Group Workout Classes


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Other than a couple of Zumba classes while we lived in North Carolina, I’ve never been much for group workout classes.  My tendency is to put on my headphones, crank up the music, and get busy with my personal workout – whether that’s lifting weights or some form of cardio.

A couple of months ago, I decided I wanted to to try the beginner’s kickboxing class that the Harbor Recreation Center provides.  I’m not sure what influenced me to want to take this class, but it sounded like fun. Initially, it was really hard because I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t know anyone else there – not to mention I rarely used the muscles necessary for kickboxing.  But I stuck with it, and I’ve gone twice a week nearly every week since then.

Though the workout facilities are free, the group classes cost a small fee. If you simply want to pay for the class you are attending, it’s 25SAR ($6.50USD).  If you want a monthly pass to attend any of the classes you want as often as you want, it’s 200SAR ($53USD) for a 30 day period.  You can pay for the classes by cash or by credit card, which I didn’t know at first.  In fact, sometimes I used my lack of cash as an excuse not to go to a class. Oops.

It seemed a little steep to do the monthly pass, but for the stretches of time when we are here consistently for 30 days, if I go to kickboxing at least twice a week, I easily end up spending 200SAR.  If I do the monthly pass, that allows me to try out new classes, too.  Since we were going to be here for all of October, I decided to do a monthly pass so that I could go to kickboxing twice a week and try out some of the other classes.  This month, I also attended a spin class as well as a few circuits classes that have been really good and challenging, and they serve as a great place to meet new people!

Each class is about 45 minutes long with some cool down time at the end.  I usually allot about an hour for each class.  Classes are taught by the staff at the recreation centers, and you can choose from a variety of times and classes.  You can take yoga, HIIT classes, spin classes, circuits, and bootcamp to name a few, and there are classes offered in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings – most of them are offered more than once a week.  Community members can easily access the schedule of all the activities on the internal community website to plan which classes they want to attend each week.

I try to register for classes ahead of time in case they fill up (which has happened to me once), but most of the time classes aren’t full.  Registering reserves your spot for the class and there’s no penalty if you don’t show up.  I’ve found it motivates me more to head to the gym if I know I’m signed up to take a class.

I was a little intimidated by the concept of group workout classes since I didn’t have much experience with them, but I’m glad I tried it.  It makes for a really fun workout experience.

Are there workout classes you’ve thought about trying?

Things I Didn’t Expect: Plant Edition


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We live in a desert. It’s hot and dusty, and it rarely rains. Therefore, one would expect that there’s very little in the way of plants.

At KAUST, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This place is like an oasis in the desert.  We have plants everywhere and not just boring, prickly plants one would expect to see in the desert. There are bushy, green shrubs, flowering trees, ivy, aloe plants, several different kinds of palm trees, vibrant flowers, and even grass.

This is made possible by the sprinkler irrigation systems we have in our yards and all over campus.  I’ve observed that our sprinklers run (at least) twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening.

I didn’t think it was possible to grow so many beautiful plants in a dry, arid climate, but I can testify that it is possible!


Still don’t believe me? Here’s a look at our backyard after we returned from our travels this summer! It was like a jungle!


our backyard

An Ode to Ya Hala


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I intended to write a post about our favorite restaurant on campus before I left for the States this summer, but I never got around to it.  Then when we returned from our vacation, Ya Hala was closed for maintenance!  I’ve heard a rumor that they had a fire, but I don’t know how accurate that is.  It still isn’t open, and it’s been nearly 3 months!

So, what is Ya Hala, and why is it our favorite restaurant on campus?  Ya Hala is a Middle Eastern restaurant that serves all kinds of Middle Eastern dishes.  They have the best hummus I’ve ever had in my life served with fluffy Arabic bread, and their shish taouk sandwich is a cheap and delicious chicken wrap that is simply wonderful.


our favorite meal

There is no indoor seating – the picture below is pretty much the entire restaurant, so you have to sit outside in Discovery Square to eat. During the summer months, that’s rather uncomfortable, but from December to February, it’s actually very nice!


the inside of the restaurant

The restaurant can be a little intimidating because the glass to the outside is covered, so you can’t scope it out before you enter the small restaurant.  But don’t let that deter you!  It’s not as intimidating as it looks, but if you want help the first time you go, Eric and I will gladly be your guides! We had dinner with a family who introduced us to the restaurant in the first couple of weeks we were here, and it was nice to have someone who was familiar with the place give us guidance on what to order and what the procedures were for ordering.

I write this post with hopeful anticipation of Ya Hala’s reopening.  If you are reading this, and you have some influence on it’s reopening, please make that sooner rather than later! We miss Ya Hala!

Places: KAUST Beach


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I didn’t spend a lot of time at the beach growing up, so to have a beach only a 10 minute scooter ride across campus is quite a pleasant adjustment.  Eric and I try to take advantage of the beach when we can, and for a while, we were going every weekend!


a random weekend day we spent at the beach

KAUST Beach is a private beach for KAUST residents and their guests only, and due to the limited number of people who can use it, it’s never extremely busy.  When the weather is nice, there are definitely more people around, but I’ve never seen the chairs completely full.


shaded play areas

The beach is open every day except for Sundays, and there are a couple of times slotted for women only (Friday mornings and Mondays for the entire day, I believe).  There are nice chairs and umbrellas set up along the entire stretch of sand, and they’re all free to use!


There’s a clubhouse with ping pong tables, air hockey, and a Play Station 3, and there’s also a snack shack where you can buy various snacks like chips and ice cream.


Snack Shack

Also at this beach, you can rent various water sport equipment and/or take a course on how to use this equipment (i.e. windsurfing, kayaking, stand up paddle boards, etc). There are also inflatables in the water to play on.

It’s nice to have a beach so close to home.  We can lather on the sunscreen and spend a couple of hours there whenever we want to. This is how we spent our Christmas Day this year!

How often would you spend with your toes in the sand?

Lunchtime Workouts at KAUST


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One of the perks to living in a community where everything is just minutes apart is that you don’t have to schedule in much time for travel. One way that I’ve found this especially helpful is getting the most out of my lunch break a few days a week by working out.

On campus we have quite a few workout facilities. We have the Harbor Sports Club, the Island Rec Center, the Racquet Club, the beach, and even a small gym on the university campus. There are also lots of sidewalks along the waterfronts making great running trails (although throughout the summer it’s been too hot for all but the most dedicated people to take advantage of those).

Over the summer (which still seems to be in full swing around here), a few colleagues and I have tried to take advantage of being close to these facilities by swimming two to three days a week. From our office, we can scooter to the Harbor Sports Club, hop in the pool, and get a quick 1500 to 2000-meter swim in before showering and heading back to work. By packing my lunch (which is probably the exception rather than the rule around here), I’m able to squeeze all of this in just right under an hour. Sure it’s not the longest swim, but it’s great to get moving in the middle of the day and it’s been a fun way to connect with some of the people with whom I work.


Island Rec Center pool

Plus, the pools are cooled which makes it one of the more enjoyable ways to be outside this time of year!

What’s your favorite way to squeeze in a quick workout?

Snorkeling in Rabigh


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We recently had an extra day off for Saudi National Day, so we decided to go snorkeling in Rabigh with a few friends. They’d been talking about how great the reef there was, so we loaded up in two cars and set off.

Rabigh is about an hour north of KAUST, and then the beach is another 30 minutes north by dirt road up a small desert peninsula. It’s quite a drive, there’s absolutely no shade, and it’s hot (summer still seems to be in full swing here). The reef is a few hundred yards offshore which means there’s a bit of a walk through shallow water (hint: booties were a lifesaver for my feet), but the snorkeling makes it all worth it.


Check out the short video we made about the day:

What’s your favorite place to explore that’s off the beaten path?

Sailing Turkey with MedSailors


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Sailing. Snorkeling. Stand Up Paddle Boarding.img_8339

Sun. Swimming. Sea Turtles.

Our time in Turkey last week was pretty amazing. You can check out our video of the week along with a few of the highlights below.



A few months ago, our friends Catie and Jason invited us to meet them in Turkey for a sailing adventure with MedSailors. MedSailors is a skippered yachting company that organizes holidays for 20-35 year olds in Turkey, Greece, and Croatia. You can hire your own boat or just book a berth on a boat you share with others. We recruited our friends Michelle and Brian to join us, and before we knew it, it was time to head to Turkey.

Michelle, Brian, Ashley, and I flew into Fethiye late Friday night, met Catie and Jason at a nice little AirBnB, and then headed to the marina to meet up with the MedSailors team and our fellow crew members. The six of us were put on the Cavok, and we were joined by Katie and Vicki from New Zealand and the UK and our awesome skipper, Sergei. The best surprise that afternoon though, was to find out that the Cavok was a Catamaran! The extra space on deck was great to have during the hours we spent sailing and hanging out in the sun.

The flotilla for the week consisted of three boats including ours, and the majority of the sailors were from New Zealand, Australia, and the UK. Our agenda was pretty simple, and the majority of the days went something like this: breakfast – swimming– sailing – stop at a bay for lunch/swimming – a bit more sailing – stop in a bay or city during the afternoon – some sort of excursion or exploring the city – dinner – going out/hanging out.

The Turkey route is an awesome blend of sailing, hidden bays, small seaside towns, and a few chances to get out and be adventurous. Here are a few of our favorite highlights from the trip:

Paragliding – we went tandem paragliding from 1700 meters over Ölüdeniz with Gravity Paragliding. It was amazing!G0039119.jpg

Hiking Saklikent Gorge – A huge slot canyon with walls up to 300 meters high. We hiked a few kilometers in crossing an icy stream and several cold pools that were chest deep.

Patara Beach – a beautiful sandy beach where we watched the sunset one evening.

Kayaköy – an abandoned city we hiked to the morning after spent in Coldwater Bay. It was quite a hike, but it was fascinating to see building after building that was deserted in the 1920s. The city just seemed to go on forever, and we were treated to chocolate and banana pancakes after our return hike.

Sea Turtles – In several bays we were able to swim with sea turtles! We made sure to get up and go snorkeling early those days for the best chance to see them and were rewarded several times.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding – Ashley loved taking the paddle board out whenever the boat stopped for some time.

The Food – Turkish food is delicious! The pide, casseroles, doner, and fish were great pretty much wherever we stopped. Plus, Sergei made great breakfasts and lunches on board. I was seriously surprised by the awesome dishes like Turkish ravioli he was able to make while simultaneously sailing the boat!

Overall, it was a fantastic week, and we can’t recommend it highly enough. The MedSailors team was top-notch, the route was great, and it was a week we’ll remember for a long time. If you’re outside of the 20-35 age group or looking for a trip that’s even more laid back, MedSailors has a sister company, YachtGetaways, that runs the same routes. We loved our time with MedSailors, but if we do it again we might try and recruit enough friends to book an entire boat with YachtGetaways. Croatia, anyone?

Our friends Catie and Jason run a podcast at, and one night we recorded an episode on the boat. You can have a listen here.

If you want to see more of our pictures from the week, you can check out our Amazon Photo Album.DCIM104GOPROG6345912.

The Manta


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Every Friday and Saturday, KAUST has a boat – the Manta – which goes to a couple of different reefs for either snorkeling or diving on a rotating basis. If the boat goes snorkeling on Friday, it goes diving on Saturday, and then the next weekend, it swaps. It’s a great way for those of us without a car to go diving without having to figure out how to get to Jeddah to one of the resorts.

The Manta leaves KAUST at 9:00am, and they provide a light breakfast of croissants and fruit.  We sail about 30-45 minutes into the Red Sea to Fahal Reef.  The reef itself starts at a depth of about 30ft, and on our last dive there, we stayed pretty consistently between 30-50ft. We’ve occasionally gone a bit deeper, and have been to 100+ feet once or twice on these trips – after we got our Advanced Open Water Certification, of course!

On the KAUST dive trips (we’ve never done it as a snorkeling trip), you pay for 2 dives, the tanks for those dives, dive masters to guide you, a light breakfast, and lunch. After completing the first dive, there’s a brief time on the surface for lunch and prep for the second dive.  Lunch typically consists of wraps, fruit, and something sweet.  It’s actually a pretty good little lunch.


People doing their scuba certification through KAUST also use these trips to complete their open water dives.  Nearly every time I’ve been on the KAUST boat, there has been a group of new divers working on their certification dives.

We’ve seen some pretty fun things on these dives.  Tons of tropical fish, spotted rays, eels, and even a sea turtle. Another group even saw a whale shark one weekend when Eric was out there, but that’s definitely not typical.


On Thursdays, the Manta does sunset cruises, which is what we did for our anniversary this year, and you can also rent it out for parties and group outings.  It’s a pretty inexpensive way to get out on a boat and a bonus for us – it’s only a 4 minutes scooter ride from our house!



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“At least it’s dry heat…”

I cannot count the number of times people have said this to me when I talk about how hot it is here. I get it. You assume because it’s the desert, it’s hot, dry, dusty, sunny, etc…

Well, I’m here to tell you that not all deserts were created equal. You see, the desert we live in is hot, dusty, and sunny, but it’s definitely NOT dry. In fact, I looked at the weather this morning before work, and the humidity was at 80%! It felt like 111ºF with 80% humidity at 8 am.  That’s miserable, if you ask me.

There’s really nothing funny about that, but Eric and I have joked about how it feels as though you need a mask and snorkel when you walk outside.  Upon leaving our garage (or any other building for that matter), your sunglasses immediately fog up, your skin gets clammy, and it’s kind of hard to breathe.  Fortunately, in order to make this happen, you are coming from a very well air-conditioned building, and you’re most likely headed to another one.

The best time of the day is right around dusk.  There’s probably something scientific behind this, but until that point, the sun and humidity make it too unbearable to be outside.  Then once the sun has set, you lose the sun beating down on you, but the humidity jumps back up to a soupy mess. This leaves a short window right before the sun goes down when it’s slightly more bearable.

I blame this all on our neighbor to the west, the Red Sea.  I don’t know how this works exactly, but I know the body of water a stone’s throw from our house has to have something to do with how humid it gets here!

Next time you think about life in the desert, just remember that not all sandy deserts are hot and dry!

I guess in our cultural melting pot, we have a KAUST soup!

Christmas in the Summer


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Since we’ve moved to KAUST, we’ve made friends with quite a few people from New Zealand (Kiwis, as they call themselves).  I have learned a lot of things from them – new words, fun facts about NZ, among other things. I already knew that when it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, but it never really occurred to me that that means Christmas is in the summer!

So, think about all the classical Christmas movies we (in America) watch….they are all in the winter with snow – Home AloneElfA Christmas Story. Not to mention the fact that we have songs like “White Christmas” and “Sleigh Ride.”  And how terrible would it be to have an ugly Christmas sweater party in the summer?! Absurd.  Christmas in the summer is a game changer!

Well, we didn’t celebrate Christmas in the summer as the title of the post would suggest, but we did some preparations for Christmas while we traveled this summer.  We added to our Christmas ornament travel collection. You see, each time we go to a new place, we pick up a Christmas ornament (or something that would serve the same purpose as a Christmas ornament). This allows us to avoid filling our house with trinkets and things throughout the year, and then every year when we decorate our Christmas tree, we can reminisce about our travels.

We’ve even grown our collection so much that we’ve got a tree solely dedicated to our travel ornaments (and the collection has nearly outgrown that tree).  We call it our “travel tree.” Here’s a picture of our travel tree at our house in North Carolina.


travel tree

So, like I said, we grew our Christmas ornament collection by 5 this summer (we already have one from Germany, so we didn’t get another one). Here are the newest additions to our travel tree collection:


the newest additions to our collection

Do you collect anything when you travel? If so, what? Feel free to share in the comments section.