Following the four hour sweat fest aboard the “steam room on wheels” , a 30 minute stopover at a rest stop, we woke up from an hour and a half nap to the passengers barking at us “Samarkand, Samarkand!” and herding us quickly off the bus. Habitually, we stop at a café, drink coffee and then move into town. Unlike Bukhara we weren’t completely exhausted from the ride and had enough energy to wonder a little before eating the infamous $2 dinners at the hostel where we would spend the next much needed three nights.
Dinner was done and we began to wander and decide what to do for my birthday. We grabbed some cheap, 1.5L local brew in plastic bottles and sat adjacent the Registand complex which was up there with the mosques in Syria in its beauty. Looking to our left we heard some music playing and some lights on. Assuming it was just another typical karaoke/café blaring shitty Russian pop music on LCD flat sreens, we hesitated to gravitate and totally ruin our night. We couldn’t have been more wrong. I had to convince Jon to go check it out, once we got there, he had to convince me to go inside to an Uzbek wedding reception. Night salvaged. Jon and I were swiftly issued to the center of a dance circle, where the crowd began to flower Jon with local currency.
Next it was time to sit and eat with, if I remember correctly, the groom’s father? Anyhow, we noticed a couple of Italians already nestled in nicely to the drunkest Uzbek we had ever met to this point. Clearly neck deep in cheap knock-off Nemiroff, we begin the rounds of toasting to the Americans, Uzbeks and the Spanish – the Uzbek toastmaster just could never bring himself to say “and the Italians”, they were always “Spanish”. His hand gestures were hilarious; a mix of bad sign language from a mute and someone giving arm signals to issue in a Boeing 747 at an airport runway. That rest of the details from that night are a little blurry.
The subsequent day we didn’t leave the hostel. It was really relaxing and the crowd was inviting, despite being 99% French. Everyone was from Paris and asking themselves if Tashkent had launched some ambitious tourism campaign back home and how they all came to the decision to come out here. No one really knew. We decided to buy train tickets to Tashkent the following day, and were nervous about that as every humble attempt prior had resulted in failure for various reasons, so when Jon approaches the window and the lady says “6:00 am … “ he counters by “We’ll take ‘em!” Feeling pretty good, we eventually got around to taking more photos of stuff that people take photos of when in Samarkand. In conversations with other travelers at the hostel, we realized Ramadan will kick off while we are in Tashkent. Not really sure how that was going to be, since we finally had explained to us why we have hardly heard the call to prayer from mosques on the trip – in Uzbekistan it’s illegal.
Safely aboard our highly anticipated train to Tashkent, Jon is asleep and I’m reading, while the Uzbek population is unwilling being subject to Mary Kate and Ashley Olson (aka “The Olson Twins”) reruns on two small flat screen TVs in each compartment.
Reaching Tashkent was a highlight for a strange reason. Lodging. “The darkest hole in all of Central Asia is a bit brighter thanks to an application of paint to the walls of at least one room.” – Lonely Planet