Samarkand: "Welcome to Central Asia"

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

May 26th, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

I got some advice from my friend Elias in Bangkok. He said, "Jan, when you board the Uzbekistan Airways airplane in Bangkok, ask to speak to the Chief of the Cabin Crew. Discreetly finger a fifty dollar bill and inquire, "Perhaps for small "fee" you have an extra Business Class seat?."

It worked, but I was so nervous I was not prepared for her answer. She looked at the 50 and replied, "Oh that is so leeettle."

After a little more encouragement, I took a seat up front for the overnight flight to Tashkent.

Welcome to Central Asia where everything is negotaible: taxi rides, hotel rooms, food at the market, clothing, and airplane seats!

Uzbekistan is a wonderful surprise. The weather is clear, hot and dry in the daytime and cool at night. Everyone is friendly and welcoming. The food is tasty and plentiful and filling. Plov and shashlik top the menus. The bread is unique and delicious. Fresh vegetables and fruit are everywhere. Cherries and apricots and strawberries are piled high in the markets. Until now, I had forgotten what a fresh tomato tastes like.

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The ancient mosques and mausoleums and madrases are what you would expect: colossal.

This morning I visited the synagogue here. I had a special tour from Tamara, a lovely Jewish Uzbek lady. We got along well with a sprinkling of Hebrew, Russian and English. She gave me a kippa and I said a schma before I left. It was an "experience."

The roads are not so great but some of the mountains are still snow-capped.

I am well, getting a bit tan from the near desert conditions.

Last night I went disco dancing with my two new Uzbek friends here in Samarkand - Feruza and Ozoda. They are university students and speak English, Japanese, Uzbek, a little Tajik, and Russian. They have been indispensable guides.

I have also met many other international travelers and we all share our stories. Today I had breakfast with a French girl, Alice, 27, traveling alone around the world. Also Nick, a milkman from Liverpool. He has five hundred home delivery customers and uses his Christmas tip money to see the world. Yesterday I met a Swiss couple and their two young sons, 4 and 2. They are on a four month tour of the "stans."

I will have many other stories to share with you. But for now, with very slow Internet connections, I must sign off. Then lunch with Ozoda, a little shopping, and a nap to prepare for another night of Uzbek style dancing.

Sadly, tomorrow at noon I leave Samarkand, and with high expectations, take the train west to Bukhara.

Dasvadanya,

Jan

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