Category Archives: Uzbekistan

Heading West and By the Numbers

A four hour train ride took us from Pamplona to Madrid.  We got lost in the mesmerizing landscape grinning every time a small village with white stone buildings entered the scene.  Lush were the hillsides and fields of agriculture.

We walked by the Atocha Station a couple of times while in Madrid but discovered a lush garden inside after departing the train.It was an easy listless day – train and then a taxi to the hotel near the airport for our flight back to the USA the following morning.

It was an eight and a half hour flight to Newark where we were to have a quick layover and be one our way to Charlotte.  Upon landing lightening crashed in around us and the plane stood still on the tarmac as the airport closed.  An omen.  A half hour later the plane was cleared to head to the gate.

Unbeknownst to us the airline industry and particularly United was in melt down mode.  It was utter chaos. Cancelled flights and stranded people.  Our connecting flight to Charlotte a victim.

It was 5:00 pm.  A United agent told us it would be days before any  seats would be available. “Check online.” The internet confirmed the worst.

We had places to be!  The following day was our grandson’s first birthday and our son had taken time off of work – we didn’t have days…. who has days???

Quick change of plans – we rented a car and headed to Charlotte driving until dark.  It was 1:30 am Madrid time by the time we stopped for the night somewhere in Maryland.

We arrived at our destination 21 hours late but in time to celebrate.

We visited family, broke bread, raced cars and played with our grand babies. 

United continued its melt down and we feared we’d not make it home to Nevada as scheduled.  It all worked out – both flights harmoniously were delayed and we made it home.Now we shift through months of mail, dust off the house and get ready for summer.  We head out again in 8 days.

Our trip by the numbers:

13 flights, 1 cruise ship, a few boat rides, multiple trains, lots of car rides,  one tram – 34 beds and 18 Countries: South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, French Comoros, Seychelles, Omán, EAU, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Spain.

I wore everything that I packed, left one shirt (on purpose) and threw out 2 that I ruined.  I way overpacked even though we just had carry on.  Another lesson learned (again).  Way less is even more!

Thanks for following along!


Ultimate Uzbekistan – Khviva

We got up at 3:00 am to catch the Bukhara-Urgench express.  Paige bought the 4 berth cabin so we had railroad sheets and pillows with privacy for the 6 hour trip across the Kyzylkum Desert.

Urgench is actually 2 towns, the ancient in Turkmenistan and the modern one across the border in Uzbekistan.  They also include the ancient settlement of Khiva.

New Urgench is a vast fertile valley served by the Darya River which originates in Tajikistan.  The area has been irrigating for more than 2,000 years, growing cotton and rice for export on the Silk Road.  It also has exported alfalfa and other seeds for hundreds of years.  Since the advent of electricity and pumping power it has really expanded irrigation as it looks like some city along Highway 99 in California.

Walking away from the train station we stopped for breakfast and Paige spotted a restaurant with 2 tandoor type ovens.  It became obvious that they were very popular as people bought them one after another.

We’ll take two!  A samosa of some sort with a spicy meat filling and a sauce on the side.  It took a couple tries to eat them correctly without silverware. When in Rome….

We spent the night in Urgench as it’s the gateway to Khiva but didn’t nothing other than walk around.

Khiva – a crown jewel and great summation to our Central Asia Silk Road adventure.

Per Lonely Planet – The historic heart of Khiva (Xiva) has been so well preserved that it’s sometimes criticised as lifeless – a ‘museum city’. But walk through the city gates and wander the fabled Ichon-Qala (inner walled city) in all its monotone, mud-walled glory and it’s hard not to feel like you are stepping into another era.

Well said!

Within a hour of our arrival, while having lunch, the same Road Scholar tour group we saw Kazakhstan and Tajikistan walked past us!

Our hotel was within the town walls so it was super convenient to walk, eat, explore and take photos. Rinse and repeat for 3 days.  Palaces, madrasas, caravansaries/markets filled the town.  The night time was stunningly peaceful as the whole town was magically lit.

We celebrated Bill’s birthday at a roof top restaurant with a sunset dinner.  Below a woman baked fresh bread Tandoor style.

My camera finally kicked the bucket! No more limping along. Now just dead weight in my pack.

Back to Urgench for our last night and a morning flight to……. It’s time for a different selection of food.

Uzbekistan – Bukhara

It was a two hour high speed train that took us from Samarkand to Bukhara – the historic city center is another UNESCO World Heritage site.

*click on photos to enlarge

Different from Samarkand Bukhara hasn’t changed much since it’s inception. No big shiny, new buildings and restorations haven’t changed much from its original form.

The Bukhara Fortress, the Ark, is an intact magnificent walled (up to 66’ tall) city full of madrassas, mosques and markets.  It was occupied without interruption from 4 BC to 1920 when the last Emir was removed by the Bolsheviks. 

Through out our time in Central Asia people asked if would pose with them in a photo.  In a sea of dark hair my white hair stood out like Rudolph’s red nose.  Bill often is referred to as 007.

Cotton is a major resource exporting to Eastern Europe.  Handwoven rugs and embroidered items hang from railings hawked to persons apparently traveling with trunks and not carry-on luggage.

Outside Bukhara is the summer palace of the Emirs – Sitora-I Mokhi Khosa.

Back streets encounters find children kicking soccer balls, bikes, markets and doors with treasures.

We stumbled upon a group of men playing cards and backgammon.  After asking if I could take a photo they kindly invited us in to share chai tea. Again, we did not share the same language but sat like old friends.

Three generations – grandma, mom and grandson were picking apples in their front yard.  They flagged us down and insisted upon sharing a handful of tart and tasty, small green apples.  I think they would have given us a box full had we not insisted that a handful was enough.

Evening roof top dinners, cocktails and sunsets were the icing on the top of each day.



Uzbekistan- Tashkent to Samarkand

Venturing into a train station to buy tickets where no one speaks English can be a bit tricky.  Lucky for us a kind gentleman offered to assist in translating.  The Uzbek people have to be the kindest that we’ve encountered on this trip.

Men put their right hand across their heart and bow ever so slightly to greet or thank one another.  This is especially true toward women since men do not shake a woman’s hand.  It feels so kind.

The same kindness is granted on the road.  In either direction no matter how many lanes one car pulls over slightly so another may pass.  The same is true with oncoming traffic – cars move slightly aside to allow passage.  It gets a little tenuous when 4 cars share 2 lanes but somehow it works. No road rage!  

Back to the train station.  Our new friend walked us to the counter and asked for two tickets to Samarkand.  The ticket lady told him there were only upper seats available and perhaps we could ask for a lower one once we got on the train.  Ok – that seems simple.

After helping us John (his English name) gave us his name, phone number and email address offering to help us in any way while we’re in his country.  Wow.

It’s a four plus hour train ride to Samarkand. Founded in the 7th century BC.  Hugely popular on the Silk Road trail making it the most crowded tourist spot so far.  The Registan (UNESCO), Gur-e-Amir, Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shah-i-Zinda were so full of people that it took away from its peacefulness but not its majestic beauty.

*click on photos to enlarge

Samarkand, the navel of the vast empire held by Timur aka Tamerlane (1300’s) one of history’s greatest and cruelest conquers.  It was built by architects, artists and craftsmen abducted by Tamerlane and his his descendants from away conquered territories for 2,000 year it was one of the most important stops on the Silk Road, it’s bazaars thronged with merchants and shoppers.

Controversial and frowned upon by some it is believed that the government has “over-restored” these once falling down sites making them appear more like “Disneyland”. However to stand the test of time one must restore – right?

Back to the train – I had pictured a double decker train since our seats were upstairs.  HA!  Talk about lost in translation.  Upstairs is a small bunk.  Bill and I discovered we both had these and also were in separate parts of the compartment.  Our carry-on luggage now seemed huge as there was virtually no place to store them.  The lack of air circulation had me in melting.  I must have looked a wreck.

Two sweet women noted the confusion on our faces and the sweat on my brow while we tried to figure out our seats, luggage, etc.  Moments later one of the women came up to me and motioned for me to follow.  She pointed to the top bunk and the seat below.  Don’t know how she arranged that but it worked out perfect.  Bill would have never fit in the bunk.  The seat offered no room for his legs since his suitcase filled that space but he was extremely grateful for the seat. Bill sat like a yogi pretzel and I was able to recline and nap.  Fortunately there was a tiny window above the bunk that allowed fresh air during the journey.  It worked out perfect.

Across the way a beautiful young woman snapped a photo of me in the bunk and then motioned for me to hand her my phone where she opened my Instagram account, shared the photo and the followed my account.  From her account I learned she’s a doctor finishing her medical degree and gymnast coach.  She was traveling with three young gymnasts for a competition.

The history and the architecture in each location are stunning but it’s these little life events with others with whom we can not conversant but still manage to communicate that make exploring new cultures so worthwhile.

We saw this stunning white building with its door ajar. An invitation to sneak in – right?  We stumbled upon this ornate room that was set up for a wedding.  Wowza.  The worker was sitting on the floor in the corner on his phone.  He had no idea we were there.

An open door in another alleyway showcased a collection of old treasures for sale.  While I snapped some photos Bill visited with the owner.

Now having been to several cities in Uzbekistan we’ve learned that kiddie parks are part of the landscape.

My camera has been giving me grief.  The shutter button at times stops working.  I can reset it by removing the battery and reinserting it only to have it happen after a few shots.  UGH!  Thank goodness I’m not photographing a wedding.



Uzbekistan continued…

On our adventure to follow the Silk Road Uzbekistan might be the crown jewel.

The land of storks, white Chevrolets (were told Chevy has a factory here) and 3,000 mosques in Tashkent alone, ping pong and two Russian cosmonauts (one-upping Kazakhstan from where Sputnik was launched).

*click photos to enlarge

We walked our legs off in the capital and largest city –  Tashkent – which means city of stone or stone city.  Founded over 2,218 years ago.  Part old beautiful Soviet buildings (yes – they do exist), part mud houses and then the shiny new which are popping up like freshly planted seeds.  Like Beijing, the hutongs are being razed and replaced with square high rises.

Hideous, run down and beautiful was the Uzbekistan Hotel.  Built in 1974 and had to have been the cat’s meow. Now a beacon on the horizon, photo op and a place where Bill got a hair cut.

The are large flood irrigated parks and open irrigation ditches and drains.  A kiddie sized carnival embedded in the heart of the city park where mini-me sized rides and games entertain all year round.

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!