This was my first travel experience to a new country since covid times and it felt great! It was a weird feeling entering a new country and there was slight anxiety prior to leaving just incase we misunderstood the situation and couldn’t actually go. Luckily all was well and we arrived in Tashkent with zero complications. We quickly discovered that forms in Uzbekistan don’t have ‘UK’, ‘England’ or ‘Great Britain’ on them and we stunned and concerned the woman at the sim card counter for quite some time. After a lot of deciphering we realised that the UK is called ‘Big Britannica and Ireland’ and so we were finally allowed a sim card.
Next stop was the train. Lots of friendly people wanted to do lots of helpful things to get us a train ticket and we were on our way to Samarkand. The train had rows of bunk beds and on the top bunk I had approx 30cm to sit up in. Kidding it was slightly more but still it was a narrow kinda situation. There was a man aggressively yelling snack names at us every half an hour and we had a joyful time cruising along for 4 hours to Samarkand. A definite low of the train journey was the discovery that the cheese and bread we bought tasted like a combination of fizz and damp. Thank goodness for the pringles.
Once we arrived in Samarkand we begrudgingly overpaid for a taxi to our hostel. Taxi vultures are in full force in Uzbekistan and they will descend on you and bark at you whilst jeering at one another in some kind of territorial manner. It’s not the most pleasant experience and they seemed to get aggressive when you politely suggest that they may be overcharging you. Nonetheless we arrived safely at Samarkand Center. Samarkand Center had a lovely courtyard and a friendly owner who we named Pfizer because he had a name beginning with F but we didn’t catch it and it was too awkward to ask again. There were no locks on the doors at this hostel and we made jokes that we would return to find all our socks were missing. Thankfully Pfizer said he would guard our belongings. Our room had some intense Uzbek dramas to enjoy on TV and a free breakfast.
Samarkand itself is beautiful; full of old buildings and ornate mosques. There are lots of markets selling all sorts of wonderful patterns, hats, cushion covers and of course, whistles. Samarkand made a few pennies from us (namely Hattie) with the purchase of several whistles amongst other things. Remember ‘Looking is free’ but you will find yourself trapped in a cycle of selling and have garments thrust upon you and people asking you if you’re German a lot. We insisted on walking everywhere even when there was clearly no pavement and on one occasion we were joined by a concerned and loyal street dog (also named Pfizer). Even he gave up on us when we insisted walking along a main road. Sorry Pfizer.
Samarkand shout out needed for the lovely, animated cafe owner who provided us with the best самса Без мяса. Such a great food. Sadly we never found it again although we searched high and low. He was desperate to show us photos of his friends from all over the world and really wanted us to have a good meal. Tomato and cucumber salads in Uzbekistan are divine. Vegetarian food is limited and sometimes you will get regular food with the meat picked out but at least they are trying.
After a couple of days in Samarkand visiting old things and mausoleums we took a train to Bukhara. Bukhara is really beautiful and calming. It’s full of interesting side streets and stunning architecture.
There was a lovely old man who owns a photo gallery and this place was my favourite. He has a beautiful collection of portrait photography and you can buy some of his work as postcards. He was very sweet. There was also a creepy puppet museum with a very enthusiastic puppet maker.
Happy Halloween everyone.
To go inside most places you have to pay the tourist charge (most of the time 25000 som). All the museums have English translations and people who want to take a photo with you. Haven’t missed this. Unfortunately in Bukhara we stayed in a strange hostel and I was haunted the entire time by the imprisoned quails that were hanging from a rope. I don’t understand why there they had eight tiny cages of quails covered in white sheets but I dreamt about releasing them. Their tormented calls plagued my dreams and I really did obsess about them. We were sharing the hostel with a female teenage football team who were, as I’m sure you can imagine, quite annoying. As seems to be the way in this part of the world the heating is on way too high all of the time and you feel like you’re suffocating a little bit. Parts of the wall kept breaking off and covering our belongings in a white powder. Uzbekistan is a dusty old place.
We tried to go on a yurt trip after Bukhara but for some reason no one wanted to reply to our enquiries. We tried to go on a horse riding tour but no one wanted us on that either. Maybe it was the additional note of ‘2x vegetarians and one of us has no horse riding experience’ that put them off. Having been shunned several times we decided to go back to Tashkent for our final few days. My favourite moment in Bukhara was when Hattie bought an ice cream and tried to pay for it to a small boy who said hi to her. He then looked terrified and shouted “Mama”. Don’t think he worked there.
The train to Tashkent was my least favourite because I was watched for 6 hours by two small children. One of them tried to stroke me. There was also an old woman who insisted on moving seats from her designated seat and then every time the train stopped she would be in someone’s seat and have to move. She seemed confused by this even though it happened multiple times. Eventually she settled down the carriage far away from the child she was with and he was just roaming around stroking strangers and maintaining eye contact with them at all times. There was also a man who was staring at me through the reflection in the train window so it was just a very uncomfortable situation for quite a number of hours.
Tashkent wouldn’t win any awards for top tourist destinations in comparison to the beauty of Samarkand and Bukhara. It’s clearly expanding with lots of high rises being built and it didn’t have the character of our previous stops. We chose the coldest, rainiest/snowiest day to go up a gondola to the top of a mountain but it made me excited for the ski season.
We had a funny, kind driver on this trip who took us to Lake Charvak and talked to us with pride about Uzbekistan. He showed us some ancient trees and played us his favourite “English language music”.
Our hotel was once again quite quirky and we strangely ended up having breakfast in the midst of a wedding set up. There were people bustling about around us whilst we ate pancakes and tried not to ruin the table decorations or get crumbs on the tablecloth. We almost missed our flight home because of a series of annoying events but all was well in the end.
Uzbekistan is doing lots of things right. It’s friendly, the public transport is efficient and cheap, PCR tests are cheap and quick (because this is the world we live in now) and when we practised our Russian people were very patient. The men are slightly seedy and a bit creepy and the taxi drivers really aggravated me. There’s a lot of pride for independent Uzbekistan and they really welcome tourism and want you to be happy. I’d definitely go back and it was a really wonderful feeling to explore something new. I learnt a lot of history about this part of the world and realised how little I know about Central Asia. Moving to this part of the world has opened my eyes to history I knew very little about and a culture that welcomed me as a foreigner. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the ‘Stans’ (and avoiding the obvious ones).