Suitcase and World: March 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hello Tashkent!

At Independence Square, Tashkent.

Jet lag kicked in this morning :-( I woke up shortly after 4a and basically tossed and turned for the next few hours. Pat opened her eyes around 5a but managed to go back to sleep. By the time she was ready to get out of bed at around 7:30a, I was ready to retreat back under the covers and catch some shut eye. But, it was time to get going and so we got ready for the day which started with breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It comes with the room. It was a buffet style breakfast with what I am guessing are typical Uzbek breakfast food items - including blintzes, some fried mashed potato cakes, some fried cheese cake thing of some sort, a vegetable stew, cereal, dried fruits, yogurt, cold cuts, sliced cheese, and bread. There was apple and orange juice and the only hot beverage was tea. I sampled around and finally came to the painful conclusion that the only thing that my taste buds would be happy with were the cold cuts, cheese and bread. Guess what I'm having for breakfast tomorrow?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Finally on Our Way!

Greetings from Tashkent!

I am writing this post from seat 14G on a TransAero flight 2222 from JFK to Vnukovo Airport in Moscow. If you can't already tell from that sentence, today's the day we left NYC for Tashkent. Our flight out of JFK was at 2:25p so we didn't have to worry about getting up at the crack of dawn. We woke when we woke. I had to check the weather. Yep, it was 26 degrees this morning. It's suppose to be spring but it's obvious the weather gods did not get the memo!! I checked the weather for Tashkent for Tuesday, the day after we arrive.  It'll be in the 30's by the time we wake up.  Cold.....very glad I got my down jacket!

We had a light breakfast and then Pat had a few last minute things to take care of before we left for the airport.

She's like me in that I'd rather be at the airport early and wait there so we decided to head out around 10:15a. Yes, that's more than 4 hours before departure but neither of us was about to miss this flight!

Because of the weekend work that was being done, we couldn't catch the E Train from 8th Ave and 24th Street subway station as we would have. Instead, we took the train from 8th and 28th, downtown, to 8th Ave and 14th street stop. From the 14th street station it was on to the E Train to Sutphin Blvd where we transferred over to the AirTran. Even though our trip took us about an hour and fifteen minutes We arrived in to JFK with plenty of time to spare.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Enjoying My NYC Layover.

I woke up early.  I waited for Pat to get up before getting ready for the day.  We had breakfast - it was nice to have a real NYC bagel with cream cheese, washed down with freshly brewed coffee!  Pat and I sat around and chatted for a bit. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Heading for NYC.

The alarm was set for 7:30a but my internal travel day click had me up at quarter past 7. I was too antsy to stay in bed so I got up and prepared to leave. I did all the last minute tasks including shutting off the water main and putting away the dishes.  I checked the weather by stepping outside my front door.  It was a cold and chilly day.   Where is spring?!?!

I had booked a taxi for 8a and anxiously waited for it to arrive. I am always relieved to see my ride arrive on time. It was a short ride to the Metro station and from there to Union Station.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The i's Are Dotted and the t's are Crossed.

We got our final set of instructions from Yuriy today; we are ready to go!

I am unbelievably thrilled that after months of talking about this trip and even more months of working through all the pre-trip logistics, it's all come together smoothly and soon, we'll be taking off!

Both Pat and I have been communicating every few days throughout this whole trip planning process - she's been a great person to bounce ideas around with. 

At this point, we are prepared as best we can be but we know there will be some challenging moments on this trip - we will just have to be understanding and patient as difficulties arise.

I still have a few small tasks to take care of before I leave and will be focusing on getting those things done as time will fly by between now and when we leave.  So for now, I'm done with reading and this is my last blog posting for a while.

Central Asia, here we come!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Turkmen Culture. Carpets, Hats and Horses.

A Turkmen, in traditional costume, with his beloved Akhal-Teke horse.  Photo by Reza

As I've been reading about the culture of the countries we'll be visiting, I've come to the realize that Turkmenistan stands slightly apart from the other four.  The reason for this is that the ancestors of the Turkmen were nomadic tribes; the other four countries were populated by settled tribes of farmers.   Each clan has its own dialect and style of dress and that has been true for centuries.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Colorful Gateway to the Desert. Khiva.

 Islam Khoja Minaret on the left and  the Mausoleum of Pakhlavan Mahmoud, topped by the emerald green dome,
on the right.  (Photo from Uzbekistan Tours)

Legend has it that Khiva was founded by a son of Noah - Shem, when he dug a well in the middle of the desert. People who drank the well water were said to exclaim, “Khey-vakh” which roughly means “sweet water.”  Khiva is an oasis city.  During the Silk Road days, it was a popular trading post as well as rest stop for the camel caravans; indeed, it was the last place for caravans to rest before journeying across the vast Karakum Desert to Iran. Today, Khiva is more known for its tourists than its trade caravans.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Border Crossings.

Hopefully, this will not be me!  (Image from joyreactor)
 imagine that back in the Silk Road days, that there were no border crossings in Central Asia.  Camel caravans just trekked along as they needed to to reach their final destinations.

I also don't think that border crossings were an issue when the *stans* were part of the Soviet Union.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Holy City. Bukhara.

Panoramic view of Bukhara. (Photo by mariusz kluzniak)

Bu·kha·ra. I have been mispronouncing the name of this city my entire life. It is not pronouciate *boo-cah-ra* as you would think looking at the Roman letters.. No, the *kh* are actually sounded out a wee bit gutteral so the *k* is not a harsh.  Here, click on the link to hear the proper way to pronounce the name of this ancient city.  Make sure your speakers are turned on.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Tradition & Passion of Paper Making.

Paper made in the workshop of Zarif Mukhtarov. (Photo from theguardian)

T he tradition of making paper dates back centuries in Samarkand.  For me, it all started when I read that we would be visiting a mulberry paper workshop.  I wanted to find out more about mulberry paper.  Little did I know the history I would uncover!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Lifeblood of Central Asia. Bread.

Bread sellers in Urgut (Sunday market), Samarqand province, Uzbekistan.  (Photo by Betta27)

Whether it's called non, naan or nan, bread is the lifeblood of the Central Asian diet.  According to a report, called Cereal Worlds, published by AACC International, the per capita consumption of bread, in some rural regions, is as high as 500 grams per day.   In some areas, nearly 50% of the daily caloric intake comes from bread.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Markets.

Photo From International Mission Board (imb).

With a legacy imbued by centuries of trade, it does not come as a surprise to me that Central Asia is famed for its markets.  Contrary to what the name implies though, the Silk Road was never a single road.  Instead, it a loose network of routes, linking together the major trading centers of East Asia with those in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Tajikistan. The Majesty and The Danger.

Fann Mountains (Photo from KE Adventure Travel)

Although the independent Republic of Tajikistan is just about 24 years old, Tajik civilization dates back as far as 3,000 years.  Archaeological finds identify settlements dating back even further, all the way to the upper Paleolithic period (15-20 thousand years ago!

Like many of the towns and cities of its sister nations, the other *stans*,  many of Tajikistan's towns and cities were also located on strategic points along the Silk Road and so its national identify reflects the influence of multiple civilizations through the ages as well.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Ceramics of Uzbekistan. Rishtan.

Rishtan Ceramic Panel
(Photo from Arastan)
Ceramics is one of the oldest forms of applied decorative arts in Uzbekistan; it goes back centuries, to the days of the Silk Road.

The first glazed ceramics, using a green glaze,were made in the 8th century.  By the mid-8thcentury, the first colored ceramics, covered in transparent glaze and appearing gray, appeared. From the 9-12th centuries various glazes were developed.

Following the invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century, there was an economic decline with led to a decline in interest in ceramics.  Then came Timur in the 14th century.

Once Timur had established his empire, with Samarkand as the capital,  the best commodities from all over the world started to make their way in to the markets of the empire. The finest white Chinese porcelain, with cobalt blue painting, were among the most valued goods. But exactly how the Chinese manufactured these highly desired porcelains was a secret that they kept to themselves.

In an attempt to decode the manufacturing process, Timur supposedly sent several ceramics masters from Samarkand to Rishtan. Unfortunately, all attempts to try and recreate the Chinese porcelains failed because the secret was in the kaolin clay that the Chinese used and not in the process. Though they failed to reproduce Chinese porclains, the artisans of Rishtan soon developed their own, unique form of pottery using clay and minerals found in the region.

Rishtan's reddish-yellow clay is found in deposits 1 to 1.5 meters deep and 0.5 to 1 5/8 meters thick in pretty much all of Rishtan. The fine quality of the clay allowed it to be used without preliminary refinement and without having to add in any other types of clay, as potters from other regions needed to. Additionally, the potters of Rishtan extracted various dyes and minerals, from their surroundings, to color and paint the porcelain.  The Rishtan ceramics depicted stories and images reflecting the cultures of the region.