Our arrival in Tashkent provided the surprise of a clean city with serviceable roads, maintained buildings and a lack of thick dust. Our taxi driver found our hostel with no drama. The hostel was where and as advertised. A simple place around a courtyard, we had the VIP suite. That sounds a bit more luxurious than reality but our room was large, clean, with locking door, an en-suite bathroom, three comfortable beds and a table. Bliss.
Tashkent has an efficient metro so we used it – cost about fourteen cents to get into the heart of town. We spent two days exploring an enormous historic market, an applied arts museum and parks. We also spent lots of time locating cash. Banks not as helpful as ATMs in fancy hotels.
Uzbekistan’s currency takes some getting used to. 1000 som = about ten US cents. Even though prices are very reasonable, we need to carry stacks of money. Millions! I’m completely lost in all the zeros. Is that train ticket 40,000 som or 400,000 som? The most common bank notes 10,000 som. At one ATM we found that worked – and that’s another story – it just spat out 10,000 som notes and we were each withdrawing over a million som. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time seeking ATMs that accept foreign bank cards and then as much time sitting in our room counting money. This pile for train tickets another pile for accommodations, another pile for……
Our train from Tashkent to Samarkand was another pleasant surprise. Modern, clean, fast, specious seats, a complimentary breakfast!
Samarkand is everything I’ve been hoping for in a Silk Road city.
Here, history reveals itself. There are glorious ancient buildings, mausoleums, a fabulous market, nicely maintained avenues and pedestrian streets. There are also lots of other tourists but we seem to be welcomed. Local folk generally greet us with “welcome to Uzbekistan.” We’ve met many friendly people. More English is spoken here than in Kazakhstan. We’d not expected this, but it does make life easier. I’ve sent some Samarkand pictures in the previous blog.
Back to our ever prevailing money matters.
It’s so hard to locate serviceable ATMs that we’ve been trying to figure out all our financial requirements for our entire time in Uzbekistan….. too many zeros involved!
Yesterday we found no ATMs that accepted our cards and we walked far and wide. Finally another customer at the third unhelpful bank took us under his wing. An hour later Pat and I each had a bit of US money….. we still don’t know why US and not som. Helen was still without any funds so she went to one of the fancy hotels (where she was successful) while Pat and I went to a hammam.
The hammam is just down the lane from our hostel. It is old. After changing we showered, then lay on hot – really hot – white marble benches on our wet hammam towels. Then a lovely, slightly corpulent attendant – about our age – in her voluptuous bloomers and bra arrived. After Pat and I had sweat for a while, she scrubbed us and washed us and our hair, then massaged us then coated us in ginger powder, then rinsed us off, then hugged us! All this under ancient brick domes and on marble benches that have seen centuries of women and men enjoy the rituals of communal bathing. We, however, had the entire place to ourselves.
Today we visited the site of an observatory built by scientist – Ulugbek – in 1428. He was one of the world’s most learned astronomers who calculated planetary orbits, stars positions and the length of earth’s year with nearly as much accuracy as modern astronomers have been able to do. The museum there offered us a reminder of how much Islamic scientists have contributed to our modern understanding of the natural world. This is something I think some of us who have been educated in Western-centric schools don’t fully appreciate.
Tomorrow we’ll enjoy our last day in this well restored Silk Road city before continuing to Bukhara then Khiva.
In comparing Samarkand (Uzbekistan) with Shymkent (Kazakhstan) – which was founded in the 12th century as a caravanserai for the important Silk Road city of nearby Sayram, I wonder why neither Shymkent nor Sayram seem to have any remaining signs of their early Silk Road history. Shymkent was an important trade centre for nomadic and urbanized people, but Genghis Khan and other attacking nomadic armies destroyed it more than once. The Soviets weren’t easy on ancient monuments and buildings either. Samarkand however seems to have faired better. In Kazakhstan, there is only just now a move to fix up the remaining monuments in Turkistan in an effort to encourage tourism. This has already happened here in Uzbekistan.