Argentina & Uruguay


Knitting and Culinary Tour in Argentina and Uruguay

August 24 – September 6, 2020  (Fly home Sept. 7)  14 nights hotel.

Including Knitting Retreat with Nancy Marchant, Queen of Brioche!

Highlights

  • Relaxing four-day knitting retreat at a traditional estancia, above, with Nancy Marchant
  • Ferry across to Uruguay and UNESCO site Colonia del Sacramento
  • Street art and graffiti tour in Buenos Aires
  • Malbrigo yarn mill tour in Montevideo
  • Artisan crafts and antiques at the San Telmo weekend market
  • Flamboyant Tango dance performance
Portrait of Nancy Marchant, knitting teacher

Nancy models a pretty brioche scarf.

Nancy Marchant

On this trip, American author and knitwear designer Nancy Marchant, dubbed ‘Queen of Brioche,’ will be joining us from the Netherlands where she lives. In the Argentine countryside, we’ll have a private workshop with Nancy to learn about her brioche stitch specialty. She’ll show us some of the hundreds of different brioche patterns she has created.  And during the workshop, we’ll work on a beautiful brioche project designed by Nancy. Fortunately she will be at your elbow to help with any complexities. This is a technique I have not tried and I’m anxious to start a project with Malabrigo’s stunning merino yarn from Uruguay!

Details of flexible itinerary

We land in Buenos Aires at the EZE airport where you’ll be met by Cynthia and/or Gerardo for the taxi drive into the city. If you arrive after midnight, we will send a taxi driver who will have a sign with your name. Check into our charming hotel in the peaceful and pretty Palermo section of Buenos Aires. Discover typical foods and settle into the Argentine rhythm of life as we explore the city. A van will take us around the city on a tour to see the best of the amazing street art and graffiti. This display of pubic art is encouraged by officials and building owners, so artists can work in the open and set up scaffolding for enormous projects covering the sides of multi-story buildings.

 Knitters/travelers in front of street art, Buenos Aires. 2018

From Buenos Aires we’ll cross the Rio de la Plata on a modern ferry, to arrive in the tiny but mighty country of Uruguay. We’ll land in Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded by the Portuguese in 1680, it’s one of the oldest towns in Uruguay. Lonely Planet calls this town “irresistibly picturesque.” Our van and driver will pick us up at the ferry port and we’ll drive a few minutes into town to have lunch. Then we’ll continue to the capital, Montevideo, and check into our hotel. To thoroughly enjoy this historical city, we’ll stay for three ‘knitting- and yarn-related’ days in this pretty town.

Malabrigo Yarn Mill

One highlight of our time in Uruguay will be a tour of the Malabrigo yarn dyeing facility. We’ll see how they make some of their exquisite hues. At the Malabrigo Sheep ranch, the ranch chef and helpers will make an Asado or traditonal BBQ  lunch for us (no sheep eaten!). My favorite part of lunch is the little cast iron pans filled with Provolone that melts on the grill–yum! We’ll also meet the Merino and Corriedale sheep and learn about the soft fiber used for the famous yarn.

Woman buys woolen roving in a yarn store, Argentina

Marion buys merino roving in Buenos Aires.

Another highlight may be devouring a succulent Chivito! This is a the national dish of Uruguay. Basically it’s a huge sandwich composed of a slice of steak (churrasco), with ham, mozzarella, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and black olives. Some people add bacon, and a fried egg! French fries usually accompany a towering, messy-to-eat Chivito. A cheese/egg/tomato version can be ordered for non-meat-eaters. (Both Argentina and Uruguay are not vegetarian territory, but you’ll always find something to eat.)

Returning to Colonia after our days in Montevideo, we’ll learn about its colorful history on a walking tour over ancient cobblestone streets. Later there is free time to stroll the streets marveling at the colorful old homes and shady plazas. You can take photos, visit the cool shops and art galleries.  Lunch and dinner on your own in Colonia; it will be fun to choose some interesting places near the hotel. After a couple of nights at a charming and welcoming Posada, we take the ferry back to Buenos Aires.

Traditional empanada Cuisine of argentina

Cynthia’s fancy Empanada (Llamapanada) for lunch!

The Knitting Retreat at the Estancia

Next we drive south of Buenos Aires to the most gorgeous traditional Estancia (ranch). We’ll spend four nights here at the peaceful, woodsy ranch. We’ll immerse ourselves in knitting, making a gorgeous Brioche project created by Nancy, using our hand-dyed Malabrigo yarn. There will be plenty of time to share stories, relax, knit, eat and walk over the Estancia’s 250 acres, then drink some wine and relax some more!

In addition to Nancy’s workshop and brioche lesson, Cynthia will present an Update to Andean Knitting Powerpoint showing examples of some of the new innovations and techniques done in nearby Bolivia and Peru. The estancia house has roaring fireplaces in the library and living room so it is very cozy for hanging out in the evenings. As a break to your knitting, you can walk around the ranch and visit the horses, chat with new friends, or read a good book, between breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner.

Food at the Estancia is plentiful and delicious; we will savor the famous Argentine asado or BBQ of meats and sausages; vegetarians will have other options. The estancia cook will make some of Argentina’s most classic dishes and typical desserts. And one day we will make our own lunch of yummy empanadas with your favorite fillings! People from last year’s trip are still craving the rich homemade caramel topping called dulce de leche. Every day we will have tea and cookies in the afternoon, then dinner later, as is the custom.

Back to Buenos Aires

After four delightful days of knitting and sharing with new friends, we’ll head back to BA, as locals call it. Much of the city is reminiscent of Paris back in the day; the architecture and ambiance, down to the huge sycamore trees, are so similar!

One morning, we’ll take taxis to the fascinating Recoleta Cemetery which contains hundreds of huge and elaborate mausoleums, decorated with marble statues, in a wide variety of architectural styles. Many Argentine presidents are buried here, as well as Eva Peron and other famous people.

On our last Sunday, we’ll enjoy the scene at the lively San Telmo weekend art and antique market and we’ll have lunch with Argentine friends at a popular spot. At some point we’ll wander along the “Yarn Street,” within walking distance of our hotel. We found that the shops sell mostly synthetic yarns, but there are a couple that carry other fibers. And some of the synthetic is quite unusual and appealing, especially for children’s garments.

Street art tour guide explains the images.

The next and final day is at leisure: shop some more, relax and wander around the neighborhood, then pack up your suitcases for the trip home! Lunch on your own this free day. Fabulous Tango Show and Farewell Dinner on last night.

(Arrive August 24, depart for home September 7.)

Plan your plane departure time for September 7, but not too early in the morning, so you can enjoy the TANGO SHOW with Dinner and wine at Angelito’s the night before.

TOUR COST:  $5075.
(Single supplement available for $760.)
Includes 14 nights total: Accommodation in double/twin rooms in comfortable boutique hotels with private bath, and 4 nights at the historic estancia (hacienda) with shared bathroom. Limited number of singles at the estancia.

We all bought lots of Malabrigo yarn!

 

Also includes all meals except a few lunches and dinners on free days when the group is not together, all soft drinks and water during meals (and wine with meals at the estancia), three days of knitting with Nancy Marchant, taxi transportation into city from Buenos Aires airport (EZE) on group arrival date, all interior transportation by private Mercedes Sprinter van with professional driver, city taxis, and modern ferry boats (BuqueBus) round-trip across the river between Argentina and Uruguay; Street Art Tour of Buenos Aires in private van, Tango Show and dinner at Angelito’s, Malabrigo yarn of your choice for Nancy’s workshop project, and a special pattern/project designed by Nancy.

Wine flows quite freely in Argentina and Uruguay! It is included with some meals: at the estancia, at the sheep ranch BBQ, and at the Tango dinner show.

BTSA Latin American assistant Gerardo Guzmán will also accompany you, Nancy and Cynthia on the tour, to help translate menus, run for taxis, make dinner reservations, etc.

Continued below….

Street art Colonia 2016

Columnar street art near the riverside in Colonia.

Not included: International air fare, airport departure transportation, alcoholic beverages except wine as noted, personal items such as luggage porter tips, and between-meal snacks and water or drinks (if you haven’t eaten enough at our bountiful meals!). We will have bottled water in the van for road trips.

We will arrange your airport departure transportation for you, but it is not included because everyone departs at different times/flights.

Please make your plane reservations to arrive at EZE, the main Buenos Aires airport. If you arrive at either Buenos Aires airport on a different date from the group arrival date, you’ll pay the taxi into town, but the hotel will arrange your pickup at the airport.

For more images, see the Argentine and Uruguay trip Photo Gallery.

Textiles of Uzbekistan 2

Embroidered jackets.

Embroidered jackets.

This trip is FULL!

October 6 – 21, 2020   
Arrive October 6, depart for home Oct. 22.

Our 16-night all-new textile tour of Uzbekistan checks another fabulous adventure off your bucket list!

Overview:

Uzbekistan was an important trade center on the Silk Route, the ancient trade route linking China to the Mediterranean. And the textiles of Uzbekistan are stunning. It’s home to exquisite, hand-embroidered and dyed ikat textiles as well as four UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites. An Uzbek native textile expert will accompany our small group during the trip to be sure we meet the most talented artisans, and see the best textiles and most stunning architecture. The weather will be pleasant at this time of year.

The trip begins and ends in the exciting city of Tashkent. Along the whole route, we will visit exquisite blue-tiled madrasas and museums, as well as bustling handicraft bazaars. And true to our name, everywhere we’ll go ‘Behind the Scenes’ to meet silk ikat dyers and weavers, wood block printers, embroidery and ceramic masters, and more.

Next we’ll head for the Ferghana Valley, home of the most renowned ikat weavers. Over the course of four days there, we’ll visit many artisans, have a cooking class, see the textile bazaar and a silk factory. Later we’re off to Samarkand by fast train. This interesting city lies right on the Silk Road. Seasoned travelers consider Samarkand as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and we shall see why.

Next we’ll visit Bukhara, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We will travel there either by car or via the sleek, new train, if it is up and running. Blue mosques and textile bazaars also abound in this fabulous historical city.

Khiva is the next stop. We’ll skirt the Kyzylkum or Red Sand Desert, to see its wondrous architecture and carpet knotters before heading back to Tashkent for our last day. Next morning we’ll head to the airport for our homeward bound departure flights. Some convenient flights will be suggested.

Trip Details:

Stamps used to decorate the traditional Uzbek tandoor bread.

Arrive in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, on October 6. The guide and I will meet you at the airport then we’ll check in to our hotel. We’ll eat lunch and/or dinner as a group this first day, depending on what time you arrive. You can spend the day relaxing, or go out with us to explore the neighborhood. We may visit modern building of Chorsu Bazaar, or the Art Gallery of Uzbekistan, or the Human House Studio and Gallery where you can shop Uzbek arts and crafts, or enjoy cup of tea or coffee. (If you are interested in having interesting clothes custom-made, you can order them today. Then when we return to Tashkent at the end of the trip, your order will be ready for pick up.)

Camel parade painted on tiles by Joyce Carlson.

Blue tile decorations in Khiva.

In Tashkent, we’ll admire the turquoise-tiled domes of the historical  buildings such as the 16th Barak-Khan Madrasa complex. While in the old city, we’ll also visit a famous woodblock print studio and an embroidery workshop. The State Museum of Applied Arts showcases some of the best historical artistic examples of the textiles of Uzbekistan.

Long ago, the Imperial Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev built a mansion to display his extensive collections of unique national handicrafts. After the Soviet revolution, the government nationalized his cherished home opened it to the public as a museum. Polovtsev’s rare examples of folk art such as rugs and wood carvings are on display here. Collections also include traditional ikat weave garments. The museum often holds exhibitions and sales of works by contemporary Uzbek artists.

Famous Ferghana Valley

Man taking bread out of oven.

Baker with traditional Uzbek bread.

Our route to Ferghana Valley leads us via the low Kamchik pass at around 7400 feet. After 4 hours drive, we’ll stop in Kokand, to visit the incredible Khudayarkhan Palace and the Juma mosque, and to eat lunch. Taste the delicious homemade honey halva sold in the mosque courtyard!

In Margilan, an ancient Fergana Valley city, we’ll meet ikat dyers and weavers who are the most skilled in Central Asia.  Margilan was already well known in antiquity for the superb quality of silk was created here. A highlight will be the Kumtepa Bazaar, one of the best places to buy ikat fabrics (with resist-dyed warp) which are the most renowned textiles of Uzbekistan. It’s a great local market with an extensive area devoted to local textile crafts. Here you can buy ikat yardage to make robes, quilts or pillows, and other textile treasures.

There is also a workshop where you can buy the ikat fabrics directly from the weavers. Later we’ll visit the training center of the most renowned ikat weaver, whose workshop did custom work for Oscar de la Renta. We’ll visit the Yodgorlik Margilan silk factory, established in 1972. Today about 450 people, mostly women, work there, and the visit is fascinating. Every month the factory produces about 6500 yards of fabric including natural silk and silk blend fabric. Over the course of our four days  in the Ferghana Valley, we’ll visit many other artisans, the textile bazaar and a silk factory where we’ll witness the entire process from silkworm’s cocoon to the finished ikat. We’ll also learn to make some authentic dishes in our cooking class.

Samarkand

Bibi Khanym Mosque, Samarkand.

From Margilan we go back through Tashkent, then we’ll board the air-conditioned fast train to Samarkand, today the third largest city in Uzbekistan. Once the capital, and an important trade stop along the Silk Road, Samarkand sits at the center of the country. UNESCO included Samarkand in the list of the World Heritage of Humanity almost twenty years ago. Samarkand was at the forefront of Islamic architecture, witnessed in the old town built in typical medieval fashion. There, numerous mosques, madrasas and homes line the narrow streets. We can visit a silk carpet factory, the famous Afrosiab museum and the Observatory of Ulughbek.

Prominent landmarks include the Registan, a plaza bordered by 3 ornate, majolica-covered madrasas dating to the 15th and 17th centuries, and the towering tomb of Timur (Tamerlane), founder of the Timurid Empire. Modern Samarkand is a unique city: it combines the spirit of modernity and old historical grace. The western part of the city is more modern, with architecture reflecting 19th and 20th c. European design and style, influenced by the Russian aesthetic. The city is often referred as a crossroad of cultures.

Next stop Bukhara!

The ancient city of Bukhara remains an exciting place to explore the architecture and textiles of Uzbekistan. This city has amazing mosques, galleries and museums. The age-old caravansarai and madrasas have often been converted into artists’ studios and workshops. And several ancient, domed bazaars here offer carpets, suzanis (embroidered panels) and jewelry. We’ll explore these as well as an artisan center where we can learn how some typical crafts are made.

While in Bukhara, we must see the Emir’s summer palace, Sitorai Mohi Hosa. It’s an ‘over-the-top Russian/Central Asian confection built in 1911.’  The palace also houses the excellent Bukhara Museum of Decorative Arts where the suzani collection will enthrall the embroidery lovers among us. The main building houses royal furniture of the 19th – 20th centuries, Japanese and Chinese porcelain, palace artifacts from Russia, and jewelry by well-known Bukharan masters.

At the center of the garden there is the octagonal pavilion, with an exhibition called the ‘Clothes of Urban Dweller of Bukhara in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.’ The exhibition includes an interesting collection of wealthy citizen’s clothes, belts, scarves, and shoes decorated with gold embroidery. We’ll visit other architectural wonders such as the 9th century Ismael Samani Mausoleum, a perfect cube made of baked bricks in basket weave pattern.

Khiva

Onward from Bukhara to Khiva! This is a long drive, but the desert landscape is compelling: vast steppes, shepherds and their flocks, odd villages, military outposts and unusual vegetation. We’ll cross the Amu Darya river, known as the Oxus in ancient times. Ichan Kala, the walled, ancient, inner city of Khiva made an important stop on the Silk Road. Traditionally known as Khorezm, Ichan Kala was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and also the largest surviving walled city in the central part of Asia.

Once famous for its ruthless emirs, Khiva is now touted as the most intact and remote of Central Asia’s silk road cities. Today it’s considered the most homogeneous example of Islamic architecture in the world.  The city’s rulers, the Khans of Khiva, originally built the wall to keep out colonial threats. However, Itchan Kala was later preserved by Russian colonial rulers.  Nearly sixty largely Islamic historic monuments are preserved in the old city, as the State Historical Archaeological Museum. These tiled and mosaic-encrusted treasures include palaces, mosques, minarets and pillars.

Textiles abound in Khiva. We’ll visit another spectacular museum of handicrafts, and several grand architectural wonders. There is a particularly wonderful carpet shop in Khiva also. Hand-knotted examples here show patterns that were inspired by the designs of the tiles and doors of the city.  One exciting visit in Khiva will be to the Khiva Suzani Center to see stunning embroidered examples from all over Uzbekistan, below.

Sacred Uzbek bread

Bread sellers showing off decorative stamped designs.

We’ll eat delicious food everywhere and learn about the local cuisine in at least one cooking class. The diet includes grilled meats and stews such as pilaf or plov, with lamb/mutton. Usually cooks serve Uzbek meat dishes with vegetable kebabs and fresh salads.

Traditionally, lamb is the most popular meat among Uzbek people; They don’t eat a lot of beef but people of coastal regions naturally catch and consume varieties of fish.

Bread is considered sacred by Uzbek people. The traditional round and flat bread, called non or lepeshka,  and is baked in a tandyr/tandoor (clay oven), after which it comes out toasted and crispy. Bread of each region has own particular method of leavening, its own baking techniques and its own inimitable taste. For instance, delicious flaky bread – katlama non, each layer smeared with oil or sour cream – typifies the Fergana Valley version. Some lepeshkas are prepared with onion or meat baked inside the dough.

Traditionally Uzbek dinner guests never cut bread with a knife. At the start of the meal, they  break the bread into pieces by hand and place it on the table near each place setting. And they take care not to act disrespectful by setting the bread upside down on the table (with its flat side up). We will learn about the cusine as well as as the polite Uzbek way of dining. Two evening meals will be on your own, to lounge at the hotel with a picnic of bread, cheese and fruit, or to find an interesting place to try.

At the end of our adventure, after seeing a million suzanis and ikats, we’ll drive to nearby Urgench for early flights back to Tashkent. The rest of today is free to explore this city on your own — to see something you missed the first time, visit more museums, see the 6pm performance at the Theater of Opera and Ballet, or visit the local Chorsu bazar for some final gift treasures. Or just relax at the hotel and organize your luggage. Lunch on your own. Pack up bags tonight, before our Farewell Dinner.

October 21 is the last included night of hotel accommodation.

On October 22 we’ll fly home. We will suggest some convenient flights.

Trip Cost:  $4250

Single Supplement: $450

The 16-night tour cost includes:

  • Transportation by air-conditioned Minibus with 24 seats
  • Accommodation in double rooms with private bathrooms.
  • Expert Uzbek English-speaking guide.
  • 15 Lunches and 15 Dinners (2 meals will be on your own)
  • All breakfasts in the hotels.
  • Entrance fees to all sites and monuments.
  • Flight from Urgench-Tashkent
  • All Tashkent airport transfers
  • Train travel between Tashkent and Samarkand, Samarkand
    and Bukhara (and Bukhara-Khiva if launched by 2019).
  • Transfers Samarkand railway station to downtown.
  • Transfers Bukhara railway station.
  • 1 liter of bottled water per person per day.
  • Cooking master class, embroidery master class
  • Wood Block printing lesson
  • Ikat textile weaving demonstration/lesson

Not included:

  •  International flights to and from Uzbekistan
  •  Visa and passport fees
  •  2 Dinners (buy fruit and cheese to eat at the hotel, or go out)
  •  Tips for guide and driver; amounts will be suggested.
  •  Mandatory travel insurance (more about this later)

 

 

Blue tiled building  by Kathleen Walsh.
Bread stamps by Dreamstime © 45304376. Antonella 865
Baker: DT © Mariusz Prusaczyk
Blue tile camel caravan by Joyce Carlson
Photo #11 DT © Evgeniy Fesenko
Photo #12  DT ©Sergey Dzyuba
Map: ©Ontheworldmap.com

 

 

 

 

Textiles of Uzbekistan

Chapan, coat of long panels of silk warp ikat, from Bukhara.

May 3 – 18, 2020
Arrive May 3, depart for home May 19.
THIS TRIP IS FULL. Sorry.
The second Uzbekistan trip is also full. Check back occasionally for 2021 and send an email to get on the announcement list.

Our 16-night all-new textile tour of Uzbekistan checks another fabulous adventure off your bucket list!

Highlights:

Uzbekistan was an important trade center on the Silk Route, the ancient trade route linking China to the Mediterranean. And the textiles of Uzbekistan are stunning. It’s home to exquisite, handwoven silk ikats (right) as well as four UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites. An Uzbek native textile expert will accompany our small group during the trip to be sure we meet the most talented artisans, and see the best textiles and most stunning architecture.

Two smiling women hold up a suzani textile.

Uzbek ladies at the market. Photo credit: K.Walsh

The trip begins and ends in the exciting city of Tashkent. Along the whole route, we will visit exquisite blue-tiled madrasas and museums, as well as bustling handicraft bazaars. And true to our name, everywhere we’ll go ‘Behind the Scenes’ to meet silk ikat dyers and weavers, wood block printers, embroidery and ceramic masters, and more.

Next we’ll head for the Ferghana Valley, home of the most renowned ikat weavers. Over the course of four days there, we’ll visit many artisans, the textile bazaar and a silk factory. We’ll also learn to make some authentic dishes in our cooking class. Later we’re off to Samarkand by fast train. This interesting city lies right on the Silk Road. Seasoned travelers consider Samarkand as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and we shall see why.

Inside dome detail of intricate glazed ceramic tile work.

Next we’ll visit Bukhara, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We will travel there either by car or via the sleek, new train, if it is up and running. Blue mosques and textile bazaars also abound in this fabulous historical city. Next we drive to Khiva, skirting the Kyzylkum or Red Sand Desert, to see its wondrous architecture and carpet knotters before heading back to Tashkent for our last day.

Next morning on May 19th we’ll head to the airport for our homeward bound departure flights. Some convenient flights will be suggested.

Trip Details:

Arrive in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, on May 3. The guide and I will meet you at the airport then we’ll check in to our hotel. There you can spend the day relaxing, or go out with us to explore the neighborhood. We may visit modern building of Chorsu Bazaar, or the Art Gallery of Uzbekistan, or the Human House Studio and Gallery where you can shop Uzbek arts and crafts, or enjoy cup of tea or coffee. (If you are interested in having interesting clothes custom-made, you can order them today. Then when we return to Tashkent at the end of the trip, your order will be ready for pick up.)

Depending on what time you arrive, we’ll eat lunch and/or dinner as a group this first day. In Tashkent, we’ll also admire the turquoise-tiled domes of the historical  buildings such as the 16th Barak-Khan Madrasa complex. While in the old city, we’ll also visit a famous woodblock print studio and an embroidery workshop. The State Museum of Applied Arts showcases some of the best historical artistic examples of the textiles of Uzbekistan.

Long ago, the Imperial Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev built a mansion to display his extensive collections of unique national handicrafts. After the Soviet revolution, the government nationalized his cherished home and opened it to the public as a museum. Polovtsev’s rare examples of folk art such as rugs and wood carvings are on display here. Collections also include traditional ikat weave garments. The museum often holds exhibitions and sales of works by contemporary Uzbek artists.

Serving the national dish of rice and lamb, called plov.

Famous Ferghana Valley

Our route to Ferghana Valley leads us via the low Kamchik pass at around 7400 feet. After 4 hours drive, we’ll stop in Kokand, to visit the incredible Khudayarkhan Palace and the Juma mosque, and to eat lunch. Taste the delicious homemade honey halva sold in the mosque courtyard.

In Margilan, an ancient Fergana Valley city, we’ll meet ikat dyers and weavers who are the most skilled in Central Asia.  Margilan was already well known in antiquity for the superb quality of silk was created here. A highlight will be the Kumtepa Bazaar, one of the best places to buy ikat fabrics (with resist-dyed warp) which are the most renowned textiles of Uzbekistan. It’s a great local market with an extensive area devoted to local textile crafts. Here you can buy ikat yardage to make robes, quilts or pillows, and other textile treasures.

There is also a workshop where you can buy the ikat fabrics directly from the weavers. Later we’ll visit the training center of the most renowned ikat weaver, whose workshop did custom work for Oscar de la Renta. We’ll visit the Yodgorlik Margilan silk factory, established in 1972. Today about 450 people, mostly women, work there, and the visit is fascinating. Every month the factory produces about 6500 yards of fabric including natural silk and silk blend fabric. Over the course of our four days  in the Ferghana Valley, we’ll visit many other artisans, the textile bazaar and a silk factory where we’ll witness the entire process from silkworm’s cocoon to the finished ikat. We’ll also learn to make some authentic dishes in our cooking class.

Samarkand

Bibi Khanym Mosque, Samarkand.

From Margilan we go back through Tashkent, then we’ll board the fast train to Samarkand, today the third largest city in Uzbekistan. Once the capital, and an important trade stop along the Silk Road, Samarkand sits at the center of the country. UNESCO included Samarkand in the list of the World Heritage of Humanity almost twenty years ago. Samarkand was at the forefront of Islamic architecture, witnessed in the old town built in typical medieval fashion. There, numerous mosques, madrasas and homes line the narrow streets. We can visit a silk carpet factory, the famous Afrosiab museum and the Observatory of Ulughbek.

Prominent landmarks include the Registan, a plaza bordered by 3 ornate, majolica-covered madrasas dating to the 15th and 17th centuries, and the towering tomb of Timur (Tamerlane), founder of the Timurid Empire. Modern Samarkand is a unique city: it combines the spirit of modernity and old historical grace. The western part of the city is more modern, with architecture reflecting 19th and 20th c. European design and style, influenced by the Russian aesthetic. The city is often referred as a crossroad of cultures.

Next stop Bukhara!

The ancient city of Bukhara remains an exciting place to explore the architecture and textiles of Uzbekistan. This city has amazing mosques, galleries and museums. The age-old caravansarai and madrasas have often been converted into artists’ studios and workshops. And several ancient, domed bazaars here offer carpets, suzanis (embroidered panels) and jewelry. We’ll explore these as well as an artisan center where we can learn how some typical crafts are made.

While in Bukhara, we must see the Emir’s summer palace, Sitorai Mohi Hosa. It’s an ‘over-the-top Russian/Central Asian confection built in 1911.’  The palace also houses the excellent Bukhara Museum of Decorative Arts where the suzani collection will enthrall the embroidery lovers among us. The main building houses royal furniture of the 19th – 20th centuries, Japanese and Chinese porcelain, palace artifacts from Russia, and jewelry by well-known Bukharan masters.

At the center of the garden there is the octagonal pavilion, with an exhibition called the ‘Clothes of Urban Dweller of Bukhara in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.’ The exhibition includes an interesting collection of wealthy citizen’s clothes, belts, scarves, and shoes decorated with gold embroidery. We’ll visit other architectural wonders such as the 9th century Ismael Samani Mausoleum, a perfect cube made of baked bricks in basket weave pattern.

Khiva

Onward from Bukhara to Khiva! This is a long drive, but the desert landscape is compelling: vast steppes, shepherds and their flocks, odd villages, military outposts and unusual vegetation. We’ll cross the Amu Darya river, known as the Oxus in ancient times. Ichan Kala, the walled, ancient, inner city of Khiva made an important stop on the Silk Road. Traditionally known as Khorezm, Ichan Kala was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and also the largest surviving walled city in the central part of Asia.

Once famous for its ruthless emirs, Khiva is now touted as the most intact and remote of Central Asia’s silk road cities. Today it’s considered the most homogeneous example of Islamic architecture in the world.  The city’s rulers, the Khans of Khiva, originally built the wall to keep out colonial threats. However, Itchan Kala was later preserved by Russian colonial rulers.  Nearly sixty largely Islamic historic monuments are preserved in the old city, as the State Historical Archaeological Museum. These tiled and mosaic-encrusted treasures include palaces, mosques, minarets and pillars.

Textiles abound in Khiva. We’ll visit another spectacular museum of handicrafts, and several grand architectural wonders. There is a particularly wonderful carpet shop in Khiva also. Hand-knotted examples here show patterns that were inspired by the designs of the tiles and doors of the city.  One exciting visit in Khiva will be to the Khiva Suzani Center to see stunning embroidered examples from all over Uzbekistan, below.

Sacred Uzbek bread

Bread sellers showing off decorative stamped designs.

We’ll eat delicious food everywhere and learn about the local cuisine in at least one cooking class. The diet includes grilled meats and stews such as pilaf or plov, with lamb/mutton. Usually cooks serve Uzbek meat dishes with vegetable kebabs and fresh salads.

Traditionally, lamb is the most popular meat among Uzbek people; They don’t eat a lot of beef but people of coastal regions naturally catch and consume varieties of fish.

Bread is considered sacred by Uzbek people. The traditional round and flat bread, called non or lepeshka,  and is baked in a tandyr/tandoor (clay oven), after which it comes out toasted and crispy. Bread of each region has own particular method of leavening, its own baking techniques and its own inimitable taste. For instance, delicious flaky bread – katlama non, each layer smeared with oil or sour cream – typifies the Fergana Valley version. Some lepeshkas are prepared with onion or meat, baked inside the dough.

Traditionally Uzbek dinner guests never cut bread with a knife. At the start of the meal, they  break the bread into pieces by hand and place it on the table near each place setting. And they take care not to act disrespectful by setting the bread upside down on the table (with its flat side up). We will learn about the cusine as well as as the polite Uzbek way of dining. Two evening meals will be on your own, to lounge at the hotel with a picnic of bread, cheese and fruit, or to find an interesting place to try.

On May 18th, at the end of our adventure, after seeing a million suzanis and ikats, we’ll drive to nearby Urgench for early flights back to Tashkent. Today is a free day to explore this city on your own — to see something you missed the first time, visit more museums, hit a 6pm performance at the Theater of Opera and Ballet, or visit the local Chorsu bazar for some final gift treasures. Or just relax at the hotel and organize your luggage. Lunch on your own. Pack up bags tonight, before our Farewell Dinner. May 18th is the last included night of hotel accommodation.

On May 19th we’ll fly home. We will suggest some convenient flights.

Trip Cost:  $4250

Single Supplement: $450

The tour cost includes:

  • Air conditioned Minibus with 24 seats
  • Accommodation in double room with private facilities.
  • Expert local guide.
  • All breakfasts in the hotels.
  • Entrance fee to all sites and monuments.
  • Flight Urgench-Tashkent
  • All Tashkent airport transfers
  • Train travel between Tashkent and Samarkand, Samarkand
    and Bukhara (and Bukhara-Khiva if launched by 2019).
  • Transfers Samarkand railway station to downtown.
  • Transfers Bukhara railway station.
  • 1 liter of bottled water per person per day.
  • 17 Lunches and 15 Dinners (2 dinners will be on your own)
  • Cooking master class, embroidery master class
  • Wood Block printing lesson
  • Ikat textile weaving demonstration/lesson

Not included:

  •  Flights to and from Uzbekistan
  •  Visa and passport fees
  •  2 dinners (buy fruit and cheese to eat at the hotel, or go out)
  •  Tips for guides and driver.
  •  Mandatory travel insurance (more about this later)
  •  Any excess baggage charges

Photos # 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 14  by Kathleen Walsh.
Plov – rice dish by DT © Anna Zazdravnaya
Photo #11 DT © Evgeniy Fesenko
Photo #12  DT ©Sergey Dzyuba
Map: ©Ontheworldmap.com

 

 

 

Textiles of Bhutan

Weaving on loom in progress

Exquisite silk textile in progress; Bhutan.

Textiles, Temples & Tshechus: Bhutan 2

February 28- March 15, 2020 – Limited space available.
(Fly home March 16. See bottom of page for details.)

November 30 – December 17, 2019 trip is FULL. Fly home December 17 late or December 18.

Join us on a fabulous 17-night textile tour of Bhutan to see exquisite weaving, pristine wilderness and stunning Buddhist temple monasteries! We’ll attend a festival called a tshechu where spectators show off their best traditional clothing, and costumed dancers wear carved wooden masks. And we’ll meet warmhearted people and eat delicious new foods.

Land of Happiness

Bhutan is a tiny landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas, with a progressive young king, and a beautiful queen who promotes textiles and weaving. The country represents a recently-added destination for Behind the Scenes, and we are very excited about it. Many people had asked me about organizing a tour focusing on the textiles of Bhutan. So I, Cynthia, traveled there last fall with some travel professional friends to plan two new tours. I loved everything about the country! The ultra-decorated buildings, the crisp air, the dark green forests, the kind people and the amazing handwoven clothing. I met charming guides and affable, professional drivers. Our guide made us laugh often, and he told the most interesting stories. He will accompany us on the new trips, so you will get to meet him. The amenable driver even hiked up to the Tiger Nest Monastery with us to help on the steep trail.

This trip reflects authentic Bhutan. The Bhutanese have safeguarded their Buddhist culture and ancient way of life, and it’s the traditional aspects that lend great charm and value to the country. We’ll spend time in the less-visited and more rural eastern regions where the weaving and little villages are spectacular.

White house in Bhutan countryside.

Valley landscape in western Bhutan.

Beautiful Bhutan!

As we travel, the lush paddies in the valleys, and the hills covered with thick forests will amaze you . Because of an avid Forest Management program, protected blue pine, spruce and cypress forests cover over 60% of the country. Bhutan’s government did not allow outsiders to visit for centuries, but now the people welcome travelers. The infrastructure of Bhutan improves annually, thus there are now better roads and hotels than in past years.

Traveling from west to east, our group will meet in New Delhi, and conquer our jet-lag with two nights there. We’ll have a city tour that includes the Crafts/Hand-Loom Museum; you’ll learn about how different the textiles of Bhutan are from Indian examples.

Then next day, we fly to Paro, Bhutan. And the adventure begins! We’ll visit both Paro and Thimpu and see a fabulous festival before heading east. See details below for the fabulous Tiger’s Nest Monastery visit, outside of Paro.

Thimpu, the Capital

Here we’ll visit the important and up-to-date Textile Museum, started by the modern, young Queen. Then we’ll check out a weaving center, and the Handicrafts Emporium where they sell various crafts plus handwoven fabrics.

Bhutan Tsechu festival dancer with wooden mask salutes the crowd.

Masked dancer at a Buddhist festival, Paro.

We’ll visit several large towns such as Bumthang plus many villages in the areas where the art of weaving excels. The whole eastern region is relatively undiscovered compared to the west, and it’s the area famous for the high quality handwoven textiles of Bhutan. Many of these destinations also have spectacular dzongs or ancient fortress-type building complexes.

Dzongs are unique architectural forms in Tibet and Bhutan. Built mainly in the seventeenth century as fortresses and centers of religious authority, today they continue to serve as important administrative and monastic centers.

As recently as 1998 by royal decree all new and remodeled buildings had to be be constructed with multi-colored carved wood façades, small arched windows, and sloping roofs. Architecture typical of Bhutan includes highly decorative window frames, carved columns, and painted beams. We will stay in hotels with this sort of decoration and will stop to check out other buildings with intriguing painted images.

Tiger Nest’s Monastery Details

Tiger's Nest Monastery perched on the cliff near Paro, Bhutan.

Tiger’s Nest Monastery clings to the cliff side.

And this wouldn’t be a trip to Bhutan without the chance to see the famous Tiger’s Nest (Paro Taktsang) Monastery in the forested mountains outside of Paro. The day-trip to the cliff monastery begins in Paro and we return to our hotel for the night.

It was constructed on the side of a cliff in 1692, near the cave where Guru Rinpoche first meditated. It’s said that he’s the person who introduced Buddhism into Bhutan. A legend relates that Guru Rinpoche flew from Tibet to this steep cliff on the back of a tigress, thus giving it the name “Tiger’s Nest.”

Cynthia Samake riding to the Tiger's Nest Monastery on sorrel horse, in Bhutan.

Cynthia, riding to the halfway point of Tiger’s Nest.

The trek will be optional with the ascent either on foot or horseback. Horses climb only to the tea house at mid-point up the trail; you’ll have a good view of the Tiger’s Nest from here. The horses are healthy and don’t have to wear a bit, so they can pick their way along the rocky trail to find the best route. Many people walk up the rocky trail, so if you are fairly fit, it’s possible to climb up the trail on foot. (Good hiking shoes are essential for this slippery trail.) For the last and steepest part from the tea house to the monastery, the guide will walk with those who want to climb.

Meanwhile, the rest of us can sit below at the tea house, relaxing among the prayer flags, drinking milky chai tea, and staring upward at the beautiful buildings on the cliff. It’s necessary for everyone to hike back down on foot. The descent isn’t bad if we go slowly; some people might want walking sticks for this part. And if a mountain trek isn’t your cup of tea, you can relax at the hotel or explore Paro instead!

Textile Traditions

In 2005, the Queen of Bhutan  created The Royal Textile Academy that we will visit in Thimpu. She also encouraged weaving centers so that the country’s youth may learn to appreciate, conserve and promote the weaving and fabric arts done all over the nation. She writes that “…the thagzo or art of weaving is a symbol of national identity that continues to play a significant role in all religious, official and social events. Weaving represents the very heart and soul of the country…” It’s interesting to note that while the women weave the clothing and fabrics, it’s the men who embroider and appliqué items such as temple hangings, saddle covers, shoes, hats, and ceiling canopies.

Men in traditional gho.

The guide and driver show off their typical gho.

In the past, Bhutanese citizens followed an imposed dress code. Everyone wore handwoven traditional clothing: the gho for men and the kira for women. Nowadays that has changed, and it’s required only for government and office workers, and for school uniforms. Some young people have begun to adopt jeans and sweatshirts, but many people still proudly wear typical outfits everyday. And for festivals and special occasions such as weddings, everyone dons their very best and latest styles of handmade national dress.

Traditional Dress for Men and Women

Men wear the gho, a wrapped knee-length robe with deep white cuffs, tied at the waist by a woven belt known as kera. The pouch which forms at the front traditionally was.used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Today men store their cell phones and wallets in the pouch; see photo at left of men in gho with bulging front pouches.

Complex weaving technique, typically used to make a wrap-dress in three panels.

Detail of supplementary weft weaving of one kira panel, out of three.

Women wear the kira, an ankle-length dress made of handwoven panels, wrapped around the body and pinned at the shoulders. Over the kira they add a satin or brocade outer jacket known as a tego, with an inner blouse or layer called a wonju. However, people of ethnic groups such as the Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan generally wear traditional clothing that differs from the rest of the Bhutanese population.

Women dance at a festival in Bhutan, wearing traditional weaving in the form of skirts.

Women dance in traditional hand-woven kira.

Weaving

We’ll visit many weaving households and some larger weaving organizations in various towns. Also, we’ll learn about the incredibly labor-intensive techniques used to make the women’s wrap dresses called kiras. The best place to see the women showing off their most exquisite outfits is of course at the Buddhist celebrations that we will attend.

For the finest pieces, weavers use complex pickup techniques that sometimes involve wrapping the weft around the warp in specific patterns. This is called trima, and often looks like a chained embroidery technique. Because a finely detailed kira (above) can take almost a year to weave, a very intricate piece can cost several thousand dollars. Belts are stunning too, and more affordable. As we visit the weaving centers, we’ll appreciate the huge variety of designs and color combinations, and perhaps find some textiles to buy!

TOUR COST:  $5620
 17 nights
Single Supplement:  $850

Terraced bright green rice fields, Bhutan

Bhutan landscape with rice fields.

Includes day tour of New Delhi with Textile Museum, visa for Bhutan (see below), 17 nights in comfortable hotels in double/twin rooms with private bath, all meals  (often buffets in our hotels) except one lunch, all soft drinks and bottled water with meals, airport transfers for all flights, city tour of New Delhi, two flights from Delhi to Paro and Guwahati to Delhi; English-speaking Bhutanese licensed guide during the trip, all in-country ground travel by private van with professional driver, tips for guide and driver, horseback transport to Tiger’s Nest Monastery tea house, entrance to all museums and sites on the itinerary, and an 8″ x 11″ photo book documenting your trip.

Not included: International airfare, INDIA visa, alcoholic beverages, personal items such as laundry charges and any between-meal snacks or drinks. A generous tip per person for the guide and the van driver has already been added to the trip cost, so you don’t have to worry about tipping.

IMPORTANT! Travel Plans

Monks playing horns in a festival, wearing orange robes in Trashigang, Bhutan.

Monks at a festival in Trashigang.

Plan your flights to arrive in NEW DELHI on February 28. At the end of the trip, we will drive from the Bhutan border to the Guwahati Airport in India. On March 16 in the morning, you will fly from Guwahati back to New Delhi (flight included) to connect to your international flight home. More exact times will be given later. Please check with us before confirming your flights: you will be flying round-trip to New Delhi. Details about flight possibilities will be sent when you sign up.

Happy Bhutanese father and daughter, both wearing traditional dress.

Little girl in a mini-kira with Daddy in his traditional gho.

VISAS

YOU will need a MULTIPLE ENTRY VISA for India; not included.

Once you sign up, you will be sent the website link to get your one-year INDIA visa online. Or if you want a 10-year visa, you can fill out the forms and send your passport to the nearest visa office.

We will arrange the BHUTAN visas for you. You will need to send a scanned colored copy of your passport to the agent handling the visas; it’s all safe and official. When you arrive, you will get a piece of paper that serves as your official visa until you get a small stamp in your passport when we enter the country at Paro.
More info about visas and how to apply once you have signed up.

All photos by Cynthia except festival shots (Shutterstock), Tiger’s Nest and me on horse, by Sudhir Joshi, who traveled with me to Bhutan.

Textiles, Tajines: MOROCCO

 

Trip leader behind the scenes adventures owner portrait.

Photo by Ali Alami, Fes, Morocco.

November 6 – 21, 2020
Our popular textiles and cuisine tour is back!

Arrive on November 6;
fly home on November 22 from Casablanca.
Total 16 nights.

Highlights

This custom-designed tour to an amazing and exotic country emphasizes not only the food and textiles of Morocco, but also the ceramics, architecture, and archeology. We’ll go behind-the-scenes to experience traditional Moroccan hospitality!

You’ll meet many charming and friendly local artisans and craftspeople, happy to show you the best of their country. Travelers are very welcome here; no visa is necessary for most visitors!

Morocco has remote kasbahs of striking architectural design that contrast with the bustling cities of Casablanca and the chaotic medina of Marrakech. Our small group will marvel at FIVE stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites. And we’ll meet Berber women who are excellent rug weavers and button-makers. Men are the leather dyers, felt makers and woodworkers. Both men and women paint the colorful designs on the ceramic pieces, but men make the zellij mosaics.

Variety of Moroccan cooked mezze vegetable dishes with goat cheese salad and fresh bread; Casablanca restaurant.

Variety of mezze dishes with goat cheese salad.

Trip Details:

Charming little hotels or riads will be our home bases, except for that night in a Berber tent on the sand dunes! In each town we visit, we’ll explore the historic walled medinas and watch craftsmen at work. We can poke around in the traditional little souks for spices, textiles, and other treasures to take home. Everywhere we go, our delightful guide will show us the hidden corners to visit and the most interesting people to meet. We’ll start our textile and cuisine tour by flying in to legendary Casablanca.

You will be met by Cynthia and the guide, or an official tour driver at the Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) upon arrival anytime (preferably morning) on November 7. Then we’ll check in to our hotel, have lunch if the timing is right, then relax at the hotel.

Later we’ll go inside the fabulous Hasan II mosque with a special mosque guide, at seaside Casablanca. It’s the largest mosque in Africa, and the 3rd largest in the world. The Hasan II mosque was completed in 1993 after 7 years of construction. It’s a fascinating place to visit, with its exquisite mosaic work and painted ceilings. High-tech features include a heated floor and a roof that glides open to let in the ocean breezes on holidays when it is especially crowded.

Painting detail by Youniss Toulil

Detail of my large painting from a gallery in Essaouira.

Al Jadida Site

After seeing the mosque we’ll drive south for a look at the seaside fort and the interesting underground cistern of Al Jadida. The cistern was built in the late 1500s by the Portuguese. Old town Al Jadida was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, on the basis of its status as an “outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures.”  The cistern’s visual qualities are such that several movies have been filmed within the cavernous space, of which Orson Welles’ Othello is the best known internationally.

Essaouira by the sea

Seaside Essaouira, MoroccoThen we’ll continue to the beautiful ocean-side city of Essaouira. We’ll wander in the small medina and check out the art galleries where many of us have found stunning original paintings. Our heritage hotel looks down on the crashing waves of the ocean to lull you to sleep! A local friend will host a cooking class in her home. There we will learn how to make some typical dishes and desserts.

Next day, we head to marvelous Marrakech, enjoying a picnic along the way. In Neolithic times, the region was primarily agricultural, and it wasn’t until 1062 that the town of Marrakech was founded. The red walls of the city, built in 1122–1123, and various buildings constructed in reddish sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the “Pink City.” Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading center. Today the popular city has modern businesses on the outskirts, but still manages to feel exotic and other-worldly. In the old fortified city area, called the medina, we will meet master artisans at work as we wander through the little stalls or souks.

Ali tastes olives in Morocco

Ali tries red olives in the souk in Marrakech.

Medina of Marrakech

We will stay in a beautiful and comfortable hotel, as always decorated with traditional Moroccan furniture, rugs and accessories. The medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city with labyrinthine alleys. In our high-tech and entertaining cooking class we’ll create a gourmet lunch of homemade bread, tajine, a succulent stew, and a couple of cooked vegetable ‘salads.’ Our culinary creations, seasoned to our personal taste, will be our delicious lunch. At some point we’ll visit the food and spice market to find specific ingredients necessary for the unusual flavor combinations that are now familiar to you in Moroccan cuisine. You can pick up some spices in a souk for foodie friends too.

Majorelle Gardens

We will also see the Majorelle Gardens begun by French painter Jacques Majorelle, and the new Yves Saint-Laurent Museum. Lunch this day will be in the Majorelle Garden Restaurant. We’ll visit the bustling open-air square called Place Djemaa el Fna where snake charmers vie for space between tiny barbeque grills and water sellers. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, the central square of Marrakech is chaotic and thrilling at the same time.

UNESCO heritage adobe city

Ait Ben Haddou, UNESCO site for its historical earthen architecture.

After a few days, we leave Marrakech and drive over the Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate. Along the way, we’ll see the mystical ‘mud castle’ at Ait Ben Haddou. A striking example of the architecture of southern Morocco, this spectacular ksar or fortified city makes a perfect stop along the way. This group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The earthen castle effect and the decorative motifs sculpted into the reddish adobe walls make Ait Ben Haddou an aesthetic wonder.

In Ouarzazate we can go through the Museum of the Cinema. Dozens of ‘swords and sandals’ films have been made in this desert area. For instance, Ben Hur was filmed here, but also Cleopatra, Gladiator, and Lawrence of Arabia were set in this desert landscape.

Berber Weavers and Carpets

A colorful wool Berber rug with a variety of motifs and techniques.

Berber wool handwoven rug.

And along the way, we’ll check out the glowing handmade carpets in favorite shops (right), and meet some Berber weavers who will show us their textiles and techniques. We continue into the arid and spectacular eastern region, towards the Algerian border. In the mid-afternoon, we’ll go by 4-wheel drive across the stark landscape to the golden-orange Saharan sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. Then we’ll climb aboard camels for the short trek into the dunes to watch the sunset. We’ll have a traditional couscous dinner and fall asleep in comfy Berber tents under the stars.

After breakfast next day, we head back in the Jeeps and then we’ll begin our drive through the Middle Atlas Mountains. Most of the day will be spent traversing beautiful forests, dramatic rock formations, and little villages on the route north to Fes, another UNESCO World Heritage site.  As always there will be stops for lunch, photos, and bathroom breaks whenever desired.

Half way along this drive to Fes, we will stop in the town of Midelt for lunch. The town is famous for its minerals – geodes, trilobites and ammonite fossils and interesting crystals from the nearby mines at Mibladen. Beautiful mineral specimens are for sale in Midelt. Don’t you want to take home a few pounds of rocks?!

Typical tapestry textile of sunset colors and beautiful shading.

Tapestry rug in glowing sunset colors.

Famous Medina of Fes

We’ll spend several days in Fes, sleeping in a charming riad in the old medina area. Wander here to find a carpet, or a pair of earrings or a painted plate. A carpet collector friend will show us carpets and textiles from many areas, and will talk about how they are woven.

The little market shops offer a treasure of traditional textiles, baskets, felted slippers, pottery and jewelry. Motorcycles are not allowed in Fes medina so we can relax here. Shopping and visiting the mosques and madrasas is much easier than in Marrakech.

Often referred to as the country’s cultural capital, Fes has over a million inhabitants. However it’s primarily known for its ancient, sprawling, medina or walled city, the best-preserved in the Arab world. Additionally Fes is another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Craftsmen still work and sell their products in the medina. The huge space is divided into areas by trade—the leather crafters, dyers, textiles, ceramicists and so forth. Both the guide and driver live in Fes; because of this they’ll make you feel at home as they show you this fascinating city.

In Fes, we will meet weavers who work at old-fashioned looms to make fabric with a very modern look. We’ll see the machines that plait and braid the complex trims on traditional Djellabas, the hooded robes for men and women.

Volubilis is site of dozens of intricate floor mosaics.

Colored stone floor mosaic at Roman site of Volubilis.

Roman Site of Volubilis

Next stop is to marvel at the detailed stone mosaics and ancient structures of Volubilis, another UNESCO World Heritage site. We may see the resident storks that make their nests high on the columns of the Basilica. Founded in the 3rd century B.C., Volubilis became an important outpost of the Roman Empire and had many fine buildings; extensive remains of some survive at the archaeological site. UNESCO says: “Covering an area of 42 hectares, [Volubilis] is of outstanding importance demonstrating urban development, Romanization at the frontiers of the Roman Empire, and the graphic illustration of the interface between the Roman and indigenous cultures.”

Man uses friction and soap/water to felt sheep's wool at the Fes craft market.

Artisan in Fes makes hand-felted purses; see below.

Then we’ll return to Fes for our Farewell Dinner when we take leave of new and old friends. November 21 is the last included night of hotel.

Departure details to be arranged. Plan flights HOME on November 22, anytime after 2 pm.

After the trip, you’ll receive a photo journal book that will keep you dreaming of Morocco and your new friends!

Tour Price: $ TBD

Note that there is a minimum number of travelers for a trip to ‘go’ and that varies by country. Please don’t buy air tickets until you are sure the trip will happen; email us to ask.

Single Supplement: $  

To sign up, click here for instructions and forms.

  • Includes the following:
  •  5 UNESCO World Heritage sites
    16 nights accommodations: (double occupancy, in charming riads (small private villas with central courtyards), a comfortable Berber desert tent [1 night], and centrally-located, modern hotel in Casablanca – 2 nights)
  • All meals and non-alcoholic beverages–except 2 lunches* and 2 dinners on your own (*depending on cooking class participation)
  • All ground transportation by private van with excellent, professional driver.
  • Bottled water in the van for road trips
  • Transportation to/from airport for arrival/departure.
  • English-speaking, licensed, professional and charming guide to accompany whole itinerary.
  • French- and English-speaking textile expert Cynthia Samake also to accompany whole itinerary.
  • Flight or drive from Fes to Casablanca at end of tour
  • Cooking class with gourmet cuisine for your lunch
  • Entrance to all historical sights, museums, etc., on the itinerary
  • Beautiful custom photo book, created and sent after you get home.
Modern felted slippers in Fes medina souk.

Bright hand-felted slippers for sale.

Not included: Tips to guide and driver (we’ll suggest guidelines for this), personal items such as laundry, sites or activities not on the itinerary, between-meal snacks and bottled water when not in the van.

*If you don’t want to do the cooking class, the lunch included during class time is on your own that day, since class participants will eat what they create. Cooking classes are lots of fun, but optional; we hope everyone will join in!

Note that citizens of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, and many other countries do not need a visa to enter the Kingdom of Morocco and may stay up to 90 days.

Email:  [email protected] if you have any questions, or call 707-939-8874.

To sign up, click here for instructions and forms.

 

 

 

 

Laos, Cambodia & Thailand

Textiles, Temples and Festivals

June 27 – July 13, 2020

Cynthia with a renowned indigo ikat weaver.

The best SE Asian Textile Tour! You’ll be met on June 27 at the airport in Luang Prabang (Laos). At the end, we’ll all fly home from Siem Reap, Cambodia (home of Angkor Wat) on July 14.  More flight info later.

HIGHLIGHTS

Go Behind-the-Scenes to a fabulous wax candle festival in little-known north-eastern Thailand. See the superb UNESCO site of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the golden Buddhist temples of Luang Prabang, Laos. This is more than a textile tour, but there will be plenty of textiles. We’ll watch weavers at work, and learn how they tie and dye threads to create exquisite ikat patterned fabric in both silk and cotton. We travel in a big loop, seeing the best of all three countries — the most interesting textiles, architecture, archeology and culture — including three UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Weaving with a very complex system of pattern-keeping.

TRIP DETAILS:

We’ll fly into Luang Prabang to see the ancient royal capital, now designated a UNESCO Heritage site. We will visit important Buddhist temples, and you’ll be able to explore this laid-back and friendly town on your own. Time to soak up the tranquil, tropical ambiance! We will spend the afternoon at the textile center of Ock Pop Tok where we’ll make natural dyes and dye silk scarves. We’ll watch talented silk weavers and eat lunch at the Ock Pop Tok restaurant by the Mekong River. Food is delicious in Laos. At dinners, see if you are brave enough to try the spicy, fermented water buffalo skin condiment! The crispy-fried river moss is delicious.

The local market is interesting, and nearby there is an excellent new textile museum and shop. You can try shopping at the Night Market with all its handicrafts and art. Although it is getting rather commercialized, there are still some interesting things to be found. Along with the magnificently decorated temples, a significant part of the old town’s appeal is the many French provincial style houses, the riverside location, and the tropical ambiance. Luang Prabang is a delightful place to relax and learn about Lao culture.

Golden wax float in Ubon Ratchathani, during the parade.

Then we fly south to the pleasant riverside capital of Laos, the city of Vientiane. There we’ll visit the enormous textile/fabric market, and meet the weavers in a nearby weaving village with a Laotian friend. We’ll also tour an innovative silk weaving studio, and see the famous Wat Si Saket with its 10,000 Buddhas.

BACK TO THAILAND

After Laos, we’ll drive across the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River, Next we’ll cross the border south into Udon Thani, Thailand. Our next few destinations are in Isaan, the local name for the northeast. One article says, ‘Here is part of Thailand with all of the acclaimed Thai hospitality, culture, and food but none of the backpackers! Just south of the border with Laos, lies this entire region that has been little-visited  by outsiders. The area is rural Thailand at its best: farmland meets sleepy villages [and lots of textiles!]. It’s proof that Thailand isn’t completely trodden with tourists.’

Example of cotton indigo dyeing in Thailand.Blue handwoven cloth with varying weft patterns, in Thailand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INDIGO DYEING IN THAILAND

In the northeast, we’ll visit delightful friends who dye cotton threads with natural indigo. We’ll see the entire process from tying and dyeing the weft, to weaving the cloth. Some weavers in this area use an ingenious method to vary the patterns on their yardage. The weaver on the left makes her own indigo by fermenting indigo leaves and later adding overripe star fruits. She has many pots of dye going at once, in different stages of fermentation and readiness. The weavers love to show off their skills and these visits are fascinating. On the right, the weaver displays her stunning yardage. She has bound and dyed the weft threads so that the fabric pattern changes every yard or two. Her warp is unbound, plain navy blue threads.

WAX CANDLE FESTIVAL

Next stop is the riverside town of Ubon Ratchathani, known for the fabulous Wax Candle Festival. The Thais call it Khao Phansa, the start of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. We’ll arrive a day or two early to visit friends who will show us the incredible wax floats they are finishing up for the event. You can even make Buddhist merit by cutting around some of the wax shapes to decorate the floats! We’ll spend several days in Ubon, seeing preparations and attending the  festival. In the parade, groups of beautiful Thai dancers carrying flowers alternate with the wax floats. Each wat around town enters a float (that they have worked on for many months). There is a contest for the best float creation, and there are beauty queens chosen also. As with all festivals, there are food booths with traditional dishes, desserts and soft drinks. Bring a small umbrella or good hat; the sun can be very hot during Khao Phansa. However this fabulous festival only takes place in July! We’ll also head out of the center of town to see some of Ubon’s amazing architectural design in the form of innovative wats and temples that the town is also famous for.

AMAZING ANGKOR!

Then we head south over the border by van, into Cambodia, to Seim Reap and the fabulous carved stone temples of Angkor Wat! A UNESCO Heritage site, Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples form a world-class temple complex, with sophisticated wall carvings. We always hear about just Angkor Wat but there are hundreds of temples to visit.

“Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including the surrounding forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.” (UNESCO site info)

Cambodia also has some of the most intricate silk ikat weaving anywhere in the world. We’ll go into the countryside near Siem Reap to visit the premier silkworm breeding and silk reeling facility. Here we’ll watch the weavers to see how different their techniques are from the Thai and Lao silk mat-mi artisans. We’ll also visit a weaving project near the hotel in town; you’ll see that conditions are very different at the two workshops.

While visiting Angkor Wat temples and the surrounding sights, we’ll stay 6 nights in this lovely hotel (above) in Siem Reap. It boasts a refreshing pool and good restaurant. During this time, we will learn the subtleties of delicious Cambodian cuisine (similar to Thai) in an optional hands-on cooking class. We’ll also see the sobering but important Landmine Museum. Our Farewell Dinner will be followed by a performance of Phare, the renowned Cambodian youth circus – no animals – but great acrobatics!

TOUR COST: $4395   Single Supplement: $775
Minimum 6, maximum 12 travelers.

Cambodian Cooking class in Sim Reap.

Cambodian Cooking class in Siem Reap.

Includes:

17 nights in comfortable A/C hotels in double/twin rooms (a couple of the hotels have a pool), all meals except three lunches and two dinners in Siem Reap and Luang Prabang on days when the group is scattered (we will suggest possible places to eat), all soft drinks and bottled water with meals, flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, all in-country travel by private van with professional driver, three days of entrance fees at Angkor Wat, all transportation in the Park, entrance to the archaeological and museum sites on the itinerary, a Cambodian cooking class at an excellent restaurant in Siem Reap, the Phare Circus show and dinner (https://pharecircus.org) — and an 8″ x 11″ photo book documenting your trip!

A generous tip per person for the Luang Prabang and Angkor guides and the van driver(s) has already been added to the trip cost, so you don’t have to worry about tipping.

Fly into Luang Prabang (usually through Bangkok), arriving on June 27, and fly home from Siem Reap on July 14.

Not included:

International airfare, visas upon arrival [Laos USD $35 and Cambodia USD $40] at the airport or at the border when we enter, airport departure transportation, alcoholic beverages, several meals as indicated on itinerary, personal items such as luggage porter tips and between-meal snacks and drinks.

Stack of wax decorations ready to adorn float figures for Wax Candle Festival.

Thailand doesn’t require a visa, just a stamp in your passport and a filled-out simple form that they hand us at the border when we drive in.

Anyone who helps transport your bag should be tipped the local equivalent of about $1 per bag.

Textiles & Arts: Ghana

February 5 – 18, 2020  Fly home on February 19.

Kejetia market cloth display

Vendors arrange the huge selection of patterned dress cloth. It’s also great for quilts and pillows.

Ghana is sometimes called “Africa for beginners” because of the ease of travel, the friendly, welcoming people and the relative level of modernity compared to other West African nations. This is not only a textile tour, but also an arts and culture tour of Ghana that explores the creative aspects as well as the historical and ecological features of this fascinating country. Ghana is safe and politically stable. Fortunately the people have retained many cultural and artistic traditions such as use of patterned Kente and Adinkra cloth – and have created some others, such as the fairly recent mode of fantasy coffins. Arts such as bead-making, Kente weaving, batik printing, adinkra stamping, music, and dance are all thriving, alongside the modern aspect of the capital city of Accra.

Hand-woven kente on wall, by Bob Dennis Ahiagble.

Arts and Culture Galore!

This Ghana tour includes three hands-on workshops of traditional crafts. Expert Ghanaian artist-friends will teach us how to make batik wax-stamped cloth, adinkra-printed fabric, and glass beads. You’ll go home with some beautiful creations. An enormous bead market, kente cloth weaving centers, and the studio of the best art coffin carvers make other exciting destinations during our Ghana tour. We’ll also visit an elementary school at the Jamestown fishing village, and spend a morning at the biggest fabric market in West Africa.

Led by Malian Barou Samake and Cynthia Samake, this adventure includes the very best of Ghana. Barou is an upbeat leader with a positive, can-do attitude to ensure that your travel experience enchants and enriches you. Cynthia will explain the context and techniques of the traditional textiles that we’ll see as we travel.

Our driver, Robert is an unflappable professional who has traveled with us for many trips in Ghana. Professional English-speaking local guides will join us at historical sites, including the slave forts or castles. They will add depth to your knowledge by explaining the historical context and background of the sites.

Tour Details

You will be met by the trip leader and driver at Kotoka International airport, in the capital city of  Accra, on February 5 when you arrive. We’ll go from ocean beaches to forest canopy, with lakes and traditional villages in between!

Cynthia and Barou Samake in Ghana.

On this wonderful adventure, we will cover as much as possible of the fascinating southern part of the country. We’ll spend several days around bustling Accra, then head off to specific areas such as Kumasi and the Volta Region. This will give us a good feeling for typical Ghanaian life away from the busy coastal areas.

First we’ll head west to tour Cape Coast Castle with a licensed local guide. This important UNESCO World Heritage site was one of thirty large commercial forts built by European traders on the Gold Coast of West Africa (now Ghana). Originally it was built by Swedish settlers to trade timber and gold, but later used in the tragic trans-Atlantic slave trade. We’ll tour the Historical Museum here also. The town of Elmina is believed to be the location of the first point of contact between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans. Now Elmina is a fishing village with colorful scenes of fishermen and boats on the beach. There we’ll spend the night in modern versions of traditional African round huts – with swimming pool to cool off in nearby.

Man wears Adinkra cloth, Ghana

Distinguished elder in traditional Adinkra cloth wrapper.

Next, we’ll head to Kakum Park and the wonderful canopy walk in the cool forest. Later we’ll go north to Kumasi. There, a local friend will navigate the Kejetia Market’s cloth lanes with you, so you don’t get lost; see photo at bottom of girls arranging bolts of fabric. This is a quilter’s paradise and the fabrics are inexpensive.

Then we’ll drive to Odumase-Krobo where you will make recycled glass beads with the famous and congenial Cedi, foremost Ghanaian bead artist. The enormous Bead Market will tempt you to add to your collections! At Cedi’s, there will be supplies to thread beads to create your own simple necklaces and bracelets.

Next stop in the Volta Region is pretty Lake Volta, before turning south to Tema and Teshie. After our batik workshop and the visit to the coffin carver, we’ll return to Accra. One day we’ll stop in the fishing town of Jamestown, with its fresh fish market, tuna smoking ovens and fishing scene on the beach. We will meet with a friend who works there. He’ll show us the boats being crafted by hand, and will explain how the communal fishing organization works. He will also show us the little school for the fishermen’s children (built by Canadians) and you can donate school supplies here if you wish.

Barou with Ewe kente cloth.

Barou examines a beautiful piece of kente strip cloth.

Kente Cloth, Adinkra and Batik

The famous Ghanaian kente cloth is still woven in several places. We’ll meet a weaver in Bonwire (near Kumasi) who will show us weaving techniques and you can sit at a loom and try your hand. He will also explain the significance of the beautiful designs and color combinations. There are over 300 kente patterns, each with its own name and meaning derived from proverbs, historical events, and important chiefs. We’ll meet the weavers in individual and coop settings to see weaving demonstrations by both Ewe and Ashanti people. Also you’ll be able to buy their work directly from them and observe their working techniques.

Three Workshops

We’ll try our hand at some traditional crafts in several half-day workshops mentioned above. We will print adinkra motifs with stamps made from sections of hand-carved dried gourd. Another day we’ll stamp hot wax on cotton yardage for a gorgeous batik. Also we’ll make recycled glass beads with famous bead artist Cedi. At a fabulous weekly Bead Market, dozens of vendors offer an amazing variety of handmade beads, for great prices. Later we’ll create necklaces and bracelets from our handmade beads and newly acquired ones. These hands-on workshops represent typical arts and culture of Ghana that are being both maintained and re-invented by the artisans.

Fantasy Coffins

FIsh Coffin, Accra GHANA

Art coffin being transported to a funeral site.

On the way back into Accra, we’ll visit the most prominent coffin carving workshop, to see what they are working on. These wooden, custom-made coffins reflect the career or aspirations of the deceased, for the Ga ethnic community. Fishermen might be buried in a huge colorful fish or a carpenter in a big plane-shaped coffin. Ghanaians can request burial in a carved wooden version of their favorite automobile, or airplane.

Farmers can order cocoa pods or chili peppers for the journey to the other life. Some men choose a beer bottle or an over-sized Coca Cola bottle. Popular women’s coffins include huge chickens, with smaller wooden “chicks” at her feet, one representing each of the lady’s children. We’ll see the coffin construction and carving process, and some different models currently on hand. ‘Fantasy coffins’ have become art pieces in  America and other countries, appearing in many museums and private collections.

Beaders, Quilters and Other Fabric Enthusiasts

Patchwork quilt made from Ghana cloth

“Africa” Quilt by Melanie Grishman.

Bring an empty suitcase to hold all the beads, antique and new kente cloth, and amazing roller-printed fabrics you’ll discover in the overflowing markets! We will go on a special market tour in Kumasi with a charming, local friend who knows the labyrinth of stalls and where to find the best fabrics – and whatever else you may need – great fun!

Arrive on February 5 and fly home from Accra on February 19.
February 18
is LAST included night of hotel but on the 19th, you have free time until you need to go to the airport; you may leave your bags and hang out at the hotel or go into Osu,
etc. Many flights leave Accra late at night.

Printing Adinkra cloth with traditional gourd stamps.

Cynthia uses Adinkra stamps to embellish an already printed fabric.

Behind the Scenes Adventures IN ACTION:
We have a project to help local schools where we travel; we’ll visit an elementary school in a village and offer school supplies.  If you would like, bring some basic school supplies that will be  most appreciated. BTSA travelers have been wonderfully generous about donating pens, pencils and notebooks during our visits, and the children are so sweet; this is really a heart-warming experience!!  See the BTSA Helping page here.

Girl selling fish takes a break to flirt!

Price: $4295 

(Arrive Feb. 5 and depart late on Feb. 19.)
Single supplement: $550

Includes:

  • 14 nights hotel accommodation in comfortable local hotels (double rooms) with private bathroom.
  •  All transportation by private vehicle with professional driver
  • All meals, except two lunches in Accra (Order dishes of your choice from menus)
  • All soft drinks, beer, and water with meals
  • Bottled water in the van on the road
  • Airport transportation on group arrival and departure days
  • All entrances to historical sites and museums on itinerary
  • Professional guide at Elmina Castle
  • Expert shopping guide for Kumasi market tour
  • Kente cloth weaving demo
  • Three workshops: glass-bead making, Adinkra stamping, and batik printing.
  • 2 yards of cotton cloth are provided for the batik printing workshop.
  • Tips for the professional guides at historical sites are also included.

Not included:

International (roundtrip) airfare to Accra, your easy visa for Ghana ($100 from Texas USA consulate; we will send info); personal items such as laundry, any between-meal snacks, hard alcoholic drinks (beer is included), and the cloth to print Adinkra on.

There will be a group market outing in Kumasi to buy your choice of cloth for Adinkra printing. Batik cotton is included for your wax printing workshop.

Fishing boats in the harbor.

NOTE #1
If you arrive or depart on a different day than the designated group arrival/departure date, you will need to pay the taxi from airport to hotel, and any additional nights of hotel.
Plan flights to arrive after 10am or before 8pm if possible. Barou will meet you at the airport, with the driver on the group arrival date. Otherwise, we will arrange for the hotel to send a known and safe taxi driver for you. The Ghana airport is enclosed and fairly un-chaotic.
NOTE #2
After you have paid the $500 deposit for Arts and Culture of Ghana, and several months before departure, we will send you the form to fill out for your visa to Ghana. You will send the forms and check to TEXAS, USA, for the easiest method.
Please don’t use another way because other visa places are inefficient and it can get really complicated. You’ll also receive an emailed information packet with lists of what to bring, heath and cultural info, maps, etc.
NOTE #3
It is impossible to plan in advance attendance at traditional musical or dance events or even holidays and festivals, from afar. We love these events, and we’re happy to be flexible and spontaneously attend traditional performances in villages along the way, if the chance should arise.

See the Ghana Image Gallery here.