Friday, April 23, 2010

Silk Road Day 28: heading home

Woke up this morning with a really sick stomach so I missed seeing the Kremlin inside. One of the guides took lots of photos which he'll send out in a couple of weeks so hopefully I can put one of them here then.

I am so impressed with Moscow as a city. The architecture is amazing and it's not at all what I thought it was going to be. We'll definitely come back some day and spend some more time here, and hopefully visit St Petersburg too.

Our flight leaves at 3pm and we should arrive home at 7.30pm on Saturday night. It's been such a great trip, but really hard work. The schedule has been full on and we're both really tired now. Mind you, I don't know how you could make it any shorter, or what you'd have to cut out. We've travelled 9,800km from Beijing to Moscow, with a lot of side trips in between. It was wonderful.

Now, where should we go next?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Silk Road Day 27: Moscow

First stop this morning was Red Square. Not nearly as big as I thought it would be, and they were doing repairs to the surface so we couldn't wander through.

Moscow 01

We did have a walk through the G.U.M. department store, which was full of very nice shops and arcades.

Moscow 02

Saw St Basils Cathedral which was most impressive. Sorry, forgot to take photos of the inside.


Visited the Christ the Saviour Cathedral which was completely over the top. And they don't let you take photos of the interior, which is a shame because it's completely mad.

Moscow 03

We also stopped at a convent (can't remember the name, but it's where Peter the Great banished his first wife to, after he decided he didn't want to be married to her any more).

Moscow 05

Lunch at a city restaurant and then we went and had a look at one of the Metro stations - most impressive. The rest of the group went shopping but we headed back to the hotel and relaxed before our farewell dinner. Dinner was nice and we got up and made a small speech thanking our guides for doing such a wonderful job of looking after us.

Moscow 04

Can't believe we are going home tomorrow. Hopefully we'll get to see the Kremlin before we go to the airport.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Silk Road Day 26: on the train

Today we spent most of the day on the train, travelling to Moscow. It was very relaxing with a late breakfast and nice relaxed lunch. We arrived just before 4pm and went straight from the train station to our hotel. I have never in my life seen such bad traffic! I thought Beijing was bad but this was something else. But we made it eventually.


Kendall and I had dinner in one of the restaurants by ourselves with a lovely bottle of French Champagne. Then we went back to our room - upgraded because they'd originally assigned us a room that was already occupied - and climbed into our lovely big bed and went to sleep.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Silk Road Day 25: Volgograd

Volgograd 01

Today we visited Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, on the banks of the Volga river. We saw the monument with the eternal flame, guarded by high school children with what I hope were fake rifles. The changing of the guard happens every 20 minutes and seemed to take about 15 minutes to complete so I don't think they had to stand around for very long.

Volgograd 02

Volgograd 03

We saw the War Memorial and the changing of the guard there, which was quite impressive.

Volgograd 06

Volgograd 07

The concrete statue of Mother Russia cuts a rather imposing figure at the top.

Volgograd 04

We also visited the museum, which has lots of old planes and tanks on display. It is built next to a building that was partially destroyed during the battle for Volgograd in the war, which has been left standing to remind everyone how terrible war is.

Volgograd 09

Volgograd 08

The weather was magnificent. Tonight is our last night on the train so there was a party in the bar car. I will be sad to say goodbye to our train when we arrive in Moscow.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Silk Road Day 24: on the train

Spent all day on board the train travelling across the Kazak desert. Hardly a person to be seen, a few herds of wild camels here and there. Late at night the Kazak border control police came on board to make sure we were all leaving the country - and I think they wanted to check out our train! - and they wanted to get their photos taken with us. Of course you don't refuse men with guns.

After a few drinks and a chat with Tony, our resident lecturer, we made it to bed by midnight. We'd been told to expect to be woken by the Russian border patrol police at about 1.30am. I woke up at 7.30am so obviously they'd decided to let us in the country anyway.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Silk Road Day 23: Khiva

This morning we arrived in Urgench and hopped on the buses that have been following us through Uzbekistan and drove to Khiva. Apparently the bus drivers are both from Urgench so they have been slowly making their way home as they take us around.

Khiva 01

Khiva 02

Khiva is an ancient city more than 2,500 years old and recently restored by UNESCO. 500 people still live inside the ancient city walls. Being Sunday, the market was open and I think 250,000 Uzbekis were there.

Khiva 03

Khiva 04

Being so obviously blonde, Kendall and I were besieged by students wanting to take our photos. At first we refused, thinking they wanted us to take photos of them, and then hassle us for money (a typical scam in this part of the world) but we eventually realised they were just curious. They wanted to know our names, where we were from, how old we were, did we have any children, they wanted to tell us their names... it was exhausting but very funny. As soon as they figured out we were Australian they'd hop around like kangaroos.

Khiva 05

We had morning tea at a traditional tea house and it was delicious. After more wandering around and people watching we had lunch at the Khan's Summer Palace and then got back on the train.

Khiva 06

Crazy hat party after dinner was hilarious; Kendall's impersonation of an Uzbeki rap star (Hello Book!*) had everyone rolling in the aisles. Gained an hour as we travel further west, and we were warned to be ready for border security as we cross the border back into Kazakhstan in the morning.

*What every local vendor would say to try and get you to look as his wares.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Silk Road Day 22: Bukhara

Bukhara 03

After a surprisingly good night's sleep on the usual hard beds, and a dodgy breakfast in the hotel, we set off for our sightseeing. We visited the Ark (where the Emirs used to live) and the bug pit where they used to throw prisoners.

Bukhara 04

Bukhara 05

We then had to take an emergency taxi ride back to the hotel because something I ate a breakfast did not agree with me. Thankfully we made it back in time and all was okay eventually.

Bukhara 06

I decided not to risk venturing out in the afternoon so we stayed in the hotel and read, and I caught up on some emails. Thankfully we were back on the train for dinner, another delicious Russian meal. I don't know how they make such great food in such a tiny space!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Silk Road Day 21: Samarkand - Bukhara

We left Samarkand at 10am and travelled to Bukhara on the train - a pleasant and easy trip which included a delicious lunch. From there it all went downhill. Our local guide - Raisa - talked at us in a relentless monotone for the whole afternoon, failing to draw breath even for a second. Kendall and I refused to take headsets on the visit to another bloody mosque, we were so sick of the sound of her voice.

Bukhara 01

Bukhara 02

We then checked into our hotel - built in 1961 under Soviet power, no doubt* - and it is truly dreadful. Our room is tiny and smells as though it hasn't been opened since 1961. Our double bed is two single beds pushed together. Which would be okay, but they are different heights.

Tonight we had dinner at a Persian restaurant inside a Maddressah. The floor show went on for an hour before we were allowed to eat. To me, the music was noise but some enjoyed it, I guess. When can we get back on the train?

* It seemed our guide had some obsession with the fact that Uzbekistan used to be part of the Soviet Union. Every single building and every event seemed to be built in 1961, or happened in 1961, under the time of Soviet Power. She said it so much we started to laugh about it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Silk Road Day 20: Samarkand

This morning we went to Registan Square to see it properly in daylight. It is an amazing sight. And the weather co-operated with sunshine and a lovely blue sky.

Registan Square
(Panoramic shot - six photos stitched together)

Samarkand 07

Samarkand 08

A dodgy policeman offered to let some of us climb to the top of one of the minarets that is off-limits to the public, for the enormous amount of 5,000 sums each. That's about $3USD. We ended up paying $5USD each and four of us climbed. It was terrible and if I'd known what it was going to be like I wouldn't have done it; dirty, steep, dark, narrow, dank... not fun.

Samarkand 11

Later we visited another mosque and the central market - I bought a lovely scarf.

Samarkand 09

Samarkand 10

In the afternoon we had several options so we chose relaxing. Kendall slept and I read the rest of my book (The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest). Had dinner at a local restaurant with an Uzbeki fashion parade which was quite good.

My left leg hurts from climbing the damn minaret.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Silk Road Day 19: Samarkand

We got back on the train after breakfast and travelled to Samarkand. We visited the Gur Emir Mausoleum, where Tamarlane is buried, in the afternoon. The buildings are most impressive with lovely mosaics and patterns.

Samarkand 01

Samarkand 02

Samarkand 03

Dinner at our hotel was... interesting. Uzbek food is not quite to my taste. I had two desserts (dry cake) to try and fill the hole. After dinner we went to Registan Square for a special light show. I am not sure if this is a regular thing or a special event put on for Captain's Choice; either way it was spectacular.

Samarkand 05

Samarkand 06

Our hotel leaves a lot to be desired. We have two single beds and mine is on a 10 degree slant. Bedding consists of a blanket and a sheet, and what feels like a sack of flour for a pillow. This is their version of a four star hotel :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Silk Road Day 18: Tashkent

I woke up this morning with a headache and it got progressively worse during the day. By lunchtime I could hardly see so when we got to the hotel I went straight to bed. Spent the afternoon throwing up and had to get the doctor to give me an injection to stop, so that I could keep some painkillers down. Not a good day. Kendall looked after me very well though.

Tashkent 03

I vaguely remember seeing some impressive mosques in the morning.

Tashkent 02

Tashkent 01

Obviously I can take photos with my eyes closed now :)

I was able to eat some soup about 9.30pm so hopefully I'll be okay for the trip to Samarkand tomorrow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Silk Road Day 17: Almaty

Woke up this morning to pouring rain in Almaty. After a 6am breakfast (!) we set off for a morning of sightseeing. We drove up to the Medeo, which is a big ice skating rink in the mountains, but it was very foggy and we couldn't really see anything. We visited the Zenkov Cathedral, which is built of wood entirely without nails, but it was hard to get excited about getting drenched in the process.

The rain did stop long enough for us to have a look at the earthquake monument.

Almaty 01

We were back on the train at 11am for our overnight run to Tashkent.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Silk Road Day 16: Kazakhstan

We were due to arrive in Almaty this morning but because of recent floods and messed up train timetables we only arrived at 7pm. So we spent all day relaxing on the train, looking at the desert and the mountains. Not really a problem at all, and our compartment is very comfortable.

Train 02

Train 01

When we finally arrived at the hotel Kendall did not want to join the group dinner so we had room service and went to bed early.

Books I have read so far on this trip:
I Am Ozzy
The Cinderella Deal
Things I Learned About My Father In Therapy
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played With Fire

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Silk Road Day 15: China - Kazakhstan

This morning we crossed the border from China into Kazakhstan. We were told it could take several hours and to be very patient, and to NOT take any photos. Happily after two hours and 15 minutes of sitting around and having our passports scrutinised, we were permitted to exit China and enter Kazakhstan.

We are now on the Russian train, the Golden Eagle Trans Siberian Express, which is much more luxurious than the Chinese train. We have our own bathroom with a shower and a toilet, which makes life much easier. The beds on this train are much softer and bigger too. And we are now eating good old fashioned Russian food, which makes for a nice change from the Chinese.

We left Alashankou at 2pm and have been travelling through the Kazak desert ever since.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Silk Road Day 14: Urumqi

After a good night's sleep in a nice soft bed (thank you Sheraton!) we woke up to snow in Urumqi. Damn it was cold. We drove to the mountains and up to Heavenly Lake, which reminded me so much of Lake Louise in Canada.

Heavenly Lake

It snowed nearly all the way there but stopped when we arrived, which was just perfect. Got back to the hotel for lunch, and then we decided not to visit another museum and had a quiet afternoon of relaxing.

Urumqi 01

We had dinner at the hotel and got on the train to head for the Kazakhstan border. We had to completely pack everything and put our new carriage stickers on, ready for the Russian train tomorrow.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Silk Road Day 13: Turpan

We arrived in Turpan this morning and went to visit the museum of the underground irrigation system, which was started thousands of years ago and is still in use today. Turpan is famous for its grapes, largely due to the irrigation system.

Turpan 01

We saw the Emin Minaret (only from the outside) and visited the local bazaar where Kendall bought a Uighur hat and a Mao cap.

Turpan 04

Turpan 05

Turpan 06

We also visited the ancient city of Jiahoe which was built in 100BC and is largely still intact. Quite fascinating and very picturesque.

Turpan 02

Turpan 03

We then spent nearly three hours driving from Turpan in the Gobi Desert to Urumqi in the mountains. Our bus driver did not seem to understand the concept of brakes, or driving in a straight line. Scary stuff but we made it in one piece.