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?


The restaurant was again filled with young people whom we figured out later on were in town for a fencing competition. 

After eating, we headed back up to the room to wait for the weather to warm up a bit before venturing out. We were prepared for cold but not 27 degrees cold!  What happened to spring?? To confirm the weather report, we stepped out on our balcony to feel for ourselves just how cold it was. I don't know if it was really 27 degrees or not but it was definitely colder than the clothing that we had brought with us could keep us warm.

By about 9:30, it was warm enough for us to head out. We already had our game plan for the day. We we going to walk along Navoiy sho ko'chasi aka Navoi Street, heading towards Alay Bazaar; we decided to explore those places that were not listed on our itinerary.

We had bundled ourselves up so well that it didn't really feel all that cold when we finally stepped outside. The warm sun helped.

We followed the road leading towards Navoi Street. Although I think our hotel is located in a pretty upscale part of town, everything looks a bit run down here. Unfortunately, we had no clue what the neighboring buildings are though the sight of some young men lingering outside the entrance of one got us thinking it might be a school. We decided they were really well dressed young men so this would be a school for the elite members of society.

Along Navoi Street.

We strolled down Navoi Street but didn't get all that far before I caught sight of something that looked like a pastry shop. I had to take a closer look. In fact, it was a guy selling samsa, the Uzbek equivalent of a samosa except it has meat in it. There was a menu tacked up next to the window, behind which stood the guy selling the pastries. There was a tray covered with a kitchen towel. Underneath was the selection of samsas. Of course, we had no idea which one to get so Pat just handed over a 1,000 som note and in exchange, the guy pulled a hot samsa right off the griddle. We essentially let him pick for us. We decided to eat it right there and then while it was still warm. The pastry itself was very crisp and flaky - quite delicious. The meat filling - have no idea what kind of meat it was, was a bit too salty but for 1,000 som, it wasn't a bad snack to have.


We continued our walk. The sidewalks here reminded me of the ones in Moscow. They are horrible. They are rarely even in level and they're dotted with potholes and loose pavers or loose gravel. You really have to pain attention to walking which takes away from the enjoyment of seeing what's around you. I also worried about Pat taking a tumble though she is very sure footed. She's also turned out to be a very good navigator. We basically followed the map in her Lonely Planet guidebook and she's the one who's been reading the map - I've just been following along.

It was after the start of the work day and so by now, all the worker bees were behind their desks. The streets were eerily quiet. So too were many of the commercial establishments. It was all too odd - we rarely saw anyone entering or leaving a building. We also saw a lot of establishments that looked to be permanently shuttered up - perhaps a sign of difficult economic times.

We soon arrived at canal and stood to look out over the water which seems to be running high.

Any higher and the water would flood over the banks of the canal.

Looking down Navoi Street.  It's rush hour but the traffic is light.

On the other side, we saw what looked to be a park. A guard stood at the entrance and at first, we didn't know if we could enter. Then, I noticed other people going in so we followed. On both sides of the wide walkway were very well manicured and maintained gardens.


Groundskeepers were out sweeping - the place was spotless, not a single piece of trash anywhere. In fact, Tashkent is pretty litter free.


At one point, we glanced to our left and saw a big statue.  The sign seemed to indicate that we were at the place that was basically a war memorial but we weren't sure.  We were curious and so we decided to check it out. Flanking the path leading towards the statue were two covered rectangular shaped pavilions with ornately carved wood columns.



Pat looked at the Lonely Planet guide and figured out that the statue is the Crying Mother Monument and the pavilions house a collection of what I can only best describe as large books with gold colored pages that listed the names of the 400,000 Uzbeks who died in WWII.  Pat had already guessed it was a WWII memorial from the dates of death listed next to the names.

The Crying Mother memorial and Eternal Flame.



After we walked around the Crying Mother memorial, we headed to one of the pavilions. We flipped through the pages of one of the books to see the names. Based solely on the birth and death dates, we concluded we were standing at a WWII memorial - the names were all of males who were pretty much in their 20's. Each book was displayed in arched nook of sorts above which was written the name of a place and something else. We obviously couldn't translate so we made a mental note to ask our guide, Marvlon, about it when we meet with him tomorrow.





Pat and I continued our walk. We came across another monument - this of a mother holding her baby. We had no clue what this one was about and there was no information about the monument in her Lonely Planet guidebook. Later I read that statue of the Mother and Child represents Mother and Motherland and the gold colored globe has an outline of the country of Uzbekistan on it.




Just beyond the Mother and Child monument was a long white building which according to Lonely Planet is the Senate building. We didn't attempt to enter.



Our walk eventually led us to bridge (?) like structure with storks on top. I recognized it from the images I had seen of Tashkent and later read that this structure is the formal entry point to Independence Square which is where we had been the entire time. Later I read that the storks represent peace and there are sixteen marble columns supporting the bridge atop which the birds sit.



Today, Independence Square was pretty empty in terms of people. I imagine that on a nice day, it would be a popular gathering spot for residents of Tashkent - it's a lovely bit of greenspace. The area around the entry plaza is filled with empty pools that would be marvelous fountains if and when the water is running. Dry they are just sad looking pits.

The streets are really wide here!

From Independence Square, we decided to go to Alay ("oh-loy") Bazaar. We continued walking on Navoi Street.

We saw a sign advertising the fencing competition.  Some of the competitors are staying at the same hotel as we are.

One of Tashkent's modern buildings.  They love white marble and blue glass here!

It required us to cross the streets which are really wide, in terms of lanes. Although the drivers are not aggressive, we weren't sure that pedestrians have right of way, by default. So, we only crossed at the crosswalks and only where there were pedestrian crossing signals. At one point, we took the underground pass to get to the other side. My first impression was that it was remarkably clean. Pat pointed out the handicap accessible ramp.

Heading down into the underpass.

From Navoi Street, we made it to Amir Timur Street Although the Lonely Planet guidebook had indicated landmarks to help us find the bazaar, we actually easily spotted it. We took a chance that the covered structure with the mass of the cars parked out front was it.

We followed out instincts. That led us to a small building. We entered and my heart sank. It was filled with jewelry shops. Not exactly the type of bazaar I was hoping for. We walked towards the back of the building and out the back door, I could see the covered structure that we had spotted form the main road. I could see the the produce from a distance. That was the bazaar. Our sunken hearts immediately started to beat faster.

Alay Bazaar

Sure enough, we had arrived at Alay Bazaar. The market space is huge but there were not all that many vendors out - probably because today is Tuesday. We went up and down the aisles, curious to see what's for sale. The place was remarkably clean and the vendors remarkably quiet. I'm used to markets where everyone is shouting out what they have for sale and at what price. Here, there was the occasional vendor trying to lure us in but otherwise, they left us alone to ogle at whatever they were selling.

A woman selling fruit - mainly apples, pears, oranges and bananas.

Lots of dried fruits and nuts for sale.  They're a popular snack in Uzbekistan.

The Uzbeks love squash!

Meat was sold in a separate, enclosed building, adjoining the main bazaar. Considering how meat loving the Uzbeks are, I was surprised to see just how little meat was for sale. The first thing we noticed when we entered the building was just how spotlessly clean it was and not even a hint of a smell of blood.....that might have been because of the cold temperature today. Here, it was pretty much all beef. The meat looked good but very lean - to me, that means flavorful but tough beef.  The vendors weren't took keen on us taking photos so I only snapped a couple.

Inside the meat market.

Cow tongues for sale.  Pat was a bit grossed out by the sight of these.  On the other hand, I love eating tongue!

After the meat market, we continued to walk up and down another couple of aisles in the covered section.

Veggies were mainly cabbage, carrots, peppers, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers.




These little round balls are dried cheese.  We sampled a bite.  Super salty, texture like salt and a bit gamey in taste. 

Medicinal plants.

Surprisingly, it was cold in those sections and after just a few minutes, both of us were ready to leave. We had seen enough.

After Alay Bazaar, we decided to head back to the hotel. Along the way, we would try to find a place to eat which we figured would be more difficult considering we had not passed a single restaurant the entire walk from our hotel to Alay Bazaar. We were walking back on the opposite side of the street - perhaps we would have better luck. Now, the streets were busy with people - it was lunch hour and folks were finally away from their desks. I have decided that here, there is an unofficial uniform for men - dark colored pants worn with a white shirt topped by either a dark colored sweater or jacket. Dark colored shoes to match and optional dark colored hat. It's all very dark colored here. Women wear colors but it's all kept very conservative - nothing flashy. Pat matched the men. I, in my bright blue UNIQLO down jacket, stood out like a sore thumb. I did not get the color memo.

Walking on Navoi Street, heading back towards our hotel.

Some Soviet era buildings.  They are without character.

More of Tashkent's green spaces.

Just as we reached the river, Pat spotted the cafe sign. We spotted a couple of tables and several chairs and a man tending to a fire. A young girl was seated at one of the tables. It all looked promising. As we approached the man, we agreed it was too chilly to sit outside so we would only eat here if we could sit inside. The young girl got up to greet us. We motioned to ask if we could go inside and when her head nodded, I walked up the steps and entered the building. Inside was a cavernous space with tables lining the perimeter. We were the only two patrons so we had our pick of tables.

Pat, all by her lonesome self.

Pat and I took two seats and picked up the menu to see what was being served. Unfortunately, the menu was all in Cyrillic and there was no English version. Pat asked the young girl if she knew any English and with a smile she shook her head and replied, "No, Russki". Oh oh. We asked, "kebab" and she nodded her head. She then proceeded to rattle off a list of Uzbek dishes and we stopped at the one name we recognized, "lagman".....the iconic Uzbek noodle with meat dish that Pat and I had tried in Brooklyn. We signaled we each wanted lagman and then I asked, "chai?" Again she nodded and again, we signaled we both wanted tea. Surprisingly, she knew enough English to ask green or black. We responded that we wanted green tea. With that, we had ordered our lunch.

If we could only read the menu :-(

Having a good chuckle over the menu.

Our first loaf of non, the iconic bread of Uzbekistan.

Uzbek tea service.  There are no paper or styrofoam cups here!

We sat back and waited for our food to arrive. The first thing to come to the table was a loaf of Uzbek bread. It was delicious. Then came the lagman and the tea. It was a good sized bowl of noodles and soup. From the irregularity in the noodles - all different widths and a little on the soft side, I suspect they were homemade. Meatwise, there were a few small slices. Veggie wise, it was cabbage, carrots and a few slices of red and green peppers. The red peppers were salty so perhaps they're brined. It wasn't a bad dish; it was a good dish but it was most certainly edible. I dug into my bowl and in no time, all that was left was the broth. I'm a faster eater than Pat so I usually wait for her to finish up. She wasn't quite as hungry or greedy as I was so there were a few noodles left in her bowl when the waitress came by to bus the table. We got a bill for $19,800 som. We tried out best to read the bill to make sure it was correct before putting forward $10,000 som each.  Lunch cost each of us just under $4 USD each!

My bowl of hearty lagman.

Bellies more than full, we headed back out into the wild blue yonder that is Navoi Street in Tashkent. We didn't far before we spotted the mini supermarket. Surprisingly, we hadn't come across all that many on our entire walk so far. The curious pair of us, we decided to check it out. Pat let out a sigh of relief as she walked in. "It's warm", she exclaimed. We checked out the stuff in the front section - it was small deli counter with a separate liquor section to one side. On the other side of the store was where all the other food items were sold. I needed to get some sugar to go with my tea. Around the shelves I went looking for packaging that would indicate sugar but I never found it. Then, I saw a barrel of some glimmering, translucent colored grains. It was either salt or sugar. I took a small pinch and tasted it. It was sugar and here, it was sold in bulk. I didn't notice her but there was a young sales girl standing next to me. When I reached for a plastic bag to put the sugar in, she reached for the plastic scoop. She dipped the scoop into the barrel and what she lifted up was close to I would say was a kilo of sugar. Way more than I needed so I took the scoop from here and lifted up what I needed. She then weighed out the bag and with a black marker, wrote the number 300 on it. That was all I really needed to buy but of course, that was not all I bought. Trolling the shelves near the bucket of sugar, a small can caught my eye. It had the image of a duck on it and two olives.

My tin of mystery duck spread.
Of course, there was not a lick of any English word that would remotely give a clue to the contents of the can so all on my own, I immediately projected the grand idea that it was a container of duck preserved in olive oil. At 3,600 som it was priced well enough for me to be willing to take a chance to see what is actually inside. Next, I had to get some crackers to go with the grand preserved duck. Pat found the those in a bulk purchase box and we grabbed a few. Another young salesgirl took the bag and weighed it. She wrote *1,0* on it. I took my items up to the cashier and I watched him ring it up. The total came to 4,980 som which I presume included some sort of tax since the actual cost of the items actually add up to just 4900. I handed over five 1,000 som bills and got back two small candies as change. I'm fine with that as I have no desire to carry 20 som....that's less than one US cent!

By the time we got back to the room, I was sleepy. It was early afternoon Tashkent time but late night east coast US time. The room was toasty warm. I decided to lay down but as usual, I couldn't sleep as my mind was wide awake. Body ready, mind not willing. So, I decided to start writing this posting.

Relaxing with her Kindle.

About an hour later, we decided to head out and explore more of Tashkent. By now, it was overcast and I was certain, much colder. Where, oh where had my sun gone to?? We bundled up and headed out back to Navoi Street, passing what looked like a movie theatre or so we guessed based on the posters that had been tacked up to the wall fronting the place. From the signs of it, they were some serious looking films.


The buildings on the left side of Navoi Street were as dull and uninspiring as those we had walked past on the right side of Navoi Street. I was already wishing I had not left the comfort of the hotel room but Pat looked keen and eager to head on and so I followed suit. Sometimes, you need that person to push you in to doing something when you're not quite in the mood. I was hoping the sights would get better and they sort of, kind of did. We reached a small park with a statue at the center.



I think it was a statue of Alisher Navoi whom the street is named after. Behind it was a large building with what looked to be the word *museum*, in Cyrillic, on the marquee atop the roof. Yippee! We had arrived at some sort of a museum. At least, there would be something to see; we would learn something and most certainly, it would be warm inside.

We walked through the small park. It, like much of the city, looked a run down. A bit of weeding and tidying up and the place would look far more presentable. Oddly, there was also a narrow, flagstone type path....now a bit downtrodden, that snaked through the park. From what we could make it, parts of the path bridged over what looked to be a man made canal that had been so long dried up that it was covered with grass. I could only imagine how lovely this park when the path was new and the water was flowing in the canal.



We walked up the steps to the front doors. They were locked. Although the words on the marquee had given us the impression that this was a museum, it was in fact, now the home of the Youth Theatre of Uzbekistan.


Looking back at the park from the entrance of the Youth Theatre.

Since we couldn't enter we left. Right next door was another museum - this one dedicated to literature. Interesting. Unfortunately, its doors were also locked.

As we walked back towards Navoi Street, we had to decide whether to continue walking or to return to the hotel. To be honest, I was getting a bit sleepy and if there was something interesting too distract me, I would have glad fought my sleepy eyes to stay awake. But, there was nothing around me to perk up my senses so I voted to return to the hotel. Pat was on the same page. Funny thing was that she told me that if I hadn't left the hotel room, she wouldn't have either. She thought I was keen on going so she tagged along. I told her that I was thinking the same thing - I went out because she did! We had a good chuckle over that! It's nice to have a travel partner that is pretty much in sync with you at all times - we just have to speak up more!

Walking back to our hotel - it's that building on the left.

Back in the room, I put my eye mask on and laid down. When I woke up, it was getting dark outside. I had had a short but good nap. Pat also had a quick shut eye and had woken up just a few minutes before me. It was nearing dinner time. I wasn't hungry at all but it's good practice to eat all your meals so I decided I would just have something small. We opted to just eat at the hotel restaurant.

She was giddy but that was because she was exhuasted.

The food's acceptable and the prices reasonable. Tonight, Pat had a club sandwich and I was happy with just a bowl of cream of mushroom soup. 

There are mushrooms but sadly, no mushroom flavor.

After dinner, we headed back to the room and we each did our nightly chores. Tomorrow, our tour begins and we have a full day of sightseeing ahead of us. Time for some beauty rest!

Good night from Tashkent!