The first order of business was exchanging money. There appeared to be very few ATM's in Uzbekistan, and credit cards seemed to be accepted only rarely (in some carpet shops, for instance). Even the tour agency we booked through wanted their final payment in cash upon arrival. This was sort of a new situation for me, needing to anticipate how much cash I was going to need for the entire trip, keeping in mind how uncomfortable I am carrying around large amounts of cash. In addition to these considerations, there was a rather large difference between the official dollars-som exchange rate, and the "unofficial" one. I was a little uncomfortable going the unofficial route, but fortunately, it all turned out okay. Interestingly, I noticed that souvenir merchants were using an exchange rate in the ballpark of the unofficial one when giving prices in both dollars and som.
We exchanged $200 initially, and it yielded quite a stack of bills. If any prospective Uzbekistan travelers are reading this, I highly recommend bringing some sort of bag to carry it all in. You won't be able to fit much into a standard size wallet.
|Our fat stacks|
Our first stop was the Khazrati Imam complex. There was a lot to see, and lots of merchants selling souvenirs. My details about a lot of the sites will be pretty incomplete, since my mind is like Teflon with information while I'm looking around and taking pictures.
The next step on our itinerary was Chorsu Bazaar. It was large, with multiple sections for both food and stuff of all varieties. We bought cherries and cashews to snack on.
|Molds for wonderful Uzbek bread!|
|Looking down on the meat section|
We had lunch at a restaurant famous for its plov. You could get it with various types of meat in it, and with chicken and quail hard boiled eggs. Much to my delight, the plov contained chickpeas. We also got a wonderful tomato and cucumber salad on the side. After spending the winter avoiding the crunchy tomatoes available in Astana, it was wonderful to eat good tomatoes again. I sat next to our driver during lunch, and he brought out his cellphone and showed me pictures of his wife and daughters, which I thought was great.
After lunch, we walked around some more and then took a short metro ride in order to see Tashkent's famous metro stations. Unfortunately, photography in the metro stations is forbidden, and there were plenty of police in every station we passed through. Their designs were beautiful, though, and as a fan of mass transit, I was happy to see them.
It was an extremely hot day, so we took a rest in the hotel after that. For dinner, an Uzbek friend of the friend who organized the trip had a lovely suggestion for a restaurant on the water. We ate sitting on cushions around a low table.
The food was great, too. The only fly in the ointment was actually the flies. They were attracted to the light above our table and kept dropping into our food. I looked at the ground beside our table and saw an amazing avocado green slug. I'm not usually a fan of creepy crawlies, but I actually think slugs are pretty cool, and I liked the size and color of this one.
Then it was back to the hotel for a little sleep before our early morning flight to Nukus! We didn't have a lot of time to spend in Tashkent, but we liked it very much. Scott and I were talking, and it turned out we had both been envisioning a place like Tashkent when we decided to move to Astana--a city with many modern features, but a lot of elements of traditional culture. This may have been naive thinking considering just how new Astana is, but it was nice to see a city able to modernize but still keep many of its charming older attributes.