Tuesday, September 27, 2011


This post is dedicated to all the incredible people we met on our journey - locals and fellow travellers alike. Meeting people has to our favourite element of travelling by far (and the hardest when having to say goodbye).
The warmth, hospitality and generosity we experienced is unforgettable. We lost count of the many, many times we were stopped in the street and welcomed to the country we were in. Everywhere we went, there was someone who went out of their way to make sure we were welcomed and got to our intended destination. No strings attached.  It blew us away EVERY time. I don't think you realise how cynical you can be until you start travelling. It's pretty humbling to say the least.

So a BIG thank you to everyone who welcomed us, talked with us, walked with us, gave to us, smiled with us, shook hands with us, shared a meal with us and who MADE our trip.

It's something that changed us and that we will try our very best to reciprocate here in Australia.

Next: a post on our photography gear plus some photo taking tips

Sunday, September 25, 2011

the big trip wrap up:

Wow, I can't believe it's all over! So here it goes, our attempt at a whole trip wrap up!
We both agree that this trip is probably the best thing we have ever done since getting married. We have no regrets at all, and would leave tonight and do it all over again if we could.
The aim was for both of us to have a bit of a break, get re-inspired, have an adventure and most importantly have lots of fun. The trip met all of these and more. We experienced and saw places we had always dreamt about, met new and amazing people, ate and drank and ate all sorts of incredible delights and, of course, experienced intriguing and exciting cultures first hand.

If you are thinking of doing a bigger trip (or any sort of trip for that matter), we can't urge you enough to go and do it! You'll have no regrets whatsoever. Promise.

where we went

did everything go to plan?
Pretty much everything went smoothly, but there will always be little hiccups along the way - that's just part of the whole experience. We originally planned to visit Syria and Kazakhstan too, however it was too dangerous for us to visit Syria and we didn't get enough time in the end to visit Kazakhstan. We also had a brief hospital visit in Jordan to fix up some bites we received and which got infected, but nothing major other than that. We felt completely safe 99% of the time. Looking back on our travels, its pretty incredible how everything fell into place and we got where we wanted without any major issues.

at the Red Sea - that little bandage on Andy's knee stopped us swimming for three days! (you can't see mine)

is there anything we would we do differently next time?
We wouldn't change much except take a few items that would have been handy or fun. We loved EVERY country we visited, and would seriously do the same itinerary again!

A few things we would take next time:
  • a portable printer, so we can print and give people the portraits we took
  • Andrew would take a skateboard
  • more money!
Oh, and we would go for longer!

Kashgar, China

where will we travel to next?
As Andrew is a keen surfer, and with there being no surf whatsoever on this trip, I have promised the next trip will involve surf.
So a few options include Indonesia, East Timor or Central America.

But we're super keen to visit West Africa (especially Mali), India, Sri Lanka and Iran. So who knows...

our top five's :
In no particular order, here are a few of our highlights...



  • Lebanon - the people, the food, the architecture, the shopping, the list goes on... I can't wait to go back!
  • Uzbekistan - a mixture of the beautiful architecture, bazaars filled with stunning textiles, it's silk road history and the hospitality made this country unforgettable.
  • Kyrgyzstan - I fell in love with epic landscape and nomadic way of life. Being able to stay in a yurt was also I dream come true.
  • Turkey - Such a great combination of culture, history, landscape, sea, food, shopping and super friendly people.
  • Philippines - Palawan is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been! Incredibly beautiful. Would love to go back and explore of the Philippnes 7000 islands.
Beirut, Lebanon


  • Beirut, Lebanon - loved the shops, architecture the food and this is where we met some of the friendliest people ever.
  • Kashgar, China - a dream come true to visit this city. When in the Old Town I didn't want to leave. It was magical.
  • Bukhara, Uzbekistan - when in Bukhara it felt like we had gone back in time, with the incredible architecture that was hundreds and hundreds of years old. It is a beautiful town with same amazing shopping too.
  • Beijing, China - a bit of a surprise, but we had so much fun in this city. An amazing mixture of the historical old and futuristic new.
  • Istanbul, Turkey - when you see that skyline at dusk, with the call to prayer sounding in the background, it sends chills down your spine.

dumpling soup, China

where we slept under the stars, Philippines


  • Panjiayuan antique markets, China - we spent hours here trawling through all the amazing wares for sale. Great shopping!
  • Saifi village, Lebanon - Some of the coolest boutiques and fashion we saw on the trip. Wish we had more money!
  • Bukhara bazaars, Uzbekistan - Uzbek suzanis, ceramics, jewellery, antiques and carpets from all over the country were all on sale here. 
  • Istanbul, Turkey - even though it's a tourist haunt, the grand + spice bazaars are so much fun exploring and are a must visit.
  • Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan - felt heaven!

Bukhara shopping


Petra, Jordan

worst experiences:
  • breaking down in 45+ degree heat in the Talamakan desert, China
  • not being able to swim for three days while staying on the Red Sea due to our infected bites
  • being stuck on the Chinese/Kyrgyzstan border for over six hours
  • Manila Airport 
  • being stuck in a taxi hurtling along the wrong side of the road at 140km/h while the driver is falling asleep (and no seat belts!)
melted road, western China



  •  Egypt it has been a life long dream to visit one of the first civilisations and it did not disappoint. Far better than all the hype, visit everything you can if you do decide to visit, monumental architecture at its best. 
  • Lebanon such a beautiful and varied country that has everything. Amazing culture, coastline and historical ruins. This county sported some of the friendliest and welcoming people we encountered on our travels. 
  • Philippines amazing marine life, perfect water and air temperatures for enjoying and exploring the islands.
  • Uzbekistan - such a great place to experience an amazing history and culture, we felt so welcome. Great architecture, and great to see the restoration efforts as well.
  • Turkey - fish sandwiches, baklava, and of course Turkish delight. Well that is the food but the country has so much variety, a real highlight was visiting the holy city of Urfa -  some of the best and effective public space I have seen. 

Karnak, Egypt


  • Beirut, Lebanon such a contemporary city, amazing restaurants and food, cool shops. There was an optimistic feeling to the whole city. 
  • Beijing, China had a great mix of old and new parts to the city , I really loved wandering around the hutong areas in particular.
  • Cairo, Egypt - Our amazing guide Mohammed made this experience so much fuller, we came away understanding not just the history of the ancient culture, but modern day Egypt, too. 
  • Bukhara, Uzbekistanjust really loved the heat (40 plus), you had to pick your times to enjoy the beautiful architecture but was really fun.
  • Urfa, Turkey such a cool city we really both wished we could have spent more time here. The stonework was so refined and had an amazing lightness, this was combined with really functional public space. The place just had a really peaceful and serene feeling.


  • La chef - Beirut, Lebanon (best hummus ever , but they wouldn't even give me the recipe)
  • Seza - Beirut, Lebanon
  • Tawlet - Beirut, Lebanon
  • Food a Sawa Camp - Nuweiba, Egypt
  • Any food in China with Sichuan pepper - China

that hummus

  • Seeing a sea turtle in Palawan, Philippines 
  • The amazing architecture in Uzbekistan 
  • The amazingly friendly people in Lebanon helping us experience their lovely country
  • Seeing the sights in Egypt, fulfilling bit of a life long dream
  • Visiting Istanbul on the last leg of our journey, it was a nice was to finish our travels from where we started

  • The antique market China
  • Beruit boutiques (this is where we wish we had more money)
  • Watching Gemma get swamped by ladies in the Uzbek bazaars
Panjiayuan antique markets, Beijing

  • driving down the Karakorum highway in China 
  • the grasslands of Xiahe, China
  • seeing the glaciers in the Pamir mountain range
  • the Nile, Egypt
  • the Dead Sea, Jordan/Israel
the Dead Sea


  • the blue mosque in Istanbul, Turkey 
  • Karnak ruins,  Egypt 
  • the Shah-Zinda lane ways and mausoleums in Samarkand, Uzbekistan 
  • Rem Koolhaas's CCTV building in Beijing, China
  • Baalbek, Lebanon
the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

worst experiences:
see Gemma's  : )  exact same.
The taxi ride where I had to spend the whole time making sure the driver didn't fall asleep was pretty bad. 

Next: a post dedicated to all the incredible people we met, a gear post and some photography tips

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

uzbekistan wrap up:

Uzbekistan was probably the country we were most looking forward to visiting after Syria (which we didn't get to visit unfortunately). It didn't disappoint at all. It was just stunning! There were moments when we had gone back in time, walking around such cities as Khiva and Bukhara, there was an air of timelessness with it's silk road history. The architecture, textile traditions and warm hospitality, blew us away and made for gorgeous combination. Uzbekistan is a must visit and we really can't recommend it enough!

Uzbekistan is surprisingly easy to travel around. We used shared taxis pretty much the whole time to get from town to town. This would involve meeting at the local bazaar, finding a driver heading our direction, bargaining on a good price (which was usually set for foreigners anyway), then waiting for it to fill up with other Uzbeks (which didn't take too long) and off we went. It certainly wasn't the most comfortable way of travelling when it was 40+ degrees, full and with no air con. But it was probably the quickest form of transport after flying. We caught a plane back to Tashkent from Urgench which is near Khiva on Uzbekistan Airways, and I must say we were really impressed with them! Brand new planes, affordable and great service. They're currently in the process of updating their fleet and expanding with an aim to become a major airline. Uzbekistan is also serviced by trains, so that is another option if you want it.

Uzbekistan isn't really famous for it's cuisine. We were a little worried before we arrived, but it actually isn't that bad. National dishes include plov (think fried rice, cooked in mutton fat, with carrot and some mutton) and shashlyk (mutton on skewers). We weren't overly excited about our food prospects, but like I said it wasn't bad at all. It was like having a BBQ every night, and there were vegetable kebabs available too. One dish we fell in love with was the Uzbek eggplant salad, which varied in form in different places, but tasted AMAZING nonetheless.


There are some pretty little B+B's in Uzbekistan, some of which are in old courtyard houses, which are a real treat. They're all very affordable (approx. $50 for two) and with many options available. You also get a pretty mean breakfast which is always good.

our room in Bukhara

Oh the shopping! This was something I was really looking forward to. In particular suzani shopping. Being a textile designer, I do collect pieces when we travel, so this item (and a carpet) were must buys and on top of my list. The textile shopping in Uzbekistan is the best I have experienced so far - price and variety wise. We not only bought suzanis (umm 11 all up, most being gifts though!), but old soviet antiques, tea and other antique textile pieces. Bukhara is probably the best place for shopping, with pieces from all over the country and the best prices. Bargaining is required, and on average we found we only got most items about 20-30% cheaper, with no more budging. At all.

Uzbekistan is renowned for its hospitality and we were quite blown away by it. One of our highlights was having a meal with our new Uzbek friend, Olim and his girlfriend, after meeting him in a shared taxi. They were both so generous and it was a great time as we discussed and shared the similarities and differences of our cultures and countries. The women are also really gorgeous. Women in Uzbekistan do not have nearly the same kind of rights we do in the west (another plug for A Carpet Ride to Khiva by Christopher Aslan Alexander, which sheds MUCH more light on this). So when doing our shopping I tried my best to buy off the women, who also made the products. The transaction was met with the biggest smiles, hands on hearts, hugs and kisses. And was a very different experience compared to purchasing from a man. It made for a very rewarding experience as I wasn't just simply buying some stunning pieces, but helping support some pretty amazing women too.
Vias wise, Uzbekistan isn't the easiest country to enter. But it isn't as hard as people say either. Just make sure you do your research and you'll be fine. Before you apply for a visa (for Australians at least) it is advised you obtain a letter of invitation. We used Stantours, who I highly recommend. Once you have the LOI, applying for a visa is much easier! There were all sorts of horror stories we read about obtaining a visa, but it was very straight forward and we received  it on the spot at the Uzbek consulate in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. You can also obtain a visa on arrival when you fly into Tashkent, however you will still need your LOI and it apparently takes a very, very long time to obtain at the airport. Having said all that, it was worth every bit of time spent researching and making sure we had all our paperwork in order. Uzbekistan is simply marvellous and we will be back.

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