Uzbekistan: Dreadful food, great people, amazing architecture

Uzbekistan is one of only two* double land-locked countries in the world.  Hands up who knew this? I didn’t until our guide told us. Shame on me. It is surrounded by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan.  It became independent from Russia in 1991. We arrived here in May 2014, entering on the overland truck from Turkmenistan, which is one of the strangest countries I think I’ve been to. I’ve written a bit about it here and here, a longer post will follow, soon. Ancient-mosques-samarkand-uzbekistan We visited the main towns and sights in the two weeks we were here, crossing west to east. These are Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent, finishing our time in the lush (yet conflict-prone) Fergana Valley. Crossing west to east meant we did them in this order, and I’m glad we did. Each town/city offered something new and increased in size and complexity and the Fergana Valley gave us a good indication of the changing landscape we were soon to encounter when we entered Kyrgyzstan. Continue reading

Finally, the search is over. I’ve found my ultimate travel handbag!

I’ve mentioned this bag on a number of posts already where I alluded to its magnificence. In this post I will explain why it has a well-deserved place on my list of Top Travel Items. I’ll explain why I think it works so well, plus a few things I would change, if I could.

I  wanted a bag to bring travelling for day to day use that wasn’t a day backpack.  I really can’t stand, and don’t need, to schlep around places with a backpack. Plus, the less I look like a tourist (some hope!), the better.

I needed it to be lightweight, yet sturdy and secure. When not in use it would need to fit in my main backpack.  So had to be reasonably ‘squashable’. That’s quite a list of requirements, isn’t it?!

But I found one!

Pacsafe-Slingsafe-250-Bag-zipped-up

The Tardis-like Pacsafe Slingsafe with 12 things in the main compartment

Contents-of-Pacsafe-250-GII-Bag

Fully loaded with 12 items yet there’s still a bit of space available.

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5 Gifts suitable for someone going travelling

I was asked the other day what I could recommend as a gift for someone going travelling.  It took me a while to think about it as there are so many different ways people travel.

I’ve come up with the following items that I think would be useful, for men and women, whether they are backpacking, cruising, sipping champers on a balcony overlooking the Amalfi coast, or riding festering buses in SE Asia.

1. Silk sleeping bag liner (even if they’re not going anywhere near a sleeping bag)

a-silk-sleep-sheet-and-sleeping-bag-liner-by-silk-sakI’m not talking bulky cotton or polyester sateen here. urgh…static! No.  I’m talking real silk. I’ve had mine for over ten years (sorry, can’t remember the brand) and it always travels with me.  It is so, so useful. Continue reading

Packing Sins: Four items I brought travelling, but really shouldn’t have

I’ve mentioned before that without doubt anything I brought that had sat in the ‘dither pile’ when packing, was never used. But sadly, it doesn’t end there.  I also brought things I was so convinced I’d use, yet still made no, or limited, use of them.  Here, I’ll tell you about four items that I either didn’t use, or that didn’t work out and explain why.


 1. Scrubba Wash bag

Scrubba-Wash-BagOh dear. The number of hours I spent dithering over buying this makes me shudder.  Overlanding through Central Asia into Tibet and on to S.E. Asia meant we would be travelling in a variety of temperatures.

I brought quite a lot of Icebreaker clothing with me and on the whole they worked really well.  Icebreaker gear is quite pricey so I knew I wouldn’t want to risk sending it out to be washed on a rock in a river. The Scrubba Wash Bag seemed the perfect solution.

I had visions of me, during our overland trip, camping deep in the wilderness of Kyrgyzstan with a fantastic backdrop and no one around for miles, happily washing clothes with my Scrubba.  So, sitting on the sofa in the comfort of my home, The Scrubba struck me as the perfect solution, I purchased it.  Only it wasn’t. At least, not for me. Continue reading

Uzbekistan: Land of the golden smile, and the monobrow

The Uzbeks like their tea sweet. Very sweet. You see hunks of crystallised sugar for sale wherever you go. You see it in huge, tumbling piles in bazaars, or in deep filled boxes in shops.

It seems that by middle age most adults have a set of golden gnashers.  It’s not uncommon to see them on younger people too. I think partly it’s the sugar, but it’s also a status symbol.  When speaking, I found it hard not to be mesmerised by their golden mouth.  When you’re used to seeing white teeth, the gold makes the mouth seem very dark.

Lady-with-gold-teeth-uzbekistan

Gorgeous smile, and a fine set of gold gnashers.

Many of the women in Uzbekistan, particularly in Samarkand, wear wonderful, colourful dresses. Sequins and diamanté are stitched into the pattern, it shimmers in the sunlight, dazzling your eyes. I felt very dowdy and underdressed in my quick-dry t-shirt and walking sandals. Not at all feminine.

Some women sport a fetching monobrow. I asked our guide, Bek, about it. It’s Tajik fashion and apparently it’s drawn on, though on some it looked very authentic.

I even saw one on a two year old girl. I’m assuming it was drawn on…but you never know!

Turkmenistan: An unwelcome guest tries to join me on my first night bush camping

map-showing-route-of-odyssey-overland-istanbul-singapore-journey

The route: Istanbul to Singapore

The overland trip would take six months.  It starts in Turkey and finishes in Singapore.  One third of our time would be spent camping.

However, it’s hard to camp much after Kyrgyzstan, so little camping would be done after this country, just a few nights in Tibet. So really, we camp 50% of the time until we enter China.

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Beauty on the road: ‘Luxury’ products I just had to bring travelling

I’ve put luxury in quotes for a reason.  If I was back home these items wouldn’t be on my luxury list, but when you’re travelling what counts as luxury takes on a whole new meaning.  Examples are: a flushing toilet (if you can sit on it, even better), a shower that actually gets you wet and doesn’t hurt you, bedding that doesn’t have the imprint of the previous occupant, or their hair! I know, I’m fussy.

Glam-Glow-Mud-Mask

The wonderful Glam Glow Mud Mask!

I’ve read lots of blogs of people who travel (it seems) with  nothing but a Lush solid shampoo bar. I’m afraid I’m just not like that. At home, I had a bathroom cabinet chock-full of moisturisers, oils, masks, cleansers, serums etc.  I’ve struggled to leave that life behind, so I keep a little bit of it with me in the form of these products. There are other products I thought about adding, such as face masks, (despite my experience in Bali) but they’re not a luxury, they’re an essential! Below are three things I guess I could go without but choose not too, despite being on the road.


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This much I’ve learnt: What to pack and what not to pack

Actually, I’m still learning about this, but this much I know so far:

  • Aged 19 I was given this advice: ‘When you’ve worked out what you intend to take, put it in a pile.  Make another pile of all the money you intend to spend.  Halve the stuff and double the money.” I’ve yet to achieve this, but I try.
  • Gents, pack a belt. Ladies, bring clothes with room to expand.  I’m sorry to say, it seems women put on weight when they travel and men lose it. I know, it’s unfair. Very unfair.
Aunty-Fatso-restaurant-Sign-in-melaka

Sadly, my new name

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This much I’ve learnt: Group travel

Outside of school trips, my first group travel experience was in 1989.  I was 19 and went to Russia, on my own but in an organised group.  Since then I’ve been on lots of group trips, most times arriving on my own.

I’ve sailed, skied, dived, hiked, biked, driven, walked, and swam with strangers. Here are a few of my observations:

  • If you travel in a group of more than 6 people at least one person will be an asshole.  If you can’t work out who it is, there’s every chance it’s you.
  • Being the asshole isn’t necessarily a permanent post, we all take turns at wearing the asshole hat. Sometimes for longer than we think.
  • If you can’t find at least 2 or 3 people you can get on well with in a group of 10+ people, you need to look at yourself, not them.
  • For the moment at least, these people are your friends.

Group-photo-in-Samarkan

 

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This much I’ve learnt: Crewing on yachts

I spent nearly two years sailing and crewing on private yachts in many different countries.  Some of the best, worst, scariest, happiest and loneliest days of my life. I met some great people, and some crazies.

This much I’ve learnt (or is it learned? I never know):

  • Check, and check again. If you’re in any doubt about something, check it.  We had a terrible experience once because someone didn’t use the right knot and the boat came free, in a marina. I had a feeling they hadn’t, but didn’t go and check.  To this day, I feel it was my fault.
  • Speak up
  • There’s a reason why a boat is going for a refit.  Invariably it needs it.  Prepare for a problematic journey.

    Steel-Sailing-boat

    I am on this boat, one day I’ll explain why a photo of it was taken by the coastguard, from the air. EMBARRASSING.

  • At some point, you will hit something.  I was personally responsible for us hitting a large submerged rock.  But I’ve also been on boats when we’ve hit sand dunes, reefs and moored yachts, which were not my fault. It will happen. Fact.

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