Thursday, July 3, 2014
Despite setting our alarm at 7am we still only got away around 9:30am for the 320km drive to Tashkent. Not that far, but we didn’t know what road conditions to expect, and, we also wanted to be able to take it easy.
The first couple of hours of driving was in and getting out of the huge Fergana Valley. It was mainly from one town to the next, through markets and crazy traffic. There were lots of houses along the road, just about all with vines growing on trellises, providing shade on the sidewalks and growing grapes.
Shortly before 1pm we reached the mountain pass out of the Valley. As expected there was a check point (military this time) to register us (and everyone else) leaving the valley. Again all was conducted correctly and friendly. Which was good with all the big guns around.
Driving through the mountains we saw several ‘no photo, no filming’ signs, mostly at bridges and tunnels, backed up by military guards, so we kept the photo taking to a minimum. A bit of research told us that the Valley, besides being the cotton and fruit basket of the country, is also rich in oil, gas, water and other natural resources; which most likely explains the military presence at bridges and tunnels (the region has seen some strife) as they don’t want the only transport route through the mountains to be compromised.
We had pre-booked our hotel in Tashkent so our Garmin led us straight there around 4pm. After freshening up,we went for a walk in new Tashkent. Again, this part of the city struck us as totally planned, with lots of impressive new buildings, many of them empty. Whether they have been used or not remained unclear to us. Finding a nice place to eat proved a bit of a challenge so we ended up dipping in our supplies and had dinner in our room. Which was just as well as we were still quite tired.
Friday, July 4, 2014 (Independence Day)
An early start (again in our book) and off to the huge farmers market, Chorsu Bazaar, we went. We had barely entered them or someone made the ‘change sign’ (and showed us a wad of money). Hoping for this, we’d come prepared with some US cash and the deal was done swiftly. We felt comfortable enough as we now knew how this went down.
We were amazed at how clean and organized the markets were. Very different experience to markets we’d seen in other countries. Not a fly in sight, not a puddle of dirty water to step in, no mangy dogs sulking around for food, …
After strolling around the markets, on our way to the old city, we happened upon a small bakery and after being invited in we couldn’t resist the smell of the freshly baked bread, and, a short while later we walked out with bread for lunch in hand.
A little further we came to Kast Imom Square with the Hazroti Imon Friday Mosque (built in 2007) and the Barak Khan Madrasah (16th-17th centuries), occupied with souvenir shops. Madrasah (various spellings) is the Arabic word for any kind of educational institution, be it religious or secular (Wikipedia).
After walking around the old town for a while we had to escape the heat of the day so we returned to our hotel. Sterlin’s water tank got a top up, Stephen went in search of and found a replacement charger for our macbook air (the charger had decided to spontaneously fail), otherwise we just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.
Later that evening, as we prepared to head out in search of a pub, we were greeted by Abu in the hotel lobby. He had seen our Californian license plate and was hanging out in the hope of meeting us. He was incredibly friendly and engaging and keen to talk to some people from California. He had lived in the United States for 11 years (Colorado and LA) and of course he had excellent English. In fact he sounded more American than us. He selected and drove us to a wonderful pub where we had a great meal and saw Germany beat France. During the match we chatted to some locals who ended up driving us back to our hotel after the game. A great evening and way to remember Tashkent.