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Tourism in Saudi Arabia – the new big thing?

Yes, I think so! (once Covid is a distant, bad memory).

I just read a recent article in CNN about all of the incredible changes that Saudi Arabia has undergone in the past couple of years since the new Crown Prince came into power. One of the main pictures in the article itself is interesting, with two attractive women chatting alone at a coffee shop, their long hair perfect and flowing (and showing). https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/saudi-arabia-fun-tourists/index.html

I don’t think this article would have struck me so much if I hadn’t visited Saudi Arabia a few times last year for work. I mentioned in an earlier post in which I asked if Saudi Arabia is the new Spain how you could see how the country was undergoing changes by the day – contacts there were telling me it was even hard to know what the rules were as things were changing by the day (actually this is the same way I feel right now with all the Covid restrictions…). When I first visited (September 11, 2019) I covered my head and was nervous to look at people in the eyes (see post here). By the third trip I felt more confident and comfortable, even visiting a large outdoor mall by myself in the evening without a head scarf (this was after talking with local contacts and assuring myself that this would be fine). Some trip pictures:

I remember having conversations with companies in 2018/2019 before traveling to KSA and listening to Saudi Arabians tell me about all the international tourism plans, infrastructures being built, etc, all part of their Strategy 2030. Inside I was thinking, “Really?!”

Now Saudi Arabia wants to be a top international tourist destination, but is this possible? I think there is still a long way to go, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years time it is. Just the pictures alone of the Red Sea resorts, snorkelling, amazing desert landscapes – it certainly has a lot to offer. First, however, the country will have to be very clear and open about its acceptance of all kinds of people and rights for women. They will have to make tourists feel welcome and willing to travel there. Second, they better fix their visa process! The last time I visited there was a new tourist visa upon arrival that had just began (not for me as I was traveling for business). Considering the extremely complicated (and expensive) process of applying for a business visa, I would hope the tourist visa will be much more agile and less expensive.

I would be willing to try it out for sure. Once travel resumes again (in general) and for work, if I have the opportunity to travel back there I would definitely take the opportunity to be a KSA tourist if possible, before travel exploitation begins.

Volava (Spanish Peloton) – big thumbs up!

I’m loving my new Volava bike! I never had or used a Peloton bike back in the US (they launched almost 7 years after I moved to Spain), but I thought this might be interesting to US expats here.

Before having kids I was obsessed with spinning classes; I couldn’t get enough. Then once my first kid was born I couldn’t get enough sleep…

I’m an avid runner and have always maintained that with my kids being born, and it’s also the easiest and less time-consuming exercise to do. However, I’ve still always missed the spinning classes but never returned just because of the time commitment.

We just purchased the Volava bike (a copy of Peloton). I’m obsessed! I’ve already done quite a few of the live classes, and there’s a huge library of recorded classes to choose from. For me the most important aspect is the instructor, and so far they’re all great. Great music, great exercise, and hardly any technical issues (just a little complication with the heart rate monitor). There are classes in English too, although to be honest I prefer listening in the instructor’s native language and haven’t tried out the English ones yet.

Photo courtesy of my 4 year old exercise buddy

Although I do still miss the actual live classes in person where you can look around you and see everyone else struggling (I mean having fun) as much as you, it’s awesome and convenient to be able to do it from home and still have a fun workout. Definitely recommend it if you’re into this – and this is coming from someone who’s an avid exerciser but a hater of gym machines like treadmills, ellipticals, etc.

Getting called out during a live class
My exercise buddy pretending he has a mini Volava

When a “puente” means a lot more than a bridge

This weekend we have a “puente”, literally translating to a bridge, but it’s much better than that. A “puente” is basically a long holiday weekend, some longer than others depending upon the holiday and the number of days. We always have the “puente of December” which includes Constitution Day on the 6th and the Day of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th. This year we have next Monday and Tuesday off since one of the holidays falls on a Sunday.

Due to Covid restrictions Madrid has a perimetral confinement in place from the 4th until the 14th, so we can’t leave the community of Madrid. However, since the restriction in my town was lifted on Monday I’m not complaining – we can finally cross the frontier to another town!

Happy holidays (weekend)!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow? Good thing the pre-packed turkey at Supercor reminded me.

With all the Covid craziness these days I’ve almost forgotten that Turkey day is tomorrow. Although I’ll admit that the endless amount of Black Friday offers coming my way these days are a hint (by the way offers all in Spanish and with no mention of nor relation to Thanksgiving). Given all the restrictions we have with meeting in groups of up to 6 and curfews, and actually not even being able to leave our town at the moment, we won’t be having much of a celebration this year.

In any case I was pleasantly surprised to see a large selection and display of ready-made stuffed turkey options at the Supercor supermarket today. Granted the idea of throwing a pre-made turkey in the microwave isn’t the same, but it’s something. Actually the brand that they have at Supercor is one from which you can order online and receive a fully-cooked Thanksgiving meal. I had it a few years ago at a friend’s place, and it was actually pretty good. But not cheap – almost 100€ for an 8/10 portion box

In case anyone’s interested it’s Cascajares – https://cascajares.eu/es/

Apparently they also have Black Friday…with Thanksgiving Turkeys.

Covid-19: heading into week 4 of our town’s confinement

This is what confinement looks like on a beautiful, late November day… not judging (I was there), but interesting to share. Once again, still very thankful for so much nature close by!

Local confinement + great weather = packed main park areas and terraces

When a sausage hanging on the wall is normal

It didn’t phase me today when I noticed a half-eaten sausage hanging from a nail on the wall in our kitchen terrace. Keeps it fresh right?

Yes… I think this may be a sign of “spanishization”

There he is, the hanging sausage
Right next to the water heater. Makes sense I guess. He’s not bothering anyone

Still in lockdown in Majadahonda, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

I haven’t written a post recently since there hasn’t really been much to tell. Since a week and a half ago my town has been in perimetral lockdown, meaning that we can’t leave the town and no one can enter (unless for justifiable reasons like work or medical appointments). Supposedly these restrictions will continue until Nov. 22nd (just in time to hopefully buy a turkey for Thanksgiving).

To be honest, this isn’t something that’s really too much of a hassle, especially during the week since you usually just work and then are at home. And these days a lot of people are working from home anyway. In my case my office is fully open as it’s a campus and we have courses fully running (with strict security precautions), but my weeks are a mix of WFH/office. Where it’s more noticeable is on the weekends since we can’t go very far or to the Sierra for example. All I have to say is thank goodness we have a great mountain/forest area near where we live. So lucky to have our Monte de Pilar so close by! The best discoveries have been the amazing views (according to my kids) of the cercanías trains that pass by and this cool tree hut that my husband found on a bike ride one day. Hours of entertainment 🙂

On a positive note it seems like things may be working as cases in our town have gone down from 700+ /100,000 habitants to less than 500. Slow and steady wins the race? But on a more positive note there’s this news about the upcoming vaccine of course. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but since it’s already being hyped all over the news I will. I’m hoping that by late next spring/early summer we can really be starting to see big changes here. I’m already looking forward to going home to Boston and going to the beach (without masks). Ojalá (Let’s hope!)

Leadership during times of crisis and Madrid Covid-19 – some thoughts

Does anyone really understand what’s going on in Madrid or the current Covid-19 confinement measures? If so, please fill me in! Literally, every day there are new rules or restrictions, rules that have changed, new confined areas, etc. I have never seen communications and messages change so quickly and be so confusing at the same time. Now I completely understand that this is an unprecedented and very complicated situation, and I know the government is trying to figure out what they think is the best way to handle the escalating crisis, but let’s get back to Leadership 101 and Communication skills for a minute. Maybe I’m influenced by the fact that I work at a business school, but I’m seeing the result of unclear communication in action…

Image: dreamstime.com

Two words: Transparent and Clear

Leaders should be empathetic and honest with people, being transparent in their messages. At the same time the messages should be clear. Otherwise, you’re just adding more confusion and uncertainty to the crisis.

Hey leaders! Here’s an article that might help you!: https://www.forbes.com/sites/joyceearussell/2020/07/26/leading-in-times-of-crisis/?sh=66e4cf116ed2

In general if you listen to any conversation these days around here it’s about how confusing everything is and people not knowing where they can go and not. How can the government expect people to comply with the rules if we don’t even understand them?

One thing I’ve seen happen continuously as well, apart from confusing rules is that the government or towns will announce that there will be some new restrictions and will give a bit of detail, but the restrictions won’t be in effect until a few days from then. Why give so much notice if it’s only going to create more uncertainty? A little time I can understand, but I don’t see the need to wait 3 days, announcing something early Friday that won’t take effect until Monday.

On Monday most of my town, Majadahonda, went under lockdown (you can only go in and out for specific reasons like medical appointements, work, etc.). I say most of my town since specifically the area where I live wasn’t confined. Now, just 4 days later it’s been announced that starting Monday (yes, in 3 days) my area as well will be confined. So now all of Majadahonda is under confinement, but does that mean I can travel freely within the whole town (i.e. can I go to Mercadona that’s in “the other zone”? Some people think yes, some people think no. All I know is that I’m going to run any errands for things I need this weekend since I won’t be able to starting Monday (and this is exactly why they shouldn’t announce restrictions with so much advance notice!)

I spent a good amount of time studying a pdf map of my town with the confined areas marked off to try to figure out where I could go and not. You’re talking to someone who can get lost in a parking garage…now I’m studying pdf maps with a magnifying glass. This can’t end well…

Covid-19 may lead me to a new profession??? – cartographer

Clearly Spain isn’t the only place where things are getting worse – France and Germany just announced tough restrictions. Apart from Australia and New Zealand, it looks like everyone is riding the second wave. In any case, as I always say, I just hope that these measures actually do something and prevent the virus from spreading further. And prevent us being confined inside our homes -again!

Vote! I just submitted my absentee ballot – easy!

It was actually much easier than I was expecting to cast my overseas absentee ballot. A few years ago I also voted and had been in touch with the town clerk where I’m registered in Massachusetts. I just emailed her and only had to follow two steps:

1. Email back a scanned Absentee ballot request form

2. Email back the absentee ballot and affidavit form.

That’s all. So don’t think it’s complicated and not vote. Get in touch with your town clerk and vote today! The US needs some intelligence in office.

Absentee ballot
Yep. There they are – the big whigs…