Tuesday, 28 August 2007


Ruth says: This is Bob enjoying one of the fruits of the lake. The food here is far better than in Kazakh. The terrified little boy is holding the snake that was around Father Christmas' neck.
Bob says: Other interesting facts about Lake Issyk-Kul: Length 170 km; width 70 km; depth 650m. The lake also never freezes despite winter temperatures averageing minus 24 degrees c. Issyk Kul literally means "warm lake".

Tamchy- Lake issyk-kul

Ruth says: the top photo is of our guest house on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul surroundeed by mountains. As you can see it had a cow and chickens outside and we had the luxury of hole in the ground squat toilets which were a pleasure and a half. The guest house was actually really lovely, and where else in the world can you find a camel, a horse and father Christmas with a snake round his neck all on the beach at the same time.
Bob says: Lake Issyk-Kul is the second largest Alpine lake in the world and sits at 1800 metres above sea level. Everything in Kyrgyzstan is high. Apparantly the average elevation of the country is over 3000 metres.

Bishkek and onwards

Ruth says: The top picture is the view from our Soviet style hotel balcony. Very wierd place that has been left to decay since its 60's heyday. We must have the only guests in this 100 plus room hotel. Most of the floors were in darkness.
Bob says: Bishkek the capital of Kyrgyzstan was a 2 night stopover on our way to Lake Issyk-kul. Nice town. Not much to write home about so I won't. Got a very reasonable price for the four hour taxi trip to the lake. Turned out to be not so reasonable when the 20 year old audi broke down half way. Fortunately we were travelling with two very helpful Kyrgyz lads that negotiated another taxi with the original taxi driver paying the fare to the next town where we caught the bus for the rest of the journey. To give you an idea of costs, the taxi was 9 pounds and the bus one pound twenty. There was plenty of demand for our custom at the taxi rank in Bishkek. This is how the price scale seems to work:
Very cheap - 30 year old Lada that will definately not make it
Cheap - 30 year old audi that has a 10 % chance
Reasonable - 15 year old audi that may make it
Expensive - 10 year old passat that will make it
V expensive- 5 year old merc that will get there in comfort
Ruth says: The bottom photo is one of the road stops on the way. Oh and Bob forgot to mention that the taxi driver hit the car in front within the first five minutes of the journey.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Travel to Kyrgyzstan

Ruth says: This was certainly an experience and a half. We had a 6 hour journey from Almaty to Bishkek involving taxis and buses and taxis again. We picked up a taxi in Almaty sharing it with the two boys on the right. The taxi driver is sitting next to Bob. After some very hair-raising driving through the city and then a long drive through desert steppes we stopped at this little road side cafe for meat dumplings and tea. The occupants of the taxi spoke maximum of about 5 words of English but we managed to find out that one of the guys was a chef and the other was connected to houses in some way.
Just before we reached the border one of the guys in the taxi got out his passport and slipped some money inside it, before folding some more up really small to fit into the palm of his hand. Bribes at the ready he showed us what he had done, which didn't really settle my nerves for what was to come. It turns out that he needed the bribes because for some reason he didn't go through customs, and it turned out we didn't need any, thankfully. It was still a pretty scary experience waiting whilst the border guards scrutinised your papers, and the hoards of people trying to get both ways was just unbelievable. On top of all this, the car with the driver and the bribe holding boy, and our backpacks had passed through to the other side and had completely dissapeared in the crowd.
We did finally make it through only to discover that the taxi driver wanted to go in another direction to go shopping with the boys, so put us on a bus instead. Not quite what we had planned but we made it.

More Alatau

Bob says: From the Alatau range to the South of Almaty you can see the great expanse of the Kazakh plains the next serious mountains are the Urals some 2000 miles north west, it certainly gives you an idea of how vast this area is. Further South and where we are heading are some very serious mountain ranges starting with the Tian Shan in Kyrgyzstan with peaks at 7000 metres plus connecting with the Pamirs and then the Himalayas, together they form the roof of the world. For scale castle hill is about 400 metres above sea level.
The stadium you see is the massive olympic ice rink situated in the foot hills of the Alatau. It is about the 4000 m2. For scale Bradford ice rink is rubbish!

Ruth says: This trip was slightly closer to Almaty. About 50p on a bus. We had a ride on a cable car too which was pretty cool although when we got to the penultimate lift they wouldn't let anymore people on, so we couldn't get right to the top- very disappointing (we'd already done a two hour climb and had another two hours back to the bus). The views over almaty were pretty spectacular as you an see.

Alatau Mountains

Even more Charyn Canyon

Ruth says: the river was in the bottom of the canyon, where we had our picnic. One of the trees had loads of little scraps of cloth and plastic tied all over it. We are not quite sure what they are for, but have seen them since up in the mountains above Almaty, and people adding their own little strips of fabric. Think it is like carving your name on a rock or whatever.

More Charyn Canyon

The Charyn Canyon

Ruth says: This was our first trip out of Almaty. Pretty spectacular don't you think. We payed an extortionate price to a tour company and a guy drove us the three and a half hours there, through stunning countryside with huge mountains in the distance all the way. He left us to go and explore. It was so amazing to be out of the city, and in a place like this.
Bob says: Kazakhstans equivalent of the Grand Canyon but with an added bonus..........No Americans! Actually, virtually no tourists at all. A very impressive place.

Kazakhstan - Almaty

Bob says: Arrived in Almaty via Kazakh airlines 7 hour overnight flight at 9am kaz time ( longhall economy is virtually inhumane if you ask me). First task was to find a hotel in Almaty, our friendly taxi driver tried to charge about 7 times the normal rate to a hotel we picked out of our guide book. After some screaming from the wife(amazing how angry she gets through lack of sleep) and some choice words from myself we managed to get him down to a reasonable rate. I knew the hotel was right for us by the delightfully decorated reception, I kid you not that wolf skins adorned the walls and ceilings just about everywhere - welcome to Kazakhstan!

First few days we missed not having the hilux(sold in London) to get about in. Driving in Almaty would certainly have been a lot of fun, some may say that local drivers are lunitics and drive dangerously, I would prefere to call it 'creative driving'. They also seem to be worried about whether their horns are working, they are tested repeatedly when ever in traffic.

Kazakhstan is an oil rich country and it certainly shows, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is extreme. People have got rich very quick( it appears mostly Russians ) and testement to this is a hugh estate of mansions nearing completion in the south of the city, it is a barratt house managers wet dream! The have nots unfortunately live in deteorating soviet appartment blocks like the one pictured above, further out of town the housing is typical of poor eastern europe, and who ever is manufacturing corragated metal is doing a roaring trade.

The soviet statue you see is part ot the world wars memorial that is present in a pretty park in the centre of the city. Kazakhstan and the other former soviet states in the area must have split from russia more amicably than eastern europe where you will not find any soviet statues.

The russian orthodox church pictured was also in the park.

Ruth says: Kazakhstan certainly took a bit of getting used to. It was quite frustrating in the first few days not being able to get around so easily, and also having to pay 50 pounds for a hotel. This is not just us being picky. All hotels in the city were at least that expensive because they were meant for the moneyed Russians. Other things were very cheap though, apart from taxis who continually tred to rip us off. Food was especially cheap. It manily consists of meat and rice with some kind of yoghurt or sour cream thing to go with it. There is a lot of grease involved and all vegetables (also highly on the greasy side of things) come with a generous serving of dill.

Bob says: On the subject of food, the infamous Kazakh delicacy of horse's penis reared its rather ugly head. It can be bought sliced, diced or in all its glory. Unfortunately we where unable to try it in restaurants due to all the menus being in cyrillic. With virtually no english speakers ordering food is a kind of lucky dip, apart from kebabs and laghman (noodles with a soup meat concoction) we largely do not know what to expect.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Austria, Germany, Belgium, France

Bob says: Nice service stations.

Budapest, on the way home

Ruth says: After a a mammoth 12 hour drive the day before on Romania's fantastic roads, to get us from Bucahrest to just over the Hungarian border, and then a three hour drive in the morning to get us to Budapest, we were pretty knackered. What better way to unwind than to visit Budapest's biggest spa. This place was fantastic with pools fed from the natural thermal springs, massive saunas with ice dispensers and plunge pools and turkish steam rooms. Pretty cool.
Budapest was a pretty swanky city with beautiful buildings and a cafe culture to rival Paris.

Plan B

Bob says: Plan B was pretty simple for us to come up with, as we only had a one way transit visa for Russia and Russians being Russians they may not have been overly helpful in letting us back. So, we decided we would get back to blighty as soon as possible, sell the beautiful hilux ( simply the best car ever made), stick some backpacks on and fly to Kazakhstan hopefully by the middle of August to resume our travels.

Bucharest, Romania

Bob says: Bucharest is still very much recovering from its bloody past. Evidence of the revolution and Nicolae Ceausescu's communist dictatorship is everywhere. The 3rd picture shows the vast palace of parliment constructed towards the end of Ceausescu's evil reign. Ceausescu's vision was to turn Bucharest into a Paris of eastern Europe that included its own arc de triumph and champs ellysee. In order to finance this, the lunitic put his own people on rations and began exporting most of Romania's food. Unfortunately for Bucharest he got as far as levelling one sixth of the city including a lot of historic buildings, laid the road for the champs and built a mini arc at the end of it. This man was clearly a lune of the highest order, which may go some way to explaining his fascination with the french.
Ruth says: Whilst in Bucharest we had a visit to the Chinese Embassy hoping to obtain our visa. However, when we handed in our application forms we were told that we would not be issued with a visa without flight receipts. When we informed them that we were driving we discovered that we needed permits for all the different Chinese provinces. We investigated this further and also found out that we would need a so-called guide to drive with us the whole time. This amazingly applies to all foreign vehicles. The expense and time involved in this process was just not available to us, so we had to come up with a plan B!
Bob says:You may be wondering why we didn't check this out beforehand, but the information on this is not as readily available as you might think. Plus, if we'd crossed every t and dotted every i before we'd set off then we might still be home.


Bob says: Unfortunately we were pretty slack in Bulgaria and failed to take any photos. And due to a date we had with the chinese embassy in Bucherest we did not have enough time to properly enjoy it. We stayed on the Black sea coast in the resort of Sozopol for a 2 days soaking up sun on the beach and enjoying the very cheap cocktails and beers.
One of the best things in Bulgaria is the road side billboard advertising. There is nothing in Bulgaria that cannot be sold by a bikini clad beauty, usually super imposed over the advert with no real reference, anything from loft insulation to baked beans. Perhapes the finest example of these was the advert for watermelons, now there is only one way to sell watermelons, so I will leave it to your imagination..........happily the Bulgarians did not!
Ruth says: There were down sides to Bulgaria too. The toilets were the most diabolical things ever. Really filthy squatter toilets and crumbling down shower blocks that you can smell 100 metres before you reach them. But it is strange what you can get used to in a couple of days.

Mount Olympus

Bob says: Mount Olympus is actually several peaks that are all seats of the Ancient gods. Mytikos is the tallest peak and was first officially conquered in 1913 by, you guessed it , an Englishman ( although I suspect a few ancient greeks may have made it).

Mount Olympus

Ruth says: this was the hardest physical thingI think that i have ever done. The climb that we did was supposed to take two days but we had a very tight schedule and i wanted at least one day on the beach before we left Greece, so we decided to try and climb Olympus in a day. It is 2918 metres high, that's almost 10,000 feet. So, quite big really.
We set off on our climb just before 10 in the morning and didn't get back to the car until 8:20pm.
When we first started the climb we were overtaken by a group of 19 year old boys. I wasn't very happy about being overtaken as it hadn't happened to us yet on any of our walks, so we practically ran up the mountain for the first two hours, overtaking them and not letting them catch us up again. Anyway they didn't make it all the way to the top so we were obviously far fitter than them.
The picture with the yellow and red blob (one of the markers) is the last bit of the climb to the summit. As you can see it was literally a rock climb. It was unbelievably steep and by this time we had been climbing for about 6 hours, just going up. I don't know quite how we made it. It must have been Bob's sausage chilli, and just a little bit of chocolate.
Bob says: Pure yorkshire grit, no messing, up and down in a day.

More Meteora and Monastaries

Kalambaka and the Meteora

Bob says: Yer Greeks are famous for many things, feta cheese, smashing plates, using the tradesmans entrance.....etc. So why not these outstanding rock formations. In scale and beauty the meteora are on a par with Ayers rock, maybe even the Cow n' Calf.
Not content with the already superb rocks , yer greeks decided to build monastaries on some of the rock pillars, about 16 in all. How is anybodies guess, anyway it took them about 250 years.
These rocks are the single most impressive natural phenomona, baring the wifes behind, that I have seen on this trip.