Our high-speed train from Samarkand to Tashkent had us arriving in the Uzbek capital city in the evening. After driving down wide modern boulevards, we were a little surprised to find our hotel located on what appeared to be a residential street. The hotel itself was nice, though, and a short walk to a major road and the Russian embassy. When our city guide, Marifat, arrived the next day, we discovered that the hotel was also a short drive to many of the main sights as well as conveniently located to the airport.
Back in Samarkand after our day in Shahrisabz, our first stop continued the Timur theme of the day before with a visit to his mausoleum. Our guide, Amin, was stuck in traffic, so driver Umid got our tickets and told us to wander on our own inside and that Amin would find us when he arrived. We didn’t mind the time alone as we knew about the site already both from the audiobook on Timur I’d been listening to and from what we’d learned the day before. During his lifetime, Emir Timur planned his tomb to be Shahrisabz. He died in 1405 on an aborted invasion of China. The mountain passes to Shahrisabz were closed due to snow at the time and Timur was buried in Samarkand in this mausoleum, originally intended by him for his grandson and heir who predeceased him.
Formerly known as Kesh or Kish (“heart-pleasing”) and “the Green City” and more than 2,700 years ago, Shahrisabz is one of Central Asia’s most ancient cities. Zokir at Silk Road Destinations had arranged for our first full day “in Samarkand” to be spent on a daytrip to Shahrisabz. Despite the lure of mystic Samarkand, I wasn’t disappointed. I’d been listening to an audiobook biography of Timur (a/k/a Tamerlane) during our travels and this trip to his birthplace and original capital intrigued me. We know about Ghengis Khan in the west, but we don’t learn much (if anything, at least in American schools) about Timur who ranked with Alexander the Great in conquests. Timur ruled a vast empire stretching from modern-day India to Iran to Russia with its heart in Uzbekistan. Never defeated, he is a figure of national pride in modern Uzbekistan despite the bloodthirsty methods and ruthlessness of his times. He killed or enslaved millions, demanding surrender and fealty and dealing mercilessly with those who opposed him.
I woke up the last morning in our Bukhara hotel thinking that I’d be sleeping in a yurt that night and hoping I wouldn’t regret having chosen this little adventure. I’d been told there was the possibility that we’d have to share the yurt with another couple. Not great. And what about cleanliness? Vermin? Heat? I knew it got cold at night, but the closest weather forecast I could find showed warm daytime temps and there certainly wasn’t going to be air conditioning. Oh well, we were committed and it would probably be fun, right?
Our driver, Mr. Timur, picked us up at our Khiva hotel at 9am to start the 6-7 hour drive to Bukhara. Hopefully, there will be a fast train between the two cities available next year, but for now an air-conditioned private car appealed a lot more than the old train currently connecting Khiva and Bukhara.
Potholes and construction make the going less than smooth for the first part of the trip and it was nice to sit back and let Mr. Timur navigate. Near Khiva, we passed fields where groups of people picked cotton by hand. Roadside fields and greenery soon gave way to desolate desert.
A conversation with French friends put the idea of a trip to Uzbekistan in my head. My friends had visited some years ago and been impressed by the religious tolerance in Uzbekistan as well as the friendliness of the people and the unique beauty of the sights. I started researching and was hooked. My wonderfully agreeable husband gave the idea a thumbs up and I started planning.
Uzbekistan is very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, so peak tourism times are spring and fall. We have lots of guests coming to Paris this year, so I had to find a time that fit on our calendar and fell within periods of reasonable weather in Uzbekistan. Happily, that allowed me to book a ten-day trip to Uzbekistan that had my birthday landing right in the middle. Fun!
My boys and I used to make the annual Fête Médiévale de Provins whenever possible, but–with my children grown–it had been some years since I’d been. When David and I decided to move back to Paris for the year, I looked up the festival, put it on my calendar and signed up for the festival email list. Then, I packed the “Guinevere” dress I bought some years back just for the occasion and crossed my fingers that we’d work the Provins fête into our schedule. Despite early summer heat and the possibility of storms (that didn’t materialize) we made it out to the picturesque walled town this past Sunday for the 38th annual festival. Les Médiévales de Provins was packed with visitors, entertainers, vendors, craftsmen and more, lots of whom sported elaborate medieval (or fantastical quasi-medieval) costumes in a perfect setting. What fun!
[I’m still committed to blogging our three-weeks in New Zealand (Fall 2022), but decided that I wouldn’t let that stop me from posting about our current year in Paris when the mood hits me.]
The town of Versailles is an easy Métro/RER ride from our apartment and we love heading out there just to wander the extensive château gardens, especially on days when the château is closed so that the crowds are thinned. Recently, though, we headed to Versailles on a Sunday to the Galerie des Carrosses (Gallery of Carriages), a place I’d been wanting to visit, but that is only open on weekends. Housed in former royal stables known as La Grande Ecurie, the Grande Ecurie along with nearby La Petite Ecurie were built for Louis XIV between 1679-1682. Located just across from the main entrance to the palace of Versailles, they comprised the largest, most extravagant stables ever built. Since the Galerie des Carrosses is only open on weekends, we got a chance to check out the masses of tourists at the château across the way. Wow. And no thank you. I’ve visited the château many times over the years so feel lucky not to have to brave a mob like that. Still, it is one of the top tourist sites in the world and absolutely worth a visit, even in a crowd. But, back to Versailles beyond the château :
The George Hotel in Christchurch felt sophisticated and luxurious after our pretty but simple motel in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. I’d found The George online when looking for somewhere to use two Hyatt free night certificates we needed to use. Although not a Hyatt, The George partners with Hyatt and free night certificates are usable there for some dates and categories.* A lovely spacious room with huge bathroom, a seating area and a balcony overlooking green trees confirmed I’d made a good choice. Hagley Park North sits just across the street from The George and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and city center are a short walk away.
A close second to Milford Sound, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park was high on my list of places to visit in New Zealand. After our overnight in Wanaka, we were off to this highlight. The road took us through Lindis Pass and yet more desolate mountains, uniformly tan and dotted with clumps of spiky brush. We stopped at a scenic overlook describing an early release of the Scottish red stags that have so thrived in New Zealand. We drove a short stretch across the Ahuriri River before crossing that river to turn north then along Lake Pukaki, now with wide dry fields where Google Maps showed a much wider lake. As with many places we’ve traveled, climate change was making itself known here.