A visit to Tonle Sap is mandatory when you are in Siem Reap. This is the largest and most important body of water in the Mekong region and most people are living in floating villages. The houses sit on 6m high stilts and people travel by boat anywhere.
And with Banteay Kdei I finished the three day exploration of the Angkor temple complex. Needless to say that the whole experience is overwhelming. To see at first hand this culture which has been in place for so many centuries makes you feel quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, this does not mean that you should not jump in your tuk-tuk and discover this amazing place.
Perhaps one of the least visited places in Angkor, Banteay Kdei is usually the last temple on any circuit. Built in the 12th century this temple summarizes perfectly the greatness of the Khmer Empire. The place combines the same stone structure as in Bayon, with faces carved in stone, and many intricate other sculptures. Moreover, its appearance and lack of restoration will give you an insight on how the temples used to look in the past. I will not mention that there is vegetation growing everywhere and the only sound you will hear in the background are the birds.
Ta Prohm is the proof that nature can still fight back. Believe it or not, this temple is more or less in the same condition as when it was first discovered. The ruins of the temple are invaded by the trees, claiming back their territory. Whenever you look you will find a piece of the jungle trying to make its way to the world.
With a history of hundreds of years, Ta Prohm is a must visit in Cambodia.
I took a break from social media, but I am coming back with new stories soon.
My second stop in Angkor, was Bayon. I think this was my favourite temple in this complex. The place was quite deserted and it has an unique architecture. The most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling stone faces on the many tower. There are also sets of bas-reliefs which show mythological, historical and mundane scenes.
Toledo has always fascinated me. Built, quite ambitiously, on the top of a hill, Toledo, the former capital city of Spain, presents itself gloriously. As I started to enter its streets I discovered a completely different type of a Spanish city. Although it is 30 minutes away from Madrid, you can feel, from the very beginning, that Toledo captures its historical charm while mixing it with the intensity of our modern life.
If there is one thing which you must do in Cordoba is visiting the Mezquita. This is considered the most beautiful monument left by the Moorish people (beating even Alhambra). From the second you step inside, you are in the prayer hall where an impressive 856 columns and arches are taking over your visual field. I saw people being together: the Muslims are praying in the mihrabs facing Mecca and the Christians are praying in the chapel facing East. The mosque was converted into a cathedral in the 16th century, but that was the only change it has suffered. The building remained intact so that people, generation after generation, could enjoy its legacy.
One thousand years ago Cordoba was the biggest city in the world, the capital of the Islamic Spain and one of the most sophisticated cities in Europe. Today, I found myself enchanted by the architecture, cuisine, people, landmarks and the general atmosphere. The whole city is worthy of exploration, especially the small, stone-paved streets, beautifully decorated with orange trees.
Alhambra is probably the main reason anybody comes to Granada. A World Heritage Site since 1984, this building is one of the most significant example of Moorish style of Islamic Art. Right in its middle, the Nasrin Palace stands proudly.
When I arrived in Granada a cold rain started. I was determined not to let it ruin my day. As I entered the Albaicin neighborhood I realised I had a bigger problem. The narrow, stone streets are so intertwined that I was soon lost. I mean, it was a good "lost" because Albaicin is marvelous. Everywhere I looked I only saw white houses, the air was filled with Arabic spices and flamenco guitar sounds.
I have wanted for so long to go to Andalusia. When I managed to visit Seville at the beginning of the year I fell in love with the people, the food, the weather. So, I flew to Malaga where I discovered a charming city which mixes intelligently its heroic past with its vibrant present.
While taking a stroll I stumbled upon this view over the port. It simply took my breath away.
The day when I arrived in Bukhara a massive storm hit the city. All night long I heard the rain pouring, the lighting luminating the clouds and the thunder exploding above my head. When I woke up in the morning I thought that a walk might help. This is how I ended up at the Chor Minor. An unusual medrassah, Chor Minor has 4 minarets, each of them with an unique design. These minarets actually represent the most important religions in the world.
I do not think that I am exaggerating when I am saying that everyone comes to Bukhara to see the Kalyan minaret. The tower dominates the Po-i-Kalyan mosque complex and is one of the most recognizable Uzbek landmarks. The original minaret was built in the 12th century but it collapsed before even being finished. A couple of years after this event, the minaret you see today was built. And yes! This minaret is 900 years old. This masterpiece was even spared by Ginghis Han when he conquered Bukhara. The main function of a minaret is to call people to prayer, but Kalyan minaret was mostly used as a vantage point against anyone wishing to attack the city. Moreover, the tower was also used, for centuries, for executing criminals.
When I arrived in Bukhara the weather changed. From sunny and lovely, to rainy, cloudy and very cold. Although I tried to warm up with tea it did not work. Instead I put on my warmest clothes and I started walking in the city.
Bukhara is considered to be Uzbekistan's holiest city, with an old town wonderfully preserved, filled with medrassas, minarets, bazaars, ruins and temples. Right in the center I found the Po-i-Kalyan mosque, built in the 8th century, a construction so magnificent that Ginghis Han thought it was a palace.
When I arrived in Khiva I was so tired from the train and trolleybus trip that all I wanted was to collapse in a bed. Trying to use a map proved to be quite useless as this city is a labyrinth of streets. I do not know how I stumbled into this view, all I remember is that it took my breath away.
Deep in the eastern Uzbekistan I found a real time capsule: Khiva. This city used to be a very important stop on the Silk Road due to its importance in slave trade. Nowadays is a welcoming city with a very laid back atmosphere.
In the middle of Old Town you will find the Kalta Minor Minaret, or the "fat Minaret". When Mohammed Amin Khan ordered its construction he wanted this to be the tallest minaret. So tall, in fact, that one was supposed to see it from Bukhara. Unfortunately he died in the middle of the construction and the minaret was never finished.
But you really cannot blame me for loving the tile work in this city. I have never seen something so majestic nor did I imagine that something like this would exist. I wonder how much time it took to make this masterpiece.
Iceland was healing; gently nudging me way past my comfort zone to expose myself to nature and its rawest elements. Its wind and waves will echo in my mind and heart as a call back to nature for a long time to come.
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For me, the best part of Samarkand was the Shah-i-Zinda Mausoleum Complex and especially the last part of it. After you are climbing some very steep stairs you are going to find the Shodi Mulk Oko Mausoleum, the resting place of Timur’s sister and niece. These exquisite tombs are decorated with the most meticulous teracota. Believe it or not, for centuries this place needed no restoration and major portions of it, still remain as they were built from the very beginning.
Believe it or not, Uzbekistan is one of the least travelled countries. Why is that so, is beyond my knowledge. I am sure of one thing: I have always wanted to go there. Maybe the fact that people kept on telling me "you look very Uzbek" had something to do with it. Who knows what my ancestors did.
One thing is certain: going to Uzbekistan is becoming easier and easier. If you are from EU, now all you need is to apply online and get an evisa. The moment I read about it, my plans started to appear. This is how I ended up in Samarkand.
Only in Samarkand you can see tile work like this. When I was wandering inside Registan Square I was finding hidden corners with similar blue and eye-catching tiles. I simply could not believe that there can be so much beauty in one place.
Prepare yourself for being spammed with pictures from Samarkand. This place is a heaven for photography enthusiasts.
Beyond this, Samarkand has an impressive history which started more than 2500 years ago. This city took advantage of its geographical location and became a very important part of the Silk Route. Back in the medieval times, Chinese and Persian tradesmen were coming here hoping to strike a deal. Samarkand became, naturally, a crossroad of cultures which can still be seen today.
My main focus on my Uzbek adventure was Samarkand. From the moment I arrived there I just sprinted to the heart of the city to Registan Square. Back in the medieval times, when this city was the focus of the Silver Road trade, this place was just a sandy square. Now three madrassas are dominating Samarkand. Each madrassa has intricate carvings, beautiful blue tiles and simply put amazing architecture.
Sorry guys for being MIA for so long but I have just returned from Uzbekistan. My first stop was in Tashkent, the capital city, where I marveled at the Soviet architecture, and after I went further in Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara. More to come!