Tag Archives: Food Lover


Although Kyrgyzstan is similar to Tajikistan – once central to the Silk Route, mountainous high terrain, nomadic people and former USSR state, Kyrgyzstan has a much rougher past and present largely because of its history.


The Kyrgyz flag tells the story.  The 40-rayed yellow sun in the center of the flag represents the 40 tribes that once made up the entirety of Kyrgyz culture before the intervention of Russia during the rise of the Soviet Union.   Even though it had falllen to various foreign occupiers similar to those in Tajik, its pre-Soviet internal tribalism meant that this country has rarely seen peace.  Before Soviet times there was a steady succession of tribes and clans looking for power.  Today, after independence, the Soviet influence remains.  Kyrgyzstan is one of two former Soviet republics in Central Asia to have Russian as an official language, Kazakhstan being the other.   And since independence, the old tribalism has revived so that there are numerous threats to the Kyrgystan people coming at them literally from all directions.

Though the tribes are divided by its many mountains, the traditional nomadic lifestyle (on the flag, the lines inside the sun represent the crown of a yurt), the tribes tend to run into each other and compete for valuable pastureland.  While Uzbeks and Tajiks traditionally farmed in the valleys, the Kyrgyz nomadic tradition continues to function seasonally as herding families return to the high mountain pasture (or jailoo) in the summer.

Human Rights

Human rights continue to be a concern in the country.  In a move that alarmed human-rights groups, dozens of prominent Uzbek religious and community leaders were arrested by security forces following the 2010 South Kyrgyzstan riots, including journalist and human-rights activist Azimzhan Askarov, who was sentenced to life in prison

American diplomats expressed concern in October 2014 when Kyrgyzstan lawmakers passed a law that imposes jail terms on gay-rights activists and others, including journalists, who create “a positive attitude toward non-traditional sexual relations.”

On 24 January 2017, a Kyrgyz court reinstated the sentence of life imprisonment for Askarov.

Human Rights Watch

In 2019, Human Rights Watch issued a report on Kyrgystan, stating in part:

“Long-term human rights concerns persisted in the first year of Soronbai Jeenbekov’s presidency, even as blatant attacks on media freedoms became less frequent, and the president appeared to seek more constructive engagement with civil society. Violence against women, including bride-kidnapping, and impunity for torture persisted.  Kyrgyzstan has not released the wrongfully imprisoned human rights defender Azimjon Askarov.”

Read the full report, here.

Violence Against Women

A law banning women under the age of 23 from traveling abroad without a parent or guardian, with the purpose of “increased morality and preservation of the gene pool” passed in the Kyrgyz parliament in June 2013.

Bridenapping.  Illegal, but still practiced, is the barrbaric tradition of kidnapping, raping and enslaving a woman and marrying her, guaranteeing her enslavement for life.

In its 2019 report, Human Rights Watch stated:

2F361283-B928-4435-A493-E179E56D4D7F“Impunity for widespread domestic violence persists, despite a 2017 domestic violence law that mandates police and judicial response to domestic violence and guarantees greater legal protections for victims. In July, the Prosecutor General’s Office commented in the media that “in the
last two years” it had registered more than 9,000 cases of violence against women and children and had opened 5,456 administrative cases and 784 criminal cases.”

Women protest, but many are arrested.

It really is a straight man’s world in these parts.

The Switzerland of Central Asia


7D6576EF-93A2-4208-84B1-AE096E7CF3A8All of that said, Kyrgyzstan’s beautiful scenery and potential for mountaineering adventure is what continues to attract some tourists despite its internal political problems.  A landlocked country, it borders on Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is farther from the sea than any other individual country, and all its rivers flow into closed drainage systems which do not reach the sea. The mountainous region of the Tian Shan covers over 80% of the country, where Kyrgyzstan derived the handle, “the Switzerland of Central Asia.”


In 2006 and 2007, the number of tourists visiting was more than a million a year. However, due to the economic and political instability in the region, the number has declined in recent years.

Canadian Travel Advisory:  Exercise a high degree of caution

This was the pre-COVID travel advisory.  It states:

“The security situation is tense and there is a possibility of violent clashes and civil unrest in:

    • areas south and west of Osh
    • throughout the Fergana Valley
    • along the borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

There are landmines in the areas bordering Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Use officially recognized border crossings only, as landmines may be present in uncontrolled border areas.  Violent crime is common and criminals (including organized gangs) target foreigners due to their perceived wealth.”


This doesn’t necessarily mean not going to Kyrgystan after the COVID threat is gone.  The same advisory was present when I went to Egypt.  It does suggest it would not be advisable to travel alone, especially if you are a woman, and to use a tour company you trust with the best security knowledge on the ground and to follow the advisory about situational awareness and safety.  Only you can decide about your own personal safety.


Banned Airline Status

4147C026-D8AB-4278-8E68-7FA269D62503Kyrgyzstan appears on the European Union’s list of prohibited countries for the certification of airlines. This means that no airline which is registered in Kyrgyzstan may operate services of any kind within the European Union, due to safety standards which fail to meet European regulations.  No EU airline has flights to Kyrgyzstan (as of 2020). Travel between the European Union and Kyrgyzstan includes changing aircraft, most often in Moscow or Istanbul.

Nonetheless, if you are not risk-averse, there are some compelling reasons to visit and we’re visiting with utmost safety.


1F187A80-F7B6-41D3-A534-954539BD56C0The capital city, Bishkek has broad, tree-lined streets, plenty of parks and impressive Soviet white marble architecture, such as the buildings lining Ala-Too Square.  The central square is a good place to start.   The State History Museum is one of the most impressive.  Unfortunately the museum isn’t a history of the Kyrgyz people, but a Soviet history.  It is currently shown online as permanently closed, but I am not sure if that is really permanent or COVID-related.



The “White House,” the marble presidential office building in the Stalinist modern style, reportedly has a secret tunnel network linking it to Ala-Too Square on the other side of the street.


Also in the square is a monument dedicated to Manas, the iconic “Homer” of Kyrgyz culture and history.

Manas, the epic poem

His forefathers were all khans
Blessed by Kidir from the beginning,
His ancestors were all khans
Blessed b y Kidir from the beginning.
In places where they had stayed overnight
Sacred shrines were built, for
God had blessed them from the beginning.
In the places where they had passed by
A city with a bazaar was established, for

God had blessed them from the beginning.
They had exchanged greetings with twelve saints,
Learned writing from a caliph,
And thus were called great “sahibs.”
His first forefather is Böyönkhan,
From Böyönkhan is Chayankhan,
From Chayankhan, is Nogoykhan,
Nogoykhan was undefeatable
Those who fought with him were doomed.
The last had lived along the Sumpuk River.

– Translated by Elmira Köçümkulkïzi, University of Washington (Seattle)

6CBD0E8F-372E-4C4A-9A64-BD9B04051EBFThe Epic of Manas is perhaps the most important part of Kyrgyz culture, and is (arguably) the longest epic poem in the world. At 20 times longer than the Odyssey, this epictells the life of Manas, an epic warrior, and his son and grandson.  Each of its 500,000 lines contains 7-8 syllables and maintains alliteration and end rhyme.  Manas is the classic centerpiece of Kyrgyz literature, and parts of it are often recited at Kyrgyz festivities by specialists in the epic, called Manaschi. Manaschis tell the tale in a melodic chant unaccompanied by musical instruments. 

There are some videos on YT of Manaschis performing the poem, but this was absolutely the most adorable.




The city’s Opera and Ballet Theater has productions from fall to spring.



Osh Bazaar

This vast open-air market, the biggest in Bishkek, is well worth a visit.  There are heaps of all kinds of food, crafts, and housewares.

You’ll see a lot of small restaurants and food stalls where you can buy traditional Kyrgyz dishes and meals.  The food in Kyrgyzstan is hearty and delicious. Most meals consist of lamb, beef or chicken, served in dumplings, on top of noodles or rice or alongside potatoes.

Night Life

Bishkek is a party town, but the night clubs start late (think Madrid).  You are warned to dress up, and “face control is strictly enforced.”

92B99994-7342-46FF-8764-92C5F43F9E90Face control:  “the policy of upscale nightclubs, casinos, restaurants and similar establishments to strictly restrict entry based on a bouncer’s snap judgment of the suitability of a person’s looks, money, style or attitude, especially in Russia and other former Soviet countries.”



Time to get out of the city to explore the spectacular scenery.  We’ll stop off in the city of Toktogul on our way to beautiful Osh Province.    Oddly, and likely instructive, this is literally all I could find online about the city:  it is named after its most famous son – the musician Toktogul Satilganov. It is located on the northern shore of the Toktogul reservoir.

Toktogul Satilganov was a well-known poet and composer with democratic views even during the Tsarist Russia’s colonial era in Southern Kyrgyzstan (1876–1917).  His fame reached a high point in the Soviet era when his works were promoted by the state as a musician of the people and he was known throughout Kyrgyzstan simply as “Toktogul.”  Although his music was originally interpreted as dealing with the pre-revolutionary class struggle, he welcomed the revolution, writing in celebrationWhat woman gave birth to such a person like Lenin?

Some of his music has more oriental flavour than Ming Kyal, but this piece has a lightness, airiness, and a bracing quality that evokes the high mountain country and the chill of the alpine lakes.   See if you agree.

Osh Lake

6B285958-CE70-4405-B98D-7289321E7562Among Kyrgyzstan’s gorgeous mountains are the sparkling alpine lakes.  We’ll visit Kulun Lake, a rock-dammed lake in Osh Province. It is located at the altitude of 2856 m in catchment of Kulun River, right tributary of Tar River.


Well, this is our tour of Kyrgyzstan as I know it and the end of our tour of this part of Central Asia.  I’m sure if w were there we would continue for a few more days on our tour across this Kyrgyz landscape of endless soaring beauty.   

Ah, the Silk Road, caravans of camels, yak and horsemen.  The fragrant spices and teas, colourful silks and ceramics and probably some laudanem, too, traversing thousands of kilometres, some of it through this mountainous terrain.  Central Asia is a part of the world previously veiled in mystery to me.   Nomadic people, religion mostly Muslim, culture somewhat Russian, history former Soviet  – I’ve begun to understand how all these seemingly conflicting ideas merge into these two peoples, in some ways more successfully than others.  And I’ve seen the cultured cities and the spectacular mountainous scenery.

Thanks to you, I have a few ideas as to where we will go next in our flying armchairs…







Think Pink!


Solitaire, as its name suggests, is one of those out of the way places that never wanted to be popular.  Nothing more than four corners in the middle of the desert at the junction of C14 and C19, the major roads in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, it has a gas station, a general store and, perhaps most importantly, the only tire repair shop between Windhoek and Walvis Bay.  That Percy Cross, a burly Scot looking for tranquility, decided to stop here, bake apple pie and rename himself “Moose McGregor” seems highly improbable, but that’s exactly what he did.


And he made the best apple pie you’ve ever tasted, still served straight out of the oven.

Moose’s tranquility went out the window, but as one of the beloved characters of this land, we think he wasn’t disappointed.  Solitaire, too, belies its true identity – nothing like the reclusive, disinterested place one might assume from its name, it has become the best kind of neighbour.   The two farms that make up Solitaire, the businesses, and other area land holdings, are now part of the 45,000-acre Solitaire Land Trust, focussing on habitat preservation and conservation for the area’s wildlife.  Solitaire’s own fame has grown since it became the focus of the eponymous Dutch novel about author Ton van der Lee’s stay here.  Sadly, Percy Cross died in 2014 at the age of 58.  Solitaire is a diamond in the rough, and we think Percy was too.


Revivified after our pie and fuel tank refilled, we crossed the canyon of the Kuiseb River right on the Tropic of Capricorn to make our way to Moon Valley.

Since I am a Capricorn, I was interested.

Tropic of Capricorn



The Tropic of Capricorn is the dividing line between the Southern Temperate Zone to the south and the tropics to the north. It is the southernmost latitude where the sun can be seen directly overhead.  (The Northern Hemisphere equivalent of the Tropic of Capricorn is the Tropic of Cancer).   When this line of latitude was named in the last centuries BCE, the Sun was in the constellation Capricornus (Latin for goat horn) at the December solstice, the time each year that the Sun reaches its zenith at this latitude. The word “tropic” itself comes from the Greek “trope (τροπή)”, meaning to turn or change direction, referring to the fact that the Sun appears to “turn back” at the solstices.   


The line’s position is not fixed, but constantly changes because of a slight wobble in the Earth’s longitudinal alignment relative to its orbit around the Sun.  The line also crosses the Andes in Argentina and Chile.

Moon Valley


We drove through what was once a mountain range.  Erosion has reduced the Moon Valley to rolling, low-lying hills, and a lunar-like landscape of a thousand colours.  For the past two million years, the Swakop River and its many tributaries flowed through this valley, giving it life and shape.


The landscape had become so harsh it seemed it could no longer sustain life.  There was the beauty of the vast, open sky, but after passing through Moon Valley, the harsh environment seemed to carry on forever.

But as we neared the coast, a line of mist appeared on the horizon and a covering of mossy green lichens coated the sand.  Unique in the world, there are over 100 types of lichen in this desert.  This area is also the source for those tiny air plants that are sold everywhere – plants that don’t attach themselves to anything and require only a misting of moisture for water.

We finally arrived at the coast and pulled into the former British colonial naval port town of Walvis Bay.  We drove toward the lagoon, where I began watching hopefully for pink.

Status:  Vulnerable


We passed by a massive sea salt production facility and began to understand that this was why flamingos were here, and we got answers to a few other questions, too.   The algae and crustaceans they eat thrive in high saline or alkaline conditions.  According to Curiosity.com, flamingos make themselves at home on some of the most toxic, caustic bodies of water in the world. The water they prefer is often flesh-strippingly alkaline, and the ground that surrounds the shores absorbs those harmful properties. The scaly skin on their legs is tough enough to handle it, but their softer flesh is a little more at risk.  That’s why they sleep standing up.

Speaking of standing up, two scientists actually did an experiment with (already) dead flamingos and found that the joints in flamingos’ legs lock, allowing them to stand securely on one leg without losing their balance or using their muscles to stand.  Even dead, they remain standing when one leg is in the locked position.

Lesser and greater flamingos flock in large numbers to pools along the Namib Desert coast, particularly around Walvis Bay. They’re excellent fliers, and have been known to migrate up to 500 km overnight in search of proliferations of algae and crustaceans.  We must have seen over a thousand of them, along with a handful of pelicans and some plovers.  There were lots of colourful jellyfish here, too.

The greater and lesser flamingos are best distinguished by their colouration. Greater flamingos are white to light pink, and their beaks are whitish with a black tip. Lesser flamingos are a deeper pink – often reddish – colour, with dark-red beaks. Flamingo feeding is endearing, if not somewhat comical, worthy of two very short YT videos.

After a walk on the promenade along the mansion-lined lagoon, we continued on for a short drive on paved road to the former German colonial town of Swakopmund for two nights.




The Rijks

One of the world’s great art museums, the Rijksmuseum was built in 1885.  It closed for massive restoration from 2003 to 2013.  The massive entryway is now saturated with light.

Still Life


I remember being floored at the Louvres’ collection of Dutch still life.   The paintings, reflect the wealth and power in Amsterdam In the 17th century.  They also sometimes contained subterfuge, showing the contrast between the wealthy and the needy.  They often honoured nature and represented scientific accuracy in some of the most beautiful paintings ever painted.  The still life rose in popularity, expressing both objects of beauty and the philosophical climate of the times through carefully composed arrangements and groupings.

Breakfast with Crab, Willem Claeszoon Heda

The still life in the Netherlands in this period became a source of competition for artists and their patrons and inevitably, several subcategories emerged.  An ‘ontbijtje’, or small breakfast, became a particular genre as were flower pieces, banquets, paintings featuring the results of the hunt, and Vanitas paintings.   The Vanitas were paintings that reminded the rich burghers of the Netherlands that everything – including their wealth – was transient.  The peeled lemon here symbolises deceptive appearance: beautiful on the outside, sour within. Beware the beautiful looking man or woman, they may not be as sweet as they appear.   There was a tension that developed in this period between the new Protestant religion that devalued objects of wealth that had previously been used to display the power of the Catholic church and the rising nouveau riches who commissioned paintings that demonstrated their ostentation.

Still Life with Bouquet and Skull, Adriaen van Utrecht

Some versions of the Vanitas are less opaque, like this one at the Rijksmuseum, Still Life with Bouquet and Skull, Adriaen van Utrecht






A couple more stood out in my visit today – Pieter Claesz’ Still Life with a Turkey Pie – complete with turkey:



And de Heem’s Festoon of Fruit and Flowers:

Rembrandt (1606-1669)

“I can’t paint the way they want me to paint
and they know that too. Of course you will say
that I ought to be practical and ought to try
and paint the way they want me to paint.
Well, I will tell you a secret.
I have tried and I have tried
very hard,
but I can’t do it. I just can’t do it!
And that is why I am just a little crazy.”

– Rembrandt

Old Man with a Gold Chain

During the Dutch Golden Age, portraiture rose in popularity.  Members of the new merchant class enjoyed commissioning imaginative likenesses of their selves to display in their homes, and companies and other professional organizations would also acquire group portraits. Rembrandt was one of the greatest portraitists of this time, known for his impeccable capturing of his subjects’ distinct personalities and emotional idiosyncrasies.



The Original Selfie

When Rembrandt wasn’t being paid to paint other people’s portraits, he used himself as a study.  His extensive self-portraits provide a unique visual biography of the artist.  It would be a mistake to assume the vanity that exhibits itself in today’s selfies; Rembrant’s self-portraits are candid, vulnerable and inward-gazing.


Rembrandt wasn’t the only painter who made self-portraits.

“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone,
because I am the person I know best. ”

                                                                         – Van Gogh

Frida Kahlo, the artist from Mexico whom we’ll be seeing much more of next spring, used her self-portraits to express fundamental truths:  what it was to be a woman, what it was to be Mexican, what it was to be an individual and lastly, what it was to be her.  



Rembrandt also made important contributions to the development of art, surpassing even the inventiveness of Titian and Velazquez with his progressive handling of paint, making it as much a subject in the composition of a painting as his figures. Variations of brush stroke between loose and rough, or the manipulation of textures through scratching or with a palette knife, would all contribute greatly to a radically new signature style that would influence generations to come.  He also raised the etching process to an art form and arguably remains the greatest of all at creating etchings.

The Night Watch

Rembrandt goes so deep into the mysterious
that he says things for which there are no words
in any language. It is with justice that they call
Rembrandt ‘magician’  – that’s no easy occupation.”

                                                                           – Van Gogh


Rembrandt’s monumental masterpiece The Night Watch is considered by many to be the pinnacle of Golden Age Dutch painting. Formally titled “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq” the dramatically rendered military group portrait has an epic history all its own.  Rembrandt’s innovative decision to depict the military in a moment of action rather than a traditional composed group portrait, as well as the work’s nearly life-sized scale made the painting a triumph of 17th Century Dutch art.  At the time he made it, Rembrandt was at the height of his creative powers.  The subtle use of texture, shadow and light seem to reveal truths about his subjects that they may be unaware of themselves.  His greatest influence was Caravaggio, who took darkness and light to extreme.

David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio








Franz Hal’s The Meagre Company is a more typical posed Guard portrait of the day:


The Night Watch fame has only been heightened by its storied and indeed dramatic history. The painting has been subject to attack on three separate occasions — the last, an attack by knife, leaving the painting in need of extensive restoration.  It is under restoration now, too, but the museum has drawn the public into the process by keeping the piece on view with high-tech equipment and restorers working on the painting in plain sight.  The restoration work can be followed around the world online live each day in a project called “Operation Night Watch,” here.


Each portrait is a masterpiece within it – here are a few:


Vermeer (1632-1675)

Until more recently, so little was known about Vermeer’s life, he was referred to as “The Sphinx of Delft.”    Well-known and moderately successful within Delft, he never left the city and was devoted exclusively to his art.


Vermeer specialized in scenes of domestic bliss, the type of bliss which evaded him in his own life.  He worked slowly and with great care, which is why he was not prolific, having painted about 50 known paintings (compare that to van Gogh’s output!), of which only 34 survive.  There is no other 17th-century artist who employed the exorbitantly expensive pigment lapis lazuli (natural ultramarine) either so lavishly or so early in his career and this later would perhaps contribute to his financial ruin.

He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work, for example, the glint, in the eyes and pearl of the Girl with the Pearl Earring (at The Hague Museum), the appearance of wetness to her eyes and mouth, and the warm light captured in his Dutch interiors, so much so, that he became known as “the Master of Light.”  His primary influence was Leonardo da Vinci.

The Milkmaid


In Dutch literature and paintings of Vermeer’s time, maids were often depicted as subjects of male desire—dangerous women threatening the honor and security of the home, the center of Dutch life—Vermeer’s painting is one of the rare examples of a maid treated in an empathetic and dignified way, although established amorous symbols in this work, like the Cupid tile and the foot warmer on the floor, still exemplify the tradition.

Vermeer certainly meant for the sophisticated viewer to recall earlier paintings of comely milkmaids and kitchen maids, and the reputation of milkmaids in particular for sexual availability. In real life, their impromptu suitors were often “proper” gentlemen, not social equals, and of course the intended viewer of this painting (and those by Dou) was not a servant but a man of society and a connoisseur. Compared with the sort of ideal women we see in Young Woman with a Water Pitcher and other mature works by Vermeer, his “Milkmaid” exudes a very earthy appeal, with her pushed-up sleeves (revealing pale skin normally covered), her ample form (similar to that of women in slightly earlier works by Rubens), and her faint smile. For a male viewer of the time (in this case, Vermeer’s patron Pieter van Ruijven), the hints of sexuality would have given the painting an element of fantasy as subtle as the shadows on the whitewashed walls.

The painting has much more depth and richness seeing it first-hand, but here are my impressions of it:


Eventually Vermeer’s lack of productivity and extravant spending forced him into bankruptcy and he was barely able to support his wife and seven children.  In December 1675, at age 42, Vermeer died after a short illness. In a petition to her creditors, his wife later described his death as follows:

“…during the ruinous war with France he not only was unable
to sell any of his art but also, to his great detriment, was left sitting
with the paintings of other masters that he was dealing in. As a
result and owing to the great burden of his children having no
means of his own, he lapsed into such decay and decadence,
which he had so taken to heart that, as if he had fallen into
a frenzy, in a day and a half he went from being healthy
to being dead.”

I found at the following link a compelling video, a debate about who is the greater artist, Rembrandt or Vermeer, between the charismatic art critic and BBC favourite, Simon Schama, and the author of the novel which became the Scarlett Johannsen film, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier.  In reality, one doesn’t have to choose, but their insights into both artists are fascinating.


Serendipitously,  my brief stopover in Amsterdam which led me to the Dutch Golden Age, was en route to the City of Cape Town, the founding city of South Africa.  Cape Town was originally a Dutch outpost of the Dutch Golden Age, when Dutch settlers were sent to grow fresh fruits and vegetables for the ships of the Dutch East India Company on their trade route.  I’m headed there next, on a 12-hour KLM flight.


PS   Rembrandt was born Rembrant Harmenszoon van Rijn in 1606.  He added the silent ‘d’ to his signature for reasons unknown, in 1633.












7-course Chef’s Table lunch at The Rijks – oh yes, the museum’s Michelin-starred restaurant.  Where pictures speak louder than words.









I KNOW!!! Amazing.  And delicious.  Of course.


PS. They take their chicken very seriously here, it is a rarity because there isn’t enough land for the chicken to run.   This chicken is not on their regular menu because the supplier can’t tell them when they will be ready, he just knows and shows up with a few every few weeks.  I had wondered the night before at a dinner menu on which the chicken was priced higher than the halibut.