#3, Kazakhstan, Sept. 27, 2017

Saturday morning my hostel landlady made me oatmeal for breakfast——breakfast isn’t even supposed to be provided, but she has been giving me things to eat since I arrived! Then she wrote out the name of the bus depot and the name of the town that I was going to in Russian so all would be clear. I took the local bus (she listed the 3 bus numbers I could take) to the Samal bus station. The bus to Turkistan turned out to be a 12 passenger van that only took two hours to cover the distance on a wide double lane highway.

I was concerned about finding my ‘Betty’s B&B’ in Turkistan as I had tried to call the phone number numerous times and it wouldn’t go through. I had also sent them a message through the booking agency (BedandBreakfast.eu) and there had been no response. Sure enough, when I got to Turkistan all was bedlam. After much discussion using the taxi driver’s English-speaking daughter, and driving around looking for the address, more calls were made, one to the police and it was deemed a scam—-there was no building at that address.

So they took me to a hotel, which looked very nice on the outside but is pretty down at the heel inside. The young woman English speaker suggested that she accompany me on sightseeing, and we exchanged phone numbers.

The next morning I set out to find breakfast (nothing doing in the hotel) at 8:00. I ran across a half dozen places to eat but nothing was open. I tried it again at 9:00 and finally found a small samosa and tea place where I had my breakfast. I think people get a late start hereabouts. Actually they call them ‘samsa’ here, and here is the Russian word for it. (‘C’ is the ss sound). They bake them in a tandoori oven.

Since I was half way to the local ‘sights’ I went ahead without my friend. There is a huge Mausoleum here built by Timur (whom we call Tamerlane) in 1380 (remember him from Uzbekistan?) honoring a Sufi named Kozha Akhmed Yasaui. Yasaui had died in 1166 and already his tomb was a holy place of pilgrimage. Even today people worship at this site.

There were several other interesting mausoleums and baths in the area. When
my feet could take no more, I hiked back to the hotel and rested, then had lunch. I called my friend, Inara, and we made a date to go to a village out of town the next day.

In the meantime I had emailed my Astana hostel and discovered it was closed for remodeling. So I had to scramble around and find another. Being isolated in this hotel isn’t nearly as nice as being in a hostel.

Inara, my English speaking friend, made arrangements for a taxi to take us to the old Silk Road fortress of Sauren, which was out of town about 46 km. There wasn’t much left of it, but some exotic-looking city walls, and some pavements. They were reconstructing some of it on the foundations of old buildings. Imagine how many camels had passed through here over the millennia.

The next day we went to the Central Bazaar. They are always fun for me to peruse. The bread in Kazakhstan is outstanding—-beautiful and very good tasting.

We stopped at the horse meat stall and watched a woman stuff sausage-like stuff into a horse intestine. There was also a big display of what I thought was cheese. It turned out it was butter (I had a small taste) made from mare’s milk! We looked at the other meat stalls, the sweets, the fabrics, household goods, etc. etc.

The fabrics are very colorful, and there were lots of them so I gather that many women sew their own clothes.

The markets in Kazakhstan are very clean. And the vendors are all friendly, although a few don’t want their picture taken.

Then it was time for lunch. We went to a ‘local’ restaurant that was lovely. We had talked about my tasting Koumiss, which is fermented mare’s milk. I had tasted it before when I was in Mongolia, but really didn’t remember what it tasted like. Inara thought that the restaurant would have Koumiss, but they didn’t. So we walked back to the Bazaar and to the Horse meat area and bought a small ‘Coke-bottle-full’ and took it to the restaurant. I was thinking that there was a good jolt of alcohol in it, but really, it only tasted like cold regular milk with a little vinegar in it. Maybe they sell it ‘unfermented’ and it will ferment as you have it at home.

For lunch I had some mutton, with potatoes and dill, and a little salad. The restaurant was very beautiful and was packed with locals. There were little private ‘cabins’ on the sides (behind the grill-work) where women could have privacy, this being a largely Muslim country.

It was a pleasant time. After lunch Inara needed to get to the University by 2:00 PM. We took the number 2 marshrutka (van) back to my hotel, where I got off and she continued on to the University.

That evening Inara called me and said she would like to come to my hotel as she had a present for me. She and her little brother came and gave me a lovely gift——a Kazakhstan ‘holiday’ sleeveless jacket of red satin with lots of decorations! What a lovely thing for her to do!

The next morning I got the number 2 marshrutka to the ‘Old Bus Station.’ Goodness, that is really taking a chance. I was standing with my suitcase in the very front of the van (all packed full) with not much, except the ceiling, to hang onto. Huge traffic, and the van went quite fast. If it had hit something I would have been a goner. Well, I made it to the bus station. There was an 18-passenger big van, loading for Kyzylorda. Of course one has to wait for the van to fill, which in this case took an hour and a quarter. Finally we were on our way. After awhile we stopped for a potty break—-hole in the floor—-well, I’ll spare you the details. We arrived Kyzylorda in about three hours. The van seemed kind of dangerous—-a high center of gravity made it kind of sway when it changed lanes. Oh well, this is why I tell people not to worry about my being harmed by terrorists——it is much more likely to happen in a traffic accident.

The huge double lane highway was great, but I noticed that the driver drove steadily at 100 km, which is only about 60 mph. We saw many herds of mostly black sheep, also cows and many horses. It’s a wonder they can survive on these desert plants, although, of course, it is fall and maybe this is much greener during the spring and summer.

At one point we encountered a camel in the middle of the highway. The driver slowed way down to go around it, and I grabbed a picture through the front windshield.

Arriving in the bus depot at Kyzylorda, I got a taxi and handed him the sheet of paper confirming my reservation at the Hotel Vangogh. He didn’t seem sure about finding it, so I offered to telephone the hotel. I had four numbers (I had checked out one of them from Turkistan to be sure they would answer) and NONE of them answered. Well, the taxi seemed to know where it was, and yes, he did! I got checked in, with no English, and then sent to the dining room which had vodka and food. I had a very nice lunch of fried fish, rice, salad and bread. The waiter and I made do by speaking into the iPhone with the translation mode.

I am noticing that Astana, where I intended to go next, is having lows of 26 degrees F. and highs of 38! TOO COLD! So tomorrow I shall try to change my flights and go back directly to Almaty after Kyzylorda. I really wanted to see more of that city, anyway. I hope it all works out.

Posted in 2017, Kazakhstan | Leave a comment

#2 Kazakhstan, Sept. 22, 2017

#2 Kazakhstan, Sept. 22, 2017

The train pulled out right on time, 7:14 AM to take me to Taraz, arriving 9 1/2 hours later at 4:51 PM. I had my own ‘bed;’ even though this was a daytime journey, everybody had a bunk in which to sleep. We were all given two sheets, a pillow, a pillowcase and towel. Sometimes we sat together on the lower bunks (like mine) but much of the time people climbed up in the upper bunk and everybody stretched out. (Maybe like First Class in an airplane!)

The scenery was abject desert with an occasional scruffy village along the way. Kazakhstan
is a big country, but there is not a lot ‘inside of it.’ The cities are all along the border, except for Astana, the new capital. I imagine that this was created (ala Brazilia or Ankara) to try to open up the ‘middle’ of the country.

A young couple with a baby had two bunks across from me. The baby was 10 months old and fully enthralled with the iphone. He ‘talked’ to his grandmother, making baby sounds while she held the conversation on the phone. In Kazakhstan, like everywhere else, EVERYBODY is on their iPhone at all times. Wow, it has really changed our way of life.

There was a lovely Kazakh woman, age 71, that could speak quite good English. She bemoaned that she had forgotten so much of it since she graduated from the ‘Institute’ in 1964. She asked me many questions and then other women chimed in and asked their questions and the lady interpreted. Why did you come to Kazakhstan? Do you own your own house? How many rooms does it have? Why do you travel alone? At what age can women collect a pension? How much is your pension? What was your profession? Do your children help you? An interesting conversation. Besides the two of us, there were about six other people in on the talk. I think many developing country people are very interested in us in the USA.

The hostel clerk that made my reservation on the train told me that there would be a dining car, but not to go there as it was expensive and not very good. Since this was an all day journey, I planned to eat in the dining car anyway. Well, there was NO dining car! I had noticed that practically everybody had brought a lot of food along. A woman overheard my asking a trainman (with gestures) and apparently understood my problem and pointed at a chart on the wall that, I gathered, said that at the next station, the train would spend 20 minutes and she gestured that I could go out and buy something then.

When we got to the station, I did get out and there were many vendors selling street food and drinks. I bought some mandy, a beer and a water, and was well fixed. I brought it back on the train and ate and drank with gusto.

Upon arriving, I got a taxi to take me to my hotel, (it actually had a sign that said ‘taxi’) giving him the info the hostel clerk had printed in Kazakh as well as in English. This is a multistory hotel and I have a private room.

About 6:30 PM when I walked out to buy a water, there were many police on the street and many police cars drove by very fast with lights blinking. When I asked the desk clerk about it, she answered “Presidente.” I gather that the President was coming. I waited a bit to see him, but gave up and went inside.

The next morning I set out wearing a short-sleeved tee, but turned around and changed to a long-sleeved turtle neck. The weather has been lovely-cool but sunny. I walked on a main street to their ‘center’ and found their Regional Museum. I thought it was quite ho-hum but then I found the part out in back with balbals, totem-like stones with faces of their chiefs or warriors, dating to the 6th to 9th Cs, AD. Again, there was a replica of the Golden Man. I took some closeup pix of the animal-motif gold pieces making up this costume.

Next was looking for and at some Islamic sites. First a reconstruction of the Karakhan Mausoleum—-pleasant; then the Daultbek Mausoleum built for a 13th C. Mongol where they were having a ceremony. When I entered (it’s a small place) about 4 women and 6 men were doing a chant; the head man insisted I join them, sitting on the carpet. Well sitting with my feet tucked under me is an impossibility for me, these days, but I did the best I could. Luckily there was a pause soon so I could lumberingly get up and escape. Outside there was a group of Kazakh women.

Next I looked for their ‘Green Market’, which was supposed to have everything under the sun, but finally found the location totally in the throes of reconstruction. So be it.

With that, it was time to eat linner. I walked a long ways and found a restaurant that I had eyed last night. They had a full bar, but didn’t know a ‘martini’—-at least not one like ours. After all that walking and not-too-gratifying sightseeing, I definitely wanted a martini. So I found that they had a bottle of ‘Beefeaters,’ which I pointed out to the bar maid. She got it down and brought me a ‘measuring cup’ which had 100 ml on a line (that’s 3 1/3 oz). I pointed to that and then told her ‘ice,’ which took awhile to convey the meaning, but she eventually got it. I gestured shaking the gin with the ice and pouring it into a glass. I pointed out which glass it should be—-actually it came in a wine glass, but was quite satisfactory when finished. I didn’t even try talking about olives. Then I ordered some Mandy, again, and had a satisfactory linner.

These cities are surprisingly affluent. I had read that Kazakhstan’s economy was doing well. There are very few beggars, and there are a lot of our ‘name brand’ shops. People are well dressed and almost all of the cars (and there are a lot of them) are newish. Still as I walked back to my hotel on the main drag through town, I came upon these men butchering a sheep.


I took a city bus back to the hotel (cost about 24 cents) and true to form, the passengers were all on their iPhones.

My taxi driver picked me up at 11:00 and we went to see a couple of mausoleums a ways out of town.

First was the Aysha-Bibi. It seems in the 12th C. this young woman was in love with a man her father wouldn’t let her marry. They made a secret pact to meet. She set out with her companion, Babazhi Katun. Aysha was bitten by a snake and was dying—-her companion ran to get her lover, who came just in time to marry her before she expired. He built a mausoleum for each of them.

The taxi driver took me to another, called Tekturmas from the 14th C, on the bank of the Telas River, a very beautiful setting. This was actually reconstructed in 2002 but from the photos of it taken in the 19th C.

I asked the taxi driver if he or his parents thought it was better for Kazakhstan to be independent, or if it had been better to be part of the Soviet Union. He said they felt it had been better to be part of the Soviet Union. When I asked why, his reasons seemed hazy—-they used to be able to leave their houses unlocked, etc. (So did we in my childhood!)

I had him drop me at the same restaurant as the day before and again, I had the bartender make me a martini, which I followed up with some good lamb soup and bread.

On Tuesday I walked a long way to where my LP map showed Shared Taxis to go to Shymkent. Well, it was the wrong place, as my driver, the day before, had said. (I didn’t quite believe that he knew what he was talking about.) So I got a taxi to take me to the right place (not so easy to communicate) and there got a Shared Taxi within a few minutes. It was only two hours drive to Shymkent. I had a reservation at House Hostel, but was concerned that a taxi driver wouldn’t be able to understand my pronunciation of the address, so the day before, I asked a man to write it out in Russian. Well, in spite of my precautions, the taxi driver didn’t know where to take me. Luckily a women passenger hung around to help me, and called the phone number on my confirmation sheet of the hostel. She gave the phone to the driver and he learned where to take me. How lovely of the woman passenger!

I got to the hostel, and met the owner, who was very helpful. Luckily there was a washer for our use, and so I could wash my clothes and hang them out to dry—-I really needed that!

I asked if they had bottled water to buy; they didn’t, but she sent me to Ayna Bazaar——quite a ways, really. I bought 2 bottles of water, 2 samosas for linner (there didn’t seem to be any decent restaurants around) and then I bought a quarter-liter bottle of vodka and some Fanta!

The proprietess is very helpful—-gave me some mashed potatoes to eat with my linner, and said her daughter would come and talk to me as she knew English. Then I ate my two samosas and the potatoes for linner.

Later on the daughter told me that her mother wanted me to have an additional mattress (I had noticed that they were VERY slim); so she removed the mattress pad from the top bunk and put it on top of mine, which does improve things.

So I hung out my clothes, which all dried very quickly in this very dry climate; had a nice visit with a young man who is traveling for a year, and had my afternoon cocktail. (Boy, I would have given quite a bit for some ice cubes right then!)

Actually, on Wednesday, it was not so uphill!  I had finally slept well for a couple of nights, although I have a cold, it’s not bad.

That day I took the #103 bus to centro.  Well, we’re not in Kansas anymore.  ‘Centro’ is wide open spaces with Soviet-type buildings (nice) here and there, but everything totally spread out.  I got the bus from near my hostel and told the young man that collects the money, “ee-po-dro’-ma” (roll the ‘r’) which is Hippodrome.  This is what my proprietess of the hostel told me to tell the bus.  At first he didn’t understand but an older woman explained it to him, and eventually when we arrived, he indicated I should get off.  Well the ‘Hippodrome’ turned out to be a big Ferris Wheel. I asked a young woman if she spoke English and she said, yes.  I asked for the Museum (I kind of know how to say it in Russian) and she pointed to a nearby new Soviet-type building.

Yes, that was the Regional Museum, and a very good one. It had Kazakh, Russian, and ENGLISH explanations for each item.  When I entered, a beautiful young Kazakh woman asked me if she could help me with the museum.  So she stayed with me the whole time and explained all the objects.  She knew quite good English but said that she really appreciated speaking with a native speaker as her pronunciation wasn’t perfect.  True.  I asked her, as I had asked others, if her parents or grandparents thought it was better now that Kazakhstan had independence or if it had been better under the Soviet Union. Interestingly, she said her parents and grandparents thought it was better under the Soviet Union.  I have asked two people in Kazakhstan, and about five people in Uzbekistan (a couple of years ago) and they ALL said it was better under the Soviet Union! Surprising!

The museum was very well done, and nicely displayed.  Here are some leather containers for making Kourmiss, which is fermented mare’s milk. Here was a display of the Kazakh flag. Blue for lots of blue sky, gold for lots of sun, and an eagle.

When I was finished I asked if she knew how I could take a bus back to the Ayna Bazaar (my landlady didn’t know—suggested to take a taxi) and she said I could go across the street where I arrived and take the same bus (#103) back to the Ayna Bazaar.  On the bus were several school children, who were so polite about giving up their seats for grownups. The little girls seem to like big poofy white things in their hair. The bus driver let me off at the Bazaar where I bought some fruit and a samosa to have for my linner.

When I got back to the hostel, I started with a vodka/Fanta, for which, this time, I had an ice cube.  I had put some bottled water in a plastic glass (about an inch) and put it in the freezer.  So at cocktail time, I got the ice cube into a wine glass along with some vodka and Fanta and had a satisfactory cocktail. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!!

I met Maria, from Spain, and it turned out that we had both planned to go to Sayram on Thursday, a very old town about 10 km outside of Shymkent. So we together boarded the #140 marshrutka (van). This town was on the old, old Silk Route and dates back 3,000 years. There were a number of old Mausoleums there (8th – 13th Cs) and a 10th C. minaret. We did take a spin through their bazaar—saw these enormous heads of cauliflower. The outing was more like ‘being’ than ‘seeing.’ It was fun to interact with Maria and to follow the puzzle of finding the various mosques, minarets and mausoleums.

We returned about 2:00, getting off at the Ayna Bazaar near our hostel. Back to the hostel for a vodka cocktail (with ice!) and a couple of samosas for linner, along with grapes that I bought yesterday.

My landlady’s daughter, who can speak English, has been helping me write Russian addresses for my next three hostel reservations. This is needed for a taxi to know where to take me.

I’ll be hanging out here in Shymkent one more day, and then going to Turkistan on Saturday.


Posted in 2017, Kazakhstan | Leave a comment

#1 Kazakhstan, Sept. 15. 2017

Here I am in Almaty, Kazahkstan! Once again I’ve got on my travelin’ shoes, but this time I didn’t take my trusty backpack, but a small suitcase. I started traveling at 5:00 PM on Sunday, and arrived Almaty at 5:00 AM on Tuesday, their time, which is 11 hours ahead of MN. In the Istanbul Airport a group of Kazahkstanies that were traveling on my plane put down silky scarves on which they knelt to do their Muslim devotions.

After the usual hassle at the airport of my ATM card not working in three different ATM’s before finally working in the fourth, I got money—tenge, which are 333 to the dollar. And after being cheated (as usual) by the taxi driver, I arrived at the multistory building in which my hostel (DimHostel Almaty) was located on the fourth floor. There were several entrances to the building but since it was 6:30 AM, all were locked. So I approached a man who was raking leaves and brushing sidewalks and he let me in with a key and escorted me to an elevator, which he punched for ‘4’ and then hopped out. The door opened on fourth floor and there was the hostel with the door unlocked. I walked in and finally a clerk arrived, but there was a mixup with my reservation. However, it was soon all fixed and I got my dorm bed.

I slept for a couple of hours and then met a Brazilian young woman named Rebecca and she and I went to have lunch at a cute outdoor restaurant about 5 blocks away. While we were ordering a waitress came with a blanket for each of us to put around us—she thought it a bit chilly, I guess—I didn’t think it was.  I ordered a hearty mutton soup called Shurva; Rebecca ordered Kaurma, some noodles with meat and veggies. Both were excellent—I think the food will be good here.

The following morning I went to look for coffee, which I found right across the street in a shopping mall. I had a beautiful croissant and a good cappuccino. Then I started on my walking tour of Almaty. I saw various monuments and special buildings; saw the opera house but unfortunately there was no opera playing—-only a ballet with ticket prices starting at $130. (I probably would have done for an opera, even having to go out alone at night); then I took the cable car up to the top of a mountain overlooking the city. When I bought my ticket (about $7) she said it was free for seniors!

I had linner again at the same restaurant as the day before. This time I tried the Kazakh vodka—-50 milliliters—-about 1 3/4 oz. I think it was good—-it was certainly cheap—-about a dollar! Then I had delicious mandy, which were horse meat dumplings.

I stopped at my coffee shop for an espresso about 6:30 PM. It had gotten a little chilly by then—-50 degrees, or so but with no wind—-and many coffee drinkers were sitting outside. The coffee shop provides cuddly blankets for patrons to put around themselves to keep warm.

The next day I walked a long ways to the Central State Museum. This museum chronicles the history of Kazakhstan from pre-history to present. The museum was a bit ho-hum although it would have been more interesting if there had been more English explanations. It’s pretty hard to figure out what they’re saying in the Cyrillic alphabet. Interestingly, the hostel clerk said that the country of Kazakhstan is going to transition to the Latin alphabet in 2020! Imagine what a challenge that will be!!

The entrance held a replica of The Golden Man. This is a gold warrior’s costume discovered in a Scythian tomb in 1969. It is made of 4000 separate gold pieces, many of them with animal motifs. It dates to the 5th C. BCE and has become Kazakh’s national symbol. The real one is safe in the National Bank Building but there are many replicas.

There was also a beautiful yurt, all decked out inside with real items but suddenly a museum person wouldn’t let me photograph it, even without flash, so I had to sneak a photo, only from the back. This is the kind of yurt that I slept in in Mongolia.

Leaving the Central State Museum, I walked a very long way to the Kazakhstan Museum of Arts. When I arrived there was a sign on the door that included the word for ‘museum’ (one I can recognize) with an arrow pointing to another door. That one wasn’t open and I was wondering what to do when a Russian couple came striding along and motioned that we had to go around the corner. I guess I would have missed out on this if they hadn’t happened along.

There was wonderful Russian Art and Kazakh art. There was even a large gallery of early European art! Some was the Stalin-agreed art of the Communists, like Akselrode’s “At the Glass Works.” Other art reminded me of the Savitzsky Museum art in Uzbekistan that was so beautiful and celebratory and was NOT sanctioned by Stalin. Here is “Noon” by Shayathmotov, reminding me also of the Russian Museum in Minneapolis.

Then if you’re wondering what happens to your discarded glass bottles, they may be here, in Guliyev’s “Cow, Bull.” I really got a kick out of this effort!











Next was another long walk to see St. Nicholas Cathedral. It was built in 1909 and is every inch Russian! Its beautiful gold onion domes, and gold on the gold altar were over the top. During Communist times it was actually used for a stable for Bolshevik cavalry before opening again in 1980. Two women received a priestly blessing outside of the Cathedral.

From here I really couldn’t face walking all the way back to the hostel, as my feet were killing me! I asked somebody —— “taxi?” and he motioned to go out in the street and wave. I had noticed that taxis were not marked in any way—-no yellow color, no sign, no meter, no credentials on the windshield. So I stood at the side of a busy street waving and hollering “taxi” like a deranged person. Rather quickly a man stopped. Is this man really a taxi driver or some madman? Oh well—-. Maybe everyone here is a taxi driver. Luckily I had a card from my hostel that was in English on one side and Kazakh on the other. It also gave directions—“near the Dostyk Shopping Mall” which he knew. (It’s where my coffee shop is). He asked how much money (gestures only) and I held up two fingers and said, “Two thousand.” OK. As we got close, I asked him (with gestures) to let me off just short of that at the restaurant where I have eaten before. I had the Kaurma Lagman that Rebecca had when we ate together, which was very good. Then home to REST!

Today was a lovely day. I walked a long ways to Panfilov Park to see the Heroes Monument. It turned out that they were having a military ceremony—-maybe the induction of new recruits? Anyway, there was a lot of goose-stepping and saluting. There is a huge World War II monument there, also a black granite plaque with an eternal flame, and today many flowers.

From there I walked over to see the Zenkov Cathedral. It was built in 1904 completely of wood—-even the nails. Unfortunately the exterior was all in scaffolding although there was a picture of it. The interior was very Russian—-and had the usual candles, gold altars, icons and murals. The interior was pretty dark, but I managed to get a picture after ‘tricking’ my camera.

From there I walked to a most wonderful museum, The Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments. It was in an old lovely wood building and all the instruments were displayed so beautifully. There was also English information about them. Of course recorded music from these instruments was playing on the PA system.

I kept walking and came to the Green Market. It’s huge and has every thing under the sun. I concentrated on the food market, which was amazing. All those meats and parts of animals that we’re not very familiar with—-especially if they are not wrapped in plastic and styrofoam.

Then they had a myriad of cheeses, sausages, and fish—-both dried and fresh. And wonderful fruits and veggies—-especially their pickled veggies.


They eat a lot of horse meat—-here’s that part of the market.



I walked some more to see the Central Mosque, which was built in 1999 and is the biggest in the country. I had read that morning, though, that I wouldn’t be allowed in on Friday, their Sabbath. Maybe I’ll try to see it when I have my last trip day here again before flying out for home the next morning. The exterior was beautiful white marble.

Then I retraced my steps through Panfilev Park to try to get a bus. I was on ‘my’ street (Dostyk Street which I had walked down for a couple of miles from my hostel) so a bus seemed doable. I got on a bus and asked if it were going to Dostyk Plaza, a well-known shopping mall near my hostel. A woman said “No” and then a lot more that I couldn’t understand. A young woman came to my rescue and put the information that the woman said into her iPhone with translation to English. She held her iPhone so I could read it. It said to get off at the next stop and take bus #29. This I did—-she got off, too, and helped
me onto #29, which was PACKED! No one could move. She helped me pay—-I guess she gave my money to others to hand up to the driver. Anyway, I was successful in finding my restaurant where I had Uzbek Pilev (very good) and then went back to the hostel.

Tomorrow I am taking a 7:14 AM train (9 hours) to Taraz.


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#5 Italy (final) June 27, 2017

#5 Italy (final) June 27, 2017

What a drive over the mountains! We were on our way to Verona and went on the highway north of Partina, which I haven’t driven for probably 10 years. The scenery is spectacular, but scary to drive.

We found our B & B in Verona using our GPS (they’re MAGIC!) which was well located within walking distance to all the historic sights and to the Verona Arena, the venue for the opera. It was built by the Romans in 30 AD.

Our first evening there we took a long walk, looking at many historic sights, and ending up for dinner at the Torcolo restaurant. We had a delightful meal—-sharing three courses starting with an antipasto of carpaccio of veal with homemade mayo and caper berries; a secondo of rack of lamb; and a plate of grilled veggies; a Wonderful bottle of Valpolicello Ripassa red wine from the area, 2013 (not to put too fine a point on it!), all of which we enjoyed. We were slightly disappointed, though, as the specialty of Verona is bollito misto, which is ‘boiled meats.’ On Torcolo’s website, they showed bringing a big cart of many kinds of meats for you to choose from—apparently gone the way of progress.

After all that, we got a little lost walking home, but eventually made it back to our B & B. I forgot I could have used my iPhone—-next time!

The next day we set out to look at the ‘sights.’ Just around the corner we came upon an interesting building—- don’t know the story, but certainly looks old!

While the B&B said they included breakfast, and we did try their tiny cappuccini out of a machine, it seemed it called for a REAL cappuccino and corneto from a REAL coffee bar, so this we did.

We pushed on to Juliet’s house and balcony—- have you ever seen a better looking Romeo? With hat in hand, no less! The tourist brochures imply that the story is real, and that Capulets really did live in the house——in any case, it is a 13th century house.

We were fairly frustrated looking for Romeo’s house, which we finally located. The reason it was hard to find is there is nothing much to see!

After that we had to give up and go back to the B & B to rehydrate and cool off. The temps were 90 mid-day, going to 96 degrees around 5:00 PM.

Dinner, later that day was at the Ristorante Arche, which has been in business since 1879. Again, we shared three courses: Sarde in Saor (a way they packed sardines in Venice for the sailors); a Charcuterie (prociutto, two salamis, speck and lettuce); then a main course of traditional horse stew with polenta. Verona certainly does have its traditional ways of cooking!

Friday evening we went to the opera in the Verona Arena. What a spectacle! The production of Nabucco was enormous with a 180 piece orchestra, at least 300 people on stage, wonderful singers, fun costumes, 12 horses, lots of ‘gunfire’ and ‘cannon fire.’
I think I bought the second to cheapest seats and thought we would be sitting up high where there are just stone seats, but no, we were taken to the second row from the stage on the side. We had bought seat cushions from a vendor outside at the suggestion of a woman who had been here before. But our seats were ordinary plastic auditorium seats, so no problem! We also thought that the voices would be amplified but they were not. I wonder if the people way up high at the end could hear them well—-we certainly could. Originally in Roman
times this arena held 30,000 people, but now they say it holds 15,000, and it did seem full!

The sets were marvelous, especially the ‘opera’ scene. The orchestra was wonderful (4 harps!), the director was totally animated and fun to watch, and the gunfire was terrific! It was scheduled to start at 9:00 PM (long security lines ahead of that) and it did start, Italian style at 9:20. Intermissions were loooong, and so it ended at 12:50 AM. During one of the intermissions we shared a Pepsi to keep going!

We had a nasty surprise after we walked back to our B & B. We had been given a key fob to use to open the outside door, which you hold up to a spot, it buzzes and you can open the door. Well, it wouldn’t open! We had used it many times with no problem. By now it’s 1:20 AM! My phone doesn’t work to call here—-I’m sure it does, but I don’t know how (somebody TELL ME) so we walked back to a sandwich shop and the man called Stephano. Luckily he answered, said he was at the Arena and would be along shortly. In the meantime two other women that we had met earlier arrived home from the opera and their fob didn’t work, either. Finally Stephano came and unlocked it with a key. Apparently somebody had locked it from the inside—-what a system!

After our morning cappuccino and corneto at a coffee bar, as usual, we just went back to our room (with A/C) and rested until lunchtime. Verona has several museums, art galleries of interest, but with the opera lasting until 1:00 AM, and the weather so hot (95 degrees and humid) we felt we had to conserve our strength and not sightsee all day.

We did have a terrific pranso, though at Ristorante Locanda Castelvechio, which did have the bollito misto (boiled meats). While they didn’t bring them on a cart, the waiter made a plate of them to bring to us with four sauces, all of which were wonderful.

Preliminary to that we shared an antipasto of beef carpaccio and a primi of gnocchi with shrimp and zucchini, both of which were excellent. The waiter had brought an anti-antipasto of cold grapes and warm hard- cooked egg with olive oil and he brought a bowl of pitted cherries at the end.

Again, back to the B & B to rest and rehydrate before going to the Arena that evening for our second opera, Aida.
And again we walked to the Arena (30 minutes) in 95 degree weather.

While the security lines were 25 minutes long the previous night, this night we were able to walk right in. The Arena, itself, is very interesting, having been built so long ago by the Romans.

The inside was fun to see, too. And again, it appeared to be completely full. People around us were speaking many languages—-our next-seat neighbors were from Norway—-and the announcements were made in four languages, including English. The supra titles were in Italian and in English—-lucky us!

And again, the production was marvelous, using the whole arena to advantage with huge sets.

The orchestra was big and wonderful, the singers were very fine, filling the Arena with their big voices.


One very engaging thing was that during the second act, they built a huge structure while the opera was in progress. There were high-wire construction people with ropes and pulleys on their bodies doing this ‘construction.’ Unfortunately I was so nervous for them falling, or for the parts in the construction falling on the
singers that I couldn’t concentrate on the singing. Eventually it was ‘built’ and portrayed the tomb in the last act.

Instead of live animals as are often staged in Aida the animals
 were ‘mechanical.’
The opera ended at 1:15 AM (!) and we arrived home at 1:45 and dropped into bed. Fatiguing but enjoyable!

The next day we drove back to Partina, using my iPhone to guide us on the ‘fastest route.’ This took us past Florence and then routed us over the ‘Consuma,’ which is the way the bus goes to Florence over the ‘spine’ of the mountain. It is a beautiful, if challenging, drive. However, there was a race in progress and so we were detoured to Valimbrosia, which went on a tiny road through a mountainous natural park. It took us a long time to travel those 15 miles!

The next day we drove to Rome, turned in our car and stayed overnight in the airport hotel, leaving for home today, Tuesday, June 27th. It was a wonderful month, as you can see from these emails (if you’re still with me!) and we hope to return again.

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#4 Italy, June 22, 2017

Dear Everybody,

A nice rest/relaxation day following our trip home from Urbino was the thing on Friday. Burt did some serious cooking—-first a pigeon to get ready for a sauce for pasta for another day. The pigeon turned out to not be cleaned—-the guts were still in it! Luckily I

am farm girl, and saw my mother clean chickens many times. I saved the liver, heart, and kidney for Burt’s sauce, and he took over from there. Then we bought two oratas (sea bream) fish to grill for our dinner that night. In the meantime, Burt fixed a puntanelle salad (chicory, anchovies and other stuff) to go with the fish and made a nice sauce, too. That and a nice bottle of Bianchello wine mellowed us out that evening.

The neighbor cat came over to finish off the fish skins left on the grill. She reminded me so much of a painting that I had seen in the Ducal Palace that I took her picture to compare. Apparently not much has changed regarding cats from the 14th century!

Saturday night was a big ‘fest’ night in Partina. Some of the local women, including Roberta, cooked lots of good food and served it to a couple hundred of the Partina residents, including us! Tables were all lined up on the street on which Roberta and Paolo live. It started at 8:00; however, the first course was served at 9:00 and there were many courses. There was also entertainment—-but really, the whole thing
was ‘entertainment.’ What a chance to get in on that local event. As things Italian go, they were making a night of it, and we were asleep on our feet by 11:00 when they were just getting ready to serve the 
main course. We had had antipasto, and two pasta courses plus wine and Prosecco by then. So we old folks ducked out before the duck was served! Sorry about that—-we just can’t keep up with these Italians!

A couple of lazy days with Burt cooking pigeon sauce for pasta and fried squash blossoms and sage leaves. We’re organizing our remaining meals at home, now, to make things ‘come out even.’

And just to sit in the back yard under the umbrella, or look out the front to our beautiful view is pleasant.

When we ate at Arezzo a couple of weeks ago, we noticed from the label from the half- bottle of wine we drank said the wine was made in the town of Laterina, a small town very near Arezzo. We followed up on this and discovered it was a beautiful little town and so we decided to visit it.

In the meantime, Burt had bought an “Arezzo” cookbook, as he is wont to do. This cookbook listed 37 villages in the Arezzo area and gave recipes for their native dishes. One of these villages was Laterina. It was pretty far off the beaten track, so luckily my iPhone GPS guided us there.

On the way we came to a very old bridge——built in 1277 and they say it is featured in the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci. It was called the Buriano bridge over the Arno River (the same river that runs through Florence) so we stopped to take a look. How lovely!

Continuing on, we came to another of the 37 villages from the cookbook, called Castiglion Fibocchi. It was so pretty that we had to stop there, too! The view from the highway was gorgeous. After spending a little time walking that town, we continued on our way to Laterina, walking up, up, up to the town.

Laterina was really beautiful and fun to walk around. Three men sat in front of a church with a sword thrust in a stone! There were beautiful streets and gorgeous views from the town walls.

Soon it was lunch time. We chose a cute little Osteria that had a sign saying the proprietors were Laura and Claire. We must have had one DSC01474.jpgof them, but I don’t know which. There was a little grocery store connected to the tiny restaurant.

I had pici (like thick spaghetti) with duck sauce; Burt had pici with a beef sauce. She brought wonderful salami and sheep cheese antipasto——we bought some of the cheese to take with us, it was so good.  Our GPS got us home again, what a wonderful outing we had!

The next day we did chores most of the day except for when Burt did some serious cooking. The pigeon sauce was now ready to have on pasta, which he saved for the evening meal. He made a panzanella salad with bread, cucumbers, basil, garlic and onion plus the olive oil and vinegar. This sits around awhile, letting the flavors ‘get acquainted.’

I did a bunch of laundry and Burt did some ironing outside in the perfect sunshiny day. He LIKES to iron! Roberta has several hand-embroided sheets and pillow cases that were in her grandmother’s hope chest. Of course they take ironing——something that puts most of us off from using them. Roberta encouraged me to use them, but it took taking them to the laundry afterwards, so made a bit of a hassle. So it has been years since I have used them, or anybody else, for that matter. Along came Burt——who likes antique linens and is perfectly willing to iron them!

We had a lovely buffet lunch, with prosciutto and melon, tomato bruschetti, salami, the panzanella salad, and some Orvieto white wine that we bought there last year.

I did just a bit of cleaning as we are getting ready to leave tomorrow to go to Verona We will be attending a couple of operas there in a Roman amphitheater. Shortly after we will be going to Rome and then home.

Posted in 2017, Italy | 3 Comments

#3 Italy, June 16, 2017

#3 Italy, June 16, 2017

Dear Everybody,

After doing our morning email at the Coop Coffee Shop on Friday, (we come here every morning now, as Burt’s computer doesn’t work well at Big Ben Coffee Shop) we shopped and shopped for our party. We also bought four kinds of fish for cacciucco (a fish soup, which really takes five kinds), which Burt made for our pranso on Saturday. He had worked hard on making things for Sunday, but still found energy and time to make the cacciucco, (sounds like a sneeze) which, as usual, we ate outside on the picnic table in perfect weather. It was really good, with a nice white wine.



I did a little vacuuming and dusting to ready the house for our party on Sunday. Burt prepared the cold salmon with three sauces; also chicken liver/heart pate for one of three bruschette.



We really enjoyed our group——Roberto’s two sisters, Roberta and Luigina and their husbands, Paolo and Giovanni; Mateo, Roberta’s son, along with Francesca, his girlfriend and her mother, Rosa. Mateo can speak a little English and I can speak a (very) little Italian, so we managed.

I had gotten a parking ticket a few days earlier when we went to Florence on the bus and parked the car where I always do! I did look for any restrictions but didn’t see any. Well, apparently they were there! Roberta explained that I had to pay it at a post office, and it had to be paid the next day.

Everybody seemed to enjoy the food, including the American potato salad. Roberta and Luigina each brought some Italian wine, and Rosa brought a platter of sweets.

So the next day we found the Post Office in Bibbiena (Partina’s PO is only open on Tuesdays and Fridays!) by using the iPhone GPS. I paid the parking ticket (28 euro, about $31) and also paid a couple of bills that came to the house for Roberto—-electric, and something else. They can be paid at the PO!

We had Pasta Alfredo for pranso one day, and the next day had pork liver wrapped in caul (some fatty, stringy stuff) that I thought was very good, but Burt didn’t like, so I ate both pieces! Burt had also made a Roman bread with olive oil, rosemary and salt.

We’re planning, now, with paper and pencil, to figure the number of times we’ll be at home for Burt to make a fairly elaborate pranso, and to figure how many towns we will be visiting, which means we’ll have pranso there. Burt will not get to cook all the things that he wanted to (we’ll have to return next year!) so we’re prioritizing.

Wednesday we drove to Urbino, quite a ways east of Partina, over some pretty rugged mountain roads. We had a lovely hotel with a beautiful view for the night that we stayed over, and visited gorgeous artistic things.


The Oratoria di San Giovanni, and the Oratoria
di San Giuseppe had marvelous frescos and other things to see. These are very old—-from the early 15th century! Urbino was a very important town in its heyday (15-16th centuries) and still has 24,000 students in 10 universities in a town with a population of 15,000. The town, itself, is so medievally beautiful—- everywhere you look is a picture.

The Cathedral was closed—-maybe still as a result of the earthquake near here that occurred last year when we were in Partina.

We ate our pranso at a garden restaurant that we had discovered last year when we were here. We 
also became acquainted with a 
wonderful white wine from the area, called Bianchello del Metauro. We drank a whole bottle with pranso. We split an antipasto of carpaccio of beef (terrific), heads of porcini mushrooms (good) and a roasted pheasant (pretty good.)

All this required going back to the hotel for a nap. When we took the bus back to our hotel, we got acquainted with a young American woman named Lisa. We asked her where the Casa della Poesia was, as we had seen a flyer about an opera concert there this evening. It turned out that she was singing in this concert!

That evening we took the bus back to centro and, after asking a bookseller, got directions to the site of the concert and found it! It started at 9:00 (pretty late for us) and we left at 10:00 at the intermission as we wanted to catch the 10:30 bus back to our hotel. When the bus finally came, it was going a different route, so wouldn’t be going to our hotel. The bus driver was very nice and let us ride along. After he finished his route in about an hour, he took us to our hotel!

We enjoyed this student (free) concert which, Burt learned from talking to one of the ‘managers,’ is a product of a program organized in Dalles, TX. These students from many colleges study the Italian language for four hours in the morning, then study opera singing all afternoon. Urbino has many colleges and universities so the town is brimming with students.  And, of course it was fun to see ‘our’ Lisa Bloom perform!

The next morning in Urbino, we checked out of our hotel and moved our car to a downtown parking lot. We visited the Ducal Palace and all its riches of art and architecture. We had seen it last year, but wanted to visit it more in depth this year.

There were a myriad of art treasures to enjoy. Raphael, the Renaissance painter, was born in this town. His father, Giovanni Santi, was also a well- regarded painter in the early 15th C. Several of his paintings were displayed, as well as Raphael’s very well- known painting of 
a woman called 
‘La Muta.’

We also revisited Piero della Francesca’s two

There are many, many other 14th and 15th century painters exhibited here, such as Bellini, and Titian.




Additionally, the town of Urbino is so beautiful. There are many scenes that call out for photography. It’s hard to stop taking pictures!


When our energy and feet wore out, we went back to our car and, with the help of the GPS system on my iPhone, headed toward home.

On the way we stopped, as we did last year, in a small town with a supermarket to buy some Bianchello del Matauro wine, which we can only find in this area, and it’s sooooo good! Unfortunately this year the supermarket was out of their upscale-priced product, so we bought four bottles of their same brand, but their cheaper version. We stopped at another small town to eat pranso—-tortellini and tagliatelle, both very good.

The drive back home over the mountains——two hours of hairpin turns—-was arduous. Then we ran into a huge rainstorm as we got near home. We almost had to stop as vision was poor, but then it lightened up a bit and we made it home. Later the sun came out again.

We shall have some rest/cook days now, before going to Verona to hear opera before coming home.

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#2 Italy, June 8, 2017

#2 Italy, June 8, 2017

Dear Everybody,

What a nice day we had in Anghiari, a wonderful medieval town, practically unchanged from those times. We walked on the walls and all over the town, admiring Tuscan views and the beautiful buildings. We capped it off with pranso, (main meal at 12:30). We shared three courses—-you’ll see why—here’s the ‘starter,’ meant to be for one person!

The primi was pappardelle (pasta) with venison sauce; the secondo was sformato di selvaggina, a ‘custard’ with pheasant, two kinds of partridge and wood pigeon in it topped with shavings of black truffle! The drive over and back was challenging, going over the mountains on skinny roads, but I think I’ve got my Italian driving mojo back now.

Saturday was Burt’s birthday. First thing was to open his daughter, Caddy’s birthday card. She knew he would be lonesome for his little dog, Anthony!

We did errands, then walked over to Roberta’s house to greet the family. We invited them for pranso for next Sunday. It looks like we’ll be 10 at table—-Roberta’s family plus Mateo’s girlfriend and her mother, and Luigina and Giovanni. Burt is busy planning the menu.

Of course Burt made his own birthday dinner—-lots of things including breaded lamb chops with lemon.

Sunday we drove over the mountains to Caprese Michelangelo, the town where Michelangelo was born in 1475 (the name of the town was just Caprese until Michelangelo became famous). We visited his house and the castle before joining many other diners at the Buca di Michelangelo Restaurant for a 12-course pranso to celebrate Burt’s day-after birthday. The menu; (well there wasn’t any printed menu, but here is what we were served—-from 1:00 to 4:00 PM:)

Red Wine from Umbria, Still and Sparkling Water
Melon with Prosciutto and Tuscan Salami
Salad of Cabbage/Pine Nuts/Onion
Four Bruschette—Liver Pate, Tomato, Cream Cheese/Anchovies and Porcini/Melted Cheese
Acquacotta (Dry Soup with Leftover Bread and Many Veggies)
Crespelle (Pasta Crepe with Cheese, Pureed Potatoes/Bechamel)
Ravioli (Spinach and Ricotta Filling; Sauce with Mushrooms and Tomatoes)
Bistecchine in Taglia (Beef Tenderloin Strips) and Green Salad
Batter-Fried Mushrooms
Roast Meats—Lamb, Pork, Chicken and Pigeon with Oven Fried Potatoes
Semifreddo di Ricotta (light desert)
Cordials: Grappa, Lemoncello, Fernet Branca

Our table:








And Our View:









The Beef Tenderloin with Salad, and the Roast Meats:


We drove to Poppi and took the bus to
Florence on Tuesday. That is a most beautiful bus ride over the ‘spina’ (spine) of the mountains, although this day was cloudy—-it even rained a bit while we were in Florence.

We spent most of our time in the Mercato Centrale, which is the ‘new’ market, built in 1872. We bought three ‘meats,’ a prepared rabbit roast, some cinghiale (wild boar), and a Florentine Steak to make on the grill. Burt carried an insulated picnic box with frozen bottles of water in it, which kept our meat cool until we got home about 5:00 PM.

The main event was eating lunch there. One of the specialties is lampredotto, (the dark part in the picture) which is made from the lining of a cow’s 4th stomach (not the 1st—-that’s tripe (the white part), not the 2nd or the 3rd!). We wanted to try their sandwiches as Burt wanted to compare them with what he had been cooking at home for a couple of days. This is a very old, traditional working-man’s lunch in Florence.

We bought our sandwiches, with a glass of red wine from the Nerbone kiosk that has been there since 1872. Yes, it was delicious—-and Burt’s lampredotto compared well with this expert’s.






Our Arezzo trip on Wednesday was a repeat of things we’ve done in the past, but love to do

We saw the 15th C. murals by Piero della Francesca in the San Francisco Church, which are stunning. Here you see the meeting of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon.

There are many other very old murals, or fragments of them, in this church. “Pentecost” is a 14th C. mural by Spinello Arentino.



Afterwards we saw a special movie made with sterioptic pictures (3D) from the 1890s. They were about the ‘Grand Tour’ made by wealthy people at the time. Interestingly, I had seen most of the cities/places on my back-packing trips!

Lunchtime found us under the portales overlooking the main Piazza, designed by Georgio Vasari in the 16th C. Burt had ‘chest’ of veal, sweetbreads and beans; I had grilled vegetables and some bites of his——I’ve been eating too much for lunch lately so I’m not hungry for Burt’s wonderful dinner meals, so I’m trying to correct that.

Dinner that night was the rolled roast of rabbit that we bought at the Mercato Centrale. When we bought it, the lady selling it kept saying (in Italian) “40 minutes.” I asked if we were to come back in 40 minutes—-would she be making another roast for us??? We traded this stuff a few times until I finally figured out she was saying to roast it for no more than 40 minutes! Burt roasted it for 40 minutes, and made carrots and batter-fried porcini mushrooms to go with it——um, good!

In the meantime, we’re preparing for our party on Sunday, which will be pranso with Roberto’s family. We’ve got a very long shopping list for today, and Burt will cook up a storm on Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday night we grilled a big Florentine streak, which we enjoyed with grilled radicchio and salad, with a good Nobile Montepulciano wine. 

Hope you’re all fine—-we’re really enjoying Italy and its perfect weather.

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