Uzbekistan is known for it's ancient cities and Islamic architecture and Samarkand is probably the best example of it! The city does really have some stunning sights. It's one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia and was a major destination on the silk road. Most of it's buildings were constructed in the late 1300's and early 1400's when Timur was expanding his empire and building anything he felt like. It was also a center for Islamic learning, hence the amount of elaborate madrassas (islamic schools).
I arrived into the city around midday and the first thing you notice upon arriving in the city isn't the buildings, it's the stifling heat. Most of Uzbekistan is desert and Samarkand is no exception. It was well over 100 degrees. I spent most of the afternoon laying next to the fan before finally venturing out. The nice thing is that everything is pretty walkable. You could see all the sites in one action packed day if you really wanted to, but it would be pretty miserable in that heat. Here's some of the sights:
So I had a good ole time wandering around and seeing this beautiful style of architecture that I had never really seen too much of in person. Although I was hoping to see the Registan at sunset (the top photo) it turns out it was closed during those hours so they could set up for a music festival. But I learned that if you woke up at 5am you could pay the guard $10 and get up to the roof to watch the sunrise. Deal!
I wandered around a bit while it was still nice and cool and then retired back to my room to escape the heat for the rest of the day. It's difficult to really enjoy a place when you feel like you're baking walking down the street for 5 hours out of the day. That day I got a text from the guy I had met earlier wondering if I'd like to have another tour guide. I wasn't sure, but then I found out his friend was a mid 20's Uzbek girl who lives in Samarkand and also likes to meet foreigners and practice her English. Sounds good! But he said we couldn't stay out long because she had to get home at a reasonable time. We met up at an ice cream place and walked around to some of the places I hadn't seen yet. Like almost all unmarried Uzbeks she lived with her parents, but liked any chance she could get to get out of the house.
So after wandering around she suggested we go to this restaurant she thought I would like. It was a huge place! The main seating area was more like a banquet hall with a stage in the front where they would have performers come out and perform dances and skits and play different instruments. Everyone there was dressed up nicely in bright dresses and heels/slacks, dress shoes, collared shirts. It was certainly the place where big groups of people got together for parties and celebrations. In between the performances the music came on and the stage would be filled with people dancing. It was an eclectic mix of Uzbek, Iranian, Turkish, and Russian pop music. She wanted to dance, so I reluctantly agreed to go up there with her. I mean I suck at dancing as it is, but then having everyone watching the white guy dance, Ugghgghgh. I didn't stay up there long...
Then at the table I started getting texts from Jasurbek saying that she had to be home soon or her Mom would kill him. So apparently since he was the one who set up this meeting it was his responsibility to have her home in a timely fashion, even though he was in an entirely different city. Interesting. Anyway, she dismissed this notion, and we stayed out a bit longer, but I got the feeling she was going to be in trouble with her parents later. It was like the things we westerners battle with our parents about in high school, she was doing at 26! But Jasurbek kept texting me and eventually we split ways and she got me a taxi home for much cheaper than I ever would have gotten by myself. But it was an interesting night!
Two days in Samarkand turned out to be enough time to see everything, so I hopped on a train to another ancient desert city named Bukhara. Here's some more things around town: