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Showing posts from July, 2011

Tashkent to Seoul

One final note about Uzbekistan: If you are leaving the country by plane (as i was) and you have some s'om left over (as i did) and you plan to spent it at the airport on snacks and souvenirs (ditto), don't do it. Take the last of your s'om and spend it or give it away before going inside the airport, because once you're in there, they won't take it nor will they exchange it. It's Euros only at the Tashkent airport. Now what am i going to do with the 24,000 s'om burning a hole in my pocket?
I arrived in Seoul at about 7am on Saturday and took the Arex train to Seoul Station. (A word of advice, if you are doing this, take the commuter train, not the high-speed train. The high-speed train is about 4x the price and is only 7 minute faster than the commuter train.)

Once downtown, i was hit with the brutal humidity of Seoul. It was not nearly at hot as Uzbekistan, but was so humid that it felt a million times worse. I had rivers of sweat running down my face int…

Miscellaneous Uzbek Trivia

I thought i would post a few random observations that have previously been absent from my posts - Just a few things i found interesting:

Gold Teeth: Many women and men (but mostly women) of abut middle age or older here have a few or all gold teeth. I have been told that it is fashionable. It is quite strange the first few times a women smiles (not at me - they seldom smile at me) and you see her gilded smile. I guess it isn't any stranger than people in North America getting their perfectly healthy teeth capped. I tried to explain to one guy in Bukhara that in certain sub-cultures in North America, gold teeth are popular (i.e. rap culture), which he seemed to think was very funny.

Car Theft: Apparently care theft used to be a big problem in Uzbekistan (mainly in Tashkent), so the government changed the law so that now, the first time one gets caught stealing a car he gets 15 years in prison. The second time one gets caught stealing a car one gets either life in prison or death by…

Uzbekistan: The Final Day

As it turns out, my crumby day yesterday did not last even one full day.

After my post, i returned to my hotel, the Gulnara Guesthouse. It is on the edge of the old town near the bustling Chorsu market. I cannot comment on the rooms, because, as i mentioned, my reservation was screwed up and the only room they had for me wasn't really a room, just a cot and electric fan, but i must say that i am quite happy with the accomdations. The owners are friendly and the rooms are all located around a pleasant courtyard with a huge apple tree and laundry strung up everywhere. It is definitely a backpackers' place, with everyone there being young and traveling with large backpacks or by bicycle. Almost everyone there seems to be French, although the Japanese girl i met in Samarkand (and saw again in Bukhara) is staying there as well.

Anyway, after my post, i went to my room and spent about 4 hours napping and listening to repeats of Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais podcasts on my ipod, whic…

Night Train to Tashkent

My last day in Bukhara was pretty relaing. I just went for walks and read a book and went out for lunch at an Italian restaurant. I know, Italian food in Uzbekistan sounds like a bad idea, and i'm not sure that it was all that authentic, but the vegetarian pizza that i nibbled at (usually i would have gobbled it down, but i am still feeling ill), was actually ok. They best part though was sitting at a proper indoor restaurant and smoking a cigar; it's just so civilized.

They evening came and i caught the 7:40 night train to Tashkent. It taskes about 12 hours, so i had booked a bed in a sleeper car, each of which holds four. Unfortunately i shared my car with four men. There wasn't anything wrong with them, but sleeping in close quarters with 4 men who don't speak english doesn't thrill me.
The beds were comfy and it was nice to lie down, but the air conditioning that was allegedly flowing failed to cool me down at all. I spent the whole time lying in a pool of my o…

Yurt Sweet Yurt

After my last post, on my last night in Bukhara before going to the desert, i spent the evening until past midnight drinking tea and smoking peach shisha with the british girl i had met on the train coming here, as well as a couple from Switzerland.  The evenings here are really perfect, weatherwise. Whoever suggested that i bring a jacket or sweater for the cool evenings was mistaken.

The next morning after breakfast, i was picked up my my driver who was to drive me to the Kyzilkum Desert (Kyzilkum means "red sands", i believe). Normally they arrange these desert excursions for groups, but i was just one. I had hoped that others might have decided to go on the same night as me, but alas, i was alone.

So my driver, who did not any English, drove me for 3.5 hours into the desert. The drive was great. I was able to watch as the city of Bukhara and its outlying areas melted away, leaving only rural areas, then just occasional tiny towns, then just desert. As we drove, the cars …

Playboy mansion, Uzbek style

Last night, after i posted to the blog, i went for a walk around the neighborhood. It would seem that things only get busier in the evening. All around Lyabi-Hauz people and families - almost exclusively locals - were walking and sitting, eating sunflower seeds and ice cream, having dinner, and kids were running around playing in unsupervised packs.  It was a delightful scene and made me wish we had more squares for congregation in Vancouver. I had a cigar and people watched until bed time.

I must also mention that i had the best dinner last night - something other than the bread and cucumber/tomato salads i have been surviving on. I had this delicious salad of warm, crispy eggplant and tomatos followed by a rice, bean and vegetable dish. It seems that they don't hate vegetarians here after all!

Today i awoke with nothing planned for the day. I had basically seen all sights on my list, so the day was a mystery. The mystery was solved as over breakfast i was chatting with another g…

Assalomu Alaykum from Bukhara

Here is am in Bukhara. I arrived yesterday afternoon after a pleasant train ride (first class really is the way to go on Uzbek trains). The AC was working, i had two seats to myself, we were only 1.5 hours behind schedule, and i spent the ride chatting with a British girl also traveling around Uzbekistan.

My hotel, the Komil Hotel, is perfect. It is in a 18th or 19th C home that is beautifully decorated and adorned with details carvings and design. The courtyard, breakfast room, and my own room are all like small, exotic palaces.
Bukhara is slightly more compact that Samarkand, and while Samarkand may have overall the more breath taking monuments, Bukhara is by far the lovelier city. Bukhara has not been restored and modernized the way much of Samarkand has. Its main streets are still an ancient feeling warren of dusty roads, sandy buildings and covered bazaars. At the centre of the town is Lyabi-Hauz, a plaza built around a pool, surrounded by giant  mulberry trees and with stunning …

Da Svidanya, Samarkand

Today is my last full day in Samarkand. I have already seen the sights i wanted to see, so i am taking it a bit easy today. I walked for miles to find this lone internet cafe and i might head out of town to see this one rather ancient mausloeum, but other than that, i think i'll just lay around.
I did not sleep at all last night, as i was quite ill. I am feeling better today, just weak. All i have been able to eat is tea and melons.

So, tomorrow, Friday, i catch the 12:00 noon train for Bukhara, which is supposed to be about a 3 hour journey.

I will check in when i can, internet access permitting.

d

The Old Town

One thing that is odd about Samarkand is that because of their vast tourism, apparently, they have really cleaned up the areas around the Registan. It doesn't feel western, but it definitely feel new and tidy and organized. But i had heard that there was an old town worth exploring...if you can find it. What the city bofficials have done is built walls around the old parts of the city where the people actually live, so that tourists can be spared seeing the poverty.

I walked up and down this one street for quite a while, watching. I finally saw kids with modified prams stacked high with non (bread) coming out of a door in the wall. I stepped through and it was a different world.

Unpaved, uneven streets tangled together and lined with broken and haphazard dwellings. Kids walking around with non on their heads or carrying buckets of water. Corner stores guarded by odd looking chickens, broken windows, watermelon rinds and once beautiful mosques that have fallen into disrepair.
It is…

Registan

Samarkand is amazing. It is a bit like Luxor, in the sense that it is just bursting with impossibly large, old and jaw droppingly beautiful monuments and mausoleums.
Obviously, the first place i had to go was the Registan. This is really the whole reason i am here, to see this collection of mosques and medrassas. It did not disappoint.

The buildings are enormous, and yet ever inch of them is covered with intricate designes in tiny tiles. The blue domes are radiant and astonishing. It is on par with the most impressive buildings i have ever seen.
I explored its nooks and crannies and then went on to visit the many other sites of interest. (I won't list them all, but they are all equally amazing.)
The market here is a good one; similar to but better than the one in Tashkent. I bought fruit and surveyed possible souvenirs.

It is really hot here. It feels much hotter than Tashkent. The landscape is very deserty. On the train ride here, i watched as the land went from green and fertile …

Samarkand Express

Forgive the absence, but internet is very difficult to find in samarkand. I have been here 3 days so far and today was the first day i found an internet cafe - and it took me over an hour to get here.  Anyway, on to updates.



I left Tashkent on the Sharq Express train which left early in the morning. I was running a bit late, so i decided to take a taxi to the train stn. They have a really good system for taxis here; there are the proper, marked taxis that you can call or hail and will cost a small fortune (they wanted the equivalent of $5US to take me to the stn). Then there are the regular guys in regular cars (almost always Ladas). You just stand on the side of the road and they stop and you offer them money to take you where you want to go. It's actually very sensible and they took me to the train stn for about $1.

The train ride was supposed to take 3.5 hours, but due to work being done on the tracks, it took over 6hrs. I was in first class, which is very comfortable and had l…

Tashkent: day 2

hello again.
After breakfast i went to the train station and bought my ticket to Samarkand for tomorrow morning. I took the metro (a few times today actually). The subways here are very similar to thosein Moscow. They are quite elaborately decorated (not as much as the nicest of those in Moscow, but lovely nevertheless). I wanted to take photos, but it is forbidden, and there are police everywhere here. They haven't given me any trouble but i have seen them stop random people and look in their bags.

I went to the Chorsu bazaar today. It is mostly food items: produce and bread, spices and nuts, eggs, meats, etc., but there are also stall selling woven items, pottery, musical instruments, at whatnot. The Uzbekistan bread is very sacred to them. They incorporate it into ceremonies and pictures of it seems to be on all of their tourist advertising. Basically, the bread is this round, flat but with high edges, golden brown bread with sesame seeds. Sometimes they have intricate designs …

Hello, Tashkent!

Let me just being by apologizing for what are sure to be many typos (Cyrilic key board)

I arrived in Uzbekistan last night.  The flight from Seoul was about 7 hrs and was uneventful. We arrived in Tashkent and began the immigration process. I was a bit apprehensive, since everything i had read said that it was a difficult process and could take 3 hours. On the contrary, it was far less of a hassel than entering Canada or the US; there was just a lot of paper work to fill out.
Outside the airport i was hit with a wave of summer evening heat and a mountain of taxi drivers all clamoring for my money. I lit a smoke and told them to wait until i was finished. They stood there staring at me. I told them to back off or they I wouldn't be able to enjoy my cigarillo. They behaved. Then, in Russian, i managed to haggle the price of a taxi from $15 to $5 US. I know it shouldn't cost more then $3, but i am ok with $5.

En route to my hotel, the cabbie asked me (in english now) if i wanted t…

Sunday in Seoul

Hello! I have made it as far as South Korea. I left on Friday and flew to Los Angeles, where i had a tedious 3 hour layover (how can such an important city have such a crummy airport?).  I then flew about 12 and a half hours to Seoul. It was a delightful flight, i barely slept, but it flew by. Arrived in Seoul at about 4:40 am.


I caught the first train into the city. It took just under an hour and takes one right from the airport to downtown Seoul. For some reason my transit card wouldn't open up the turnstyle gates at the other end, so i couldn't get out. Some man suggested through the universal magic of charades that i jump the turnstyle, which i did. I figure, if a local says i should do it, it must be ok, right? That is the first turnstyle i ever jumped. 

After my act of deliquency, i then went to Namdaemun Market. I figured if i only had a few hours, that would be a god place to start. It is, except that at 7am on sunday morning, there isn't a lot going on. Most of t…

Where Next?

It has been over a year since my last travel adventure, which was a trip to Ecuador in the spring of last year. I've been to Seattle and Colorado since then, but nowhere exciting. Then it happened, suddenly: that coming together of time and money that makes planning an exotic trip irresistible.

Initially, there was no question, i was going to Mali. It has been #1 on my travel list for a while. Unfortunately, the time i have at my disposal is in July and if there is one month not to visit Mali, it is July, when tropical-scale rains fall nonstop and turn the usually sandy landscape into a mud pit, which made my plans for camping in the desert an impossibility.

Next on the list: Syria. The thing is, things are a little too interesting in Syria right now.
India: Monsoon season.
Europe: I feel like going somewhere more exotic and less expensive.
South America: I can't do two South America trips back to back, plus it's winter in many parts of the continent.



Then it came to me: t…