Saturday 20 September 2014
Well, isn’t it a small world, backpacking I mean?
So, I’m pretty much staggering into the hostel at 7.30am, stupidly early (or late, depending on your point of view), wondering if I’d be charged for last night or even if the hostel had cancelled my reservation (I’d booked two nights), and worried that by turning up at this time of day I’d be annoying people in the dorm, completely knackered and just wanting to collapse in a corner, when I see someone sitting down and, what, waving at me?
The front door to the hostel opens out into a courtyard, where quite a few people are sat at tables, eating breakfast. At one of them, facing me, is Paul, the British chap I met in the hostel in Tashkent last Sunday. His travel companion’s doing some camping in the wilds of Northern Uzbekistan so he’s at a loose end in Bukhara and was as pleased to see me as I was to see him. A friendly face in the wilderness. Sort of.
Had breakfast at the hostel. I’m not sure if that counts as having stayed last night here or not, in terms of what I owe them, but scrambled egg, bread, and fruit were just what I needed. Actually, what I probably needed was an intravenous drip of coffee, but that just might be my idea of torture.
Forgoing sleep, Paul and I set out to have a browse around the touristy centre of Bukhara; after a quite relaxed couple of hours we’d seen pretty much everything. Lots of pretty buildings with bright decoration, mainly that standard Arabic blue and old patterning that I’ve now seen rather a lot of …
As the day heated up, I did end up back in the hostel for a couple of hour nap. The dorms are built around the courtyard on two levels; my dorm’s at the front of the building on the upper level. It’s got six beds (no bunks) and an ensuite bathroom, which is always nice to have. What it doesn’t have is any major windows, so it feels quite dark.
The hostel overall is quite nice – although the Internet connection is probably as bad as, if not worse than, the connection I had in East Timor. At least it’s not raining this time.
This afternoon saw me walking into the Eastern suburbs, very much in the ‘everyday’ part of Bukhara. It was interesting to wander slowly for only a couple of hours and see modern busy shopping avenues, narrow residential old town streets easy to lose yourself in with tight bends, no real road surface other than simple stone, and backstreet businesses with shutters you could peer through and see people at work, and then finish off back in the tourist centre with cobbled streets, clean monuments, and market stalls selling the usual tat. There’s less of a separation here than there was in Khiva, where the old town is very much a central location and literally isolated by the city walls.
On the edge of the old and modern towns I encountered what seemed to be a ruined mosque – presumably once the centre point of the area but now lying in graffiti-ed ruins just off a major crossroads where people drive by without even caring or noticing.
This evening I finally had the regional delicacy of ‘plov’. Six of us, some from the hostel, a couple of others random other travellers that Paul had met before I’d arrived, went out to one of the local tourist-y restaurants (the sort with an English menu). It was a nice setting – on a balcony overlooking the old town –but the food was reasonably average. That said, Central Asian food in general is ‘reasonably average’; a 3-course meal of it would be hard-pushed to win ‘Come Dine With Me’.
Plov is the regional variant of the more southern ‘pilaf’ – a meal of meat and vegetables all mixed in with rice. In essence, it’s similar to the concept of paella but with meat instead of seafood, in that everything is cooked in the same pot. Usually it’s flavoured with spices like cloves; this one however didn’t really cut the mustard. It was hearty, but a little bland.
We finished off in a local bar, with the fairly Ronseal name of ‘The Pub’. It was very much a backstreet place; a solitary large room with tables/benches, a bar at one end and a large TV at the other that played whatever was on the whim of the bar staff (usually ballad-y music videos). The beer on draught was a local Bukhara beer called ‘Aziz’ – not sure how strong it was but it cost 3,000 som for half a litre, so roughly worked out at just over 60p/pint. Hoppy, quite 70s, traditional taste, drying, light, sweet – not bad for my RTW beer sampling but to be fair the competition’s been a pretty low standard.