Reviews of a Gourmet Snob: Jaan, Singapore

A friend of mine recently came into possession of a stack of CapitaLand vouchers, and while looking for a place to dispose of them, we realized that the entire Equinox complex perched atop the Swissotel Stamford — not long ago the world’s tallest hotel — accepts them.  What better excuse for a birthday splurge at my near-namesake, the newly renovated Jaan?

Making reservations at Jaan is hard, not because it’s so popular, but because you have to go through the Swissotel’s centralized system and they usually just refuse to answer the phone.  But reserve we did, and I asked if I could bring along a nice bottle of Lebanese wine…  to which I was told that yes, certainly, but a token corkage fee of S$100 (about 5x the cost of the bottle) would be charged.   Yowza!  Scratch that then.

We showed up at 7 PM, along with two other groups of customers, only to find the entrance to the restaurant closed.   After five minutes of drumming our fingers and collectively wondering if we were in the right place, somebody finally showed up and let us in; not, perhaps, the best way to treat your customers.  The view from the floor-to-ceiling windows on the 70th floor is impressive, although I was mildly disappointed to find us facing towards the endless housing block jumble of eastern Singapore, instead of the rather more dramatic Singapore River, banking district and Chinatown area.

Jaan offers 5/8 course tasting/degustation menus for $180/250 (plus around $100 extra for wine pairings), but we decided to go for a la carte.  The a la carte menu was fairly stripped down: half a dozen appetizers, three Poissons et crustaces, three Viandes, and half a dozen desserts, all listed in French and English.

Amuse-bouche

Prawn and mango ceviche with kaffir lime froth, served in a shot glass.  This was just terrible, a pretentious attempt at fusion that didn’t work on any level at all.

Super-skinny breadsticks (crostini?) with squid ink-parmesan puree and butter.  A work of art in appearance — if not for the waitress’s explanation, I would’ve thought what appeared like a bunch of twigs in a glass was a table decoration — and very tasty too, especially the subtle sea flavors of the squid ink dip.

Appetizer

His: Tartar of Hokkaido sea scallop with dabs of oscietra caviar and a spray of random vegetables ($68).  The one whole grilled scallop was mindblowingly tasty; the tartar paste was just generically fishy (and I usually love raw scallop).  The grudgingly dribbled caviar came atop halves of baby potatoes, and the veggie side dishes included artichoke, asparagus and peas, carefully boiled and laid out into a strip not unlike a Japanese garden.  A little uneven, but pretty good.

Hers: Foie gras ice cream (!) and a layeed foie gras pastry of sorts ($5x?).  This was really, really good, especially the pastry-thing: the pureed foie gras with a little crunch from the pastry with a little sweetness and spice from the sauce just hit all the right spots, and while the idea of mixing goose liver and ice cream sounds pretty disgusting, it worked quite nicely.  Best dish of the evening.

Main course

His: “Duo of Pigeon”, two halves grilled in red-wine-type sauce, plus a miniature salad with two pigeon legs served cold in a mild Chinese-style sauce and pats of apple-ginger(?) compote ($68).  The grilled pigeon was quite OK, if no match for the duck at Kafe Warisan; the teeny tiny little legs were very tasty, but, well, teeny tiny.  In all, competent but unextraordinary.

Hers: Pumpkin soup ravioli with popcorn and black cod a la plancha with bacon bits ($5x?).  Yes, bacon bits, and intensely salty ones at that, which pretty much obliterated any taste the cod (already plenty salty in itself) might have had.  I snagged one of the raviolis and kind of liked the intense sweet soup within, but she didn’t, at all.  Quite disappointing.

Dessert

I was somewhat intrigued by the offering of le bar “Snickers” with ice cream ($20), but in the end, we just shared some chocolate mousse with white chocolate vodka sorbet ($22).  The sorbet was quite good, although the vodka was hardly noticeable, but only a single spoonful was served and it melted pretty much immediately.  The mousse came wrapped in a unidentifiable and quite tasteless red jelly wrapper and was quite dense, so much so that it was hardly a mousse anymore, but hey, it was chocolatey.

And finally, the house plied us with little violet-colored lavender pastries (very sweet: I liked ’em, she didn’t), orange peel dipped in chocolate (usually a favorite of mine, but these were kind of blah), and a miniature Madeleine-type pastry flavored with almond (?), all served on a metal plate engraved with “Jaan by Andre”. Ooh.

Drinks

Jaan has an extensive wine menu, spanning the globe (albeit with an emphasis on French) and the gamut from $90 to $17,000 bottles (a Chateau Margaux), but they do not offer wine by the glass.  We (fine, she) opted for a Beni di Batasiolo Barbaresco 2003 ($160), which was a very good choice: a very light and drinkable red, which paired quite nicely with the fish dishes as well.

My eyeballs were set rolling, though, by their other drink menu: this is the first time I’ve seen a water menu in a restaurant, offering everything from artisanal Welsh well waters to bottles from Japanese mountain springs, all (needless to say) at ridiculous prices, some north of $20 for a 0.5L bottle.  Our pick of a very lightly carbonated Saint-Géron ($12.50/750mL) was OK — at least it’s better than Evian.

Overall

The damage done came to just over $500, easily my most expensive dinner in Singapore (or, on second thought, anywhere), and we didn’t even order from the expensive end of the menu, which had things like Kobe beef steak for $125.  The service was very good, the views were nice, the setting was OK, but I couldn’t help but feel that, at these prices, the food was a bit of a letdown.  I doubt I’ll be back.

A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Kuwait International Airport

Kuwait, the airport, is just weird. Entry into the terminal is through a bizarre scrum of four gates leading to different check-in areas for different airlines, with cars honking at each other outside and a constant flow of passengers, trolleys and porters trying to squeeze through both in and out. If going to Zones 2 or 3, you first have to trudge through an honest-to-Allah multilevel shopping mall, complete with Debenhams department store and Harley-Davidson outlet; on the other side, finally, lies Check-In Zone 3 for local LCC Jazeera (crammed full of pax) and Qatar (almost queueless). After a brief scare of demanding proof of my Singapore residency, successfully bluffed by flashing my Access Card (which is no such thing, but has enough state seals, embedded photos and IC contacts to make it look terribly convincing), I was checked in and could start wondering how I’d spend the next two hours.

The inside of the airport is old-fashioned but well-maintained. The gates go from number 1 to number 26, which might make you think KWI is pretty big, but unfortunately everything between 7 and 20 appears to be missing. There’s a boozeless but nonetheless amazingly popular dutyfree (why, I know not; an iPod Shuffle 1GB costs nearly twice what it does in Singapore), a McD’s/Pizza Hut, a Costa Coffee, and that was it. Except for a Ghiraoui chocolate boutique, which I inspected in detail, playing a fun game of “spot the chocolate” by comparing the unlabeled pralines with an illustrated brochure, and eventually handing over my last five dinars to the equally bored (but rather cute) Filipina salesgirl in exchange for rather more than 5 KD worth of chocolate.

On the way in it was the ammo boxes, on the way out it was the soldiers: none in full uniform, mind you, but those GI Joe haircuts, desert camo everything and combat boots are a bit of a giveaway. Even some of the Filipina ladies were toting about “US Army Reserve”-branded bags.

And that was that. Boarding was ordered, we were marched into the airline by tube (no buses here), and the Kuwait Towers loomed on the horizon as we did a few turns and then set off to Doha and home.

A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Kuwait City

Kuwait was rather more fun than I expected. My arrival wasn’t particularly propitious: it took me over an hour to get my on-arrival visa, I was stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the hotel, the city was wreathed in a persistent slow-motion sandstorm for the first three days, filling the air and even the swimming pool with dust, and at work half the hardware on site was missing and the customer’s idea of reasonable timelines was rather different from ours. But the Courtyard Kuwait City is a mind-bogglingly amazing hotel for a Courtyard, our partner’s technical people were actually competent (such a refreshing change from the usual), and Kuwait had one immense advantage over my previous work site: it’s not Saudi Arabia.

It only slowly sunk into me how different these two “conservative Islamic” countries are. Yes, both ban alcohol and pork and like to execute drug smugglers… but that’s about it, as in almost all other things, Kuwait is infinitely more laissez-faire than the Saudis. Women can, and do, wear pretty much what they want, with a remarkable array of head-turners at the (ultra-expensive) Arraya Centre mall next to the hotel and some even lounging about in bikinis at the hotel pool. Music in public is allowed, which — even subconsciously — just makes a huge difference to how lively a restaurant or shop feels. And while prayer calls were piped into shopping malls and echoed along the streets, nobody cared if you trotted off into the mosque or not. Saudi papers, and streets, and TV shows, are full of effusive paeans to the Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques HH King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and the vast tentacular branches of the al-Sauds; Kuwaiti papers, on the other hand, are full of Parliament debates, squabbles between voting blocks, elections, demonstrations and all the noisy trappings of a democracy; while Kuwait certainly isn’t a real one, it certainly feels like one, and even the occasional paeans to the wisdom and sagacity of HH the Amir were usually tucked away on page C17.

Above all, though, the best thing about Kuwait is just that you could feel at ease: in Saudi, you’re always a little on edge, not even because of the ethereal threat of terrorism but just always being a little unsure if you’re staying within the tightly prescribed boundaries of Allowed behavior…

The downside to visiting Kuwait in late June, though, is the heat. After the dust storm and its momentary (comparative) coolness wore off, the mercury crept closer and closer to 50 degrees, making the daytime feel literally — not figuratively, literally — like a sauna. Metaphoric saunas are usually associated with humidity, but no, the real thing is actually quite dry, and that’s how it’s in Kuwait too: you can walk outside for a few minutes, thinking “gee, now that’s hot”, before you start to sweat. But the evenings were quite tolerable, and even the daytime furnace heat was almost enjoyable if spent at the Courtyard’s breezy rooftop pool, which by afternoon had heated to the point that the jacuzzi next to it was usually cooler.

A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Doha to Kuwait

QR132 KWI-DOH Y A321 seat 14F
QR137 DOH-KWI Y A320 seat 18ANear-identical planes, identical service. On the tarmac in DOH before boarding, we stood in the bus and watched box after identical box of what was most probably ammunition for the war in Iraq, all marked with orange “EXPLOSIVE” diamonds, being loaded into the belly of the plane. Eek?The A321 had the same seats as the A330, minus the AVOD (and hence no more metal box stealing half your foot space, yay!), while the A320’s styling was more old-fashioned — I thought I was on a B737 at first — but no different in seat pitch or any other amenities.

The hop from Doha to Kuwait or v.v. is only just over an hour, so inflight entertainment consisted of exactly the same Tom & Jerry cartoons both ways. We were served a “refreshment” consisting of a small sandwich, cookies, a miniature Bounty chocolate bar and tea/coffee/juice/water.

Probably the most memorable thing about the second flight was my seatmate Handy Assmat(*), who showed up wearing a pink polo shirt, shorts, flip-flops and carry-on consisting in toto of a tiny Swarowski gift bag and a mobile phone. Fashion faux pas aside, this alone wasn’t enough to qualify for being an Assmat — in fact, I was initially mildly jealous of such fearsome packing-fu and Zen-like disregard for material things — but he soon started chomping away at those dingleberries: first a loud phone conversation informing not only his girlfriend but everybody in the vicinity that he was only in eco because first class was full (which it wasn’t, I might add), and then he proceeded to delete messages from his phone, one by one, throughout the entire flight, taxi, takeoff, and landing. Clickety clickety clickety. And none of the cabin crew, who passed by half a dozen times and clearly saw it, said a thing. (Was it in flight mode? I’m not sure, but how would the flight crew know?) I was even more surprised to see him board the same connecting flight to Singapore… but once on board I never saw him again. Good riddance.

(*) A guy by this name is actually the manager of a Chili’s in Kuwait, and his first name is correctly spelled Hamdy, but it seemed rather more appropriate this way.

A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Doha Airport

Qatar is the world’s only country whose name starts with the letter Q, and they don’t let you forget it: in the five-minute ride from plane to terminal, you pass signs for QAS, QAAC, QNB, QJet and QTel. But DOH is also the closest I’ve seen to an airline monoculture anywhere in the world: both planes on the tarmac and flights on the information boards were 95% Qatar Airways. The DOH-based frequent flyer isn’t going to have much choice.

The airport is amazingly small and unpretentious for what may be the world’s richest country’s main gateway: one runway, one small rectangular main terminal with no jetaways, only buses. On the inside, DOH feels like a recently-built airport in a small city in a rich European country: slick, modern, supremely efficient, yet without the slightest bit of the usual Arabic penchant for ostentation with gold paint, chandeliers, palm trees and whatnot. Even duty free feels downright restrained. Enjoy it while it lasts, they’re already busily building a new DOH which will be umpteen times larger…

I had tight connections both ways — 1:20 on the way in, a scary-sounding 0:50 on the way out — but Doha’s minimum connecting time is 45 minutes and, indeed, everything worked like clockwork. I would even have had time to duty-free shop on the way back, but at midnight the queues at the registers were long and I was scared out of line by snippy “passengers on the flight to Singapore report to gate for IMMEDIATE boarding!” announcements coupled with a boarding pass admonition to show up 20 minutes before departure… which (inevitably) just left me with time to drum my fingers in the bus departure lounge. Gah.

A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Singapore to Doha

Changi Terminal 3 at 3 AM in the morning is positively comatose. Qatar had four desks open and a supervisor watching over it all, but I was the only passenger. My iPod having done a disappearing act earlier in the week, I’d been planning to pick up a new one at Changi, but hadn’t expected all electronics shops in all three terminals to be closed. Lacking a lounge, I picked up a few snacks at the convenience store and attempted to sink into one of the plush-looking seats at the closed Il Lido cafe, only to find that they were actually rock-hard. Next time, I’m not showing up two hours before my flight…

QR639 SIN-DOH Y A330 seat 17K
QR638 DOH-SIN Y A330 seat 18A

I had high expectations for these flights, and due to that very fact was ever so slightly let down. Based on the scuttlebutt on FlyerTalk, the A330 is considered the bee’s knees of the QR fleet, but apparently this applies mostly to the pointy end of the plane: in the back of the bus, the seat pitch is less than generous (32″, says SeatGuru) and window seats on both sides of the plane turned out to have half their foot space eaten up by the AVOD box. The configuration is a rather odd 4-2-4, and while on the way in I had a free seat next to me and could catch a few Z’s, on the way back the plane was packed to the max. Based on quietness of Changi, I’d assumed the plane would be half empty, but no; this flight continues onward to/from Jakarta, and the rear half of the plane — on both flights — was packed with Indonesian aunties in hijabs on their way to work in the Gulf, with virtually no men to be seen. Obviously a more profitable strategy than Etihad’s AUH-SIN-BNE flights.

But what the seat lacked in pitch, it almost made up in AVOD. QR’s “Waves” is one of the best I’ve tried, with 120 movies on demand, another stack of TV shows, an eclectic set of music (mmm, ghazals) and a zoomable in-flight map. The screen is large and the controls very responsive.

Both flights were red-eyes, so the service followed the same pattern: “refreshment” (read: sandwich) after departure, then hot breakfast before arrival. QR doesn’t do hot towels, instead passing out those dinky little disinfectant wipes (boo), but they do give a nice amenity pack with shades, earplugs and even a tiny toothbrush, and even the bathroom amenities are by Aigner. The thing I missed the most compared to SQ, though, was the total lack of water runs: you had to page the crew to top up on your H20, which isn’t really excusable on an 8-hour flight, and unlike Etihad they don’t hand out water bottles either.

Last but not least, QR gets some brownie points for crew: especially on the return flight, the cabin crew were absurdly attractive, with Japanese and south Indian ladies who should be strutting on a catwalk in Paris instead of dishing out omelettes on a plane.

All in all, I would probably have been delighted with QR if only I’d had a little more space for my legs. On any future flights, I’m definitely steering clear of the windows, or better yet, angling for a way to get myself into C.

A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Singapore to Kuwait on Qatar Airways

The Firm recently found itself with a customer in Iraq, but visiting Baghdad being presently contraindicated for unbelieving khawagas like myself, I was asked to visit the next best thing — Kuwait. Always ready to check another Gulf state off my list, I accepted the offer and set off figuring out how to get there on Singapore. There are no direct flights, and I first looked at Thai via BKK, but they only fly three times a week and the schedule didn’t fit. Going through DXB on SQ and/or Emirates would have required two long layovers on the return leg, although detouring via Sri Lanka did sound kind of interesting… but in the end, I decided to try out Qatar for the first time: the schedule was excellent, the price was right and it was time to see if they lived up to their “five-star airline” hype, especially in Y — there are plenty of trip reports about QR C/F on FT, but I couldn’t find any for economy.

http://openflights.org/trip/1

As I flew the same flights on (almost) the same planes in both directions, I’m going to condense the flights together: one report each for SIN-DOH-SIN and DOH-KWI-DOH. No pictures, alas, as my CF card did a disappearing trick on my very last day and took every last picture of Kuwait along with it.

Hotel review: Al Muthana (Almuthana), Riyadh

For some odd reason, all the “branded” hotels in Riyadh were full last week, so I decided to try out a place I’d had my eye on for a while, namely Al Muthana (or Almuthana, as they like to spell it). It’s a new-looking building right on King Fahd Rd, just behind al-Faisaliah, that I passed by on my daily commute.

The hotel’s own website doesn’t offer online booking, but a site called ResMe.com does, so I booked a “Studio” room for three nights at US$120/night, considerably cheaper than the US$200+ you’d be looking at for my usual Holiday Inn. On showing up, though, check-in didn’t seem to have a clue about my booking or what to do with it, and they bumped me up to a “Junior Suite” and keyed in the rack rate of SR 863, nearly twice what it was supposed to be. I attempted to sort this out the next day, but I had to go through the rigmarole once more on check-out, ending up with a really bizarre looking bill that charged me SR 853 x 3 and then lopped off a few thousand riyal as “SINGLE ROOM DISCOUNT”. Boggle.

So, positive things first: the hotel is very new and very stylishly and modernly done, with glass and muted shades of tan, none of the over-the-top gold glitz that Arabs usually like. The entire place has free, reasonably speedy wireless internet and the basics of my room worked fine. The “Junior Suite” was, indeed, large, although most of the space was rather useless: for example, the TV was perched atop the minibar in a corner, so far away from the sofa that binoculars would have come in handy. The bathroom was also way below Western standards: the shower blatters out only a thin stream of lukewarm water, and on my last day the bathtub plug got stuck, which would’ve led to a nice little flood if I hadn’t managed to pry it open with a nail clipper.

However, it’s the service that really lets down the hotel. The promised fitness center is open only 4 to 10 PM (!?), with a small, dark indoor pool with no access to the outside, and a laughable excuse at a gym that doesn’t even have a functioning treadmill. My room wasn’t cleaned at all on the first day, there was no sign of the promised fruit basket, and water bottles weren’t replenished. I tried to order room service breakfast one morning, but nobody even bothered to pick up the little hang-on-the-door order form. Breakfast at the mezzanine floor cafe was quite OK though, brought plate by plate according to your order (no buffets) in Western or Arabic style, if a little expensive at SR 69.

All in all, for a quick overnighter Al Muthana would be fine, and the price certainly is very attractive. But for a longer stay, it’s worth it to find a place that actually knows what they’re doing.

Beer, Bacon and Bargirls: ZS754 DMM-RUH Y 737 seat 17F

Dammam‘s King Fahd Int’l is no less than the largest in the world by land area and the terminal itself is scaled to fit, with arrivals, departures and check-in sprawled across four levels and gates numbered from 10 to 125 — perhaps somewhat excessive for an airport that serves under 3 million pax in a typical year. Opened only in 1999, it already looks rather old-fashioned and virtually identical to RUH, which dates back to 1983. We’d arrived a good two hours before flight time, and at the Sama desk we received sequence numbers 001 and 002, our window seats ticked off by pen on a sheet of paper with an airplane diagram.

Our safari chicken consumed (rather tasty!) and planes spotted (EgyptAir plus Saudia, Saudia, Saudia, Saudia and more Saudia), we crossed through security (shoes bad, water bottle no problem) in search of the al-Fursan lounge’s wifi. Alas, unlike RUH and JED they didn’t have one here, so I had to content myself with editing offline. Only after sitting for half an hour did I realize what was so eerie: the airport was incredibly quiet. No crowds of rushing people, no crying babies, no trolleys, no announcements, just silence halfway between a tomb and a library.

Eventually, though, the area near the gate started to fill up and not one but two Sama planes rolled up, and boarding started precisely on time.

We weren’t supposed to be on this plane in the first place: Trsqr had booked us on Saudia, but that reservation fell through for unclear reasons, and he managed to snag some cheap last-minute tickets on Saudi LCC Sama instead. The downside was that the flight time was a good three hours earlier, but on the upside, this now completed both my trinities of all major Saudi airlines (Saudia, Nas and now Sama) and all major Saudi airports (RUH, JED and now DMM); now I just need to figure out a way to fly on Al-Khayala.

My first impression on boarding the aircraft was quite positive: the seats looked new and spiffy, in blue/gray leather with embossed “Sama” logos in Arabic, and surprisingly decent seat pitch, a little better than Nas (trip report). On closer inspection, though, it’s clear that the aircraft wasn’t new (yellowed panels here and there, old-fashioned warning lights, etc), it’s just that the seats have been thoroughly refurbished. The plane was almost full, and the only empty seats in sight were those next to Trsqr and myself. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Sama’s crew had both Filipino and Arabic members, but the uniform was even more conservative than Saudia’s: the women wore a dark blue scarf wrapped around the entire head, revealing only the face, a featureless dark blue coat with a pink shirt underneath, and — the only un-Islamic touch — tight dark blue pants. Reasonably stylish, yes, but attractive, hardly.

The safety demo was run through at warp speed in both Arabic and memorized-by-rote English of the variety that would be indecipherable if you hadn’t already heard it a million times. Flight time was announced with admirable precision as 42 minutes, then stretched out to 45 minutes after ATC kept us waiting for a bit. Once we pushed back, we headed straight to the runway, and the captain got a running start by revving up the engines while still in the turn, straightening out the plane as we picked up speed and took off.

As we took off I spotted one of the more eerie sights I’d seen in Saudi: a series of abandoned farms in the middle of the desert, with dried-out circles where the irrigation sprinklers once rotated and both roads and buildings already half-swallowed by dunes. Just a tiny reminder of how artificial virtually everything in Saudi actually is…

As promised, it was a short flight and the crew didn’t even bother running the drinks cart, instead just walking down the aisle themselves and filling the few orders. Before long, we started our descent, complete with the sequence of tight turns that seems to characterize any arrival at RUH, and touched down smoothly. Back in the Dead Center of the Kingdom…

Bonus: Trsqr’s review of the same flight on FlyerTalk!

Beer, Bacon and Bargirls: SAPTCO bus to King Fahd International Airport, Dammam

Public transport in Saudi Arabia is about as developed as you’d expect in a country where oil costs $0.10 a litre, so it was with no small astonishment that I spied the sign for an airport shuttle service at Dammam‘s little SAPTCO bus terminal. We were at the terminal already and the next hourly departure was in 20 minutes, so why not give it a shot? After all, it was Friday afternoon and the noon prayers were droning on outside, meaning that absolutely nothing was open.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Saudi if life was that easy. Nobody seemed to know anything about the service except that it was “out there”, accompanied with a dismissive wave of the hand towards the sign sitting forlornly in the middle of a broiling parking lot at high noon. The appointed time came and went with no sign of the bus and we were already figuring that we’d take the taxi instead if it didn’t show up soon… but, some 15 min behind schedule, one of the guards waved to us and, lo and behold, there was a big gray bus with a “DAMMAM-AIRPORT” sign, disgorging a load of passengers.

To the mild astonishment of the conductor, we hopped aboard the bus, and so did a Filipino guy (who, as it turned out, worked in Saudia catering at the airport). We set off almost immediately, only to stop again almost immediately as the conductor got off at a market for no obvious reason. He came back in a few minutes and another guy boarded the bus, riding along for a few city blocks until he requested to be dropped off.

We zigzagged our way through Dammam’s suburbs, and then again, for no immediately apparent reason, the conductor stopped the bus, collected our 12 riyals each for the ticket, then beckoned us outside, pointing at the restaurant and saying “Safari! Safari!” I knew the word musafir, “traveler”, and as soon as I remembered “triconsonantal root” I understood what he meant: he proposed that we get some lunch to travel (to go) from the restaurant, so why not? Odds are it would beat airport food. The appearance of two khawagas was obviously the social event of the week for the restaurant staff, who crowded around us with queries of ameriki? and murmured with satisfaction on heading finlandi in response. Another 12 riyals later, half a chicken with a ginourmous vat of rice and the fixings had been procured, and we headed back on board.

We finally got on the highway and proceeded to zoom through vast expanses of honest-to-goodness desert, complete with sand dunes, Bedouin tents and herds of camel munching on shrubs in the fierce heat. The first sign we saw said “AIRPORT 20 KM”, and Trsqr wondered just what was so wrong with this particular chunk of flat, featureless desert that they had to build it so much further on.