Q I will be visiting Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva in Uzbekistan in December. Will 10 days be enough time? What is the best way to travel in-country? Will hotels be easy to arrange once I arrive? Is December cold?
A Uzbekistan, which is surrounded by other Stans (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan), stands out for having "the foremost cities of the Islamic world," says Uzbek press attache Furkat Sidikov. It also has hosted a rich cast of characters who have left their impression on the country: Alexander the Great; the Western Turks, who brought Islam and the alphabet; the warrior Timur, who expressed his softer side as a patron of the arts; and Czar Nicholas I, one of many Russian interlopers.
To see the minarets, mausoleums, museums -- plus leave time to shop for Oriental rugs, silks and ornate knives -- Sigikat suggests spending three days each in Samarkand and Bukhara, and two in Khiva. The rest of your trip will be en route: up to seven hours by bus, car or train (from city to city) or about an hour by plane. Rosemary Burki, an adventure consultant with travel company iExplore, said that while local airlines are safe, "the biggest problem is that the schedules are arbitrary. But at least you know that that day you will depart."
As for hotels, Burki says if you are a stickler for amenities, you should book in advance. "There is something for everyone, but not a lot of it. There might one five-star and 12 two-stars, and if you can't get into that one . . . " Samarkand also has a number of properties run by Western Europeans, so you might find more comforts similar to home. Which you'll want, since December is cold: Expect Chicago-like temps, but with more snow. The air might be slightly warmer to the south (closer to D.C. winters), but don't skimp on the Arctic gear. "It is a difficult time to go then," says Burki. "Getting around is not easy." A better time: spring and early autumn.
Finally, for safety, Burki says to travel in groups of two to six, "be aware of the culture" and avoid wearing blatantly American attire. IExplore (800-439-7567, www.iexplore.com), which can set up personalized itineraries, also has a good primer on Uzbekistan on its Web site, as does EurasiaNet (www.eurasianet.org). For the Embassy of Uzbekistan: 202-887-5300, www.uzbekistan.org.
I will be in Scottsdale, Ariz., and am interested in scenic/nature trips and national parks, preferably within a day's drive.
Don't be fooled by Scottsdale's desert locale -- the scenery is hardly dried out and scaly. The Sonoran Desert National Monument, for one, is a large-scale cactus garden with myriad hiking trails, such as the Sunrise Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. While trekking, watch for rock art, natural water holes and snakes. Windwalker Expeditions (888-785-3382, www.windwalkerexpeditions.com) offers private excursions, including off-road photography tours, archaeological ecotours and gold mine trips. Most of the outings are in the Bradshaw Mountains and the Tonto National Forest, which you can also visit solo.
Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation (480-837-5121, www.ftmcdowell.org) has a casino as well as Fort McDowell Adventures (480-816-6465, www.fortmcdowell adventures.com), which organizes Wild West outings, such as cattle drives and mountain Jeep tours. For a scenic, bumpy drive, the 40-mile Apache Trail travels from Phoenix to Globe, Ariz., and winds past crystal lakes, Superstition Mountain, a national forest, gold mines, a dam and a ghost town. Heading north, Sedona has natural rock slides and hikes where you can tap into your chakra amid waterfalls, box canyons and ancient Indian ruins (try Oak Creek Canyon and Boynton Canyon Trail).
For more ideas on northern Arizona: Arizona Office of Tourism, 866-275-5816, www.arizonaguide.com.
We want to travel to Australia with our 4-year-old. Are there any family-friendly tours?
What kid doesn't like koalas, kangaroos and sand-dune rolling? Some tour companies promote family tours, but there's usually a lot of kid-unfriendly travel involved (Sydney to Cairns to Melbourne to Adelaide). In addition, the day tours rarely factor in nap time. Tourism Australia, however, offers packages that are well suited for small ones, including discounted prices for ages 2 to 17 and stays in apartments, which is easier for the little ones.
You might also pick two or three destinations and independently plan child-oriented outings using the state's Web sites for guidance (many, like South Australia, have suggestions for such attractions). For example, Sydney has the zoo, ferry cruises and the Hunter Valley Gardens' Story Book Garden. For more ideas, check out Syd Kidz (www.sydkidz.com). Also, consult Tourism Australia online (www.australia.com) and peruse its Family Travel section.
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