After Bukhara I took the night train to the capital city of Uzbekistan: Tashkent. Unfortunately when I arrived at 7am, I encountered one of the biggest problems in the digital age: No phone battery and no laptop battery! (I'm getting a powerbank for next trip!). Without my maps I didn't know where in the city I was at and I had no clue where my hostel was located, noooo! I did feel like I had a pretty good idea of where the downtown was, so I just hopped on a bus in that general direction. We passed the prominent Hotel Uzbekistan, which I had read about, so I knew at least I was going in the right general direction. I got off on a street that looked nice and had lots of retail, assuming there had to be a coffeeshop with wifi around. Well there were, but none of them were open yet. Crap. What kind of coffeeshops don't open until 9?!
A taxi driver stopped and asked where I was going. I told him I just needed to find a place with wifi. He said to hop in. He stopped at a western style breakfast place. It wasn't actually open yet (15 minutes early) but the taxi driver explained my dilemma and they let me in. A few minutes later I was back in business with the address and directions. I of course stayed for breakfast and was all set to go, but the owner made me give him the hostel phone number so he could call them, figure out exactly where it was at, and relay that to my taxi driver. They look after foreigners pretty well in these central asian countries.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind, I rode around on the metro to a bunch of different places, the central park, the main market, a history museum, and some different mosques. The downtown definitely has a very Soviet feel to it, lots of all white, blocky, and imposing government buildings. My favorite part of the day was actually riding the metro. Each station was a unique piece of Soviet styled art. I loved it. In fact I rode around to stations out of my way just to see what they looked like. I have never been so impressed by a metro system! Of course it's Uzbekistan and for whatever reason they have decided taking photos of the metro stations is not allowed, so I would have to dodge all the guards walking around to get any photos off. I did get caught once and obviously played the dumb foreigner card, but they still made me delete the photos from that station, which was a bummer.
I also met up for coffee with the travel agent who I got my LOI from, as I still had to pay her the $50 for the LOI. In the eyes of the Uzbekistan law, her tour company was personally responsible for me, so she'd email me every other day to make sure that everything was okay and make sure I was okay with navigating the trains and shared taxis, not getting ripped off, etc. I think she mostly deals with older people who aren't very good at that kinda stuff. We had a lot of correspondence over the last month, so it was interesting finally meeting her in person. Her English was perfect and she liked talking about Uzbek politics, which is something most Uzbek's won't bring up. So it was an interesting conversation. She wasn't particularly thrilled about me photographing the metro station, though.
Some photos from the afternoon:
So this was my last day in Uzbekistan! Although I was actually flying out of a city called Shymkent, which isn't too far across the border in Kazakhstan. Time for more fun with border crossings! The nice thing was that I was able to take a bus directly to the border and that Kazakhstan is visa on arrival. The not so nice thing was it was the most insanely packed border I've ever witnessed. Just a massive horde of people smashed in between iron railings. Fortunately the women had their own line, but the mens section was just a complete zoo. You're just wedged in there, and kind of sway back forth as people jostle and push their way around. It feels like you're in the crowd of a packed concert, but not...
The most interesting part to me was that they have these guys who you can pay, you give them your luggage, and then get behind them in the line. They move up along the railing and basically shove people out of the way to get their clients through the line faster. Then when they are close to the front of the line someone tosses you your luggage over the railing. It was mostly older men paying for this, which makes sense, as dealing with the line is a real workout. But some younger guys were doing it as well. They asked if I wanted to do it, but I didn't want to be a cheater; I was gonna stand the line just everyone else damn it! It sucked of course. All in all the whole ordeal took about three hours, then I was on a bus towards Shymkent.
I had one day to hang out in this town before flying to Georgia. Nothing really interesting for tourists to do, but the shish kebab place I went to for dinner had chunks of meat the size of your fist (ok not that big) and it was damn good, possibly the best I'd had all trip. The next day I found a trendy looking coffeeshop and did some people watching. The women here are pretty attractive! Lots of high heels and nice looking outfits. I was pleasantly surprised. I also learned how much Kazakhs hate Borat! Which is fair enough. Considering Kazakhstan has the best economy of all the Stans and is probably the most modern, but they're the country that get singled out as the incestuous backwater by Borat. I would have liked to spend a bit more time in Kazakhstan, but time was running short. I flew out that evening to Tbilisi and would have two full days there before heading home.