May 4, 2018

3 days in Barcelona

Sagrada Família
Sagrada Família
Visited in Early March 2018 - First thing first, Why did I go to Barcelona. I was looking for flights from Marrakesh Morocco to India and checked skyscanner and google flights, most flights were over 800 USD one way. So I checked destinations in Europe and onwords to India and voila, got a cheap flight. for around 400 USD to India, So basically took a  3 day / 2 night break or stopover in Barcelona.


The first day I had arrived late, I was staying at the Generator Hostel, checked in and went to see Sagrada Família. It was walking distance from my hostel. The Sagrada Família was about to close and took a few pictures and headed back to the hostel. On the way back to the hostel, there was a rally by women, it was international women's day.


Barcelona is overrated


Just another big city in Europe with a cathedral under construction, not much else. Some other buildings with tiles and they call it Art and a beach which I didn't visit in Cold March.


People in Barcelona are rude, or atleast that was my experience. So basically I was trying to get to  the cathedral from my Hostel, I tried to ask for directions and people just look through you, not even a simply reply as I don't know or no English. So instead of walking I was taking cabs to go just a few blocks as no one would help me with directions.


Next day I took the Hop on Hop off bus, it so happens that there was a strike that day and the buses didn't run as expected. The bus cost was 30 euros, which I have no problem paying, just that I was stuck at a stop for an hour waiting for the bus to show up.


Anyways, here are few pictures and some places I saw while in Barcelona.


Shop selling souvenirs outside the football stadium.




 


Above Las Ramblas, Barcelona, famous for its pickpockets, just don't have anything in your back pockets and you'll be okay.


 


Above Plaza de Cataluna, First and last stop for the Airport Shuttle just outside the plaza. 

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April 25, 2018

4 days in Marrakesh Morocco

Visited Marrakesh March 2018, used my frequent flyer miles and took a flight from from Dallas Texas to Madrid Spain and onwards to Marrakesh


Safety in Marrakesh Morocco In general, I found Marrakesh to be a very a safe city. Nevertheless, taking general safety precautions you can never get it wrong.

Money The local currency is the Moroccan dirham (MAD). At the time of writing this 1 US Dollar is equal to 9.12 MAD.

Scams:  I don't shop, no scams, I was hoping someone would try to lure me into their shop, that never happened either. Marrakesh is easy to navigate and I didnt have to ask for directions, no scams there either.


Airport to Hotel, my Hotel arranged for a taxi for 20 euros, on the way back I got a taxi and we agreed for 100 MAD and the driver charged me 150, so yes I was scammed for 5 USD.


Where to Stay in Marrakesh Morocco The city has a remarkable choice of places to stay. Hotels, hostels, riads or dars in Marrakesh Morocco offer plenty accommodation options. Riads and dars are old grand houses transformed into hotels and inns. They usually have gardens or open courtyards and represent examples of astonishing Moroccan architecture.


I stayed in Dar Daoud for 3 night, it was USD 100 for 3 nights 4 Days with breakfast included. Dar was 5 minutes walk from Jemaa El-Fna square.

Marrakesh is divided into two different parts: the Medina, the historical city and Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle, the new and modern European district.

Day I

Arrived in Marrakesh Airport, all tourist have to fill out immigration Arrival forum, expect long lines, the whole process is relatively easy. Once outside the airport I located my Cab driver, he had the Riad sign, and off we went through the streets of  Marrakesh, he dropped me off to one of the entrance to the city square, cabs are not allowed after 12 Noon in the jemaa El-Fna square. My hotel all in one receptionist, chef and tour guide was there to walk me rest of the way.

After check-in and a nice cup of mint tea, I got a map of the city from  the reception and was off to explorer. I walked through the old souks and arrived at jemaa El-Fna square, it was still early, evenings and night time is when the square comes alive, with 100's of food vendors selling traditional Moroccan food, Juice stalls, Artists performing, dances, snake charmers and thousands of people. This square is the highlight of Marrakesh nightlife, its one of the biggest squares in Africa. 

From the square, I walked past all these horse drawn carriages to Koutoubia Mosque. The Koutoubia Mosque is not only at the epicenter of Moroccan culture, it is an architectural marvel that has influenced structures in Rabat and Spain since the 12th century. I took a few photos and made my way back across the street to the hop on hop off bus stop. Got the info I needed to take the bus  From there I headed back to the square, There I found an ATM next to a pharmacy. Got local currency and was off to get an early dinner. Found a seafood vendor as I am not into eating meat and got a delicious meal for under $10 USD with mint tea.






Henna Tattoo at the  jemaa El-Fna

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Above picture of the Souq.


DAY 2

I had stayed late out the night before and slept in, the breakfast gets over at 10:30 AM, I dragged myself out of the bed by 10 for some delicious Moroccan pancakes. Still was feeling jet-lagged. After shower it was close to noon, I took off to see. Jardin Majorelle, Over a course of 40 years, the famous French painter, Jacques Majorelle worked on bringing this mind blowing garden to life. Later, the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent stepped in to finish the process.

Caught a cab for 3 USD, and I was at the entrance of the Garden, there were very long lines to buy the ticket and get in to see Jardin Majorelle, now I am not a big fan of long lines or big crowds, so I saw my cab driver and headed back to the Riad. The cab driver wanted to show me the clubs in the European district, I declined, not my thing.

Long lines outside Jardin Majorelle

At the Riad, I was checking online for a sunset camel ride, my Riad (hotel) reception dude told me He'd hook me up for the Palm grove camel ride for half the price. So after a few minutes this other Gentleman shows up, We walked though a maize of narrow streets, there was an SUV waiting and and I was off to the palm Groves.Cost 25 USD.



I did ride the camel, but mostly walked alongside the camel, later was Invited to mint tea and riifa (a Moroccan version of a crepe, a dough flattened and folded over, then cooked in a frying pan) at a Moroccan Berber family house. Its not free you are expected to tip the family.



Day 3

I had caught up on my sleep and was over the jetlag,  after breakfast went the hop on bus, cost 20 USD. Spent all day exploring Marrakesh. Both the historical city and the modern European district. There are 2 Hop on Hop off lines, red and blue line, I went on both.





Bab Agnaou and Saadian Tombs was my last stop of the day


Those who love history should include the Saadian Tombs in their Marrakech itinerary. The tombs were created for members of the Saadi dynasty, including Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour Eddahbi and had been lost to the sands for centuries, until they were discovered in 1917. The entire area is decorated with beautiful tiles, carvings, calligraphy and other splendors.



Shopping: Now I don't shop but if shopping is your thing, Don’t miss to visit Medina Souks shops sell anything from famous Moroccan spices to traditional kaftans, bargain letter shoes, jewelry and and other junk. I walk through the Souks is quiet an experience and highly recommended.



City View
There are several rooftop cafes around jemaa El-Fna square, Pick one and enjoy the experience, now I highly recommend this.


Day 4


Another late night and another struggle to getup, after breakfast, got the day to a start, walked through the Souks, had a nice lunch was off to the airport and was headed to Barcelona.



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April 13, 2018

8 Hour Layover in Casablanca Morocco

April 2018 - Oh no not Another Layover, this time almost 8 hours in Casablanca Morocco. Now I love Layovers, this time I was so tired, I flew from Nairobi Kenya, my flight left at 7 AM, and had to be at the airport at 5 AM, last part of my 5 country travel and was returning home to Texas, Kenya, NYC, Casablanca and to Austin. I barely got any sleep as I was in a hostel in Nairobi and a family showed up at midnight and woke everyone up. One of the things about staying in a hostel that makes me not stay at hostels, its just they are cheap and a great way to meet fellow travelers.

The flight stopped in N'Djamena Chad on the way to Casablanca, I tried to get off the plane at N'Djamena Chad, was not allowed, also I would have the hassle of re-booking my flight back to Texas. So its a good thing I didn't get off, the force was with me on that one.

N'Djamena Chad

So I arrived in Casablanca and headed straight to international connections, hoping to sleep at the airport, talked to Airlines folks, I was flying Air Morocco to New York.  They Informed me since my flight was not for another 7 or so hours, I could use their transit hospitality services. So I was off to the long Visa line and after that headed to the airlines office. There I was given some kind of a voucher for a hotel and told where to catch a shuttle. Next thing I am on the shuttle and headed to a  hotel. At the hotel I ate a shitty cold meal, some of it, and after the meal was given a room to nap. It was a decent room with hot shower, after a nice shower, I was not so tired anymore, went down to to the reception, handed the keys to the room. I spoke with the reception folks and asked about a cab that would take to see the city and drop me back to the airport in time for my flight. They told me that would cost 50 Euros, this was a once in a lifetime thing and I agreed.

French: I speak french, my Cab (Taxi) driver spoke Arabic and French, no English. Having been to Marrakesh, I am glad to speak it. So if you are going to be in Morocco learn some basic French, it come handy in lot of African countries. 

Airport to the Casablanca city center is a good 45 minutes. Now this was a weekend and I didn't come across much traffic while going to the city. So I got talking to the Taxi driver, he gave me a tour of the city. He asked me if this was my first time in Morocco, I said 2nd and had visited Marrakesh, he went off and told me Casablanca was mush better and much cheaper than Marrakesh. So anyways, I was kind of busy taking photos and just nodded to him.

We drove past the

Cathedral

Quartier Habous

Old Medina




Hassan II Mosque



Its right by the ocean and the whole area is just beautiful. I walk and saw the building from outside in admiration and felt he cool ocean breeze, with the sound of the waves.

After my last stop at the Mosque, the Taxi drive offered to take me to a coffee shop, I agreed and we went to the amazing coffee shop, I had a mint tea and he had a coffee. There were men only, we sat at the outside area and I was people watching in a city which I had only seen in a movie Casablanca, ' Here's Looking At You, Kid'. That stop at the coffee shop was the best part of my layover, I like the experience of being part of the culture.

Now it was time to head back to the Airport, I was late. And we met traffic, The Cab driver didn't drive fast, he though had some skills to cut through traffic, and kept saying to me in French 'Je Roule'. And he dropped me off in time, ofcourse I tipped him 5 extra euros.

Now at the airport there were long lines for exit customs and Immigration, and I made it to the boarding gate just in time.

Leave me some comments, questions or suggestions.

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April 10, 2018

Places to See in Muscat, Oman

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Not yet taken with the flashiness of Dubai but curious in the Arabian Peninsula? Oman, a small country, is a wonderfully progressive and open country with stunning landscapes and fascinating culture. Muscat, in particular, is known for breathtaking architecture, superb beaches, hiking trails, watersports, shopping, arts, and history. You can hike the Hajar Mountains in the morning then return to Muscat for a delicious seafood dinner, all in one day.


I was looking for flights from New Delhi to Nairobi and saw some great deals on Oman Air, and stopped in Muscat for 3 days. Taxi From the airport to My hotel, I paid 15 Omani Rial, about 40 U$D.

I have been several times to the Middle East, between Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha Qatar, and Muscat, I liked muscat the most. Muscat is a place more like something out of the Arabian nights story, where as the other 3 are concrete jungles.

Safety: Oman is one of the safest countries in the world.

Weather: I was there in March, days can get hot, evenings and nights are pleasent.

Oman is expensive, plan and budget accordingly. I stayed in Tulip Inn, Downtown Muscat. Nice Pool area and amazing Breakfast. 5 Minute walk from the Muscat Big bus, hop on hop off bus. Check hotel Prices on Booking.com


My list of places to see and things to do in Muscat



1. Muttrah Souq


Within Muscat, Oman, you will find the city known as Muttrah, a place where the best barterers of the world seem to gather. That’s right, if you’re looking to brush up on your haggling skills, you should definitely head to Muttrah Souq. The traditional market on the Muttrah Corniche (an attraction in and of itself) has several small shops selling authentic Omani goods, such as dyed fabrics, traditional garments, gold and silver jewelry, and souvenirs to bring home.


2. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque


Years ago, the Sultan that built this stunning mosque had a mission to make the building accessible to non-Muslim visitors to help them understand the beauty of Islam. Not only is this openness a rarity, it is a wonderful chance to see and experience more about Islam than you would in other places on the Arabian Peninsula. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque has exquisite mosaics, a carpet that took 4 years to complete, one of the largest and most intricate chandeliers in the word, and mystery, so bring the camera!


3. Bait Al Zubair Museum


Opened to the public in 1998, the Bait AlZubair Museum is located in beautiful Old Muscat and was once the private collection of the wealthy Zubair family. Still, this museum is one of the largest permanent art collections in the country and offers a window into the past. There are six separate buildings to spread out all the exhibitions, including temporary displays. Aside from the exhibits, there is a garden with a miniature Omani village, a selection of indigenous plants and trees, and an aflaj system. The perfect place to go for a calming moment.


4. The Royal Opera House Muscat


Ever dream of seeing Arabian performing arts? Now you have the chance at the Royal Opera House of Muscat, built in 2011. There are not many Omani performing groups, sadly, but you can see international drama, theater, and dance groups quite often. Also, it is highly recommended that you sign up for a morning tour to learn about the traditional architecture of the building as well as some of its history. Be sure to catch a performance if you can.


5. Al Alam Palace

 



Many who visit the Al Alam Palace are quick to call it one of the most beautiful palaces in the entire world. The architecture and dazzling colors are what make the Al Alam Palace a favorite attraction of Oman. The palace has over 200 years of history, and it presently houses Sultan Qaboos. During the 16th century, the palace was surrounded by Mirani and Jalali forts, and some of those buildings still stand. Though you cannot actually get very close to the palace, you can stand by the gates. The recommended visiting time is in the evening, when the edifice gets lit up.


6. The National Museum of Oman


Established in 2016 in Muscat, the NationalMuseum is where Omani heritage is put on display and is best when paired with a visit to the aforementioned Bait Al Zubair Museum. As for the National Museum, it covers over 13,700 square meters (147,000 square feet), consists of several galleries and exhibits, and is rather high-tech. Some of the galleries are Oman and the World, the Land and the People, Ancient History, Splendours of Islam, and Renaissance, amongst others.


7. Bimmah Sinkhole


Though slightly on the outskirts of Muscat, you cannot visit Oman without seeing this remarkable natural wonder. Also known as the Dabab sinkhole, this gorgeous pool of water was created when the limestone layers beneath the desert started dissolving. Now, you can see the turquoise waters and awesome rock formations. It’s surreal.



Picture below of The Frankincense Burner, if you take the tour on the Big Bus, it's on the way from the Royal Palace to the Muttrah Souq.



Let me know if I Missed anything in the comments below.


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March 26, 2018

Nairobi and the Wonders of Masai Mara

Visited Masai Village

On the banks of the Nairobi River, this fast-growing metropolis is one of the largest cities in Kenya. The city is constantly growing and adapting, with chaotic roadways, open green spaces, and beautiful natural attractions just on the outskirts.  It is a very enjoyable place to spend a few days before beginning a safari!

When to Visit


The climate in Nairobi has comfortable, temperate conditions all year.  The nights are cool, and the days are warm with temperatures around 20 to 25 degrees Celsius.  Temperatures are highest in December to March, while the best time to see migrations are from July to October.  The wettest months are April and May, so be sure to plan ahead to get good prices while avoiding the rainy season.

Best Things to do in Nairobi


There are amazing activities both inside and outside the city of Nairobi for you to enjoy when visiting. 

The best way to get around Nairobi is by taxi or matatu.  Taxis don’t use meters and can be notoriously unreliable.  Use a reputable company only, and verify the average cost of a ride with a third party to ensure you don’t get ripped off.  Matatus are basically short buses, and they add to the chaos and confusion of the dizzying roadways.  But, they offer an easy and inexpensive way to get around.  If you aren’t going far, then walking on foot is usually a good option—many neighbourhoods have improving safety for visitors, but it is always best to check with your hotel first.
Downtown Kenya offers many attractions such as the old parliament buildings.  There is excellent colonial architecture in the downtown area.  If you want to learn more about the history and culture, check out the Nairobi National Museum.  Looking for some time away from hectic traffic?  Spend your afternoon at the lovely Jeevanjee Gardens, or cool off at Africa’s largest ice skating rink, Solar Ice Rink.  A visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where baby elephants and rhinos live, is an incredible way to support conservation efforts and get an up-close glimpse of these playful giants.

Find quality souvenirs and goods at the Maasai Market—a huge open-air market filled with vendors selling any number of handcrafted items and local delicacies.  Masai Market is only open on weekends.




Food in Nairobi


If food is a big component of your travel, you can enjoy excellent Kenyan, Ethiopian, and Indian cuisine in Nairobi. Common local foods include Chai, beans, cornmeal, and chapatis which are a lovely thin, crispy bread.

The adventurers can turn their eyes to the horizons beyond Kenya—here you will find the northern face of Kilimanjaro.  You can trek up this mountain or the nearby Mount Kenya.  The true adventure lies to the west, at Masai Mara National Reserve.


Visit Wonderful Masai Mara


If you are in Kenya, a can’t-miss destination is the Masai Mara game reserve.  Masai Mara (also known as Maasai Mara or The Mara) is one of Kenya’s largest game reserves.  This is a popular destination for those that visit Kenya.

Getting There


About 280 kilometres away from the city centre of Nairobi, the easiest ways to get to Masai Mara are driving and flying.  The drive takes around 6 hours along a smooth, scenic road to Narok.  After the Narok pit stop, the road gets rougher, with pot holes or dirt roads only.  You can rent a 4x4 and a driver for the day to take you to Masai Mara. 
The other alternative is to fly.  A short 45-minute flight will take you over top of the expansive landscape.  Many safaris offer chartered flight options.

I used African Comfort Zone Safaris. The cost was around 300 USD for 3 days and 2 nights safari, and I recommend them. 


Visiting


The Masai Mara area is mostly open grassland, making it an excellent spot for wildlife viewing.  There are almost one hundred land animals and over four hundred birds that call the area home.  It is an important area of studying wildlife conservation and for visitors to garner respect and appreciation for these expansive natural surroundings.

The annual wildebeest migration sees 1.5 million animals coming into the are in July and leaving in November.  This is a prime time to visit, and it is common for visitors any time of the year to see the Big Five—buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino.  Other common animal sightings include zebra, crocodile, baboon, warthog, gazelle, cheetah, and hyena.

Out of the Big Five—buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. Saw 4 and the one I did not see is Rhino.


The best way to see Masai Mara is with a safari guide.  The local Masai people work with certain companies to offer an in-depth and unique view of the animals and the local culture.  These guides know the land like no other and are able to provide visitors an authentic experience.  Stay at a basecamp, and work your way out from there with your guide on day trips, night safaris, outlying camps, and visits to local communities.  Many of these camps are truly world-class retreats where you are treated to excellent local cuisine, and comfortable lodgings.


However you choose to explore Nairobi and Masai Mara, it is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience filled with unforgettable sites and wonders. 


2 pictures above - The Safari Van driver stopped at Rift Valley view point for some coffee. Read more about the rift valley at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Page.





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November 25, 2017

Things to do in Almaty Kazakhstan



Visited Almaty in October 2017 on a flight from Baku Azerbaijan, my first time travelling on Air Astana, good food and drinks, one of the better airlines I few on, on my Silk Route adventures in October/November 2017. Arrival in Almaty, immigration and costumes is quick and easy. I withdrew money from an ATM and got out looking for transportation to my hotel.

Airport Taxi Scam - 1 USD = 337.611 KZT Kazakhstani Tenge. Once outside the airport, I was approached by a taxi, I showed him on Google Maps where my hotel was, he said 1000 Tenge, that's 3 USD, a trip from the airport to my hotel would be somewhere around 15 USD, I asked him again twice and he was stuck at 1000 Tenge. I said okay. Before I got into the Taxi I took a picture of his number plate with my cell phone. 2 or 3 Kilometers down the road he said by the way that was 1000 tange per kilometer. That would make it 60 USD as my hotel was 20 KM away. Now I wasn't going to  get scammed without a fight, to cut a long story short after much haggling we agreed on 5000 Tenge, with sounded reasonable to me.

Food: After Checking in to the hotel, I went to explore the city on foot, and I wanted to eat when I discovered Kafahat, a cafe serving local food, for around 2 USD, one can get a decent meal. There are several Kafahat around Almaty, I went there 2 to 3 time a day during my stay in Almaty.




Transportation: I used Uber a lot, now Taxis don't have meters or sign. Just stand on the side of the road with your hand out and someone will stop, decide on a price before you get in.

The grocery stores sell Camel and Mare (horse) milk in Kazakhstan.



Next day I went to see the Church of the Holy Ascension in Panfilov Park is a can’t-miss site.  The bright, yellow church is the second tallest wooden building in the world.  The colorful exterior is matched only by the exquisite interior and magnificent altarpiece. From I took the subway and went exploring the city, ended the evening at Presidents Park.

The following day after breakfast at Kafahat I went to see Kok-Tobe

Kok-TobeAbai Qunanbaiuly

Kok-Tobe is a hill with a Ferris wheel and a recreational area, I took a cab and a bus to get there and took  a cable car to get down. It was a nice sunny day, I sat at a cafe there, the only one, eating a pizza and overlooking the city. The second Picture is a statue of Abai Qunanbaiuly who was a famous  Kazakh poet.

From there tit was time to hit  the mountains and trek, burn off those carbs all the pizza I ate. I took a cab to Medeu. Medeu is a speed skating rink located in mountains just outside Almaty. From Medeu I took a bus to Shymbulak. Shymbulak is a ski resort, what was a sunny nice day turned to be quiet cold in the mountains. I walked the road to the top till it got real cold and headed back to the cable car to take me back down to Medeu.

medeu almatyShymbulak

The first picture above is Medeu and the second I took on my trek in Shymbulak. Of all the place in Almaty I highly recommend Shymbulak.

From Shymbulak I took the cable car to Medeu, at Medeu I was hoping to get s bus or a cab to take back to Almaty, no such luck and it had started to get colder. After waiting by the road side for half an hour when a Lexus SUV with 3 beautiful Kazakh girls pulled up and offered me a ride to the city. I took them on their offer, I didn't take any any picture, that wouldn't be right, though I did take a small gopro video, I'll edit and post it.

On my 4th day, I crossed the border to Kyrgyzstan, I wrote a border crossing post http://www.arvinder.com/2017/11/how-to-get-from-almaty-to-bishkek.html 

I am leaving the city of Astana fora future trip, Air Astana offers several flights to Asia, and will catch a stopover soon. Until then...

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November 19, 2017

How to Get from Almaty to Bishkek

Woke up late and headed to breakfast down the road from the hostel at a local Kazakh for Almaty for some coffee and snacks, bus station coffee is usually shitty. Got Uber to take me to Sairan bus station to get a bus to Bishkek.

At Sairan bus station no one spoke English, everyone understood Bishkek and pointed me a minivan, the driver said 3000 Kazakhstani Tenge, I agreed. i was the first one. then came another tourist she also agreed to go, later she asked me if I would rather share a taxi with her and get to Bishkek Sooner. I told her once we agree with someone on a ride and fare we should not go back on our word. Besides I was playing it safe. 

Unlike Yerevan to Tbilisi where I had to wait 3 hours for the van to go, this van filled  up fast and we were on our way.

Important Tip - Use the bathroom at your hotel before going to the bus station

Bishkek

Above the minivan and the driver. we drive for almost 2 hours and stopped at a shitty rest stop. Armenia and Georgia has clean rest stops, Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan are dirty, glad it was only a 3 hour drive.

Finally we arrived at the border, first you will need to get an exit stamp on your passport from Kazakhstan side, that was somewhat quick. Then you need to walk through no Man's land to the Kyrgyz side. 2 pictures below.

BishkekBishkek

At the Kyrgyz side of the border control a Army officer took my passport and asked me to wait, I was a little nervous, but he was back in 2 minutes, handed me and 2 others their passport, opened a side pathway door and we left.

I turned on my gopro and was about to film when a Army soldier approached me,  and told me not to. I quickly put my Gropro away. We walked 100 meters and were approached by several cab drivers.

Kyrgyzstan

Then I waited for a good half an hour by the road side (above picture) with others riding from the van, finally the driver showed up and were on our way to Bishkek.

My Kyrgyzstan post link http://www.arvinder.com/2017/11/things-to-do-in-bishkek-kyrgyzstan.html 


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Tbilisi to Mtskheta and Jvari Monastery

Mtskheta was the former capital of Georgia. The Holy Cross Monastery of Jvari, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery are 3 main site to see in Mtskheta. A walk down Arsukidze Street is another thing to do, thee are several BnB and eating places on that street.

Mtskheta is a UNESCO World heritage site. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/708


Svetitskhoveli Cathedral


Svetitskhoveli Cathedral Mtskheta
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral 

Minibuses ("Marshrutka" some people use this Russian word) run from Tbilisi to Mtskheta leaves several times every day. You have to go to Didube bus station. The price is 1 GEL one way, per person. I took the metro to Didube and finding a minibus is not easy as there are 100's of them there. Finally found one. Minibus was over crowded. From Mtskheta to Jvari and back I had to take a cab, the cost was 15 GEL.

If I had to do it again, I would take an organized tour to Mtskheta and not try to do it on my own. A tour will cost no more than 45 GEL. There are several tourist offices around Tbilisi that will get you on a half a day tour. Half a day is plenty to see all 3 site.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is beautiful inside, there is a wooden carved chair in the middle.



Monastery of Jvari


Monastery of Jvari was my next stop, its on a hill, with views of the town and where 2 rivers meet. Inside in the middle is a huge cross.

Jvari Mtskheta

Mtskheta

Picture taken from the Javeri Hill, where one can see River Kora and River Araguae meet.

The cab driver dropped me off  minibus stop in Mtskheta. Behind the bus-stop is Samtavro Monastery. There was construction going on, there was a Nun that looked at me and gestured photography was not allowed.

Back in Tbilisi I went for a walk along the peace bridge, and the casino across from it.

My things to do in Tbilisi post http://www.arvinder.com/2017/11/things-to-do-in-tbilisi-georgia.html



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November 18, 2017

Things to do in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan

Took a minivan from Almaty to Bishkek, it was going to be a quick 3 day visit to see Osh Bazaar and few other sites along the old silk road. I was presently surprised on lively city this is, really wish I had planned better. The road trip from Almaty Kazakhstan to bishkek was little over 3 hours.

So I arrived in the evening and my hostel had closed for good, so I went to tourist office and got a room at a nearby Airbnb for $12 USD a night, breakfast included.  In October 2017 1 USD = 68.5492 KGS Kyrgyzstani Som. After checking in I went for a walking tour of Bishkek.

During the walking tour I saw stretch limousines and asked the tour guide what was going on, well October is marriage season in Kyrgyzstan.


Bishkek Kyrgyzstan

Wedding party picture I took at the Victory Monument, in Bishkek.

Victory Monument is more of a park with a structure in the middle with 3 arches symbolizing a yurt, and from there, We saw historical buildings and parks during the walk and came to the statue of Kurmanjan Datka. She has left her husband to be on the alter back in the 1800, it was unheard of back then, She was the Queen of the south. She is also on the 50 SOM Kyrgis currency bill. Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country that has had a woman president, Roza Otunbaeva.


Our last stop before dinner was Ala-Too Square, the main square in Bishkek. There are 2 parts to the square from what I could tell, the main and then across the street with Government buildings behind them. There is a statue of Manas on a horse, He apparently had united the Kyrgz tribes to form a nation. Then there was a story about a poem, Here is the Wiki page on the poem https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Manas

For dinner we went to a cafe, and I the travelling I did that day, it was bed time, before bed my BnB host proposed he would drive me tomorrow to Ala Archa National Park, Ata-Beyit, a Monument to those killed during 1916 events, Burana Tower and OSH Market for 70 USD. I agreed, next-day after breakfast we left bright and early.


Hike Ak Sai Trail at Ala Archa National Park


An hours drive from Bishkek, with just Amazing views, the hike is a little tough if you take the route through the hills, one can also take the road. A pleasant surprise, if you go deep into the mountains, there is a glacier one can hike, use a proper hiking company if you want hike the glacier 

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After the hike we rested at a picnic table, ate fruit and bread with Kyrgis cheese and fed some red squirrels. 


Ata-Beyit Memorial 



Ata-Beyit Memorial is not a popular tourist destination, there is a road block with armed guards that will question you as to why and what you are doing there. , We were the only people there. There is a 
Memorial, a museum and a site where mass grave was discovered. Mass grave is possible people murdered during Stalin's times. The grave was a brick well, now enclosed in a glass wooden structure.

KyrgyzstanKyrgyzstan

The first picture above is the memorial, the tripod structure has horseshoes hanging from it. The second Picture is Chinghiz Aitmatov.

Chinghiz Aitmatov is a famous author who wrote in both Russian and Kyrgys. The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years is among his best works.

The whole complex is peaceful and quiet with some music playing. 

Then it was Lunch time, we went to Mustafas, there is several of them in Bishkek. The Mediterranean Greek salad is very good. 


Kyrgyzstan

Burana Tower 


Life along the old silk road, tower from the 10 century as per my guide, UNESCO world heritage site. I was the only tourist there on a Friday. Being a Silk Road explorer, this was a must see.


It is an hour and half drive from Bishkek, the original tower was destroyed in an earthquake. The tower has been rebuilt, its missing the dome. The are swastika's all over the tower  symbolizing a point of reference for travelers from any direction. I tried to go up the tower, the staircase was locked. 

There is a museum and there are all these Grave Markers, these are not original graves and these grave stones were bought down from a hill nearby. These grave stones or bal-bals are images of people cut in Stone.

The Sun was going down and we had an hour plus drive ahead of us. On the way back we met with heavy traffic along the textile market, as far as OSH market goes there are all these stories about it being from from the days of the silk road, as per my guide, its not even a hundred years old.

Late that night I went to a Night club to celebrate with my BnB host, folks in Bishkek sure know how to have a good time. 

From there my travels continue to India, and in November before thanksgiving, I am back in Texas, I need to renew my passport and get a few Visas taken care of, china and India which offer 10 year visas.

I'll be posting video of  Kyrgyzstan in the next few days, stay tuned. Any questions, feel free to comment.


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November 15, 2017

Top 4 Reasons You Need to Visit Almaty, Kazakhstan

Visited Almaty in October 2017

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, this metropolitan city is the largest in the country and an excellent place to enjoy an unexpected adventure.  Once the capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty still remains a hub of culture and commerce in the region.  Check out these four reasons to visit Almaty—and once you do you will begin to fall in love!


Almaty Kazakhstan
First President's Park


A Great Intro to Central Asia


Almaty is one of the largest cities in Central Asia, and it has the largest airport as well.  This city is a great introduction to Central Asia and boasts itself as a multicultural hub—with Kyrgyzstan to the south, China closely to the east and Russia on the northern side, Almaty can give you a taste of all these regions. 
Once you are in Almaty, you can easily make your way around on the tram or the metro—there is even an app for the transit system with great route info. Almaty also has a decent-sized expat population.

Check out the Excellent Bazaar


Almaty can show you what life is like along the Silk Road!  The buzzing Green Bazaar is the place to immerse yourself in the multicultural nature of this city.  From spices and fresh produce to the oft-shocking (for Westerners, anyhow) butcher’s hall and freshly prepared and ready-to-eat foods.  Make sure to try some kurt and a fresh glass of kvas while you stroll around the bazaar.

Relax in an Opulent Russian Bathhouse


Perhaps one of the favourite attractions in Almaty, the Arasan Baths offer up a relaxing experience and the chance to see some 1980s socialist architecture.  Beginners should visit for only an hour—the bathhouse has the options of trying A Russian banya, a Finnish sauna, a Turkish steam, and a Moroccan hammam slightly hidden--but worth it--down a second set of stairs.  The giant domed ceilings are designed in a way so that condensation does not drip on bathers, and the intricate mosaics and tilework on the interior show a stark contrast to the almost bleak exterior.

Walk the Streets for Unique Architecture


Almaty Kazakhstan

Rocked by earthquakes now and again, Almaty does not have a large abundance of pristine historical buildings.  But, the Church of the Holy Ascension in Panfilov Park is a can’t-miss site.  The bright, yellow church is the second tallest wooden building in the world.  The colorful exterior is matched only by the exquisite interior and magnificent altarpiece.

The city also holds some interesting Soviet-era memorials, and the buildings offer a look at Socialist buildings—lots of concrete and harsh shapes, but, when you look closer there are still intricate details that are not commonly found.  There are specific walking tours for those interested in the historical aspects of the architecture of Almaty.

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