A rip-roaring ride - or a rip-off through the Mediterranean...



About this time a year ago, I fled the blazing heat of Abu Dhabi to fly to Sweden. A fat lot of good it did me; I was constantly wiping away perspiration. Civilised as the Swedes are, their notion of when and how to use air conditioning, even in newish buildings, had me longing for the over-cooled indoor environments to which I was accustomed in the Gulf. Knowing what temperatures are likely to be in the UAE just now, I expect little sympathy after my most recent European ordeal: a nine-hour return drive in France, with a hefty slice of work in between each leg, all accomplished within 30 hours and using a car showing increasing signs of advanced age, one being that it has no air conditioning.

There was one consolation: the driving, between the Mediterranean coast and Lyon, was done on successive evenings so that the heat was felt mainly in the early part of each journey. But I quickly discovered the flaws in my simplistic belief that no car actually needs AC provided the windows can be wound down. A visit to the bank, cap in hand, may soon be necessary. But let me be upbeat for a moment. Even a flying trip to Lyon was enough to remind me what a beautiful city it is. In my first travels between the English Channel ports and the south of France, it was no more than a place where you could guarantee to be stuck in gigantic traffic jams because the autoroute went straight through the heart of the city. Then a network of new bypasses made things much easier, whichever route you chose.

It took the first of what has become a series of working visits to make me appreciate the city itself, the grandeur of the boulevards and squares and the exquisite qualities of Lyonnaise cuisine. Other parts of French compete for culinary capital status, but Lyon's claim has a lot of merit. The city is not, however, perfect. No hotel that charges ?145 (Dh740) for a small room for one night (after first asking for ?175) should also be a hotel that cannot produce a scrap of food after breakfast, or a teaspoonful of anything to drink before 6pm.

And no attendant-supervised car park should employ attendants who help themselves, as I strongly suspect was the case, to the most valuable coins in the little stash kept for those ubiquitous road tolls. That spot of petty larceny did at least remind me of a warning I have been meaning to pass on ever since my return to France at the end of April. Anyone contemplating a motoring visit to France should build le péage into their calculations when working out the budget.

Drive from the exit of the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles to the Croisette in Cannes and you will pay a grand total of ?126.48 (Dh653) in tolls, according to www.mappy.com, a mine of road travel information. Bearing in mind the shock you should also expect when you need to fill your tank, take your place after me in the queue for appointments at the bank.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: HyperPay

Started: 2014

Founder: Muhannad Ebwini

Based: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Industry: FinTech

Funding size: $55m

Investors: AB Ventures, Amwal Capital, INet, Mada VC, Mastercard, SVC

The biog

Hometown: Cairo

Age: 37

Favourite TV series: The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror

Favourite anime series: Death Note, One Piece and Hellsing

Favourite book: Designing Brand Identity, Fifth Edition

Diriyah project at a glance

- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
- About 2,000 people work for the Diriyah Company, with more than 86 per cent being Saudi citizens