Armenian Speakeasy

Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent
SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan
October 7, 2007

These are my final days in Uzbekistan. I'm feeling more relaxed and positive about exploring and being on the road. I think my outlook has improved largely because I finally have the visas I need to continue on westward.

Leaving China, even crossing Kazakhstan, didn't really feel like a beginning to my trip. At that time I wasn't sure which visas I could get so didn't know which route I would take west. Having my paperwork straightened out gives me a clear route through to Europe. Now that I don't have to consider potential detours--skipping around countries, potentially taking a flight--I'm more at ease and able to experience the moment.

It's a good time to be on the road in Uzbekistan. The past week has seen perfect autumn weather--warm and clear during the day, cool at night. Last night, I returned to Samarkand from Tashkent. Samarkand is on the road west, on my way out of Uzbekistan. I'll linger here for a couple days, re-visit Bukhara, then cross into Turkmenistan on October 11.

I spent my last week in Tashkent, mostly dealing with visa paperwork. While there, I ran into Kosuke once again. He and I had taken different routes back from Khiva to Tashkent but wound up connecting yet again in the capital. Two weeks prior, Kosuke and I first met at a pleasant Tashkent bed-and-breakfast run by an elderly Tatar couple, Gulnara's B & B. It was at that same hotel we met once again before he flew back to Japan. We took a few meals together and made promises to meet up again somewhere before long, perhaps in Osaka or Vancouver.

Over this last stay at Gulnara's B & B I met another traveler I wound up spending a fair amount of time with around Tashkent. Tim is an Australian who had previously worked in Tashkent. He's presently on his way back to Australia after finishing graduate study in Europe. Uzbekistan Airways allows a free stopover, so he's exploring the country for a month. Tim and I took in a few museums together, including the Alisher Navoi Literary Museum (not worth visiting, the collection is largely photocopies of old manuscripts and Soviet-era junk, including random pamphlets and a rocket-shaped plastic pen-holder,) and the Railway Museum (excellent, lots of beautiful old steam engine locomotives and other train cars from the past century). Tim should be coming down to Samarkand from Tashkent tonight, he's spending one last day up there, meeting up with former colleagues.

Railway Museum, Tashkent
After he gets here, Tim and I have plans to go to a certain restaurant I ate at while I was here in Samarkand a couple weeks ago. Just above the intersection of Mahmud Kashgari Avenue and Babar Mirza Steet, Kosuke and I happened across an Armenian restaurant with a simple-but-good menu and unique atmosphere. Several rows of high wooden booths facing each other formed the seating. A red curtain hanging at the entrance to each table closed off views of other diners. It was by no means a fancy place. What I liked was a certain feeling the place was from some era long-past--it would have been a perfect speakeasy in the years of U.S. prohibition.

The best part was the menu, also not fancy, but unique. The only entree was kebabs: chicken or pork. These were large and tasty, but what made the place worth returning to were its appetizers. Our waitress couldn't speak Uzbek, I don't speak Russian. Her English was pretty basic, rather than waste time attempting to explain what appetizer dishes she had, she brought out an entire tray for us to pick and choose from. We ordered some dish that turned out to be made mostly of mayonaise and dried fish (not good) and one that was so good I want to replicate it at home. It was essentially a hollowed-out tomato filled with cottage cheese. Small bits of scallions and a touch of horseradish had been mixed in with the cottage cheese. It was so simple, but so delicious.