One of the main reasons I agreed to move to KAUST when the offer came up was the opportunity it provided for travel. Basically, being plonked in the centre of the middle east probably means I’m going to have the opportunity to travel to places nearby that I may have not considered had I still been living in the UK.
So, what are the choices?
A quick google search will show you the destinations that are accessible by a direct flight from Jeddah airport, it’s a fairly surprisingly long list to be honest (109 to be exact) – and if you aren’t able to get there on one flight, living close to hubs such as Dubai and Doha mean that a short connecting flight later you can be (almost) anywhere in the world. I say almost, I tried to plan a trip to Boracay in the Philippines for Paul’s thirtieth and I think there were about three separate planes, a coach, a ferry and a hoverboard needed in total to get us there. Needless to say that plan got scrapped.
As wonderful as KAUST is, there is no denying that occasionally it can get a little claustrophobic which is why long weekends are very popular with the folk that live here. Taking a Thursday off, hopping on a plane and spending the weekend in a more relaxed atmosphere can do wonders for the soul – so much so that there is rarely a weekend here when someone we know has not jetted off for a couple of chill days out of kingdom.
Popular places are:
Bahrain which is a 2.5 hour direct flight from Jeddah for under 200 GBP, I haven’t been but I believe Bahrain is most known for its more relaxed laws around alcohol and it has a thriving nightlife, attracting expats from stricter countries (like Saudi) who need to recharge their batteries.
Dubai, around a 3 hour flight for around 200GBP return, Dubai differs slightly in that it is a well-established tourist destination; the city has wonderful buildings, feats of engineering and architecture, and lots of things to do. Take your wallet however as things can be pricey in Dubai – as well as the beautiful shopping malls just begging to take your cash, the alcohol prices are through the roof – think 15 GBP for a glass of average wine.
Abu-Dhabi another of the UAE takes around 3 hours for between 2-300 GBP return. From what I have heard this is a smaller version of Dubai, not as much to do maybe but still some wonderful architecture, waterparks and many flash cars.
Beirut in Lebanon is a very popular weekend destination here in KAUST, alongside the freer atmosphere and nightlife (not restricted to hotel bars here) there is also a historical element to the city – obviously not found in Dubai/Abu Dhabi. The flights take around 2.5 hours and again 2-300 GBP return.
Jordan is another great weekend destination, especially if you can manage to squeeze a day trip to Petra in which many people I’ve spoken to here have done. Again it’s around a 2.5 hour journey and approximately 3-350GBP return.
Alongside these you have choices such as Doha, Egypt, and many more – then a whole other list of places a little too far away for a weekend break but maybe for a longer holiday. Sri Lanka, Europe and India are especially popular with the community here.
Another excellent travelling opportunity is that KAUST actually have a scheme in place which helps us to see more of the country we are living in. We have just had three trips in the first quarter announced – Riyadh, Al-Qassim and Al-Ula which gives community members the opportunity to see some wonderful historic sites in Kingdom. The beauty of these trips is that you pay and then just turn up; everything else is organized for you – including your 5* accommodation. Swanky!
We also have some other, more low key trips arranged intermittently by the University. The Winter Enrichment Program schedule was released a few weeks ago (in a nutshell the university has enrichment programs every quarter based on a different theme – e.g. Fall Enrichment Program back in October was based on marine biology, this time it is based on Climate Change and so on. Each program is a two week schedule of events, lectures, films etc open to the whole community to educate and share knowledge on the chosen topic). Anyway, for this Enrichment, they have scheduled a stargazing seminar followed by an overnight camping trip in the desert to look at the constellations. Unfortunately you have to attend the initial seminar to qualify for the trip and as its in work hours I cannot go which I am so upset about! They have also arranged a trip to Jeddah to go to the historic quarter, visit a few different museums, some art galleries and learn some history about the city. We are definitely going on this one as it’s on a weekend – hooray!