Thursday, August 21, 2008

Aug 17 - Tashkent

It was Sunday morning, and there was one very important piece of business to take care of - buying train tickets for our travels in Uzbekistan. We had a tentative schedule, drawn up by Mike. Unfortunately, he had us leaving Urgench on Aug 25 on a 20 hour train ride to Tashkent and arriving that same day in Tashkent. Also worse, the train we were planning to take did not run from Urgench to Tashkent on that day.

We were going to be cute and walk to the tram on Mirabod - 2, the cut-through street we had discovered the day before. However, the tram had no stops on Mirabod, and we had to walk 3 or 4 extra blocks to the market to get on the tram.

The Mirabod Bazaar is a spiffed up and sanitized version of the fresh food bazaars we had previously visited. Under a "giant, octagonal flying saucer of a roof" (Lonely Planet), this acre plus open air market has well washed concrete floors, electronic scales, frequent hand washing stations, and very few flies and honey bees. Honey bees, however, are well represented at the honey stands. Here, each merchant sells bee pollen, comb honey and 6 - 10 varieties of honey from open pots. They offer tasting for the discerning buyers and attract eager customers.

Back to buying tickets. The Tashkent Train Station is an imposing building in the grand tradition. Mike presented his ticket request to the ticket seller, who spoke no English. Other than saying something in Russian to the general effect that the train did not run on 25 Aug, she was not about to tell these bothersome Americans when it did actually run. She pointed us outdoors to the "Kassa" 200 meters away, and moved on to the next customer.

It turns out the Kassa is not a travel agency, but a giant billboard showing departures and arrivals, by days of the week, for each train schedule. The train to Urgench left on Dush, Sesh, and Juma. The returning train left on Chor, Paysh, and Yaksh. Uzbek dictionary in hand, we figured on that we had to travel from Tashkent all the way to the furthest city, Urgench/Khiva, coming back by Bukhara, Samarkand, and Tashkent. This meant leaving Monday evening (Aug18) on a 19 hour train trip at 19:15. (Our original plan was to do take the big ride at the end, Mon, Aug 25.)

We had a concern that the train from Tashkent to Urgench would dip into Kazakhstan on its way to Samarkand, and we would have Visa Problems. Our concerns were unfounded.

So back to a different clerk, with explicit train numbers, days, and times - all first class. It took 5 minutes to print up all the tickets, costing 144,000 sum (total), and a machine to count all of the money. No Visa or American dollars accepted.

It was now noon or so, and time for the quick tram ride back to the hotel, for a brief internet interlude and some eats. We got on the 9 tram, which proceeded to turn in the wrong direction, taking us out into the suburbs. We got off finally, and sat waiting for the return trip. A policeman came by and walked several blocks with us, to make sure we rode the correct 9 tram.

We got to the bazaar, had 4 skewers of shashlik and a beer (3700 sum), (no time for internet). We were back at the hotel by 1:45 pm. Our friends were already parked at the door waiting for us.

We drove downtown to the Amir Timur Museum, with the father Marruh and eldest son Farruh, who pointed out important sights along the way. We parked the car near Mustaqillik Maydoni (Independence Square), a broad public area with government buildings built up after the earthquake of 1966. We walked to the Crying Mother Monument, a memorial to the 40000 Uzbek soldiers who died in World War II. We took photos of ourselves. Carol was photographed with two soldiers (here soldiers have their blood types embroidered on the front of their uniforms). Then through Navoi Park to the Amir Timur Museum, as Lonely Planet says: "a must for afficionados of kitsch and cult making."

Amir Timur, better known to y'all as Tamerlane, lived in the 14th century, and established a huge empire. He had lots of wives, lots of sons, and lots of intrigue. The museum has pictures of maybe a dozen of his more famous male offspring over the next 200 years, showing how each died some kind of violent death. It also has many quotes of I. Karimov, explaining why he approves of each of these messages.

Then on to the far south suburbs. On the way, Mike's Used Car Bazaar radar flashed on at the large Tashkent bazaar, and on the way back, we stopped for a few pictures.

We joined Mom and the younger brother at home in the Sputnik neighborhood at 4:30 pm for a wonderful afternoon meal, with a most welcoming Uzbek family. Older brother is learning English and hopes to study medicine in the United States, and be a doctor. Younger brother's goal is to become President of Uzbekistan. We laughingly suggested that he should marry Karimov's granddaughter, assuming he has one, to achieve this goal.

We dined on salads, fresh sour cherry juice (with fruit, pits, and all, prepared at home), cherry brandy, plov (with raisins), fresh melons, and tea. We told them about the American summer drink of sweet tea with plenty of ice, but agreed that hot tea really hit the spot. We gave them the chocolates. They gave us some folk art, cosmetics from the factory where Mom works, and an Uzbek hat for Mike.

We left at 6:30 pm or so, and arrived at the hotel at 7 pm or so.

2 hours of internet. Across from us at the Internet place was an ethnic Korean-American, who lived in Maine originally, but was now in Uzbekistan doing research on the displaced communities in Uzbekistan. There is a large Korean community in Tashkent in the part of town where we were staying. If you are in the know, you can find Korean restaurants serving dog stew. He reports that it sort of tastes like very good beef, but is usually prepared with a lot of spice. The Korean spoken by these folks is an unusual dialect now found only in North Korea. Near the synagogue was a Korean compound that may be a Dojo, temple, or center: we saw Korean restaurants and hotels.

Apparently this part of town was home to many of the ethnic minorities of Tashkent, including Jews and Koreans, and maybe also the Germans, Rumanians, and so on.

To bed, after buying our usual 5 liter bottle of water.


Timothy said...

So ... did you have any of the dog stew?
Great blog so far!

Lee said...

Hi Carol and Mike
You are the highlight of my day! I sit here and laugh and chuckle. I try to imagine the markets and bus rides, but it's like a dream. Keep going- be safe. Lee

Mike & Carol said...

Tim, we didn't have any dog, and in fact had no personal contact with any of the Koreans around us. Just another missed opportunity.