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Friday, May 31, 2019


Bukhara was the second city in our silk road tour.  It is not as small and charming as Khiva, but isn't as bustling as Samarkand.  Most of the tourist sites are within walking distance, so we got a hotel close to the historical area and followed the same plan as Khiva: wander around until you find something interesting.

The first interesting thing we found was shopping.  Bukhara really is just a beautiful place to shop for beautiful handicrafts.  It has some madrassas, a mosque or two, and a (fairly uninteresting) citadel.  But mostly it has shop after shop of lovely things that just beg to be taken home with you.

I've done a lot of shopping overseas, and have been to two of the biggest bazaars in the world, the Khan-Al-Khalili in Cairo and Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  All of those places have about five different types of stalls repeated endlessly with the exact same goods at multiple stalls.  Brandon and I went to a bazaar in Dubai and quickly realized that most of the souvenirs for sale were actually from China.

But Bukhara has an endless array of unique, handmade crafts for sale.  There may general categories (suzanis, paintings, miniatures, clothing, rugs, brass work, knives, fur, scarves, jewelry), but each stall has the promise of a new iteration just waiting for you to find it an fall in love with it.  I mentioned this to my mother, who commented that she didn't need to buy anything, and I just laughed to myself.

By the end of our trip we had bought a suzani table runner, suzani pillow covers, two scarves, a Persian miniature, a brass engraved plate, a pair of earrings, a bracelet, and two rugs.  Rugs are the especial forte of Bukhara shopping.  You can find handmade rugs just about everywhere in Uzbekistan, but Bukhara has the largest concentration of rug shops, all within walkable distance of each other.  Brandon and I are planning on going to Bukhara just to shop for rugs.

My parents and I spent most of our first day in Bukhara rug shopping and in the evening stopped by a few historical sites so that we could pretend that we were being cultural.  By the second day the temperatures had reached into the mid-nineties and our site seeing was restricted to cool cafes and ice cream eating under shady trees.  We took the fast train in the afternoon and were in Samarkand by the early evening.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


My parents came out to visit Uzbekistan (and us) a few weeks ago.  If you're going to come to Uzbekistan, you absolutely have to come and visit the silk road cities.  Really, that's the only reason most people come here as tourists, as the rest the country is nice but not that remarkable.

When I started the planning for my parents' trip, I immediately decided to not take the children sightseeing.  Touring historical cities is not a child-friendly activity (I know this because we took the kids to Uzbekistan in 2016) and paying for plane tickets, trains tickets, hotels, and food just to have everyone complain and whine the whole time seemed like a terrible idea.

So Brandon agreed to keep everyone home while my parents and I explored Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand.  He's a really great husband.  

We started our trip in Khiva.  I had been to Bukara and Samarkand previously, but I hadn't visited Khiva yet, as it is the furthest from Tashkent.  There is a fast train to the other silk road cities, but we had to fly to Khiva.  It's not a very long flight, however, and by mid-morning we were out exploring Khiva.

The city is a walled city and the wall is still intact, with the historical area of the cities entirely closed to cars.  Khiva is the most charming of the silk road cities for this reason, and all of the historical sites are walkable.  Most people hire guides, but we didn't and chose to explore on our own.  This caused a bit of a rocky start as it took a little while (and a helpful fellow tourist) to figure out that you had to buy a ticket for all the sites instead of paying for each one individually.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around, ducking in to interesting-looking places.  We were able to see everything of interest during the day, interspersed with frequent ice cream breaks.  Within ten days the weather had turned from cold and rainy to uncomfortably warm for my parents' visit.  The temperatures reached into the upper eighties, so ice cream helped with the heat.

We found the minaret climb to be the most interesting site from our visit to Khiva.  It was almost 150 feet high, which doesn't sound too bad until you have to climb very steep, fairly dim steps to get to the top of those 150 feet.  I couldn't decide if the climb up almost on hands and feet or the climb down, holding on to the stair above to keep from slipping down the time-slicked stairs was worse.

Both my mom and I had a hard time walking the next day because we were so sore.  The top, with no railing to keep you from tumbling off the tiny platform and back down the stairs, was also one of those 'you won't find this in the US' experiences.

We finished our evening with a climb up the city walls.  The walls have mostly been restored, but the section by our hotel was covered with crumbling tombs and sharp drop-offs.  It was a lovely view in the fading light and we couldn't help but pinch ourselves.  I could almost imagine the camel trains coming in, dusty from the road and ready for a much-deserved rest.  

Not as many tourists make it out to Khiva (although there were quite a few), but it's worth a visit if you can make it.  The sites are interesting, but the ambience of the place is my favorite.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Chatkal Mountains Resort

Every place we live in, I always try to find an escape - somewhere that makes a perfect quick, easy weekend getaway.  So far I haven't been very successful.  Egypt came pretty close with the Red Sea, but not having a car made getting away harder.  In Azerbaijan, we found a nice little place, but it was too far for an easy weekend getaway.  Tajikistan didn't have anywhere nice.  In a country where people were just trying to keep from starving, making pleasant mountain resorts wasn't a high priority.

I tried this winter, but didn't exactly find what I was looking for.  But being a perpetual optimist (something Brandon can't quite understand), I decided to try again while my parents were visiting us a few weeks ago. 

One of my favorite research tools is Google Maps.  I peruse interesting-looking places and promising hiking routes looking for adventures (something else Brandon doesn't get either).  During one of my sessions, I stumbled upon Chatkal Mountains Resort and convinced Brandon that we should really try it out.  

After two hours of reasonable roads, less reasonable roads, not reasonable roads, and a twenty-minute border guard checkpoint (we were getting pretty close to Kyrgyzstan), I decided that I had finally found my place. 

The resort only had six cottages set in beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking the Chatkal river.  The cottages themselves had a master bedroom (most places here only have twin-sized beds) and two other bedrooms with a decent-sized kitchen and dining/living room.  There was a (very cold) pool for the children to play in and steps down to the river for lots of obligatory rock-throwing.  

Even though the cottages had kitchens, we paid for dinner and breakfast at the restaurant because a vacation isn't a vacation if you have to cook and wash dishes by hand.  The food was pretty decent and there were lots of options that weren't plov (although each cottage did have its own plov cooker). 

All the children found something they liked, so that's a win in my book.  As a bonus, our view from the terrace at dinner time was a stunning mountain across the river, with not a single other building in sight.

By the time we were done with our stay, we were already planning for next time.  I'm already looking forward to it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Summertime and the Living is Easy

Summer officially starts this week in the Sherwood family house.  One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is being in charge of my own schedule.  The children and I all enjoy having a nice, long summer vacation, so we work hard with just a few breaks during the school year and then enjoy having summer mostly off. 

Our pool got filled a few weeks ago when winter gave up the ghost and stepped aside for summer to quickly fill its place.  "I like spring," Brandon commented after the weather got into the upper eighties a week after it left the fifties, "all five days of it were nice."  

A lot of pools have heaters here because - despite being in the hundreds for two months straight - it cools down enough at night to keep the water a little chillier than is comfortable.  Our pool does not have a heater, so the children have been enjoying twenty-minute swims followed by half-hour warm-up sessions on the hot tiles surrounding the pool.  They insist the water is warm, but I don't believe them because every time I get in, an involuntary gasp escapes me as my body tells me that I'd better get out now before hypothermia sets in.

So this year I decided to solve my problem with the universal tool - money - and just offered to buy the pool heater myself because they are cheap enough that it's worth it to me to have a warm pool and just walk away from it when we leave.  We have done a lot of those upgrades to our house here because, apparently, my sanity seems to hinge an unreasonable amount on having my house set up just the way I like it.  So, for whoever gets this house next, you're welcome.

The children and I have worked out a summer schedule that seems to work for everyone.  In the morning, after doing chores and an hour of summer school work, everyone swims until lunch.  Our pool is sunny in the morning and shady in the afternoon and we all prefer to swim when it's sunny, so morning is the best time.  In the afternoon we have Russian lessons, various appointments, or household chores.  The children finish up whatever school work they didn't finish in the morning.  It's a schedule that works for everyone and we're all happy to be under a less demanding schedule for the summer.  

We're not traveling to the States this summer, so everyone is looking forward to a nice long summer of swimming, playing with friends, reading books, and relaxing a little bit.  I enjoy seeing family each summer, but I am really happy to just stay home and enjoy being here and not on trans-Atlantic flights.  Especially since I'll be spending all summer working on my baby belly.  There's nothing better than lazing around the pool when you're pregnant.

Summer has always been my favorite season and that hasn't changed even after living in the land of hot, hot summers.  Summer is when the fruit is fresh, delicious, and plentiful.  The evenings are warm and inviting, and socks and shoes are a distant memory of cold, dark times that we avoid thinking about.  I'm happy that this summer is the polar opposite of last summer, and I intend to enjoy it to its fullest.  Welcome, summer!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

What to do in London when you've been there four times before

A month ago I went to London to have first-trimester screening done and meet with my OB.  Before I even got pregnant, I convinced Brandon that it would be a great idea to have our last baby in London.  I pointed out that 1. it's only one flight, 2. it's five hours closer than North Carolina, 3. it will be easier to get the post-birth paperwork completed in time, 4. we don't have to rent a car that fits nine people for three months because, public transportation, and 5. it would be FUN.  Brandon wasn't swayed at all by reason number five (fun is never on his list of considerations), but the other four reasons were convincing enough that he agreed.

Since we are in Tashkent and I have graduated into the advanced maternal age category, I have to travel to London for both first and second trimester screenings.

My first visit went well and everything looked well, so I got to spend the rest of my visit enjoying myself.  This was my fifth visit to London, and I am going back in June and then spending three months there, so I didn't feel like I needed to squeeze everything important in over a few days.

Usually I don't plan my visits very well and end up sitting around my hotel room enjoying endless hours of uninterrupted reading time.  It always feels like a bit of a waste to fly all the way to London just to read a book, but it's always so tempting.

So this time I decided to be a responsible tourist and go and visit a palace.  I arrived Sunday evening and had all of Monday to myself, but it turns out that lots of places are closed on Mondays in London.  I would have liked to go to the temple, but it is also closed on Mondays.  I contacted a stable in Richmond park about going for a hack, but they were also closed on Mondays.  So I ended up going to Kensington Palace.

The tour was actually pretty interesting and not too long and probably not something I will take the children to when we are there for the medevac in the fall.  I got a history lesson in the succession of the Stuarts and how many babies died.  Also, I didn't realize how wide the dresses from the Georgian era were.  It sure is nice to live in an era of yoga pants.

Afterwards I got a nice lunch.  Once of my favorite things about London is the food.  It helps that I'm always coming from countries where the restaurants are okay but never fantastic.  I always feel so luxurious sitting at a table reading a book while someone else brings me amazingly delicious food and then takes the dirty dishes away without me having to do anything more than turn the page of my book and put the food in my mouth.  When your job includes cooking, cleaning up, feeding children, and maintaining order and conversation during meals, it's the highest luxury to eat a meal entirely alone with only a book to keep you company.

Then I took a nap.  Because, jet lag.  I always forget that a four-hour time difference is still enough to wake you up at two in the morning even though you still want to be sleeping.  And for dinner, I had ice cream.  Sometimes being an adult is amazing.

The next morning I went shopping.  Usually I don't shop in London because I don't like shopping that much.  But I was in the mood, so I went shopping.  I can't shop here (maybe I could, but I don't want to), and in the States, I have to ditch the children with my mom if want to spend time alone at the mall.  So I took advantage of being alone and went shopping.  My shopping was interrupted by my OB appointment.

After lunch, I had a makeup lesson at Selfridges, a crazy-expensive department store.  I pretended that I was silly and rich enough to buy two-hundred dollar jeans and waltzed right past the Gucci, Prada, and Cartier counters on the way to the M.A.C. counter.  I'm not much of a makeup person - why bother when most days I only see my children and my husband - but I decided that I needed the help of someone else to tell me how to do it right.  As I've gotten older with more disposable income, I've realized that sometimes it's better to pay a professional who knows what they're doing than relying on the internet to tell you how to do things.

Two hours and [undisclosed sum] later, I walked out of Selfridges with a whole new bag of makeup and a much better look.  I've never put much store in makeovers, but I must say that this one showed me a much more flattering way to apply makeup without looking like a twenty-something beauty vlogger.  It is so much better that Brandon - who never notices anything about my appearance - has commented several times that my makeup looks a lot better.  So if you want some makeup help, M.A.C. is the place to go.

I finished my shopping - swimsuits, candy, and a birthday present for Eleanor - and decided that shopping is better in America where the malls have stores closer together.  Luckily everything fit into my suitcase and the next morning my luggage weighed in at 22.2 kilograms with .8 kilos to spare.  I didn't wistfully wave goodbye this time as my plane took off because I would be back in less than two months.  Time to start planning for the next trip!