Saudi Arabia Tour Guide: Jeddah: Living Amidst The Glitter

Saudi Arabia Tour Guide: Jeddah: Living Amidst The Glitter Last updated on Sunday 25th April 2010

If you seek the visually spectacular, Jeddah will never disappoint you. And there is probably nowhere more spectacular than Jeddah's floodlit Corniche in the evening, where over 400 open-air sculptures (pictured) provide a feast for the eye.

Their diversity is extraordinary, from the solid curves of Henry Moore to the poetic beauty of Mustafa Sunbal's seagulls in flight. Some may cause aesthetic ambivalence -- the cars embedded in a vast concrete block for instance. They are a good talking point, nonetheless, and in Jeddah everyone has his favourite sculpture.

Spectacular, too, is the gigantic fountain (pictured), situated opposite Al-Salam Palace, just across the water. It is said to be the world's highest fountain, exceeding even Geneva's famous jet d'eau by several metres. When floodlit by night, the fountain is visible for miles around.

After the Mahgreb (sunset) prayer, the Corniche springs into life, with Saudi families dining al fresco. Picnicking is a favourite local hobby, and is regarded as an ideal opportunity to get together for a family chat and a substantial supper. Vendors with handcarts roam the beach, selling candy floss, fizzy drinks and spicy chickpeas.

Giant funfairs have blossomed along the northern sections of the Corniche. Built in two sections strictly segregated by gender, these contain all the traditional rides and thrills, as well as a good selection of gastronomic fairground essentials.

For those whose dining requirements are more sedate, Jeddah offers a wonderfully diverse series of treats for the tastebuds. Whether your taste is for Middle Eastern, ethnic or international food, your expectations are more than met by the city's many excellent restaurants. The larger hotels offer well-priced, international menus of an extremely high standard. Worldwide cuisine is often 'themed' in hotel restaurants, so you can enjoy American, French, Mexican, Italian, seafood or whatever else takes your fancy on different nights of the week.

For those on a tight budget, Middle Eastern take-away restaurants abound, and many Jeddah residents maintain that it is these which serve the most delicious, reasonably-priced experience for your palate. Here you can buy the traditional shawerma -- thinly-sliced lamb or chicken, rolled with pickles, salad and french-fries into a delicious Arabic sandwich. Falafels are another great favourite -- these are deep-fried balls of ground chick peas, flavoured with garlic and herbs, and cost just a few riyals for a large bag full.

The ubiquitous fast-food chains also have several branches in Jeddah. In these, as in all other restaurants, there are always two separate sections; one for 'families' and one for 'bachelors'. Those whose party includes only men should eat in the bachelor section (sometimes known as 'singles'), which is usually situated in the front of the restaurant overlooking the street. The family section, however, is discreetly tucked away and usually has screened windows.

Eating out is perhaps Jeddah's favourite occupation, but shopping comes a close second. Jeddah's early traditions as a trading centre continue unabated in today's cosmopolitan city, and it is possible to buy almost anything in its souqs and shopping malls. Stick to the latter if you prefer to shop under cover in air-conditioned comfort, but for the more adventurous, the souqs have a great deal of charm and are still the main source of a good bargain.

Haggling is essential to all Middle Eastern shopping, although prices are sometimes fixed in the larger department stores.

Jeddah's status as a trading centre has been maintained down the centuries and many of today's major trading companies have their headquarters there. Two large, government-owned companies are based in Jeddah, too: the Saudi Arabian Marketing and Refining Company (SAMAREC) and Saudia, which is the national airline. Both these companies employ a huge work force, and their presence exerts a considerable impact on the local economy.

By contrast, industry still plays only a minor part in Jeddah's economy, although one industry which does seem to be thriving is tourism. Increased mobility, as a result of lower domestic air fares and better connecting highways, means that many Saudi nationals are now able to enjoy the delights of Jeddah as a holiday resort. Attracted by the Red Sea, the excellent restaurants and shops and the cosmopolitan flavour of the city, Saudis are now taking several short holidays a year, and Jeddah is an increasingly popular destination. Hotels report an increased demand for accommodation, and builders are finding that the demand for new residences is on the increase, as many wealthy families from Riyadh and other cities in the Kingdom are building holiday homes in Jeddah.

Jeddah's glitter continues undimmed, and no-one who has visited the city will be able to forget its unique atmosphere.

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