After packing up and paying the B&B we headed back to Bibi-Khanym mosque. We liked it not being perfectly restored like all the others, it made it feel more authentic. You can’t really capture on a photo how massive they are. Knowing that we probably won’t see anything like it again for a long time we hung out and took our time.
Aside from Khiva where we had a cold wet day and the first day in Tashkent which was the opposite, the weather had been perfect autumn days reaching about 18C in the day and dropping with the sun, until it disappears about 6pm’ish and then it gets distinctly chilly. Today it was sunny but there was a Siberian breeze so when we got too cold gawking at the mosque we moved onto the bazaar. Large and well organised it was pretty busy. Emma bought some very tasty walnuts, the woman on the stall tried to sell us a kilo, which was a bit ambitious…
After a tea stop we headed off to explore the narrow old town properly. It wasn’t as good as the one in Burkhara, a bit more boring, but it made for a pleasant walk. We got a bit lost but with a reasonable idea of which direction we were heading we eventually found a way out. After a short tea stop by the Registan we headed off for a late somsa lunch.
With time to spare we headed off in a direction we’d not yet been. We got lost down some back streets and eventually popped out below the bazaar which was heaps further on than we thought we were. Big buildings make orientation easy so we knew the way back.
More tea, a taxi ride and back on the train for the 2 hr journey back to Tashkent. When we arrived the taxi touts wanted a stupid amount of money (50,000som), to take us to the accommodation we’d emailed ahead and booked. They tried to tell us it was a long way, but our map said otherwise. There is a metro stop at the train station and for 2,400 som we rode 2 stops. From there it should have been a 500m walk. Except it was dark and in a quiet area. We asked a policeman and he pointed us in the right direction so we headed off. We probably walked 2km, we definitely walked in a big circle, but we found it. We’d changed too much money so we paid in som (accommodation is usually paid in USD probably because the highest demolition note in som is less than a dollar so you’d need a wedge of notes). We still had a small pile left but the Russian youngsters on the front desk seemed like hustlers and they changed a pile into 10USD for us.
It was late but we had only had a snack on the train so we asked directions for a restaurant – left, left, right, straight over, on the right. It must have been a kilometre. Somewhere on the way we realised that we’d changed too much money back and left ourselves short for dinner but as luck would have it as we neared the place they had directed us to we found a supermarket. We went in and put together the cheapest meal we could – a nice loaf of brown bread (itself a novelty!), a cheap version of Nutella (it was the cheapest thing we could find to put on it), a small pack of Pringles and a coke!
We spent the rest of the evening getting organised to leave for Iran early the next morning – laundry, money counts, digging out of our bags the appropriate attire.
Money, or rather access to it, is our biggest concern on this trip. Visiting 2 countries where you can’t use credit cards or ATMs (in Uzbekistan technically there are a few ATMs you can use in Tashkent but even if they work you can only withdraw US$20 at time so by the time you’ve paid your bank fees you’ve paid a fortune to get very little) means that what cash we have on us is it. Aside from the risk of running out, the other issue is that you can buy your way out of most travel problems i.e if you don’t like where you are you can buy a plane, train, bus ticket out. Don’t feel safe or sick then book into the most expensive hotel in town. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, pay someone whatever it takes to get somewhere etc. A compounding factor is that our Iran guidebook is 4 years old. It was the same for Uzbekistan and we found that prices were usually 40% higher than the book. In a cheap country that’s ok, but Iran isn’t cheap. Worse is that some internet checks on prices in Iran suggests some cheap hotels are now double the price of the book.
On the numbers we’ve put together we should be ok. But we like to be self-sufficient so have a fall back plan. Accommodation is always the biggest cost so we’re carrying a tent and good sleeping bags (its winter, even in deserts that means cold nights). We’ll just find a friendly local that doesn’t mind us camping in their backyard.
So what did we think of Uzbekistan? Most international tourists are Russian. Most are in a tour group or at least have a guide, there weren’t many ‘waifs and strays’ as Emma put it, like us.
But it is safe, affordable, easy, relatively hassle free, we only encountered 1 or 2 persistent touts, its people are friendly and welcoming and it’s got an amazing history and stunning architecture. Why wouldn’t you go? (just bring your own toilet roll!)
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