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Published: February 7th 2014
Be warned: lots of pictures of domes, minarets, blue mosaic and tiles. THIS is Samarkand!
It had snowed the previous day in Tashkent and I was worried it would be another cold day on the road but as I woke up early to hit the road towards Samarkand, the sky was very blue and the November sun felt warm: lovely! I put on my shorts and here I was, cycling to Samarkand. I can’t say the road or the scenery from Tashkent to Samarkand is pretty. It felt pretty dusty, grey and bumpy. It took me 3 days to get to Samarkand. On day 1, I rode to Gulistan and set up camp outside the city a minute before a big nasty storm hit me. It rained all night long and I had to fold a wet tent and sleeping-bag in the morning… Day 2 was grey and crappy, with a lot of wind and the most boring scenery ever… grey fields, grey sky, a mix of dust, dirt and water on the road… my bike and shoes were covered in grey mud. Back in Beijing, my girlfriend Becky didn’t want to message me because texting me made her feel
sad… A shit day! Until 3pm when my friend Dominique messaged me to congratulate me on the French win against Ukraine in the Soccer World Cup qualifiers. France had lost 0-2 in the first match and I had stopped believing that France was going to make it to the World Cup in Brazil… but impossible is not French and Dominique made my day by telling me all about the unbelievable 3-0 victory! It really pumped me up and I cycled harder than ever to get to Jizzakh before night time and enjoy the comfort of a hotel room + wifi access. I stayed at the Diplomat Hotel (classy!) and as I was the only guest that one night, the staff really took care of me. They helped me clean my bike and fix another broken spoke (the 4th
one since I left Bishkek). They brought me tea and other snacks all evening long and in the morning I was served breakfast in bed! I got to read all the articles on football and I was truly delighted at the thought that I’d be able to cheer for my country in Brazil in June 2014 (I am definitely going!!!)! Dominique had
given me “sausisson” and French cheese and I indulged in front of the soccer articles: it felt great to be French! On Day 3, I literally flew to Samarkand with a wonderful tail wind that helped me cover the 110km in less than 4 hours! I stopped to take a few pictures of snowy mountains on the east side of the road (towards Tajikistan) and got into Samarkand much earlier than expected.
When I looked at the map of Samarkand, I really thought it would be easy for me to find the hotel I was looking for… Well, it wasn’t and it took me 2 hours to get to where I wanted… It is my choice to travel without a GPS. I’m afraid that if I had a GPS I would always be looking at it, I wouldn’t ask people for direction and I honestly think that it’s a good way (excuse) to interact with the locals (asking for simple direction sometimes turns out into a nice invitation + conversation) but in Samarkand, a GPS would have been nice when I got there. First of all, I barely saw any street name anywhere. I asked for direction several times
this is something!
Samarkand - Nov. 2013
but people kept on sending me in totally different directions. Then of course, I don’t speak Russian… (big regret, I should have studied a bit before getting on this trip) and I mistook Bibi-Khanym Mosque Mausoleum for the Registan… Anyway I ended up running into a local English teacher on his way home and he kindly walked me all the way to my guesthouse. Fantastic!
I decided to stay at Bahodir Bed and Breakfast and it was a great choice. I got myself a private room with private bathroom for less than 10 dollars. They cooked very generous breakfasts and dinners in the common room. I got to meet cool travelers from all around (Japan, Portugal, Slovakia, France…) and the hotel is located 400m from the Registan, and 100m from a great bakery! I spent most evenings chatting with Joana and Nuno, a fun couple from Portugal cycling home from New Zealand!! They crossed the Australian desert from south to north, cycled across Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces in China and will be heading my way to Iran, Turkey and Europe. They take fantastic pictures; if you want to get away for a few minutes and imagine yourself bicycle-touring the
legend says that Bibi-Khanym, Timur's Chinese wife, ordered the mosque built as a surprise while he was away. The architect fell madly in love with her and refused to finish the job unless he could give her a kiss. The smooch left a mark and Timur, on seeing it, executed the architect and decreed that women should henceforth wear veils so as not to tempt other men.
world, visit their website at www.globonautas.net
Samarkand is THE place to go in Uzbekistan. It’s considered as the jewel of the country with dazzling architecture, azure mosaic, stunning medressas (where Islamic theology is taught), fascinating historical sites, old streets lined with mud-brick houses, and of course the majestic Registan (the most awesome single sight in Central Asia?). The Registan was medieval Samarkand’s commercial center and the plaza was probably a wall-to-wall bazaar. The 3 grand edifices that make up the Registan are among the world’s oldest preserved medressas. The original medressa at the Registan was built in 1420. I stayed 5 days in Samarkand and every single day I walked by the Registan and spent hours admiring the astounding mosaic work, the tilted minarets, the domes… It’s such an incredible place!
It’s possible to get around Samarkand on foot. The entire city center is dotted with ancient blue mosques, mausoleums, medressas, minarets: a wonderful place to wander under blue sky or at night when the plaza in front of these monuments is empty. I’m sure you will notice the long collection of pictures of blue mosaic I took in Samarkand… I couldn’t help it! The architecture there is
so unique and colorful, and gorgeous! I couldn’t get enough of it!
Wandering around the Old Jewish Quarter (very few Jews left since the dissolution of the Soviet Union) I met an Uzbek woman who used to work in China. She spoke quite a bit of English and we were able to have a proper conversation. She worked south of Suzhou for 3 years to make money for the family after her husband passed away. We exchanged a few words in Mandarin but her English was much better. She was standing outside her house chatting with a neighbor when I met her. There was a power cut in the whole neighborhood. They said it happens quite often in Samarkand. They seemed used to this and didn’t even complain. They simply shrugged their shoulders as if nothing could be done about it. A lot of young Uzbek go abroad to find a job (Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Ukraine…). Salaries are very low in Samarkand (teachers only make $300 a month) and in Samarkand and Bukhara, only people who work in the tourist industry can get a proper income. While walking around the university area, I saw an English training school so
Is Timur burried here?
I walked in. 2 young men (in their 20s) opened this training center to teach English to teenagers. As I told them I was a language teacher myself, they warmly invited me to join a lesson. Every kid in the classroom (their parents pay $5/week) told me they were learning English in order to become a guide to make money in the summer when foreign tourists show up. I really enjoyed seeing how motivated these kids were. After class we talked about the IELTS test (English competence test) as some of the kids are applying to study in Europe. I even met a university student who could speak fluent Mandarin (teachers in Central Asia might be using old teaching techniques but their students are definitely learning!). He explained to me that his teachers were from Xinjiang (Uyghur people) and that he was about to go to Shanghai to study there for 4 years. It’s funny how everything seems to take me back to China.
And one last thing that those of you who have visited China might find funny… You know how in most cities in China, people stare at us foreigners; they even point at us (“look, a
restored but so beautiful.
foreigner!”) and they always call us “Laowai” = foreigner. In China when people do this (usually kids) I turn around and point at them too and say out loud in Chinese: “Waou, look, a Chinese person!” Well, as I was walking back to my hotel one night in Uzbekistan, I spotted a group of Chinese-looking men… And as we got closer to each other, I heard one of them called me a “laowai” in Mandarin… Without even thinking, I turned around and in Mandarin I told the guy that we were not in China so technically he
was a laowai (‘ni
shi laowai!”) There were like 5 seconds of silence and then his friends burst out laughing at him. You should have seen the face on this guy. He was astounded that a white guy could speak Chinese back at him. I finally got to call a Chinese man “laowai”! It felt so good! Haha!
I hope you enjoy my pictures! And dear friends in China, see you soon! ;-)
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