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Bronxville Graduate Cristina Slattery Travels to Saudi Arabia: Initial Impressions of the Kingdom PDF Print Email


By Cristina Slattery

Apr. 11, 2018:  In February, I flew to Riyadh to interview high school students who will be applying to elite American colleges and universities. I was nervous as I stepped off the plane since it was my first visit to the kingdom, but I was delighted when I met a fellow American interviewer who had arranged the trip and the friendly driver who would take us to where we would be staying.

I was told I needed to wear an abaya – a black robe – at all times, and I put it on as soon as I got in the car to leave the airport. I also put on the headscarf and would wear it throughout my days in Saudi Arabia, although I was informed that it was becoming less important for women to cover their hair. (In an interview with CBS News in March, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman stated that Saudi women should not have to wear black abayas going forward – they should dress modestly, but he explained that the Koran does not specify exactly what type of garment a woman needs to wear; Saudi Arabia could soon look very different.) 

When I visited, the temperature was ideal--in the 70s and dry. I had some free time before I was to spend two full days interviewing girls who would like to study in the U.S., and I decided to go to a festival that had been recommended by a Saudi member of a Facebook writers’ group I joined in 2017.

I attended this festival with the driver who had picked me up from the airport--we went in the daytime, and it was less crowded than it would be when people finished work--but it helped me to get a sense of the history of the nation and learn about the different regions of the country. 

Al Janadriyah was filled with exhibits and stalls where vendors sold foodstuffs and handicrafts. There was a woman wearing the niqab--a full face covering--who was selling brightly colored dresses for young girls, and there seemed to be a certain irony that this woman covered entirely in black with only her eyes visible was selling clothing in such exuberant colors. 

Saudi woman wearing black sells brightly colored clothing for girls and other products.

At Al Janadriyah, the military was showcasing its accomplishments as well. Weapons used in the past were featured in tents visitors could stroll through and a lot of information on anti-terrorism efforts was provided. As I do not read Arabic, I could not see if much coverage of the military operations in Yemen was given, but I tend to think the current conflict was not a focus, which makes sense from both a security perspective and perhaps from a public relations viewpoint. 

The author with a member of the Saudi Special Forces.

Five times a day, observant Muslims--Sunni Islam is the only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia--pray when they hear the distinctive call to prayer. When the call to prayer comes in the middle of the day, shops close and people resume their lives fifteen or twenty minutes later. These prayer breaks were observed when I was interviewing students who, despite their traditional Saudi dress, sounded like eager and ambitious teenagers anywhere when they talked. (All of the students I interviewed spoke English well.)

The girls I met played basketball, volunteered for local charities, and participated in Model United Nations, and many had visited Europe and/or the U.S. Some were artists and some hoped to study engineering or become doctors. A couple expressed their love of Agatha Christie’s novels to me. One had just started a newspaper at her school the day I met her and another who suffered from diabetes said she hoped to invent an artificial pancreas in the future. 

Woman's hand decorated with henna design that is typical of the region.

The students I interviewed were too young to drive, but women driving on the streets of Riyadh should be commonplace by the time these students graduate from high school. From my experience being driven in the city of six million people, I can say that I do not envy anyone driving on roads in Riyadh! There are hardly any stoplights, drivers are aggressive, and the number of reported accidents is very high. 

We passed the Ritz-Carlton several times, as it was on the way to where the interviews took place. This edifice--it is mammoth--is where many members of the Saudi establishment had been held by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for activities related to corruption. As has frequently been noted in the Western press, this new leader is seen by a segment of the population in the kingdom as a visionary while others find the rapid pace of change that he plans a very unsettling notion. 

Before I left Riyadh, I visited the Al Faisaliah Tower. It is architecturally intriguing and I wanted to see the view of the city from near the top of the building. I also spent some time in the mall that is located there and walked by stores operated by international brands that would be familiar sights in upscale shopping malls worldwide. (The Starbucks I visited was not in this mall, but the coffee chain has come to Riyadh and there are separate sections for men and women, in keeping with Saudi customs.) When one enters and leaves Al Faisaliah Tower, a plaque that indicates that the building was opened on May 14 of the year 2000 is visible. For me, it was jarring, though not unexpected, to see the contractor listed as the Saudi Binladin Group. 

View of Riyadh from Al Faisaliah Tower.

Although I spent only a few days in the kingdom, I interacted with many impressive young students. Undoubtedly, some will experience culture shock when they come to study in the United States in the future. Change that couldn’t have been anticipated even a few years ago is being ushered in by the current regime and the next generation is absorbing these changes and will likely be the key to leading the country to greater interconnectedness with countries such as the United States as the future unfolds. 

Pictured at top:  Saudi women wearing typical black abayas.

Photos by the author

Editor's note:  Freelance writer Cristina Slattery is a 1993 graduate of Bronxville High School and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek Japanand many other websites and publications.

Editor's note:  As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes press releases, statements, and articles from local institutions, officeholders, candidates, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.



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Vacations, Day Trips & Getaways Directory

Vacation Ideas

Tell Us About Your Favorite Vacation - Send us a note at

The Four Seasons Washington

Enjoy a weekend in Washington, DC during Cherry Blossom Season (late March/early April). Stay at the Four Seasons Washington, an elegant hotel that is part of the Four Seasons chain. Located right in the center of Georgetown, the hotel is “great for kids” providing welcoming touches in the room (confetti, yellow duck, balloons, cookies) as well as an indoor pool. Enjoy everything that Washington has to offer.

2800 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007

Martha’s Vineyard

Escape to the Martha’s Vineyard for a week or weekend in the summer. Enjoy the beaches and all the great activities the Vineyard has to offer. If not renting a house or staying with friends, consider staying at the Hob Knob , a “casually elegant boutique hotel” in Edgartown.

128 Main Street Box 239
Edgartown, Mass 02539

Grace Mayflower Inn and Spa

Located in the idyllic town of Washington in Connecticut, Grace Mayflower Inn & Spa is an exquisite country retreat, nestled in 58 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and woodland. Just two hours’ drive from New York City, it is renowned as one of northeast America’s most distinguished luxury hideaways, offering the perfect accommodation for those looking for a boutique hotel in Connecticut and one of the finest spas in New England.

118 Woodbury Road, Route 47
Washington, Connecticut 06793

Mohonk Mountain House

If you’re looking for a family getaway, the Mohonk Mountain House might be for you. It is a historic hotel that, depending on the time of year, offers many activities including hiking, tennis, lake swimming, ice skating, cross country skiing and horseback riding, They also offer a Kids Club and a “Kids Stay Free” program on specific days throughout the year.

1000 Mountain Rest Road
New Paltz, New York 12561
800-722-6646 (reservations)

Mont Tremblant Ski Resort

Mont Tremblant Ski Resort makes for a ski vacation with an international flair. Best of all, you can combine great skiing with site seeing in beautiful Quebec and create a family ski vacation that is a little different from most. There are many ski-in, ski-out hotels and condominiums right on the mountain.


The beautiful island of Nantucket is a wonderful place for a vacation or getaway. If you aren’t staying with friends or renting a house, consider staying at the Wauwinet, a premiere waterfront resort on the island. The Inn offers attractive rooms along with private beach, spa, tennis and fine dining at its Topper’s restaurant. in Nantucket. The Inn’s also has an excellent restaurant called Topper’s.



A weekend or vacation in Newport, Rhode Island is always fun. Depending on your mood, consider staying at the Castle Hill Inn and Resort, which was built in 1874 as a summerhouse and has a variety of accommodations including rooms right on the beach or The Chanler at Cliff Walk, which was voted “one of the 15 best new luxury hotels in the world” by Food & Wine (2003). Your weekend can include a Mansion Tour, Cliff Walk, tennis on the grass courts of the Tennis Hall of Fame and, depending on the time of year, a jazz festival, folk festival or flower show.

Castle Hill Inn & Resort
590 Ocean Drive
Newport, Rhode Island 02840.

The Chanler at Cliff Walk
117 Memorial Boulevard
Newport, Rhode Island 02840

Skytop Lodge

The historic Skytop Lodge, located in the Pocono Mountains, is “fun for little kids.” The Lodge offers a variety of accommodations and a myriad of activities for children and adults during both the winter and summer. It also offers morning and afternoon camps for children ages 4 to 10.

Skytop Lodge
One Skytop
Skytop, Pennsylvania 18357

The Hamptons

Many people who go to the Hamptons own a house or rent one, but, if you don’t plan to “summer” there, you might consider spending a weekend either in season or just before or after the season - - such as early fall when pumpkins have replaced corn at the farm stands and the summer crowd has returned home. It is a beautiful part of the world and offers pristine beaches, wine tasting, cycling, kayaking, tennis, great window shopping and fine dining. Consider staying at The Maidstone, a historic Inn which is walking distance to downtown East Hampton.

The Maidstone
207 Main Street
East Hampton, New York 11937

The Homestead

The Homestead is America’s oldest destination resort. Located in the mountains of Virginia, the resort is “steeped in the rich and timeless tradition of Southern hospitality” and offers every activity imaginable for adults and children. Take a closer look!

1766 Homestead Drive
Hot Springs, Virginia 22445
Reservations: 866-354-4653

Woodstock Inn & Resort

If you’re looking for something to do for a week during the Holidays, consider the Woodstock Inn & Resort. Located in the heart of lovely Woodstock, the Inn offers easy access to skiing at Suicide Six. You can also enjoy a sleigh ride or spend time in the low-key athletic facility that includes tennis courts and an indoor pool. Finally, you can walk to town for dinner and simply enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Fourteen The Green
Woodstock, Vermont 05091-1298

A Bar A Ranch

Plan ahead if you want to stay at the A Bar A Ranch in Wyoming. Families come back year after year and it can be difficult to get a reservation. Located in Encampment, Wyoming, the A Bar A offers simple phone-free cabins, fun riding, great fly fishing and the opportunity to relax. They also have a small pool, one tennis court and a quirky golf course if you can’t leave those clubs at home. Many of the summer staff are college-age men and women (many from the south) who are there to help you with a smile. Finally, the A Bar A offers a camp for kids age four and up.

Encampment, Wyoming 82325

Beaver Creek Resort

Everyone looks for something different in a ski vacation - - some want the best possible skiing, some are there to enjoy the “après-ski”, while others want a good place for their children to learn to ski. Known as a “family friendly resort” Beaver Creek, located in Colorado, has a homey feel and offers a little bit of all of the above. There are many places to stay right on the mountain and the “interactive lodging map” under “travel plans” on provides a review of all the options.

888-830-SNOW (lodging)

Caneel Bay

Caneel Bay is one of those places honeymooners enjoy and families return to year after year. Located in St. John, Virgin Islands, the resort can be defined as “low key” luxury. It has very nice accommodations and offers everything from tennis to snorkeling to fine dining, but it has purposely eschewed the glitz of some of today’s upscale resorts.

PO Box 720
St John, Virgin Islands, USA 00831-0720

The Coral Beach & Tennis Club

The Coral Beach Club in Bermuda has a feel of old world casual elegance in a beautiful, dramatic setting. While it is well known for its tennis club, it also offers swimming, squash, croquet, snorkeling, and fitness and has reciprocal rights with some of the great golf courses on the Island. Its accommodations range from rooms and suites to cottages. The Club has a membership and members can introduce guests to the Club.

Coral Beach & Tennis Club
P.O. Box PG 200
Paget PGBX, Bermuda

The Gasparilla Inn & Club

The Gasparilla Inn & Club is a great place for a spring break vacation for the family. It is a “classic old Florida resort located on Gasparilla Island on the Gulf of Mexico” and offers golf, cycling, spa, fitness, croquet, boating and tennis.

P.O. Box 1088
500 Palm Avenue
Boca Grande, Florida 22921

The Golden Door

"The Golden Door experience has been designed to empower our guests to reposition themselves at the center of their own lives by tending to their bodies, their minds and their spirits. Here, a hike is as much a rigorous morning exercise as it is a chance to reflect on the day ahead, and a meal is the means by which we learn to satisfy rather than simply feed our hunger."


The Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne

It’s hard to go wrong with a Ritz Carlson and the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne doesn’t disappoint. Key Biscayne is a barrier island east of Miami with beautiful beaches, nature preserves and shopping villages. The Ritz Carlton offers elegant accommodations, two outdoor swimming pools, a fitness center, a large tennis center, a kids recreation program, a variety of excellent dining options and easy access to South Beach and other nearby attractions.

455 Grand Bay Drive
Key Biscayne, Florida 33149

The Tryall Club

Located 12 miles west of Montego Bay in Jamaica, Tryall is a special place. It is a private Club but many members rent their beautiful homes and the rental includes a staff that does the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Many families come back year after year and get to know each other. If you don’t need the space provided by a house, you can also stay in rooms at the “Great House.” The Club has an excellent tennis pro and golf pro and also offers beach swimming and dining.


Deer Valley

If you are looking for a great ski vacation with your family, Deer Valley is for you. An easy flight from New York (Delta flies direct to Salt Lake City), Deer Valley is less than 45 minutes from the airport. There are no snowboarders allowed and they have a large number of groomed slopes that are good for children. They also limit the number of skiers during peak times to avoid overcrowding. Consider staying at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, which is nestled "mid" mountain and is considered the premier hotel in the area. You can rent your equipment there, store your skies and boots, which are dried overnight, and enjoy all the convenience of ski in/ski out accomodations. If you want to take advantage of ski school, make reservations well in advance. You can eat a casual cafeteria-style lunch at the Silver Lake Lodge. Other restaurants good for the evening include the Mariposa at Silver Lake Lodge, The Glitretind Restaurant at the Stein Eriksen, the Seafood Buffet at Snow Park Lodge or the the Fireside Dinner at Empire Canyon Lodge.

Stein Eriksen Lodge
7700 Stein Way
Park City Utah 04060



Travel Service Companies

Bayside Travel

Bayside Travel is a full service travel agency specializing in leisure travel. It has been in business over 55 years and is located in Bronxville NY. The company's travel consultants are experts in the art of travel, and offer their firsthand travel experience to their clients. Through Bayside Travel's membership in Virtuoso, an organization of the top travel agencies, the finest travel providers, and premier destinations in the world, their clients will have the priviledge of receiving exclusive amenities not available to the general public, such as complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, one of a kind shore excursions. Bayside Travel will make a difference in the way you experience travel. Contact one of their consultants today.  

69 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, NY 10708
914 833- 8880

Herzerl Tours

Let me tell you a little bit about Herzerl Tours and then you will agree that we are a very good choice for tours to Austria, Northern Italy, Germany and Switzerland !

We believe in doing tours to places that we know well - have lived there or visited there - so that we can give our clients the best for their money.

Susanne Servin, owner of Herzerl Tours is a native of Vienna, Austria; she has lived in Europe and traveled there extensively. She started her company to share her experiences with Americans by taking them to tour her birthplace and other favorite spots of hers.

Herzerl Tours Philosophy: we offer destinations that are very well known to us -where we have stayed and know the people- the owners, chefs, vintners and guides etc. personally.We only organize small, intimate tour groups (or mini groups / FIT's) to enable personal contact such as the use of traditional public transportation as much as possible, meeting and talking with locals (most of whom speak some English), listening to their music; learning to cook the local cuisine and pairing it with local wines, eating in typical restaurants - avoiding the known "touristy" venues. This will give the tour participants a chance to find out what the country of their choice is really all about.

Susanne Marie Servin

Valerie Wilson Travel, Inc.

Headquartered in New York City, with an international client base and offices nationwide, Valerie Wilson Travel offers its clients first-hand knowledge and dedicated service. The company is owned by a Bronxville family and has a network of 315+ highly specialized Travel Advisors and Associate Agents who each bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the company and its clients.  VWT services a global clientele for both business and personal travel.   It handles the travel management needs for companies and organizations in a diverse array of industries, from fashion and finance to publishing and pharmaceuticals.

605 Third Avenue

New York, New York 10158



Fax: 212-779-7073




Day Trips

Tell Us About Your Favorite Day Trip - Send us a note at

Grace Farms

Grace Farms is a place for “people to experience nature, the arts, justice, community and faith in New Canaan, CT.  It’s a really fun day trip where you can spend time in a beautiful, peaceful environment and enjoy a casual lunch in the café.  Kids can enjoy kicking around a ball on the field or playing basketball at the beautiful indoor court.  Or just enjoy reading a book in the beautiful library.

365 Lukes Wood Road

New Canaan, CT


The High Line

Urban Adventure! Have you been to the High Line yet? It is the park located on Manhattan's West Side that runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues. It is a fun place to see and a nice place to take a walk before dinner at one of the many cool meatpacking district restaurants!  They have ongoing events.  Click here to learn more.

Hike Leatherman's Loop in the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation Plus Lunch Ideas

NOTHING LIKE A GREAT HIKE AND A GREAT OUTING RIGHT IN OUR BACKYARD! There is a beautiful hike called the Leatherman's Loop within the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. It brings you up to Point Lookout with an incredible view over the Cross River Reservoir. Pick up a trial map at the entrance.  Bring a picnic or go for a morning hike then hop back in your car and continue south on Rt. 121, for approx. 2 or 3 miles, to Richard Gere's restaurant Bedford Post for lunch.....very nice and casual hiking clothes are fine. 

Katonah Museum of Art Plus Lunch Ideas

There are always great exhibits the Katonah Museum of Art called Mapping: Memory and Motion in Contemporary Art. This museum is a gem! Closed Mondays. Fun learning center for kids. Click here for more information.

Have lunch in Katonah (right out of driveway and immediate left on Jay Street) at The Blue Dolphin Diner (Great Italian) or Willy Nicks (American). 

From the Museum you can also easily get to Bedford Post. 

Pepsico Sculpture Gardens

These beautiful gardens and open space are a great place to go for a lovely walk with the family.  The sculpture collection was started in 1965 and consists of works by major twentieth century artists.  Individuals are welcome to enjoy the gardens and sculptures Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm.


700 Anderson Hill Rd.
Purchase, NY 10577



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