North America, Asia · 24 Days · 80 Moments · September 2015

Dan and Rebecca follow the Silk Road

19 October 2015

Welcome Home!!!
Oh no! Our adventure is coming to a close. It has been fantastic, but we are looking forward to being home as well and missing everyone very much!!!
On the spur of the moment, we decided to skip wine and dinner with our travel mates and have a Turkish Bath. How could we come to Istanbul and not do that! It was very nice, but didn't live up to the warnings of being "roughed up" that we saw in the guide books. Perhaps the fact that we went in the heart of the tourist district? :-) sorry, no pics! We then wandered around looking for a restaurant and hit pay dirt with a local home cooking place. It was pretty empty, but a gregarious older Turkish gentleman gave us lots of advice about what to order. As it turned out, he owned the textile gallery next door and was like a father figure to the waiter we had who was from...wait for it...Uzbekistan! And is returning tomorrow after working in Turkey for 1.5 years. He speaks five languages and wants to work in Tourism so we connected him (this morning) with the owner of the tour company we used in Uzbekistan - the textile gallery owner is a big in for the tour company too!

18 October 2015

Just have to share the "kitty kibble station" in the middle of the Hippodrome and the child we just saw holding a cat. Sad farewell to the zillions of Istanbul kitties!
After the church, we bushwhacked back to the river looking for a new trendy neighborhood Becky had read about. After going through some more run down areas (very interesting), we sure found it! Very much like the South End 20 years ago. Hipsters and trendy shops mixed with abandoned buildings and some poverty stricken homes. After stopping in many little shops, we finally made it back to the river and walked along the waterfront back to the tram for the hotel.
We finally made it to Chora Church Museum. :-) After that we took a very interesting walk through some very off the beaten path neighborhoods until we rejoined the mainstream, hip areas again where we immediately stopped for a well earned beer. :-)
After the cat house, we stumbled onto the pigeon market. Seriously. There is some special kind of pigeon and a lot of hobbyists who buy and sell them at a special market on weekends only. What a trip!
I'm not sure these pictures do this justice, but what a COOL cat house someone built in an alcove within the city wall. Food, water, litter box, and many cozy places to sleep. Many cats too! Three flopped all over each other in one basket alone! It was also fenced and locked so safe from dogs and people and whatnot. Neat! Have I mentioned that there are cats wandering around everywhere????
After Topaki Palace we took the tram to the old city wall near Chora Church Museum and grabbed some lunch (and Turkish coffee) at a cafe. After lunch we climbed the wall (very sketchy) and got a great 360 degree view of the city.
Ah.... Finally, home sweet home! In my dreams! :-) The Harem complex is in Topaki Palace Museum.
Finally made it to the Blue Mosque!

17 October 2015

I should mention about the cats.... Istanbul is swarming with cats. We had read about this some time ago. Folks here love cats. There are cats everywhere. Nobody owns them, but everybody takes care of them. We see them eating cut up hot dogs and livers and such put out for them. There are water dishes on the streets. There are even giant litter boxes! All the cats look healthy and well fed. But they are literally everywhere! While we were eating, a cat fell or jumped or something and landed with a thud on the windowsill of the restaurant - totally startling someone eating at the table six inches away. Later I saw a cat stalking across the awning of the building across the street. Yesterday a cat walked by us on the railing of the roof terrace on the fifth floor! There were six cats in the tiny park outside the Istanbul Modern Museum. They have all been friendly and ready for a scratch or petting. But it is pretty crazy with all these cats around, I have to say!
After a few minutes planning tomorrow and editing photos on the camera, we met for cocktails (Scotch from Duty Free) in someone else's room) before heading out to dinner. Dinner was at a seafood restaurant recommended by the hotel. A van picked us up and brought us back, although it wasn't that far away. The streets were packed and very active! The food was good and the wine was excellent. However, the highlight was the wandering musicians who came around twice. The first time focused on the big table of local folks who were there when we arrived, but we also engaged (and tipped). Later they came back and Becky and two other folks from other tables were dancing up a storm! Life of the party! Much video was recorded, but can't be shared on Journi, unfortunately! Quite a day in Istanbul!
Today was an incredibly full day! After breakfast we (us and four others from the MFA who are also doing our Istanbul extension) headed by Tram across the Galata bridge to the Istanbul Modern Museum. The museum was excellent, but took a lot out of us mentally. We had to recover with some Turkish coffee on our walk back. After that, despite not being hungry, the sight of an awesome looking bakery caused us to stop for lunch at the place next door. Terrific lacmajunes and salads for about $3 per person. Yummy! After walking back across the bridge we went to the spice market where we had some adventures in the back alleys involving custom blended spice mixes and Iranian Saffron. We then went to Suleyman Mosque where we had to wait for prayers to finish before visiting. Very impressive, but we may be getting mosqued-out with the Blue Mosque still to go. After Suleymon we went to the Grand Bazaar. It reminded us a lot of various markets and malls we have been in in India. Neat!
Delicious breakfast on the roof terrace spent looking at the newspaper, writing postcards and planning the day in Istanbul.

16 October 2015

In the afternoon we walked around Sultanahmet which is the neighborhood we are in. We tried to go to the Blue Mosque, but it being Friday, is was very crowded (prayer day) so we decided to go another day. We went to the Hagia Sophia - Wow! Impressive! Pics only on the camera - sorry! Then we went to the underground cistern. Also very good. By that time we were beat (also a two hour time change from Uzbekistan) so we were thinking only of a glass of wine on the roof terrace of our hotel. We stopped at a little market for bread, cheese, olives, tomato and cucumber. We had almonds and apricots already. That, plus a bottle of local wine, made up our dinner. By 8:30 local time we couldn't keep our eyes open. :-)
Arrived safe and sound in Turkey after an uneventful, but hot flight (AC issues on the plane). Our hotel in Istanbul is AWESOME! Cute, cozy and in a great location. Short walk to everything.
Last night we had a little party at dinner then packed for a 5:00 am departure. The 4:00 breakfast was packed with pushy French tourists who must also be on the same flight out. :-)

15 October 2015

After a yummy Turkish lunch, Becky and I opted out of the afternoon sightseeing (more workshops and artisans) and finally got to go to the large bazaar in Tashkent we had read about. It did not disappoint. HUGE and very well organized. Produce in one section, spices another, baking goods, grains and rice, bread, sweets, red meat, chicken, dried fruit and nuts, etc. that whole thing surrounded in every direction by stalls selling clothes, other textiles, shoes, electronics, etc. After cruising the market for a couple of hours we hit some side streets of woodworking, tin smithing, and other things then climbed a small tower that overlooked the area.
After a good night's sleep we are boarding the flight from Bukhara back to Tashkent! Pretty much everyone is feeling better at this point and ready for continued adventures!

14 October 2015

The full day we had in Bukhara was very nice. We did a walking tour of the old city visiting several Mosques, Madrasas (Muslim schools associated with the Mosques) and markets. One of the markets really resembled what a Silk Road era market would have looked like (albeit with different merchandise!). A favorite stop was a tea and spice seller where everyone loved his spice tea and we crowded the stall. Becky and I ended our day by sitting at a third floor cafe overlooking the largest Mosque, Madrassa and Minaret and having a glass of very overpriced wine ($2.50 - unheard of!) We cut out of the after dinner seminar on miniature painting (and opportunity to buy them) to catch up on editing photos on the camera.

13 October 2015

The morning leaving Samarkand for Bukhara was "leisurely" as the doctor raced from room to room topping people up on fluids and Cipro. We finally left at 10:55, but with everyone on the bus! Becky and I didn't need the doctor and the Cipro we brought immediately helped. Wonder drug! On the drive we saw one of the original Caravansaries and covered wells from the Silk Road time (restored). We also stopped for lunch at a Ceramics studio which is the last of what were 40+ workshops before Soviet disintegration. The topic of the disintegration in 1990 is still reverberating here with many people still struggling to adjust and feeling times were better before. Fascinating perspectives to hear first hand. The hotel in Bukhara (managed by our guide) was terrific! Quaint and comfortable and 100 feet from the heart of the old city and walking distance to all the historical sites. Becky was wiped and skipped dinner served in the courtyard to sleep, but Dan was already back on his game!
Heading to Bukhara today by bus (5 hours). Should be an interesting ride as more than half the group has traveler's diarrhea! Becky and I deployed our Cipro this morning. We are in much better shape than many - and hopefully the Cipro will set us to rights quickly. We had a doctor come to the hotel last night and this morning to treat the folks who had it worst and that worked out great! One person was incoherent with a high fever 12 hours ago and was sitting happily at breakfast this morning.

12 October 2015

After lunch we visited the observatory of Uleg Beg the scholar grandson of Timor. Then we went to a large collection of Mausoleums of Timor's family generations and other worthy folks. Short down time before a carpet weaving demonstration and dinner.
From Registon Square we walked to Bibi Kihnom Mosque which was built for Timur by his wife - although she became involved with the architect, but that's another story! More pictures are on the camera of course! We had lunch at a craft shop where they produce Samarkand paper by hand using mulberry bark. It was lovely to eat outdoors by the stream that powers the mill. The pilov was fantastic - even though half of us are suffering from some GI issues we chowed down on it.
In the morning we returned to Registon Square in the daylight!

11 October 2015

For dinner we went to a private home of a Russian fashion designer who relocated to Samarkand many years ago. There was a very impressive fashion show followed by a trying on and shopping frenzy (I just watched) followed by a traditional Russian meal. It was a lot of fun! Be sure to check out the dark alley we entered from. It opened to a beautiful courtyard (where we would have eaten had the weather been better). Classic Arab architecture where all windows and most doors face inward. After dinner we stopped at Registon Square home of one of the big Madrasas and Mosques to see it lit up at night. And before going up to our room, Becky and I walked to the Mausoleum again to see that lit up. All pictures on the camera though I'm afraid!
The weather turned very raw and it was raining hard so we changed plans and went to an indoor archeological museum on the site of a 10th century part of the city that was permanently abandoned when Ghenghis Khan destroyed the water supply to city. The entire hill is a UNESCO site and it is only 20% excavated. When we got back to the hotel, cold and wet, we ordered a lot of tea and edited pictures. :-)
After lunch at a very famous Samarkand restaurant (excellent) we visited the mausoleum where Tamerlane and one of his grand sons are interred. Oh my! Pictures do not do it justice!
After arriving in Samarkand we checked in to the hotel and had a chance to walk around. We saw the second of three monuments to Tamerlane in Uzbekistan (we saw another in Tashkent). We ended up getting totally lost in a warren of tiny streets and stumbling into a gathering of men in skull caps and robes. They looked a bit askance at us, but showed us the way out - definitely not a place where tourists wander! Just after we got out of the neighborhood, someone dashed out of their house and invited us for tea and lunch, but as we had to meet the group we couldn't take him up.
Got up early to catch the bullet train to Samarkand. Very comfortable!

10 October 2015

This morning we got up very early to fly back from Khiva to Tashkent. We arrived back, took a walk near the hotel, then headed to lunch at a very good restaurant. It was fantastic. Then we went to a museum of crafts and artisans. It was surprisingly interesting. We had a second local guide who was very engaging. After that we went to the old quarter of the city and were able to see the oldest Koran in the world (another UNESCO item). Again the guide really brought it to life. He also walked us through the very narrow lanes of the old city and told us a lot about the history and how people live there. After dinner we took a nice walk and are heading to bed early as we have another very early start heading to Samarkand by train. Sorry there aren't many pictures. I was so busy taking snaps on the camera that I forgot about my phone. You'll have to wait a bit!

9 October 2015

We left Tashkent for Khiva by plane then bus. Khiva is a UNESCO World Heritage site where an entire walled city has been restored. It was an important trading point in Central Asia. It was very hot in Tashkent, but much cooler in Khiva. By 7:00 pm it was about 45 degrees. After walking back to the hotel we warmed up with a pot of tea before dinner at the restaurant next door.
We woke up "early" this morning (7:30 Tashkent time, but 10:30 Beijing time) after arriving late and went out for a walk. What a beautiful city! Perfect weather and parks everywhere. Our hotel is directly across from the Opera House. First pic is taken from the Opera House looking towards the hotel. Off to breakfast, then the airport to fly to Khiva with just an overnight bag.

8 October 2015

We are now at the airport in Urumqi waiting for our 3 hour flight to Tashkent. After a long day we all need a recharge - no, wait, that is our phones! :-) Tomorrow will be very busy with a quick overnight from Tashkent to Khiva. We will arrive late and depart early, returning to explore Tashkent itself a day later. Goodbye China, hello Uzbekistan!
After a terrific lunch at a very local restaurant, we visited a government shop to look at antique carpets (they looked like very worn out rugs that I can't imagine anyone wanting to buy). After that we went to the Grand Bazaar which was ok, but Becky and I ditched the group and went down a very narrow and crowded alley next to a Mosque and ended up in a very local market where there were no tourists of any nationality (most tourists are Chinese where we have been lately). A really neat experience! Sorry for the quality of the snaps. We were warned not to take photographs without permission so I didn't even attempt in the really crowded parts and kind of sneaked pics on my phone in other parts.
We visited the Xinjiang Provincial Museum this morning. It was very nice. The most interesting artifacts were mummies found in tombs in the sand dunes. Very well preserved. We also saw a vase in the gift shop that reminded me of Lydia's room sometimes. Sorry, Lydia - couldn't resist...
This morning we got up early and went over to the park to do Tai Chi with the groups that gather there. I should say Becky did Tai Chi - it was far too hard for me. I found a group doing basic calisthenics. That I could follow. Eventually I switched to a slightly more advanced group doing a mix of calisthenics and easy dance. Once I got the hang of it and Becky and some others joined me there we attracted a lot of attention! I did wonder what the purpose of the metal detector and pat down we went through to enter the park was for given the bags of SWORDS people were bringing in for Tai Chi!

7 October 2015

After returning from the mountains, the bus dropped some of us off at a park nearish to our hotel that contains the highest point in the city. We walked up and took in the views which was quite nice. We walked home from the park which took about 40 minutes and picked up some wine for a gathering in someone's room. We also saw some dried snakes in the pharmacy window! The highlight of the gathering was viewing a slideshow of pictures from our big camera (already edited) on the TV in the room. It was great fun! Later we went across the street to the People's Square to dance with retired folks. It was hard! They all knew the moves and we didn't! There were also protesters quietly writing characters on the pavement with giant brushes using only water. Police all over. At the stroke of 10:00 all the dancers packed up and the police cleared everyone out. A bit unnerving!
Today we visited Heavenly Lake in the Tianchi Hu National Park. It involved multiple bus switches and a lot of winding switchback roads into the high mountains about 6300 feet above sea level. While there we took a boat ride around the lake and also climbed many steps up to the top of a Taoist temple. It was perfect weather and incredibly beautiful. A lot of photo editing ahead of us from the big camera.

6 October 2015

Walked to the plane to find this advertisement on the seat back headrests. Too bad they didn't serve any on the short flight! Check out the view from the plane as we approached Urumqi. Snow covered mountains on one side, desert on the other. North of Urumqi is endless grassland (think Mongols).
It is worth looking at these shots of the cartoons posted above the urinals at the Dunhuang airport. The last one is from Urumqi.
In the morning we had free time. So what do we do? Go to a museum of course! Actually this free museum in Dunhuang was really, really good. Martha, the trip leader, had described it as "small and dusty" based on her previous visit, but it has been completely built new and was really interesting, bringing together a lot of what we had learned about the history of the city. After the museum we went to the market again and bought some awesome raisins of many varieties and had some lunch and a pre-travel beer.

5 October 2015

After walking around the markets for a while, we went to the theater Becky had read about in her guide book. We were going to buy tickets for the show later when a young couple approached us trying to scalp their tickets. They had a story about being in town for one day from Beijing (very far from here) and having to leave before the show. They offered us two 200 yuan tickets for 100 yuan total. We had actually read about this scam. However, the tickets were for the right day and looked legit so we decided to wager - knowing full well that the tickets could be bogus. After some snacks and a glass of wine back at the hotel we headed to the theater down the road with a plan. If the tickets were bogus, we would skip the show and just go back to the market. Surprise! The tickets seemed to be legit! We got in and our seats were empty and nobody else came with the same seats. Wow! Unfortunately, that was about the best part of the show. See live camels on stage in the last pic.
I'm just asking - is this up to code???
The afternoon was devoted to a camel ride on the dunes. What a production! It was like a camel conveyor belt. Still holiday time here so it was quite busy, but everyone enjoyed it very much. Becky much prefers camels over horses (sorry Lydia!). After the ride we walked to the Crescent Moon Lake which is a small spring-fed lake in the middle of the sand dunes. I can't imagine stumbling over the crest of a dune and seeing that. It would be like an anti-mirage! Sorry, no pic on the phone - forgot.
After the caves we shifted to the new hotel and went out exploring for lunch. We found a great hot pot kind of noodle place although even in the vegetable one we are pretty sure there was tripe (it was quite yummy).
After breakfast we went to the Western Thousand Buddha Caves. Similar to Mogao, but somewhat more primitive. The restrictions on photography were less enforced so I was able to get a few snaps on my phone.
Another great rooftop breakfast with hand made noodle soup. We did change hotels later in the day though to a hotel in town which is quite convenient for walking around and exploring. Tomorrow is a "free" day until 2:00 when we head to the airport.

4 October 2015

Mogao Grottoes is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Over 1000 years of Buddhist art in 500+ caverns that were first started in 450 AD and abandoned when the oasis dried up over 1000 years later. No photos are allowed inside the caverns though so will be outside shots only. The caves were amazing. While the sculptures were great, it was the frescoes and painting that was truly stunning. The oldest cave we saw was created more than 1400 years ago and yet was in remarkably good condition. The detail in the murals and the depiction of the Buddhist sutra stories were far beyond any expectation. Behind the giant pagoda behind Becky there is a GIANT Buddha that is carved out of the cliff face and stands from the ground to just below the roof of the pagoda. I kid you not. Walking in there literally took our breath away.
This was the sight that met us this morning as we emerged from the stairs to the rooftop restaurant. Who knew! We were up there all evening with no idea the dunes were all around us!

3 October 2015

Arrived safe in Dunhuang. Dunhuang is an oasis town in the Gobi desert. The hotel is very boutique and nice. We all met on the rooftop restaurant for drinks and dinner. There was an outdoor live show going on close by that we could hear and watch while we socialized. Great fun! Tomorrow is Mogao caves and a trek in the sand dunes (and walking the town and visiting the night market afterwards of course!)
This morning we visited the Wild Goose Pagoda which was at one time the true starting point of the Silk Road. We then went to a Government Arts demonstration center where we were informed about Jade and got to shop for jade priced from $10 to a half million dollars (we didn't buy anything). After lunch we went to the Mausoleum of Han Yang Ling who was the fourth emperor of the Han Dynasty around 150 BC. The museum is built on top of the excavation with glass floors and is very high tech and was quite interesting. Next stop - airport to fly to Dunhuang!
For lunch we had a traditional dumpling banquet with 24 different courses of dumplings! Wow! (Pictures from another source do not have correct time stamp - actually from lunch on Friday 2-Oct)

2 October 2015

The old city was full of traffic and many people were tired and ready to go back to the hotel. At the last minute we abandoned trying to visit the mosque. Becky and I and three other folks got out of the bus to try it on our own and taxi back. What a crowd! The squid on a stick was excellent though. Didn't try the goat's feet. After surviving the market, we climbed the old city wall and took in the spectacular views.
After lunch we went to a local museum (really a shop associated with the art school). One activity there was learning to draw Chinese characters. The first picture is the instructor's and you can see my dismal attempts afterwards. Of course we also bought some art - Ghost Catcher watercolor done by a student. We also saw one of the professor's Ghost Catcher paintings, but it was very large. :-)
This morning we went to see the Terra Cotta soldiers. It being a holiday week, the museum was packed to the gills! It was stressful, but still a great experience.

1 October 2015

This morning we visited White Horse Temple which is the oldest Buddhist monastery in China. We could not visit the Ancient Tomb museum as it was very windy and they had lost power and as everything is underground they had to close. After lunch we went to Long Men Grottoes which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As it was a big holiday here in China it was very crowded, but still very impressive. Our guide was especially knowledgeable and gave us great information. We then left Louyang on the bullet train for Xi'an and should arrive there at 7:15 pm.

30 September 2015

After a lot of travel, we arrived in Luoyang after 9 pm. We dropped our bags in our room and hopped into a taxi to make it to the night market (food bazaar) before it closed. Quite an experience! We have no idea what we ordered (by pointing at a picture) and no idea what it actually was - but it sure was yummy! UPDATE - asked our guide the next day, the first thing we ate was goat brain. Hmmmm, glad we found out afterwards! Luoyang is a totally different feel from Shanghai. Not only is everything much less expensive, but the people are not at all used to seeing foreigners. They are all incredibly friendly, but very curious and excited to make conversation and practice speaking English. I wish I could say that our Chinese is improving, but I am not sure that going from knowing one word to knowing two words really counts!
Today we went to a very new contemporary art museum where everyone had low / no expectations, but which everyone loved. Unfortunately we had to rush off to the airport to sit around for a flight that was delayed. Oh well. Onwards!
The day started off with an unplanned group swim! While the pool was nice, the sauna and showers were superb!

29 September 2015

Tried to take in the view from the rooftop bar in our hotel, but it was closed for a private party (we snuck out for a bit). Went to the neighboring Peninsula Hotel, but their deck was closed for rain. Still managed to have a good time! :-)
It will be hard to leave this luxurious hotel room in Shanghai, but alas - we depart tomorrow!
Weather wasn't the best today, but we made the most of it and enjoyed the rain. Heading back to Shanghai now (about 90 minutes) and hoping for a swim instead of walking around since we are wet already. :-)
Too many curators in the art - Becky has to school the experts!
Suzhou Museum designed by I. M. Pei
Which is your favorite?
Humble Administrator's Garden. And ... Humble Administrator's tourist shopping street!
We will miss our canal boat!
City Canal on Shuzhou
Becky presented part of her homework to the rest of the group on the bus ride this morning. She's a natural!!!
Pumpkin buns in the dim sum breakfast. Yummy! Traveling by bus to Suzhou today - about two hours away. On deck - Museums! :-) and more food and drink, no doubt. I guess they are fattening us up for the desert (not dessert) part of the trip.

28 September 2015

Short break having a drink at an elegant Shanghai restaurant on the Bund. Went to three museums, one craft museum (really a disguised store), two galleries and two shops.
First (of many) museums!

27 September 2015

Had some time to walk along the river and find some just-off-the-street food for a late dinner.
Running at "slow" speed tonight (186 mph). runs 286 mph during rush hour. Top speed - not used because it uses too much energy - is 329 mph. Huge bank on turns! Fun! However, apparently not a good investment. There is only 18 miles of route with two tracks and it cost $1.1B to construct and most people don't use it because it is 10x more for a ticket than the regular metro. Kind of like Heathrow Express I guess. Glad we got to ride it though!
Reached safely and taking a ride on the mag-lev train.
Bye, bye Boston!
Olga says, "Before you travel, you must sit!"