Wednesday, March 29, 2017

36 hours in transit

I left home at 3:15 PM on Wednesday and arrived to the Lotte City Hotel in Tashkent on Friday morning around 9 AM - the nine hour time change made for some difficulty calculating the amount of time I spent in "airport land" but it included a four hour layover in NYC- JFK and a nine hour layover in Istanbul... which I luckily spent in the fabulous and spacious Turkish Airlines club... which had non stop food making for many stations and lots of seating - reclining chairs in a darkened room and if you wanted to pay extra sleeping rooms with in security (which I had only seen in Singapore up until now)...

After arriving and finding out that I had made it but my luggage hadn't our local guide Abdu helped my fill out a report and they looked it up on the computer and found out my luggage was still in Istanbul and it would arrive tomorrow morning- no big deal as I had all I needed for emergency purposes in my tote bag carry on (phone charger, camera, change of underwear LOL) - so we took a hotel transit bus to the hotel and caught a few hours of sleep before going out to get lunch - which also turned out to be dinner in my case as I hit the wall and crashed later in the day around 6:30.  I slept from 6:30 to 4:30 the next morning and then I was on schedule for the rest of the trip...  it ended up working out really well since I had to leave at 7:30 for the airport to reclaim my delayed luggage.

I got tons of help doing that from a guy in the lost luggage office who shepherded me through the process and pushed us past the hordes of people waiting to exit customs. I waited in the car while Abdu and Alexy rounded up four more people who were arriving that morning for the trip.

We set the meeting for 11 AM that morning to official start the trip.

Let me backtrack a little and tell you that I called immediately upon reading the write up of this one time (first time) trip offered to Uzbekistan with the author of Samarkand (a travelogue/cookbook) Caroline Eden.  I was the third person who signed up - in July 2016 - and they would go with four passengers - up to twelve... and then the three of us (I didn't know anything about the other two) waited until December for the fourth person - but between December and the March departure, eight more people signed on for this culinary exploration of ("if you only go to one of the five stans make it Uzbekistan" said anyone I talked to who had done all five of them) Uzbekistan!

here was part of what got me there for this particular trip-

Here are just a few of the highlights on this culinary expedition through the heart of the Silk Road:
  • ·        Take part in cooking classes and demonstrations led by local masters, learning how to make traditional bread and Uzbekistans signature dish, plov.
  • ·        Dine in the homes of Uzbek families, experiencing Central Asian hospitality at its best.
  • ·        Enjoy lunch and a demonstration of Uzbek cuisine hosted by famous Tashkent chef Bahriddin Chustiy.
  • ·        Wander the streets of ancient Khiva, remarkably preserved within its undulating city walls of plastered mud-brick.
  • ·        Experience the timeless character of Bukhara’s ornate madrassahs, billowing turquoise domes and colorful markets in the heart of the Old Town.
  • ·        Celebrate Navruz with an evening feast of traditional Central Asian dishes.
  • ·        Join with the locals as they take part in a Muchal Tuy or Sallabandon Tuy, traditional Navruz ceremonies unique to Uzbekistan.
  • ·        Explore the architectural wonders of legendary Samarkand, admiring majestic Registan Square.
  • ·        Engage all your senses at the labyrinthine Urgut Market.
  • ·        Cheer on the participants at an exhilarating local buzkashi match, a traditional equestrian game still played much the same way as it was by medieval nomadic tribes on the Central Asian steppes.

Before I go on- let me say that I have wanted to travel the Silk Route countries - The Five Stans- as they are known in the travel world, since 2005 when I went to India the first time.  I remember discussing with my buddy Oscar as we saw amazing India that this was high on my list to get to.  As with India - Phil had no desire to go and although I would have gone as a single, the trips were all so long it seemed to be away leaving my hubby to his own devices especially after we both retired.. so this shorter trip focusing on the center jewel of the five stans- the doubly land locked Uzbekistan - was a perfect way to check out the area.... so off I went... more than a decade after expressing an intention - to Uzbekistan....

So here is the sum of what I learned the first day - all cars are white and made on a license by Chevrolet in Uzbekistan and the rebuilding after the earthquake in 1966 (more on that later) created more than 100,000 units in concrete soviet style nine story apartment blocks... so you would think - Yuck - but actually for soviet apartment blocks these had character and nearly all had these lovely mosaic decorations on the windowless sides of the buildings - and even the concrete sides had different balcony decorations - it was sort of "noveau" utilitarian LOL.  We walked past the opera and ballet theater across from the hotel and located a market and a coffee place and a cafe for lunch.  At this point eight of us had arrived and four more would come the next morning with my luggage LOL.

Two of the group had flown in from Azerbijan (Alexis and Tim) where she was stationed with the State Department. So they were not suffering from jet lag and double overnight flights and went off to explore. Rusty and Patti and Caroline and I all decided we needed to eat and so we went to the cafe on the corner across from the opera and down the street from the hotel for a quick lunch... we had a terrific pita style bread filled with cheese (called katchapuri) and lentil soup... our first meal in Uzbekistan (and I later found out it was Georgian LOL)

Here is the reason why (from wikipedia) -
Tashkent, literally "Stone City" is the capital and largest city of Uzbekistan. The officially registered population of the city in 2012 was about 3 million.  Due to its position in Central Asia, Tashkent came under Sogdian and Turkic influence early in its history, before Islam in the 8th century AD. After its destruction by Genghis Khan in 1219, the city was rebuilt and profited from the Silk Road. In 1865 it was conquered by the Russian Empire, and in Soviet times witnessed major growth and demographic changes due to forced deportations from throughout the Soviet Union. Today, as the capital of an independent Uzbekistan, Tashkent retains a multi-ethnic population with ethnic Uzbeks as the majority.

so you can get anything you want by way of ethnic foods here in the extremely modern capital of Tashkent...and you can almost read the signs as they dropped Cyrillic after independence!

here is our lunch and a few shots of the day I arrived before the trip actually began-

here are a few more things I saw in the haze of the long transit from Sarasota to Tashkent -  signs from a local fast food place with left over Cyrillic letters -

the view from my room at 4:40 AM LOL

the little bus that picked us up at the airport - where I first met Rusty and Patti and Caroline (guest host and lecturer) and Linda and Kay (college roomies traveling together)

the seat covers of the car we used to return to the airport to pick up my luggage-

a view of the white cars from the hotel room window- LOL

the soviet style housing blocks passed on the way from the airport (most of them nine stories tall)

views of the mosaics (above and below) all apartment block photos from a moving vehicle so not so in focus but they do show the architectural details I mentioned-

a newer taller apartment building shows the decorative motifs continue into the more recent buildings-

on the trip over - some relevant photos-  the guy making flatbreads in the Turkish club (one of many food stations that run 24/7)

these were totally yummy!

a first for me--- on the way - the five hour flight between Istanbul and Tashkent - business class was only half full  (at 2 AM in the morning - go figure!) so when the bins in the economy class got overstuffed (you would not believe the shit the passengers carried on and certain the two bag limit was completely ignored by all - this was more like the bus to Cartagena from the Romancing the Stone movie) anyway- when the bins were full they just piled the luggage in the back row of business class - forget that issue of securing flying objects in the event of turbulence etc ... they didn't make anyone check the crap they had - they just let them carry it on and I don't have a clue where they would have put it has the business class actually been full...

 Phil would have loved the nut snack LOL
 a very nice appetizer plate and the entree was a pasta dish with pesto/alfredo sauce...

but I arrived on that flight not my luggage, and then the next day at 7 AM-  finally my luggage arrived and I was ready to begin the trip!

So if this post seems disjointed and rambling that is just fine because focusing after a nearly 36 hour transit was not a possibility and hence the post captures somewhat of the feel of the random things that popped up in the trip over... the amazing sights we saw and things we did will begin in earnest in the next post but let me add just a few more tid bits- about our trip lecturer and our trip manager-

Your Host Caroline Eden is a British travel, food and culture writer with a focus on Central Asia and the Caucasus. Her travel stories have appeared in The Guardian, Conde Nast, The Telegraph and BBC Radio, among other publications and media outlets. She's traveled to the former Soviet Union over a dozen times since 2009, and has a particular interest in food history and under-reported aspects of this part of the world, such as cuisine, textiles and modern trade routes. Caroline's first book, Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia & the Caucasus, was released in June 2016. Coauthored with British food journalist Eleanor Ford, Caroline's new book includes recipes developed over her many years of travel to the region, along with gorgeous photography and personal stories from the Silk Road.

Your Tour Manager- Born and raised in Samarkand, Abdu "Abdu" Samadov is full of inside information about his hometown and country. He has studied in England and the U.S. and is fluent in English, Farsi and Russian. In addition to guiding travelers throughout Uzbekistan, Abdu works with MIR's affiliate office in Uzbekistan and enjoys sharing his knowledge with other travelers. He has worked in the hospitality and tourism business for more than 14 years.

and finally so you have an idea of the places we will be along the way - here are some maps-

and for those of you who look at the map above and wonder (those FEW of you who do) abut Nukus- it is the capital of the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan... LOL and more on that later too!

Nukus is the capital of the autonomous Karakalpakstan Republic. The population of Nukus as of April 24, 2014 was approximately 230,006. The Amu Darya river passes west of the town. (wikipedia)

So as always - stay tuned! We are off.....

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