April 2019
  • Day11

    Goodbye Uzbekistan

    April 23, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ☁️ 12 °C

    Back in the hotel, it's time to say goodbye. And it's not an easy one. Said stays with me and Noha until the very end, also because we are both in tears. 😢 Tonight we will all fly out at different times, as Aurora, Heather and Noha have their flights in the middle of the night, while my parents and I can leave the hotel at around 7am.

    So, the holiday is over, but surprises are not. When in the morning we check out after a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we find Said waiting for us in the lobby! This poor guy stayed up the whole night to accompany each single tourist to the airport and give them his personal goodbye. And today he has to drive back to Samarkand... 😲

    When I see (again) the Tashkent airport, I realise this is really time to say goodbye. And there's no way to stop the tears...

    I had a fantastic experience that truly beat any expectations. But, more importantly, I met an amazing guide (who even ordered khachapuri for me ❤️) in Said and a great friend in Noha.
    And hopefully these will not stay just as memories.
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  • Day10

    Back to Tashkent

    April 22, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    The time has come. After ten fantastic days in this amazing country, our tour is about to end and we have to get back to Tashkent, from where everyone will take one's own flight back home.

    The drive to the capital is about 4 hours, which literally fly thanks to Said.
    Our fantastic guide entertains us with his hilarious jokes and even buys a huge bag of apricot seeds for us! On the way, he also picks up some giant bread... hopefully that's not for us too!

    After a toilet stop at an isolated cabin with no current water nor any sort of plumbing system, we approach Tashkent while the sunset lights up the sky against the trees. Funnily enough, almost all power poles host giant stork nests!

    When we finally enter Tashkent, we suddenly remember how surprised we were on our first day for seeing it so modern and clean. And we are even more amazed now after seeing the rest of the country. 🌇
    We have been driving into the city for a good 20 minutes when Said suddenly asks our driver an unexpected question, followed by an even more unexpected answer:
    "Do you know where our hotel is?"
    "No"
    "So, where are you driving to?"
    "I am just driving"
    😂😂😂😂😂

    The hotel is a stunning 4-star that seems to come from a different world in comparison to our previous accommodations. After a quick stop in our rooms to leave our stuff and get changed, we head to a beautiful restaurant where we are served an yummy and yet sad dinner. Noha keeps sobbing and I have a hard time not doing the same.
    During dinner Said asks us to fill in a tour evaluation form. I ask him if he also does tours including different countries and he proudly states that there is not much to see in the surrounding area: Turkmenistan doesn't have much to offer apart from a crater and the capital, which is completely white: not even cars can be black! 🙄🤔😅

    Before being dropped off at the hotel, it's time to give our tips to Said and Mr. Furqat... together with our letter! Hopefully they will appreciate it.
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  • Day10

    Carpet Workshop & Lunch

    April 22, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Before going for lunch we stop at a carpet factory, where the owner shows us how the famous silk carpets are produced in Uzbekistan.
    Silk is extracted from cocoons: from just one you can get 1.200m of silk thread! 😲 All colours used in this factory to dye the silk are of vegetarian origin: roots of madder for red, pomegranate for orange.

    When we move to the inner part of the factory we see some women working at some huge loom. They show us how the different silk threads are knotted with a double knot and then cut. At the end, the weaver cuts with a sharp blade the remaining part of the cut threads sticking out, thus ensuring that the carpet has a smooth surface. The remaining shreds are used to fill the interior of cushions.

    The girls working at the looms are able to pick the threads, make the knots and cut in just a couple of seconds. It's a very intense work and that's why they must rest every 30 minutes. Making carpets requires an extremely amount of work and time: the average speed is less than 1cm per day with two women working 8 hours day on it., 😨
    The most amazing part of these carpets is the colour: it changes depending on the position you look at it from.

    After the visit, we obviously stop by the store, where we are shown some amazing carpets that required years of work and cost just a few thousand dollars. Considering that two women worked full time on it for at least 2-3 years, we get a good idea of local wages... 😞

    It's finally time to stop for lunch! This time Said brings us to a super luxurious restaurant, where we have an amazing beef and lamb stew. 😋 We notice that there are some tables that are completely occupied by dressed-up women: apparently it's a local tradition that married women gather for lunch on a monthly basis and have fun together, for once forgetting about their house duties. After eating they all start merrily dancing in the middle of the restaurant and try to involve me as well...🙁

    It's now time to say goodbye to Samarkand and leave for Tashkent: tomorrow we have a flight to catch! ✈️
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  • Day10

    Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis, Kusam-ibn-Abbas

    April 22, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    After leaving the Kusam-ibn-Abbas mausoleum, we walk down the main street with the monumental buildings until we reach a platform from which we enjoy a magnificent view over Samarkand.

    I don't know if it's because I had no expectations, but this place is by far the biggest surprise I had so far in Uzbekistan. Said - visibly satisfied at my appreciation - comments: "That's why I left it as last" 😏Read more

  • Day10

    Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis, Middle Group

    April 22, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    After taking hundreds of pictures outside and inside these magnificent tombs, we proceed towards the most ancient part of the necropolis, which contains the Kusam-ibn-Abbas mausoleum and mosque. As the name suggests, it's here that the remains of the famous cousin of the prophet Muhammed are preserved. The two buildings are connected and, after walking past the mosque, we reach the prayer room of the mausoleum. It's a circular room with benches all around the walls occupied by tourists and pilgrims. A Muslim priest is non-stop singing a litany only interrupted by a short prayer time together with the worshippers in the room. Said explains that the priest will continue singing without interruptions until a substitute takes his place to give him some rest.

    After one of these praying breaks, I go explore the room. Opposite the entrance, a grid separates it from a smaller room containing a grave: it's the resting place of Kusam-ibn-Abbas. This explains the presence of so many worshippers and the non-stop litany.
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  • Day10

    Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis, Mausoleums

    April 22, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    After going through the entrance arch, we start walking up a staircase until we cross another chartak and we find ourselves in one of the most incredible places I have ever seen in my entire existence. We are at the beginning of what looks like an endless paved road running through two parallel lines of spectacular mausoleums facing each others.

    Each construction is splendidly decorated with blue majolica and is somewhat unique but, at the same time, is perfectly aligned to the others in terms of style and size. If the facades of the mausoleums are magnificently decorated, the interior of the buildings are of at least equal beauty.
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  • Day10

    Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis, Entrance

    April 22, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    After the surprising visit of the Ulugbek's observatory (and sending back our keys to the hotel with a taxi 🤦‍♀️) , we walk down the hill to get back to our van. We still have one place to visit in Samarkand before we head back to Tashkent: the Necropolis.

    Before starting our cultural visit, we do a quick stop at a minimarket, where we can have a look at souvenirs and we can also get a coffee. ☕Thanks to my travel mates, I have the great idea of buying a simple cotton bag for all the extras I bought during the trip. Definitely more convenient than getting a new trolley!

    I must say I am not too excited at the idea, as I have seen some ancient necropoles before and they were basically a bunch of old tombs in ruins. However, I couldn't be more wrong...
    From the very moment when we approach the entrance gate, we understand we are about to see something truly spectacular.

    The name of this place is Shah-i-Zinda, which means "Tomb of the Living King". This refers to Kusam-ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed who is said to have brought Islam to this area in the 7th century. Also, allegedly he was beheaded by the Zoroastrians and he not survived, but even picked up his head and walked away with it! 🙄🤔😕

    Back to the Necropolis. The first constructions were built in the 9th century, but most of the buildings date back to the 11th-15th centuries. Despite being built across different centuries, the Necropolis has a stunning artistic continuity both in terms of architectural style and of decorative motives. And, no need to say, the dominant colour is a bright blue!

    The ensemble comprises three groups of structures: lower, middle and upper, each connected by four-arched domed passages (called chartak). The main arch that stunned me at our arrival was erected in 1434 by Ulugbek (yep, the same guy of the observatory) and has the same fine tile-work motif on blue majolica that we have seen in the main buildings of Samarkand.
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  • Day10

    Samarkand, Observatory of Ulugbek

    April 22, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Last morning in Samarkand! As a goodbye present the weather decided to be indulgent with us and it avoided to rain. However, it's still freezing cold... 😥
    By 9am we are all in the van ready to go.
    We have two stops planned before we start our long drive to Tashkent: the Necropolis and the Observatory. We start with the latter...

    Mr. Furqat drives towards the outskirts of the city and then stops at the feet of a green hill. It's the Observatory of Ulugbek!
    Ulugbek was born in Iran in 1394 and was a grandson of Timur. His real name was different: this is just a nickname. He is the only ruler in the world who was both ruler and astronomer: indeed, he discovered 1018 stars without any optical instruments! 😳

    After this introduction, we start walking up the hill, where the Ulugbek complex is placed. It has two sections: the museum and the Observatory. It's the only observatory in Central Asia and was built in 1424. Unfortunately it was destroyed in the 17th century earthquake. It was a circular 3-storey building with a flat roof. The building was down in the ground, where a huge sextant with an impressive 36-meter diameter was built! The sextant was the ancient version of the telescopes. The observatory was rediscovered in 1908.

    Ulugbek is considered one of the best astronomers of all times and, indeed, most of the scientific works of current astronomers still rely on his calculations. Unfortunately, after Ulugbek's death nobody invested in the observatory. A modern observatory was built by the Uzbek government close to Tashkent and in 2009 it discovered an asteroid.

    After visiting the museum, we proceed to the ruins of the observatory: only the underground part survived the earthquake. We can still see the huge sextant built in the ground.
    To calculate the duration of the year they checked how long it took for a star to go back to the original position using the sextant. And apparently this method works: the final calculation is indeed only 1 minute and 2 seconds longer than the current official year duration! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

    We are about to leave the observatory when Said receives a call from our hotel: apparently somebody didn't give the keys back to the reception. Who could it ever be? OK... Let's start collecting the money for the taxi🤦‍♀️
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  • Day9

    Samarkand, Evening & Light Show

    April 21, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Half frozen after spending 1.5 hours in the cold wandering around the bazaar and the mosque, we are rescued by our driver, who picks us up in the usual alley.

    We have covered our programme for today, but Said is, as usual, ready to go the extra mile to make sure that everybody's needs are met: when our driver drops us off at the hotel, Said walks all the way to his own house, picks up his car and starts driving us around to find an ATM allowing us to withdraw money (here in Uzbekistan it's easier said than done...) and a supermarket to buy some local specialties.

    In the end, we get everything done and we can get back to the hotel for a quick shower. In the lobby we meet a girl from the agency, asking us for some feedback on the tour. Of course, we can only try to explain how superb the experience has been so far. And we still have one day to go! 🤩

    When Mr. Furqat drives us to the restaurant, we start getting slightly worried: he is driving up hill in a weird-looking suburb with unpaved streets that look way too narrow for our van. Maybe it's just a shortcut to another amazing restaurant? When we finally get off, we know that the answer is a big "no"... 😟
    We are in the middle of nowhere walking in a muddy street full of paddles, cracks and whole while some stray dogs observe us with a puzzled look. I really doubt there is a restaurant around...

    Well, I couldn't be more wrong! After walking through a gate, we find ourselves inside a local house with a table laid for us. The food is yummy as usual, but somehow I have the feeling that the hygienic conditions are appalling... and the look on the face of Heather coming back from the toilets definitely confirms it.
    During the whole meal Said entertains us telling jokes about Indian tourists amazingly faking the Indian accent. This guy could be a comedian! 😂

    After dinner I ask Said if it's possible to go back to Registan square to see it by night. Well, we couldn't have maid a better decision: tonight there is going to be the sounds&lights show!
    We had an incredibly lucky timing, but there are two problems:
    1) it's freezing cold
    2) the show is supposed to start at 9pm but tens of minutes have passed and nobody seems to know when it will start
    Fearing his tourist group will die of hypothermia on the last tour day, Said goes to talk to some local guards to find out what's going on. Apparently, we are waiting for the mayor.
    When I protest, Said comments:
    "Well, he paid for it"
    "He paid for the show? But he is the mayor... He can have the show for free"
    "He paid to become mayor"
    Alles klar 😂😂😂

    When the show finally starts, to proves to be worth the long wait: not only are the visual and musical effects absolutely stunning, but also the storytelling is quite amazing. The show is a sort of promotional documentary on Uzbekistan starting from. The origins of mankind till the most modern technologies being discovered nowadays in Tashkent.
    Absolutely fantastic! 🤩🤩🤩
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  • Day9

    Samarkand, Bibi-Khanym Mosque

    April 21, 2019 in Uzbekistan ⋅ 🌧 13 °C

    After our usual lunch break, we get back on our van, just to be dropped off after a couple of minutes in a narrow alley. I don't know if it's the after-lunch effect or if the weather has really got worse, but it feels freezing cold, especially when the icy wind blows against us. A quick look at Google weather confirms my suspect: it's just 8 degrees!!! ❄️❄️❄️😫😫😫

    In front of us there is a gate: the entrance to a local bazaar. While walking towards the market, we notice a huge almost intimidating building towering on us: at first sight, I would say it's even bigger than the madrasahs of Registan Square!

    The bazaar is not very crowded (probably due to the winterly weather) and we walk through quite quickly without many distractions until we reach a huge arch: it's the majestic entrance to the Bibi-Khanym Mosque. Said leaves us for a few minutes for a quick toilet stop, but not before warns us against the gypsies. For the first time since my arrival in Uzbekistan I indeed notice groups of gypsy women walking through the visitors.

    Said starts telling us the story of this amazing Mosque, which was of course built by the legendary Timur when he conquered India. It's located in front of the Bibi-Khanym mausoleum, which is supposed to contain the remains of Bibi-Khanym, a Chinese princess who became Timur's wife. However, in reality the mausoleum was only started in the 18th 19th century.
    Legend has it that her beauty made the architect in charge of the construction of the mosque fall in love with her to the point that he dared to kiss her: when Timur found out, he ordered his wife to cover her face with an Islamic veil and had the architect killed. According to another legend, the architect initial cost forecast was much lower than the real ones and Timur decided to execute him. In order to build it, he sold 5000 Indian slaves...

    During Timur's times the mosque was even more impressive than now: the entrance was higher than nowadays and the inner part could host over 15.000 people praying at the same time.
    Apparently, Timur used to say: "if you want to see how powerful we are, look at our buildings".

    Mosque built in only four years but this time was not enough to make a solid construction: to be quicker, they decided to fill walls with rubbish!
    The main dome covered with the traditional blue tiles is impressive and Said explains that it's actually the biggest dome in Central Asia. A funny thing is that on the dome there is some grass growing, due to the presence of soil and seeds brought by birds! 🐦🌱😂

    When we enter the courtyard we see a huge Koran holder: due to the mosque's importance, the ancient Koran we saw in museum in Tashkent was initially kept here. The building hosts was main central Mosque as well as two smaller mosques on the sides.
    Inside it is decorated with very tiny details, a typical motif of Samarkand.

    Unfortunately, the mosque was partly destroyed in the 17th century earthquake.The mosque complex had marble columns, now partially destroyed.
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