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Monday, July 6, 2015


**Warning:  This is the portion of the trip in which I broke my twelve year non-vomit streak.  I promise no pictures of that particular event, but read on at your own risk.**

After Bukhara, we traveled to Samarkand, by way of Shahrisabz, the birthplace of of Tamerlane.

I enjoyed seeing Tamerlane's palace there, but it did add quite a bit of time to our travel from Bukhara to Samarkand--time spent traveling on a hot day over bumpy roads in large sections.  By the time we rolled in to Samarkand, it was close to dinner time.

One of our friends was really craving pizza, so we decided to try for that for dinner.  It was...interesting.  It had the potential to be good, with a very nice crust and good cheese.  However, the sauce was sweet, and they used dill to season it.  Two of our friends on the trip absolutely loathe dill, and I think finding dill on pizza was a sort of low point of the trip for them, especially since we saw plenty of basil growing in the area.  After dinner, some of us took an evening walk.  Samarkand was a conspicuously larger city than Khiva or Bukhara.  Amid various old monuments, there were some newer innovations like colorful, musical fountains.

We got an early start the next morning to go to the nearby town of Urgut, which has a bazaar famous for traditional textiles.  As we headed out of Samarkand, the roads quickly become bumpy.  Our driver merrily swerved about, avoiding both potholes and old men who had randomly stopped their cars in the middle of the road.  I started to feel sick.  I thought motion sickness was the most likely culprit, so I took a Bonine and hoped I would feel better.

As time went on, I felt worse.  As we got closer to the bazaar, our tour guide learned that the bazaar was closed that day.  She knew of a man who was selling a trove of traditional textiles out of his home.  The driver pulled over and stopped the minibus so our guide could try to contact this person.  The scenery was beautiful, and I felt a little better getting out of the minibus.

Our guide got ahold of the man who was selling textiles, and we got back into the minibus.  I eventually felt so awful that the driver had to pull over and stop the minibus.  Our tour guide got out and offered me an anti-nausea pill.  Ordinarily, I don't like to take any kind of medicine without knowing exactly what it is and reading about it (I blame this tendency on several summers of working in a pharmacy).  However, I was desperate.  Unfortunately, the pill was large, quick to dissolve, and awful tasting.  Just tasting it made me feel worse, and I had to spit it out.  The tour guide, Scott, and I ultimately walked the last quarter of a mile or so to the house of the man with the textiles.

I was feeling pretty woozy at the house, but I enjoyed seeing the textiles, and ultimately bought a small traditional embroidery that I was told would have been used as a window covering.  Then I sat outside and drank tea.  One of our friends had a smaller, more user friendly anti-nausea pill for me to try.  I took it, and felt pretty confident about the trip back to Samarkand.

Garden at the house we visited.

The man with the textile collection modeling a traditional robe.

I sat next to the door of the minibus, just in case.  It wasn't long before I needed to stop, although as soon as I got out of the minibus, the nausea passed.  At this point, some of our friends scrounged up some thick, opaque plastic shopping bags, and the driver suggested to the tour guide that I sit up front with him.

I changed locations, and the driver proceeded on, driving much more slowly and with less dramatic swerving.  I will be forever grateful to him because I know that driving slowly went against every fiber of his being.  Also, how many people would invite someone on the verge of throwing up to sit next to them while they're driving?  When I finally (and regretfully) broke my twelve year non-vomit streak, the driver silently rolled down the window and stayed calm.

Under any other circumstances, I would have loved what we had for lunch that day--doesn't it look great?  It takes a lot for me to forgo food.  I did eat a little plain bread.

Our plan for the afternoon was a fairly lengthy rest in the hotel during the hottest part of the day, followed by sightseeing.  I was determined to go out and see things, so I took a nap during our rest and then headed out.

We saw the Gur-e-Emir mausoleum, which has the tomb of Tamerlane and some of his sons and grandsons.

We saw the Registan, which was the heart of ancient Samarkand, from the outside.  Some group (a dance troupe, maybe?) was practicing inside, thereby preventing anyone else from going in.

We saw the Bibi Khanum mosque, which was named after Tamerlane's wife.

Stone Qur'an stand at Bibi Khanum mosque

 After that, we went to Samarkand's covered bazaar.  I was starting to feel pretty lousy again, but I was able to help Scott select some apricots to eat later and some silk scarves for gifts.  Then, I'd had enough and needed to sit down.

On the way back, I got sick again.  Fortunately, I was still carrying plastic bags so I didn't have to throw up on the grass or the sidewalk.  The first time I got sick on the way back, a couple of young men in a nearby shop rushed out to bring me a chair and a cup of water (one of our friends was astute enough to notice that the water had come from the tap, and advised me not to drink it, so I used it to rinse out my mouth).  Again, I will be forever grateful.  It would have been much easier for them to ignore the vomiting foreigner outside their shop instead of trying to make me comfortable.  After resting for a few minutes, we walked on.  I got sick again as we got close to the hotel.  After that, though, I had the feeling that I'd be okay, and I was, or at least as okay as you can be after something like that.  I spent the evening in the hotel room, but fruit sounded good to me and I was able to eat a fair amount of it as dinner.

We did some more touring around Samarkand the next day.  I was feeling pretty weak, so I didn't see everything.  My main regret was not getting to meet the man who had helped restore Arabic calligraphy to many of Samarkand's monuments.  Scott did get to meet him, inside the Registan.  Here are a few pictures Scott took inside the Registan while I rested.

After that, we visited the Ulug Beg observatory, which was a center for studying and researching astronomy in the 1400's.

We had lunch (I think I just had bread and fancy lemonade) and took a comfy, speedy train back to Tashkent.  Our flight wasn't until pretty late at night, so we met up with the Uzbek friend who had found such a nice restaurant for dinner in Tashkent at the beginning of our trip.  We went to a Middle Eastern restaurant, and, very unfortunately, I still wasn't up to eating very much.

Getting through security and passport control at the airport was an adventure.  Fortunately, none of us were asked to provide any proof of having transferred money at the "official" rate.  That was probably my biggest concern.  Interestingly, only one person from our group had to produce any hotel registration slips, which I had been guarding like gold the entire time.  The only trouble I had was some fairly excessive interest in my luggage at the end, with an airport security employee barking at me in Russian and taking the cap of my mascara in order to examine it closely.  

One of our friends had arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at the Astana airport.  The driver came to get us, and even seemed remarkably chipper, considering that it was the wee hours of the morning.  However, he had great difficulty actually getting us out of the airport lot.  There was some trouble with the ticket he got on the way in to park, and whether he needed to pay it on the premises or on the way out.  We were all wondering if we'd be able to get any sleep before Astana's early summer dawn was upon us, but it all worked out.

It was a fantastic trip, even with getting sick toward the end.  Living in Astana has been a challenge, often in ways I hadn't imagined going in, but living there has opened up opportunities for travel I didn't think I'd have a chance to do.

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