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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

Made in Sweden…

Day 107/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia during Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia. Wow! I have known people who have come and worked in Saudi Arabia, like my good friend Don Romano, President of Hyundai Canada, when he came to work here after leaving another car company in Canada, but I never thought I would ever be visiting Saudi Arabia, but yet here we are! We have sailed the Red Sea, and now we have a day in Jeddah, and not only Jeddah at any time of the year, but at the holiest time for the Islamic faith; at Ramadan.

Living in the Western world, we heard about Ramada because we have a muslim friend or colleague who we may have seen fasting during the daytime, but me, like most probably never really looked into what is so special about Ramadan. So why is Ramadan so special anyway and why the fast?

Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims. The Prophet Mohammed reportedly said “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained.” Muslims believe it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islams sacred text, to Mohammed on a night known as “The Night of Power”. During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline- of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God, extra prayer, increased charity and generosity and intense study of the Quran. But if that makes it sound super serious and boring, it is really not. It is a time for celebration and joy, to be spent with loved ones. At the end of Ramadan there is a big three-day celebration called ”Festival of the Breaking of the Fast”. It is similar to our Christmas for Christians, when everyone comes together for big meals with family and friends, exchanges presents and generally has a great time.

Festive signs in Jeddah, celebrating Ramadan much as we Christians would decorate for Christmas!

Ramadan banners and lights in the historical old district of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Our visit to old Jeddah today was different for us, since I was going on the Women’s Tour and Richard was going on the included tour of Jeddah. Both were included tours as there were no optional tours of Jeddah or other places in Saudi Arabia. We were told that during Ramadan for non Muslims we were not allowed to eat or drink in public to respect the fact that the citizens were all fasting during daylight hours.

Well this is going to be interesting! 96F and no water allowed while we are touring around the old city of Jeddah! And our tour is 4 hours long.…hmmm????

Richard’s tour left at 9am and his bus proceeded to take him down the Corniche to view the waterfront of Jeddah. Jeddah has what they call a ‘Sculpture Museum’ along the corniche which brings together more than twenty of Jeddah’s world famous sculptures in an area known as ‘Al Hamraa’. The project to beautify the waterfront was started in the 1970’s to bring modern art to Jeddah. In Islam it is not permissible to make figures in the form of animate beings such as people, birds and animals. The Prophet Mohammed said that “The makers of these images shall be punished in the Day of Resurrection and it will be said to them: Give life to which you have created.” So the images along the corniche are not of people, birds or animals for this reason.

Sculptures along the 35 km long corniche (beach drive) in Jeddah.

An interesting looking building.

After about a 45 minute bus ride, Richard’s tour ended up at the same place as my 9:30am Women’s tour started.

The Alforda Gate, one of the original six impressive gates to the old walled city of Jeddah that were built to protect the city from the Portuguese attacks coming from the Red Sea. The wall no longer stands, but the gates are still standing and are an impressive entrance to the old City of Jeddah.

The City of Jeddah is known as the ’Gate to Mecca’ or ’Bride of the Red Sea’. Jeddah has been a gateway for pilgrims travelling to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and of supporting their family during their absence from home.

UNESCO has recognized Historic Jeddah as A World Heritage Site because the old city still fully conveys the image of what this Red Sea commercial and pilgrimage city used to be. Its historic houses have not been substantially altered by modern additions and the high ‘Roshan tower houses’ are mostly well preserved. Under the ’Saudi Vision 2030’ project which involves a strategic framework to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and promote a ‘softer and more secular image of the Kingdom’, the government has assigned a ‘Minister of Culture‘ and part of their mandate was to ensure the old, historic City of Jeddah was restored with an investment of $4.8 billion. Everywhere we looked there were structures being repaired and cladding covering up buildings and areas that were currently under repair.

Cladding which covers up the restoration projects in the old city of Jeddah. The building with the Tiffany coloured blue window shutters used to be the U.S. Embassy in Jeddah, which was moved to Riyadh in 1984 when Saudi Arabia had all embassies moved from Jeddah to the capital of Riyadh.

This building is under restoration. The worker who was not working, was sitting under a fan.

A close up of the cladding in historic Jeddah.

More cladding and construction in historic Jeddah.

Founded in the early 7th century, Al-Balad ‘Old Town’, spread over just one mile, served as Jeddah’s commercial centre before the 1970’s oil boom and is home to 650 historical buildings made of coral stone, limestone and wood. It served as an ancient trading port and the primary gateway to Mecca for pilgrims. Some of the buildings in Al Balad are more than 500 years old, but most are between 200-300 years old. With carbon dating some of the buildings have dated back 1,400 years and some have been preserved by the Saudi Ministry of Culture to make them look as good as new. There are 56 buildings at imminent risk of collapse in Al-Balad which are being restored in stages under UNESCO guidelines, using original materials as much as possible for the restoration. Coral stones have been cut into uniform shapes to be reused in a more practical way and the typical wooden ‘rawasheen’ balconies will be restored where possible, or replaced as a last resort. The rawasheen balconies let breezes flow into the buildings, providing shady perches and privacy so those inside can see out, but those outside cannot see in. No two rawasheen are the same, with varying degrees of detail and different colors representing the trade of the houses’ owner. Green indicates the owner’s business was fresh produce, blue that there was a maritime connection.

An example of a rawasheen balcony on a historic home in Al-Balad, Jeddah.

A house in a state of disrepair in old Jeddah.

I do love the colour of the paint on this home, despite the state of the home.

The balconies on these buildings were very beautiful and this home was under renovation.

Looks like someone ran out of blue paint to finish the paint job on this gorgeous carved door.

Same with this door. The cracking stone wall with the ornate metal on the door is beautiful though in its state of disrepair.

Deserted streets of the old city of Jeddah. Interesting that there is graffiti on the one wall. I would have thought that was very much frowned on, in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another building under repair in historic old Jeddah.

A very beautiful restored building in old Jeddah.

Another restored building with nice windows.

The minaret of one of the mosques in old Jeddah with the speakers that blast out the ‘Call to Prayer’. We were walking with our tour during the 12:30pm call to prayer and our female guide had us stop what we were doing, rest, stop talking and wait until the call to prayer was over.

We came across a lovely parkette in old Jeddah that had a nice big shade tree, with tables and chairs all stacked up. Since it is Ramadan, our guide explained that once the last prayer is finished for the day, friends and families gather in the park and there are food carts and places for people to enjoy time together outside under the hanging lights.

A nice parkette in historic old Jeddah with tables and chairs all packed up for the daytime.

While our guide was pointing out something across the way, me and Margaret parked ourselves under the large tree to try and get some shade from the hot noonday heat.

Beautiful lanterns hung in the shade tree.

While we were sitting, Margaret looks up and sees the label on the bottom of the lanterns which we thought were from Saudi Arabia and says “Doesn’t that label look like those lanterns are from IKEA?” I said “They sure do” and got in closer with my camera to take a close up.

GOKVALLA collection from IKEA, made in Sweden, if anyone is interested in purchasing replica lanterns from Saudi Arabia for their backyards this summer!

What a hoot! Imagine….all the way to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for Ramadan to see IKEA lanterns!

In Saudi Arabia 82% of the population use Social Media and Instagram is allowed and to be an influencer in Saudi Arabia a permit must be purchased which costs 15,000 Saudi Riyals ($5,401 CAD) which is good for 3 years.

Opportunities for taking photos to post to Social Media accounts are set up throughout the historic old town of Jeddah. In this photo the carpets are pulled up to avoid being stepped on during the day.

Another place for an Instagram or Facebook photo opportunity in the old walled city of Jeddah.

Next to the Makkah Gate another Instagram opportunity during Ramadan to take photos with friends and family and post to social media.

Baan Makkah. Jeddah- Makkah Gate leads out to the holy city of Mecca. The three arched gate has seen hundreds of millions of pilgrims make their journey from Jeddah to Mecca, which is 45 miles of 73 km inland from Jeddah in the narrow sandy ‘Valley of Abraham’.

We had wandered from one side of historic Jeddah to the other side, without any water, and we had endured 2.5 hours of walking. Our guide was doing her best to conduct the tour wearing all black in the 96F heat, when usually she says that during Ramadan when they are fasting, everyone either stays home, or the work week is reduced to only 5 hours per day. Luckily as part of our tour, we were going to a tea house to be able to rest, take some mint tea and water to drink, while sitting in a private living room.

The cafe we were finally going to stop at for a drink of water and tea in old Jeddah. I had left my water bottle on the bus because we were advised no drinking or eating would be allowed off the bus, while on this tour, because of Ramadan. When I asked our guide if we could drink water in public her reply was pretty clear “You are not fasting for Ramadan, so yes you can have a drink.” And if we were being brought to a cafe for a drink being served to us by Muslims, then why could we not drink our own water from our water bottles as we wandered aimlessly through old Jeddah? A very strange situation and since Viking was in Jeddah last year on the World Cruise for two days, you would think maybe what we could and couldn’t do, would have been passed down to the people running shore excursions this year on the Neptune?

Outside of our ‘oasis’ in the middle of old Jeddah.

Our guide Selma. She was married at 14 and the agreement was she could finish her education. She has a University degree and is a PR Specialist. An interesting choice for a tour guide? Or perfect for our sanitized tour!

Artwork in the cafe.

More artwork in the cafe.

An interesting way to use chairs.

Some of the couches we sat on to rest and enjoy a mint tea and some water.

Our tea maker.

The Hajj was on tv (above) and every Muslim who makes the pilgrimage to Mecca is required to walk around the Kaaba (stone in the middle of the picture on the tv) seven times during which he or she kisses and touches the Black Stone. Legend has it that the stone was originally white but has become black by absorbing the sins of the countless pilgrims who have kissed and touched it.

Many women on our tour wanted an opportunity for some shopping once the shops opened at 1pm, after the 12:30pm call to prayer. Our guide walked us back through the very hot streets, now reinforced with some water bottles in our hands, to the shopping area near the Al Fordha Gate where the buses were going to pick us up at 1:50pm. We had about 45 minutes for shopping.

As we were walking back to the shopping area our guide took us in quickly to a local bakery which had been in the same family for generations. The bread was coming out of the hot oven very quickly and our guide encouraged us to take a piece of the long crunchy bread to nibble on as we walked.

The bread sticks tasted of anise and other spices. It was not sweet, but it was nourishment, so I took a stick and ate it while I walked in the streets of old Jeddah. I know, I’m a REBEL, but our guide did condone it.

The produce store was open for business.


All manner of pants for sale. Definitely no elephant pants in this shop! Everyone on the Neptune now has a pair of elephant pants after visiting Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India! That is the joke on board as everyone wears elephant pants like we would wear sweat pants or lululemons back home.

Misbaha or prayer beads. 99 beads are usually on a string of bears which corresponds to the Names of the God in Islam.

Oh yes. We did some damage shopping in Jeddah. Me and Margaret with our many purchases! I had purchased the Abaya I am wearing before I left Florida, last year. I wanted to make sure I had something modest to wear while in Saudi Arabia, to ensure I was fully covered. The rules around what to wear for women and men were to ensure our shoulders were covered and also our knees. Wearing an abaya was very cool, despite the long sleeves, since the abaya is very flowing and is made of cotton.

We finally jumped back onto our bus around 2pm and went immediately back to the port with our guide. We tipped our guide ($5USD) and she was not expecting a tip. Richard’s guide refused all tips, saying he was well paid as a guide and did not need the tips.

I was very glad to get back to the ship for a non alcoholic mint julep, open faced roast beef sandwich, and the cookie of the day, after I got through Immigration, and took the port shuttle back to the Neptune. I jumped in the shower as soon as I got back to the cabin and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening trying to make up for the lost fluids I had missed during the day.

We could see there was some delay on the port side of the ship because an officer kept coming off the ship to speak to a guy with a cell phone on the dock. There was a lot of animated discussion until finally we saw a truck pull up and the pilot for our departure jumped out of the truck about 6:15pm. Our scheduled departure was supposed to be at 6pm, so it was wonder there was some animated discussions taking place on the pier.

The pilot was not on for very long, since it was a very short sail out of the harbour until we were on our own and onto our next port.

Pilot boat coming to get the pilot off the ship as we left the harbour in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Day 108/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. A sea day.

Just a short note on today as we have a very early start tomorrow for our day in Petra.

We have a private tour of Petra and Wadi Rum booked for tomorrow. We have to be outside immigration by 7am so that we can see both places and be back on board by 5pm tomorrow. Viking did not offer a tour that went to both Petra and Wadi Rum and we are using Memphis Tours for our excursion which was recommended by people who were on the 2019 Viking World Cruise that I had met virtually on the Cruise Critic Board for this World Cruise with Viking. Being younger than the demographic on this cruise and knowing there will be at least 5 miles of walking tomorrow, I wanted to make sure we were able to do it at our pace and not the pace of a lollipop guide with other people from the cruise.

I will leave it there for now, so I can get some rest. Petra has been on my bucket list for many, many, many years and I am so excited to be finally going to Petra tomorrow! Depending how tired I am when we get back will determine if there will be a blog tomorrow or it may have to wait until the day after Egypt, which is the day after tomorrow.

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Cathy Vee Volpe-Paul
Cathy Vee Volpe-Paul
Apr 10, 2023

You are an AMAZING WRITER. Thank you for all that you share as well as your terrific photos.


Allan Yoshimura
Allan Yoshimura
Apr 10, 2023

Sounds as if Richard's tour was different from yours. Last year my wife did the women's tour and I did the regular tour. They were essentially the same, but my wife said her guide did give a lot of interesting insight from a woman's perspective. We were in Jeddah two days and then in Yanbu, Saudi, the next two days. I found it very interesting to be on the first cruise ship to visit Saudi. We spent our second day in Jeddah going to the Red Sea Mall which was an adventure. We went into a couple of homes in the old city in Jeddah which was interesting. In both Jeddah and Yanbu we got an appreciation of the inv…

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