Day 2: Exploring Old Jeddah.
Jeddah can be divided into Old Jeddah and modern Jeddah.
Modern Jeddah is a huge city of 3.5 million people. Apart from hotels and shopping malls, it doesn’t hold much attraction for the visitor. The true gem is Old Jeddah – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major Red Sea commercial center dating back 1500 years. It has amazing architecture, interesting little shopping districts and of course, the opportunity to meet a fascinating melange of locals. The old quarter is not huge though, and a few hours is all it takes to explore it in some depth.
Highlights – the incredible old buildings with their traditional enclosed balconies – so people could look out onto the bustling street scene, but the street could not look in. I also loved the little markets selling mythical frankincense – something most of us have never seen and in most cases would only have come across in the bible, and yet in
Jeddah is available in huge amounts in the market. Jeddah has wonderful old carved doors and one could spend a day photographing these. They see plenty of foreigners, (almost all who are working in Saudi), but very few foreign tourists, and it’s always a highlight meeting locals. There are plenty of gold shops and plenty of local perfume shops. Arabian oud is is a fragrance made from agar wood- said to be the most expensive wood in the world. Oud can be 50% more expensive than the equivalent weight in gold! Another treasure to be found in Saudi are dates – perhaps the best in the world!
For lunch, I went to a branch of Albeik – Saudi’s answer to KFC! Massively popular and incredibly cheap, it was an experience in itself. Restaurants and shops all close for 30 mins, 5 times daily for prayer time so I found myself waiting in line with a group of Filipino workers, who I ate lunch with once we had our food in hand.
To end the day, I went to the waterfront to look at the biggest water fountain in the world – King Fahd’s Fountain – truly spectacular, and hundreds of local families had the same idea as me!
What struck me was that I saw very few women at all in the streets and shops during the day! But I saw plenty in the evening with their families. Interesting!