Ten hours to Istanbul and another four put me in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, yesterday in the middle of a sultry night.
The plan is to see some of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and go trekking for ten days in Tajikistan before returning.
These places are the crossroads of the world, famous and ancient trading routes and part of the former Soviet Union.
The part of Tashkent I am in certainly looks Soviet with very wide boulevards and lots of low rise buildings.
It is the largest city in Central Asia.
It has a subway or metro which I rode yesterday, hither and yon.
It took a total of seven very friendly people to get me to my first destination.
Seemingly everyone, including police officers are delighted, almost to the point of surprise, that I am a tourist.
“Tourist,” they ask and then smile.
The metro is a sturdy Soviet one with some pretty old equipment and some of the stations are amazing.
As I stood subway map in hand, someone would come up, see my perplexity and help me get to the right area and on the right train, often making sure I got off at the right place.
I went to a famous bazaar yesterday morning and stopped to get a bottle of water from a street vendor named Akton.
In broken English he wanted to know where I was from and when I said Washington, D.C., he enthusiastically said USA!, pronounced YOU-sa.
He was not the only one to do so.
Trying my best to master some very basic Uzbek, after purchasing the water, I asked him how to say “thank you.”
He looked at me with a slightly bewildered expression and said in English, “Thank you.”
That was a good laugh.
It’s Arizona hot here so a lot of water is essential.
This place is also quite inexpensive.
Last night, I went to dinner at an outdoor cafe and had table service for my (very fresh) tomato and cucumber salad and chicken kabobs.
Both were served with very mild onions. The ones with kabobs were mixed with vinegar and some sugar.
The server, also happy I was from You-sa, offered up, in sequence, the names of George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton, to my amazement.
“How do you know these,” I asked.
He flashed a smile and said, “Dollars.”
Even here, money rules.