After two years on the road we’ll let you into a little secret. Travel blogging is hard work, time consuming and cuts into your socialising time. Between uploading photos, writing content, gathering useful information, trying to find reliable WiFi in undeveloped countries and proofreading everything before you post, the time adds up and happy hour at the bar creeps closer to finishing without you. Sitting here in Siberia we’ve fallen months behind during our time in Central Asia and aren’t expecting much internet access when we reach Mongolia in a week. So on that note, here’s a swift run down of what we did with our time in Samarkand, one of Uzbekistan’s most visited old Silk Road cities.
Rode the train from Bukhara
There’s several trains a day and the journey takes around three hours. You can buy your tickets in Bukhara not far from the old town without having to visit the train station some 10km out of town. It’s comfortable for the most part however it can get very hot if the windows don’t open. Bring water. You can find train schedules here.
Lunched at Platan
With the temperature nudging 30 degrees when we arrived we headed to this highly recommended eatery and savoured the air conditioned interior. Wood beam high ceilings and a plethora of stone, brick and too much tacky brass gives the place a bit of a European Alps vibe and we were given a seat next to stone waterfall which was turned on just for us. If you’re in need of a salad fix this is the place for you with over 20 on the menu. The Exotic salad was a creamy mix of mushroom, pineapple and walnuts with a dash of nutmeg which would have been a winner if it wasn’t let down by the sliced processed chicken. The Lobio bean salad was good but needed a little more lemon and the Vitamin salad was a huge serving of colourful veg with a zesty lemon, dill and vinegar dressing. The pita with cheese is a stodgy filler and chicken coated in crushed walnuts was both delicious and unique. Service was excellent, prices weren’t high (three courses, a beer and a coffee each for USD$15) but the coffee was awful.
Drank locally brewed beer in the sun
It’s a rare blog of ours that passes without some mention of the local brew. In Samarkand it can be found at Alt Stadt Lagman centre for home brew beers. A half litre of refreshing unpasteurized lager in an ice cold glass will set you back just UZS2,500 (about USD$0.40 when we visited) and the outdoor patio area is great for people watching. It’s located outside the Samarkand Cinema on the corner of Amir Timur and Mustaquilik, look out for the yellow umbrellas.
Ate with the locals at the bazaar
Between the Registan and the Shah-i-Zinda tombs you’ll find the local bazaar. Here you can find fruit, vegetables, spices, Uzbek cotton (though think twice before buying) and everything else you could possibly need. In the middle you’ll also find a small restaurant with an outdoor terrace serving up quick, cheap traditional food. The somsa’s are excellent as is the tomato and cucumber salad, and the soup is your standard potato, root veg and meat (beef?) swimming in broth with a nice layer of grease on top.
Stopped in at The Registan
A site which comes to most people’s mind when they think of Uzbekistan, Central Asia or the Silk Road, the Registan does not disappoint. Highlights include the flat ceiling inside the Tillakari Medressa, which is painted so well that from below it appears to be domed, checking out the awesome tiled ‘tigers’ which are actually meant to be lions, and viewing the site in the cool evening air when the facades are illuminated.
Inside a small shop within the complex you’ll find a man with a fab collections of Uzbek Suzani embroidery and the knowledge of the designs to back it up. There’s old and new pieces including some new ones using old designs with a modern twist and the poppy flower, supposedly made illegal when the Russians came, is coming back into fashion after being transformed into a pomegranate to avoid trouble. We even found out the ‘teapot’ on the one we bought in Bukhara is actually an oil lamp, a design from back in the countries Zoroastrian days.
And the Shah-i-Zinda complex
From the bazaar it’s a short walk to this complex and worthwhile taking a stroll through the adjacent Muslim cemetery (enter via Toshkent yo’li). This brings you to the site from the rear and some of the tilework is absolutely stunning. It’s a narrow walkway full of tombs and we were constantly stopped for photos with the locals. It wasn’t until we reached the front entrance that we realised we were supposed to have paid an entrance fee. Oh well, never mind!
Left Old City Restaurant disappointed
Half decent reviews, a nice interior and a massive menu can’t make up for the fact that this place is trying to hard to offer too many things, meaning what they do serve up lacks imagination and flavour. Matt’s choice of Arabic lamb taste like it had been plain boiled with the white wine, apricot and chickpea sauce added later and lacked flavour while Sarah’s fish was also a little on the unimaginative side. Salads are not bad though small for the price compared to other places. Good service but not worth the price, give it a miss.
Hung out at ‘The Office’
An evening trip in search of food near our hotel led us to walk past the office of local businessman Suhrob. Seeing us pass he extends an invitation to join him for some beer to celebrate the launch of his new website today. We pass through a mob of employees who soon disappear and a bottle of beer and three glasses appears from the back room. We never made it for dinner but took several trips to a nearby restaurant to use their toilet, telling them simply that we’d come from ‘The Office’, and a steady stream of people arrived throughout the night bringing us fries, chicken and even a bottle of vodka. At one point Matt and Suhrob left separately, both coming back with exactly the same beer, cigarettes and smoked cheese.
Suhrob was such an interesting character we found it hard to leave his company. His father was once one of the richest men in Uzbekistan but when the Soviets turned up that all changed. He’s run successful businesses in Iran being being turfed out by the government and losing millions. He has a desire to build the worlds largest phoenix statue here in Samarkand, a symbol he hopes will bring people of all religions together in peace. If your Russian is up to scratch check out his sight at www.subaro.uz which he described as an Uzbek version of eBay/Amazon. Oh and he gave us some free soap, we love free soap!
Took a pizza sightseeing
After a decent coffee break at Magistr and No Name Cafe and in the knowledge that there weren’t a lot of options for dinner near our hostel we ordered a pizza to go. We then headed home on foot and decided to stop in at the Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum along the way, the burial place of Amir Timur and his relatives including the astronomer Ulugh Beg. Timur, or Tamerlane, is the countries biggest ‘heroes’ and was the one whose army was supposedly fooled in the Noratus cemetery when invading Armenia in the 15th century.
Selfies with cool the kids
Everywhere we went in Samarkand we were mobbed by groups of teenagers wanting selfies. We usually obliged but occasionally put our heads down and marched the other way in order to save ourselves half an hour of smiling and fighting over who got to pose with us next.
And one last thing…
Don’t stop for beers and manti on way home at Cafe Labig-or. Despite it’s rooftop location near the Registan the traffic is noisy, the staff are rude, the foot is shit, the beer is just as bad and the prices are way inflated. Just keep walking and find yourself some road side somsa’s instead.
Thanks for reading, next up we head into the Nuratau mountains and the idyllic village of Sentyob. You can check out more of our round the world photos on our Flickr page here!
Tips for Samarkand
- We stayed at Bohodir 2 B&B, also known as Abdu Rahmon (keep an eye out for the Abdu sign. A taxi from the train station cost UZS12,000 after some hard bargaining. Breakfast was huge, WiFi was terrible, and hot water pressure was a little lacking, though a large internal couryard filled with cascading green vines and a cool relaxed vibe on the terrace and friendly owners made up for it. It’s a 10 minute walk to the Registan though there is a lack of restaurants around this area. We would recommend this hotel.
- Taxis for the east of the country leave from the Ulugh Beg Observatory. It’s a taxi ride out there so you can combine your departure with seeing the remains of it and the small accompanying museum. It was once an important center for astronomical studies and Ulugh Beg is one of the countries popular historical idols. Entry is UZS14,000.
- A seat in a shared taxi from Samarkand to Jizzakh shouldn’t cost more than UZS15,000.
- If taking a shared taxi to your next destination make sure to ask the price per person then confirm the total. Then confirm it again. Several times we’ve had drivers try and shift us by telling us we owe the total agreed price ‘per person’. Take all of your luggage out of the taxi before handing over the agreed fee, that way you can stand your ground and just walk away. One time we weren’t so lucky and had an interesting stand off involving a dodgy driver, a dozen locals, Matt’s shoulder and the car boot.