Day 40 - Thr 24 Apr 08
Not a bad nights sleep, but there was some noise at about 03:00, I assume another flight had landed at some ungodly hour. In the morning I awake to rain, and lots of it. I hope it clears up before my walk down to the railway station.
It didn't. I have run out of local cash, so the hotel reluctantly takes my USD. All the exchange places are still shut, so I have no choice. As I walk out of the hotel there are two women getting out of a car, I make eye contact with the driver and (somehow) arrange a lift down to the train station. Bear in mind that this guy isn't a taxi driver. He was probably just dropping his mother off at work!
Due to my unexpected lift, I get to the station very early - I pay my man 500 for the ride, and he seems very happy - maybe I paid too much? I expect to be able to change some cash in the station. No such luck. I wander out and try to find a bank, but they are all still closed. Eventually I do a deal with one of the security guards at the bank, I hand over a few dollar notes and get back a huge wad of local notes.
But this time it's almost time for the train, so I kick my heals around the (brand new) station. The train heads off spot on time, and I've got a seat next to one of the only four tables in the carriage. The table holds bottles of water, coke, fanta and a lovely little blue and white china tea set. The only bad news is that the TV and DVD above my head is pumping out some grand open air song and dance routine.
The scenery out of the window changes in an instant. One minute there is nothing to see but a flat plain, next there are snow covered mountains off to my left, and we start to climb up a low mountain pass.
Arrival in Samarkand is low key, but there are a few tourists on the train. I chat to an American, but he's more interested in taking the bus to the centre - I take the easy route and hail a taxi. he drops me right by the Registan, and it's an amazing sight. But first I have to locate a hotel. I fail to find my first choice - I know I was in the right area, but I just couldn't find it. So I head back past the Registan and have no issues finding my second choice. It's in the old town and a stones throw from the Registan.
I dump my stuff and head back to the Registan. I grip at paying the $5 entrance fee (locals pay nothing!) but they accept my dollar bills which makes it easier. Once inside the cordoned off square I can get access to the courtyards behind the three impressive facades. It's questionable if it was worth it as all the rooms are full of tourist tat for sale.
There are more tourists here (most in organised groups) than I've seen in a long time. I bribe the guard with $20 and manage to gain access to one of the minarets - all very cloak and dagger. The climb up the circular staircase is hairy, but when I pop my head out of the top the view is breath taking. The square lies below me, with ant sized people moving around, the whole of Samarkand is further out, and in a distant haze snow covered mountains.
Oh, I forgot, before the visit to the Registan I'd realised that I'd forgot to get my onward ticket to Bukhara. So I took a mini-bus back up to the station, queued up and got my ticket (for 6600s). The mini-bus up to the station was 600s, and the proper bus back down town was 200s.
I headed back to the hotel to chill out, my room is on the top floor and rather small, but does have a fridge! headed out for a stroll at sun set and popped around the corner to find a local supermarket, and a money changer. Made it up to another Madrasa at the top of the street. Back to the Registan and worked out that you can take all the photos you'd need to without having to pay the $5 entrance fee!
Supper at the hotel was fried eggs and chips with black tea! Headed back to the Registan at 20:30 to see the light show from a distance - I'm quite glad that I didn't pay the 4000s to gain entrance!