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Mecca is the holiest city of the Islam religion and is located in the west of Saudi Arabia. With a population of 1.7 million people it is also one of the biggest cities in the country. Every year around 3 million Muslims perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and more than 13 million people visit Mecca annually. Entrance to the city is restricted to Muslims only. If you are not a Muslim you are neither permitted to enter nor travel through the city.
The Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām ("The Sacred Mosque") is the biggest mosque in the world, and is built around the Kabaa. This is the place where muslims turn to for their daily prayers. During the Hajj the combined indoor and outdoor area of the mosque can hold up to 4 million people.
The Hajj is the anual pilgrimage to Mecca, that every muslim is supposed to make at least one time in his or her lifetime. It is one of the largest anual gathering in the world, and takes place from the 7th until the 12th day of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.
Internet cafes abound in major Saudi cities, and many shopping malls feature a gaming parlor or two. Rates are around SR5/hour.
While Internet in Saudi Arabia is cordoned off by a filter, it aims primarily at pornography, non-Islamic religious and domestic political sites in Arabic, and (from the traveller's point of view) is nowhere near as strict as, say, China's. Google, Skype, Wikipedia, all major webmail providers etc. are all accessible.
See also International Telephone Calls
The three mobile operators in Saudi, incumbent Al Jawal, Emirati rival Mobily and Kuwaiti newcomer Zain (Vodafone Network) are fiercely competitive, with good coverage (in populated areas) and good pricing. A starter pack with prepaid SIM and talktime starts from about SR 75, and you can sign up in most any larger mobile shop (bring your passport). Local calls are under SR 0.5/minute, while calls overseas are around or less than SR 2/min.
And yes, you can bring in your own phone: despite grumblings from the clerics, both camera phones and multimedia messaging (MMS) are now legal.
Saudi Post has a good network of post offices around the country, but offices are closed Thursday and Friday. Stamps for postcards to anywhere in the world cost SR4. The bigger problem is actually finding postcards, as the mutawwa periodically crack down on the celebration of non-Islamic holidays like Valentine's Day, Christmas or even birthdays, causing all cards of any sort to disappear from bookstores! Your best bet is thus gift shops in major hotels. Mail coming in to the country from overseas is notoriously unreliable. Stories abound of things arriving months after they were sent or never arriving at all. There are branches of DHL, FedEx and UPS operating throughout the kingdom, so a good rule of thumb is to have anything important sent through those channels.
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