After a 4:00 AM flight from Bishkek (for which I had to get to the airport before 2:00 AM), I made it to Tashkent today at 4:30 AM local time. Unfortunately, the two hours that it took to get through customs were not enough to let my hotel check me in when I got there. Instead, I had to wait in the lobby for four hours before they would let me have a room. Needless to say, I was more than a little exhausted, and immediately fell asleep when I was finally let into my room. Sleeping through lunch, I finally made it out of the hotel around 2:00, ready to see the city in all of its sweltering afternoon glory.
Tashkent is clean, almost too clean, and I was reminded of the fact that I’m visiting a police state as soon as I tried to take the subway. I was immediately taken aside to be searched, and needed to have four police officers take a look at my passport ant visa. Fortunately, this time, everyone was uniformed, and they just took me aside in the middle of the subway station, so I was not as worried as I was yesterday when I was harassed. I’ve learned that the best way to get through these things is to smile, and act very friendly. Acting frustrated is a good way to get harassed in return.
Aside from the police, everyone here has been extremely friendly. I’ve had to change traveler’s cheques in a number of different cities over the past several weeks, and this was by far the most enjoyable experience. One of the bankers even talked to me about the Bruins and Bobby Orr. I also managed to convince the bellhop in my hotel to take me to a market so that I could exchange dollars for Uzbek som at the best black market rate (see photo below). I don’t think that I would have gotten as good a rate by myself.
I had a chance to check out the huge bazaar here, and got to take a brief glimpse of the Old Town before I decided to hoof it back to my hotel. It ended up taking much longer to get back than I thought it would, which was not helped by my lack of sleep. Next time, I’ll go through the security checks again to take the subway.
I don’t have much more time here right now because I have an early morning train tomorrow for Samarqand, which I’m really looking forward to seeing. I’m not sure what kind of internet access I’ll have there, or in my next stop, Bukhara, but I will definitely have a good connection when I get back to Tashkent on the 7th. With luck, I’ll be able to post a bunch of updates while I’m gone.
Here are the photos from today (click to enlarge):
This was the bazaar where my hotel's bellhop took me to get the best black market exchange rate. The trip ended up saving me about $70.
More cash than I thought I would ever see at once, however it's only worth $200. The Uzbeks don't have any bills over 1000 som, which is only worth about 50 cents. How am I supposed to carry around this many bills? This much cash should only be seen in a briefcase that is handed to a criminal in exchange for contraband.
Many buildings here, regardless of their age, have ornamental (and perhaps functional) brises-soleil. In fact, there's ornament everywhere.
This is the old 5-star hotel in town, which must be about forty or fifty years old. It reminds me of what you would have expected from a luxury desert or tropical hotel in the sixties. I'm pretty sure that I heard the old soundtrack to Hawaii Five-O when the wind whistled through the brise-soleil.
Presumably inspired by the subtlety of exquisitely elegant banquet facilities in suburban Buffalo, this monstrosity is the Dom Forum, where the government hosts events for visiting dignitaries.
This is the sort of traditional tile work that is representative of ancient Uzbek architecture, but I have a feeling that this was done recently.
Another day, another bazaar. This one had fresh-squeezed blackberry juice.
I think that she's cutting mangoes, but it was hard to tell.
These dried yogurt balls are extremely popular in Central Asia.
This is the largest bazaar complex that I've seen so far. This is the back side of one of the radiating rows of covered market spaces.
A lazy Wednesday at the bazaar.
This guy really wanted me to buy some of his spices. He would fill up a cup with a spice, and dump it into my hand. I figured out too late that he just wanted me to smell it, and I found myself eating dried tea leaves, much to everyone's delight nearby. He convinced me to buy some cardamom tea, and some kind of pepper.
This woman sold me my non (Uzbek pronunciation) for the day. For those of you who did not know, gold teeth are very popular here, and are considered a status symbol.
This is the woman who sold me my bananas.
These pictures are probably getting repetitive, but this was by far the best bread that I've had so far on this trip.
I hope to get some more time to explore the Old Town when I come back on the 7th.
These guys made me my dinner, and insisted that I take their photograph.
I've really got to figure out the word for this dish because it's pretty much the same thing that I had right before getting ill in Kyrgyzstan, and I don't particularly like it. I asked the waitress for a recommendation, and this is what she brought me.
Even the old Soviet apartment blocks all have some sort of ornamental motif.