Bism Illah wa assalaamu alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
Going to Umrah from Madinah is pretty much a straight road for 4 of the 4.5 to 5 hour drive. There is, midway, a rest stop that is quite new and very popular as it has fast food franchises of Burger King, Baskin Robbins, Al Baik, Barnies, and more. Of course, there is a masjid there and the bathrooms are large and decent compared to many others along the way.
While we have driven for all the past Umrah trips we made, there is a VIP coach service to Makkah run by SAPTCO, which we used this last time. The booking office is beside Elaf Taibah Hotel and the bus leaves from in front of the hotel. There are three departure times a day, one in the morning, one in the early evening, and one at night. The cost round trip is 180 riyaal ($48) per adult, 90 riyaal ($24) per child, 12 and under.
The coach is large, spacious, with a built in table in front of each set of seats and power outlets underneath. There is a bathroom on the bus and they provide a meal for the journey followed by tea or coffee. The meal on our outbound journey from Madinah was chicken nuggets, potato wedges, salad, an apple, a fruit drink, and water. It is a non-stop service, however on the way the Makkah it stops at the meeqaat for 15 minutes. The meal on our return journey was a Kudo chicken sandwich, a can of soda, tea or coffee. It is a very comfortable ride, which enables one to relax, take a nap, and arrive in Makkah rested and in great shape to perform Umrah. This is quite the contrary to driving, where after a 5 hour drive, one is inevitably tired both physically and mentally. It is also a far better option than taking a taxi, which is usually crammed full of people and puts your life on the line as the driver travels as breakneck speed getting some people there in just 3 hours.
In the aftermath of the amnesty for illegal residents, there were vigorous raids to catch the illegals that stayed. On arrival at our hotel, we were told by the receptionist that they were closed because all the workers had run away! This was due to fear of being caught by the authorities, the result of which would be imprisonment, a hefty fine, and deportation with a 10 year re-entry ban.
With the Hajj over, one might think that Masjid al Haraam would be quiet at that time of year. Well, comparatively, it is. The Hujjaj
are gone and there are no visas issued for umrah for a 2-month period
after the Hajj. However, GCC nationals don't need visas and every year
over the Ashoorah break you will find many Bahrainis visiting, among
others from the Khaleej. This makes for a comfortable and easy Umrah, maashaa Allah.
After several janaza prayers, each one for a woman and a child or a woman, my youngest daughter asked me, "Mummy, all these prayers are for women and children. Don't the men ever die?" Then on seeing the typical Africans waving around deformed or missing limbs begging, my older daughter asked, "Mummy, why is it only the black people who beg? There are poor white people as well, aren't there? Why don't we see them beg?" That left me without words for a while, LOL.