Sunday, March 30, 2014

The President of the United States Visits Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!

          Today was an exciting day, at least for me, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!  Names were submitted from two different Army units.  Thirty-five from my unit made the “cut” to go see the President of the United States (POTUS), Barack Obama!

            Imagine the excitement! After two short bus rides, we arrived at the Ritz Carlton, known for its uncompromising luxury and beautiful esthetics. President Obama was in Riyadh to visit His Excellency King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz (Custodian of the two Holy Mosques) to discuss nuclear negotiations with Iran and the Syrian civil war. The Secretary of State, John Kerry was also in attendance.

           The President was also here to honor Maha Al Muneef, the executive director of the National Family Safety Program. She was selected to receive an award for her empowerment of woman and her campaign against domestic violence in Saudi Arabia.

            I didn't get the opportunity to say all that I had rehearsed if I were given the chance to talk to President Obama, but I did receive a hearty handshake from him………one in which I will never forgot!

All the best,


Friday, March 21, 2014

GMarie's Page was Featured Blog in InterNations!


            Today was a great day! GMarie’s Page was featured as a recommended expat blog for Riyadh Saudi Arabia at!  My blog was selected for its quality and content.  Take a peek…..

Gina: GMarie´s Page

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Riyadh, etc.

I grew up in New Jersey but now make my home in South Pasadena, Florida. I am a U.S. Navy veteran and I have a daughter who is 25 and two grand-daughters; 3 and 4 years old who reside in California. After 20 years of federal service, I decided it was time for a change and started applying for positions overseas. I accepted a position and moved to Riyadh in September 2011.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

Initially, when I started my blog, it was to keep in touch with family and friends and to minimize sending multiple emails and pictures to everyone especially from a place where I consider the internet service to be a bit slow. So a month before I arrived in Saudi (August 2011), I got the idea to blog my experiences from subscribing to other blog sites. Blogging would be the perfect venue to get my information and pictures out to everyone who considered living and working in Riyadh.

Do you have any favorite blogs?

My favorite blog that I keep up with are Susie’s Big Adventure and American Bedu. After blogging about a year, I had the pleasure of interviewing American Bedu’s Carol Fleming-Al Alroush, who has since lost her battle with cancer in May 2013. These two blogs were very informative for me before making my transition to Saudi Arabia.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Riyadh differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

There are several things that make my life different from back home. Besides the typical shopping and dining out, I have experienced the woman only spas (Almutaka) and woman only floors in malls (Kingdom Tower). I miss not being able to go to the beach as often as I used to, but I found I can do that in Jeddah. I also miss going to the movies, but our library on the compound in which I live does a great job of keeping up with the latest movies. I also notice the stares I received around town. So I asked my friend, who is Jordanian what she thought it was. She said, two things; my hair (I wear mid-back length dreadlocks) and just being uncovered. So, I cover up in town now, just to blend in and take away some of the attention. I would say that the biggest culture shock would be the separation of the genders. Single women have to sit in the family section of a restaurant, wearing an abaya everywhere I go around town, and the enforcement of store closures during pray times, to name a few. Women are not allowed to drive here but we have drivers that take us just about anywhere we want to go. So, with the traffic in Riyadh, not driving is not such a bad deal.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Riyadh? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

Based on the information I received from other expats, reading the information on the two website’s mentioned above and becoming well informed about the Arab culture, I believed I was totally ready to make the transition to Saudi.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

The incident that comes to mind was when I first arrived at Riyadh Airport. When my flight arrived in Riyadh, I got on line right behind a male who was in front of me on the plane. The “needle scratched the record”! The whole place had an awkward silence!! I immediately realized that I had gotten on the wrong line and was not where I was supposed to be as a female; all the way to the right with all of the others. With several dirty looks in my direction, I hurried to the right line. When it was my turn to approach the customs desk, I handed the officer my passport and visa then began to inform him that my sponsor was waiting for me past the baggage area, he cut me off and told me to, “Go sit down!” I guess that was my punishment for forgetting my place as a woman in the Kingdom! They say the duration of a child who is being chastised with “time-out” is based on age, so I figured 51 minutes in time-out would be way too long for a punishment. So after about 15 minutes, which much apprehension and my heart beating quickly, I approached the desk again. This time, I quickly told the officer that my sponsor sent me an email that he was waiting for me, that I work for the U.S. Government and that I was on a Diplomatic visa. He gave me the once over, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. Scary stuff!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Riyadh?
  • Bring a good hair moisturizer! The climate is so dry and the water is hard on your hair.
  • Bring openness to diversity; different cultures and languages.
  • Be patience to the way others do things which may seem different from where you are from.

How is the expat community in Riyadh? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

The expat community in Riyadh is great! As a liaison for the Saudi Arabian National Guard Hospital contracting department and the U.S. Army contracting department I get to meet a lot of like-minded people from all walks of life. Saudi Arabia is one of those places where you have to be creative in finding things to do. So, this assignment allows me the time and autonomy to move around Riyadh finding plenty of topics to blog about and receive instruction by pros and near pros in the game of golf.

How would you summarize your expat life in Riyadh in a single, catchy sentence?

Catch me and my adventures on my blog called GMarie’s Page!
             I love my day job and I love sharing my views, observations and experiences abroad. To sum is all up, Confucius says, “If you chose a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life!” 

To read other expat adventures, please check out InterNations’ website at:

All the best,

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

                 I traveled to Dubai from Florida twice; 2005 and 2006. I remember there being “more cars than road”,lots of people scurrying around town ….fabulous architecture and the best shopping! Eight years later, Dubai is more cosmopolitan, has more fabulous architectures, a metro system and who would have believed that I am now living and working a little more than an hour flight from Dubai (“City of Gold”)! 

            Dubai, along with Abu Dhabi, the capital city, and five other emirates make up the United Arab Emirates. The other emirates are Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm. The UAE colors are red (sacrifice), green (prosperity), black (dignity) and white (purity).  

          Dubai, which sits on the Arabian Desert, bordering nearby Oman to the east and Saud Arabia  to the South, is known for the world’s largest dancing fountain, the Burj al-Arab, Burj Khalifa, the tallest building and the Palm Islands which is the largest artificial islands. 


            Dubai is the perfect weekend getaway to break from the “ordinary” with its fine dining, night clubs, and for those of us living in a “dry” region such as Riyadh and would like to partake in a bit of libation, this is the place!   Dubai, synonymous with shopping, can please any purse or wallet holder, especially during shopping season (January-February and July-August) where the sales are absolutely the best! 

            The Fairmont Dubai hotel was my choice to stay. I did not want to be too far from what was going on but also didn’t want the “party” to be so close to “home”. The Fairmont Dubai is a 5-star property that is very well maintained and located minutes from the Metro stations, airport and Dubai Mall. The rooms and bathrooms are modern, clean and spacious and there is a spectacular scenic view of the city.

            Within minutes after the flight and arriving at the hotel in about fifteen minute by cab (by a woman driver!), the first stop was the The Spa @ Fairmount Dubai. The spa was very luxurious with curved ceilings, sculptured walls, and large pillars….kind of like the Roman emperor era. The men and woman facilities are segregated but each offering similar spa treatments and ambiance.  I opted for the treatment called the “Time Zone” which is a 90 minute invigorating massage followed by a 30 minute facial. Now I was rejuvenated for whatever the evening would offer!

            The Fairmount had several restaurants that offered an assortment of yummy entrĂ©es. The choice for the evening was a place called Spectrum on One. But on Thursdays it is called Dupper, which means dinner and supper combined. The restaurant’s concept has eight cooking stations with cuisines from Japan, Middle East, China, Europe, Thailand and India, endless cocktails and a DJ. 350 AED (Emirati Dirham) seems like a lot, but truly worth the money!  

            The Dubai Mall, the largest in the area, was the selection for the day. There are over 1200 shops (mid and high end), an indoor aquarium and an ice skating rink. I had my sights set on the Louis Vuitton store!

           Before departing the mall after five hours of shopping and carousing each level…..yes, you heard right, five hours!, we came upon an event that was sponsored by Beauty Connection Spa.   The Beauty Connection, a day spa located in Dubai, had over 100 manicurists at the mall to try and set a new Guinness World Record for the most nails filed and polished in eight hours. The manicurists were to file and polish 50,000 nails to beat the previous record (previous record was 2572 mini-manicures) that was set by Priceline and Sally Hansen in 2011. All proceeds went to Rashid Centre for Disabled. Although the shopping wreaked havoc on the purse, it made my trip to Dubai worthwhile!

            Most cities have some type of touring agenda. Well in Dubai, there is the Big Bus Tour. The tour uses the hop-on, hop-off approach. When you see some structure or venue that is interesting, you hop off and can take the next bus when you are finished exploring. The tour has earphones with recorded commentary about sites along the route. The Big Bus is, I believe, the best way to see most of Dubai in a short period of time. We embarked the bus at the Wafi mall. The Wafi Mall is a mall influenced by Egyptian architecture, mosaic carvings, sculptures and multiple pillars….very nice!

            On  the tour, we passed by the Dubai World Trade Center, a business complex that houses various events and exhibitions and the Jumeirah Mosque which is considered the most attractive in Dubai with its interior that is decorated in  Arabic calligraphy.

             Next on the route was the Burj Al Arab, considered to be the only 7-star hotel in the world, is structured on a man-made island.  Each suite come with its own private butler and the hotel has an underwater seafood restaurant!   

              The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure (828 meters and 160 floors), was completed in 2010 and was next on the route. This construction that dominates the Dubai skyline has nine hotels and towers over the entrance of the Dubai Mall. For a spectacular view of the city, Burj Khalifa’s has viewing decks. 

            A familiar structure, if you have ever been to the Bahamas is the Atlantis on the Palm. This construction stretches almost a mile into the Arabian Gulf and is located on the Palms. The Palms is the three largest artificial islands in the world. When I visited Dubai in 2005, these islands were well under construction. Each island is shaped like a palm leaf. To see is to believe, that these are man-made!

          There is way too much to see and do in Dubai in just three days. If I had more time, I would have went and checked out the Global Village. The Global Village is open late November to late February.  Each country set up a small village and has replicas, food and such so that you can experience those regions as though you have travelled there. 

             Dubai definitely met all of my expectations; quick getaway, fun, relaxing and as, you see…..I did not have to wear an ABAYA!!!

All the best,