You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
The shopping in Riyadh has two very different flavours, on one hand there are huge malls where a westerner would feel totally at home, and on the other there are the rich and colourful souks where bartering is a skill and a pastime in itself.
A souk can be an intricate maze of shops that follow a general pattern, for example the Gold Souk, the Date Souk, the Fabric Souk and the Carpet Souk. This souk theme carries over into small shops so that you will find clusters of similar businesses in the same area. We have visited souks in Istanbul, Cairo and Bahrain as well as Riyadh. Imagine going to a farmers’ market and squashing the stalls together so that they are arms length apart from their neighbour across the passage. Mix this with a touch of Arabian Nights and then throw in the challenge of negotiating a price for every item.
Jewellery here is sold by the weight rather than workmanship and visitors can pick up some real bargains in the gold souks. Our favourite is the Al-Zal (Carpet) Souk near the Mamsak Fortress by "Chop Chop Square" (don’t ask about the name)! This 40,000 meter square souk can trace its history back to 1901, to the start of modern Saudi Arabia. Masmak Fortress is the place where, in 1902, the kingdom’s founder and a small band of his companions captured the governor and announced the return of the Al Saud family.
The etiquette is that you only barter if you are willing to buy an item for the right price and Debbie's general rule is to offer 20% of what they first ask for and then walk away, if they follow you more than a few paces there is a chance of a deal! The shopkeepers want you to buy, but they also want to sit and talk and practice their English. There is no sense of urgency and they will often offer you cold water and refreshments. The Spice Souk is special treat in itself as you are given samples and the smell is rich and almost tangible.
Peter and his wife Deborah have a home in Waipiata and in this blog he aims to contrast life in Saudi Arabia and Central Otago.