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.

 

 

Glasgow, Scotland: an expat’s life

Sydney music administrator Mikaela Atkins-Blake moved to Scotland…and fell in love with a piper. A cliche, she freely admits, but she now calls Glasgow home. This week, she is the Expert Expat in my weekly column in the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers.

Click here for Mikaela’s tips on where to eat and what to do in her adopted hometown.

 

Street art goes to new heights: The Adnate, Perth, Australia

The Adnate hotel

Living in Melbourne, it’s hard not to love street art. We have such great galleries around the city, including Hosier Lane in the city centre, but stretching out to Fitzroy, Collingwood and neighbouring suburbs, where the local councils have encouraged a culture of street art, you can spy fabulous, big-scale murals across entire buildings.

One of the city’s best-known artists, Matt Adnate, has taken it one step further with his mega-murals down laneways and up high-rise buildings. So it’s great to see he’s become the newest face of the Art Series hotels, who dedicate each of its hotels to a singular artist.

The Adnate opened in Perth last week, and it’s a traffic-stopper, with a 25-storey mural on the hotel’s exterior, the largest mural in the southern hemisphere.

You can read more about it here, in my article for the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

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.

Healthy hiking holidays: from Patagonia to Tasmania and Spain’s classic Camino

Hiking in Patagonia, Chile

Last month, I found myself hiking along a section of Chilean Patagonia’s most famous walking route, the W.

The route curls around the Paine Massif, a majestic family of jagged peaks, whose tops were shrouded in cloud and cloaked in snow. Condors hunted between their teeth, and the air jolted to the sound of avalanches, hundreds of meters above me.

It all taps into the recent story I wrote for Prevention magazine, a women’s health publication, about five great hiking holidays. In it, I included the W, but also Tasmania’s new Three Capes Walk and the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory, as well as the Kumano Kodo in Japan and the Spanish classic ultra-long walk, the Camino de Santiago.

Why do we walk? To get fit? To slow down? To go on pilgrimage?

The benefits include better health and spending time in nature, while some walks, like the Kumano Kodo and the Camino, were very deliberately designed to create time to clear your head and sift and sort through the bigger problems in life,  says Di Westaway, founder of Wild Women On Top.

“Finishing a trek that takes you outside your comfort zone is a confidence-building exercise. It might be really arduous at high altitude, with plenty of “OMG, what was I thinking?” moments, but that exhilaration and achievement afterwards is a huge personal lift,” Diane adds.

You can read the story online, or you can just pull your hiking boots on now…

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.

How to… give alms respectfully in Laos

Laos alms ceremony

Each morning in Laos, Buddhist monks receive alms from laypeople, traditionally rice. It’s a simple religious ceremony called the Tak Bat, says Brian Lingham, of Luang Prabang’s Buddhist Heritage Project, see buddhist-heritage.org

By giving alms, you are giving something of yourself, he says. However, many Tak Bat ceremonies in the major tourist areas are being bombarded by poor behaviour – using flashes in front of monks’ faces, crowding their route, talking loudly throughout, with little respect for the solemnity of the occasion.

Brian offers a brief guide to attending the ceremony respectfully, from maintaining silence to only making an offering if it does, actually mean something to you (and not just as a photo op).

You can read my full article, which appeared in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age. Click here, and enjoy!

How to respect the Reef

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Recently, I was up on Heron and Hamilton Islands on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is constantly in the news for being beautiful, but also for dying.

In my regular series in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section, I chat with experts about travellers’ conundrums, and this trip sparked a column on how to respect the Reef.

The expert is Andy Ridley, creator of the global Earth Hour movement (which asks individuals and businesses to switch off their lights – in the house, in skyscrapers, on the streets – for just one hour). His newest project is Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef,  a network of individuals, organisations and businesses working to conserve the Great Barrier Reef and reefs around the world.

His steps to respecting the reef include:
  • carbon-offsetting your flights
  • using reef-friendly sunscreen
  • visiting the Reef responsibly – using eco-accredited tour companies, not touching coral
  • and promoting the reef: if you see damage, report it. If you find beauty, tell the world.

To read the full article, click here

To become a Citizen, sign up at citizensgbr.org

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

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.