Yesterday will certainly prove to be one of the most memorable days of our adventure, both for its highs and lows. We had a couple of euphoric moments: visiting the sprawling, vibrant Chorsu Market and watching our impromptu host for tea then dinner, a voluble Russian named Ruskin, sing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” with an atrocious accent. Actually, ‘satisfaction’ was the only intelligible word to me. (CeCe will surely post a video clip as soon as we find a quicker internet connection.)
Then the song proved prophetic as the evening turned on us. That start had been promising. We were fooling around with some kids on the street when Ruskin beckoned us into his home located in Tashkent’s old town and offered us tea. Tea, of course, quickly turned into a tour of his home and dinner of soup with two of his employees.
In no time, Ruskin polished off his bottle of vodka with just a little help from me and none from anyone else. Whatever inhibitions he had quickly disappeared and he commenced pawing and squeezing by bride. (Who can blame him? She’s a looker.) Then, after our hasty yet polite departure, we discovered that one of the three had yanked about $25 out of CeCe’s purse. No, we won’t miss the money, but it was a frustrating and saddening lesson in the vagaries of travel. We’re now more ambivalent about Tashkent than we were two days ago.
There have definitely been highlights. On Friday I neglected to mention how cool the metro is here. The subway is surprisingly reliable and many of the stations are stunning. Doubling as bomb shelters, they are cavernous structures each with its own personality. The one nearest our hotel has a cosmonaut theme; most the others are decorated with colorful glass tiles or carved medallions of what I imagine are traditional Uzbek designs. According to our Lonely Planet guidebook (which is proving more and more inaccurate) it’s illegal to take photographs, but CeCe will try and sneak a few before we leave tomorrow. Police state be damned! (I just wrote that to get a rise out of our mothers.)
We’ve become big fans of markets and Taskent’s central Chorsu Market is our favorite thus far. Sure, like all such markets there’s no shortage of cheap clothing and plastic novelties, but this market had the most amazing selection of produce, plus aisles and aisles of food vendors. One friendly honey man was able to list every American president since Eisenhower even though he didn’t speak English. We then prayed a joint prayer that Obama would soon be next. For lunch, we decided on one of a series of East Asian vendors who were selling a variety of salads made mostly of chopped veggies. We bough 4 pint-sized helpings for little over $2. Three of the four were great. The fourth had a mystery fatty “livestocky” component (goat, perhaps?) that was marginally palatable to me. CeCe avoided it of course. What fun!
And today, we hit Tashkent’s weekly flea market, Yangiobod Market. Lonely Planet promised “nails to nukes” – we’re willing to overlook this overstatement because this bazaar was just so much fun. Aisle after aisle of greasy car parts, sinks and restaurant supplies on one end, a live bird and fish market on the other. In between, we bought a few handfuls of Soviet-era Uzbekistan postcards and CeCe nabbed a fun album full of Soviet stamps. $20 well spent!
So, perhaps Tashkent hasn’t been so bad. We’ve learned some valuable lessons, and dinner leading up to the drunken turn was more than pleasant. I think we remain committed to seeking out more experiences like yesterday’s dinner that bring us face-to-face with others, especially those who aren’t sleeping in hostels every night. Let’s see what tomorrow holds.