October 18, 2017

Moving out and in to a new flat

The newly introduced expat levy and the upcoming value-added tax of certain goods and services in Saudi Arabia finally pushed us to look for a cheaper housing unit. Well, we did not plan to move out of our former flat until we encountered a recurring plumbing problem that the owner didn't deal with quickly.

In a span of a week, we looked for a cheaper flat that is close to Michael's office. Fortunately, we found one that is old but a lot more affordable. We moved in to the new flat after a few days of cleaning and packing our things. It seems that housing units are getting more affordable since more and more families of expatriates opt to go back to their home country resulting in more vacant flats and villas. I guess that plumbing problem in our previous flat had been a good thing somehow.

While packing and organizing for the move out, I realized that we own a lot of stuff already - clothes, shoes, and some random things. It has been a reality check to keep us from buying anything that we do not actually need, not that we splurge when shopping but tempting promos and sales are always around the corner. So far, we're doing good and just buying basic necessities.

Few weeks have passed since we moved and we don't have problems in the flat so far. There are still some fixings to do but it feels homey already. Let's see how long we will be staying here (in this flat and in KSA) as prices go up next year. Still hoping for the best.

September 23, 2017

Search for something quite hidden

I have recently read about an ancient Christian church still standing in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. It was not the oldest but definitely one of the ancient Christian churches found, being a 4th century Assyrian church. You could read more about it from the Assyrian International News Agency website, here. I couldn't believe it at first - a Christian church in a country where Islam is born. By the time I found about it, we have been to Jubail once and wished that I have read about it sooner.

Our interest to see the church with our own eyes grew stronger when a few recounted that the ruins were accessible. The site is actually fenced and protected but it can  be accessed since parts of the fence were already broken. Fortunately, the location of the church was added in Google maps and we decided to follow it.

We drove to Jubail one Friday morning to see it finally. The map showed that the nearest establishment to the location was a hotel. There's also a gas station a few meters from where we took a turn. It was already noontime when we reached Jubail. What followed after were rough roads and a seemingly looking dump site. There were blocks of construction wastes here and there, and a gate with a sign saying it is a restricted site.

The gate was open so we continued driving with caution bearing in mind that it was supposed to be a restricted site. We looked around and drove slowly because we did not want to miss the ruins. I was expecting that it would be easy to spot since we saw a recent photo that it was still standing. We looked and looked and found nothing.

It was quite a frustrating trip. We wished that there was any signage pointing to its location, but I thought it may be too much to ask. If we'll have the opportunity to look for it next time, I promise to look harder and longer.

Imagine if this church was elsewhere, the ruins might have been more secured and probably a tourist destination. For now, we can only hope that it stays standing until our next search and for more people fascinated by history get to visit it.

August 14, 2017

Watching Lunar Eclipses

Observing the night sky is fascinating, especially with less light pollution. I have seen quite a number of astronomical phenomena and they all required some amount of patience, but the experience was worth it.

I had my first Geminids meteor shower almost a decade ago and I counted at least a hundred meteors from night until dawn. It was a public observation by an astronomical organization I was applying to back in college. I recall most of us (still awake) would point and give a shout as we see a meteor, while lying on our backs and trying to fight sleep. I could have made a hundred wishes that night but the experience itself was already magical.

I have seen quite a few eclipses. There was one time as a child when I purposely woke up around 3 in the morning to see a lunar eclipse. I only watched from our bedroom's window and saw the moon turning pale red. I thought that time that a roof deck would be nice. Fast forward to today when I am still on the lookout for eclipses visible where I live. My husband gladly joins me in watching eclipses when I ask him to.

It would be nice to own a good camera to document our observations. It's not in our priority so our smartphone cameras are enough for now. Here are some lunar eclipses that we have seen here in Riyadh so far.
Total lunar eclipse | 0457 H September 28, 2015 | Al Nahda Park
Total lunar eclipse | 0502 H September 28, 2015 | Al Nahda Park
It was too bright to observe in the city. We'd have to drive at least an hour away from the city center to find a place with appropriate darkness to see the night sky more beautifully. The brightness in the city is also the same reason why we haven't watch a meteor shower here. 
Partial lunar eclipse | 2030 H August 7, 2017 | Al Nahda Park
Partial lunar eclipse | 2030 H August 7, 2017 | Al Nahda Park 

A sky maps and star chart smartphone application sends updates about astronomical events to look out for, which is extremely helpful for us. It's easy for most people to miss some astronomical events especially when they are not as viral as other people's interests in the social media (if you spend so much time in social media anyway.) Fortunately, there are already a lot of websites and pages that you can look up on to read news and know events about astronomy like NASA, Space.com, In-the-sky, Astronomy Magazine, Sky-map, and more.

Here are the following solar and lunar eclipses to watch out for in 2018 retrieved from In-the-sky. You can read more about the specifics in their website.
Partial solar eclipse February 15, 2018
Partial solar eclipse July 13, 2018
Partial solar eclipse August 11, 2018
Total lunar eclipse January 31, 2018 (visible in the Philippines)
Total lunar eclipse July 27, 2018 (visible in Riyadh and in the Philippines)
I hope more and more people get to enjoy night sky observation and be immersed in the beauty of darkness. And to those of us waiting for the events to see, happy observation and carpe noctem!☺

July 20, 2017

Christmas Weekend in Bahrain

It was the Christmas weekend when we visited Bahrain by road. Coming from Riyadh, we drove for around five hours and spent almost an hour for the passport and immigration processes in King Fahd Causeway Authority. The queue of vehicles going through the processes in the border were long that weekend, or maybe, it's always long during weekends due to the influx of both citizens and residents wanting some time out of the country. The processes were fairly fast anyway since almost all of the gates were operating that time.

What were the documents needed?
Before visiting any places, we first read on about what we needed to prepare. For this specific travel, we had to be sure that we didn't forget anything since we were crossing border control to get to Bahrain. In our case, we did not need to apply for visa beforehand since visa-on-arrival are granted for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) residents if traveling by road. 

You can check your eligibility for a Bahrain visa in their visa service website here. Just fill out the information needed and the website will show you if you are eligible or not. Furhermore, we got the following visa conditions if travelling through the causeway:

Conditions for Causeway Visit Visa (Saudi Resident)
We brought our passport, original iqama (residence permit), and printed exit re-entry visa (for assurance). We then paid for the car insurance and visa-on-arrival fee of BD 5 per person which allows for a 7-day stay in Bahrain. After the checking processes went smoothly, we were welcomed into the country with the remaining length of the causeway.
Welcome to Bahrain!
Where did we stay?
We looked for affordable hotels that fit into our budget using different hotel search engines, comparing the location, rates, and amenities of each. When we found a reasonable place to stay in, we called the hotel to reserve a room but it turned out that they were not fully-booked that weekend so reservations were not necessary.

We chose to stay in Windsor Tower Hotel for a night. We were greeted by the reception and they asked for our passport (which they kept during our stay) and marriage certificate. We paid BD 25 for a night stay with buffet breakfast for two. 

Queen-sized bed, comfort room, and a small entertainment space
It was also our wedding anniversary getaway!
Michael, claiming our passports and receipt when we checked out

We did not encounter any problem staying in Windsor Tower Hotel. We loved our stay though the room would be much better if it were cleaner. The breakfast buffet were good and there were enough parking spaces. We believed we got a good deal with our stay.

What did we do/ Where did we go?
Since we only had limited time to explore, we only went to a few places. Despite the lack of sleep, we managed to attend the last misa del gallo in Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The mass was jam-packed with Filipinos and we definitely felt that it's Christmas for the first time in the middle east. There were Christmas decorations all over, bibingka and puto bumbong were sold right outside the church, and there was a beautiful nativity scene for everyone to see. Attending the Catholic mass was one of our reasons for visiting Bahrain and it was worth it.
Filipinos waiting, one after another, to take a photo in front
We were interested to visit the souq but since it was the weekend, the narrow streets were crowded with people and we had no idea where to park safely. Instead, we just drove around while looking at some stores and found our way out of the crowd after going 'round and 'round.
Where were we gain?!
Next, we came to see the Bahrain National Museum. Entrance fee is BD 1 per person. It was huge; we spent around two hours checking out all the displays and exhibitions there. We pretty much enjoyed exploring and reading the history and cultures of the country.
Michael, posing outside the museum
One of the displays inside the museum
We also had the opportunity to meet a friend and her family, who we haven't seen in years. We had our brunch together and caught up with what's going on in our lives. We only spent a few hours with them and we're definitely happy to see them.
Michael, cute Zach (their little boy) and me at the back; Lira and Miguel in front
Our weekend visit in Bahrain wouldn't be complete without going to one of the places that's missing in Saudi Arabia - movie houses. We do not always go to cinema, unless we really like a foreign movie or a really good independent Philippine film would be screened and probably wouldn't be distributed. Anyway, since it was December and a plenty of movies were screening that time, we went to the movie house - twice. We watched Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them in City Center, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in Seef Mall. We enjoyed the two movies, even if I'm not (yet) a fan of both wizards and jedis.
Took a photo before it got crowded
Lastly, we dropped by an old fort called Sheikh Salman bin Ahmed Al-Fateh. It was built in 1812 and well-preserved until now. I wished that there were tour guides here to tell the history of the fort. Nevertheless, the architecture, facade, and the overlooking valley were worth checking out.
Inside the fort
It was winter when we came to Bahrain
We might have a short time to experience Bahrain, but at least we still have a good list of more places to see if we ever find ourselves wanting to visit Bahrain again. Though we loved spending our Christmas there, nothing still beats spending the season of love in the Philippines with family and loved ones.

Few more months and it's Christmas again, listen to (and maybe download) this amazing Christmas album by Donewaiting and Each Note Secure:

June 28, 2017

Eid al-Fitr in Riyadh

This year's Eid al-Fitr, my husband and I chose to just stay in Riyadh throughout the holiday, except for that day-trip to Al-Khobar. Maybe some other time (if we are still here), we'll go to other cities like Jeddah, Makkah, or Abha.

Surprisingly, there were still a lot of amazing spots in Riyadh that we haven't been to. Most of these places were just an hour drive away from our home. We visited three new places that were recommended by locals and fellow expats. Here they are:

National Museum of Saudi Arabia
Entrance is only 10 SAR per person. If you enjoy museum visits and like learning through displays and artifacts, prepare to spend 2 to 3 hours reading about history and going around the exhibits. But if you're just passing the time and just want to check out the museum, an hour stay or less will do. The park outside the museum is good for picnics and to just chill out. I appreciated more the presentations and flow of this museum than the one we visited in Bahrain. They are both educational, anyway.
Rawdat Khuraim (The King's Forest)
There's a huge designated public area which can accommodate people who like to picnic and camp. The parking areas are also spacious.  We saw an herd of camels looking for food when we went. I think it's best to visit during winter or during the transition from winter to summer when the forest is booming with colors. During summer, the forest could be too dry, nevertheless, you would still enjoy it especially if love bird-watching.
Camel Trail 1
If you are into hiking, then Camel Trail 1 would be a good choice for you. You don't need a 4x4 car to come here, just be careful driving in the rocky roads. Trekking down and back the trail would take an hour if you're fast, and would leave you sweating especially in the heat of summer. Don't forget to bring your water and towel. The surrounding views are spectacular. We've been here twice and we usually met a group of two, who also hiked the trail.
We hope to see more places here while we have the opportunity. The circumstances for expat living in the kingdom are becoming more challenging every year. We hope to get as much as we can from the experiences of living here. :)

P.S. Sharing another nice song here. Have a listen!
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