Mon, Oct 21, 2013
Today I was back on cook group, meaning I had to get up early to help prepare breakfast. It was stressful with 3 roles to fill – making and cleaning up breakfast, taking down the tent, and having to pack all of the luggage in the truck at the same time. We had about 4 hours driving to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. We stopped along the way to take pictures of a small mosque. We had noticed that all the mosques in the small towns looked the same with a silver dome. Our guide said these have been built in the last 4 years – paid for by a Saudi prince who wanted every village in Kyrgyzstan to have its own mosque.
We also entered Kazakhstan for about 30 seconds – there is a river that makes the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and the main highway from Lake Issyk Kul to Bishkek had 2 bridges over this river. Between the 2 bridges was a big fence of barbed wire on both sides of the road. This is the closest I’ll get to visiting Kazakhstan on this trip. We were originally supposed to spend 4 days there but an earlier trip had some problems getting Kazakh visas so we will be taking a different route (and saving about $100 in visa costs).
We arrived at the great Asia Mountain Hotel in Bishkek – we had a suite – a sitting room with flat screen TV, sofa, desk, and fridge. A large bathroom, and a bedroom. In the afternoon, Chris, Barb, Anna, and I set out to get our laundry done. The Russian lady didn’t want to take it because they were very busy, but we paid a 50% “express” fee. We continued to Tsum, the huge state department store that is much unlike other department stores. Rather than one big store, it was a collection of dozens of individual stores that sold everything from shoes, perfumes, cell phone covers, and ovens. Much of the top floor was souvenirs – it was overwhelming how much stuff was there.
For dinner, most of the group went to Steinbrau brewhaus – a German restaurant and bar. I was hoping for an Oktoberfest like atmosphere but it was pretty dead on a Monday night. It wasn’t a very good value – about $10 for some so-so sausage and sauerkraut and a beer with alot of foam in the glass. Then the bill came and somehow the amount we calculated vs their number meant we were $30 short – ridiculous.
Tues, Oct 22
Breakfast was included with at the hotel and it was by far the best breakfast of the trip – lots of different finger foods, yogurt, fruit, juice, etc. Most of the group needed to go to the Uzbek embassy to get their visas today, but 4 of us already had gotten them in our own countries so we had a full day free in the city. Barb and I set off walking towards the Osh bazaar – the largest market in town. Along the way, we stopped at several shops and took pictures of the government buildings.
The market was huge but we stuck to the northern part that included souvenirs and local dress. The prices here were better than all the other souvenirs we’d seen so far, but there was a smaller selection. I bought a couple gifts. After the bazaar, we headed back to the center of town, stopping at a couple bakeries for treats and stopping at several parks and governmental buildings. We stopped at Tsum again to buy the things we hadn’t bought yesterday or at the Osh Bazaar. Then we went to Victory Park where several weddings were going on – complete with stretch limos, accordions, champagne, videographers, and even a man with 3 white doves in a cage. We ended the long day of walking by picking up our laundry. It’s amazing the small pleasures of traveling – like fresh, dry, machine washed clothes. With bush camping, one night stays, and some hotels that don’t offer laundry services, this was the first time I hadn’t had to wear dirty or hand washed clothes in nearly a month! We hung out in our suite and had show and tell with all the things we bought today. Rich, Barb, Anna, and I had some salads at a Turkish restaurant for dinner.