The last tour was to Uzbekistan 13-26 May 2019

This tour to Silk Road in Uzbekistan has now taken place and we are still reeling from what we did and saw. It was amazing. We flew via Istanbul to Tashkent, the largest city in Central Asia, dominated by  the 15C striking Khast Imam complex. From there an internal flight took us to the far west of the country to Nukus to visit a museum created during the Soviet era by a curator who detailed the Karakalpakstan culture of the area and put together the most comprehensive collection of avant-garde Soviet art proscribed elsewhere in the Soviet Union. He was brave if not foolhardy but far enough away from Moscow to survive. The museum is named after him, the Savitsky Museum.

Continuing from there we spent 3 nights in Khiva. Khiva has been described as “a fairytale city springing out of the desert” restored by UNESCO to its original condition. While we are there we also visited the remains of two 2000 year old desert citadels, Toprak Kala and Ayaz Kala

A day of driving through the Kyzyl Kum (Red Sand) desert took us on to Bukhara, a living museum and one of the gems of Central Asia whose origins stretch back beyond Alexander the Great. We stayed here for four nights and one of the interesting sites we visited was the Ark, the vast fortress residence of the Emir for over a millenium. From here we also made a foray to the Sarmysh Gorge to visit its collection of over 4,000 petroglyphs, many showing images of hunting and dating back to the time of the Scythians (7-3 centuries BC).

Moving on from Bukhara, we called at Shakhrisabz, once the capital of Tamerlaine (1336-1405) en route to Samarkand for a two night stay.

The very name of Samarkand evokes images of  Scheherazade and the Arabian Nights. It is immortalised in poetry and redolent with history and in particular with the name of Genghis Khan who made his greatest mark here. It has a wealth of ancient monuments and leaves a lasting impression.In the words of Alexander the Great “Everything I have heard about Samarkand is true except that it is even more beautiful than I had imagined”.

This was a really memorable trip and we feel fortunate that we were able to discover it before it becomes a “must see” tourist destination.

(For a fuller 10 page description of the tour, go back to the Header Menu  and choose the tour from the Events heading)

 

Tour to Crete in 2018

Our 2018 tour to Crete which was a great success.  It has been followed up by our post-tour party and the sharing of photographs some of which are inserted in the description below. Click on them to enlarge.

Crete: History, Heritage and Flora, April/May 2018

Day 1 We met at Gatwick Airport for our direct scheduled Easyjet flight to Heraklion. On arrival we were met by our guide who was to accompany us on all transfers and day excursions, then transfered to the 5* Fodele Beach Resort Hotel for a seven stay on half board basis. Here we were met with the very welcome news that all our local drinks at the hotel were free.

Day 2 This morning we enjoyed a guided tour through the old town of Rethymnon with its wonderful old Venetian buildings and maze of attractive narrow streets. During our tour we visited the Archaeological Museum, displaying exhibits from the Neloithic to the Roman eras. We then visit the Fortezza Fortress, built on the Paleokastro Hill on the west side of the city. The fortress was built between 1573 and 1580 by the Venetians in order to protect the citizens from the Turkish threat. The rest of the day was at leisure in Rethymnon.

Day 3 Our tour focused on the Minoan era this day. We firstly visited the Minoan Tombs of Armeni, where over 200 chamber tombs and one tholos tomb lay scattered through an olive grove. We then visited the Palace of Phaistos, the second largest palace of Crete after Knossos. The palace, just like the other palaces of Minoan Crete, had been destroyed three times before it was rebuilt on the ruins of the old buildings in 1700 BC. Aesthetically, Phaistos is built on the most spectacular setting of all palaces in Crete, high on a dramatic hill, overlooking the entire Messara plain. We also see the ruins of the Royal Villa of Agia Triada. The site at Agia Triada was first settled during Neolithic times and the remains of the palace date back to around 1600 BC. The site was first excavated in 1902 and is believed to be the summer residence of the King of Phaistos.

Day 4 Our first visit of this day ass the pottery village of Margaritas. We then visited Melidoni Cave, one of the largest three tourist caves on Crete. The Melidoni cave has been inhabited almost continuously since the Stone Age, and during the Minoan times the cave was used for religious ceremonies. En route back to our hotel we passed through the region of Eleftherna, considered to be one of the most important and largest ancient areas in Crete. Today we also explored the flowers of Crete and had an included Farmhouse lunch. The lack of wild flowers this year was the one disappointing aspect of the tour.

 

 

 

 

Day 5 Heading to the west of the island, our tour today focused on the history of the Roman, Hellenistic, Venetian and Byzantine eras. We firstly saw the extensive ruins of the Roman and Hellenistic site of Aptera, offering spectacular views over the bay of Souda. We continued to the harbour town of Chania, built on the ruins of ancient Kydonia, which according to the mythology was founded by king Kydon.

Day 6 Visit to the most famous of the Minoan palaces on the island, Knossos, excavated and controversially restored by Sir Arthur Evans. Knossos was undeniably the capital of Minoan Crete, as it is grander, more complex, and more flamboyant than any of the other palaces on the island. Knossos was inhabited for several thousand years, beginning with a Neolithic settlement sometime in the seventh millennium BC, and was abandoned after its destruction in 1375 BC which marked the end of Minoan civilization. We then visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, one of the greatest museums in Greece, and the best in the world for Minoan art. It houses representative artefacts from all the periods of Cretan prehistory and history, covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years from the Neolithic period to Roman times.Day 7 Visit to the Byzantine Monastery of Arkadi, one of the most important centres of the Cretan resistance during the years of the Turkish occupation. It is thought that the first fortified group of buildings of the monastery was built in the 14th century BC by a monk named Arcadios who gave his name to it. The church, which stands in the middle of the fortification enclosure, was built in 1587 and has a magnificent baroque frontage.

Day 8 Transfer to Heraklion Airport for our direct scheduled Easyjet flight back to Gatwick.

 

Our tour in April 2017 was to Sicily

Please click twice on each group of photos to enlarge

before returning for another group

I think I may claim that the Sicily Tour detailed above and recently completed was a resounding success. Three couples unfortunately had to pull out for health problems but we were still left with a healthy 24 participants. The weather was good for the whole week and in consequence we were treated to premature displays of swathes of wild flowers. The tour manager, despite a delayed flight from the outfall of the Etna eruption, was absolutely first class as were all but one of our guides. Our hotels were comfortable. We saw a wide variety of wonderful buildings which reflected the many civilizations who had inhabited this lovely island including interesting structures like the Ear of Dionisius and the Palermo Opera House, in both of which we heard singing. We ate well and imbibed some good Sicilian wine. Some of us even had the interesting experience of being taken to a superb alfresco lunch on a hay cart.

Sicily was well worth the visit.

Kenneth Parker

 

Previous visits

1999  Dublin

2003 May  East Anglia

2005 Sept  St Petersburg

2006 Sept  Northumbria

2007 Sept  Baltic States

2008 Sept  Wessex and Wales

2009 Sept  Liverpool and The Lakes

2010 May  Northamptonshire

2012 Apr The Art and History of Puglia

2013 May Malta and Gozo

 

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