Category: Silk Road (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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 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!

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