After months of anticipation and transition, I am finally in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with my husband on a house-hunting trip. The journey itself was unremarkable, air travel without children is painless. And now that I have my Kindle. . . well, the entertainment was constant!
We arrived in the Kingdom rather late, so my first view of the city was rather enchanting with lots of lights, wide streets, and light traffic. In fact, the scene smacked of Las Vegas, minus the casinos, but with all the shopping. Our hotel is very nice, comfortable and quiet.
We started our house-hunting the next morning. I've read as much as I could about western-style compounds in Riyadh. The main idea behind the compound is to keep clashes between the Western and Saudi culture to a minimum. Westerners are able to live a western lifestyle without offending the Saudis. On the compound, women do not wear abayas or scarves, but are free to wear their regular clothes. Segregation of the sexes isn't enforced on the compound. There are a variety of activities and programs planned for children and usually several swimming pools to use.
Security on the compounds has become an issue since a few compounds were bombed in the early part of this century. Several compounds stepped up security and our visits reflected the increased/improved security. I was startled by this fact when we visited the first compound. I could hardly tell that we were approaching a compound as the area all around seemed to be in the midst of a construction project. There were fences with barbed wire and then a long corridor of barricades with speed bumps strategically placed so one must drive very slowly and carefully through the corridor to the first gate. At the first gate, you must stop your car and let them inspect it. Then they give you permission to drive through, again through a second corridor of barriers and speed bumps. At the second gate, you must present identification and usually confirm your appointment with a resident or staff member. Sometimes this process is easy, other times, it can be tense.
Once you've made it through the second gate, you are inside the compound. Usually the manager's office is connected or close to the recreation facilities. The facilities can include: restaurants, coffee shops, exercise gym, rooms for exercise and activity classes, game room, bowling alley, meeting rooms, a nursery school, lending library, mini-market, tailoring shop, dry cleaner, gift shop, squash courts, indoor tennis courts, etc. The main pool is usually outside the recreation center with satellite pools dotting the compound. One pool we looked at had a wonderful water slide and then featured a wave pool every 30 minutes. Most places also had a covered kiddy pool, which will be a very good thing, if I can convince my toddler to play in the water. Outside, there are tennis courts, basketball courts, and soccer pitches.
The homes in the various compounds run the gamut of styles. Some are strictly functional and very utilitaritan, while others are elaborate and almost seem like echo chambers. Most houses were furnished (which is a bonus). There were only a couple of places which struck a good balance between cozy and cavernous. We want a decent amount of space, but functionality and form are also important!
We liked the following places: http://www.eidvillas.com.sa/aintroduction.html
The challenge we are facing now is availability and price. Right now the demand for housing exceeds the actual availability. As a result, the prices are skyrocketing. At one compound, the manager named prices that had doubled since he listed prices in April. There were a few available units, but we have to speak for them right now and then pay a deposit (refundable).
So today we've spent a lot of time emailing and phoning people to arrange for a deposit.