Thurs, Oct 31, 2013
Happy Halloween! I went out for a short walk to the nearby cathedral shortly after sunrise. After breakfast, we departed Samarkand. We had a bit of bumpy roads for the first hour but then flat roads thereafter. Just after noon, we stopped at a town to get lunch. During our afternoon portion of driving, we stopped at a roadside attraction – another Caravanserai and a water well from the Silk Road times. It was getting a bit cold and raining at this stop.
By mid-afternoon, we arrived in Bukhara. This town allows you to image how things looked in Silk Road times. Although it is heavily restored, all the towns here are made of the bricks and mud bricks. There are winding back alley ways that are easy to lose yourself in. As you look at the skyline, there are minarets and domes.
Very little of the city is covered in blue tiles, unlike the over-restored Samarkand. Bukhara is the most holy city in Central Asia.
Our hotel here is in an old historic building, with two courtyards in the interior – a really great place. After checking into the hotel, I set out to take some photos. The sun had come out and the lighting was beautiful. I saw a minaret in the distance so I started walking that direction but soon found myself lost in a maze of streets. Eventually I made my way to the minaret. Next, I ran into a bunch of others from the group. They had found a much faster way there (i.e. thru all the tourist shops). The sun was setting and the sunset was looking nice. Also, some of the group wanted a beer. We combined both needs and found a great rooftop bar with amazing view of the mosque and minaret at sunset. Amazing.
Barb, Anna, Chris, and I set out to find dinner. We found a small diner with several locals and some tourists. There was a woman who Anna had met at the Uzbek embassy in Bishkek. She was from Washington state – a town that is less than 30-minute drive from where I live. She’s in Bishkek teaching 4th grade at an international school. I had the Lagman – an Uzbek noodle soup with beef and vegetables – very nice. I may have to return to this diner again in the next couple days.
Fri, Nov 1
It’s hard to believe it’s already November 1st. The days are going so fast lately. Exactly one month from today will be my return to the US.
I went out for a pre-breakfast walk to watch sunrise over the Minaret. This minaret is so well built, it has survived several earthquakes. It was also deemed to be too beautiful by Genghis Khan to be destroyed.
After breakfast, we set out for a city tour with our new guide. We had previously had a woman guide but she had done several things that greatly annoyed the passengers and the guides so she got fired in Samarkand. Our new local tour guide joined us this morning and will stay with us until the Turkmenistan border. He is so interesting and funny that the entire group stayed with him all day long.
We first stopped at several Madrassahs – or traditional Muslim schools, most of which are no longer in use other than being filled with tourist shops. We stopped at a couple small museums including a carpet and woodworking museum. We then watched a demonstration of Bukhara carpets. Each one takes several months or more to weave/knot. There were carpets made from camel and sheep wool as well as artificial and real silk.
The group went to lunch but I went for a bit of a walk and had some salad. After lunch, we met to visit the Ark fortress
, the 40-column mosque, Job’s well, and a Mausoleum.
The Mausoleum was next to the small amusement park so I skipped out on the last part and went on the Ferris wheel where I had a great view of some of the architecture of the old town.
There is an unbelievable amount of shopping in this town. Even places with very few tourists. I’d imagine some of these sellers must have days with no sales at all. I had been looking at the Turkmen hats (big fuzzy sheep’s wool hats), and found a nice white hat at one of these vendors. Starting price was $25 but I ultimately bought it for $15. Another guy from our trip was looking at old Russian soldier hats. Starting price was $50 but he paid $18 so it seems there is quite some opportunity to lower the prices. Tomorrow I will likely do some more shopping.
In the evening, the group went to a wine tasting of Uzbek wines. We had 2 dry whites, 2 dry reds, 2 half whites, and a sweet red dessert wine. After the tasting, we each had another full glass of our choosing. The wines weren’t great but weren’t the worst I’ve ever tasted.
Then we moved on to the Minfisa restaurant to celebrate Dave’s birthday. We had a local piano player entertain us in our private room but I was more entertained at the piano player’s daughter who was both laughing and looking in horror at the antics of our group.
Sat, Nov 2
I slept in a bit since we were out a little late last night. Today is the last truly “free” day for a while and the last time we will stay in one city for 3 nights in a row so I decided to relax a bit today. After breakfast, I took a short walk to the Chor Minor Madrassah (school) which is unique because it has 4 towers. A lady said I could pay 1000 som (40 cents) to take the stairs to the roof so I did that for an OK view over the rooftops.
I then went to the new town area just to walk around a little.
I stopped for lunch at the little round cafe and had the excellent lagman (beef noodle soup) again. Then I relaxed for a while back at the hotel. After a rest, I visited a photographic exhibition and a puppet workshop. At 3:00, I met Anna and Chris for a tea tasting. This was a tea house that has been in the same family since the 1400’s. Now it is a place for tourists to pay $5 to have unlimited spicy tea, coffee, and sweets. We had ginger, spice and herb, and saffron tea. We also tried cinnamon and cardamom Turkish coffee. The sweets included walnuts, raisins, honey sesame squares, rock sugar, and a white bar that was a bit like non-chocolate fudge.
Next, I had an appointment at the Hamman. This is a 16th century Hamman, a steam room/bathhouse (now often referred to as a “Turkish bath”). There was one dome in the middle with a number of smaller domes containing steam rooms and massage rooms. The entire process took about an hour. First, I sat in a steam room for about 20 minutes to open the pores. Then the masseur took a scrub mitten and scrubbed all the dead skin off my arms and back. Next was the 20-minute massage. Given that I asked for the “medium” massage, I’d hate to think what the “hard” massage feels like. The massage is given with warm water and soap as I laid on the marble floor. Next, I was rubbed with a type of ginger exfoliate and then back in the steam room for 20 minutes followed by a dousing of a couple buckets of water. The last bucket being cold. Then I dressed and was given some rose water to put on my face and tea to drink. I was nice and relaxed after the Hamman.
Back at the hotel, I joined Anna, Chris, Barb, and our local guide Jalol for dinner were I just had a salad since we had eaten too many sweets in the afternoon.
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