Expedition Map

Here is the map of our basic itinerary for our trip, although the city designations are not very accurate
as a depiction of where we will actually be spending our time.  More details will be forthcoming as this blog progresses, so stay tuned for more specific details about our actual itinerary, but suffice it to say these are some fascinating places with extremely rich histories.

This National Geographic Expedition is called: "The Human Journey - Tracing Legendary Peoples and Sacred Places with Spencer Wells".  To become familiar with his work, watch the PBS documentary "The Journey of Man" or the National Geographic documentary "The Human Family Tree".  We watched them multiple times to understand as much as we could, and prepare questions for Dr. Wells.

We depart for the trip on May 7th, and I plan to blog throughout this adventure as much as time (and wifi) allows.  Of course photos (from my new camera, the Ricoh GR, recommended by our trip photography advisor Bob Krist), fun facts (that I learn along the way), and exciting stories (there are always those being made daily) will be shared as much as possible, as well as links to as many things as seem reasonable to offer here on this blog.

Pre-trip Update

Four days to go until departure, and we're studying books, materials, and camera manuals frantically, beginning the packing process, and tying up our loose ends here at home and in SF.  This is partially a "test posting", as I've signed up to receive these blog updates in one of my email accounts and want to see how that works.

If you'd like to get emailed when I make updates to this blog, it's a few (easy) step process:
1)  Enter your email in the field at the very bottom of this page
2)  Click to receive the verification email
3)  Open that email and click the appropriate button to verify your address and desire for these updates.

Then you can enjoy following along from place to place as we progress on this extraordinary journey.

Otherwise, you'll have to remember to check back regularly to see what I've posted.

I also wanted to mention that the darker text in my entries are hyperlinks that will take you to the relevant websites that contain more information and/or videos etc. pertinent to the subject matter discussed.  For example, I've included links to the National Geographic page with the description and itinerary for our trip, Wikipedia pages for our tour guide, etc., as well as links to You Tube videos of his documentary films, etc.  Great resources worth a look indeed!

Stay tuned for the upcoming journey itself, and the resulting photos, stories, and information...  ;-)

London's Frolic

London was a fun time gathering with some good British friends, as we settled in to prepare for the exciting journey ahead.  Paul and Liz came down from up in Yorkshire on Saturday for the great times to begin. Although we hadn't seen each other in a few years, we picked up right where we had left off and it was like old times.  We gathered in our hotel lobby to get things started, and then set out on foot.

We walked to an Indian restaurant that was vegan friendly to accommodate their dietary choices.  It didn't open until noon, so we attempted to find a pub to kill the 20 minute wait; but alas, the two we ran across didn't open until noon either.  So we bumbled a bit, stood on a corner, then pounced on the place when they opened the door at 11:59.  It was good enough, but not worth a link or recommendation.  One can find as good or better a curry in London pretty easily.  

From there, we walked Jack to the Apollo Theater where he caught Kristen Scott Thomas in a performance of "The Audience", which he enjoyed (at least the parts where he could understand the accents).  Meanwhile, Liz, Paul and I walked SoHo to see the new developments.  They alarmed me a bit with mention of Denmark Street being torn down.  As it turned out, the demolition was one block away, so the famous block of music stores was spared (for now).  I popped into a few of the specialized music stores, plucked a guitar or two, and admired the wall of Les Pauls at the Gibson shop.  We had a pint at a pub that was formerly the Marquis Club, a vintage venue where the likes of the Rolling Stones played way back in the early sixties.  From there, we were meant to get on the Tube at Tottenham Court Road, as my feet were aching, and I was dying for a rest back at the hotel.  But it was right in the demolition zone and closed through next December!  

Consequently, our circuitous walk led us up Wardour Street, where we learned the old Intrepid Fox is GONE!  Another lost institution, and an old favorite as well.  It therefore only provided mild salvation when we found a place called Snowflake that serves what they call "luxury gelato": http://www.snowflakegelato.co.uk  

It was the vegan flavors seen through the window that enticed us in.  Although I went for a traditional stracciatella (chocolate chip), they both ate dark chocolate ginger flavor, which they loved:

And that night was our big, highly anticipated outing to the belly dancing show at Maroush Restaurant only a couple blocks from the hotel.  It started with a woman singing, kind of like karaoke, but she was a professional singer.  She really engaged the audience, and loved to pass the microphone to people.  When she discovered that I could sing, as well as improvise, I became a go-to favorite of hers, as you can see (excellent photo courtesy of Liz):

Then the second set was the big event: belly dancers!!!  Evidently there is a bust requirement for this job.  They were fun, engaging, and had great moves.  Jack gets awfully close:

Whew!  What a night!  We were STUFFED by the time we had: a crudite platter with hummus, about six appetizers, and three entrees, plus dessert.  But it was SO loud, it was like eating dinner on the dance floor of a thumping nightclub.  All had headaches by the time we walked out.  It was an experience, and a sight to behold, but for us, once should suffice:  http://www.maroush.com/restaurants-london

The next day, we wanted to cruise along the Thames River through London.  When we went to leave the hotel, we were warned about the V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day celebrations blocking streets downtown.  So we opted to take the Tube down there and cruise back.  Once we got to Greenwich Market area, we scoped out the boat situation, turned to hit the famous market, and promptly got a call from our pal Gizz telling us he was heading into town (from Peterborough), and that we were too far south for his convenience.  So we walked through a rinky-dink little local crafts market, and got right on the boat back towards the London Eye (ferris wheel).  Here we are cruising the Thames:

It's so funny, when I was a kid, a friend used to watch The Benny Hill Show (which I didn't quite get), and during the theme, the word Thames came on the screen, and I always thought it rhymed with James.  Little did I know... (it actually rhymes with gems, in case you didn't know)

When we got to the London Eye, Gizz was already there, but we had to find each other in the crowd, which took considerable time, as it was majorly thick down there at tourist central.  All were starved by that point, so we went to a lunch counter.  Liz and Paul ordered the only veg friendly dish they offered, and it was not available!  But we did sit in the sun for a while, with a beer etc., since Gizz only had an hour to spend with us.  It was great of him to come all the way down to see us with so little window of opportunity.  So we made the most and had a nice visit:

Time was short, and we all headed for the Tube, but before parting ways as we split onto our respective Underground lines, we got a quick final selfie:

On the way back to our hotel, the Yorkies were so starved, they got a banana and a couple nectarines at a sidewalk fruit stand, and we headed back to freshen up for dinner.

We settled on Italian as a good option for all, and the concierge recommended a good spot a few blocks from the hotel called Il Calcio.  http://ilcalcio.co.uk

As close a walk as it should have been, I walked right by the street it was on THREE TIMES, much to the frustration of our starving friends (sorry, gang).  When we finally got there, we all loved our dinner, especially the bruschetta, the Castelveltrano olives (a new introduction for Paul), and the pasta dishes.  This is out front afterwards, stuffed and happy (at last):

And back at the hotel, we enjoyed a night cap, at which I introduced Paul to my favorite scotch Lagavulin.  He was't familiar with the single malts, and may never go back to blended!

Monday was our day to part ways with our friends from the north, as work beckoned, as well as the cats.  But not without a final lunch.  A simple Google search turned up a veg friendly place a block from King's Cross, their train station.  And we can all highly recommend Foodilic, if anyone finds themselves in that neighborhood:  http://www.foodilic.com

We had a little time for shopping and roaming the area before the train departure, so we hit a "Vegan Boutique" that was a paradise for them (all vegan food, snacks, and clothing):

And after a final pint in the train station, we said our goodbyes and sent them back on up north.

That afternoon, we visited the National Geographic desk at the Four Seasons to register with our group, pick up our welcome packets with name badges, etc., and get the final app for our iPads with the lectures and in-flight entertainment.

The next post will encompass our final day in London, our welcome dinner with the group, and our departure from the U.K. by private jet.  So stay tuned...   ;-)

Further London report & take-off

On Monday night, we met up with a friend from Rancho Mirage (Palm Springs) who happened to be in London on the same dates as us.  We had dinner at Le Caprice (click here to visit the restaurant), and I can highly recommend it!

Tuesday was moving day, so we packed it in; and with bitter sweet farewells to our charming staff at the Radisson Blu Portman Square, caught one of those cute, boxy looking London cabs and headed over to the Four Seasons Park Lane (click here to visit the hotel).  What an elegant place that is.  Although I must say that for my personal taste, I prefer a more down-to-earth staff rather than all of that bowing and scraping they do at the ultra fancy hotels.  However, some of the amenities and room appointments are plush, and it was located walking distance from the famous Harrod's Department Store (click here to visit the store).  So while Jack paid a visit to the National Portrait Gallery (click here to visit the gallery), I took a stroll to and through Harrod's.  First stop was the food halls for a bowl of soup at the Bentley's counter.  It was delicious, but a little heavy on the booze flavor for my taste.  But y'all know me; definitely not a boozer!  The funniest part about Harrod's is how they call everything "luxury": luxury linens, luxury sportswear, luxury ice cream (okay, that one is an exaggeration).  But I did have a $20 sundae (seriously, zoom in on the menu); and must confess, it is not the best ice cream (so spoiled in SF!):

Then I went to the luxury mens department and was immediately approached with the old British, "Are you being served".  I was in fact looking for something in particular, and they couldn't have been more helpful scouring the inventory for a plethora of versions of the mid-layer I was after.  I settled on a Hugo Boss snap-front sweater with ample pockets in dark blue.  In the process, I also found an Armani bright blue, light weight rain jacket that folds into its own pocket.  Nice piece.  Stay tuned for pics of these new wardrobe items in various locations along our journey...

Back at the Four Seasons, I reunited with Jack for the welcome reception and dinner with our group.  They put on a nice cocktail party with delicious passed hors d'oeuvres.  We met, mixed, and mingled until the ballroom was opened and we took a seat with new friends Mame and Dan from Wisconsin.  I also sat next to Bill and Elaine Bugg from Virginia and learned all about what he did in his career as an actuary.  Very interesting indeed.  The highlight, though, was an introduction by the man who inspired our participation in this trip: Spencer Wells:

Later in the evening, before dessert was served, I noticed him chatting with Greg Anderson (click here for his (minimalist) Wikipedia page), and jumped at my chance to introduce myself.  I shared that he was the sole reason for my booking this trip and he asked if I was a geneticist.  lol  After brief introductions, I revealed that I had prepared some CDs, paperwork, and had a book for him, with he seemed interested to receive when they were presented, which was reassuring.  But, alas, it was time to rest for the long journey ahead the following day.

After a lavish buffet breakfast with the group back in the ballroom, we boarded coaches headed for Stanstead airport, where we "enjoyed" a VIP waiting lobby and security checkpoint on our way directly to the tarmac, where our private jet awaited:

Turns out it was literally the Rolls Royce of jet airplanes:

On board, the captain and co-captain greeted us personally:

And our wonderful Hungarian tour manager Eszter made the announcements:

And it turns out we keep our flight crew the entire trip.  Boy are they wonderful.  Best flight crew I've ever experienced.  The "boys" are campy as all get out, and the girls are pretty, sweet, and couldn't be more accommodating (pics later perhaps; we've got 'em for over three weeks and six or so flights):

And believe it or not, on this flight we all get our own pair of Bose noise canceling headphones to use for the duration and take home when it's over:

So that set us off on our way to Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.  This is now our last night here.  We board the plane again tomorrow heading for Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where I plan to blog our three day experience in this enchanting and historic land.  Stay tuned...   ;-)

Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

Next stop, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia!  Ever been???  Turns out it’s a very welcoming city.  In fact, at the airport, they proclaim them self “The city that loves you”!

So I’ll start with some fairly random shots from around town, mostly off the bus, but some while right on the street.  First thing to know is that they are watching...

But it’s a good thing, because even though the ATMs are some of the most beautiful in the world, security is still valuable:

I have no idea what it says, but sex sells even in The Republic of Georgia (and notice that Facebook is everywhere):

From the what-the-hell-does-that-say files, we have a food sign.  Of note is the price of a Coke, less than forty cents (2.3 Lari = $1):

And how come we don’t have an “Anonymous Sexology Clinic” in SF?

These beautiful little red flowers were as ubiquitous as the California Golden Poppies in SF:

And I was a big fan of the roadside cattle all over the place. They don’t really seem to have a home or owner, and roam right onto the roads!

I will try to capture the ambulances and police cars in the various countries to show how they call them in each place:

Tons of cats and dogs everywhere.  Some seem stray or feral, but most are actually pets of the restaurants, businesses, or homes:

We were told, while driving by, that these are the homes where some of the wealthiest people in Tbilisi live:

And going from the haves to the have nots, this was fascinating.  This is a neighborhood built for refugees from a local war.  I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember the name of the country or people, but did notice that they grow a lot of their own food, as all have fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

Like most cities, there is street art all over the place.

The Mtkvari River in Tbilisi runs through many countries, like Turkey and Azerbaijan:

And is crossed by a very modern pedestrian bridge called The Peace Bridge:

And just to prove that the Georgians have a sense of humor about their past:

Yup, that’s what a police station looks like in Georgia

 I was amazed to realize that we were a mere 1239 kilometers from Tehran

Of course there almost nowhere you can go without a casino!  For the record, I did not go there.  My reasoning was that if I won a bunch of Georgian Lari, what would I do with them?  ;-)

We took a day trip that included two fascinating stops, the first being the museum and childhood home of Joseph Stalin in the city of Gori.  Here is his statue and a photo of a couple familiar faces:

What was really interesting was his private railcar.  It was beautiful and very well equipped inside, especially for it’s time, with air conditioning, modern plumbing (including a large bathtub), and mahogany embellishments imported from Africa.  We were told that he would travel short distances by car, and longer trips were done by rail.  Since he crossed into countries with different gauge rails, they had to have three different sets of wheels that were changed to accommodate the applicable countries’ standards.  We also got to see the tiny one room rome where he and his parents lived when he was a child (not pictured).

This was Jack’s favorite monument in the old town of Tbilisi.  It is a clock tower that does a little puppet show on the hour (we were told).  Unfortunately, we were passing through not near the hour, and didn’t have time to wait...

This statue comes with a story, and sheds some light into the mentality of the culture in Georgia.  The lion’s son had just killed the woman’s son, and the mother lion and mother human were consoling each other over the loss.  How sweet!

Ok, how could there not be at least one phallic reference here.  This is the statue of the mother of Tbilisi, which, from this angle, does look quite evocative.  That protrusion about half way up is actually her sword.  She carries that in one hand to meet her enemies, and in the left hand is a bowl of wine with which to greet her guests.  See humans at the base as references for scale.

Here are a couple shots of Tbilisi from the mountain.  Notice the ultra modern buildings interspersed with the old.  In just about the middle of the first shot you can see The Peace Bridge, and in the second the cable cars taking people to the top.  We were driven up there, and then walked all the way down.

And for the can’t-find-that-in-California files...  We visited the National Museum in Tbilisi, and saw some very interesting things.  For the opening act, a beautiful gold necklace from the mid-5th century B.C.:

And if that wasn’t old enough, they are famous for having discovered in 1991 some 1.8 million year old bones and stone tools.  We enjoyed a lecture from David Lordkipanidze, who personally discovered these amazing fossils that were the oldest in Central Asia to have been unearthed.

One thing our guide mentioned was that Georgia was very tolerant and respectful of peoples various religions, and that they all coexist peacefully in their country.  We visited a Jewish synagog, located right downtown:

And if I may be indulged one selfie, this was taken at the baths in Tbilisi

We had a group lunch at a restaurant called Bread House, at which they make their own bread.  It’s similar to an Indian naan in that it is baked stuck to the walls of a very hot kettle shaped oven.  Believe it or not, the words you read on the window mean Bread House:

It was a delicious meal indeed, and you can see the menu and some remnants, as well as the guys who entertained us with beautiful voices and guitar accompaniment:

On our last day in Tbilisi, we made an excursion to the cave town of Uplistchike, which was like a mini Machu Picchu, but with caves instead of stone walls.

This was a theater where plays were performed.  Notice the ornate carved designs in the ceiling:

A church was built at the top in the 19th century:

Believe it or not, this hole in the ground (later covered by the grate) w the prison cell for wrong-doers.  It gets narrower as it descends, and the public could come by and shame the unfortunate souls held therein:

And to exit the cave town, we used a carved tunnel with a staircase.  Watch Jack as he descends:

Just outside the cave town, we ate lunch at a charming little rustic restaurant:

We learned that The Republic of Georgia is one of the rare places that has not only its own language, but its own alphabet as well, as you may have noticed in many of the pictures.  This is the Google page that shows up when you are in their country:

On our last evening in Tbilisi, we were treated to a very special dance performance done entirely by children and teenagers.  They were quite acrobatic and a thrill to watch.  At risk of severely diminishing the quality of my own photographs, I submit these photos courtesy of fellow traveler Bill Hallier from Fresno.

See y’all in Samarkand...  Thanks for taking a look.  All comments welcomed and responded to!  Peace.  ;-)  E.R.