Journey through three ‘Stans: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan & Turkmenistan

Registan Square, Samarkand

I have just spent six days on the Golden Eagle – a private train travelling along the web of Silk Road routes, from Almaty in Kazakhstan though Uzbekistan and to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

I’ve long wanted to visit the ‘Stans, but as the song goes, it was just that the timing was wrong. So the chance to visit aboard a luxury train couldn’t be passed up.

Travelling along the Silk Road, my journey from Almaty to Ashgabat.

Of all the stops on this journey – Almaty, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Ashgabat, the winner of the beauty prize is Samarkand.

Its Registan Square, pictured above, is just so big, and so awe inspiring, it’s almost overwhelming to try to take in all its beauty in one day, let alone in one photo.

However, it was the quieter, more secretive streets of Khiva that possibly caught my attention. Even though its historic Old City isn’t lived in anymore, it just seemed to have more life. Maybe it was the fact it had more scarf and textile shops, each tucked into a picturesque niche lined with Uzbekistan’s trademark turquoise tiles.

This part of the world is no stranger to travellers – these oasis towns have been receiving new ideas, cultures, languages and religions since time began.

But they’ve slipped off the radar in recent decades, only to be coaxed back on by new, more lenient visa requirements and our desire – and ability – to explore further, with international flights now into all the major cities.

A few details:

I flew into Almaty and out of Ashgabat via Dubai with its low-cost carrier, fly Dubai.

The Golden Eagle is a luxury private train that started its great rail journeys on the iconic Trans-Siberian route across Russia, www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.

 

 

Chatting about Chile’s Atacama Desert

atacama desert
If you’re after some travel ear candy, I’ll be chatting about my recent adventures in Chile’s Atacama Desert with Ross & Kate on radio 3AW this morning from 11am.
Tune in to hear about guanacos, geysers and the world’s driest landscape (which also has plenty of flamingos).
Hosted by Ross Stevenson and Kate Stevenson “A Moveable Feast” is an hour-long program broadcast on 3AW every Saturday from 11am, focusing on local and international food and travel stories.

Airline review: Madrid to Cairo with Egyptair

Egyptair plane

Recently, I completed an epic trek from Cusco, near Macchu Pichu in Peru, to Cairo, Egypt.

Let me tell you, it took some serious, late-night internet hunting! I could have travelled via Sao Paulo, (Brazil) then across to Casablanca (Morocco) and on to Egypt, or from Sao Paulo via a 12-hour layover in Addas Ababa (Ethiopia) and on to Cairo. In the end, the best connections were flying from Lima (Peru) up to Madrid (with three hours cooling my heels in a secondary airport in Ecuador) with LATAM and from Madrid on to Cairo with Egyptair.

This is my review of the Egyptair flight – I’ve flown many times domestically and internationally with the national carrier – on the Madrid-Cairo route, a direct flight of 4 hours 40 minutes.

I’m going to paste my favourite para here, about the food on board:

Chicken or the beef? The beef arrives cubed in a sauce with spiral pasta, and is surprisingly comforting. It’s accompanied by a dried, tired salad, crackers, chocolate cake, a wholemeal dinner role, butter and a triangle of La vache qui rit (The Laughing Cow, incidentally, is the nickname of Egypt’s deposed military dictator, Hosny Mubarak). Because you needed to know that last fact : )

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller section, you can read the full review here.

What to expect when visiting Cairo Airport’s Terminal 2

Cairo Airport review

Over the past decade, I’ve watched Cairo Airport change and grow – definitely for the better – from the raucous taxi chorus and decaying bathrooms of the old Terminal 1 to the snappy design of its newest expansion, Terminal 3.

If you’re coming through the Egyptian capital any time soon, here’s my take on Terminal 2, which sees the major Middle Eastern carriers, Etihad and Emirates, passing on through.

What to remember: security is paramount, and there are plenty of screening points. What to forget: Facebook, as wifi is but a beautiful dream.

Far better to grab a seat and watch the parade of fashions, from central African men in patterned jellibiyas (traditional robes) and matching kufis (caps) to women from the Gulf states in well-cut abayas and heels. You can identify the rare Antipodean by their khaki zip-off pants. If you want to hang with the locals, they’re in the smoking rooms.

Click here to read my full review, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section.

Six of the best beach clubs on Bali’s Bukit Peninsula

Omnia pool club, Uluwatu, Bali

Bali’s Bukit Peninsula is a haven for some of the island’s best beach and pool clubs. We tested six of the best (look, someone’s got to do it) for your bathing edification, from architectural statements at Uluwatu to the new hot in Nusa Dua. So pack the floaty kaftan and big sunglasses and skip our wintery shores.

This article was published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

To read, click here

How to do Abu Dhabi with kids

Play Batman, colour in, or get cool in the pool – Abu Dhabi ticks all the boxes for travelling with kids.

I did a test-run with the 7-year-old in the United Arab Emirate, which is a natural stopover for Australians en route to Europe (or pretty much anywhere else in the world). With eight hours, three days (or even more) up your sleeve, there’s plenty to do in this super family-friendly town, even in the height of summer.

The highlights for us included the new Warner Bros Movie World, hot laps around the F1 circuit (for the teen in our gang), riding camels in the desert, and plenty of pool time at the five-star Saadiyat Rotana hotel.

If you’re after some pointers (or even a few tips for if travelling without kids), take a look at this feature I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller section, and enjoy!

http://www.traveller.com.au/abu-dhabi-childrens-edition-h1fii4

scUber dives into the Great Barrier Reef

It’s been a big week on the Great Barrier Reef, with the launch of the world’s first ridesharing submarine, appropriately named scUber.

Uber has teamed up with a baby sub named Barry, for a month of dives to explore the Great Barrier Reef – currently hovering around Heron Island, off Gladstone, it moves up to Cairns this coming week.

Fancy a seat? They’re $1500 a pop, book on the app.

If you think it’s just a publicity stunt, you’re right. Queensland’s tourism board has teamed up with Uber to highlight the health of the reef, to encourage people to come and see it for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll learn to love our marine icon – the world’s largest living thing – and therefore help protect it.

You can read more in my news story for the Sydney Morning Herald’s/The Age Traveller section, there’s even a competition to win a seat on the mini submarine. Click here to check it out.

Hilton Manila hotel review

Hilton Manila

Manila’s traffic is so bad a whole city of airport hotels has sprung up to service airline passengers coming into the city on their way to and from the Philippines’ fabulous islands. Newport City includes a Marriott and a Savoy, convenience stores and coffee shops, casinos and shopping malls, and now the city’s only Hilton, which opened in October 2018.
It’s the end of a tropical holiday, so of the five dining venues, it must be the swim-up bar for a lunch of mango mai tais, hot fresh pizza with buffalo mozzarella and fresh fish fingers for the small fry. Service is super-chatty and super-friendly, though not speedy, as the hotel is still polishing its act. Madison Bar & Lounge near the entrance is easy to overlook but chocophiles note: its patisserie serves excellent chocolate croissants. There’s also a well-stocked gin bar with knowledgeable staff and a jazz singer who croons into the wee hours.

Click here to read the full review, which was first published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

How to buy Western Desert art: an exercise in ethics

Recently, I interviewed artist and teacher Nyunmiti Burton. She is based in Tjala Arts in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, in far northern South Australia. What was striking was that the interview was conducted in English and Pitjantjatjara, the most commonly spoken of Australia’s few surviving indigenous languages. Our translator, Skye O’Meara, is the general manager of Sydney’s APY Art Centre Collective.

In the conversation, Skye and Nyunmiti pointed out that we know more about where our coffee and eggs come from than our Aboriginal art. Ethically produced art means the artist being paid appropriately, being created in a safe environment and sold by a business that has full financial transparency.

To read more about buying Central and Western Desert art, you can read my column in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section. Click here, and thanks for reading.

For more links:

See desart.com.au  the peak body for more than 40 such art centres in Central Australia.

See tjalaarts.com.au Tjalaa Arts art centre in Amata, SA

See apyartcentrecollective.com APY Art centres

Cairo in a nutshell

I’ve been poking around the back alleys and the big-ticket drawcards of Cairo for a decade now (How did that happen? One minute I was setting up this blog on a tiny little Juliet balcony in a pensione in downtown Cairo, the next minute, it’s 10 years later!)

In that time, Cairo’s fortunes have flowed, ebbed, and are now flowing again, after revolutions, currency flotations, elections and a whole vortex of world events that have shaped the old traditions and new fashions in this maniacal city of 20 million (give or take a few million).

It still blows me away, every time I visit. There’s the City of the Dead, which may be home to as many as a million undocumented (living) souls, the rock-carved cathedrals of Mokattam, the wild nights of horseriding around the Pyramids beneath a full moon, and the Nile. There’s always the Nile.

It scratches only the surface, but here are 10 of my tips on visiting the City that Sleeps In Shifts, published in this weekend’s Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.