Archive for October, 2014
We had a long weekend away to celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary on October 10th. Before that, two other events deserve a mention.
On Friday 3rd we walked the next stage of the Thames Path – we are getting hooked on it all over again! This time it was Staines to Kingston, about 13 miles. We intended to stop at Hampton Court, but by the time we arrived there, the late afternoon sun was so beautiful we decided to continue.
On Thursday 9th we attended the Harvest Festival at Charlie’s school. The children sang several songs about food. Charlie was in the back row, so we caught only occasional glimpses. We were standing at the back of the hall, so Claire held Oscar up, and he fell asleep in her arms!
Off to Stratford
We had decided to celebrate our anniversary with a visit to Stratford, for the first time in many years. We were then invited to spend a weekend with our friends Roger and Jacqui in Loughborough, so we decided to combine the two. On Friday morning we hired a car and drove to Stratford. It happened to be the weekend of their ‘Mop Fair’, and there were many rides and other amusements in the town centre; the roads were closed to traffic and it took us some time to find our hotel.
In the afternoon we did a 4-mile circular walk we’d found in one of our books. The sun was shining and it was very pleasant. About half way round the circuit we came to the attractive village of Clifford Chambers, and stopped at the village pub for a drink. Coming back into Stratford we passed the church where Shakespeare was buried, and stopped to look at his tomb.
In the evening we went (of course!) to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. We had dinner in their Rooftop Restaurant and then saw a performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a play we didn’t already know. The interior of the theatre has been completely restructured since we were last there (as we said, it was a very long while ago!) and there is now a large apron stage, with seating on three sides, giving good views. Being the RSC it was of course a wonderful production. Many years ago, we vowed not to see Shakespeare performed by any other company. We’ve long since broken that vow, and enjoyed other very good productions, but seeing the RSC again made us realise why we once felt that way: no other company can quite compare.
After the play we adjourned to a nearby pub for some celebration bubbly. We intended to walk through the fair and take pictures of the lights, but unfortunately it closed down earlier than we expected. Next morning we explored the town, and stopped to watch some morris dancers.
On to Loughborough
From Stratford we headed east, but there was time to spare before we were due in Loughborough, so we stopped for a while in Coventry. We visited the city several times when Sandie’s aunt and uncle lived there, but that was many years ago. Our anniversary weekend was turning into a real nostalgia trip!
On Saturday evening we went with Roger and Jacqui to the Little Theatre in Leicester, to see Singin’ in the Rain performed by an amateur company. A complete contrast to the RSC, but enjoyable in a very different way.
On Sunday our friends had other commitments, so we took ourselves first to an art exhibition in Rothley, and then for an 8-mile circular walk from Barrow-on Soar. It was a scenic walk, especially the first part when the sun was shining and we followed the river. We stopped at a pub by Mountsorrel Lock for lunch, before continuing to Swithland Reservoir and returning via Quorn. There was more nostalgia, as we knew these villages well when we lived in Loughborough (1977-86). The only problem was that Sandie slipped and fell in some mud – she was unhurt but very dirty!
On Monday we returned home to High Wycombe, but stopped on the way at Chorleywood – for a screen test! We have applied to be on A Place in the Sun, the TV programme which helps househunters find their ideal property abroad. They wanted people who were aiming to buy in Florida, so we decided to have a go. The ‘test’ involved just chatting to an interviewer, so it was not difficult, but we wait to hear whether or not we have been successful.
After arriving back from Blackpool, we had 12 days in Wycombe before setting off for Uzbekistan. During that time we were kept quite busy, as we both had work to do, as well as babysitting, and spending time with friends and family. We went to our folk dance club for the first time in ages, and to the cinema, where we saw Helen Mirren in The hundred-foot journey.
We also managed to walk two more stretches of the Thames Path. Despite the encouraging weather forecast, it remained grey and gloomy when we did Maidenhead to Windsor. It was much better when we did Windsor to Staines, and we enjoyed seeing the autumn leaves in the sunshine.
Mosques, madrassas and mausoleums
When we told people we were going to Uzbekistan, the response almost always took the form of a question: either ‘Where?’ or ‘Why?’ The answer to the first question was of course ‘In Central Asia’. The answer to the second was ‘Because we want to see the fabulous cities with their spectacular Islamic architecture…. It’s been on our “must visit” list for many years, ever since we heard about the silk road … Tashkent … the golden road to Samarkand (http://allpoetry.com/The-Golden-Road-to-Samarkand). It sounds so exotic, and the photos look wonderful.’
We flew overnight to Tashkent, the capital, where we met our tour guide and the seven other members of our party: three UK-based couples and an Australian lady. That afternoon we did a city tour, focusing on the old town (most of Tashkent was rebuilt following an earthquake in 1966). Our hotel was in the new town, where the buildings reflect Soviet as well as traditional Uzbek influence; we went for a brief explore after the tour.
The next day we were back at the airport for a flight to Urgench, in the west of Uzbekistan. From there we made our way back to Tashkent by road and rail. En route to Khiva (our first major stop), we detoured to visit two amazing fortresses, situated on hills where they overlook the barren desert landscape. The walls, built of adobe, have survived for approximately 2,000 years; they look almost natural rather than man-made. After the first visit, we had lunch in a yurt, one of a complex where tour parties can stay (although ours did not).
We had a full day’s sightseeing in the city of Khiva, which was slightly disappointing. The old walled town is full of mosques, minarets and madrassas, not to mention the occasional palace. They are all very similar, being built of light coloured brick with some blue ceramic decoration. Visiting one after the other, they all began to blur – even the souvenirs on sale were virtually identical. All in all, we had a pleasant time in Khiva, but found it interesting rather than exciting.
The journey from Khiva to Bukhara was some 450 km / 280 miles. The road was ‘good in parts’ and the journey took over eight hours. Our hotel was centrally located in the old town, close to a pond (artificial reservoir) with a bar which was great for people watching. It was particularly attractive at night, with fountains and coloured lights.
We had two days sightseeing in Bukhara: one on foot and the other by bus, visiting the sites a bit further out. The Great Mosque and Great Minaret were impressive. We saw a lot more mosques, madrassas and mausoleums, not to mention the Ark (citadel) and the summer palace of the last emir of Bukhara. On evening we had dinner in the courtyard of a madrassa, while watching a ‘song, dance and fashion’ show. The atmosphere was wonderful, and we really enjoyed it.
On leaving Bukhara, we travelled to Samarkand. We were in our hotel by 3 pm, and did not want to stay there until dinner at 7. So we walked the 2 km to the Registan (main square), which is surrounded on three sides by stunning madrassas, more richly decorated than others we had visited. Photos of the Registan had inspired our visit to Samarkand, so we could not wait to see it, even though we knew we would be there on our guided tour the following day. That was just as well, because when we awoke next morning the skies were grey and it was pouring with rain!
Fortunately the weather cleared after we left the Registan for the second time, and we had sun for the rest of our sightseeing in Samarkand. We saw yet more mosques and mausoleums, not to mention a 15th century observatory. We also did a day trip to Shahrisabz, where we saw another mosque and more mausoleums. The most impressive sight, however, was the ruined gateway to the palace of Timur (aka Tamurlane); the sheer size shows just how vast the palace must have been!
Perhaps the climax of our visit to Samarkand was a son et lumière performance at the Registan. Seeing the huge madrassas lit in many different colours was a magical experience, one that we’ll never forget.
We took the train from Samarkand back to Tashkent, and had a free morning there before flying home. We explored more of the new town, and enjoyed the attractive parks, with their flowers, fountains and monuments.
Did Uzbekistan live up to our high expectations? On the whole, yes; the architecture is certainly spectacular, although the buildings tend to be very similar in style. After a while, we began to feel that we really did not need to see yet another turquoise dome!
Uzbekistan is obviously changing fast. A lot of the information we gathered from our guidebook and the tour company was clearly out of date. This included a dire warning that vegetarians would struggle, so following advice we took lots of snacks, in order not to starve. We brought most of them home again. There was no problem getting veggie food, although meals tended to follow the same pattern every day, whether you ate meat or not. Dinners (and some lunches) were invariably four-course affairs; we shall need a strict weight-loss regime to recover!