Tag: Uzbekistan

“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.

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!

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