Walk Like an Istanbullu

I walked farther than I could have imagined possible today.  What started out as a gentle morning stroll near my hotel, soon matured into a marathon journey all over this city, only finishing when I made it back to my hotel around 9:00 this evening.  As I reached one landmark, I’d see the next in the distance, and just keep going.  Because I wanted to really explore, I decided not to look at a map.  This wasn’t so tough, though, because I’ve done enough research on Istanbul over the years to know my way around like I’ve been here before.

As I mentioned yesterday, my personal introduction to Istanbul has been a long time coming.  I first became fascinated in the city when, in a high school Art History class, I first learned about the Hagia Sophia.  There’s something about that building’s loose stacking form that drew my attention from a young age.  I was also taken by how different it looked from any other Roman buildings that I had seen.  In college, I took a class called, “Reading Istanbul,” which entailed reading pretty much everything ever translated into English about Istanbul.  Reading about a city is great, but it cannot possibly compare with seeing it, walking it, smelling it, hearing it, and tasting it firsthand.  I was hooked, though, and visiting the city has been an unattainable goal of mine ever since.  Much like Proust’s dreams of Venice after reading Ruskin, I thought about it constantly, and built it up in my mind to an extent to which it could never live up.  Now that I’m finally here, I’m almost a little sad that the anticipation is over, but I’m thoroughly enjoying experiencing the place in person.  Will it meet my expectations?  I’ve still got a week to find out.

By the way, it’s nice to be back by the sea.  This is the closest that I’ve been to any sizable body of water since leaving Boston.  The weather has been perfect here.  There’s been a refreshing breeze all day, and with temperatures in the mid-eighties, it’s downright chilly here compared to Bukhara.  If I sit on my hotel’s rooftop terrace in the evening, I even have to put on a sweater.

Here are the photos from today (click to enlarge):

I have a feeling that Sundays at the Grand Bazaar are not quite as boisterous as other days.

I was happy to see that everything was closed here when I walked through. I needed a break from fighting through crowds today.

Unfortunately, the Suleymanye Mosque's exterior spaces are in the midst of renovations, so I wasn't permitted into the forecourt, or the gardens. It's a shame because I had been really looking forward to seeing them.

I was, however, allowed inside, and I was sufficiently impressed, as expected.

The Suleymanye was built for Suleyman the Magnificent by his court architect, Sinan, in 1557. Sinan was responsible for a whole slew of important buildings in this city. This mosque, which is enormous, is simply, but meticulously detailed. Although its construction was an incredible engineering feat, it remains understated on the interior.

This was the mosque that I was most looking forward to seeing in Istanbul. I plan on going back a few more times while I'm here. The great thing about mosques here is that they're free.

The gardens on the other side of this wall were inaccessible due to the renovations. They look pretty nice from here, though.

Not all of the markets were closed today.

Olives! I must be close to the Mediterranean now.

This is a great city for wandering around, exploring different passages, getting happily lost, and spotting a familiar minaret in the distance.

For lunch today, I sought out the waterfront for fish sandwiches. I haven't had fish since my first skewer in Xi'an, and I was really excited for this.

Delicious. Fish fresh out of the water. A bottle of lemon juice was provided.

After lunch, I crossed over to the other side of the Golden Horn to check out what was traditionally the more diverse part of Istanbul. I encountered this condition a lot today: The upper floors are cantileverd over the street to bring in more light. in this case, they are canted at an angle so that the apartments deeper in the block can still get some light and views. This usually works well, until everyone of the block decides to take up the air space over the street, and the buildings on either side almost touch at the top.

The Galata Tower is an old landmark that dates back to Roman times, although it's been rebuilt a number of times. It was once a lighthouse.

Now, the tower functions as a place from which tourists can snap panoramas of the city. It might be worth going back up here when the light is better. In the foreground is the neighborhood of Galata, and the Golden Horn is the body of water behind it. Sultanahmet, the old city, is on the opposite side, and beyond that, you can see the Sea of Marmara. On the Sultanahmet side, you can see the Topkapi Palace all the way on the left. The Hagia Sophia is the first mosque to right of that, and then the Blue Mosque is just to right again.

This side of the Golden Horn was always more western than the old city, and today, it's a big destination for western-style shopping.

This 19th Century mosque, on the Bosphorus, would be right at home in a turn of the century World's Fair.

Evidently, local kids like to swim in the Bosphorus, although they have to dodge the fishing hooks of the countless anglers who line up on the shores.

Hasn't this kid ever heard of a cannonball? I give him a 2.

I figured that, for the sake of research, I need to sample ice cream everywhere I go. It's very different here. They have special tools for digging it out of deep tanks, and pull it out in rather thin slivers. The texture is a little gummy, but the flavor is superb. You'll notice that I went for all five flavors here, for the sake of research.

Not far from the last mosque, this one almost has an art-nouveau look to it.

Prayers had just started when I got here, so I couldn't make it inside.

After an epic day of walking, I ended up having an early dinner at a delicatessen. The waiter told me that these were the best meatballs in the city. They were actually pretty good. The rest of the stuff was good, too, including the artichoke salad, and that red substance in the corner, which ended up being a spicy sauce for the meatballs.

If there is an open patch of waterfront, you will find Istanbulus fishing. Just make sure you don't get hooked, though.

It turned out to be a beautiful evening, with a refreshingly cool breeze.

Passage to Istanbul

After a morning that began with a 2:30 departure from my hotel, I finally arrived in Istanbul.   I set out with time to spare before my flight, and at the Tashkent airport parking lot, I was able to surreptitiously change the rest of my Uzbek money back to dollars through the window of a shadowy woman’s Chevrolet.  The customs procedures in Tashkent ended without incident, although I will not keep any fond memories of the airport, often called the most frustrating in all the world.  Although I haven’t been to every airport in the world, I can’t really think of any worse airports to which I have been.

The gates were not manned by airline staff, and when the announcements were made for flights, a mad stampede took place as people rushed to get to the doors, down the stairs, and onto the waiting buses that shuttled people to the planes.  Grandmothers, people with canes, and children were all swallowed up in the crowd.  When my flight was called, as people were rushing down the stairs, someone decided that they were at the wrong gate, and turned around.  In the mass confusion that ensued, everyone who had pushed their way to the stairs suddenly turned around, as if propelled by the same instincts that make schools of fish collectively change direction.  Of course, not understanding anything, I meekly followed along, assuming, like everyone else, that someone else knew where we were going.  We ascended the stairs, scurried across the waiting room, and struggled to get through another gate, only to turn around again when it was discovered that the leader of the pack was on a different flight.  When we finally made it back to the correct gate, and were waiting for the tarmac buses to take us to the plane, people had begun shouting in frustration.  Of course, there was no staff to which to direct these cries, so people just started yelling at themselves.

Eventually, I made it onto the plane, and enjoyed the window-seat ride over some stunning landscape.  Seeing the changing terrain below reinforced an issue that has been weighing heavily in my thoughts:  that by flying over such a huge swath of my route, I was going to miss out on all of the transitions between Central Asia and Europe.  Arriving here, I discovered that my apprehension was somewhat justified.  Suddenly, after five weeks of gradual transition from Xian to Bukhara, I had been transported someplace completely out of context.  Obviously, due to political situations in the countries which I skipped, the decision to fly here was the safest choice, but I can’t help feeling that I’m missing out on something.

Of course, I’m probably exaggerating a bit.  This place is not quite as far removed from the rest of my journey as I’m making it out to be, and it will fall on me to draw the connections to the places I’ve seen as I spend more time here.  At some point in the future, and I don’t know when I’ll ever get around to it, I would also like to spend more time exploring the rest of Turkey, which could take two months alone.  This might also help me fill in some of the missing pieces, barring a trip through Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq.

Unfortunately, once I arrived here, I was pretty exhausted, and ended up sleeping through much of the day.  I made it out for a nice stroll in the evening, and had a good meal, but I don’t have too many photos to show for my first day here.  I’ll have many more tomorrow, and much more on my first impressions of the city that has been on the top of my “Dream Cities to Visit” list for at least fourteen years.

Here are the limited photos that I have:

The Haya Sophia, a building that dates back to 537, is one of the structures that I've most wanted to see. I'll explore it more, and head inside tomorrow.


Just across a public square from the Hagia Sophia, sits the Blue Mosque.


Old Istanbul was built on seven hills, and the city has a layered feel. In fact, this is the only city that I've visited over the course of this entire trip that has not been on a flat plain or valley.

Istanbul's vast mosque complexes were once the city's centers of education, medicine, social interaction, bathing, and charity.

I was able to step into the Blue Mosque's courtyard before closing time, and discovered that the actual mosque was still open, too.

The great dome of the Blue Mosque. Upon entry, visitors are given a plastic bag in which to carry their shoes. The bags were not designed for people with shoes my size.

I'm trying to pace myself while I'm here, delaying gratification, and saving some of the sites that I've really been dreaming about visiting for later days. However, it's no exaggeration to say that visiting the interior of this space was the fulfillment of a long architectural dream of mine. It was a moving experience, and I know that there are more like this to come.

This puffy bread seems to be pretty popular here. I saw it on a lot of tables as I walked around. It's really a very thin layer of bread, filled with air, and was served with a chickpea paste.

My dinner: Turkish ravioli, filled with meat, and covered with a light yogurt sauce, chili oil, and mint. My stomach has shrunk a lot over the past few days, and this was way too much for me to eat.

To my surprise, there was an entrance to an ancient Byzantine palace in the back wall of the restaurant where I dined. The palace is now completely underground, and is currently being excavated.

My hotel has a fantastic roof terrace. This is a view up towards the Hagia Sophia.




An Uzbek Farewell

At long last, I’m feeling well enough to provide an update.  Today is my last day in Uzbekistan, and I’ve spent most of it in bed, trying to recover from a pretty terrible stomach bug.  As I did a tally of the possible culprit meals, I’ve come to the conclusion that a salad that I ate the night before leaving Bukhara is most likely to blame.  Although I vaguely remember hearing that I should not eat salads because they are most likely washed in contaminated water, I stupidly succumbed to temptation.  Unfortunately, now that I’ve learned my lesson, it’s a little too late.

I have some mixed feelings about leaving this part of the world.  Tomorrow, when I arrive in the Thracian part of Istanbul, I’ll be venturing into Europe for the first time on this trip, albeit the easternmost extreme of the continent.  I have a feeling that I’m in for somewhat of a cultural shock.  Although some of the experiences that I faced as someone who was obviously a foreigner in this region were annoying, and even troubling, I’ve grown accustomed to them, and might even miss them.  Although I don’t exactly look Turkish, I think that the days of children running up to me, and begging me to take their photographs are over.  Gone, too, I’m guessing, will be the big smiles, and friendly “Hallo!” as I casually walk down the street, and the excited offer for a cup of tea.  But, I don’t quite know what Istanbul will bring me, and that’s part of the excitement.

One thing is certain, I am not looking forward to my 6:00 AM flight, for which I need to arrive at the airport at 3:00 to face the outrageously complicated customs process at the airport.  It has been drawn to my attention that I did not declare everything that I should have, including medications and my Kindle, when I arrived here.  The customs forms were somewhat unintelligible, and I have no idea what difficulties I will face when trying to leave.  I only hope that I am able to get out of here, and that I am not slapped with exorbitant fines.

The photos from a couple of days ago are posted below.  Just as a primer, the night before these photos were taken, I ended up having dinner with a German motorcyclist who was a dead ringer for Tim Robbins’ character in “High Fidelity.”  I was about to dine alone, but the waiter ended up seating me with him.  He recently sold almost all of his possessions, bought a BMW motorcycle, and set off from Koln.  He’s planning on driving all the way to the eastern edge of Mongolia, and then heading back through Russia.  As we finished up a pleasant dinner, he said, “So, I am waiting for you tomorrow at my hotel at 9:00, and we are spending the day together.”  With that, I guess I didn’t really have a choice.

Alas, I have none for today or yesterday, as I was feeling too terrible to even think about taking a snapshot.  Plus, other than a venture to the bank, and a successful solo black market exchange (I’m actually proud of this because the hotel bellhop who first helped me exchange money told me that there would be no way that I could get a good rate on my own), there is little new to report.

"See, they're McDonald's... I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds." A little quote for fans of "Coming to America."

The German motorcyclist and I took a trip to Bukhara's produce bazaar. Although these bazaars may all look the same in photographs, they have each had a unique character.

After I took this photo, this woman handed me a necterine. It smelled great, and I made it look like a took a bite, but I was afraid of getting sick, so I ended up throwing it out. Who knew that I'd get sick the next day?

The women who run the produce stands spend most of their time rearranging their goods to make them look absolutely perfect.

Uzbekistan is not a place for those offended by clashing patterns.

Apologies to those who are offended by the site of meat, but for documentation's sake, I had to show the butcher area of the bazaar.

Would you care for some chicken with your salmonella?

This woman's tripe stand was very popular.

Another friendly, but unsmiling Uzbek, this man runs a horse meat shop.

This butcher was hard at work on a large animal.

A little respite from all the meat, the sweets area of the bazaar had some treats that looked pretty good.

An old soviet classic

Off to the market!

I wonder how this truck cab got up there.

This somewhat funny-looking mausoleum is called "Four Minarets." I wonder where they got the name.

Bukharan neighborhoods are full of all sorts of pipes poking out in all directions.

Only noon, and the streets are completely deserted.

Another way to beat the heat, head to a hammam. This bathhouse is 600 years old, and still in operation.

The cavernous interior was composed of a series of interconnected domed rooms, lit from above by oculi. According to the proprietors, the water and floors are heated by "underground fires." My visit here will remain one of the architectural highlights of my whole trip. It was a little too foggy for photographs, however, and way too wet for sketching.

Most of the medrassas have been converted into craft shops.

One of the persistent scarf-salespeople who would not leave me alone, this woman and her mother also sold table cloths and ceramics.

I spent my last evening in Bukhara trying to soak up all of the details of the city. I'm headed towards a very different type of architecture in Istanbul.

On approaching the ornamental details, it becomes clear that every little niche is different.

A former Kazakh weightlifter, this guy invited us over to his table, which he was sharing with some old weightlifting buddies who have become Uzbek bigshots.

I never would have thought that these guides were former athletes, but they claimed to have been competitive weightlifters. The guy in the background is evidently extremely wealthy, and very well connected in this country. I was told to mention his name if I run into any problems. Hopefully this will come in handy at customs tomorrow morning.

Sick Again

Unfortunately, after a grueling 8.5-hour train ride with broken air conditioning, I am again in the throes of a violent stomach illness.  I know that many of you have been waiting for an update with photos, but unfortunately, I just don’t have the energy to do it right now.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

Bukhara Nights


Unfortunately, I’m only going to be able to post the above photo for now.  The rest of the documentation from today’s adventures will have to wait until tomorrow.  I’ve only now just gotten back from an evening spent with some Uzbek big wigs, and it’s too late to go through the photos before my early morning train tomorrow.

To make a long story short, I went to a produce market, and spent the afternoon at a hammam today.  In the evening, I somehow met a group of former Kazakh weightlifters, and enjoyed the evening with them.  One of them has invited me to dinner in Tashkent sometime in the next couple of days, so I look forward to taking him up on his offer.

I’m headed back to Tashkent tomorrow morning, and I have to say that I’m more than a little bit sorry to leave this town.  At first, I didn’t think that I would find much to interest me here, but I have grown to really enjoy the place.  I’ll be sorry to leave, and especially sorry to head back to Tashkent.

I’ll have more in my post tomorrow, so check back then!


Another Bukharan Scorcher

After heading out this morning, I soon realized that it was too hot to accomplish anything today.  Even sketching in the shade was painful, and it was impossible to prevent the sweat from dripping from my brow onto the paper.  Temperatures reached 48 degrees (118 Fahrenheit), and are expected to climb to 50 degrees (122 Fahrenheit) tomorrow.  I learned first hand today that this is just plainly too darn hot, and the fact that I was about a mile and a half from my hotel at 2:00 was a big mistake.  I have begun to think that perhaps heat exhaustion is responsible for my upset stomach the past couple of days.

I made it over to the Ark, Bukhara’s ancient fortress, and then spent a couple of hours wandering from one site to another, not having the energy or motivation to actually spend time at any of them.  Eventually, I decided that my health was at stake if I did not get back to my hotel quickly.  Once I finally stumbled back, I spent the next four hours in a state of semi-consciousness, trying to hydrate whenever I could lift a water bottle to my lips.  By 7, though, I was ready for some more exploration.

Here are the photos (click to enlarge):

Bukhara's ancient fortress is called the Ark. I walked by it last night, and snapped this photo and the next one, and took a trip inside today.

Two British officers were once forced to dig their own graves in this plaza in 1842. When the holes were sufficiently deep, they were summarily beheaded. One of them, Stoddart, had just spent three years in a nearby dungeon, where he was housed in a bug pit. The other, Connolly, had been sent to negotiate Stoddart's release. He was evidently not successful.

My breakfast at this place has been pretty good. I try to eat enough so that I only need a small snack at lunch.

The residential section of town is filled with these old doorways that lead to courtyards. There's no scale to the photo, but the doors are only about 4.5 feet tall.

It was already getting painfully hot by 10 AM. In this photo, you see one of the few signs of life that I encountered in the old section of town: a boy on his bycicle, presumably trying to get home to the shade (he's on the right side of the picture).

Fans of narrow passages will have much to celebrate in Bukhara.

The interior of the Ark was surprisingly vacant, and unremarkable. Perhaps it was the heat, which made me incredibly uncomfortable, but I was a little disappointed. Much of the complex was bombed by the Soviets in 1920.

This is the jail in which Stoddart and Connoly were held before their beheadings. It was somewhat of a morbid curiosity that led me to make the visit. I had read extensively about their ordeal before making the trip out here, and a part of me wanted to see the bug pit.

The rooms within the jail have funny papier-mache people chained to the walls. The bug pit is next door to this room, but it was too dark for photos. It looked about how one would expect a bug pit to look, only without the bugs.

The emir attended this mosque, which across the street from the Ark. There's also a mosque withing the Ark, so I'm not quite sure why he went to this one.

The best way to beat the heat? Unfortunately, not with my complexion. The water was really warm, too. Those are the ancient city walls in the background.

This mausoleum was built around 900, and is one of the oldest surviving Muslim structures. It's 2.5-meter thick walls have withstood countless earthquakes and invaders. One might think that the park surrounding it would provide a little cool shade, but it was little help.

i saw a bunch of people eating these. In the hot sun, It began melting and falling apart as soon as it was taken out of the freezer, and no, it didn't help.

This terracotta has withstood 11 centuries without a touch-up.

After spending a good portion of the day out of the sun, I ventured out to explore more of the town around 7 PM. It was still stiflingly hot, but was beginning to cool a little bit. This is a small mosque that I discovered in the middle of a maze of narrow streets.

Another mausoleum, buried in a neighborhood. This one is a holy site, and supposedly, it is so popular as a place to be buried that people are stacked 30 meters deep around it.

There were plenty of kids asking me to take their photos in the old neighborhoods this evening. None of them asked for money, either.

This kid took a break from bike racing for a photo.

Also buried in one of the old neighborhoods, an old synagogue remains active among a dwindling population of Jewish Bukharans. For centuries, Bukhara had a thriving Jewish population, numbering in the tens of thousands. They even developed their own language, known as Bokhori, which is still spoken around here. Since independence from the Soviet Union, however, the population has fallen to only a couple of hundred. Seeing that I was a little lost, a kindly old man showed me the way to the synagogue, and then showed me around.

The rabbi's granddaughter is most likely one of the last Jewish Bukharans to be born here.

Although he looks much younger in the photograph than I remember him being, this is the old man who showed me to the synagogue. At the time, he was pushing a rickety wheelbarrow full of mortar down the craggy street.

"Hallo! Hallo! Mister! Photo!"

The cool kids in the neighborhood, these guys shooed all of the other children away from their photo.

I'm really starting to look forward to Turkish food. This was essentially Spaghetti-Os with a fried egg on top.

4th of July in the Land of Plov

It was another sweltering day in Bukhara, and the temperatures topped out at around 108 degrees.  I’ve been told that this is cool compared to how it will be here in a couple of weeks.  At any rate, I’ve fallen right in with the locals, and taken to napping in the afternoon.  Since I’ve got a couple more days here, I’ve decided to really take my time, and absorb all that I can from just a couple of sites per day.  I spent a couple of hours sketching at the mosque in the photo above.  Unfortunately, I also had a bit of an upset stomach all day, so I took it particularly easy, not venturing too far from my hotel room, with its pristine bathroom.

While out and about today, I met a local who invited me to his family home for dinner.  It was a little different than I expected, so read the captions below.

Happy Independence Day!  Here are the photos:

The door to my hotel could still be mistaken for the door to the medrassa that it once was.

There are a few covered bazaars here that are naturally ventilated through occuli in their domed roofs. This is a view within one, looking back towards the city.

The Kalon Minaret, pictured here, was built in 1127, and is one of the only structure in the region that was not destroyed by Chinggis Khan when he swept through here. He was astonished at its height.

The Kalon Mosque is a huge complex at the base of the minaret.

The courtyard is large enough to hold 10,000 people.

Surrounding the courtyard is a maze-like series of vaulted galleries.

I have no idea what originally took place in these galleries, but the soviets used them as a warehouse.

The vaulted spaces would make a great place for hide and seek.

There is a quiet formal simplicity to these spaces that is hardly at odds with modernism (if one blurs one's eyes, and forgets about all of the ornamentation).

Mulberry trees, like the one under which this photos was taken, are important symbols throughout Central Asia. I've encountered important historical specimens from Turpan, all the way to Bukhara. They frequently occupy the courtyards of mosques.

A view back up to the plaza and beyond.

The medrassa opposite this door is still active. As I was leaving the mosque, prayers were soon to begin, and a number of young scholars were rushing across the courtyard.

This city is full of these narrow passageways.

My dinner was prepared at this stove in the courtyard of a man I met earlier in the day.

My dinner: plov, salad, bread, and delicious melon. After receiving the invitation to come to this man's family home for dinner, I assumed that I would be eating with the family. Instead, they set up a table for me in the courtyard, and all retreated into the house.

My only companions for dinner were two cats. This one wasn't much company.

When I had finished eating, and was enjoying some tea, the man and his wife finally came out for a little conversation, and persistent attempts to sell me some scarves.

While taking a couple of photos of the Abdul Aziz Khan Medrassa, this local youth ran over to get in the picture.

Seeing the fun that he was having, his friends quickly rushed over to get in on the action.

This medrassa, which is still active, is hidden behind these fortress-like walls. I wish that I could get inside.

The city cooled down significantly towards sunset, and the light made walking around a treat.

The streets wind up and down over the small hills of the city. I would assume that these mounds actually contain layers of artifacts from ancient Bukharans.

Future swindlers. The girl on the left asked me to take this photo, and then tried to hit me up for ice cream money. I think that she must have been a younger cousin of the persistent women who kept trying to get me to buy scarves today. Kids constantly ask me to take their photos in this town, but this was the first time that one of them demanded payment. I reluctantly bought them the ice cream, and hope that the other little rascals in town don't catch on.


I made my way from Samarkand to Bukhara today, and despite the common misconception, the trains do not necessarily run on time in a police state.  I thought that I would need to get to the station in Samarkand a little early so that I could figure out how to get on the right train, but the correct one did not arrive until two hours later.  As a result, I have not had much of a chance to explore this town, but I guess that’s not too much of a problem since I’ll be here for another three nights.

From what I can tell by my brief introduction to the town, although beautiful, four days may be a longer stay than needed here.  I had scratched another town, Khiva, off of my list a while back because I thought that I would want to spend more time in each place, but now I’m not so sure that was a great decision.  It turns out that this place is a little touristy, which tends to put a damper on my enthusiasm.

I don’t have many pictures from the day, but here are a few:

This was my breakfast spread at my B&B in Samarkand this morning, which was similar to what they served every morning, except there was usually a crepe. I got ripped off today, I guess. It was nice to have good fruit in the morning, and the apricots (usually yellow plums) were terrific. The tiny apples, however, were both bland and dry.

This was the nice lounging area at the place where I stayed in Samarkand. It was a great place to take a load off in the afternoon, especially when the proprietor's son brought around some fresh fruit and tea.

The proprietor's son could not stop smiling every time I saw him. However, when I took his picture, he immediately switched to the serious Uzbek photo face.

My arrival at my new B&B in Bukhara was greeted with this spread of tea and snacks.

I'm staying in what used to be a medrassa, in one of the former scholars' rooms. My door is the one that says 1/1, although I think that the room actually takes up three former dorm rooms. I'll have more photos of the whole complex tomorrow.

This medrassa in the center of town used to be a caravanserai, until the Khan decided that it looked too much like a medrassa not to be one.


This town seems to be full of these picturesque little streets.


If you squint really hard, you can almost imagine what this place must have been like 100 years ago.

The little girl in this picture is working on the local photo scowl.

Hospitality-Land, Part II

I was told that my post was a little boring yesterday, so hopefully this one will be a little more interesting.  I spent the day going to a couple of more sites, and strolling around the Old Town.

I started at a huge mosque near the city’s other historical sites, and then made my way towards the archeological excavations of old pre-Chinggis-Khan Samarkand.  There was a small museum there, in which the electricity wasn’t working.  I saw a bunch of broken pots, and walked into the completely dark room that contains a famous fresco that was unearthed here, but was obviously unable to see anything.  I then pushed on out of town on foot towards a couple more sites that were equally underwhelming.

Just when I thought that I had seen everything that Samarkand had to offer, and as I was walking back to my hotel after dinner, I was summoned into the courtyard of an Old Town house for an impromptu photo shoot with its inhabitants.  One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was guzzling tea, inhaling watermelon, and enjoying some local sweets.  They’ve asked me to come by tomorrow morning for breakfast before I head to Bukhara, and I tried to explain to them that breakfast is included at my B&B, but they didn’t want to take no for an answer.  Finally, I think that they understood.

Here are the day’s pictures:

Another image of tile-work.

Yes, this is a different building than what I showed in previous posts. It's the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, which was once the largest mosque in the world. It was commissioned by Timur's wife as a surprise while he was away.

The mosque pushed construction techniques to their limits. The people in the foreground provide some scale to the recessing arches at the main gate.

This is the innermost arch. It's said that the architect of the mosque fell madly in love with Timur's wife, and refused to complete the project until he received a kiss from her. He was beheaded shortly thereafter.

The mosque lies within the interior courtyard, and is crumbling a bit.

The domed ceiling towers overhead on the interior, and is in a bit of disrepair.

A view towards the courtyard form within the mosque.

Timur's wife's mausoleum is directly across the street from the Bibi-Kharym mosque. The tombs are located down this passageway.

The ceiling inside the mausoleum has no lack of detail.

This is the tomb of the Old Testament prophet, Daniel. Timur supposedly brought the remains back from Susa, Iran.

Daniel's tomb supposedly contains only his right femur, which, accordingly to legend, grows three inches each year. This explains why the tomb is 18 meters long.

I have no idea how anyone really knows what he looked like, but this is Ulugbek, the mathematician/astronomer king. This is at the site of what used to be his observatory, an supposedly incredible structure that I really wish had not been destroyed. All that remains is the enormous track for his 30-meter astrolab. I made a very long walk out here in the hot sun, stopping at Daniel's tomb, and a museum with no electricity, and was a pretty disappointed in the end, especially since I then had to walk back.

Some wedding photos were being taken at the site.

My B&B is conveniently located in the quaint Old Town of Samarkand.

This is one of the local youths who hang out on the street outside my B&B. Smiling's not cool here.

My dinner; some kind of soup with noodles, meat, and vegetables. Not bad.

For those who are interested, they still drive these old soviet cars around here. They sound their age, and, despite their diminutive size, have the turning radius of an average-sized cruse ship.

A popular evening treat here: ice cream with some sort of berry sauce, which is topped with cocoa powder. Due to some comments the last time that I showed an ice cream cone, my hand has been cropped out of this image.

These entrances in the Old Town reveal small glimpses of the beautiful courtyards within.

This fella tracked me down to get some pictures taken.

This proud father, named Muhammed, invited me into his courtyard for a photo shoot. Although he could not stop smiling the whole time that I was there, his face quickly went rigid as soon as the camera was aimed at it.

Muhammed's family, including his daughter, Annisa, are expecting me to mail them some prints of these photos. I'll have to get someone to make sense of the address that his wife wrote down for me, because I can't read it at all.

Of course, they insisted that I eat. I had just stuffed myself with bread at dinner, and ice cream on the street, so I didn't have a lot of room, but I was able to cram some more food in my stomach - just to be polite.

Muhammed's mother, Kimio, was one of the sweetest grandmothers that I've ever met.

Muhammed fancies himself a model.

Mausoleums and Ruins

Another day in Samarkand, and I still haven’t seen all that I want to see.  This is partly due to the fact that I got a little lost in the Old Town, thanks to a worthless map, and to the fact that Uzbeks don’t seem to like street signs.  I ended up walking about four miles in the blazing sun before I finally found the ruins for which I was looking.  I had taken a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up taking the longest route possible.

I’ll keep the text short here, and skip right to the photos (click to enlarge):

This is the entrance to Timur's mausoleum, where he and his successors are buried.

More blue tiles!

Again, the intricacy s really astounding.

I really appreciate the contrast of the white, set off form the vivid tiles.

The doors are some of the most detailed pieces.

Another stunning interior, inlaid with plenty of gold

Timur's monument is the one with the simple, but huge jade stone on top, which was broken by a persian ruler who then ran into a spell of exceedingly bad luck.

Off to the side of the mausoleum is a portion that is in ruins.

This enormous arch is part of the ruined section.

This is one of the oldest structures in Samarkand, dating from around 1380. Chinggis Khan annihilated the ancient city in 1220.

I walked about four miles to get to this ruin. Was it worth it? Probably not.

The intricacy of the interior can still be seen.


One can imagine this grand gate when it was still complete.

Across the street, there is a mosque and mausoleum complex. Unfortunately, it is currently being renovated, but it was a really beautiful place. The pool in the center is surrounded by four enormous trees that were probably planted when the complex was first built, hundreds of years ago.