3-4 October 2022
The next two days will be a mix of flight and fantasy. Some final beautiful views of Khiva’s gates and fortifications as we drive to the airport; experiencing Uzbekistan security and airplanes; gin and tonic Uzbek style and farewell dinner – all add spice to the mix of traveling in the Stans of Central Asia.
We bus to the airport for our flight to Tashkent. We take the shortest route which can include u-turns in any street, no matter how busy or narrow. It is a new experience as it has been a long time since we have flown anything but a non-stop route. This flight stops in Bukhara to exchange passengers before we continue on to Tashkent. We are relieved not to have to face bumpy Uzbek roads again.
Khiva is a small but fairly efficient airport. Several security checks but they seem rather bored having to do it. No real organization to actual boarding but plane is comfortable. Best part is the charming safety video. It uses a mix of today’s fight attendants with sites and people of the Silk Road, some scenes filmed here in Khiva. Demonstrating the use of a seat belt while riding a camel is something worth watching; the khan’s warrior leaving his Apple mobile on after pilot warning makes the point. Love Morgan Freeman’s plug for Turkish Airlines but Uzbekistan Airways has them beat for originality and cleverness.
Arriving into Tashkent, our bus circumvents the runway to deliver us to the domestic terminal. We wait for bags. We exit, cross a big parking lot of white cars and a pea green Lada, to board an even bigger bus.
After lunch, we have an experiential lesson about the Tashkent Metro. It is reminiscent of the famous Moscow Metro because 25 of its 29 stations were built by Soviet architects beginning in 1977. All but the last 4 were built before independence. There are three lines and stations are all underground and now connecting to above ground transportation links. It is very inexpensive to ride at 1400 cym/Soum (about .15¢) to enter and ride as long as you do not exit the system. “Poor Charlie and the MTA, he’ll never return.”
Each station has a different motif and we begin at the Uri Gargaran Kosmonavtlar (cosmonaut) Station, built in 1984. Originally the undergrounds were used as bomb shelters and the heavy doors to seal the tunnels can still be seen. This station features ceramic medallions with images of Yuri Gagarin, Ulugbek, Icarus, and Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space), among others, and major space-related events and icons such Sputnik. The ceiling resembles the Milky Way of glass stars.
We travel a couple stops on a new train with excellent electronic screens and maps – if one could read them (practice that Cyrillic alphabet). We pause to transfer from Blue Line to Red Line at the Alisher Navoiy station built in 1984 and named after their beloved Timurid poet, writer, and linguist of the 15th century.
Paxhtakor Station is the oldest station and opened in 1977 and is part of the Red Line. It is referred to as the Cotton Station and features glazed ceramic tiles of cotton. Two stops along this line and we emerge into Amir Temur Square. Before Covid, photos were not allowed. All that has changed and now the locals are wondering what is going on with these tourists.
The new President is trying to relax some rules and open up the country. Considering from where he started, he has a long way to go. Perhaps he could start by turning off the immense LED screens all around town by midnight? The many “tennis players” in town indicate many rules remain and they will be enforced. The tennis players are not Federer or Nadal hopefuls but Uzbek State Police. The locals were disturbed by the long guns so security decided to carry their kalashnikovs in black bags over their shoulders, like tennis rackets. They fool no one but are a bit less intimidating for tourists – until you point your camera in the wrong direction.
Tonight is our farewell dinner. To celebrate, Gabrielle and I enjoy a Mojito and a gin and tonic before driving to our restaurant for the final dinner of salads, breads, lamb, potatoes, ice cream. Again, butter is requested and usually arrives between the main course and desert. Uzbeks don’t place much stock in butter. Tonight it is a bowl of shaved butter strips, similar to carrots julienne (most often the butter is frozen). We receive complimentary wine from our guide and thankfully it tastes a little better than it smells. Gabrielle describes it as a cross “between the goat and the chicken barn.” It resembles Morgan David Wine on a really bad day. Our enjoyment of the evening is not dampened.
Gabrielle and I will leave our little group tonight, we are going to be on our own for a time. We both look forward to our individual adventures.
We arise before dawn to be at the Tashkent International Airport three hours before a 7:40 am departure. The airport is small but the third busiest in Central Asia, which I am not sure is indicating much. It’s also probably one of the slowest. We understand the need to arrive three hours before the flight.
There is no online check-in with Uzbekistan Airways. In fact, I can’t find a way to see a confirmation as I booked code share through Turkish Airlines. You show up, stand in line to check in and check bags (we have carryons) and get your seat assignment. We stood in line for an hour to check in. Then our confused journey passes a man who asks if we had dollars. I finally understood he wanted to know how many dollars we might be carrying out of the country, like “1000s” he asks. No, nothing like that but I did think of our guide and having to declare all the currency he carries.
We then proceeded to a security check, then Passport. The immigration officer seemed annoyed we had our little papers from all the hotels, he checked our Visa I think, then Passport. Stamp! We are almost done. A walk to the gate for a short wait then a rush for the door.
The flight could have been okay. I sat on the aisle across from Gabrielle who had a window and next to her a three-year-old girl, her Uzbeki mama and a young baby boy. Every flyers nightmare? In front of her was a Russian couple with their NASA and BMW jackets and torn jeans, and their three-year-old Sasha. Now as one comedian once said, Sasha is why mothers eat their young. Sasha proceeded to run up and down the aisle screaming for papa or just screaming, whichever suited him. It never once occurred to the parents to calm the screamer down. Four fucking hours of screaming. And not a peep from the little girl who buckled herself in, quietly sat and had her breakfast next to Gabrielle. I wish I could funded her university education.
Uzbekistan Airways is comfortable but rather strange. We barely touched the tarmac in Istanbul before people were unsnapping seatbelts, opening overheads and standing in aisles. No announcement to remain seated so I guess flight attendants are used to this. The taxi from tarmac to gate takes several minutes. Seems most standing are Russians. The clapping at the end was either in celebration of a rough landing or getting rid of Sasha.
We arrive at the fabulous Istanbul Airport. Transit is assisted by Gabrielle who experienced it when she arrived. It is a long, well-marked, trail to transfer desks where we get our boarding passes for the final leg to our respective destinations, then a short walk to the international or domestic transfer checks. More security scans, a Passport stamp somewhere and I guess they checked my Visa, more high end shopping, much more shopping, a few more shops and more restaurants. My steps for the day are met.
The walk to my Gate 5 is fairly short. I find the Domestic Turkish Lounge downstairs, the elevator is just across from the IGA Lounge. I scan my boarding pass for the free wifi. Food and refreshments sans alcohol are adequate. I watch the board for my flight.
I notice a 15:25 flight to Batman.
This remains “the life of Riley until Riley comes home.” From the domestic lounge I have a private exit and bus to take me to my plane. Deposited gate-side, up a set of stairs, security doors opened to emerge at plane. Turkish Airlines appears to know how to impress and spoil. They will need this to compete with Dubai.
My flight to Cappadocia’s Nevsehir Airport proves uneventful, perhaps because Sasha is not on it. The airport is small but still confusing. I exit, find my ride to the hotel, wait a bit in the hot sun, and thus begins my adventure in Cappadocia.
My van resembles the Mad Hatter’s tea cup ride delivering passengers to their individual hotels. Torn up for underground utilities, at their best streets are narrow and winding. We weave about Goreme over streets just not meant for anything larger than a donkey cart. It’s the best adventure of the long day, except giving Sasha the evil eye
I realize it will be a challenge to summarize the Four Stans Minus One. I’ll leave that for another day as I enjoy a cool drink on my a terrace. The beer bought at the local market from a grumpy old Turkish man who seemed to disapprove of my purchases.
I hear drops of rain. The sun is setting over the western sandstone cliffs. Clouds turn from purple to golden to red. The city is quiet. Lights of welcome begin to twinkle about the caves. A dog barks somewhere to the south. Swallows dart about for their last flight of the evening. The Call to Prayer floats over the city alerting the faithful. Just beautiful. And more.