Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Beautiful & Mysterious Lake Issyk Kul.

Issyk Kul  (Photo from

When I first got the detailed itinerary for this tour, the words *Issyk Kul* caught my eye.  I read on...."Issyk Kul, the second largest mountain lake in the world...."  That sentence most certainly caught my attention!  Of course, curious me, I had to find out more about Issyk Kul and that started with looking at images of the lake. The lake is ringed by the Tian Shan mountains which I hope that when we are there, will still be snow capped.  It would be so beautiful.  In the warmer months, Issyk Kul is popular retreat, appreciated for its warm, sandy beaches, thermal mineral springs and spas, alpine meadows, and parks.  Looking at one image after another, my initial reaction was just how nice and relaxing it will be to spend a day and a night on the shores of this lovely lake.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cities in the Oasis. Ancient Merv.

Painting of the 2th-century mausoleum оf Sultan Sanjar, located in Merv.

Ancient Merv is one of the most complex and well preserved urban centers along the Silk Route.  The cities that emerged at Merv date back to the 6th century BC and a number of monuments are still standing today.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tamerlane & Samarkand.

The Registan.   (Photo by Stomac)

If you had asked me a year ago to name places in Central Asia, I would have come up with a handful of names best. The first place that would have come to my mind would have been Samarkand.  I think that without a shadow of a doubt, it is the place that many people would associate with Uzbekistan.  They might not know what the capital of Uzbekistan is but they will know Samarkand. After all, it is where the country's most famous heritage landmark, the Registan, is located.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Packing List. Central Asia.

Lucky I just have to pack things and not people as well!  (Photo from

We've got just a few more weeks to go before we leave on our trip so now's the time to start thinking about packing.  Pat recently showed me her master packing list, developed over decades of travel, and it's remarkably very similar to mine...down to the items for doing laundry!  I take that as another sign that she is the perfect person to partner with me on this trip.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Going Underground. The Tashkent Metro.

Bodomzor Metro Station.  Photo from

Pat and I will have two days on our own to explore Tashkent. Our hotel is centrally located and easily walkable to most of the major sites. Nonetheless, there will be times when we'll need to use some form of transportation. I was relieved to find out that there is a metro system in Tashkent. Of course, I had to Google to see what a Tashkent metro station looks like and that's when my jaw dropped....all the way to floor. The stations are stunning works of architecture and art! I had to find out more about the system and the stations.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ikat and the Traditional Dress of Central Asia.

Tajik woman in traditional dress. (Photo from
I live in the US. We don't have any traditional dress here unless you consider jeans and a t-shirt to be worthy of the title of being national dress.  Of course, that is exactly what I am wearing today.

Nor does anyone in the US, with the exception of the native tribes, have to spend countless hours of effort making our clothes let alone having the skills to dye and weave the fabric to make the clothes with.

It's sad to say but despite all the inspiration that surrounds us everyday, our dress code in the US is, for the most part, more about comfort than maintaining national pride.

So, I'm always thrilled to be traveling to a place where national dress is treasured; where it's an integral part of each person's cultural identity.  Central Asia is just such a place - all five nations take extreme pride in their national costume and from the images I've seen on Google, it's not uncommon for people to wear their native costume daily.  I would presume this is more likely to be the case in the smaller towns and villages than in the big cities like Tashkent and Almaty where more western style dress would be the norm.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Spring Beauty. The Tulip.

Wild Greig's Tulips in Kazakhstan (Photo from AGROBIO Project- Kazakhstan)

It's about 900 degrees below frigid outside my window. So cold. I'm already longing for spring. For that time when the tulips will bloom.  I only have a handful of tulips in my own garden.  Sadly, as much as I love them, I can't seem to get them to grow well in my garden.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Money, Money, Money

Photo by Robert Thomson

As we plan this trip, the one concern that keeps popping up is money.

 Let's start with what the currencies are for each country.  I decided to put together a table so I could familiarize myself with the names and the ISO codes. It's definitely going to be a challenge considering some the names are pretty similar and in the case of Kazahk and Turkmen currencies, the word "tenge" means different things.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Central Asian Foodie.

Non, a daily staple in Central Asia.  I first came across non in the Central Market in Riga, Latvia.

Central Asian food is not exactly a common cuisine in the US. The first time I tried it was in, believe it or not, Riga, Latvia.  That was on 2013 trip to the Baltics with my brother.  My first taste was of non, the traditional bread of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.  My brother and I walked by a small Uzbek bakery that was churning out loaf after loaf. There was quite a line of people queued up to buy the bread so we decided it must be good.  We got a loaf to go with the smoked fish that we had bought - that would be our picnic lunch for the day.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Introducing Central Asia.

Sher-Dor Madrasah, Samarkand, Uzbekistan (Photo from

When I told my family and friends that I was planning a trip to Central Asia, most had no clue where in the world I was talking about.  When most people think of Asia, they think of China, Japan, Thailand, India, etc.  So central Asia must be some combination of countries in that region.  Right?  Wrong!  I then told them I was going to the places we often simply refer to as the *stans*.  Next challenge for them was to name the countries.  Most got at least one - Uzbekistan.  None got all six.  Technically speaking, six nations make up Central Asia - Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  To confuse matters a bit, Central Asia is sometimes referred to as *Turkestan*.  I, myself, thought that was a separate country.