Silk Road Day 2: Trains, towers and a bazaar

Day 2: Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

We woke up on Day 2, Tuesday, at a reasonable hour for breakfast and met around 9 am in the hotel lobby. Off we went to the Tashkent train museum, which is filled with soviet trains from the 1930s to 1950s. It’s outdoors and all visitors are welcome to climb freely on anything and everything. So here we are, a group of 20- and 30-somethings climbing up the side of Lego-colored trains, jumping between the roofs of cars like we’re in a James Bond movie, using the cranes on other cars as monkey bars.

It was a prime picture-taking and video-taking opportunity. We entertained our Uzbek bus driver, who doesn’t speak much English, but took pictures much like the previous night’s waiters. Again, no one gave him a camera.

We hopped on the bus again and drove to the TV tower. No pictures were allowed inside the building, but outside was fine. Conveniently, the most important picture that I was concerned with taking was the mini statue of Chicago’s own Hancock tower, which was displayed because it is one of the top ten tallest TV towers in the world. Once inside, I had to lock up my camera, and we all had to go through a metal detector and frisk. Women frisk women and men frisk men. While I had no contraband on me, my pockets were still crammed with gloves, earwarmers, a water bottle, Kleenex, a folded up shopping bag (what can I say…I heard we were going to a bazaar later), and a couple other miscellaneous items. She didn’t speak English, but I do know the Russian word for “this is" is “eto“ and she just kept pointing to each bulky pocket repeating “eto?" as in..."What's this?"

After proving my innocence, the group gathered and we were guided by a young English-speaking guide dressed in a bright white cowl neck sweater and a dimpled smile. He showed us a large mosaic at the center of the tower on the ground floor, explaining the details of the artwork. We then hopped into an elevator and up we went to the observation deck. The guide approached Ben and after discovering he was Australian, began to badger him about the TV towers in Australia, asking if he’s ever seen them, if they knew that there were three there, and that they were very tall. Ben clearly didn’t know as much about the history of Melbourne TV towers like the guide did, so he just laughed and brushed the guy off. “You’ve been to Vienna? So you’ve seen the TV tower there!” No, sorry. It was almost as if this guy was an English-speaking robot who only knew about TV towers. Clearly he loved his job… or only knew English words in their association with anything and everything related to TV towers.

The tower is 375 meters tall and we’re allowed to go up to the 100 meter level, which is the observation deck. When we got to the observation deck, there were mini models of TV towers around the world, with their Uzbek spelling. The Hancock building was represented again with large painted “CHIKAGO” letters on the side of the glass case displaying an unfortunately broken model. It was fun to read the phonetic spellings of cities around the world, like “NYU YORK.” The deck allowed for amazing views of the city, including Tashkentland, a soviet-era amusement park that was sadly removed from our itinerary after discovering that it would be closed for the new years holidays. Overall the city was very flat, with few skyscrapers or buildings poking out from the masses. Our tower guide informed us that this was because of the 1966 earthquake and a fear of building upwards. He said, however, that things are changing and they are starting to develop the city more. I’d hope so…after fifty years you’d think they’d figure something out. He asked me about Chicago and surprised me by immediately asking about The Bean, which almost no foreigners, or even Americans, know about. He of course asked about the mafia/mobs of Chicago. Then he asked about the universities there, and is it true there are over three thousand universities in America? How much money can I bring with me on a trip there for a week? How much would a trip cost? Overall it was interesting to hear his perception of the USA as a foreign destination, as it always is.

We then went up to the rotating restaurant another ten meters up to enjoy some drinks with a view. It was quite dumpy with the carpet worn down to the netting in any area that has felt footprints in the last thirty years. It was empty except for a family of four: two grandparents in traditional Uzbek garb, a young school-age boy, and presumably his mother, a middle-aged woman with her hair half-tied up in a sparkling barrette and heavy black eyeliner around her eyes. There was music playing in the restaurant and the woman danced around in a celebratory way, gesturing for us to join her. Over the course of an hour, about half of our group danced with her. When the bill came we realized that most of us didn’t have our wallets on us since we left our purses and bags on the bus before we got to the TV tower. We luckily were able to pay the bill with what money a few people had on their person.

As we left the TV tower, the family left, and then went up to Ben and gave him a loaf of bread from her hometown, which here is a very treasured and special gift. How she even had it on her person, I don’t know. Maybe Uzbek people carry around bread waiting for an appropriate time to gift it. The woman also took a photo with our group as we left.

On we went to lunch, at the National Plov Center. Just outside the restaurant there were men chopping vegetables, cutting up chicken and stirring up huge pots filed with bubbling lamb fat and plov. Before eating, I had to use the bathroom, so I went over to the stalls outside and paid 500som to use the facilities, which were the most basic to say the least. Once inside the restaurant, e sat down and were served a single course meal: plov. It’s a rice dish with tons of lamb fat and vegetables and chicken, served with a slice of horse meat sausage. It was delicious but really rich. Ben said this was THE place to have plov, because if you get it at a cheap restaurant or a dumpy side of the road joint, then they often use mutton fat, which leaves a thick lard layer on the roof of your mouth. Eilidh said she threw up once after eating roadside plov for that exact reason.

After lunch we went on the metro starting at Bodomzar (I got to use some of my Russian--Gde Metro? Vot metro!) There were tons of cops just outside the station checking our purses and bags. Once inside, Bek bought us our tokens, little clear blue plastic chips, for a mere thirty cents each. We had to get our bags checked once more before popping the token into the turnstile and heading downstairs. It was a rather shallow station, but nothing too different than those in the USA. I was super excited for this part of the trip and was cooing at every detail. That station was beautiful, but simple compared to the photos of various Uzbek stations I’d seen online. There were mosaics of flowers on the arched roofs, and the tall twelve foot lamps in the middle of the platform were lotus shaped. We got on the train, which was dark green and so very soviet- looking, and exited at the Mingurik station to transfer trains to the blue line. This station was quite dark but had cool lights on the pillars and they were projecting cartoons on the walls of the tunnel that you could watch while waiting for the train. We exited at the Kosmonavtler , or Cosmonaut, station, just to look at it because its really really cool. Photos in the stations are prohibited, as they are technically government buildings, but there I snuck a couple of pictures by doing the ole’ “slide the camera out of the jacket pocket” trick. At this station, the pillars are covered in rippled blue glass, and the walls have circular space-related murals, like planets or astronauts using tools. The blue line was the first of the three Tashkent lines, and it opened for the public in 1976. It was the first metro in central Asia and the fourth in the soviet union, after Moscow, Kiev, and Tbilisi. We hopped back on the train again and off we went to our final destination, Chorsu.

The Chorsu bazaar was at this stop, and it was quite large, so Bek and our guides decided to guide us to the various areas, which several of us, myself included, were a little bummed about. We wanted to freely roam for a few hours, but instead we were ushered from place to place on strict time schedules. We were allowed thirty minutes in the large domed building, which houses meats, deli items and dairy, with the upper level dedicated to dried fruits and nuts. There were dozens of vendors with piles of fruits and nuts. I tried a small blue dried fruit with a stem upon insistence by a vendor, and it was delicious. The vendor didn’t speak anything I could understand, so I was left not knowing what it was. I took a look at a pack of homemade fruit roll-ups in various flavors, but the vendor refused to negotiate. If I can’t barter, where’s the fun? Ben then joined me and I asked him to ask what the fruit was, and we found out it was a raisin. Ha. I swear it looked different! This one was blue!

We then were ushered to the area with traditional Uzbek items, which sold wedding dresses, scarves, suits, trinkets, housewares and more. It was much quieter in this corner of the lot, but there was tons to look at. We were only allowed a mere ten minutes here before being told we had to move on. I was super frustrated and asked if we could stay longer, but we took a survey and I was the only one who felt that way. It was only four o’clock, yet we rushed to get back to the hotel to “rest” before dinner. I considered coming back on the metro, but by the time we went back to the hotel it was near dark.

We ate in the hotel pretty early, around seven, since we had to get up early the next day for a flight. We had pumpkin soup and a nice roasted chicken dish finished off with a slice of cake. We finished the night with another hotel lobby botellon, then we went to bed, with dreams of our early morning flight dancing in our heads.