Sunday, May 31, 2015

THOSE TILES! Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The blue tiling on the mosques and madrasahs throughout Samarkand are incredible.

The dark and teal blue mosaic pieces create intricate details on walls, entrances, and domes.

The amazing turquoise domes on the Tilya Kori Madrasah within the Registan:

Arabic calligraphy with the decorative tiling:

Registan Square, Uzbekistan

Registan Square was the public square in Samarkand, where royal proclamations were read aaaaaand a place for public executions (Wikipedia article here).

The Registan is enormous, stunning, and captivating. Jaime and I knew that we wanted to get to this sight, yet it was still quite incredible to walk up to from the side and have the mosques expose more and more into view.

Our first day was raining and cloudy. We went back to the Registan the next morning before departing the city and it was a beautiful blue-sky day!

Panoramic of the 3 madrasahs (Islamic schools):

Sher-Dor Madrasah

Tilya-Kori Madrasah

Looking at the front of Ulugh Beg Madrasah:

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

I really liked Samarkand. We stayed there just one night but had the better part of a day and a half. It rained the afternoon we arrived. We got soaked and our clothes/boots stayed wet for a good part of the remainder of our trip. The rain seemed to have let up at one point, so we tried to fit in seeing another mosque but then the rain came back with a vengeance! We stood under a tree until we were able to grab a taxi... then we had to attempt to describe how to get to our hotel that the taxi driver did not know about, and then we had to run the 50+ meters from the taxi to the hotel's front door! It was an adventure full of laughs. We camped in that night and made a dinner out of all the snacks we could conjure up. Thank goodness for Donna's sweet care package when we arrived in Tashkent - her biscuits and peanut butter were much enjoyed!

The old part of the city is very walk-able and the massive mosques covered in detailed designs of blue tiling are just incredible to see. Samarkand was a major stop along the Silk Road and has been an UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001.

Walking along a wall on the outside of the Registan:

Precarious scaffolding!

Awkward lunch where we are the only ones in the entire restaurant:

The restaurant served one 3-course meal.
We (obviously) went with that - it was tasty and cheap!

Attempting shortcuts in Samarkand:

Beautiful fabric shop! I bought a dress  : )

10-cent soft serve ice cream!
It was more like frozen sugar.
Ordering the ice cream was hilarious.
We tried ordering just vanilla but ended up with a rainbow mix of every flavor!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

arriving in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Jaime and I traveled from Tashkent to Samarkand by train. The train was great.

We took a taxi to the hotel that we requested the travel agency book for us. We had to book all of our trains and hotels (and some of our taxi services) through a travel agency in order to get the invitation to Uzbekistan for the tourist visa. This wasn't a problem at all and actually made our week of traveling very easy... BUT... we arrived to the hotel, a lovely hotel, and were told that we did not have a reservation.

Checking in with the travel agency, we found out that they had booked us at a different hotel. Uhhhh fine but we wish we had been told that!

So... this hotel, that we are sad to leave, calls another taxi for us (the front entrance of this hotel opens to a space holding two amazing look mosques). We get in this taxi and then the driver sits at the entrance to a roundabout for a few minutes. He's on the phone... his walkie talkie... and asking us where the hotel is. (I love when taxi drivers ask me where we are going! Not.)

Turns out that the hotel we have a reservation at is a couple of years old but not many people know about it. We had the same issue with two other taxi drivers later on, not knowing where the hotel is or have ever heard of it. By then, Jaime and I could guess on how to get there through the maze of streets, one-ways, and dead ends.

The name of the hotel had the same name of a large mosque, Bibi-Khanym, so the driver went in that direction and we stopped a few times to ask people along the way. (Oh, it's been raining this whole time too. Just to add to all that's going on and not knowing where we're going.)

At one point, the driver asked a man on the side of a street, then took a sharp left turn and there was a HUGE wall next to us on the left-hand side of the car. Come to realize - this wall is one of the outside walls of the mosque. We turn the corner and then he slows down and is about to go down a VERY steep ramp.

I look at Jaime and say, "Oh. No. We. Are. NOT!" (She laughed about that for a long time!) Jaime's taller than I am and could see from the back seat of the taxi that this wasn't a ramp, but stairs.

The taxi guy thought he was SO funny, making us think that he was going to drive down the steps! Sheesh.  : P  I fell for it!

Turns out that the taxi stayed put and we had about a 50-meter walk or so down a sidewalk to get to the hotel.

We finally made it! The hotel was nice and the area turned out to be great, just like the other hotel.

Bibi-Khanym Mosque as seen from Bibikhanum Hotel is shown below. (As I'm typing this and I try to go to the hotel's website to link the name, the webpage won't open. TripAdvisor lists it but shows no prices. The hotel was great - but no wonder we couldn't find it and no one seemed to know about it!)

A panoramic of the mosque:

A couple early sunset views from a rooftop at the back of the hotel that I climbed up to:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

as seen around Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Some of the big apartment buildings throughout Tashkent had cool designs all over the outside:

Mirobod Bazaar:

Heading into the market:

The Mirabod Bazaar is a big market that sits under an octagon-shaped roof. At sunset (when we visited), the birds sitting in the rafters of the roof are REALLY LOUD! Very cool experience. They sell mostly fresh produce at this bazaar.

Jaime and I went to another bazaar the next morning - Askiya. This one sold more household goods than fresh food:

This building was one that stood out in the city - it is a museum... or art gallery...
(Donna was not impressed with whatever is inside)   : P

Friends in Uzbekistan!

It was really nice to have a travel buddy while I went to Uzbekistan. Usually I don't mind traveling alone but this was a nice trip to have a buddy with. Jaime (left below) currently lives in Copenhagen, Denmark but we know each other from working at Camp Stella Maris in Upstate New York together years ago.

Donna (middle below) and I worked together for two years in Vietnam at an international school there. We became good friends and it was great to be able to see her, catch up with her, and see where she's been living!

Catching up with a great friennnnnnnnd!
So, so good to see Donna. She is currently living in Tashkent and teaching as the elementary art teacher at the international school there.

Ohhh you know, just paying for supper:

We were stopped on the street and interviewed/filmed/photographed by these students:

Our new friends... and the random guy that continuously insisted Donna was my mom:

I'm a fan of reflection selfies:

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Tashkent was very different from the other two cities I traveled to while in Uzbekistan. Tashkent is the capital city of Uzbekistan. There are not as many tourist destination to see yet I still found it very interesting to walk around. I especially loved the metro stations! Each metro station is unique, spacious, and beautiful... but it is against the law to take photos inside. We were checked for our passport and visa when entering metro stations. (One metro station was filled with chandeliers! Another one was decorated with mosaic pictures throughout the station.)

Exploring Tashkent:

Funny enough, I took the photo above during my first day in Tashkent. I had walked down this street in hopes of finding "the secret shop" that my friend, Donna, had told me about - saying it had cool clothing, jewelry, and bags. Sounded great! ...It really was "secret" though, as I could not find the shop.

A week later, as I returned to Tashkent for an evening before flying out early the next morning, Donna took me to "the secret shop" and it was this place shown above!! Hahaha.

The door had been closed when I was there the first time. The windows are all blocked and covered.

The door was closed again... but Donna went up to it, knocked, waited... and then someone came and opened the door for us! Sure enough - the secret shop was open... you just have to know about it.

Advertisements on the side of a building:

Mmmmhmmmmm. Lovely cappuccino and macaroon cookies!

Jaime and I really enjoyed going to Bon Cafe - there were two near to our hotel in Tashkent. This cafe was spacious with plenty of seating and lovely coffee. I couldn't find good coffee during the rest of the trip - in Samarkand or Bukhara. I knew it was a tea country... but I really missed a nice coffee each morning.