Category: Blog (Page 1 of 6)

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.

Fergana and beyond


Fergana is one of the many places in the Fergana valley. It is the fruit going area in Uzbekistan. Fruit trees are every where. Right now strawberries were in season, dirt cheap and delicious. No chemicals, just natural and juicy. I stayed at Valentina’s guesthouse. A private room, with private bathroom. Close to the markets and the centre of town. I met Jean Claude for breakfast the next morning, and asked if I could tag along with him, since he was going to the same places as I had planned! Valentina’s breakfast is legendary! She must have thought I looked like a starving waif! It kept me going for lunch and dinner as well!

After breakfast we grabbed a shared taxi to Rishton, the place famous for its pottery. We visited the famous potter. Potters had been in his family history like forever. Each family has a copy right to a certain design. The pottery shed itself was very small, and the kiln was home build in the back yard. We were looking for the pottery factory, and as we were sharing a pot of, free, tea, the man told us it was just across the road!! What a fascinating place this was! All the women were so funny, welcoming and hospitable. Willing to share their lunch, their tea and their laughter. The only not so happy face was the manager, who kept looking at his watch!

Walking back to the bus station from where we hoped to catch a marsroutka to Kokand, we bumped into a lovely young girl, who asked if she could join us. She was going to the same place, was studying English and French and could do with the practise. Well, it became the best day, Sitora, from Uzbekistan, was nineteen years old. Spoke fluent Uzbeki, Russian,English and was working on her French and German. The three of us went to Kokand where we visited the palace and the old mosque and madrassa. A great time was had by all.t

On the way back we stopped in a place called Boston, because we could, and because there was an enormously big pottery market. Sitora knew of a holy man who had his mausoleum there and who granted wishes for true believers! I asked for world peace, and obviously I am not a true believer as we all know what happened this week, with the mango Mussolini and Iran.
The people at the market were genuinely pleased to have some fair dinkum real tourists in their market, and couldn’t give us enough presents! One of the women was very extroverted and out going, asked Jean Claude for a dance, and great fun was had by all when he obliged.

After making several small purchases, we took a shared taxi home to Fergana. The high, snowy mountain range came into view, and Sitora excitedly pointed them out. Impressive with the late afternoon sun turning the snow to a golden glow. Another great day. We all went out for dinner finishing of this marvellous day on a high note.

The next day we met up again, this time to go to Margilon, the silk place. First off to the markets. Then, just as Jean Claude told us how he had attended an Uzbeki wedding, and me sighing that I would love to attend one, one day. A man called from across the road, a wedding feast in progress. We were invited! More food was to be eaten, more dancing to be done! Fabulous. Afterwards a museum, and time to return to Fergana. Jean Claude to catch a taxi to Tashkent, Sitora to go to work and me to have an afternoon nap! All these experiences making me tired!

One more day to just wander around, visit a museum, do some shopping and organising my shared taxi to Tashkent. Good bye Fergana, and Fergana valley. A magnificent place to visit!

Unbelievable Uzbekistan

Just as I was thinking, that people couldn’t be any nicer than the people in Osh, I realised I was mistaken! I caught a марусжка, I have no idea if this is spelled correctly, it is the word for minibus! (Since I took two days to learn to say the word, I thought I use it here!) the border was less than ten minutes away, and I arrived nice and early. As soon as I hopped of the bus, slung my, by now ten kilo backpack ( well, may be not, but it is starting to feel heavy!) over my shoulder, looking around where to go next, I met Ali. Ali is from Kyrgyzstan, but his parents live in Uzbekistan, while he now lives and works as a taxi driver in Saint Petersburg. Ali was like Moses, the sea of people opened up and I was allowed to walk through. I felt embarrassed, but this is what people here do. Tourist are incredibly respected.

Within fifteen minutes I skipped all the border horrors, mentioned on line and in the Lonely Planet. My guide book is four years old, and it shows how much things can change and progress is made. It was stated several times, that I needed to account for all my cash money. Due to the fact that Visa card withdrawals could not be made in Iran, I had to carry cash. I took too much. The countries I have been to are dirt cheap, so I still carry a fair amount of cash! Not ideal, but such is life. It is no longer necessary to declare ones money. Neither did my bags get checked at all. Medication with codeine is not allowed to be brought into the country, nor sleeping tablets. Since I still carried medication from my bike accident, I made sure that all was used up! Needless to say I slept like a babe for the last week in Kyrgyzstan!

With the help of Angel Ali, I paid only local price for a taxi ( shared) to Fergana. The driver dropped me off near Valentina’s guest house and left me to it. Valentina was amazing. She has been running her guest house for the last seven years and she can’t do enough for her guests. She must have decided that I needed fattening up, because her breakfast was for at least three people! Needless to say that I ate it. So all the weight lost in Kyrgyzstan has found me again. Ah, well, such is life. My first adventure was walking to the local market. The biggest adventure is finding the guesthouse again! Not a given in my life! The market in Fergana was large and interesting. A lot of clothes and fresh strawberries. Big trailer loads full of them. As I wasn’t yet used to the new money, I had no idea of prices. ( this is getting worse as I am getting older!) So no buying anything on day one!

I was rather peckish, so I found a fast food restaurant. And as I can say “hot chips” in Russian, that is what I ordered. Most food is made with meat. I have had meat soup and a meat pasties.  It is not that I dislike it, it is my body that protests violently. Since the times that my stomach has complained, in ways that I leave up to your imagination, I stick to potato dishes. As I was waiting for my chips, I just started drawing some people in the restaurant. Unbeknown to me people were gathering behind me, looking over my shoulder. Suddenly there were four people all wanted to be drawn! We started talking, with google translator, as no English was spoken. I managed to ask how much the strawberries were as one woman wanted 15,000 сум ( som) which sounded awfully expensive to me. Before I realised what was happening I was taking by the hand, dragged across the road, and I received about three kilos of strawberries for only seven сум! (This was ONE Australian dollar I found out afterwards!)

I had to try and find the restaurant again as I was dragged away before I could pay! Well, this is how it goes, I am now a ” friend” and the owner would not accept payment! I was soon to found out that this is the ” norm”! Also people give presents, all the time. This happened in Turkey also, but here the people are so much poorer. The kindness of people is just overwhelming! I feel so incredibly blessed, ALL THE TIME!

Osh Observations

The flight to Osh was magic! I did get a window seat, and the overcast clouds lifted long enough for me to see the majestically mountains! I now also want to go to Switzerland! Osh was sunny, friendly and outgoing. My hostel is clean, simple with incredibly friendly staff. I had a free pick up from the airport. Fabulous service.

The first place I visited was the centuries old Silk Road markets. Trading still goes on along the river banks, like it has done right through out the ages. People were keen to communicate, with their English and my Russian and a lot of charades, we all managed quite well. The questions, of course are always the same, where are you from? How come you travel alone? Do you have children and grandchildren? What about your husband?

My apologies to my ex husband, nothing personal, but he is always dead! ( simplifies matters, due to language barriers) My new found friend stuck her tongue out, crossed her eyes and dropped her head! This was to show she understood! Also cracked all the market sellers up big time!! So she kept repeating it over and over! Why haven’t I found an other man? Ah, well, shoulder shrug, patting my heart, sad face, oh, so the love was too big. Understood. Move on. In a country were divorce doesn’t seem to exist, a woman’s sheer existence depends on having a husband and children. In a country were having grand children is a must, one can not explain the delights of solitude and liking ones independence.

The young women often gaze into the distance, dreaming of travelling, but always mentioning straight after that they will do so on their honeymoon. The young guide I had in the museum had it all planned out. She would marry the man her parents choose for her, have the two grandchildren her parents wanted, then leave them all behind to go and travel the world. Dreaming lay she told me all of this. I smiled and wished her well. I didn’t point out that she wouldn’t want to leave her children behind. She would find out soon enough. People volunteered their children to me, to be my grandchild! A twelve year old boy told me in his best English, he was studying English to go to Australia. My new found friend suggested I take him with me as my grandson.

One of the market sellers offered me his friend’s hand in marriage. The man in question had a mouth full of golden teeth. Golden teeth are very popular here and I must admit, that I have difficulties looking away.

Teeth are in very bad condition, could be all the wonderful cakes and sweet breads, and copious amounts of sugary tea, that disintegrates their teeth. Where the people get the money from to buy the golden teeth, remains an utter mystery to me. My own teeth are crumbling on a daily basis. I have cut out all sweet drinks, and to my deepest regret, their wonderful cakes.

The sweet bread, however, I the main staple of my diet here. Almost all the food has meat in it. I have tried, but my body violently rejected that idea. So meat free it is. This cuts down nearly 90% of my choices. I do like the noodles with chicken and vegetables. However, most of the time I have terrible stomach troubles after! So no blogs about the food. Boiled eggs, sweet bread and bananas is my staple. Very boring, but necessary.

Taking the local bus has been a delight. In Bishkek, a much bigger town, people wouldn’t even look at me. Here I am the entertainment centre. Often, one teenager, who speaks English, gets the task to interview me. The whole bus throws questions to her, and after I answer them, she repeats the answers. Often I get so involved that I miss my stop, or even forget to pay. It doesn’t matter where you need to go, the entire trip is ten cents. You get on through the backdoor and pay when you leave through the front! Unlike Italy, where I was taught to escape payment on buses, here everybody just pays.

The other, very noticeable thing, all the young people offer a seat, to anybody older then them. Every man offers a seat to a woman, and everybody, old women included, offer a seat to pregnant women! There might be a small prompt if young people are too engrossed in their gadgets, to notice, but it all happens, easily and fluently. Standing up for mothers with small children I do automatically.

Nearly most people are attached to their gadgets and run on batteries. ( i pods plugged in!!) even small children walk around with gadgets! People are shocked and stunned to see me draw, watch or just sitting. Not possible! I have NO smart phone?? Unbelievable! My phone doesn’t work here for one reason or other. It doesn’t matter as I used to travel without a phone for years. Having said all of the above, I am now going to contradict myself! Parks and playgrounds are everywhere, and kids play! Elastics, skipping, snap, tag and just games they have invented themselves. The high apartment buildings are set in a U shape. Inside is the playground with lots and lots of benches. Cars park at the front, the rest is traffic free.

Motorbikes are a novelty here. You don’t see too many. Kids have space and equipment to play on. No safety mats, no helmets, no helicopter parents here. Often it is grandmothers sitting together, either on their gadgets or gossiping with the other babushkas. Babies are adored, hugged, kissed and looked after by a whole community. It reminds me of Latin America twenty years ago. The children are shy, not open to outsiders, secure in the knowledge of their family and community’s love. They are not too impressed by my Nemo impression, may be they haven’t seen the movie, or it is Nemo with another name. The babies stare at me, solemn, unsmiling, with a look of slight distrust on their gorgeous Buddha faces. I will not give up! I will smile, talk and coo to every child I see, with or without a reaction from the child itself!

Beyond Bishkek

When I first arrived in Bishkek, I have to be honest, I was not too impressed. It is grey, cold and buildings are crumbling. I found it depressing and after Iran, very un- inviting. It is amazing when one arrives somewhere with expectations. It took awhile. Slowly the weather warmed, the clouds lifted, the trees started budding. Like Camelot, the snowy mountains appeared! Stunning! I walked, a lot. The city is full of sculptures, statues and empty water fountains. Parks, full of blossoming trees, crooked footpaths, and crumbling walls. The birds singing, the bees humming and those stunning snowy mountains in the background. Majestic, silent and very impressive.

Walking around town became an adventure, which I saved for the weekends. During the week I was immersed in 160 minutes a day of Russian. Too exhausted to do more than go to the supermarket, homework and a lot of sleeping! But on weekends I went walking and exploring.

I booked a one day trip to Burana tower. In the fields near Kegeti, there stands a tower which is about 24 meters high. It leans slightly, like the famous Pisa tower. It used to be twice as high, but lost half to the invading Mongols. There is a grassy mount, which used to be an ancient citadel, Balasagun.

There is also a collection of 6th to 10th century balbals, Turkic totem like stone markers, which according to my guide, were portraits of killed warriors! They didn’t look to happy, about having their portraits carved into stone. Each of them holding what looked like a wine goblet. That however, could have been wishful thinking on my part! ( have not had a drink for over two months now!) There were also some mausoleums, but only he foundations were left, all the rest was destroyed.

Horse sports are very popular in Kyrgyzstan. The most favourite game is called Kok boru, ulak-tartysh or buzkashi, which is a Kyrgyz term that means ” grey wolf”. It started as a hunting exercise. It is a full on team sport in which riders and horses can get hurt. The object is not a ball, but a headless goat whose body needs to be thrown into a circular ” goal”. I was fortunate enough to come across a game in full play. Danar stopped and explained the game to me. Yes, it was gruesome, but it is a tradition that goes back all the way to the time of Ghenis Khan. The goat was already dead, so there was no blood flying around. I was mightily impressed with the horsemanship, e backdrop of the stunning mountains and the beauty of these magnificent horses.

There was also a Muslim cemetery. This was not that old, most graves were around the nineteen fifties, but interesting enough they were also built like towers. Influenced may be by Burana tower? On the way home Danar stopped at a zoo, which wasn’t in a very good condition, which always depresses me. It had some funky sculptures though, which I greatly enjoyed. We had a traditional lunch Danar a meat based potato, while my soup was broccoli with my favourite bread. It was an absolutely magical day which we both enjoyed very much.

Danar’s English is fantastic, so he could explain a lot of the Kyrzyk customs. The main one is, that the youngest son ends up living with his parents and looks after them in their old age. The other main one is that he has time until he is thirty to find himself a wife, failing that, his parents will find him one!! He MUST be married by thirty. Girls get till twenty five, and then parents will interfere. The youngest son and his wife will move in with his parents, and look after them until they die! No old folks homes here, utmost respect and the tradition is NOT questioned! Parents just tell you from an early age on how it is going to work out for all of them! Hm! What about rebellious natured sons?? What if the son’s wife doesn’t like his parents? Eh?? Not possible! The parents ALWAYS come before wives or husbands! What I want to know is HOW do parents do this?? Pure brainwashing?

I am on the way to Osh now. Where I will spend the last seven days! I so hope I have a window seat, and that it is clear enough to get a view of the spectacular mountains! On the first of May I will go to Uzbekistan, and so the adventures go on, and on, and on!!

More Bishkek, Kyrgyztan

It is said that learning a language alters your brain! Indeed this is so true! Learning a language ” fries” your brain! So I suppose that you can call that altering! It has been a week now, that for some reason or other, I thought it was a good idea to learn Russian. Why not? I thought, since I can’t go on a horse riding trip, I can’t go and sleep in a yurt. The main mountain passes in the country are still closed. They will not open until the end of May. So what to do? This is my best planned vacation! Hm! I think I am going back to UNPLANNED vacations!

I need to get a visa for either Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, and as the Pamir Pass, my reason for going to Tajikistan, will be closed till the end of June, it looks like it is a much better idea to go directly to Uzbekistan. I need a visa. Normally a very straight forward affair. You go to the embassy, you fill out forms and you receive your visa for normally a minimum of thirty days!

However the Uzbekistan embassy has made this visa application into a special art. First you go to the embassy, the application is filled out on line. It has compulsory questions, well, the questions are compulsory but your answer are! So letter of invitation MUST be answered, except that as an Australian you no longer NEED a letter of invitation! Photo needs to be downloaded onto the form, except it doesn’t work! How many days do you want? Except that nowhere is indicated how many days you will receive!! All very complicated and totally unnecessary.

Finally you hand over your form , one photo and are told yo come back three days later by a young woman who obviously spends every spare moment sucking lemons! When you come back, the same sour puss gives you a bill. Go and pay it at this bank! Which bank? Luckily, Johannus, the German man who was here on Friday as well, and I were able to share a taxi to the bank. We paid, were charged a bank commission, and received a receipt. Back to the embassy, handed over our slips and received our visa for Uzbekistan! A process, that is normally rather simple, believe me, I have collected enormous amounts of visas in my time!

Egypt is the fastest, simplest and cheapest! Than there was the visa for Mauritania, which took three days and was made outrageously complicated. Let’s not forget the year I needed to go yo Sri Lanka to renew my Indian visa for six months, and the day before I flew out the Sri Lankan president was killed! Oops!! It took me over a month to get my Indian visa! Alt hose are exceptions though. It is a very simple procedure made terribly complicated. This is totally unnecessary!

In the mean time I have spend two weeks learning Russian. Very complicated language! Needed to learn a completely new alphabet , then remember this abc, then do my homework, study and cope with rainy and cold weather! I had two lovely young teachers, I was the only student in the class, and we ALL know that teachers make the worst students possible! My self contained apartment was only U$9 per night! Cheap as! Even the 160 minutes a day was just U$20! There is a very cheap canteen which cooks local food, and hot soups for lunch. Most of my Russian practice was done in this place! The first sentence I learned was ” no meat, please”! The local food is simple, but delicious. A lot of soup, stews and pasties. I specially like the potato pasties, or “самса” as they are called. I did get an upset stomach, as my body is obviously not used to the oil, butter nor milk products. Most of food comes from the local supermarket! Although today’s potato and cabbage mash was delicious and very reminiscent of the food in Holland. ( in winter)

 

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Early in the morning, the dawn had not yet made up its mind to rise, I arrived in Bishkek,Kyrgyzstan. It had obviously been raining all night, and it continued to do so all day as well! It was Easter Sunday in Australia. Here, because of the Russian Orthodox church, Easter will be next weekend! This was great, I crawled into bed, determined to sleep most of the day away, feeling secure in the knowledge that life would go on with or without me!

It wasn’t until the next day, I felt human again, ready to explore the city centre. My Ultimate Adventure hostel is in walking distance of all the important aspects that Bishkek has to offer. The only thing I had not counted on, is that on Monday everything is closed! No art gallery, no museum, only the free parks full of sculptures. I walked around for as long as my body would allow, then found a rather expensive looking restaurant, five star for sure, crawled in a corner, ordered a fabulous cappuccino and national cake, and entertained myself with the free wifi for the rest of the wet afternoon.

I have decided to curb my sweet tooth, and from now on, no more cakes! Life has been a little too good lately, and I am determined to leave a few more kilos behind while travelling. Iran, with their fabulous sweets was an exception. Here the traditional dishes are all diary related, which I don’t want to eat too much of. I spend a whole day at the markets, looking at traditional dresses, wedding dresses, and local produce. A lot of horse hair is turned into felted products. Lovely and not at all over priced considering all is hand made.

I have to change my sort of pre planned trip, well, nothing is really pre planned, really, but I had imagined myself tracking through the mountains, hiking up snow capped peaks, sliding down the mountain sides. Well, the mountain passes are not open!! Not until the end of May or during June, when buses go to the lakes and tourists come! Should have been a dead give away that I am the only tourist in my guest house! So NO horse riding, staying overnight in yurts. No travelling with e nomads eating horse flesh around the campfire while drinking horse milik.

Such a shame, but not too worry, flexibility is my middle name! While I sort of planned my trip I was going to spend the first three months travelling through China, then cross into Kazakhstan, and travel down. Today I have decided that I will cancel Tajikistan, not because I don’t want to go there, but because the famous Pamir pass will be closed till July!! Instead I will study Russian for the next two weeks, booked accommodation at the language school, and fly to Osh on the 23th of April. Osh is on the border of Uzbekistan, where the weather is more pleasant and the snow will mostly be gone! Uzbekistan gives a forty day visa if one pays money, and so the month of May will be spend there.

One of the lovely Dutch women I met, told me that an Australian passport let me into over a 170 countries visa free! I laughed, thinking she was misinformed !! Today I googled it and she is quite right!! All those thousands of dollars I spend on visas, is no longer necessary! I can stay up to a year, visa free, in Georgia, so after Uzbekistan, that is where I will go for the month of June. Azerbijan gives e visas, so after a month I will go down there and go back to the north of Iran, Tabriz and may be Mashad. I might not have the energy to get to Tehran, it will be hot, but as I am flying out of Oman, I might have to! Why I never plan before hand is beyond my understanding, but I must admit, it is not really in my nature!

Bishkek is lovely in Spring time, but the broken up, uneven footpaths are hell to walk on. I walked more than four hours yesterday, and didn’t eat cake! Yes! This is how it will work! The buildings are not really remarkable, being, grey, square and Russian looking. But the trees are in flower, people dress colourful and the birds are singing. Spring is here!

People are friendly, but language is a barrier. After the overwhelming attention in Iran, this is is not a bad thing. The hundreds of selfies with unknown people, has come too near standstill. Only three new friends on Instagram, in a WEEK! Iran would have give me that within an hour!!

Trying NOT to compare the two completely different places. Although, the traffic here is AWESOME! Cars actually slam on their brakes for pedestrians AND red lights! There is a strong element of police presence, so maybe that has something to do with it!! Strong rules, which are being followed!! Life is cheap here, my daily expenditure far below my budget. Going to be even cheaper while studying and living at the language school. Sitting here in the sunshine, eating my traditional potato and bean soup! No cow, only chicken! Menu in Russian, so ordering with sound effects! Ah, life is so good!

Delightful Dubai

The flight from Shiraz to Dubai, was fast, superb, great meal for just an hour flight. Wonderful Iranian business man sitting next to me. Before I knew it I was landing in Dubai! I forgot to mention that there was an e mail, that morning,  from my hotel in Dubai, saying there was a problem with my booking! I tried ringing several time and it didn’t work! I booked via hotel.com got a fabulous deal! Planning to sit in a bath, scrub my feet and wash my clothes while watching an ENGLISH movies! So much for expectations!!

The water heater blew up the day before I got there! Over two thousand channels on the television and ONLY two in English! One is the BBC news, and to tell you the host truth, I am so over the CRICKET scandal! And one is horrible movie channel! You know, zombies, green men, lots of body parts, blood and gore! No, but no thank you! The room was basic, nothing spectacular. What made this hotel fabulous was the amazing staff! When I to,d the manager that I missed ” all the smiles, and welcome to Iran” , basically I missed IRAN! he lined up the staff, ordered them to smile, then on the count of three they all yelled WELCOME TO DUBAI! I laughed so much! Who cares that there is NO hot water? It is the staff that makes or breaks a hotel!

The first day, I must admit I did nothing but sleep! My body, although my knee is do much better, after the use of my daughter’s magical comfrey cream, the rest of my body is complaining severely! So sleep I did!  It was afternoon before I ventured outside. Lovely and warm at 35C found a supermarket, drank a sweet lassie and entered a travel agent ! I collected information, decided the things I wanted to see and do. Then also decided that those one day tours are absolutely over priced, and one of the delights would be to learn how to use the metro!

The second day I explored the old part of Dubai, the Dubai museum, the coffee museum and an amazing gallery. I just wandered, looked and enjoyed. Until the old legs gave away and miracle over miracle, I was able to find my hotel again! The third day I went to the old souqs, and the Dubai mall. I had started at nine in the morning only to ine out that the metros don’t go on a Friday until 10.00 am. So I caught a barge instead and became a time traveller.

The old souq has not changed for hundreds of years! The Indian sellers are much more pushy than I Iran! Something I had not noticed while travelling in Iran! I had a wonderful Indian breakfast, with a HUGE lassie, this kept me going for the rest of the day! And by golly, I needed this energy boost! The Dubai Mall is something else! I don’t like shopping centres, I don’t like shopping, and it interesting to note I left both my Visa card AND my money in the hotel safe!! My only goal was to visit the aquarium, but there was so much more!! I was in AWE!

Good Bye, Iran!

Good bye, Iran! It is hard to leave! All the birds are singing in the sky, the trees are nearly in blossom. Only two more weeks and all will be green! I have to go. My heart is breaking!

So many things I shall miss!! Not the traffic! That is for sure! I haven’t written about the birds who tell you your fortune! In Farsi of course! If you follow Allah, you will have riches, true love and fabulous health! Well, there you go! What else can a person want? I shall miss the people, first and foremost ! The architecture, the beauty and the magicical history of this amazing country! I shall miss the food, the sweets, the music, the smiles, the constant “welcome to Iran” , the genuine people, so pleased that you spend your money visiting the country they are so proud of!

So many things, lots of things I forgot to mention, how every little village, town and city honours  their martyrs from the war with Iraq. Each place has paintings of the martyrs who died. Some of them no more than children! I forgot to tell you that plastic surgery on noses is enormous here in Iran! Hmm! The mind boggles! 

The food, have I mentioned the amazing food?! I will miss it all. The selfies, I am not sure I will miss all the selfies! I wanted to thank each and every person in Iran who has made my holiday here so incredibly special!! Insta, I WILL miss all the requests for Instagram!!( well, may be!) good bye, beautiful Iran, hope to visit you again very soon!!

 

 

 

 

Yazd and beyond

The bus trip to Yazd was uneventful. I slept most of the way. I arrived late in the afternoon. The back packer hostel is clean, central and incredibly friendly staff. Dropped my gear, hot shower and change, and time to explore. Tonight at a quarter to eight is the beginning of NoRuz. I first went for a walk. A shame it went dark so fast. So not too much wandering around. The hostel is next to the amazing Amir Chakhmaq Mosque Complex. An absolute central location. All the places of interest are just in walking distance. Tonight is the night, the night of the beginning of spring. The Persian new year. At exactly 8.45 and 22 seconds, or at least something like that. Each year the date and the time changes.

I wandered around, met some nice people who spoke English. So I chatted away, listen to the blah, blah, blah of the imam at the mosque. A big television screen was set up and slowly, slowly the square filled up with people. The great moment came while I was in the middle of eating a delicious Yazd ice cream! On the screen fire works erupted. People cheered, and more blah, blah, blah, from the imam. And that was it! It was finished! No dancing, no music, just religious propaganda. My new friend, Milad, told me he was an atheist and didn’t believe in all this waffle. The more I speak to young people, the more I hear this! The big dream, would you believe, is to go to America! Of all places!

After a decent amount of time I went back to the hostel, where the NoRuz was celebrated with lots of tea and food, of course! By twelve o’ clock I had enough of it all, and went to bed! Tomorrow I have to try to get to Dasthekhak, a small village near Zarand, which is a bigger village near Kerman!

As it is the first day of the new year, there were no buses going, even though my host had assured me there would be buses! Sanjay, the lovely young owner of the backpackers hostel, made a plan! Go to Imam Ali square first, yes bus, no problem, no bus, go to terminal. At terminal, ask for bus to Zarand, yes bus, no problem! No bus, ask for the bus to Kerman! At Kerman ask for a bus to Zarand! Yes bus, no problem! No bus, BIG problem! Catch a taxi from Kerman to Dasthekhak, cost of the hundred kilometre journey? A$20 ! Expensive? For Iran, yes, for Australians? No!

I arrived at Dashekhak at six o’clock in the evening. The taxi driver told me this is Hamid’s house! Okay, I went into the courtyard, knocked on the door, said hello to every one, had a cup of tea, lots of delicious biscuits. The house was full of visitors. Finally I asked the man who spoke English, if he was Hamid! Eh, NO! I walked into the neighbours house! I was so incredibly embarrassed.although they all thought it was lovely! I had to ring Hamid, who send his wife, to come and collect me! “Why didn’t you ring”, he asked. Well, I thought the taxi driver knew Hamid! What do I know? Duh! At 8.30 pm a lovely dinner was served and I met Anna, from Amsterdam, and Sef, from Switzerland. An early night was necessary, tomorrow Sef and I are going to see some villages, and than lunch at Fahima, Hamid’s wife, family for lunch. Delicious food was put in front of us. Mainly chicken dishes, with a delicious pommy granite sauce. Hamid told a funny story, that the first French tourist he had was vegetarian! Hamid thought it was a place in France! He had to learn to adapt a few dishes to NO meat dishes.

The second day on the homestay I wanted to spend wandering the village! This was NOT possible as a lone woman was raped and assaulted very early on, and Hamid had much problems with the police. Anna told me this story. Hamid was very vague about this. Sef, the Swiss guy left early, rather upset or worried about his bus. To the extent that he refused to pay the taxi driver! Strange ways of dealing with stress! I had a lovely quiet day. Nurturing my knee, rubbing lots of my daughter’s wonder cream in it and putting the leg up on a pile of cushions. I have noticed it plays up more when I have climbed a lot, or taken too many stairs. My heart and mind are only eighteen, it is the body which is falling apart. I have decided that my three day stay in Dubai will be a major nurturing experience! Hot baths and resting for at least two days. One day sightseeing!

Saturday we, two new Dutch girls had arrived, went to a small village, that was damaged in the earthquake of 1968 of the five hundred people who lived there, two hundred and fifty died. Over fifty percent. Hamid took us to the source of the water. All very interesting, all involved a lot of climbing. In the afternoon Fatimah gave cooking lessons, I like eating, not that interested in cooking. The girls asked lots of deep questions, about the oppression of women in Iran. Since Fahima is in charge in the home she could not imagine what the girls were talking about! She works so hard, from early morning to late at night.

It was an interesting evening, but by ten o’ clock at night I am no longer hungry. I had to get up early as my bus from Zarand, which should only take three hours, was leaving at seven am. Of course it took four hours. Still after a hot shower at the hostel, change of clothes, I was ready to hit the town! Visited a few old houses, the famous mosque, in which I had to wear an impromptu nylon piece of cloth as a chador. Useless bloody thing, every time I looked up the thing would slip down. Many women were willing to help with the appropriate way to hold it. I gave up in the end. It was hot, slippery and I couldn’t deal with it. I did a lot of wandering through the bazar, and little side streets. I was amazed at the amount of Iranian tourists in town, still part of NoRuz. Not many foreigners though.

Last day in Yazd I needed a pharmacist as I am out of sleeping tablets and painkillers, while still in a lot of pain, especially at night. Nuisance! I also bought a lovely cool top to wear in Dubai where the temperature is in the mid thirties. This needed a matching scarf, so it left me just a tad short of money. Need to pay for the taxies to hotels, bus terminal and also a taxi to the airport! So needed to change a bit of money, last lot. Couldn’t find the money changer place, decided to wander the back streets and Lo and behold who would I bump into? The Australian I met in Shiraz! It is a small world after all! We had a coffee and Bob, knew a few places of interest. So wandering together in searched of this allusive money changer. Backwards and forwards we went. Finally we asked a man, who took money out of the bank for me to change over. Since I had no idea of the exchange rates for euros, which I haven’t changed before, I am sure the exchange was in his favour. Not that this matters.

I shouted Bob some lunch, at a lovely kebab place. Dirt cheap. I think a huge meal with three drinks came to five dollars! Then it was time to go back to the hostel, where I had hoped to shower and changed, which I didn’t have the energy to do. Feeling rather sad, only one night left! Then tomorrow Dubai and the next stage of my adventure. Still haven’t book any accommodation in Bishkek yet. Will do that in Dubai. I am planning to do two weeks of Russian studies. See how that goes. Will write down all the Farsi I know, and get a Lonely Planet Farsi phrase book. The people appreciate it so much if you attempt to speak their language. Okay, another six hours on the evening bus, back to Shiraz.

Ah, life is good!!

Wandering woman

Time is flying so fast! It is hard to keep up. It is my last day in Shiraz, and I still have so much to do! Firstly going through the small alley ways of the old city, just around the corner of my hotel, Niayesh, is a contemporary art gallery. I had a hard time finding the place, but what a gem! The Lonely Planet glosses over the extend of this contemporary art collection. The gallery was set up by Hassan Meshkinfam. Who studied under Kamal al-Molk, the famous Iranian painter. I was fortunate enough to meet Hassan, and having a good chat about art, Iran and the importance of preserving the history of art and artists. Altogether it was two hours later before I walked out.

There were no taxies parked at the hostel, so I caught one in the street, the driver asked for 80 , when will I learn to classify toman or rials? One lives and learns. It was about five kilometres to the tomb of Hafez. We chatted most of e way, although he didn’t speak very good English, it was still better than my Farsi. When we arrived he asked for 800 rials! That is about twenty Aussie dollars! ( the fare is about three bucks) sometimes in situations like this, all one can do is laugh. Did I laugh! I laughed so much that tears ran over my face! I had to hold my belly, it was cramping! A nearby policeman came over to check what was going on. He spoke a smithering of English, I told him that the taxi driver was the funniest man I had ever met. In the mean time the taxi drive laughed sheepishly with me.

When the policeman stuck his head in to ask what was going on, the driver quickly wrote down 300 rial to show the cop. I decided to solve the problem in typical Libyan fashion. I split the amount in the middle, told him the extra hundred I was giving him, was due to my generosity and it being No Ruz.( new year) I could still here him lament while walking away! This is the second time somebody has tried to rip me off, both taxi drivers! Mind you I have since heard that the taxi drivers are worse in Tehran, which was not my experience at all.

The tomb of Hafez, is a monument to the great poet Hafez. It was packed with people, due to the new year. I met a group of English students, chatted for a while, spend time taking the compulsory selfies, and went back into town. I had not yet visited the Parsi museum, nor the Valik hamman, both high on my list. The taxi tried to negotiate double the price, what is it with these drivers here in Shiraz? I gave him the right fare, wished him a happy new year and went to find the museum. On the way I met a family, with their eighteen year old son.who spoke five languages fluently. His English was just excellent. His parents wanted him to ” guide” me through the gardens,we walked around ( it was very small) I send him back to his parents and I entered the small but exquisite museum.

Next on the list was a visit to the hamman, this one is restored, filled with life sized figures, mainly men, in different stages of bathing. I just love it. Again the place was packed, again I met English students and again hundreds of boring selfies. I survived this ordeal as per usual, and my Instagram followers are climbing in numbers! To treat myself I had a delicious coffee with an even more delicious cheesecake. I sat in the square, just watching the world go by, when a young artist appeared and started to work on the tree cosies, again for the new year! After a long period of time, draining the last drops of my saffron tea, I went to the Bazar.

I love wandering, I love exploring unvisited places. I love bazaars most of all. Just looking at the range of goods to sell. Especially in an age old caravanserai. Knowing that hundreds of years ago people were already here selling their goods. I like the way people hustle and bustle , going on with their daily tasks. Here is me, timeless in a timeless place. Every where I look there is a still life, waiting to be painted. I love to sit somewhere, just watching, listening and smelling this wonderful world, which I am allowed to experience. Going to Yazd soon.

Persepolis, Pasargadae and Naqsh- e Rostam

Today I visited three major sites, of Persian history, about eighty or so kilometres out of Shiraz. Ali, my driver was here nice and early. The sun was shining and although cool to start of with, it looked like it was going to be a wonderful sunny day. Ali, who very limited English, and me with my twenty sentences in Farsi, had a lot of fun trying to understand each other. Persepolis, Pasargadaes and Naqsh-e Rostam,

I know I have been joking about the traffic being absolutely awful, well today on the 160 kilometres round trip, I can explain to you all, WHY! All the traffic hops lanes for no reason at all, you just go across two or three lanes, zigzagging is what most cars do, even when there is no reason for it. That wouldn’t be so bad, but indicators are not at all used. They seem to be a luxury item, not to be used to often in case they wear out. The government of Iran could safe themselves millions of dollars by just not painting line on the road at all. Most cars, and the enormous amounts of trucks I saw today ride on the white line. I have aged at least ten years in one day, when next to a truck the truck decides to change lane, so they swing these enormous beast into our direction, while there is no -where to go!

Ali kept telling me that he was a real good driver, I agreed with him, but I am not so sure about these others. We had so many near misses, that I realise that there are no atheists on the roads of Iran! Speed limits also seem to be optional. Ali was sitting on 100 km an hour, while the signs indicated that it would be nice if the traffic could go at 80 kilometres an hour, or 60 even. It is all optional. Sometimes, if the driver in front of you slows down, you are forced to do so until you can drive across the other lanes. The worst thing is that I am sitting in the drivers seat, well, my Australian driver seat, while all the while praying these gas tankers don’t go across while we are next to them, I want to take control, at least of the brakes! Distance between cars? What? Is a matchbox not sufficient distance?? The government could save on signs indicating how much distance drivers should keep, how fast they should drive and white lines!

Where was I? Oh, yeah on the way to Persepolis, while have lots of mini heart attacks, we finally arrived. The entree was dirt cheap A$6, if my calculations are correct! You enter and walk a long boulevard to the great entrance. In the oldern days these had carvings on them. Some people were walking around with THREE D things in front of their eyes, and I asked this boy what they were. Well, they were amazing, where ever you looked the place would build itself up again. Like right in front of your eyes these palaces would be rebuilt. Amazing. I still didn’t work out if you got them at the entrance of people brought there own! As per usual I watched the video of what it used to look like after I had been to the site. Ali, allowed me only one and a half hour to walk around and I should have told him it wasn’t enough. It never is! Most of the tourists were Irani, but I met one French tour group. So not real busy and over- run by tourist.

After the magical experience of wandering around admiring the stone carvings of so long ago, it was time to move on to Pasargadae, where the tomb of Cyrus- the Great is. Seventy kilometres of sheer petrification, mini heart attacks, and at least three close call. I decided to keep my eyes closed until we were there. Ali gave me twenty minutes! Eh? I went through all this life changing trauma, for just twenty minutes at the site? No way!! At Pasargadae is where the tomb of Cyrus the Great stands. After walking a bit further, there was a caravanserais totally destroyed. The other sites were further away and for eighty cents one could catch a little tourist train. This I did. There was not much left of it all, but I was taken lots of photos of what looked like ancient calligraphy on a big rock, when a man pointed out the the inscription of ” I AM CYRUS ” ! It was high up at the top of the stellae. I had been photographing the graffiti ! Well, I could easily be forgiven as the graffiti looked a lot like our Indigenous rock carvings!!

When I came back I noticed a change in Ali, I had taken over fourty five minutes, rather than the “allowed” twenty minutes! Mental note to self I must ask how much time I pay for as well! He kept asking me if I was hungry, but since my hostel has an enormously great and tasteful breakfast, I kept saying I wasn’t! It never occurred to me to ask him if he was! My only excuse for that was that he had brought Iranian stone bread in the morning. It is called stone bread, (because it is cooked on a hot flat stone).I made the assumption he had brought his own lunch!! The last stop was the tomb of Darius the great,his son Darius the second, Xerxes the great and Artaxerxes I. Magnificent rock carvings! Stunning stone carvings. Very beautiful!

On the way back to Shiraz, again Ali started about food, finally I clicked! So I offered to buy him lunch! We stopped at an expensive tourist restaurant, when we arrived there, he didn’t want lunch at all! He wanted an extra € 7, rather than the lunch , he wanted extra money!! I gave him a five American dollar tip! Which is quite extravagant for Iran. I figured it being No Ruz and all ( Iranian new year) he argued and argued! I don’t often loose my cool while travel, always being aware that I am a guest in a foreign country! This time however I lost it!! Basta!! Enough, in many languages! He got the drift! The next day I ignored his on the hour phone calls, you can cheat me, but often not more than once! Just such a shame as I had a fabulous day, magnificent history, and literally lived all day on the edge!

Superb Shiraz

It is harder and harder to decide which place I like the best! After a bus trip on a VIP bus, of course, I arrived at the Niayesh hotel. I had slept most of the bus trip but was still that exhausted, so a dinner and early night! The next day was Friday and since my back, knee and the rest of my body was ready to collapse, I asked the girls at the front desk if the knew where I could get a massage, and preferable a Hamman. Well, there is this five star hotel, very famous, except my taxi driver couldn’t find it! I had walked for about an hour, when I realised I was completely and totally lost! This is the norm by the way, just ask my children about my legendary sense of direction!!

The Hamman was beautiful the massage mediocre(I needed Jenny Edwardes!! )Anyway as I was quoted the price in euro I tried paying in that currency! Not possible! Okay, I went with my bill upstairs to the reception, gave him the bill and my twenty euro, I needed five change, so I got this pile of money. I thought I paid my bill! ( I had a splitting headache and felt very sleepy!) I asked if I could use their excellent wifi, so crawled into a corner to feed my Facebook addiction. This man comes up to me and asks if he can see my bill! Of course, sir here it is, I paid!! Well, eh, actually I did NOT pay! He just changed my money into rials and expected me to go down to pay at the Hamman desk! Oops!! Needless to tell you I felt, again, like a total dork!! I must have turned bright red of embarrassment, both men were profusely apologising to ME!

I returned to the hotel and again had an early night, slept like a babe, which was good because I had planned for a busy day!! I visited the pink mosque as it is known, Masjid-e Nasir-al- Molk. I doubted that the sun would come through after a night of rain! Iran is in the middle of a drought right now and the rivers are empty! I was fortunate, as per usual all the good luck was on my side! The clouds lifted, the sun shone through the blue and red window and lo and behold the magic light show was on! It was mesmerising! I stayed as long as I could, until the first tour bus with French tourists arrived. Then I wandered around the rest of the complex. I met Fatimah who spoke to me about Islam and their believes, she was a devoted Muslim and the photo I took showed her as a Madonna! I like to make a drawing or painting of her. She was so genuine, and so pure, that it was a delight to spend time in her presence.

After a delightful intermezzo at the coffee shop outside the mosque, when I asked this handsome green eyed man if the little ten year old was his son, in Farsi I may add, to which he acknowledge the boy as his ” pesar” and afterwards found out it was the son of the shop owner, afterwards I called the green eyed man , “Pinocchio”, which they all found delightful, I am sure there were double meanings going on, as they kept giggling like a pair of teenage school girls!

Bagh- e Naranjestan, which is named after the bitter oranges that line the central courtyard, the smell of the blossoms and hyacinths was divine.

It is Shiraz’s smallest, but without a doubt the most beautiful garden! It is enclosed by the Naranjesran-e Ghavam Pavillion. It was built for the wealthy and powerful Mohammed Ali Ghan Qavam al- Molk between 1879 and 1886 as the buruni,( public reception area) of his family home. The pavillion’s mirrored entrance hall opens onto rooms covered with intricate tiles, woodwork and stain glass windows. The ceilings of the upstairs rooms are painted with European style churches and busty women.

I had barely finished seeing the upstairs, when I bumped into an elderly woman, we both ” be- baksheed” ( excuse me) and the necessary ” mote asefam” ( I am sorry) she must have thought I spoke Farsi!! We yakker away like long lost friends. She told me that she had three sons, and three daughters, I told her that I have one daughter and a son, and no, so sorry, but no grand children! This is the extend I can communicate with people but after this exchange I have to tell them that no, I don’t speak Farsi!! ( mind you it is killing me not being able to speak it!) so see called out to her grand daughter, Yasimin, to translate.

This old woman after a five minute exchange, invited me to a traditional Shiraz lunch!! I managed to say yes ( no is not an accepted options in Iran, unless you are on your death bed!) but could I please just finish seeing this magical place first? They gave me fifteen minutes to run around and finish sight seeing. Loaded me in a taxi, grand Ma, grand daughter, daughter and daughter in law. We went somewhere in the heart of Shiraz, in the back streets, zigzag, criss crossing to this magnificent house cum restaurant! It had a small courtyard, with orange trees, heavy with fruit. It was magic, not a tourist in sight! Grand Ma set the placing, I had her on the left and Yasimin on the right, and they ordered enough food to feed two armies!

” Begor, Begor” was the first Farsi word I ever learned twenty five years ago in India! Eat, eat is the Iranians favourite word, Yasimin loaded my plate up, while I noticed that they all had very little on their plate, oops, they probably had a large breakfast just like me! I have all the names some where for these magnificent local Shiraz dishes. Each and every one more delicious than the next. After I felt I was going to blow up, things were put in take away containers, I was refused to participate in the payment, loaded into a taxi and taken to this magnificent house, recently restored. Apparently Yasimin and her family lived in the flat of the top floor, near the entrance of this place, and their kitchen overlooked the awesome gardens. We looked around, climbed all the stairs to the top floor and I was offered tea. You guessed it of course, the sweets came out and the by now famous ” Begor, Begor” started again! Only by really declaring defeat, no more, please!! Was I allowed to go back to my hotel. Grandma and I are now life long friends and we are proof that language is not necessary, the language of the heart is all that we need! I needed an early night as I had planned my trip to Persipolis for the day after!

Very VIP, AGAIN!

The life of fame, it is so hard to carry! I had another great adventures on my last afternoon in Isfahan. I booked a tour with Dr. Alireza Rashidi, who decided after his PhD in science, I believe , to do something completely different, and to get into the tourist business. Although Alireza finished his doctorate in Vancouver, Canada, English was foreign to him! He spoke German!! Okay, good practice for me, since I can understand most of it.

Just before I was ready there was a knock on the door, my headscarf was no-where to be seen, so I grabbed my hijab, the black Muslim one. ( the one I wear sightseeing as it doesn’t fall off all the time!) it was the cleaning man bringing me toilet paper and stuff. Then the phone rang and Alireza was in the lobby, so here I am on holidays rushing about! Alireza brought a driver, Maryam, who also spoke no English.

First stop was the shaking minaret , but since it wasn’t shaking for the next half hour we went to the fire temple around the corner. There are only ruins, and there is a path that you can climb up, which I would have loved to do, if only for the views of the city! My knee has given me a lot of grief lately, and to be honest it starting to really peeve me off. So we snapped some photos and back to this shaking mosque. I have no idea why this was built this way, and since I am writing this very, very early in the morning I am too lazy to look it up.

After the shaking I was taken to the cemetery . I thought it was going to be the old one, instead it was the one with 8000 dead soldiers from the eight year war with Iraq. There were quite a few women there tending the graves, or just sitting there. Very depressing, especially to see how young some of them were.

We did spend a lot of time in the traffic, I managed to tell Maryam, that I wouldn’t drive for one million dollars! Okay, may for ten million!! Anyway Alireza received a phone call, and we were invited to some event, which he didn’t know the German word for, and sinceI speak no Farsi, he asked me if I wanted to come to this unknown event! Of course said yes, as you do! So we finally get to this conference, about prison reform in Iran. Alireza had told me, that all I needed to do was to listen for half an hour to some blah, blah, blahing and all would be well. Okay, since I wanted to see the old bridge by night anyway, this seemed like a fun thing to do.

Well, it was HUGE! Here I am, in my black hijab, the only blue eyed person in the room! It was fascinating. First a welcome to country, with songs of the Q’ran. Than a woman who was singing and told to speed it up, which was rather funny! You must understand that my total recognition of Farsi could be may be twenty to forty words, not many. So every time I hear a word I recognised I get all excited. Alireza was suppose to translate, which didn’t happen of course! Than this minister of something very, very important came and blah, blah, blah Australian, blah, blah blah tourist, well , I just knew he was talking about ME,! This Alireza did tell me that I was just officially welcomed.

Than a young boys choir sang, which was beautiful and gave me goosebumps. Snacks and drinks were provided. Lots of chocolate, but of course after a small bottle of water and a fruit juice , you guessed it, I needed a toilet! By now I am over all this blahing, needing to go to the ladies desperately. Pretending interest is something I don’t understand, I have perfected over my many years in Education, I put on my ” oh, how interesting” face, and go to sleep behind my open eyes. But this didn’t work any more. I was wriggling in my seat! By now fearing the ultimate humiliation, wetting myself.

Finally, finally, an hour and a half after it all began the national anthem, which is deeply touching by the way, was sung and people were leaving. I am talking about a LOT of people were leaving! Since Alireza couldn’t accompany my to the ladies room, I was alone with Maryam, and at least fifty other women, who needed to use the loo! The desperation must have shown on my face, as I was given priority! I didn’t even care it was an Iranian toilet, which I have difficulties using due to my knee!

So back in the crowd at the expo. Let me tell you the translation of all the blah, blah, blahing. In Iran, lightweight, non dangerous prisoners, get trained into a trade. There was so much, I have a list some where. Some of it is a specially training in old Iranian art forms, such as the in laying of turquoise into brass or copper. Wood inlay, wood carving, but also bee keeping, shoe making, clothes making etc. etc. this way the prisoner earns an income which keeps his family. The biggest difference is that the factories are inside the prison complex, so the prisoners don’t leave the prison, they just go around the corner, to the factory.

Lots of the prisoners were at the expo demonstrations what they were doing. It was all very fascinating, I tried different products. Alireza obviously knew a lot of people and was busy networking the room. Since the project is financially supported by all the rich people in Isfahan, he had to work very hard! Maryam and I were looking at some shoes, hand made and very well made, (and dirt cheap), when Alireza came back all excited. Grabbed my hand and of we went!

I was plonked in front of a huge television camera, while Alireza is asking me all these deep and meaningful questions, what did I think of the expo? I can say very good in Farsi, so quite willing to show off my limited knowledge, I gave my answer in Farsi! I can also say in Farsi that I love Iran and the Iranin people, so I said that as well. I was just getting ready to show off my total knowledge of the language, when Alureza asked me HOW the prison reform system in Australia compared to the prison reform in Iran. Eh?? Duh!! I know absolutely NOTHING about our prison reform system, so here I am on national television ( well, sounds better than the local news) looking and sounding like a total dork!

!” Ich habe keine ahnung” was all I could come up with! ( I have no idea!) feeling by now like a total idiot, I had gathered a following! The papparazie had arrived! Two television interviews, the papparazie, interested on lookers and I was the belle of the ball. By now my knee is killing me, Alireza is roaming the large hall and I am in desperate need, again, you guessed it!

It was a lot of fun, very special being the only foreigner there, even if I was a stupid one! The children knew Nemo, and loved my Nemo impressions, which since I lost all my top teeth, is much better now I think! I don’t know if I have mentioned that selfies are an epidemic here!? Can you imagine HOW many selfies were taken of me that afternoon? Ah, the weight of fame, you have to have strong legs ( this is a Dutch saying) and since I have a bad knee, I was getting rather tired and fed up of all the attention. Yeah, I know you guys, you find this all hard to believe, but it was true! After all this, I suggested to Alireza that he pay ME for the afternoon! We saw the oldest bridge in Isfahan at night. Maryam and I walked to the other side, where I had to run, you guessed it!. All this tasting, mixing, nerves and fame had given me a severe case of the sh***s. Tomorrow Shiraz! Hard time beating this amazing day! 

Arty Farty in Isfahan

It was my last morning in Isfahan. My wonderful, chatty hotel owner, Sam, was surprised I didn’t see this wonderful palace, called Chetel Sofun.  So, as I had booked a half a day tour of the city, starting at midday, I raced out after breakfast, only to find that it didn’t open until nine o’ clock.

You wouldn’t believe it but next door was the contemporary art museum, where this kind and friendly man let me go in early, before they were officially open! There was a sculpture show on from Tony Cragg, an English man who happens to live in Germany. It was a magnificent building, rather small, but so intimate, it was just absolute magic!

These little gems keep coming up on a daily basis. Have I told you that I have fallen in love with this country? It is just amazing. After this magic show, I went to the palace, just before the tour buses came!  The palace  Kakh-e Chetel Sotun was  built as pleasure pavilion and reception hall. The name means the palace of the forty pillars! There are only twenty pillars, but normally, when there is water in the long pool, there are forty pillars reflected.  

It is richly decorated. And some amazing paintings! I was in awe, like I have been on a daily basis, over and over again!! I walked around the gardens, there was water at the back, which adds so much more to the beauty of the place. Most places are being cleaned up for NoRooz the up coming new year!

Before I knew it time was up! I had to rush back to the hotel, change and get ready for my last adventure in Isfahan! My half day tour, which was over eight hours long! And turned into the most amazing afternoon EVER!

Amazing Armenian quarters

 

The Armenians had fled the genocide in 1915, where over 1,5 million people died. The Armenians, who are amazing crafts people, settled in Isfahan, but due to the fact that they were Christians were given a sections of land across the river, where they received the freedom to practise their religion. Two major churches were built, the cathedral of St Joseph and the church of Holy Bethlehem. Near the cathedral, is also a genocide museum and a memorial.

The Church itself is overwhelmingly impressive. The whole ceiling and walls are covered in frescoes. I found them rather reminiscent of the churches I saw in Ethiopia. Moments like this I wish I had the energy to carry my good camera, with the excellent Tele lens. Shame that as I get older, each kilogram counts! I bought postcards instead. I met two lovely young women, who were Muslim and were told off, because they were eating ice cream! They both spoke excellent English and after the “compulsory” selfies I went on my way.

The genocide museum is impressive, and very depressing too. Over one and a half people were starved to death or just murdered. The Armenian people were one of the first Christian countries, if not the first. It is high on my list to visit too. The museum had an interesting collection of old hand written bibles, beautiful decorated with paintings.

After my church visit I walked to Jolfa square, where a group of architecture students were drawing. I looked at their work and could chat very lit little, as my twenty words of Farsi are not enough, and very little English was spoken, or the young people were too shy to speak. Not to worry. I asked for directions to visit the second church.

The church of the Holy Bethlehem. Not as big as the first church, still very impressive. I had promised Seymiak at the hotel I would visit the music museum, where the good news was that my entry was free, and the bad news was that the life performance had just finished. I chatted with the people in the coffee, and one of the girls called me an “uber” taxi! Indeed! One third of the price of a normal taxi, this young man drove me home for less than an Australian dollar!

Incredible Isfahan

What a city! What an incredible city. What an enormously interesting place! Such history. Hard to sum it all up in one page. I stayed at Hotel Iran, an amazing gathering place. Run by three brothers, a place of kindness and friendliness. Siyamak, Sam for short, is a story teller, who lived for over twenty years in Canada. The hotel is within walking distance of the main square.

Imam Khomeini square where most of the important buildings are situated. Less than fifteen minutes walking, one gets to the biggest square I have ever seen. At the top, instead of a cathedral , there is the big mosque, Jaame Abbasi mosque, with the most amazing acoustics ever. I was very fortunate that my new friend Hamid, sang parts of the Q’ran for me. It gave me goosebumps.

There is a big palace, with frescoes, and the whole square is surrounded by the Bazar. Shopping seems to be a major past time, until I found out it was about shopping for NoRuz, the Iranian New Year! One of the first things one notices in Iran is all the white plasters on women’s, and some men’ s noses! Plastic surgery is very big here. Nose jobs being number one! Had I known that I would have booked in to remove the bags under my eyes, than travel for six months and come back totally rejuvenated. Hm! This still can be done! People watching is one of my major hobbies and there is plenty opportunities in the square. Just sitting on a bench and watching the world go by.

There are so many buildings of interest here. I saw only a small part of it. Mainly because my knee is giving me a lot of grief and I need to pace myself, not easy to do when everything is fascinating and stunningly beautiful. The night life is interesting too. I only managed to have the energy to go out twice in the evening, and watch families shop. It is a little bit like Christmas, but people buy food and new clothing rather than presents and toys, it is all very exciting, it is springtime here in Isfahan, and during the day it can be rather warm. The trees are budding and the flowers are starting to bloom. What a great time of the year to celebrate a new beginning! There is a high energy in the air and the children and adults are all full of energy and expectations.

I spend most of my days walking, from one mosque to the next. Resting where ever possible and tasting the amazing ice creams! I had spaghetti ice cream twice now. It is a required taste. It has of course nothing to do with spaghetti. In Farsi it is called Falode, and it is really a speciality of Shiraz.

One of the highlights was the Armenian quarters. Isfahan has several really old bridges, which look fabulous at night, and one of the bridges leads to the Armenian quarters. The first thing I saw was a craft market, which I love. I wanted to buy a small, hand made little bag, and the girl gave it to me! This is how it goes all the time! Be careful what you say, people give it to you immediately! Just to make sure she wouldn’t miss out, I bought one also. The friendliness of the people is overwhelming, have I already written that?

 

Kool Kashan

The village of Nushabad, where my small apartment was, has underground cities. (which I never got to see!) The taxi driver Saleh, took me back to Kashan, early the next morning. He had been told by my host to spend the day with me, but since he spoke NO English I dismissed him as kindly as possible.

Kashan was impressive. So many really old houses which are slowly being restored. As soon as I entered the first museum house, I was asked for a selfie, I ” snarled” that they could take one and then leave me alone! Oops! This is very unusual for me, I am friendly most of the time, then I realised I had nothing to eat since lunch the day before. I needed a coffee and some food. By sheer luck I found “Mister Coffee”, a trained barista, who just opened his shop only ten days ago! Iranian omelette and two cups of wonderful coffee later I felt human!

I visited Khan-e-Boroujerdi, which was stunningly beautiful with its six sided, domed badgirs, and frescoes painted by the famous Iranian painter, Kamal al-Molk, of the VIP blob. khan-e-Tabatabaei, which is renowned for its intricate stone reliefs and lastly Khan-e- Abbassian which has many courtyards. Then I wandered into the Hammam Sultan Mir Ahmad, which was build over five hundred years ago!

I wandered around the ancient bazar, where trading has been going on for over eight hundred years! It was beautiful, and compared to the bazar in Tehran, very quiet. Shopping is a main past time, especially just before No Ruz, the Iranian New Year.
My host ignored all the messages and calls until seven at night. Again, no dinner, but luckily I had a fabulous cheese cake with my superb coffee, so I wasn’t really hungry. He did stop at a stand so I could buy some bananas, where I met a lovely young fellow, who had lived and worked in Germany. So a good time to practise my German!

The next morning, after a lot of hassle, I finally got the taxi driver to drop me of at the same place as yesterday, as I had booked a tour, which would take me to Isfahan, and drop me of in front of my hotel. This tour took me to the old picturesque village of Abyaneh. It is at the foot of Mt Karkas (3899) . It is a warren of steep, twisting little streets, red mud brick houses that are deteriorating rapidly. The houses have lattice windows and lovely little balconies. The men and women still dress in their traditional clothing. I was on a tour with a lovely young Dutch man, rather than the French couple, which I was told would come with me.

After about two hours of walking we visited the old mosque Masjed-e Jameh, built in the early 14 th century. Our taxi driver had to be taught, very early in the trip, NOT to use his mobile! And after several prompts, he got my drift! He would pull over to use his phone! Well, done, ineke!! I arrived at the Iran Hotel at four thirty, and thought I was in heaven!! Great room, friendly English speaking staff and a very, very hot shower to ease my aching bones! Welcome to Isfahan or Esfahan! The city of MAGIC!

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