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Logan's Run

Thursday 12th June
Just for a change, today was another scorcher. We drove into the 'old' section of downtown Riyadh, and saw a bit more of how the locals live. We parked the car and walked up and down one of the local streets, only to find that every shop was either dealing in mobile phones or was a barber shop - and obviously I don't need a barber!! Then it was over to one of the local squares, As Sa'ah Square, which was quite modern compared with its surroundings. There was a building here that appeared to be something to do with the government but I took a photo of it anyway(!) as the police car parked outside guarding the building was unoccupied. (Tan later found out that it was likely to do with the Religious Police - oh well, if I don't make it back to England....). The fort next door is actually called the Massmak Palace and has a museum inside it.

The heat today was extreme, possibly the highest it's been since our arrival. Although recorded at 45c, it was much more than that in direct sunlight. We could only walk in it for 20 minutes before having to take cover in the shade. After a rest from the heat back at the hotel, we headed off to the Kingdom Tower. This time we went up to the top of the tower and to the observation deck, the curved walkway that you can see in the photographs, so that we could watch the sun go down. The view was stunning, although the skies were very hazy and dusty, so the photos are not as clear as I would have liked. We stayed until darkness (just after 7pm) but agreed to return on a clearer day.

Friday 13th June
Well it was Friday 13th for me, as I was unwell and stayed in my hotel room all day. Tan ventured back into the old town for further exploration and lived to tell the tale, as well as bringing the car back unscathed!!  Have I mentioned Tan's driving before? No, then all I'll say is hold on tight ;-)

Saturday 14th June
Although still not feeling well, it was back to work for two more assessment interviews. Again we were first in and last out - this is becoming a regular occurrence now! The breaking news story that never was, happened in our office building when we almost managed to get into the lift with two Arab women who had their faces uncovered - unfortunately an Arab man was (intentionally?) blocking our path and we never made it. Geez, that was close!!

After a trip to the Carrefour hypermarket it was back to the hotel for dinner, alfresco style by the side of the hotel pool. Very pleasant it was too, as they had portable air conditioners on the go (remember, this is outside!) and those mist sprayers that spray fine water droplets above your head to help you keep cool. Not seen those since I was in Palm Springs.

Sunday 15th
Four assessment interviews were scheduled for today, but things don't always go to plan with customers so we only ended doing two of them. The winds had returned today and so outside dining by the pool was not available. The affect of the winds was extremely poor air quality, with the dust and sand clearly visible in the air and even the locals taking measures against it with the petrol pump attendants all wearing face masks. (By the way drivers don't fill up their cars, the attendants 'recruited from other countries' do it for you).

Monday 16th - Wednesday 18th
The next few days followed the same as Sunday. The high winds and dust/sand storms continued, so the less time spent outside the better, so our schedule looks like this for Sunday through Wednesday:
1. 08:00 Meet up with Tan in the hotel foyer and get a taxi
2. 08:10 After getting past two sets of security we arrive in our office
3. 18:00 Anytime between 17:30 - 18:15 leave work and get a taxi back to the hotel (we usually walk back to the hotel but current weather conditions mean this is not advisable)
4. 19:00 Meet up with Tan for a buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant
5. 20:00 Return back to our rooms for the rest of the evening
Repeat these steps until the weekend comes around!!

The glamorous life of a consultant in Riyadh, eh? Remember, there are no bars, pubs, cinemas, etc. in the very strict Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Although saying that..... our hotel is on the doorstep of the Riyadh equivalent of Tottenham Court Road. All around us we are surrounded by high tech stores selling anything and everything to do with PCs, laptops, servers, networks (heaven for me I know!) but outside on the pavement are these street vendors selling counterfeit copies of DVDs, software, perfume, sunglasses, etc. All in view of the security forces permanently stationed in their two jeeps outside the hotel (by the way, did I mention the concrete barriers outside the hotel entrance to prevent terrorist activities...don't worry mum, I'm ok really!). Anyway, I won't say that I've bought any counterfeit goods, but at 10 Riyals each - approx 1.43 - some of them look a good bargain ;-) Indeed, after a spot of haggling you could potentially get 7 for 50 Riyals which works out at 1.02 each. Anyway, all that's hypothetical if you don't buy any (cough, splutter...).

Yes, but what about work?
Yes, we are still doing lots of work, although people failing to turn up for meetings makes this difficult at times, meaning our schedule has to remain very 'flexible' but at least now we have finished all of the assessment interviews - albeit spread over 5 different days and answering two sets of questions ourselves!! The highlight of the week being the ISO20000 Awareness Session planned for Tuesday. The half-day session had already been requested that we reduce it to 2 hours, which is a struggle, but then just one person turned up. So we canned that idea and will run it again at some stage.

The last 24 hours or so has seen some frantic discussions and negotiations with the project plan timescales, in order to meet some demanding requests from the customer, the result of which means we are coming home 2 weeks early at the beginning of July and will likely resume work later in the summer.

Well, that's more than enough for the week two. An early update this week because on Thursday me and Tan go on our 600 mile round-trip to Bahrain for a one night stay. We have been forewarned that driving conditions through the desert will likely be difficult due to the continuing high winds and sand storms, so it should be an interesting trip. Plus, we're ready for a well earned (alcoholic) drink :0)

Stay tuned next week for news on Mark and Tan's trip through the desert.....and hopefully back again!




  (C) 2008 Mark Sykes