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Samarkand, Uzbekistan (Part I)
27–30 April (Sat–Tue)
Samarkand is such a beautiful and historically rich city. I just had to take so many pictures…
Saturday - Sunday
I booked a double bed at Najiba Guest House - in the old town next to Registan, which is perhaps the most important site in Samarkand. Upon arrival I was taken to a room with twin beds. Sadillo, the woman managing the Inn spoke little English, so she took me next door and introduced me to Dmitry and Marina, a young Russian couple with excellent English who offered translation.
I explained that life is too short to sleep in a single bed and I always book a double and pay for two. Najiba has four rooms but only one has a double bed.
They laughed, said they were leaving in the morning and offered to change rooms tonight. Well, it is one thing to have a preference for a double bed (actually I want a Queen or King) and a completely different matter to inconvenience others to achieve such an obscure goal. I declined and they insisted. I could not but I would happily move into their room the next morning. So, the deal was done. I spent an hour talking to them about travelling and their life in St. Petersburg.
I should have accepted their kind offer. I ended-up spending the night on a cot, disguised as a bed with very old springs. The room was freezing - very old heater - with a hot water tap in the bathroom that produced water that was almost warm. In the morning I learned that the toilet would not flush. Briefly I thought I would just move out but then on second thought I did not want to spend half the day looking elsewhere and relocating. Samarkand awaits...
So, I moved next door. The double bed was firm, the toilet flushed and it had a proper heater and even a bed lamp. The slightly warm water was going to be a problem - perhaps a late afternoon shower on my final day? The room was even charming. OK I am staying.
A ten-minute walk from Najiba is the Bibi Khanum Mosque and Mausoleum. Each is large and shockingly beautiful. The attached pictures tell the story. Nearby is the Hazrat-i-Hizr Mosque, which serves as a place of Islamic worship. Built recently it is also impressive although not of any historic significance.
It was almost a circus-like atmosphere - little open-air tourist minibuses going up-and-down a street packed with people. Mostly locals.
There were other foreigners - the most I have seen since Xi'an - but still I am a curiosity. Many groups of children, apparently on school outings, wanted my picture. In the beginning we would take a group photo with their smartphone and then I would ask if they could take a photo with mine but there were so many groups that wanted pictures that after a while, I just let them take my picture only. Occasional adults wanted a picture and once two beautiful ladies asked for a three-way selfie. It was kind of like my Japan experience on steroids.
That evening I went back to the train station to organise my onward journey and then to the Blues Cafe, as it is one of the few places that has live music - only, not on a Sunday night.
Met Frederic, a Swedish fellow who travels around Central Asia often. We enjoyed an interesting exchange. He offered advice for travel in Georgia. People often speak well of Georgia.
Thought of taking a taxi but MAPS.ME - my new off-line global map site introduced by Jonno in Almaty - said I could walk to the Najiba in about an hour. I would arrive right before their front gate locked. Yes, a midnight curfew - probably for security reasons.
One last story about Najiba the guest house and Najiba the granddaughter of the owner. This granddaughter speaks very good English and we enjoyed several conversations. She studies languages and literature at school and dreams of visiting America someday. I asked if she might study overseas and she said that girls in her family do not go abroad for study. I told her that it is not very often that a guest house is named after a grandchild and that might be meaningful in pursuing her desires. She was not sure... Somewhere in the conversation I asked what Najiba meant in her language and she replied, "good girl". I hope this good girl continues to push the boundaries of Islamic culture.