Author Archives: Bill and Paige

About Bill and Paige

Years ago we were bitten by the Wanderlust bug and the result was a serious case of “we gotta get out of here” syndrome. Pressed for time to see the world – we want to live it, breathe it, feel it and give back! So… we’re on the move!

Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan with a detour to Tajikistan

From Bishkek we followed the Silk Road to Tashkent, Uzbekistan via Shymkent, Kazakhstan.  Another crossroad conquered and destroyed by all the great invaders.  It lies in the foothills above a great valley.  Noteworthy because Timurlane the Great died here, and the city’s forges produced millions of lead bullets for Russia’s WWII fight against Germany.

*click on photos to enlarge

The train left the station at 11:22 pm and lasted 14 hours.  We paid for all 4 berths in one compartment assuring us some privacy (approx. $32.00 total).  Unfortunately that compartment was only a door away from the WC (water closet/toilet).   Thick pads and down pillows were rolled up on the top berth and to my horror there were no linens.

The ticket collector showed up and plopped down next to Bill and we tried to communicate while he looked to make sure our paperwork was in order.  Russian is the “common” language amongst the Caucuses and we can’t speak a word of it. He spoke no English.  Overall it worked out well and we had a jolly time.  Bill offered him a tip and he walked away happy.

About 10 minutes later he returned with two sealed bag of clean sheets.  Yes!

Bill and I snacked on red wine and potato chips and quickly fell asleep.

Near the Kyrgyzstan border the steward woke us up and told us to wait….. a half hour later young military men showed up at our door speed talking.  We said something in English to which they asked back “Do you speak Russian?”  Yeah right.

Passport. Check.  Then the young man pointed to my suitcase and grunted.  I opened my suitcase and he was satisfied after a portion of it was emptied.  He motioned to close it, did an about face and left.

Off to sleep again…

At the Kazakhstan border it was a repeat of the whole language barrier, passport scenario…….  It’s now 3:20 am and this time the young military man, holding a small 3”x 3” video camera, demanded that we empty our entire backpacks on the bed and then demanded we open our suitcases and empty them.  The backpack contents were mounded next to us and left no room for the suitcase contents.  So like good passive aggressive people we moved things around and didn’t unload.  He dug into Bill’s suitcase – grunting.  He didn’t put his hands in my bag and gave up after I moved a few things around. Next the immigration man stepped in and did the passport ritual of photos and stamping our books while the first showed back up with the drug sniffing dog.  Geez.

Bill thought he’d be exempt from being hassled at borders because he’s an old guy.  Apparently that was just another case of MSU.

By 4 am we were fast asleep again.  The fumes from the bathroom had thoroughly permeated our cabin.  Nothing like the smell of urine in the morning to make you hop out of bed.

We stood in the hallway in front of the small open window waiting to pull into Shymkent.

We hired their equivalent to Uber to take us to the border so we could do the easy peasy walk through and then grabbed another in Uzbekistan to take us the the capital city of Tashkent.

Uzbekistan is another landlocked country surround by 5 landlocked countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

By luck of the draw we ended up in a hotel with a great location.  Surrounded by tasty restaurants and walking distance (albeit long) to the happening places.

We left Uzbekistan for a day trip to Tajikistan.  Brand new cities were being built outside Tashkent much like China.

We ran into the same Road Scholar group from Kazakhstan in the immigration line at the Tajikistan border! Crazy.

Tajikistan – has a slight different feel of remoteness and less homogeneity, having 2 lengthy borders with China and Afghanistan and serious mountain ranges. This remoteness seems to have slowed its movement toward the west, but not the desire.

Many residents migrate to Russia and work summers harvesting crops.  The local swimming pool is open for men only 6 days a week and women!  About 50% of the city dwellers own car.

Khujand is another 2500 year old city founded by Alexander the Great and built on an 8th century BC fortress and is the eastern most point of his empire.  During the Russian era it was known as Leninbad.  The army of Genghis Khan later destroyed the town and razed it to the ground.  The revival of the city was aided by its geographical position on the Silk Road. 

Portion of the original wall built by Alexander the Great

It has a fabulous Alexander the Great fortress,  museum and caravanserai.

On a side note –  the capital of Dushanbe is home of the famous Buddha in Nirvana or Sleeping Buddha statue founded in 1959 and dating back to the 5th or 6th century.  It is the largest clay Buddha statue in the world.  America contributed $30,000 toward its restoration.

p.s. The blog is pretty much caught up.  As of May 26th we’re still in Uzbekistan. Tomorrow is Bill’s birthday!


We contacted a company (all done by What’sApp) to arrange a driver from Almaty, Kazakhstan to the border of Kyrgyzstan and then another driver on the Kyrgyzstan side to take us to the capital city of Bishkek.

Our first non-English speaking driver had a black Camry that was huge (unlike American Camrys) with leather seats and more bells and whistles than typical – the back seats had electronic reclining adjustments.  Very unusual and especially for the price we paid.  His mission was to get us there in half the time it should take. Time is money!  Poor Bill had to ask him  to slow down to help curb my fear of crashing.

The two driver system is genius because the line of cars at the border was insanely long.  We just walked on through easy peasy.

The driver on the other side surprisingly spoke English.  He had taken it in school 20 years ago and said he was rusty for lack of using it.  It was the first time in many, many countries that a driver/cabbie could communicate with us.

Kyrgyzstan is another landlocked country in Central Asia.  It borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China.

Bishkek is another spread-out city with virtually no beautiful historical buildings.  It looked and felt like a throwback to Soviet times.  The one thing it did have was a long walking park with tall trees and gorgeous roses in full bloom. It included a vast carnival and kiddie park, selling cotton candy at 10 am.

Groups of old men gather in the squares around the old soviet buildings – squatting on their heels ala Viet Nam.

Adorable are the older women with colorful scarves wrapped around their hair.  Usually contrasting the colors of their dress  to make it visually interesting and beautiful.

Zhang Qian crossed near here and documented his travels in 138 B.C.

Numerous Buddhist and Muslim rock inscriptions surround mosques, temples and Christian churches from the 800s through the 1600s.

In town a vast and bustling market remains. Outside the city nomadic tribes live in their yurts and move, livestock among the foothills and steppes.


We’re wearing out the treads on our shoes as we explore.




Officially known as the Republic of Kazakhstan.  It borders Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea – phew that’s a lot of borders.  It’s the world’s largest landlocked country.

We fly into Almaty, the former capital.  Expansive and not so easy to navigate all the highlights on foot unless you’re masochists like us. Most people travel to Kazakhstan to play in the mountains.

Almaty is not a picturesque architecture wise but the stunning snow filled Alatau mountains that nearly surround the city are breathtaking.

Our mission was to follow as much of the Silk Road as possible so we headed east toward China.

The Silk Road spread to fundamental products – commerce and religion.

We have followed the road in China to Xi’an and Chengdu, but we are missing the vast west of China which we hope to fill in next year.  The missing portion is replete with ancient Buddhist art.

But lo and behold near the Chinese border we saw a Buddhist temple which is a Mosque.  It was strange to behold.  As we wondered around seeing obvious physical evidence to each religion.  It also included a small museum of Silk Road artifacts.

As we left the border the sky darkened and near the Big Tree called Ulken Agash we were inundated by a beautiful thunder storm with rain and hail rendering us soaked to the bone. This tree was frequented by Silk Road businessmen who believed that walking around it seven times would bring them luck.

We returned west across the Altyn Emel National Park which scenery was spectacular, with wide  lush valleys dotted with Silk Road cemeteries, cattle, horses, sheep, goats, donkeys and red poppies.  It reminded us of Northwestern Elko County.

Our walking journey in Almaty took us to the Russian Othrodox Ascension Cathedral where we ran into a Road Scholar tour.  The first Americans we’ve seen since leaving Dubai.

Bill continues to whoop me playing rummy 500.  We’re having a blast exploring with the best of the Silk Road yet to come…



Azerbaijan is in the South Caucasus region and is surrounded by Russia, Georgia, Türkiye, Iran and the Caspian Sea.   

After being warned in Armenia and subsequently reading online, we were prepared to be hassled upon arrival since we have an Armenian stamp in our passports.  You’re either with us or against us in our continuing border war. Immigration was supposed to grill us, inventory our medicine with prescriptions, count our money, prove our hotel AND flight out of the country and perhaps deny us entry.

Fake news – I say!  Immigration and customs was a breeze.  No questions asked.  Welcome to Azerbaijan!

As we flew over the capital city of Baku it looked parched and dry but the city couldn’t have been more different on the ground.

Not sure if it had anything to do with it being a week after the Formula 1 race but the city is stunning!  Baku rests 92 feet below sea level.  The lowest national city in the world and the largest city below sea level.

Lonely Planets describes it as “the architectural love child of Paris and Dubai”,  and  one of the fastest changing cities in the world. It’s a great combination of old and new architecture.

We stayed within the ancient walled city – an UNESCO World Heritage site.  A wonderful place to get lost in its narrowing winding alleyways. Sandstone buildings and cobblestone roads make for warm, nostalgic feelings.

Just outside the wall are parks with huge fountains and stunning landscaping.  Metropolitan with a few suburban qualities.

On the shore of the Caspian Sea, which I learned is a huge lake and historically may have been connected to the Black Sea, is a long and wide promenade with views of modern glass buildings and the old town.

In Bill’s adventure to follow the Silk Road we drove to the Caucasus mountain town of Sheki – an important city that welcomed merchants and travellers from all over the world, founded in the 1st century BC.  We walked the grounds of another caravanserai which now functions as a museum and hotel and the UNESCO site of Sheki Kahn Palace. The Way came from Tabriz and passed on to Sinhnaghi in Georgia.  Up the road is the village of Kish.  Here, built over a pagan temple, sits the oldest Albanian Orthodox Church, built perhaps in 50-60 A.D. .  The convent, walled grounds and access road are built of river rock, and all still used and well-maintained.  This church, begun by disciple Elishe, is probably the oldest Christian church in Central Asia, a vast area under Albanian control (no relation to Eastern European Albania) before Turkic, Macedonian and Mongol (then Russia) took turns invading and destroying much of the ancient civilization.

The balance of the valleys and foothills are verdant with grapes, apples and wheat growing over hill and dale.

Similar to Armenia and Georgia sheep and cows are watched by shepherds as there are no fences.

Natural gas burning in the desert sand was mystical to early inhabitants.  A massive gas field discovery in recent years is fueling the flame of progress.  The Flame Towers symbolize the country’s close relationship with fire.

On a side note:  the airport is beautiful.  They have these sleeping pods available for free and these “Cocoons” are filled with stores and restaurants.

The Country of Georgia

Back to Armenia for a second (Bill is chiming in).  We flew over Iran nearly the entire trip from Dubai to Armenia.  I don’t think U.S. carriers do.  Along the way we had a magnificent view of Mt. Ararat.  If you see that speck in Paige’s photo it might be Noah’s Ark.

Now to Georgia – at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia (Caucasus region) bordering the Black Sea, Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The capital of Tbilisi is yet again a city reminiscent of Europe, conceivably a bit fancier than Yerevan.

*click on photos to enlarge

The city’s name is derived from the Georgian word “tbili,” meaning warm, perhaps a nod to their famous sulfur baths founded in the 5th century.

On the banks of the Kura River which divides the city, cliffs and hills overlook the tall sycamore trees that line the streets. Tiny alleyways are filled with quaint al fresco restaurants uniquely decorated.

Old books are displayed on any flat surface waiting to be purchased by the non-digital reader.

Underground passageways allow people to cross the street safely, avoid inclement weather and shop at the same time.  They’re brilliant!

The food might be our favorite so far – rich, creamy, spicy, garlicky and delicious.  Like French bread is to France – Shoti bread is to Georgia.   Tasty and soft in the middle with crispy edges, moon shaped and made in tandoor ovens.

The dinner crowd steps out late like in Spain but unlike Spain dining is available all day.

Our guide said it’s the world’s oldest makers of wine but the internet and maybe the discovery of the winery in the Armenian cave might challenge that.  However, UNESCO added their ancient and traditional winemaking method, using the Kvevri clay pots (stored in the ground) to their Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2013.

Left-over grapes are used to make cha-cha, a clear grappa type drink that tastes like gasoline.  Wine and cha-cha are sold everywhere from fancy stores to tiny homemade kiosks.

The under 30 crowd looked like a throw back from Berlin some 30 years ago wearing funky black clothes and Doc Marten’s.

Smoking must be a National pastime as everyone seemed  to have a cigarette dangling off the edge of their lips or pressed between their fingers.

Feral dogs are tagged to show they have been sterilized.  Seems a humane way to address the dog problem.

The tiny walled city of Sighnaghi is a must see.  Reminiscent of Italy with stone terra-cotta roofed buildings dating back to the 17th century lining narrow windy streets.  The Alazani valley and Caucasus mountain views are stunning.  This is a Silk Road stop, with the 4th century Bodbe  Convent (church), walled city and caravansarie overlooking the valley below, the Caucasus mountains and Russia in the distance.

Miscellaneous from Tbilisi and beyond…