Sunday, February 12, 2017

Running in Saudi Arabia: working and... running at KAUST

I've written more than 100 posts in my "Running in..." series (see labels in the right margin) and I love when I hear a runner letting me know he or she used the local tips. Well this one may be the most useless post in that series, at least for runners (readers may still enjoy the virtual visit and learning about a place they probably didn't know about); indeed, Thuwal is a most unlikely destination. First, for many reasons, Saudi isn't a great place for tourism. Now, if you come to Saudi anyway, for work for instance, you are most likely going to stay in Riyadh (the capital with 5.3M people) . Or one of the few other large cities, like Jeddah (3.5M), Mecca (1.7M) or Medina (1.2M). But the small fishermen village of Thuwal? Certainly not. Except if you are on your way to KAUST, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (see the Wikipedia article for more details).

A few miles from Tuyal, itself 70 miles North of Jeddah, KAUST is actually an amazing campus to visit. It is both a top university and research center as well as a city by itself which didn't exist on the map 10 years ago! The late King Abdullah had a vision to create a beacon of knowledge on this desert area along the Red Sea and he committed several billions to make it happen (on the model of a few famous US universities, he set a $20Bn endowment up front to ensure its long-term development).

I left Raleigh on Tuesday evening and after 4 flights through Dulles, Frankfurt and Riyadh, I got to my room at 3:30 am on Thursday morning, leaving less than 4 hours of sleep before my first meeting. Maybe sleep deprivation is the recipe to handle jet lag because I had not a single low point during the day. On Thursday night, after a group dinner, I went for a few laps on the track, logging 9.5 miles total.

The lights went off at 10 pm and I finished under the full moon light. The track has suffered quite a lot from the sun, and maybe a hasty construction, it's pretty beaten up after less than 10 years. That being said, I was really glad to find the track open all night.

Friday afternoon, right after the last meetings of this IT Conference, and a quick lunch, I went for a tour of the campus in day light, and much higher temperature although the 86F looked like winter to the locals (by the way, we got 3 minutes of flash rain on Thursday morning, a phenomenon worth noticing as it rains about once a year (!) in this desert area).

I ended my run with a short swim in the Red Sea before getting on the cab back to Jeddah for 3 flights this time toward Paris. And a 3rd night spent on a plane this week, in coach. Feeling not just homeless but also bedless lately... ;-) But happy to have met amazing people from this very special and international academic institution.

Here is a virtual tour of KAUST's campus.

First, the iconic beacon of knowledge, from various angles and by day and night (I first thought it was the marina's lighthouse but was told it was just a symbol).

A few shots of the impressive university buildings (while looking at them, guess how many floors are inside).

Did you guess how many floors are in huge the black blocks, whose height I assume to be 40 meters)? Only 5 but very spacious and high ones, yet LEED-certified building.

BTW, the white building in the center of the panorama is the University Library.

Here in the foreground are the Sea Steps, linking the raised esplanade to the Red Sea:
Another huge building, just outside the Unity Boulevard loop, the Innovation Cluster:

You enter the campus on this long road bordered with hundreds of palm trees
The largest of 4 mosques on campus, the King Abdullah Mosque:
Art work near that mosque (they have camel races in Saudi):

Proudly show casing KAUST's logo

More art work near the Yacht Club

Views from my tour around the Safa'a Island Neighborhood:

A standard villa on the beach (there hare hundreds of these!)
These bins looked like those we have at home, albeit more colorful

That neighborhood is organized around two main arteries, the Transformation and Discovery Boulevards. That sends a message, doesn't it?

It's easier to do good urbanism design when you start from scratch and a lot of money, isn't it? Here is a nice park, Thuwal Park, including a few soccer fields.

They even created an artificial canal (water from the Red Sea):
The campus hotel, the KAUST Inn I:
And, to conclude, a taste of a local attraction and tradition, the falconry:

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