Monday, April 6, 2015

Road Trip to Samarkand.


When we were walking about Shakhrisabz with Mavluda, she asked us where we were going next. We told her Samarkand. Her first reaction was that it was a beautiful drive from Shakhrisabz - we would see some pretty scenery. Looking around the construction site that is now Shakhrisabz, I couldn't help but think any drive would be a pretty one compared to the surroundings here.


The first part of our drive was pretty ho-hum.  Same old scenery that we've been gazing out at for the past week.  Then, our drive took a turn.  We headed into the mountains.  But these were not the same mountains that we had passed through on our way to Shakhrisabz. These were much more rugged.

A light fog softened our view - it looked like a watercolor painting.


The mountainsides were carpeted with grass and there rocks and boulders strewn all over the area.  My guess is that at one time, this was a glacial area.  Today, there were pretty bushes in bloom, dotting the landscape.  Against the gray skies, they provided nice little pops of color.

The road was a winding one.  We zigzagged our way up and down the mountains.  I was in the front seat with Shavkat and I had a burst of energy.  I decided this was not going to be another boring ride.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone so while I shot some video of the landscape while having our friendly driver give us some lessons in basic Uzbek.



I have to admit, I don't remember much of he told us except that we did learn that there are some similarities between the Uzbek language and the Turkish language - we learned when we asked Shavkat how to count from 1-10 in Uzbek.



At times the fog was pretty dense.  I was wondering when the rain would start.



As we descended from the mountains into the valley, the skies began to clear up a bit.  We passed through villages.  Locals were selling rhubarb on the roadside.  We saw piles of them set out on rickety wooden tables and there were even a few vendors waving the bundles of bright red stemmed vegetables at us as we whizzed by.  We should have stopped for a photo op to capture the moment.  It's not too often to you get to have a travel experience like this even if it's a mundane one.  I'm slowly learning to cherish every travel experience, no matter how seemingly mundane.


Back in the valley, we were back to the typical agricultural landscape.  Fortunately, we didn't have to endure this for long as we were just a short distance away from Samarkand.


All day long the skies had been threatening.  Just when it looked like we had reached a point where the skies were clearing up, they instead opened up and pelted down rain as hard as I've ever experienced it.  We all felt silent.  I for one wanted Shavkat to really concentrate on driving though there were moments I was wishing he would join the other cars that had pulled over on the roadside, waiting for the storm to pass.  But he persisted though he did slow down a bit at least.  I was getting worried we would end up in an accident.



Then the unbelievable happened.  Finally, Shavkat pulled over.



We finally arrived into Samarkand around 6:30p.  It had been a long day for all of us and especially for Shavkat - driving long distances can be very tiring.

Pat and I got ourselves checked into the hotel.  The place looks relatively new.  It didn't seem like there were too many other hotel guests.  The receptionis, Aziz, was very friendly - I think he gave us the best room in the house!  From our hotel room window, I could  make out the domes and the minarets of the Registan - we are located just a short distance away!  I am so excited to finally be in Samarkand!


We didn't have a big lunch so by the time 7p rolled around, we were ready for dinner.  When we checked in, we had asked Aziz about places to eat and unfortunately, the hotel restaurant doesn't serve dinner unless you give them advance notice and there aren't any restaurants nearby.  Well, this sucks.  We could hire a taxi and go somewhere but I was not in the mood.  Back down in the lobby, we pressed Aziz for suggestions - telling him we were more than happy to eat in a simple cafe.  Thinking some more, he came up with a suggestion.  A small place located about two blocks down the street from us. Sounded easy to get to but the poor guy was so worried we would get lost, that he even was trying to figure out if he could walk us there.  He apologized for not being able to so so because he was on duty at the front desk. It was so kind of him to even think of offering to accompany us.  We assured him we would be okay.

We followed Aziz's directions and made our way to the Magistr cafe - a small eatery that caters to the many students that study in the university, located in the same neighborhood as our hotel.  The only challenge was crossing the main road that stood between our hotel and Magistr.  For some really odd reason, the walk signs are only on side of the street.  Huh?  We had to be especially careful because the streets are wide here but we managed.   Whew?   Rain had fallen here to and there were large puddles of water, in the middle of the sidewalks, that we had to skirt around.


Magistr was divided into two rooms.  We took a table in the non smoking room.  There were a few diners but the place wasn't packed.

Thankfully, they had an English menu although some words still get lost in translation.  My system was still crying out for fiber so I decided to have the new French salad which had beets, cubes of boiled potatoes, shreds of carrot, and walnuts in it.  Supposedly, it had beef in it but if it did, the pieces were microscopic. Everything was bound together with a bit of mayo.  I guess you can't expect much for 5000 sum - $2.  I washed it all down with a Coke - frequently my choice of beverage when I travel.


By the time we finished dinner, it was dark outside.  You can never count on there being streetlights.  Indeed, there were some pretty dimly lit sections on our walk back to the hotel.  Pat had her little flashlight with her and we did use it!

As for two women walking by themselves in the dark.  I have to say that not for even a second did I worry about our safety.  I had long come to the conclusion that the cities in Uzbekistan are safe - in general, people have been very friendly and except for the folks wanting photos of us, they've left us alone to wander.  Nonetheless, it's ingrained in me to stay vigilant whenever I'm walking out at night even though it was probably less than a 15 minute walk back to the hotel.

Back in our room, we tended to our own nightly duties.  Tomorrow is  BIG day!  I finally get to visit a place that I have long dreamt of coming to.

Goodnight from Samarkand!