The receptionist at the Jahongir Guest House, where we are staying, is being very helpful. Fortunately her English is excellent. She has spoken to the company who are delivering the water pump to us and it will arrive this afternoon. She has also explained the Tashkent railway system to us. When we arrived last night we were surprised not to come in to the main central station. Apparently the fast trains operate from there, but the slow train (which we had to travel on) operates from another station, in the south of the city. She has also helped us to communicate with Fira, who is arriving at 1130 and has a city tour planned for us.
Fira is an interesting young lady. A mix of cultures. Her grandmother was German and her grandfather Polish Jewish, but born in Russia. They were both banished to work camps during the Second World War. Fira is Christian and only 5% of the population are Christian. Fira was determined to show us some different images of Uzbekistan.
First up was the Metro. Even though there is no signage in English, it’s a pretty straightforward system. First we went to the Central Station to buy our tickets back to Bukhara for tomorrow. The usual queues and when we got to the front, we asked for 2 tickets on the fast train at 0730 tomorrow morning. We were told “only business class”. It worked out to just over £20. We agreed and the tickets were issued and paid for. Another girl then came on the scene and took the tickets back from me. She pointed out they were for a different train. The 0913 slow train from the station to the south of the city. A good job she pointed this out. It was not what we asked for and the girl who issued the tickets made no mention of this. Once again the fast train services for tonight and tomorrow are full. It will be another 6 hour journey on the slow train and we won’t get to experience Uzbekistan’s answer to the bullet train. C’est la vie.
Next up, a Museum of artefacts, models, paintings and photographs of different periods in Uzbek history. (We never did establish the name of the Museum). As time was rapidly passing, lunch was next on the agenda.
We could not come to Uzbekistan and not have “plov”. We have tried unsuccessfully to order it in several restaurants before. It appears only to be cooked in huge vats and takes several hours. It is a concoction of rice, slivers of meat and vegetables, with plenty of lamb fat. So, a somewhat greasy offering.
Tashkent has several specialist places. The one we went to was near the base of the TV Tower. A 375 metre three legged, soviet designed monster. A huge hall, full of mainly men, tucking into plov. Ours came complete with hard boiled hen’s and quail’s eggs and a slice of horse meat! Fira left most of her plov, while Dennis and I ate heartily. It’s very good for men, the saying goes..:)
Later in the afternoon she asked us if our stomachs felt okay. A bit of a worry!
Into another taxi and off to a German Lutheran Church. Fira called a couple to come along and open it up especially for us. A beautifully restored building. A chequered history. Partially destroyed during the Russian invasion in the 1920’s, then put to various uses – a hotel, a shelter for animals, a warehouse, it was restored in the 1990’s
Then another religious experience. The Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral. This had a similar history.
A devastating earthquake in 1966 flattened most of the city, leaving 300,000 people homeless. Much of the city now dates from the late 60’s and 70’s, but there are many new, post Independence buildings, many state institutions, gracing the city. My only memory of the city is from the late 60’s when flying in it was a scene of mud brick dwellings.
Finally, to a very grand looking hotel, the Hotel Uzbekistan, to change some money. Not the best place, but we were in need. I had some Euro notes – they looked fine to me. The cashier rejected them as imperfect – tiny crinkles. Fortunately I had some pristine US$.
Back at our hotel, utterly exhausted by the heat, we said goodbye to Fira, who insisted on seeing us back to the hotel. She has been a very gracious and enthusiastic companion for the day and is very proud of her city and country.
Dennis was ecstatic to find the pump waiting for us at the reception desk. (His birthday present come early. His birthday is tomorrow!)
For Liz, a picture of a train…:). Sorry Kelvin, no smoke coming out of it.