Stone Town and the Park Hyatt Zanzibar

I booked our last two nights in Zanzibar at the Park Hyatt Zanzibar, a beautiful and historic former mansion set on the water and in the middle of Stone Town (also known as “Mji Mkongwe” which means “old town” in Swahili). Stone Town is the old part of Zanzibar City, the main city of Zanzibar, which sits on the west coast of the island facing the direction of mainland Tanzania.

The architecture and layout of Stone Town reflects the island’s historic ties to Oman as well as a complex fusion of the many cultures that have influenced it over the centuries. Stone Town was the seat of the Sultans of Oman and Zanzibar. Zanzibar became a part of the holdings of the Sultan of Oman in 1698. Around 1840, a later sultan moved his capital from Muscat to Stone Town. In 1856, a struggle over succession divided territories into the Sultanate of Oman and Muscat and a separate Sultanate of Zanzibar which existed until 1964 when the sultan was overthrown in the Zanzibar Revolution. read more

Nungwi, Zanzibar: resort time on a prime beach

Lone Masai on Nungwi Beach

Nungwi Beach on the northern coast of Zanzibar ranks among the prettiest on the island and is home to many popular resorts, hotels and restaurants. I definitely wanted to spend some of our time in Zanzibar there. Scanning our available hotel points and certificates and local resorts I was happy to find very reasonable award availability at Marriott’s Nungwi Beach Resort by Turaco. Reviews sounded good, the location was great, so I quickly locked in four nights.

Although roads are generally good in Zanzibar, the last half mile or so through the town of Nungwi approaching the resort is a narrow dirt road. Our SUV slowed to a crawl as our Zanzibar driver, Ally, dodged impressive potholes and wove among small shops. We stopped in front of tall gates, checking in with a security guard before proceeding to a large open-air lobby. read more

A Zanzibar Spice Farm en route from Uroa to Nungwi

After four nights at a boutique hotel on Uroa Beach on the east coast of Zanzibar, it was time to move to a resort hotel on Zanzibar’s popular north coast. The drive looked to be over an hour, but that still left us with some time to kill between check-out in Uroa and check-in in Nungwi. I knew I wanted to visit a Zanzibar spice farm and lots of spice farm tours are offered out of Stone Town, but with only two nights planned in Stone Town, I didn’t want to spend our one full day there on a tour. This moving day between two hotels seemed like the perfect opportunity to fit in a spice farm tour and lunch en route. When I asked Zanzitaxi to add the stop to our transfer, they suggested Jambo Spice Farm and we made plans. (“Jambo jambo!” is a familiar greeting in Swahili meaning hello.) read more

Uroa, Zanzibar

View from our porch at F-Zeen Boutique Hotel in Uroa, Zanzibar

After some weeks of gray and cold Paris, I was ready for sunshine and warmth. Unfortunately, the Mediterranean is still too cold for me this time of year so I started looking further afield. I eyed Cape Verde (Cap Vert) but found flights less-than-convient. A couple of stunning photos of Zanzibar beaches caught my eye, further research piqued my easily-piqued curiosity, and when I discovered I could book us reasonably-priced award flights in Qatar Airways business class with an overnight layover in Doha, I was all in. read more

A Festival of Scallops in Monmartre, Paris

Snapshots of La Fête de la Coquille Saint-Jacques

I’ve had this year’s La Fête de la Coquille Saint-Jacques (Festival of Scallops) in Montmartre on my calendar for a couple of months. A French friend told me about this annual Breton event and I was instantly intrigued. David and I love scallops. We had big fun in October at the Meaux “Brie Happy” Festival celebrating the local cheese so had high hopes for a festival centered around scallops and other specialties from the Brittany region of France. A quick online search promised booths of food, cooking demonstrations, traditional Breton dancers and more. Fun! read more

Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s modern capital

Fountains of the State Museum of the Temurids in Tashkent

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. read more

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The Registan

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. read more

Samarkand to Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan

The ruins of Timur’s “White Palace,” Ak-Saray

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. read more

An Uzbek yurt camp and desert stops along the way

Yurt camp in the Kyzylkum Desert

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? read more

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

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. read more