Guns and Roses in Taif, Saudi Arabia

I have been dreaming of going to Taif since 2019, to smell the roses, to roam in the mountains, to see how the perfumes are made first hand, and of course to visit Saudi Arabia finally. But it was not meant to be as in 2019 the tourist visa only unrolled in the end of September 2019, and the roses only last until second week of April.

In 2020 I finally visited the capital of KSA, and I was so eager to explore more, but as you all know, that was just not meant to be. I remember us sitting on the cliff at The Edge of The World and laughing about those asian tourists over there bringing all the corona, well, then we were not laughing any more.

2021 we were still not allowed to travel to KSA, and to travel much to be honest, so finally 2022 I made it happen.

Haven’t had much sleep after a week (or should I even say a month) of quite emotionally draining developments, I woke up at 3-30 am to get to the flight to Riyadh so tired that when I even got into the elevator to go down to get a taxi, I forgot to press the button and was just standing there for a minute or so, not realizing that nothing was actually happening.

Landed in Riyadh, changed the terminal to the domestic flights one, felt a bit sad not to have stayed in the city a bit longer, but adventures await. Few coffees later, and having replied to all the Instagram messages about what was I doing in Riyadh again, got into another Saudia plane to take me to Taif.

I always like to sit by the window, so I can see the terrains, and the cities, and the ships but this time I frankly was mostly passed out.

I loved the city from the first moment of smiling people greeting us at the airport, the fresh air and the greenery everywhere.

Went to check into our hotel, had some Saudi coffee, and went off to explore the Taif rose farms right away.

Even though traditionally one got to wake up rather early to pick up the flowers before they get affected by the heat, we still got to see a lot of flowers, which smelled divine… got showered in roses, drank rose tea after eating a generous portion of kabsa (finally!), and bought tons of nice smelling products.

The process of rose making perfumes is still quite traditional here and mostly done by hand. It is quite hot inside these rooms because a lot of boiling is going on, but thankfully the weather in Taif was still quite cool.

I mean you don’t need to do much effort to entertain me, so I was just happy to be there, to wear my rose crown like a princess and to look around and soak in the atmosphere.

Our trip was an organized tour by the company founded in the UAE, called Tamashee. They do sell sandals made in a traditional style incorporating different cultural elements of the Arabian Peninsula, and they also organize cultural trips across the region. We had maybe 7 people in our group, plus the founder Saudi lady with her husband, mostly girls, but also one Emirati guy who discovered he was allergic to pollen, so it was a very interesting to say the least experience for him.

Done with roaming in the rose bushes, we went to visit the Ruddaf park, which was very cute, full of families playing with kids, had some fantastic ice-cream and another meal that I have no idea what’s the name of it, with chickpeas and pomegranate. The park had huge rocks and a size of Dubai fountain’s fountain in the middle, that wasn’t operational at the moment, but hopefully brings joy to tons of people other times.

After that we went to Taif’s souq (or market), which was amazing… already quite decorated for Ramadan, full of life, spices, herbs, street foods, kids and joy. And it was also beautifully well-lit, which made me want to take pictures on every corner, but you can’t just be taking pictures of Saudis without asking their permission, so I tried not to.

While we were chilling in this square, a little girl aged maybe 5 came up to me and said: “Welcome to Saudi Arabia, I love you!” and ran away. So cute.

We got some shawarmas to eat at the hotel later on, but I honestly just couldn’t imagine eating another piece of food. Though the food in Taif is amazing! Even honey, which I usually don’t really like, is absolutely delicious.

Fast forward to the next day, we gathered for breakfast on the 6th floor of our hotel accompanied by the sounds of Mecca, which was constantly broadcasted on the TV over there to be informed that there is apparently no black coffee here, but I am very happy to have tea (even with a lot of sugar, which someone told me is bad for my heart, though I believe out of many things it is the least harmful). So of course, someone had to go to Dunkin Donuts to get the said coffee and the donuts as well, because snacking is a way of living.

Then we went to the mountains to Al Shaffa farms, where we found the most beautiful blue skies, fresh roses, people singing while picking them up and also cutest cacti and lizards running around.

Honestly, I don’t even have words to describe how amazing it was to to be there, to have experienced it first hand, and to have met all those people. I guess you can tell from the pictures that I was just happy.

We went to another farm afterwards, to have some more food, some more tea and share a few precious moments between ourselves.

After a generous portion of Saudi brown bread cakes, we needed a moment of digestion and tranquility, so we went to rest in the hotel for a bit. This is the view from the hotel by the way.

Re-energized and ready for new adventures, we set out on a road to Belad Tuwairq to see a stunning performance of a tribal dance called Tasheer with guns firing. Men and boys take weapons laid out in the bed of a truck and fill the barrels with gunpowder before, one by one, they take centre stage to showcase their skills in what is also known as the fire dance.

When we arrived to the location, we were again met with showers of flowers, more sweet treats and poetry reciting. It was heartwarmingly beautiful.

Then we got to watch the performance, which was terrifying but at the same time uplifting. Most of the tribe members were so young, and so excited… it was truly an unforgettable show. They even let us shoot guns afterwards, so for some reason everyone voted for me to go first, so I obliged.

Huh, what a day. They wouldn’t let women jump with the guns the same way they are trained to do, but shooting was cool as well.

To finish off this exciting day, we went to the farm where we found horses and palm trees, huge tent for gatherings and of course too much food 🙂

It was kind of sad to realize that tomorrow I would have to go home, but such is life. Everything comes to an end, enjoy it while it lasts. However, the adventures were not yet ready to finish.

Next day we went to explore Taif city a little bit more, and went to visit Beit el Kateb, which includes a number of Islamic decorations and Roman pillars. It was built in 1897–1898 by Mohamed bin Abdul Wahed, special clerk, when serving as a viceroy in Hijaz lived at this palace, named at that time Kasr Al Nyaba. Prince Bandar bin Mohamed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has also been in that palace. The palace has been abandoned since 1968–1969.

At the first look (and at the second look also) the palace had been closed for the visits and had a chain and a lock on its doors, which however didn’t stop us from entering inside (don’t tell anyone). The place was magnificent though hugely run down and honestly not sure about the integrity of the floors, and they were quite shaky under our steps.

I could do such a photoshoot in there (of course, the first thing that comes to my mind).

I wish I could tell you more about the details of this palace, but all the information was in Arabic and I wasn’t frankly really listening to what there was said.

Then we went to the museum, which was normally open from 4 pm, but for us it opened at 10 am so we were the only visitors soaking in the various sides of Saudi Arabian culture and history.

Very nice museum that I’d recommend everyone to visit if they have time for it. It also has a nice car section for those who are interested.

Afterwards, we went to buy the (don’t know if world-famous but at least for sure GCC-famous) chicken at Al Beik restaurant… where we spent lovely 20 minutes waiting for our order being stared at by maybe 40 guys, as of course apart from us there weren’t any other ladies… and off to the Taif airport.

The Taif airport, it was also quite an interesting experience to live through. At first they asked us for Tawakalna app (the vaccination app), but since we are tourists, we just showed them some papers that they didn’t want to look at and told us just to Ta’al. Then the check in counter person asked if we have the boarding pass in our phones, okay then you can just go (you maybe would wanna see my passport at least? no? Tayeb, ma assalama). We also had like 3 liters of water each of us, that they completely ignored at luggage check saying isssssokkaaaay.

Next thing was the waiting lounge area with the boarding information, which informed us that our plane will be there at 13-55 instead of promised 12-50. That frankly wouldn’t leave us any time to get the luggage from Riyadh airport terminal 5, and then take a bus to terminal 2, check in, drop the luggage and so on… so that wasn’t great. However, the customs officer said that we shouldn’t worry and the plane inshallah will be here when we need it to be.

Once the plane (alhamdullilah) arrived, the boarding announcement sounded precisely like this: “Guys, the plane, it is here so go in the plane”. No flight number, no destination, just do it. For this I got to love and hate Saudi so much at the same time, how they are so not organized, but how they always make it work somehow.

The rest of the trip was safe and uneventful, Riyadh was still there as well as Dubai. The bag of roses in hand luggage for each passenger made us all smell lovely.

I hope you enjoyed this small introspect into my 2,5 days spent in Taif, Saudi Arabia.

Much love,

Anna

2 thoughts on “Guns and Roses in Taif, Saudi Arabia

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