Author: ineke (Page 1 of 7)

Foodies Fun

Georgian cuisine is the topic of this blog. I seldom write about food. People wonder, what do I eat? It has been hard going as I don’t eat meat, the last countries main staple, I tend to just eat snacks.

Of course I have breakfast which is often included with the room. Since arriving in Georgia, I have indulged in the delicious fruits. Cherries , apricots and wonderful juice peaches are in season. It is grown organically, fresh from the trees, juicy, tasty and so easy to just buy a kilo of cherries for a dollar, or two! Bananas are expensive, well, fifty cents each, I have not been able to find out if they are imported or Georgian grown. So I often buy fruit, for lunch, a snack or to take with me on the bus. However, here in Georgia I have decided to try the national cuisine so I can write about it.

Here in Mestia in the main square is my favourite restaurant, serving traditional Svaneti dishes. Last night I had the dish,Lobito “kotanshi” made with kidney beans and different spices. Served with a slice of hot, corn bread. It was served in a gorgeous terracotta container and absolutely delicious. Needless to say that the beans kept me warm all night. For as we all know ” Beans means F***s”!

When I was having lunch in Batumi, with my friend Ozkan from Turkey, I ordered a Khachapuri Archaruli. This is a boat shaped dish, overflowing with melted cheese and topped with butter and a runny egg. Now I have a thing about runny yoke. Goes right back to my childhood, I can NOT eat that! However, due to the dish being so incredibly hot, the yoke actually cooks while you are eating! You break the delicious bread from the side and scoop up the cheese with it. As the egg cooks and mixes with the cheese, it has a taste I never before experienced! Delicious!

Khachapuri Imeruli are round flat pies with only melted cheese inside. These are my favourite on the run food. They are about fifty cents, very, very filling, and easy to walk around with while eating.
There is the Khachapuri Megruli, Khachapuri Penovani and the Khachapuri Achma. Every city has a slight variation, but all have melted cheeses inside, are fabulous, and my favourite food so far.

The second most common dish is Khinkali, a spicy dumplings, filled with cheese, potatoes or mince meat. I made the mistake in Chakvi of ordering two, one cheese and one potato filled khinkali. I received four! I was so full unbelievable! You are meant to eat them with your hands, but they are so incredibly hot that that is near impossible to do. I loved the cheese filled one. The potato/ mushroom one is also very delicious.

This is why I don’t write about food, what other word can I use for delicious?? Must look in my thesaurus! Today, here in Mestia, I had mashed potatoes and cheese,Tashmjabi. Very starchy, and filling.

On the way to Mestia, the bus driver stopped for lunch, where he ordered the food, and we all ate, free of charge ( well, the trip itself was quite “expensive” for Georgian standards, so I am sure he covered the food quite well!) . Although I just wrote that I don’t eat meat, as I was given this slice of meat filled bread, and all the other passengers looking full of expectations, how I would like their traditional Svaneti dish, I felt the least I could do was try it! It was surprisingly good! Due to the lack of teeth, and the ones that I have left being in a terrible state, I avoid meat at all costs, but this was tender, spices and just melted in my mouth. Peoples smiles told me they all approved! The next slice was filled with cheese, my first preference, I was so full after the two slices that I could refuse the third one with a clear conscience!

Since I have arrived in Georgia, I have tried, unsuccessfully at times, to stay away from the deserts and the enormous slices of cake! What I did try in Mskheta, however, was the sweet churchkhela, a string of walnuts coated in a sort of pinkish caramel made from grape juice. Lots of stalls have them hanging outside, looking like sausages. You would not believe it, it was TOO sweet, for my liking! Yeah, this is me the sweet tooth princess, but it honestly hurt my teeth! I had come across this before in Tbilisi , but thought it was meat at first, so stayed away from it. Often you get offered small pieces, all with different tastes, I don’t mind it in very small doses.

The bread is plentiful and totally crispy and delicious. Hence I stay away from it! Chit is puri is baked from wheat flower, water and salt in a dedicated oven called a tone. No fat or oil is used.these long flat breads are sold every where and are especially delicious with the fresh honey! (The photo has pastry with kidney beans mashed inside, with lots of spices, delicious!)

What I do want to mention, as I am writing about local food, there are beehives every where and local honey is sold, by little old ladies sitting along the highway. On the trip to Mestia, we saw many , many bee boxes. are they still called hives if they are in boxes?) This honey from the mountains tastes completely different then the honey I tried in the cities. It is thicker, clearer and utterly, utterly delicious! Not to forget to mention, dirt and dirt cheap!

The last thing to write about is the incredible hospitality of the Georgian people! Georgia claims to be the birthplace of wine, which is a national passion. A popular spin – off of wine making is chacha, which is a grappa like fire water!  It has about 45 to 55% alcohol content! It is cheap, and the Georgian people start drinking it early in the morning! The idea is that you slam it in one go, and then drink water or eat something. It is considered enormously rude not to accept an offered drink, but refused it I have! I can not start my day that way, although I have accepted it in the afternoon, and only to be polite, take my word for it, it brings tears to your eyes! At some guesthouses, you receive chacha as a welcome gift! A lovely thought!






Beautiful Batumi

At first before I start writing, I need to apologise to Batumi! My first reaction was, ah, tourist action town, Surfers Paradise in Georgia! However, when I went in to town to have lunch with my friend Ozkan, from Turkey, I did some sight seeing! Some of the architecture is just absolutely amazing! Let me just put in the photos and write a discription of the best ones! The photo above is taken from the Ferris wheel, which is at my back, looking towards the Alphabetic Tower. It has the 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet. It is a 135- meter- high structure and it resembles a DNA molecule. The old light house is on the left.

Piazza Square, is one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Batumi! Live music is played here daily and the square usually hosts concerts of world famous musicians visiting Batumi. The architecture of Batumi Piazza is distinguished by mosaic and stain glass art. There was only one old man playing when I was there, but he was lovely to listen to! Although in theory, he wasn’t actually in the square!

The Neptune Fountain with the Chavchavadze Batumi State Drame Theatre in the background. The theatre was opened in 1952. The Neptune a Fountain was established in 2010 and is a copy of the Giambologna’s fountain in Bologna, Italy.

Armenian Apostolic Church built in 1885, under the supervision of the Austrian architect Manfred. The church did not function during the Soviet period, it did re -open in 1992.

There are so many more buildings I could write about, but what blew my mind away was the amazing moving sculpture, Ali and Nino.

this 8 meters high sculpture is a symbol of eternal love and understanding amongst the people of different nationalities.

The statue is created by the Georgian sculptor and painter Tamar Kvesitadze and installed in 2010. It moves very, very slowly and then the two become one, only to move slowly away from each other again! It was mesmerising! I regret not taking a video, but it moves so incredibly slow, and I have so little storage on my gadget, that I declined!

I had a lovely lunch with my dear friend Ozkan, and I promise that the next blob will be about Georgian food! I have been eating mainly fruit, as the heat and the high humidity have killed my appetite! Hallelujah! I could be so lucky! I am sure I have lost weight, as I am eating little, drinking lots of water and walking a minimum of five kilometres a day, most of the time, much, much more! Now the rains are here, it is cooler and I relish the starchy food of Georgia! This blob is a tad long, and I could write much, much more! I will save it for another rainy day!




Chuckles in Chakvi

The view of Batumi from my balcony was amazing! It looked like Surfers Paradise! A playground for the foreign tourists. I was going to say the rich and famous, but that is a tad over the top! I had a fabulous night sleep and after a rather ordinary breakfast, quite disappointing for an ” expensive” hotel, I caught the marshrutka to Chavi.

The guesthouse didn’t expect me until tomorrow, but I figured I could wing it for an extra night. I don’t mind the occasional “expensive” hotel, but not on a daily basis. When I say expensive, I mean expensive for here! The average hotel, except Tbilisi, is fifty Lari, about A$25, guest houses on average between A$7,50 and A$10 , so when a hotel says it is 56 and I assume they mean the local currency and after a while I realise they mean American dollars, the look on my face was worthy of a “you tube video”! One of the side effects of long term travel, is paying attention to these things!

As far as hotels go, in my humble experience, more expensive is often NOT better! The sheets might have a higher thread count and there might be a hairdryer in the bathroom, but I often find that the extras in smaller places is better. Often the staff in the fancy hotels are slightly arrogant, while in smaller hotels the staff is friendlier. I see it as a place, where I will dump my bags, I need cleanliness, hot showers and the mattresses not too hard!! Easily pleased.

Anyway, I went to Chakvi. Walked with MAPS.ME to the guest house. Lovely garden, the owner spoke English. Great room. It took a while to realise that this was NOT the guest house I booked! Oops! Same name though! By the way, it didn’t matter, as my booking at the Batumi U Guesthouse was for the next night!

I walked to the Botanical gardens, about two kilometres away. Spend a wonderful afternoon, wandering, looking and enjoying nature. The views were spectacular. I took a little bus to the top, and walked back, through the greenery. The weather is very much Darwin weather. Hot and humid, rains in the late afternoon.

I managed to find a super market and after getting lost several times, (of course my gadget was flat!) I finally found the guest house, just in the nick of time, as all hell broke loose!! The storm went on for most of the night! Seem to me it kept turning around, just to please me! Finally I fell asleep, dreaming of snakes in the garden! I have encountered three small snakes, all dead! They are not poisonous, people laugh when I ask! Mind you, everybody wants to come to Australia, but they all watch the National Geographic channel, and are petrified of all the deadly animals we have!!

The owner’s husband  dropped me off at the next guest house! I am so glad he did! I would have never found it! It is a few kilometres out of Chakvi, high up in the mountains. Lovely room, large guest house.

Walking down the mountain lands you on the highway, cross that and the railway line, and one reaches the beach. It is less than ten minutes walking. The beach, by Australian standards, is terrible. Full of rocks and garbage. ( mind you, the stones are great for building cairns!) The sand is black, but the water is lovely and warm. Nurgaz and his two children took me to the beach, by car! Wica, whose name is Anastasia, is seven years old. The son, Sapa, is eleven and a big Messi fan! I am a Ronaldo fan, but we decided they were both very good players! We watched some of the World Cup after we came back from the beach!

On Sunday the whole family went out and I spend the day on the beach, and in my favourite restaurant, where there is free wifi, great Georgian food and very cheap beer! I found out via Facebook, that my friend Ozkan, from Amasya, Turkey, is in Batumi right now. We are planning to have lunch together and while down there I will look into the train to Zugdidi, my next stop, before going to Mestia, high up in the mountains.

Family from Kazakhstan came to stay as well, lovely, lovely people. I was invited to come and have dinner and taste the home made Georgian wine! It is hard to explain that I don’t eat meat, and that this my alcohol free year! ( okay, except for beer! But it is very hot and humid! And I can never drink more than two glasses!) I had two small glasses which gave me the biggest headache ever, which lasted all the next day! Very unpleasant and not to be repeated!

Georgian people toast for every glass and then in one BIG gulp empty their glass! They all laughed that I sipped my wine! Trust me, it was the best I could do! Georgian’s hospitality is famous in this part of the world.

Although the truth is, it focuses on drinking vodka and/or beer at nine in the morning! So sorry, not for me at all! Shock horror that I don’t drink vodka! (Not without some nice orange juice to go with it, and much , much later in the day! )Some things are just not explainable, being vegetarian is one, travelling on my own is the second one! The whole family is shocked that I don’t have a husband, and are now dedicating their lives to finding me a Georgian Man! How lucky am I?

on my last evening I went and had a lovely dinner with live Georgia music! Hereby a  photo of the lovely staff, and the Georgian band! I was given a present, a bracelet by one of the girls, and after lots of hugs, Instagram exchanges it was time to say good bye to all these wonderful, wonderful people here in Chakvi. Sometimes it is really hard to move on! Zugdidi is next on the list!!

Kutaisi? No, Samtredia!

Dancing away early in the morning, I slammed my toe against the bed! Don’t ask!! I taught the whole neighbourhood how to swear like a real trooper. Boy, did that hurt! I still decided to walk to the bus station, bags and all. Telling myself that once I did this for sixty five days, so get on with it! I had expected a BIG bus, instead it was a marshrutka I told the driver three times, ” Kutaisi, this bus goes to Kutaisi?”Yeah, sure, it did!! Every stop I would ask, are we there yet? We stopped in Kutaisi, but I needed to be dropped off at the bus station, which is where I thought we would be going! Wrong!

I was dropped off on the highway, bags chucked out of the bus, lots of yelling and gestures to cross the road. Okay, something is obviously not right? Hm! Wonder what could be wrong? Duh, I was dropped off in Samtredia. Okay, now what? Three very stoned and drunk men, offering me a joint, when I told them I was totally allergic to the stuff, ( which they didn’t understand, but they got the drift I didn’t want any!) then I was offered a glass of whiskey, I don’t mind the occasional glass, after dinner, preferably with my father, but at eleven in the morning?? No thanks! There I was, sitting on the highway, sweating like a pig. The humidity is so incredibly high here, it was hard to think what to do next.

So “Romeo” offered me a lift back to Kutaisi. Except he wanted something else in return! I had to laugh, this young man was so stoned /drunk, as if I would even consider to get into a car with him! I did need to make up my mind, and I had to leave this situation as fast as possible. I was getting ill on the fumes! People who know me well, know that I get terribly ill, even on marijuana fumes, I don’t even have to smoke it myself! There was no English spoken, but the sign language is a “world wide” language! Finally I got the owner of the shop, to ring me a taxi. Since the dapper trio was going to Kutaisi, I decided to stay the night in Samtredia and consider what to do next.

According to maps me. there was one hotel in town. I decided to try my luck there. I won the lottery! The hotel was indeed the only on in town, plenty of rooms, hot, hot water, big room and a wonderful new late aircon! All that for twenty bucks. I asked what there was to see and do in Samtredia, not a lot! Since it was much too hot and humid I decided to have a nap and think of what to do next. Late afternoon I found a little church being restored, a mural and a train station. With google translator I managed to get a train ticket for the next evening to Batumi. It left at seven in the evening. Deep sigh, I had seen all the sights in the last half hour, I can do this!

Spend a wonderful cool night and morning in my super room. Updated my diary, started some drawings, worked on my blog, and the wonderful staff let me stay in the room till two in the afternoon. Only a few more hours to go. I found a lovely cool cafe, had a beer and spend the next hour or so playing games on my phone and ipad. Nobody spoke English! I had my first argument in Russian at the chemist. They doubled the price on the item I wanted to buy, indicating that it was an “old” price sticker on the item. Thanks but no thanks, I wasn’t born yesterday! Often prices get doubled for tourists. It wasn’t something I was in dire need for. I wanted to buy a nail file!! Yes, dear friends, a nail file!! Since I had my two teeth removed just before I left, I haven’t been able to bite my nails!! They do keep breaking though!

Anyway back to the hotel, cool lobby, comfy big armchair and wifi! Tourist heaven! The next thing there was this enormous Big Bang! No aircon, no wifi, the Big Bang was followed by many small bangs. The staff was hiding behind the desk, I sat in an overstuffed arm chair and figured that this was as safe as anywhere else! Police sirens! Me not understanding a word, whatsoever! I decided to stay where I was. In the end, an hour or so later, all was back to normal. There were some people working on a car(??) and they blew something up. Everybody was very exited as it was probably the best thing that had happened here in years! At six o clock I packed up my bags and walked to the station. The staff asked me to come back soon, but if the truth be known, I will never set foot in Samtredia again!

The train was punctual, comfortable and there were no problems until they came to check my ticket! It was for the night before!! So much for google translator telling them I wanted to leave the next day! Lucky for me I could buy another ticket on board of the train. The cost? One Lari! Which is not even fifty cents!! I met a lovely young man from South Korea, who spoke fabulous English and the time past very fast, discussing the world up football, travel and drone photography. We arrived in Batumi at ten o’clock in the evening. The lad needed wifi and I had picked a guest house near the station, which no longer existed! A wonderful hotel provided the young man with wifi and me with a gorgeous room for the night! Hello Batumi, can’t wait to explore here! Onto Chakvi soon where I have made a booking for five nights! Hoping for some rest and relaxation near a beach!

Gorgeous Gori

Gori is famous for being the birth place of Stalin! I would like to think that THAT is nothing to be proud of, but then, who am I? Their famous son has a wonderful museum dedicated to him. It doesn’t mention the atrocious crimes against humanity he has committed, that part was not there! ( that I saw!)

I was so fortunes to meet the gorgeous Eleni yesterday. A stunningly beautiful Russian dentist who is married with a Georgian man. She offered me a lift. Eleni has never been to Gori, so she took this opportunity to visit the Stalin museum with me and the cathedral. We laughed so much, she was good fun. Racing car driver material, we arrived much too early and ended up sitting outside a cafe drinking coffee and chatting with the local taxi drivers. Russians are not liked here! This is due to the fact that in 2008 there was a war over South Ossetia, 30 km north of Gori. The Russians bombed Gori, with at least twenty civilians killed, most people fled to Tbilisi.t

The Stalin museum is in a very impressive building from 1957. There is a small wood and mud brick house, in which Stalin’s parents rented a room for the first four years of his life! One room is devoted to Stalin’s eerie death mask. Outside is Stalin’s railway carriage in which he travelled. He didn’t like flying! It was still closed when we arrived, since we were the first visitors!! The cathedral was lovely, I have no idea what it is called!

After Eleni left, I showered and had a nap! It is very, very hot and humid, so during the afternoon napping is the smartest thing to do!

Afterwards I climbed up to the Gori Fortress. This oval citadel stands on top of the hill at the centre of Gori. The views were magnificent! And I ended up meeting a local journalist who interviewed me for the local television station! Ah, the fame follows me every where!! At the bottom of the fortress, stands a circle of mutilated metal warriors, a strange memorial to the people who lost their lives in the 2008 war.

There is also a small war museum, devoted to the Gori’s people involvement of WWII. A small display on the 2008 war as well. Row upon rows of photographs of handsome young men, rather depressing, really. Outside was a large memorial, with a long, long lists of local people who died fighting over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990.

I took a taxi to the Ateni Sioni, an impressive ancient church, in an absolutely fabulous setting, the grape vine strewn Tana valley. All around are high hills and cliffs. Ateni Sioni was built in the 7th century. There were beautiful reliefs of hunting scenes and Knights. Inside are stunningly beautiful frescoes, for which I visited this church! Alas, the church was being restored and locked up for visitors!! My kind taxi driver to me to a near by monastery for nuns. There was a cute little chapel, with surprisingly stunning frescoes. After I took a lot of photos, encouraged by my driver, the nuns told me photography was ” forbidden” ! Oops!

The next stop was Uplistsikhe, a fascinating and enormous cave city! Beautiful views over the Mtkvari valley. Uplistsikhe was the chief political and religious centre of pre Christian Kartli, with temples dedicated to the sun goddess. ( between 6th century BC and 1st century AD )After the Arabs occupied Tbilisi in 645AD, Uplistsikhe became the residence of the Christian Kings of Kartli and a very important trade centre, with a main caravan road from Asia to Europe running through it! At its peak there were over 20,000 people living here. The town was destroyed by the Mongols in 1240.

I was fascinated by the Uplistsikhe Eklesia, from the 10th century. It was built over what was probably the most important pagan temple. I didn’t climb all the way to the top, as it started to rain, and the rocks were difficult enough to climb without he extra difficulty of being slippery as well. It was an amazing place, and I wandered around for a very long time! I liked the idea that the room for the queen was right next door to the wine cellar and the chemist!! So when she got a hangover, the tablets to cure her headache were right next door!! 

The day was overcast, and slightly rainy, which doesn’t make for good photographs. This is a shame, because the landscape, the caves, the church were all absolutely amazing! Tomorrow Kutaisi! My next adventure awaits me! Isn’t life just marvellous? I am so enjoying all of it!

More Magical Mtskheta

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral dates from the 11th century. It was enormous for its time! My hotel is just opposite the cathedral, and it is my view during breakfast! The cathedral has an elongated cross plan and is decorated inside and out with stone carvings. According to the stories, the robe of Christ lies beneath the cathedral, it works many miracles. Vakhtang Gorgasali is buried here as well.

I made an effort to go to Mass on Sunday, and sat for an hour on a hard wooden bench. The Georgian chanting, of which I only understood Hallelujah and Amen, was very impressive. I crossed my legs at one stage and the woman next to me told me off! Apparently, leg crossing in church is not allowed! When the first tourist bus arrived I left! The nice part of Georgian Mass is that you can come and go as you please. I like that idea! Most people stand for the Mass, the only benches are around the edge of the church and are for the elderly, pregnant or disabled people. First time I am happy being ” elderly”!!!

The Samtavro church is also very famous. This is where the first Christian King Miriam and his wife, Queen Nana are buried! Photography is not allowed, although I sneaked one of the royal tombs. The church is part of a nunnery, but once it was part of the palace church of the Lords of Metskheta.

I visited the Jvari monastery , I took a taxi to the top and decided to walk back. According to the lonely planet this could be done! The path was steep and terrible over grown. After five minutes I decided this could not be done safely, so back up I climbed. Walking back to Mtskheta was quite a challenge along the main road. Dodging tourist buses, crazy drivers and bulls was interesting, however not really pleasant! In between I looked at amazing wild flowers on the edge of the road.

It was only seven kilometres, all down hill, so not too challenging. Just before I reached the highway a taxi stopped and took me the last two kilometres, which I would have been able to make easily, but there was a storm brewing, and people who know me well, know that I am shit scared of electrical storms. I managed to get back just in time, before all hell broke loose. There is not much more to do here except the archeological site on the other side of the river.

I wanted to walk along the river to this archeological site, however this was not possible. Such a shame, but it would have been another ten km along the road, a repeat of the downhill Jvari Monastery experience, I declined. It was hot and humid, and I ended up doing very little, visited a small monastery with amazing frescoes.

Did some washing, worked in my diary, googled flights from Armenia to Oman, and went to to look for reasonable accommodation in Batoumi, a seaside resort place. I just want to spend some days on a beach before visiting the mountains. All of this is time consuming, not really interesting, but necessary. Sometimes it is just lovely to have these days of relative quiet! Gives the body a change to recover! There are many more churches to see here as well, but one can even get saturated with looking at churches.

Next town, Gori, the birth place of Stalin. Will be interesting to say the least!

Marvellous Mtskheta

Tbilisi was just amazing. I have written about the capital of Georgia in my last blog. I had only planned eight nights there, nine days, it was not enough. I extended by three more nights, still not enough, but as time is slipping away from me, I decided to move on to the next town, Mtskheta. Most people, just go there on a day trip from Tbilisi. I like to spend some time in a town, to wander, dream and explore.

My last day in Tbilisi I treated myself to a sulphur bath after I visited the amazing sculpture by the Tbilisi sea. The sculpture is made by Zurab Tsereteli. I had seen the video of how it was made and put together, in the museum of modern art. I asked the girl where this was, as I really wanted to see it in real life! Awesome, just absolutely awesome. I can’t remember all the details of the sculpture, but I am sure people who are interested can just google the artist.

I had planned an early start to go to Mtskheta, but due to the lack of sleep, this didn’t happen! I itched so badly during the night, even three showers could not take the itch away! I wonder if it was sulphur bath? Or the scrub? May be the massage? I had quite an experience with a vertically challenged Babushka. Did she scrub me! It felt like my skin was coming of! Afterwards a massage, with hands like sledgehammers, beating upon my poor back! At one stage she pulled my head forwards, between her enormous mammary glands, nearly choking me to death! It was not pleasant to say the least! Moments like that I wish I could have a real proper massage , with my friend Jenny! Anyhow, the reason for the sleepless night is totally unimportant, I ended up with a very late start to the day.

I arrived in Mtskheta about one o’ clock. I had been unable to make a booking, so first things first! Coffee!! Next door to the cafe, was a small hotel. I knocked on the door, and yes, there was a room available. I booked three nights! When oh when will I learn to start with one or two and just add to it when needed?

Anyway, it is lovely but about one day too long. Mtskheta was the first capital of Georgia. It is also the spiritual heart of Georgia, since Christianity was established here in about 327. It holds a near mystical significance in Georgian culture. It was the capital of most of Eastern Georgia from about 3rd BC to the 5th century AD, when King Vakhtang Gorgasali switched his base to Tbilisi.

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is still the setting for important ceremonies of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The cathedral dates from the 11th century, early in the golden age of Georgian church architecture. According to tradition, Christ’s robe lies buried beneath the cathedral. It works many miracles, apparently. The word Svetitskhoveli means ” life giving column”. The King Vakhtang Gorgasali is buried here as well.

Terrific Tbilisi

Amidst the most impressive lightening show I arrived in Georgia. The landing, in a lightweight plane, was frightening to say the least! The heavy rain, the enormous thunderstorm, should have prepared me for an intensely, emotional encounter with Tbilisi, Georgia! There is nothing subtle about this place!

Tubilisi is heaven on earth, for artists and creative people alike.The narrow alley ways make for ideal photo opportunities! Every nook and cranny is filled with sculptures, murals or quirky gardens. Garden benches galore! Huge green, leafy trees, intensely green, giving the necessary shade and creating the feeling of secret hideaways, ideal for romantic couples or illegitimate affairs! I have fallen in love with place!

I found my spiritual place in the world! I always felt that way about Florence, but here it is the contemporary artists that make feel like painting, I cried in front of the works of this amazing artist!
At the Zurab Tsereteli Museum of modern art, I saw for the first time in my life, the works of Zurab, and of my most favourite artist of all time, Natela Iankoshvili, a spiritual heir to Pisosmani! This year marks her 100th anniversary of her birth. I cried in front of her work! This only happened twice before! At the Tate gallery, when I saw Munch’s painting of his sick sister, and at van Gogh’s sunflowers! Oh, and at the Jewish bride of Rembrandt! I wasn’t aware that these amazingly bold, strong and powerful paintings were painted by a woman!

I walked around for over three hours, crying, speechless and in total and complete AWE!! I want to be here, live here, and never, ever leave! To imagine, that I am in Georgia by pure “fluke”! I carried a photograph with me, which has no indication where it was taken. I made the assumption that it was in Uzbekistan, where people told me over and over again, no, that is Tbilisi in Georgia! I didn’t hesitate to change my travel plans once again! How glad I am I did! How wonderful is this serendipity in my life! I am here just by pure “fluke” if there is such a thing!

After my wanderings through the gallery, I entered the bookstore and without even hesitating, nor trying to work out HOW much these books were, I bought two books, heavy as, on these two Georgian artists! Google them! Zurab Tsereteli and Natela Iankoshvili! What a talent! How bold and strong they both are! I was fortunate enough to be allowed to take photographs. Although my camera broke yesterday, I have to use the i pad now, but to be allowed to take photos of these wonderful images was such a blessing! I want to paint! This is the same ineke who decided three months ago to give up painting altogether! Okay, so I am allowed to change my mind! It is the privilege of being a woman and an artist, that I can chop and change as pleases me!

Blessed, I feel incredibly blessed, what a country! What a town, what a talent and joy. In case you didn’t realise it as yet! I feel I have come home! I will now have to organise to send some goods home, as these two catalogues weigh a ton! I will also go and look for an art shop! May be I will start painting here! I am seriously considering renting a room, outside a hostel, so I can paint NOW! Here I am, in the coffee shop, drinking a wonderful coffee, looking at my wonderful books, and realising I am in absolute heaven. This is a place for wandering, exploring and being in the here and now. What a town, what a wonderful, wonderful town!

Peaceful Pilgrimage

Sometimes I just get extremely lucky! In the Lonely Planet it was mentioned that one could go on a pilgrimage to Beket-Ata. I had visited a tour company and was quoted U$85 for the day! This is too much, by my standards! One doesn’t get to travel for six months or more, spending this kind of money. The lovely girl, Lyazzat, from the Holiday Inn, who speaks excellent English, was incredibly helpful. I spoke to her, telling her I couldn’t afford that kind of day trip. She made a few phone calls, and the next minute, she asked if I was ready to go the next day? It was with thirteen other Muslim pilgrims and there was one place for me! Fabulous! Yes! Total cost for the day U$18!!! (This included three meals as well as the bus ride!)

Lyazzat was full of concern about the non- English speaking driver and guide. How was I going to cope for the day without English? Beket-Ata is 285 km east from Aktau. So a long, long day, it would be! Talking is like breathing for me, so yes, it would be tough, but I would be able to manage! I was sure! After nearly four hours on the road, I tried to ask the guide, if it was appropriate to take photos, as these places were Holy sites. The young woman behind me answered my question, in beautiful English! Her name was Dana, an English speaking flight attendant of Astana airlines, from Almaty. You have no idea how this pleased me! Meeting Dana was a gift from God!

The first place we visited, Shapak Ata, was an underground mosque plus a huge necropolis, graveyard, from the tenth century. I wasn’t allowed to photograph inside or outside the mosque. This was a shame as it was incredibly interesting. There were three rooms hacked out of the rocks, the floors covered with beautiful patterned carpets. We were all given a scarf, which I put back, as I did not know what to do with it! I was supposed to tie it to a tree! Duh! The cleansing before we entered the mosque was interesting. First you need to go to the toilet, a row of squat toilets with very low doors between them, then you needed to wash your hands, feet and face.  Using the lovely tin watering cans, which I would love to have some for my bathroom!

There was a fertility rock, shaped like a giant penis. It looked like a pottery piece, which was glazed in amazing colours. Reminded me of the Namibian artist, Jacqui Janssen van Vuuren. Women, who wanted to get pregnant, sit on top of the ” penis head” and pray. This is why the natural stone looks like it is varnished and glazed, constantly being polished! I declined! People tied scarves to the tree, so that people in need could take them with them. Some people tied money into the corners of the scarves, again for people in need, I think.There was a sacred tree, which needed to be circled three times. Then back to the bus to the next magical place.

The road by now was non existent, and rather rocky and rough. My poor back was screaming complains! This body of mine must be getting old, all this bloody complaining it does, when things are slightly tough! Unbelievable! The mind, heart and soul are still eighteen, so get used to it body! Nobody is listening! I had a horizontally challenged woman sitting next to me, who fed her two year old every five minutes. I have no problems with that, but he kicked me while feeding! The seats were designed for rather small people, so the drive down was tough going!

We arrived at Beket-Ata. Nobody had mentioned that the rock hewn mosque was three kilometres away, down the mountain, stairs all the way! The paths and limestone area were very reminiscent of Coober Pedy and the Breakaways. The going down, although hard on my knees was incredibly easy compared to the going back up! The mosque was incredible, again, no photographs allowed. Just take my word for it that it was amazing. A philosopher and Iman, I believe, was buried here. (I am sorry but I have forgotten his name!) I kept thinking, as I was going down, oh, holy cow, I have to get back up these steps on the way back! Trust me, it was exhausting! It took like forever! By now it was extremely hot, dusty, and I was so thirsty, that I finished all my water on the way down! On the way back I had to drink from the underground well, just hoping and wishing, that my stomach would cope with this! Step by step, slowly, ever so slowly I reached the top again. Totally exhausted. It was a hot, windy and extremely dusty day. We had hoped to see some wild desert goats, and at one stage everybody got very exited, however all Dana and I saw were black, unmoving dots!

Then the men all had an afternoon nap, while the women started to cook the meal! It was eaten out of a big dish. A broth, which was made from meat, and smelled very strongly. The a sort of flat pasta, all eaten with five fingers. That is the name of the dish is Beshbarmak, which means five fingers. It is a Kazakh delicacy! I have difficulties eating meat, my body reacting violently if I do so, although I did try one of the pasta pieces. On the way home the rains came, and there was a stunning rainbow, to which everybody agreed was a very positive sign!

Dana and I chatted on the way back, while she translated everything I said for the other pilgrims. Everybody thought that Dana was my private guide! People were amazed that I, a tourist, would under take this pilgrimage, and WHY? ( wanting to get out of Aktau didn’t sound legit enough, so I just thought that!) There were NO other tourists at all! I was a HUGE novelty!

Exhausted, sore and absolutely filthy, I arrived back at my hotel at one in the morning! Showered, slept, woke up, showered and slept. I just wanted to keep on sleeping!! Although the day was extremely long, I am so glad for this opportunity to experience this day, with all the Kazakh people. An experience never to be forgotten! A wonderful way to leave Kazakhstan, leaving me wanting to see more, but time has come to go to Tbilisi, Georgia








Amazing Aktau

After ten hours on the train, I was ready for my holiday on the beach! Expectations, expectations, again, here I was, expecting a beach resort, palm trees and a warm Caspian Sea! When will I learn to google? When will I learn to go on trip advisor? ( I DO but only to write reviews on hotels!) it was raining! Booking my flight to Georgia took less than an hour! I met a gorgeous little girl called, Luciya! When I told her I had a friend called Lucia, we became instant friends! I have noticed I don’t like cold nor rain! No fun to walk around in! There is one museum here, which took less than half an hour! So now what? I had booked eleven nights, what possessed me to do so was beyond me for a few days! Until I realised, I had thought it to be a beach resort!

So to the beach I went! What a disappointment that one was! Industrial area on prime real estate! Really, what were they thinking? I was going to apply for a job as a town planner! It took me a few days until I realised there was a gorgeous walkway along the foreshore! It was just in the OTHER direction!

After a couple of days feeling sorry for myself, missing gorgeous Uzbekistan, I pulled my socks up! Enough! You WILL make the best of this! You WILL enjoy yourself! To my defence, I had booked my hotel because the Lonely Planet said people spoke English here! They lied!( well, the book is four years out of date!) so I came across the lovely staff of the Holiday Inn, where English was spoken! They booked me on a real pilgrimage!

Have told you that there are very few English speaking people here? This has become a bit of a problem as google translator does not make for good conversations! So I have a tendency to go back to the places where I can communicate, beyond asking for green tea or black coffee!
After the initial three days of being peeved at the lack of Aktau being a seaside resort, I did find that the foreshore on the other side of the city is just gorgeous. The beaches are nothing to write home about, mind you as we have the best beaches in the world in Oz, I don’t understand why I still have such high expectations of other countries!

There was an interesting museum, small and no English anywhere, so a quick visit. No art galleries! This I find strange as I saw art students painting in the street. Sun baking on the rocks doesn’t appeal to me, so what did I do? The pilgrimage took two days out of me ( read the next blob) .

On Saturday I did go to a necropolis outside Aktau, this is a cemetery, shame I was in too much pain to stay around too long. Yeah, I did it again! Have no idea what is going on! I was dancing like nobody was watching, and promptly put my back out! Belly button under my armpit, pain, agony and totally pissed off. Luckily a good chemist just around the corner of the hotel, lots of drugs, rest and sleep, and nearly back to normal. Does this mean I need to slow down?? Hmmm. Just wondering. I just bought a new bikini to do some sun baking, mind you the weather changed back to being cloudy and overcast! Sigh. Looking forward to flying to Georgia on Monday night. Good bye to Kazakhstan.

“Boring” Beyneu

Beyneu has over 50.000 people, so it is not really a small town! My, very nice, hotel was just five minutes from the station. The taxi driver told me to put my seat belt on! Wow! In Uzbekistan, the drivers take offence if you put the seat belt on, as if you insult their driving skills!
I waited till the next morning to do my exploring.

According to my map, there was a museum near by. First I came across the market, which I love to wander through, explore and enjoy. I was craving fruit, which I haven’t been eating enough, so bought fresh plums, grapes and nectarines. People are much less friendly than in Uzbekistan! I always ask before taking photographs, but here people actually said NO! One woman got terrible upset, thinking that I took photos of her produce, which I never do without asking either! It took a kind young man to look at my ipad to convince her I did not ” illegally” photograph her sweets!

After four weeks in Uzbekistan this is extremely weird! For over three months I have not seen or heard this kind of behaviour! One young woman, spraying her plants, gave permission to take a picture of her plants, then asked if I would take one of her as well! She was Uzbek!

One stall sold some strange looking stuff, which I was not allowed to photograph. One was a black paste and one looked like mouse droppings. This young man showed me how to put the mouse droppings under my tongue, and then what!? I stood there looking stupid, until this foul taste hit me, I had to spit it all out as fast as I could! At least it entertained the local market! Spitting is a favourite past time here, so nobody looks up about that, local people use the same sound effects as in India. I think it was the faces I was pulling, that was entertaining them!

Anyway on to the museum, which was a derelict building, which has obviously been closed for the last two decades! Most houses, like Nukus, were empty! Strange, eerie and very boring to look at! I walked for about an hour. And decided that I wouldn’t stay beyond the two nights I needed to recover from the train trip. So late afternoon, back to the train station, booked and paid for a ticket, all in Russian, with Google translator! Worked on my blob, and drawings in my diary! Totally blissful, as nothing to be done! Hallelujah!

There were NO restaurants or eateries open! Hm! No dinner! Okay, fruit for dinner, and semi fasting, should be good for me right? It is Ramadan, so I can just join in! Woke up extremely hungry, also good, enjoy this empty feeling, there are lots of children in this world who don’t eat daily! Bought cherries and peanuts for the train! I don’t like eating while on the move, the less one has to use the toilet the better it is!

No breakfast on my second morning, okay, I am fine, starting to feel svelte! My brother Tom, called me from The Netherlands, and after a wonderful chat, I got dressed and left for the station.
The first class looks the same as the third class, but I do believe the mattress is slightly thicker! The white crispy sheets are a delight, the free coffee and tea appreciated! The toilet gets cleaned! Although still no paper, though!! Another ten hours of pure bliss! Meditation, catching up with e mails, and cross words! Good rest for my ankle!

Kool Kazakhstan

Getting up at 2.45 AM is never a strong point of mine, unless I have a sleepless night! Of course this particular night I was in a deep sleep when the alarm went off. It took exactly FIVE minutes, from waking to being in the taxi! A record, I am sure! At this time of the morning, there was barely any traffic on the road, the occasional stray car, so we arrived at the railway station in record time.

Here in Central Asia, catching the train is like flying, countless passport checkers, luggage gets X- rayed at least twice, sometimes more. Finally I was on the train. I had forgotten to mention first class, when I booked, so I was in the third class! It was a sleeper, a thin mattress was provided, with sheets and a pillow case. My bed was rackety, broken and very uncomfortable! No longer at an age that I keep my mouth shut, I spoke up and received another bed! Made it with the thin, threadbare, often mended sheets, and promptly fell asleep!

Such a deep sleep, that I had a vivid dream of being at the border, meeting with Lucia and Lisa, I was so happy to see my friends, we laughed so much, it was so real, that when I was woken up, I had no idea where I was, who I was, and where were my friends?? Completely confused, I had to open my bag, hand over my passport, I still thought I was at the border! Not really it was just a ticket and ID check. Okay, back to sleep.

Finally we reached the border, as my passport was already collected, I thought it would be fast and easy, no such luck! Altogether it took over four hours. The Kazakhstan border patrol carries portable ID checking kits. Photos were taken, bags were searched, and just when I thought we would move on, an incident happened. A young woman with a two year old child, was crying and screaming. All I understood was the ” please,please” bit! Her two year old was crying, it was all very emotional and loud. There were no English under titles, so it was like watching a foreign movie without translation! It couldn’t be that she had no passport as they were checked more than three times before one can board the train! In the end , we went on, but the police sat with her. So something was obviously not right!

Just over the border the train stopped again, and again a bag check! Personally I thought it was overkill, and a lot of people agreed with me as the grumbling got louder and louder! When we arrived at Beyneu, the police insisted in taking photos of each and every passport on his mobile phone! The doors stayed locked, commands were given, and suddenly, this pimply, never shaven face of this young cop looked panic stricken! There was mutiny on the Bounty, people forced their way over him, the doors opened, and the whole train steamed out! Scary to see such behaviour, kids screaming, this woman detained by the police still crying, all very strange to watch!

I was the last one of the train, as I could see no valid reason why I should put myself in danger of being squashed, I just waited till the mob dispersed, and quietly left the train! There was one taxi, I went to the hotel, booked a lovely room with private bath for two nights, showered, changed and slept like a babe till the next morning! Welcome to Kazakhstan!

Arid Aral Sea

Nukus is the capital of the Karakalpakstan Republic. It used to be independent. It still goes by the name and the title of Republic of Karakalpakstan. The Karakalpaks number only about 400.000 today. The Aral Sea is situated in the north of the Republic. The Aral Sea is along the border of western Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan. The water to the sea came from the Syr-Darya and Amu-Darya rivers, from the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain ranges. In the 1950s there was an average of 55 cubic km of water a year flowing into the Aral Sea, at that time the sea covered an area of 66,900 sq km.

The sea had , as people tell it, lovely clear water, pristine beaches, enough fish to support a huge fishing industry in the ports of Moynaq and Aralsk. There were even passenger ferries crossing from north to south. Then the USSR ‘s planners, decided there was more water needed to grow cotton. More and more water was needed, more and more water was used. The Aral Sea started to dry up. By the 1980 the flow of water into the Aral Sea was only a tenth of the 1950s water supply! Te production of cotton rose, the Aral Sea sank. The fishing industry finished, and ships were literally left high and dry. Of the 173 animal species only 38 survived.

As the sea shrunk, the climate around the lake changed, the air is drier, winters colder and the summers are hotter. Salt and sand from the exposed beds is blown over hundreds of kilometres in big salt-dust storms. One of the worst ones, according to the professor I met in Nukus, I witnessed for two days in Nukus. A layer of salty dust covering the whole town. The town itself disappeared, it was as if I was in the middle of Armageddon. I only witnessed this once before, during Black Friday, in Adelaide, when the bushfires raged all around town. Smothering Adelaide in smoke and dust and an eery glow hung over the entire city. In Uzbekistan, and I am sure in Kazakhstan too, these salty dust storms create a range of health problems, cancer of the throat etc., the area has the highest infant mortality rates in the former USSR, as well as high rates of birth deformities.

It is possible to make tours to the area, to see the devastation first hand. It would have been a two day trip, but on my own, with a non English speaking guide, too much for me, I declined! Also being confronted by an environmental disaster on such a large scale, would devastate me as well. At the present there is nothing Uzbekistan can do. The Russians created the problem, left, and refuse to support Uzbekistan financially or to reimburse them, to restore the sea. It might be too late already. This is a story that comes up a lot. The Russians came, used and abused, the lands the people, left, washed their hands, and left those small nations to it! Congratulations, you have your independence! Make the best of it! ( with thanks to the Lonely Planet for this information, albeit four years old!)

( no photos of the Aral Sea, as I did not take the tour! But you can google Aral Sea, ships in the desert, and environmental disaster for images!)

“Nuked” Nukus

Nukus is the strangest town I have ever been to! My hotel, Jipek Joli ( Silk Road)was right in the ” centre”! The street was full of apartment buildings and shops, BUT ……..they were ALL EMPTY!The whole ” centre” of town looked, well, just “nuked”!

The good news was that the hotel was right next to the biggest and best art gallery in Uzbekistan. Nukus is in the former republic of Karakalpakstan. The desert area with the famous Aral Sea. Of which I will write more in a minute. The Savitsky art gallery is a very pleasant surprise to find in such a desolate place. There is, of course a story attached to it. Let me put the info of the Lonely Planet in my own words. The Savitsky owns more than 90.000 artefacts and pieces of art- including more than 15.000 paintings- which are not all displayed , by the way. Most of the paintings came here during the Soviet times by the artist Igor Savitski, who wanted to preserve the avant garde art scene. The Russians were known to destroy any kind of art works they didn’t like!

I, for one, am glad he choose to preserve some of the most amazing works in the history of Uzbekistani Art. Nukus is literally the last place one would look for such a collection, and the Russians didn’t bother either. In the mean time dear Savitsky ( I wish his name was Smith!) saved a whole generation of contemporary art. One can also visit the store rooms, if one pays for it.

When I arrived it was in the high thirties. Luckily I didn’t have to walk too far. After my first three overwhelming hours in the museum, I was in need of a beverage. Across the road was a coffee shop, which was the only shop which had something in it! The coffee was delicious, and the enormous piece of cake serviced as dinner! All this for a A$1,50! My last piece of cake I promise! No more! Did I mention I get chocolate cake for breakfast every morning?? What a country! Shame that due to my knee and then my ankle, I can not walk the way I am used to and want! Also I might have mentioned the uneven footpaths and roads, that make a good strong walk rather impossible.
So what I am trying to say in a round abound way, is that this chocolate cake goes straight to my broad and cushioned hips!

The second day in Nukus, looked like the Armageddon had arrived. Dust storm, with very salty tasting fine dust, howled through the empty streets. I went back to the museum and spend another four hours, just wandering and enjoying. I was in heaven. Great art, solo, and after telling the staff to take their loud mobile calls outside, in silence! I wandered, sat, dreamt and was in a state of pure Bliss! The entry to the museum was not cheap. A$10 and if I wanted to take photos I had to pay another A$ 35!! This to me was not necessary, thinking I will buy some post cards of my favourite art, or a catalogue! The catalogue however was also the same price as the photo permit, and in the whole shop I managed to buy two postcards! This area could be improved strongly!

As I walked back into the horrific Armageddon atmosphere, I decided to return to the hostel. When I arrived back I realised that there was a museum just next door. It was a small museum, celebrating the life of the first woman, who performed on stage! Ayimxan Shamuratov, was a lovely woman, who was married to a play writer, Amet. They had seven children together. When her husband didn’t return from the Second World War, she had to make a living and she took to the stage. She saved up her money to support the Soviet war efforts, and managed to save enough for a war plane! Why any woman would support a war effort is beyond me, but it takes all sorts, I am sure! The museum was minuscule, walking in these horrid conditions impossible, so back to my room, to read, draw and watch kittens on you tube! Bliss in other words!

On my last day in Nukus, I had planned to visit the four musea mentioned on my maps app! Well, for some reason or other, I ended up at the presidential palace! Before I could knock on the door to see if he was at home, this soldier in a state of panic came running up! Thank god, no guns! Apparently one cannot , and must not knock on the White House doors! I wonder if one could do this in Washington DC? G’day Don, saw the lights on thought I hop in for a beer! Hm! The mind boggles!

After three hours of walking I gave up, found the directions to the archeological museum. According to my gadget, I was there!! The staff, Russian only, called the professor who spoke English! As he lived just around the corner, he came over, took me to the one room of restored artefacts, and explained all. The set up is paid for by the Sydney University on the initiative of an Australian professor! I was grateful for the opportunity to see it all, but to call this one room a museum, is way over the top! Nukus is one of the strangest places I have ever been to! I don’t think I will be back in a hurry!

Unique Urgench


The shared taxi from Khiva was only thirty minutes and one dollar cost! I had chosen one of the two major hotels. The main aim was the booking of my train ticket to Kazakhstan, and organising a bus to Nukus.The train station was easy. There was no train to Nukus, that problem solved. I bought my train ticket to Kazakhstan with the help of google translator. No English was spoken. In the struggle for meaningful communication, I forgot to book a FIRST CLASS ticket! Or a sleeper! Such is life! Received the ticket. Had a pot of green tea, and walked back to my hotel. About three kilometres.

On the way I encountered a Russian Orthodox Church, it’s golden dome was shining in the sun. I was surprised to see it open, and reluctantly entered ( I was wearing shorts and a tank top!) no problems. I took lots of photos, and bought a small item of somebody, whose name I have forgotten, I was looking for Saint Michael, he was only behind glassy frames, no good to travel with. I also bought a ring with a Russian inscription. Will have this translated some where.

I visited a ramshackle museum, I guess it was about Zoroastrians, it was hard to tell. The old man, who did all the explaining in Russian, invited me for lunch. After my huge breakfast , I was most certainly NOT hungry, but I have been here long enough to know that refusing is NOT an option! He never caught on I spoke no Russian. I have this trick, I used for the first time in Costa Rica with a four year old. Just repeat every last word you hear and as long as nobody asks a direct questions people never catch on that you don’t speak their language!  The woman, the cleaning lady I assume and her ten year old son, a staunch Christiano Ronaldo supporter, joined us for lunch. The poor lad was forced to speak more English than he could! Beyond hello, what is your name the people here don’t speak or understand English.

I met some teenage girls, on the way to a monument. They put nail polish on my nails. Chatted away, and then one of them demanded money! This was so incredibly unusual, I have not heard this in the last three months! So the answer was no! One of the girls suggested an ice cream, and I thought that was a fair exchange. They took me to a near by shopping centre.

It was huge. Hoping to find a travel agent there, (to book my flight to Georgia, as my I pad won’t let me book one,) I saw every corner of this huge place. Finally on the top floor , the ice cream parlour. We all enjoyed a nice time. There was a play floor, like a shooting gallery, something like that, the kids wanted a photo with me, also fine by me, then it became an issue, the tall one wanted to play on all the games, I figured a big ice cream and a photo was a fair enough exchange for the nail polish!

The eldest started to pout, a habit which I find very unflattering, so first I ignored, then when she chucked a wobbly at the toy shop, I told her to stop it. The younger but more mature one, reprimanded her. They wanted to walk me back to my hotel, I told them with my maps, I knew how to find it! So go home. They kept on walking pushing me towards the wrong hotel, getting a tad shitty, I told them again GO home! They kept on coming. We arrived at the wrong hotel, and by now my patience left me! GO HOME! The pout princes demanded money for a taxi, didn’t take NO for an answer, until I let go. They might not have understood a word I said, but they sure got my drift! Thirty years in Special Education and these teens think they can turn my NO into a YES ? Fat change, babes, I have worked with the worst of the worst, shame though, but I am not a “tourist chicken”, ready for the plucking!

There was terribly little to do in Urgench, so a visit to the local bazaar and bus station, was a highlight. I met a lovely young woman, Malika, who was stirring an huge pot. It was Nishola, a sweet made from the mountain tree, which name Malika forgot. I am assuming it was the tree bark, with egg whites and sugar, all boiled together into this, teeth rattling sugary sweet, which is served like jam.

Malika also told me I could catch a taxi to Khiva, near the bus station. A taxi driver walked by and we agreed to him picking me up at eight am. To take me in a shared taxi to Khiva. I walked on in the extreme heat, and found a game park. Lovely place, for young people. Great artificial lake and a huge playground. I met a lovely woman, a mother of five, four girls and the last one a little boy. He was a twin! Time to move on! To Nukus!

Gorgeous Khiva ( kh= G)

Khiva was just amazing! My hotel was surprisingly lovely. Hand painted ceilings every where! My room was delightful, full of art, colour and wonderfully comfortable.
Khiva was thought of as the Center of the earth. It was definitely the centre of the Silk Road!

The old centre, in which I stayed, was surrounded by large mud walls. When I first arrived I thought I would never be able to find my way in this rabbit warren of little roads. My first exploring was to find the super market, which was outside the gates. There ware four main gates, and I found my way around much faster than anticipated. My hotel was literally right next to the main attraction.

First one must by a ticket, which is valid for two days at a 100.000 sum (A$ 15 ) an absolute bargain! I managed to convince the woman I needed a ticket for four days, which she gave to me without any questions!

The main attraction was the minaret, Kalta Minor Minaret build by Mohammed Amin Khan, in 1851. Due to his unforeseen early death, never finished. It was my favourite spot to go to. The big buildings are all surrounded by stalls, which sell goods to the visitors. Of course there is a lot of silk, and to be honest I am angry I didn’t buy enough silk scarves! I could have gone berserk, shopping wise. I did spend quite a lot of money, but everything is so cheap. Even so, it all adds up. Prices were much higher than in any other place, due to the high amount of tourists that come here.

People were delighted to hear that I was travelling alone and not I a group. This way I actually get to talk to the local people, rather than to others in a group. The first day I got up really early to excellent morning light. It was amazing, no people wandering the streets, just the occasional cleaners sweeping the streets in preparation for the new day. A few stray tourist, who like me wanted to catch the early light. I wandered through the narrow streets, delighted in each and every discovery. I found tombs, decorated with flags! (Which I want now at my church!) the streets are full of mulberry trees. I had my fill of ripe, juicy mulberries, with the help of a local man, who saw me trying to reach the ripe ones!

I made friends with a gorgeous young woman who spoke excellent English. Sunshine, which is her name in English, lived up to her name, with her permanent smile. Most of the time I just wandered, aimlessly through the streets. On my ticket, I had fifteen “must see” buildings, I managed to see twelve of them, but saw plenty of things that were not on the list!

I ventured out on the last day to find the palace, which was NOT included in the ticket. An extra fifty thousand was paid, steep price, but the tourist money is used to upgrade the place and that in itself was worth it to me. The throne room, without the throne, was amazing. The throne went to Russia for en exhibition, and the Russians never bothered to return the exhibit. A bit too greedy, if you ask me. The top floor was still empty, but beautifully rebuild. An exhibition space so perfect, I wanted to paint and hang the walls full of contemporary art! Art was plenty as well. I spend over three hours there. Mandalas galore, and so much small and exquisite delights.

My last evening I spend on the roof top restaurant, full of loud and noisy tourists. But worth it just for the spectacular views of the town. There was a rickety ladder near the old wall, but I was too frightened to climb it. I could have gone up, but the going down would have been too scary for me. So the rooftop restaurant was the next best thing. Khiva was an amazing place, however, it lacked the nice centre that Bukhara offered. Next stop is Urgench, just to catch a train to Nukus. Another week and my visit to Uzbekistan will come to an end. Shame that he visa is only for thirty days, I could stay here much, much longer!

Beautiful Bukhara

I arrived at midday in Bukhara, after a pleasant and fast train trip. My hotel is right on the main square, mama Nazira gave me the biggest welcoming hug ever. It immediately felt like meeting an old friend. My room is beautiful and quiet. Due to the fact that I twisted my ankle on my last day in Samarkand, I couldn’t walk too far. I sat down on the square and watched the world go by. Quite content to just sit and enjoy watching the people.

Bukhara is much smaller and thus much more intimate, compared to Samarkand. People are again very friendly, and quickly I became a fixture on the square. The square has a big artificial lake, which has fountains all around it. The square is lined with ancient mulberry tree, in which the birds delight. There is plenty to see and do, I have four days here, so I decided to take it easy. 

Around the square are several beautiful places to visit.In the early morning sunrise when the birds awaken is the best time to wander around. The bus loads of tour groups don’t arrive until about ten in the morning, plenty of time to wander through the old streets of this old Silk Road town. The madrassas are filled with little craft shops selling the most gorgeous hand made items. Silk clothing and products are high on the list. Of course the silkworm loves to munch on the mulberry leaves, of which there are plenty. I decided to see just a few sights early in the morning, than have a rest, Give my ankle some time to rest and heal. Since it is rather warm, well okay it is hot, right now. It makes sense to stay indoors and have a siesta in the afternoon.

At night the town turns into a reflection of fairyland, the big pool ref electing all the fairy lights hung in trees. The place is buzzing with life music, a fourteen year old violinist plays favourite music, the theme song of the Titanic movie is my favourite. The restaurant serves delicious meals for less than A$5 . Tourists gather to sit in the scented night air, while the heat of the day turns into a delightful coolness, appreciated by all.

I met a delightful young woma, Catalina, from Romania, and we decided to see the traditional dance show and fashion Parade, inclusive of a delightful diner. A great evening, stunning music, fabulous dances and costumes, all very enjoyable.

Shopping is the main past time, next time I will come directly to this place, with an empty suitcase! Everything, literally everything is hand made. A delight to watch people working at their craft. Silk is very big, and a lot of the women are special crafts people, highly qualified in their trade! Artisans study to a high degree and their diplomas are often proudly on display. It is pure delight to watch these highly competent people applying their craft.

Mosques, madrassas, markets and muses, all in walking distance of the centre. A compact, fascinating town, with a delightful atmosphere. Bukhara, I will miss you so much, you have made me feel so welcome, I feel at home here. Don’t worry, I will be back! Insh’allah.

Mother’s Day magic

On Mother’s Day I decided to spoil myself, and booked a private taxi to Shahrisabz, which is about 80 kilometres away. On the way I came across two large trucks that had been transformed into beehives! Very interesting as they could take the trucks wherever the flowers were blooming! Half way there the rains came, and I couldn’t see the mountains. I was hoping, and wishing and praying it would clear up, so I could enjoy the sights without getting cold and wet! No such luck! So at the ancient Silk Road market, I bought a five dollar umbrella, knowing full well that the rains would now stop, this is how things work in my life. The complex was incredibly interesting, and unlike the Registan, not repaired too badly by the Soviets. I wandered around, in the rain, taking reflection photographs, as it was not too cold, it was still very enjoyable.

Obviously things are going well for Shahrisabz. As lots of new buildings were going up, and the complex will have another million shops by next year! Today due to the rain most of the shops were closed, however. This pleased me immensely as I find it disturbing that one has to pay an entry fee to shop! The weather cleared, and the stream of visitors got thicker. I did manage to take some photos of Amir Timur, who created this city and was born nearby. One of the mausoleums was were he was supposed to be buried, but due to the fact that he died in Kazakstan, and the roads were closed due to the snow, he ended up in Samarkand.

After about three hours I came back to the car and as we started the drive home, the weather cleared enough that the sun came out and it became lovely and warm. We were looking for a restaurant to have some lunch, as it was by now about 2.30pm. After my huge breakfast I can’t say I was very hungry, but of course the driver needed something to eat too. We stopped, at what he thought was a restaurant, instead it was a BIG party. The young couple had two sons and the eldest turned ten today, which means a BIG celebration. In five minutes time our table was full of food, and I was encouraged to eat, eat, eat. The war cry in each and every place I have visited so far! The traditional plov and another traditional dish, whose name I have forgotten! And a slab of birthday cake so big I could have fed a village with that.

The boy’s mother was an English teacher and sat down next to me to chat. She looked exhausted, and indeed she was! The party started at six o’ clock in the morning, with the men drinking beer and vodka! En at midday the women started partying! She had one THOUSAND people at this party and my driver and I were number thousand and one, and thousand and two! Even if she meant one hundred, it is still an enormous amount of people to feed and water in a day! ( people get their numbers mixed up a lot!)

I was exhausted too, as the night before saw an intake of thirty six men from Tashkent ( at the hostel)who partied till about two in the morning, very loud, very drunk and right in front of my window. When I finally managed to fall asleep, I was awoken at five by some of these men, vomiting away in the toilet next to my room! Three hours sleep no longer carries me through the day as it used to do in the oldern days. I too, was suffering, and exhausted. Of course the necessary selfies needed to be taken and I was given a cloth to wear and a scarf was put around my head! When I tried to give these back at the end of the photo session, I was told it was a gift and next time I should come and stay with this young family. The necessary promises were made and Murod and I went on our way.

The weather had cleared up enough, to take some photos on the top of the mountain, and by six o’ clock in the evening I was back at my hostel. From nine to six, nine hours for just U$25, it was worth every cent! Such an amazing country, such amazing people. When I arrived home, I had planned to go straight to bed, but there were two new people, from Germany, at the hostel. All the Tashkent party people had left. I was showing my gifts to the Swiss guy I met the day before. DIetrich is riding his bike, for six months, along the old Silk Road. Men just get offered free drinks, they don’t receive presents, like women do!! After a few cups of tea, it was time to go to bed. Exhausted but perfectly happy, grateful for another beautiful day.

Stunning Samarkand

Hot, hot and hotter. Like a sauna. This was my three hours train ride to Samarkand. No air conditioner, no windows that could open! I sat next to Diane from the States. Two gorgeous little toddlers entertained me some of the way. Listening on his mother’s mobile, he danced the hours away. Diane and I chatted for a while, but we couldn’t help but drift off to sleep.

My hostel is in five minutes walking distance of the Registan. Registan, which means the “Sandy Place” in Tajik, was Samarkands commercial centre in the Middle Ages. The towers of the medressas, leaning nearly  as much as the famous tower in Pisa! The Registan is the centre piece of the city. Samarkand is one of Central Asia’s oldest settlements. It is on the famous Silk Road. It grew into  a big city between the 6 th and 13 th century. It was flattened in 1220 by the famous Ghinggis Khan.

Amir Timur, however, decided to make it a capital city and spend most of his rule as a king transforming Samarkand into a magic place. His statue is larger than life and absolutely every where.

The Registan is superbly decorated with turquoise tiles, azure blue motives and stunning ceilings. It is one of  the most awesome sights I have ever seen.  It is still an artisanian place,  craft shops, filled with everything one could ever want, fill the many small rooms which are housed in these amazing buildings. It is a photographic paradise and I do regret not being able to carry my expensive, and heavy, camera for such opportunities!

Around the corner of my quaint and quirky hostel is a “museum”, which is really a craft centre, the young artisans were very friendly and a pleasant afternoon was spend, sitting down, chatting and drinking “chai zeloni!” (green tea) My lonely planet guide book tells me I only need two or three days to see the major sights. I disagree however, I am here for four days, and unable to see it all. Too much to see, so little time or energy!

The Bibi-Khanym Mosque was once one of the biggest mosques in the Moslim world, the cupola of the main mosque is 41 meters high, until it was severely damaged in an earthquake in the late 1800.  Bibi- Khanym was Timur’s Chinese wife, who wanted to surprise her husband while he was away, with a brand new mosque. The story, or legend is that the architect fell in love with the woman, and demanded a kiss, before he would finish the building. This kiss apparently marker her, and the architect received the death sentence, while women from now on had to wear a veil!

There is the Sha-I-Zinda is an avenue of Mausoleums, considered to be a Holy side.  The name means the Tomb of the living King. The original and inner most , holiest shrine a complex of rooms around what is probably the grave of Qusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, who has brought the Islam to this area in the seventh century.  I have to be honest, I am not sure I have seen all of this as it was extremely crowded, extremely hot, and I was extremely tired! I did see, what I thought was the mausoleum of the first president of the republic of Uzbekistan.

There is also a mausoleum of Daniel, the one of lion fame. According to some stories, he is buried here, his arm is buried here, or he could be buried here! His coffin is 18 meters long, which to me sounds like overkill for just his arm! The legend is that Daniel’ s body grows half an inch per year hence the eighteen meter coffin! Mind you there is also a tomb of Daniel in Susa in Iran!!Very interesting to see, that there were lots of Moslem people praying to the prophet Daniel as well. Please note that most of my facts and stories are “plagiarised”from the Lonely Planet, my favourite travel guide!

There you go, another thing learned. I also visited the museum, where they asked me questions in French, I answered with the only word I know, “oui, oui, oui” and was allowed to walk in. Afterwards I realised she asked me if I was part of the French group! Oops! Well, no, not really. I was offered a lift in a police car, not because I went into the museum for free, but because the police saw me walking and offered a lift!! On the way home, I hopped in at the art/ craft centre and spend some time with the young people. Another fabulous day

Terrific Tashkent

On the way to Tashkent! I shared a taxi, five hours, we had a fabulous driver, who stopped every two hours, first at a markets and then on top of the mountain. He drives daily from Fergana to Tashkent! Hard slog! On the top of the mountain he bought me wild flowers, fresh from the mountains. The trip went fast. He dropped me off at the door of my new hostel. Gulnara hostel, just around the corner of the Chorsu markets. At the market is also where the nearest metro is situated. So close to everything.

After a quick visit to the markets, buying fresh fruit, water, and some necessities, I planned my four -day stay in first place to visit was the contemporary art museum. This was closed, shame. I went to visit it three more times, not once was it open. This is something I encountered several times in Kyrgyzstan as well. Such a shame. Not too worry, there was plenty more to see. An art market to visit, a fabulous museum which is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet, but was well worth a visit. Amir Timur, a famous King, has his statue absolutely every where, and his museum was fabulous.

People are incredibly friendly and keen to practice their English. I met one portrait artist, Erhas, who lived and worked for years abroad, and had excellent spoken English. I was constantly offered a seat and a chat. Most people are horrified that I travel alone! Don’t I get lonely? The answer is no! I love to just wander, look and listen, and feel like Alice in Wonderland, most of the time! I am certainly not in Kansas any more!

Tashkent is a vibrant, modern city. Some of the left over Russian buildings are unimaginative and rather grey and boring, but inside they are full of pleasant surprises. It is a shame that my limit of wandering is now about five hours, n I have to go back as I am totally exhausted. Somewhere I have lost my knee support, along with lots of other items. I was surprised I had not noticed when and where I lost it! Luckily my knee is holding out, but it does tell me when it has had enough of this meandering.

I was lucky enough to met a lovely Dutch lad and an Australian girl from Brisbane. They had planned a trip into the mountains, and I offered to lower their taxi price by one third! Tagging along was great, although I did decline the rackety chairlift, which took them up the mountain! Instead I walked for a while and came across a family, who was in the process of opening up an teepee accommodation just on the edge of the mountain. After drinking a pot of tea, it is always a pot, never just a cup, I went back to the taxi and promptly fell asleep on the backseat.
It was a magnificent day with stunning views. The driver took us to the dam, and we ended up having a delicious lunch in a small village.

The town of Tashkent was being beautified, due to the big ninth of May celebrations. Celebrating the end of World War II . I had every intention of going there, but was sidetracked, and got lost, in a completely different part of the town. A shame most of the complex I visited was closed, due to the holiday, but I came across a fabulous restaurant with very friendly staff, where I are plov. Plov is a national Uzbeki dish, rice, meat, and vegetables with lots and lots of different spices. When I mentioned I couldn’t eat meat, the meat was just removed! I didn’t make a fuss, as I am not a very fanatic vegetarian, it is more that my teeth are so bad, and my body reacts bitterly if and when I eat meat.

I had to book my train trip to Samankand, and Lo and behold when I was in the station buying my ticket, the young man in front of me, looked at me and told me he knew me! Yeah, right! As if! Cheeky bugger! He asked my name and then showed me a letter head from his travel company, which I was meant to visit the day after! He booked my accommodation in Nukus! He also offered a trip to the Aral Sea, which I have declined to take, as I would have to spend two days with a non English speaking driver, which I find too exhausting and boring! There were twelve places where I could have lined up to buy my ticket, just incredible serendipity that we stood in the same line!

As I left the station, I bumped into Diane, an elderly American lady, I had met in Fergana at my guesthouse. How unbelievable is that? There are millions of people in this city and I bump into the only two people that knew me! I love these special encounters. We went back in to the station and got Diane a ticket in the same carriage as me. So at least there is one English speaker amongst all e people I am travelling with! I am looking forward to going to Samarkand, the golden city of the famous Silk Road. So many adventures, so little time.

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