Midnight flight from Istanbul to Uzbekistan, though it seems Turkish Airways doesn’t quite get the idea of an overnight flight… who eats a meal at 3am?!
I’m on no sleep here.
I want to see as many of the old Silk Road cities as I can on this trip, Budapest and Bucharest and Tbilisi and especially Istanbul all had differing levels of interaction with the old China to Rome trade routes, all on the western side, Tashkent is my first stop that was a central or east of central Silk Road city.
Tashkent is around 2200 years old, but not much of the original city remains, it was one of the Silk Road “Gateways to the Orient”, mentioned by Marco Polo and crew… OK, more history later, it is crazy hot here, 33c all week.
The Uzbekistan visa was the one that posed the most challenges, the country isn’t that open and doesn’t have an embassy in Canada, it’s not bad if you are part of a tour group but solo travellers have some extra steps (letters from my boss, info on my father, many forms). I hadn’t followed perfect protocol (time crunch) and landed in Tashkent with lots of papers and stamps but no guarantee of entry.
The visa area of the airport was a madhouse at 6am, I wandered around looking lost and eventually stumbled onto an official with pretty good English and he seemed to understand why I didn’t have a proper visa. The flight attendant asked to see my Uzbek visa on the plane, when I explained that I would get it on arrival he said “well good luck ” so I was a bit nervous on the flight.
The official asked for my paperwork, letters from boss, etc and I realized they were all in my pack which I had had to check, told him where they were. The official looked concerned, looked at my passport, looked concerned, looked over towards the baggage area, looked at my passport and looked at me, grinned “Welcome to Uzbekistan!”, passport stamped! Apparently just smiling your ass off is as good as paying for stamps and forms to gain entry.
The official exchange rate is 2200 Uzbek som to $1 but the lonely planet forums had mentioned the black market rate is closer to 4000:1. My taxi driver (Marco, great guy) said ” You not go to bank, I change US dollars. ” and we commenced haggling, a long and fun process and eventually Marco gave me the 4000:1 rate.
What $100us gets you:
Marco gave me a little tour and then deposited me exhausted at my hotel around 8am.
Checked in, handed over my passport (they hold it until you checkout and give you a slip for the exit visa) and passed out in my tiny but top floor room.
Forced myself out of bed around noon and headed out, internet speeds are slow here and the hotel doesn’t really have wifi so first stop was the sim card store, had to get my passport back from the front desk along with stamps and papers required for approval to purchase a sim card. In Moldova sim cards are sold in literally every store, $3 for a 1gb card, when it runs out plop down $3 wherever you are for another 1gb card, impressive. Not the case here, walked much further than it looks on Google Maps (Soviet city design, massive blocks and wide streets for sending tanks to crush any rebellion that might pop up) and went in the first of three wrong doors, finally got the right place and was told to take a number and sit down, got #401, now serving #360, waited, waited, waited.
Handed over passport and forms and more forms and filled out forms and broke down major language barriers, my Uzbek is shit. Eventually walked out $110,000 som poorer ($40) but with 5gb of fairly high speed data. The entire rest of the world seriously makes North American cellular look like a clusterfuck.
I’ve never walked around a fully Soviet planned city before, it’s like a twilight zone city, everything just a bit different, but very green and quiet, nearly 3 million people here but I can’t find them… so. damn. hot. though.
Some kids were kicking a ball around ahead of me as I was walking, apparently impervious to the heat, the oldest boy turned and kicked me the ball… oh shit. Dude, soccer, no.
Miracle of miracles I flailed but still kicked it up over his head and into the arms of the younger boy, they seemed to like that.
Too hot to walk too much, stopped for iced coffee at a really good place called ecorn and ate some cheap pizza on the way back to the hotel.
Also passed some sort of group wedding, I counted at least four bride and grooms, some like this couple in modern dress and some in traditional, I assume, Uzbek wedding dress, lots of music and singing and photos in the park, nice to get to see this,