I only have two more days in Uzbekistan and then i'll be on a plane. Here's where i've been, what i've seen and who i've met this week. Aren't you getting bored of all this yet?
Bukhara is an old city chock full of awesome medrasses, mosques and minarets. Most have been restored as they've been crushed and rebuilt plenty of times between the Mongols and Russians. One mosque, Maghoki-Attar Mosque, has been the subject of excavations and digs and summed up the history of the place nicely. First it was the site of a Buddhist temple, then Zoroastrianism (don't ask, i don't know) then a Mosque and finally Jews used it as a synagogue but it's now hawking carpets and hats to tourists. I'm not sure who made the decision to turn all the remarkable Islamic architecture into glorified tourist shops but i wish they hadn't. The best place i visited was Abdullah Khan Medrassa as it wasn't restored to its original form but had been left to decay. I paid an old guy to unlock the place and let me wander around taking pictures of rooms where students used to live and study that were now covered with thick layers of dust, debris or pigeon shit but to me it just added to the charm of the place.
I stayed in a guesthouse in Bukhara owned by fat man and a small child who promised me football on TV and beers in the fridge. I got neither but i did get a strange breakfast every morning. One day it was sausage and mash with grapes on the side.
I got ripped off by a friendly man in Bukhara. He approached me on the street and told me i could have lunch with him and his family and then before the food was served (which was crap) he tried to sell me some blankets and cushion covers embroidered with silk (i must look like the kind of guy interested in soft furnishings). He got so desperate to sell something other than lunch (which cost more than we'd agreed) that he asked me if i liked watches. I shrugged. He disappeared to the kitchen and produced a cheap Soviet wind-up watch that he said would make a good souvenir. I gave him a disdainful look that was only surpassed by his daughter. There are lots of tour buses passing through Bukhara and it seems to have made people there think that a foreign face is some kind of coin-shitting machine that likes to walk the streets buying crap they don't need for no reason at all.
I jumped on a speedy train to Samarkand in the early morning sunshine and we sped past miles of cotton fields sprinkled with people harvesting in the autumn heat who stopped to wave at the train as we then trundled on through dusty deserts and villages. Three hours later i was in Samarkand, one of the most famous cities on the ancient Silk Road and home to the amazing Registan which is a collection of enormous mosques and meddrasses and is a seriously beautiful building. Unfortunately most of Samarkand has ben turned into yet more tourist traps and manicured roads that the Uzbek authorities would love to call "boulevards" which split the dusty old town charm from the soulless buildings and keep the tour buses on the clean streets. It's a shame but it's a big business. Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara is where the money is but i'll probably have my best memories from the other places in Uzbekistan.
And there are amazing numbers of French people on holiday in Uzbekistan. They're everywhere. Most of them on tour buses and most of them old and slightly bewildered but definitely everywhere. I was sat in an internet cafe in Bukhara and an Uzbek man came in to chat with the owner. He then walked over to me, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "France?"
"No," i replied, "England."
"London?" he offered.
"Erm, no, Leeds."
"Manchester?" he attempted, ignoring the answer i'd just given him.
"No...Leeds." He shrugged, looked almost insulted and walked out.
I stayed in a great guesthouse in Samarkand. There were a load of cyclists staying there all on huge trips across Asia and Europe that made me feel as if i should be trying harder to be traveling as well as Japanese people on a mission to take pictures and get drunk as quickly as possible. It was great to sit around and do nothing but swap stories drink beers and share emails before planning the next legs of our respective journeys.
I'll be in Tashkent for one night and then on Friday i'll be in Europe. Or Asia. I'm not sure. Which continent is Azerbaijan on? I'm looking forward to finding out.