers, which one may doubt if it is, in fact, a re-conquering, as there was no Catholic monarchy prior to the arrival of Tariq ibn Ziyad and his small army that came to the peninsula upon request from the Visigoths to intervene in their internal conflict.

The “mosque-cathedral” of Córdoba, as the site is often referred to, could be a symbol of Spain’s history at the crossroads of cultures and religions. It could be an example of how civilizations can flourish if they live and work together. It could be granted the status of museum, as the Turkish authorities did with the Aya Sophia in Istanbul, another junction of the Christian and Muslim worlds. The Aya Sophia was a church during the Byzantine Empire, became a mosque under the Ottomans, and in the twentieth century the authorities decided to secularize the building and open it as a museum.

Instead, the Catholic authorities chose to keep using the Mezquita as a place for Christian worship and continue the spirit of the Reconquista.


Cordoba in bloom: I would recommend anyone to visit Cordoba in spring, when nature is at its peak.
Cordoba in bloom: I would recommend anyone to visit Cordoba in spring, when nature is at its peak.

If you have a morning or even day to spare, another place just outside Cordoba and well worth a visit is Madinat Al-Zahra,

The ruins of the Arab-Muslim medieval palace-city give a unique insight into live at the time of the Arab rulers. The museum located at the base of the site is modern, interesting, and very informative.

Ruins of Madinat Al-Zahra
Ruins of Madinat Al-Zahra
Ruins of Madinat Al-Zahra
Ruins of Madinat Al-Zahra

In my next post about Spain, I will write about Seville. Not only did the hubby and I both fall in love with this city years ago, we actually met each other in this city… Stay tuned!


Running in the heat

Let’s take a break from my Spain holiday posts and talk about fitness instead.

Staying fit in Saudi Arabia can be quite challenging, especially as a woman. I used to have a membership for a ladies-only gym (very expensive!) and go there three to four times a week, but since we moved to a compound I have my ‘private’ fitness room in the backyard. Here, I run on the treadmill about three times a week and do some strength training.

Of course I am aware that running on a treadmill is nothing compared to the real thing and so I try to go to a bigger compound once a week for a ‘real’ run outside. And once in a while, we venture to the desert or the mountains for some sandy, cross-country fun.

Running in the sandy desert is a great low-impact workout.
Running in the sandy desert is a great low-impact workout. (Picture by José Ortiz)

The biggest challenge these days, however, is the heat. I always thought I tolerate hot temperatures pretty well, but during the last few weeks the heat started to affect my runs. What is worse than high temperatures though – in Jeddah the maximum varies between 36 and 40 degrees Celsius in summer – is the humidity. Usually, August and September are the months when humidity peaks, so this might explain my affected performance.

The reason running in high humidity is so heavy is that the moisture in the air prevents your sweat from evaporating from your skin, meaning your body loses an important cool-down mechanism. This is especially true when there is no breeze either. Luckily, after four years of living in Saudi Arabia I have gotten used to running in high temperatures. Read on for my personal tips!

(For more tips on how to stay cool while working out in the heat read my article, which appeared last year in the Saudi Gazette.

1. Slow down

Adjust your pace when running in hot, humid weather, such as during this Friday morning desert run.
Adjust your pace when running in hot, humid weather, such as during this Friday morning desert run.

Although the degree varies from one person to another (depending on your fitness, age, bodyweight, etc.), the heat is likely to affect your workout. Therefore, don’t expect to be able to do the same distance and/or intensity you would do on cooler weather days. It is ok (and probably necessary!) to slow down, do your intervals at a lower pace, and forget about that two-hour run. Once fall arrives, you will see you still improved your fitness.

2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Hydrate both during and after your run.
Hydrate both during and after your run.

Evidently, you are going to lose a lot of liquid during your run when the weather is hot, and your body will be probably screaming for water anyways, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it here: DRINK! While I usually rely on water even during longer runs, when it is extremely hot I feel my body needs some carbs and electrolytes as well to replenish those lost in sweating and prevent hyponatremia (low blood sodium). Nonetheless, you may still feel slightly dehydrated following a run in the heat, so keep drinking water or isotonic sports drinks throughout the day. I also like to eat fruits with high water content after a sweaty run. Think of orange, apple, (water)melon, or grapefruit.

3. Run early in the morning or late in the evening

Run early in the morning or in the evening on hot weather days.
Run early in the morning or in the evening on hot weather days.

You would not want to end up with a sunstroke besides the dehydration, right? So no matter what, do not run when the sun is high in the sky. I like to do my run early in the morning before the sun comes up, although humidity is often highest at this time of day so it may be smarter to start around sunrise. Working out around sunset or slightly after is also a good (and perhaps less humid) option.

4. Cool yourself prior to a run

Running a 10 km race in the Netherlands on a hot weather day
Running a 10 km race in the Netherlands on a hot weather day. (Picture by Hester Roth)

When you start running already feeling hot, chances are you won’t last very long. Out of experience, I can say it is easier to run in the heat when you felt cool prior to your start. This could help you especially when you are going for a short run or race. There are even athletes who wear an ice pack before the start of an important run!

5. Wear proper clothing

Running my first marathon on January 24 this year in Dubai
Running my first marathon on January 24 this year in Dubai

Most runners know not to wear cotton, especially not if it is hot and you are going to sweat a lot. While breathable, cotton gets very heavy when it is wet. Wear light colored clothes that allow your skin to breathe. A cap may be useful as well, though I always feel much hotter when I wear something on my head.

6. Stop when feeling unwell

We shortened our run a bit because of the high humidity we witnessed during a run in the desert. (Picture by José Ortiz)
We shortened our run a bit because of the high humidity we witnessed during a run in the desert. (Selfie by José Ortiz)

Knowing the early warning signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion will help you stop on time. Extreme fatigue, nausea, headaches, feeling cold, and dizziness are all signs you need to slow down or call it a day. Don’t try to be strong and proof to yourself you can endure, because you may be putting your life at risk!

7. Cool down!

After a run in the desert.
Run in the desert (Picture by José Ortiz)

Many people skip the cool down, but I personally need this time to slow down my breathing and body temperature, prevent low blood pressure later, and mentally award myself for the run I just did. On hot weather days, it is even more important to cool down before going inside the air-conditioned house or car, which can give your body a shock. If jogging still feels too intense, just walk for 1 or 2 kilometers until your heart rate lowers.

These are just a few tips I apply when running in the hot and humid Saudi weather. Yesterday, I got up at 4:15 a.m. to do a run in the desert just outside Jeddah at around 5:30 a.m. While the plan was to do 18 kilometers, I ended up running 15 in a pace much slower I would usually do, but it was nevertheless a nice (albeit challenging) run.

What are your tips for running or working out in the heat?


Spain: Marbella and Mijas

Following three busy days of exploring Toledo and Granada and a hike in the Sierra Nevada that turned out much longer than expected due to us getting lost, we decided to spend some very relaxing days on the Costa del Sol, one of the sunniest parts of Spain and despite the throngs of tourists flocking to this area every year still a gorgeous coast.

La Costa del Sol: nice beaches, beautiful surroundings, and flowers everywhere!
La Costa del Sol: nice beaches, beautiful surroundings, and flowers everywhere!

We rented an apartment in a small village not far from Marbella, as we didn’t want to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle yet we did want to be able to visit the town – known for the many Arabs who visit it every summer – easily.

Not a bad view while having breakfast, right?
Not a bad view while having brunch, right?

That appeared to be slightly more complicated than expected. Or rather, we made it ourselves quite difficult. You see, I love the idea of days spending on the beach or by the pool, reading my book and listening some music, but once I finally get the chance to spend a day just doing that I feel bored easily and want to move my body. So I convinced Ahmed to walk on the beach to Marbella, which was ‘only’ 10 kilometers away from where we were.

It turned out 10 kilometers may appear little for a marathon runner, but it should not be underestimated when walking over the beach. After two hours or so we were only halfway. The sun was burning on our head and shoulders (of course we went during the hottest time of the day) and we did not exactly feel like walking another two hours, not to speak of how to get back.

The Costa del Sol as seen from Mijas Pueblo.
The Costa del Sol as seen from Mijas Pueblo.

So we decided to walk to the highway and hop on a bus. But that was also easier said than done: once at the bus stop we saw this bus was only coming once every two hours or so, and – you guessed it right – it had just passed. We had no other option than to hitchhike or take a taxi to the town. The former resulted impossible, but luckily we did find a taxi who stopped and took us, charging us a fortune that was difficult to bear knowing that we had a cute little rental car parked right under our apartment.


Marbella, however, was well worth the journey. Though the tourist boom has undoubtedly taken part of its former charm, it is a well maintained village and beautifully located.

Mijas Pueblo

What we liked even more was Mijas Pueblo, a tiny village up the mountains that is famous mainly because of its stunning views. Having learnt from our Marbella experience (I haven’t even talked about the adventure to get back to our apartment in the evening!) we decided to take our car and drive up the mountain.

Chapel in Mijas Pueblo
Chapel in Mijas Pueblo

Although this village, the views aside, doesn’t boast of many attractions, it is mainly worth visiting because of its typical Andalusian character of whitewashed houses and maze-like windy streets. In fact, it is one of the most visited Andalusian traditional white villages. To make your experience complete, you can rent a donkey taxi to go up and visit the town.

Experiencing with my camera
Experiencing with my camera

Ahmed and I decided to do the climb up the village without the help of a donkey, and I had a great time photographing all the gorgeous views, houses, alleys and flowers.

Snapshots of Mijas Pueblo
Snapshots of Mijas Pueblo

The following day we were going to our next destination, Córdoba, where we both had been before but about which we were both happily surprised. I’ll write about that in my next post.

In Mijas Pueblo
In Mijas Pueblo

Curious what happened on our way back from Marbella to our apartment? We thought there was only one bus going back, and only every two hours, so to be sure we decided to take the one before the last. We were at the bus stop 30 (!) minutes before the bus departed, but somehow it left without us, because I was looking for coins to pay the tickets and Ahmed was busy on his phone booking our next hotel!

We didn’t want to wait another two hours, so we tried to hitch-hike (no one even looked at us) or find a taxi (there weren’t any). Somehow, we were so busy looking for other ways to get home that we missed the last bus as well!

We were quite desperate when a friendly bus driver told us there was another bus going to where we had to go; we had to wait another 40 minutes or so but that was totally ok for us!

Sneak preview of my travels in April and May!

Spain: Toledo and Granada

Last April and May the hubby and I did some amazing travels, about which I hadn’t find the time yet to write about and show you some pics. The truth is we visited so many picturesque places and saw so many stunning things that I simply don’t know where to start and what images to show you.

So I decided to simply divide our travels into several posts as well as to make some collages to be able to show you some of the places we visited. Today I will talk about the two first towns we drove to after landing in Madrid (we didn’t skip the Spanish capital but kept it until the very end): Toledo and Granada.


View of Toledo
View of Toledo

The small and amiable town of Toledo is located at only 70 kilometers south of Madrid and should be on anyone’s travel list. There is plenty to visit, but we went mainly for the stunning views.

The town, which may seem of little importance, has been the capital during Visigothic Spain, the capital of one of the richest Taifas of Al-Andalus, and of Castile, until the court moved to Madrid in the 16th century. The result is an interesting mix of cultures located on a hill and surrounded by hills, which offer scenic views of the medieval town.

One of the city gates

Though we only stayed one night, we did feel we had enough time to explore the UNESCO-enlisted old town. If you like to enter the cathedral and museums you may want to stay another night. We were happy we had only planned one day in this town, because when we woke up the next day it was raining cats and dogs, and Toledo is a town you only want to visit when the weather is good.


Fountain in Granadas new mosque
Fountain in the garden of Granada’s new mosque overlooking the Alhambra

While driving south, the sky cleared and a warm spring sun appeared. We checked in at our hotel in the middle of the center and immediately took off to explore the town, as we had booked only one night here as well.

Several weeks prior to our trip we had tried to book tickets for the Alhambra, the enchanting attraction most people visit Granada for, but they were already sold out. Although it is possible to obtain tickets on the day of the visit, it is very difficult and we decided to forget about it this time, given that we had already visited the Alhambra when we visited the town nine years ago, albeit not together.

The Alhambra

Luckily, we did manage to see the Alhambra from outside from the touristy Plaza San Nicolás, both during the day, around sunset, and at night, which allowed us to observe the architectural marvel in its full glory.

Not being able to visit the city’s highlight also allowed us to focus on different historical places that are also well worth a visit but are often overlooked by tourists due to time restraints, such as the Madraza, an old Islamic school with magnificent Arabesque decorations.

The Madraza is currently a cultural space of the University of Granada.
The Madraza is currently a cultural space of the University of Granada.

Walking around in the town, we both wondered why we hadn’t chosen Granada to study back in 2005. We met in Sevilla, which perhaps has more to offer for young students, but Granada is at least as beautiful. Plus, it is known for being a university town and has plenty of interesting places to go to.

The Church of Santa, located right at the end of Plaza Nueva, was built on the site of a former mosque and used the minaret for its bell tower.
The Church of Santa, located right at the end of Plaza Nueva, was built on the site of a former mosque and used the minaret for its bell tower.

One interesting neighborhood is Albaicín, the city’s old Arabic neighborhood, where the windy streets and whitewashed houses haven’t changed much since it was inhabited by the Arabs.

Albaicín is a wonderful place in itself, but its most loved attraction is the views it offers of the Alhambra, as both the neighborhood and the palace are situated on two different hills.

Visitors watching the Alhambra from Plaza San Nicolás
Visitors watching the Alhambra from Plaza San Nicolás

The area also houses Granada’s new Great Mosque, which offers views as stunning as from Plaza San Nicolás, but without the throngs of tourists and locals that gather at the square around sunset.

Tapas at Albaicín neighborhood
Tapas in Albaicín neighborhood

In addition to this, Albaicín is a popular spot for a drink and tapas. Not only has Granada very good tapas, they are also not expensive at all. Often, you will be served a tapa with every drink you offer.

Calle Galderería Nueva is a lively “souq-like” street full of teterías (tearooms) and shisha places

Descending from Albaicín we found ourselves in the middle of the huzzle and buzzle of Calle Galderería Nueva, a lively street full of small shops selling everything from Arabic-style clothing to accessories, tearooms, and shisha places.

By that time, we already realized we had made a mistake by only booking one night in this wonderful town, but we had already booked our next night elsewhere, so we could not change plans anymore.

Cahorros walk
Los Cahorros walk

On our way to the Costa del Sol we stopped by Monachil, a small town less than 10 kilometers away from Granada and gate to the gorgeous Sierra Nevada. We parked the car to do the Cahorros walk, a spectacular hike that follows a gorge, passes greener than green fields, and returns to the town over the mountain to offer incredible views.

Occasionally, we had to crawl during Los Cahorros walk
Occasionally, we had to crawl during Los Cahorros walk

The hike was a lot of fun, including hanging bridges, caves, metal handles to help you stay on the path, and sometimes the necessity to crawl to get past the overhanging rocks.

We did kinda lose our way (the route was not very well signposted) but to be honest I didn’t mind spending some extra hours hiking in this gorgeous landscape.

These were only the first three days of our trip, so stay tuned for more pictures and stories about the places we visited!


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