Well, it feels very naked now without the bikes, but at least we are still discovering new places and seeing exciting new things so we are still happy. We took a taxi at the hotel in Osh and went on foot (with all the other bloody tourists) across the border with Uzbekistan. Oh my god now I know what they mean when they say that it’s a police state here!! It started at the border where they wanted to see everything that was in our small suitcase (yes we are travelling with only one hand luggage piece for the two of us) so this didn’t take long because we don’t have a lot with us, but then they wanted to check the phones and the laptop. They turned the laptop on and started clicking on every icon the could find. I saw some steam coming out of Seb’s ears, but he stayed cool and just kept an eye on everything they were doing. The same with the phones, they started clicking on all the icons just to make sure there was nothing illegal on it… Oh well, at least the crossing itself was still quick. Right after the border there are tons of cab drivers waiting to bring you wherever you want to go in Uzbekistan, they even bring you to Turkmenistan if you want, as long as you pay. We started bargaining with the guys, because normally you pay per seat in the taxi and they put 2 other people in the same taxi, even if you have to drive 350 km’s like us, to Toshkent. We wanted to be at ease so we paid a little more to have the whole taxi for ourselves and it turned out that it was even a ‘big’ car so we had a lot of space (normally they all drive Daewoo Matiz’s and they put 4 passengers in them…)

Our taxi driver didn’t speak one word of English but he stopped whenever we wanted him to and he took us to a great black market place where we changed some dollars in Uzbek sum at a very good rate (the bank always gives you a very low rate but the black market dealers are very good ). We got 270.000 Uzbek Sum for 100 dollars, so Seb was smiling from ear to ear when he got this huge pile of banknotes in his hand (even though he realized that it was only worth 100 dollars). You normally always get notes of 1000 Uzbek Sum, so forget about putting your money in your wallet because it’s impossible. I had to put it in my Eastpack shoulder bag and even that was started to get really crowded with all this money in it. The guys here count the money in a very special but fast way and of course with us it takes ages to count this amount of money.

Another example of the police state thing are all the checkpoints along the way. Police are just everywhere and checkpoints are a traffic jam waiting to happen. They stop all the cars, look at the passports and make you go ‘register’ if they feel like it, there is just no logic in the way they do things here. The roads are very good and wide and in most of the places they are even making them wider then they are at the moment so at some places they have 3 lanes going each way and not a lot of cars, so it made for a very smooth ride. In the end it took 5,5 hours to get from the border to Toshkent.

Yet another police checkpoint in the middle of the highway:

And you don’t want to do stupid things here:

In Toshkent we found out that we could take the nighttrain the same evening to Bukhara, so we booked it and killed some time before we had to be back at the station, so we haven’t seen a lot of the city yet, but we did have a feeling that we wanted to stay here for a day or so because it had a relaxed and pleasant vibe to it. We saw some very nice buildings that they made to resemble European old buildings, which gives you a very charming feeling. They also have a huge fountain that has a lot of funky lights in the evening and it also has some very beautiful music in the background. In the end we even had to rush and take a taxi to the train station and we just made it with only 10 minutes to spare…

The night train was the worst we had ever. It was just the combination of the fact that the train was fully packed, the people kept shutting the windows and it was so wobbly that you just could not sleep. We kept waking up almost all the time because the train driver kept slamming on the brakes or giving too much gas the other…

We arrived in the early morning in Bukhara and went straight away with a local bus to our hotel to dump our suitcase before we went for a walk. The hotel was really charming and calm and the breakfast was amazing. We decided that we would go in the morning on our sightseeing tour, go to the hotel around noon and shut ourselves inside out of the sun and start our second tour in the afternoon. The reason we had to do it like this is because it is freakishly hot here!!! They told us that it wasn’t even that hot now, but it is just not worth risking our health to be out in the sun around noon. Towards the evening it was still 38 °C in the shade and you just had to go from shady place to shady place otherwise your brain would melt!

Most of the mosques in Bukhara have been turned into gift shops or museums, so you don’t have to cover up to visit them, which is nice, since I apparently forget to take our long trousers with us and we only have shorts. In the real mosque you still have to cover up your knees and arms, so no visiting the real mosques on the inside for us this time.

There was a real nice park with fountains and restaurants and benches where you were able to sit in the shade and have a nice cool drink. The buildings here are spectacular and remind us a bit of Morocco. They usually have a lot of coloured stones on the outside of the buildings which gives it a very Arabic feeling. We find that you can almost not compare Uzbekistan to the other –stans because it has a totally different feeling to it. Building wise they are a mix between European and Arabic and the streets are kept really clean. You can see that they try very hard to make Uzbekistan a pleasing place for tourists, but this naturally has an impact on the hotel prices because they are the most expensive we have had on all our trip. You can not risk it to go (wild-) camping here because you have to show a paper that says where you have stayed every night of your trip and it has to be of a place that is allowed to take tourists.

The local jewellery bazaar sounded like a hen house, or like a whole lot of gobbling turkeys were running around. All these woman talking to each other and bargaining for the price of really crappy looking jewellery. The carpets they sell here look very nice and you are certain that most of them are hand made, but when we saw the sizes of the carpets, we decided not to buy one, since it was too big to fit in our apartment anyway…

Some parts of the original wall around the city are still there and they still show you how huge it was.

Like in every police state they have a spectacular amount of police on the streets, but like you see in the picture, it is not always the real deal…

The busses here in Uzbekistan are fast, cheap and most of the time very crowded, but you just have to have experienced it once in your life.At night they light up the whole city and give it a relaxing ambiance, but the downside is that they like to use coloured lights, even on their very beautiful buildings, so they loose most of their beauty because of the freakishly green or blue lights…

To go to Samarkand, we wanted to take the day train, but the second class compartment was fully booked so we were forced to take the more expensive business class (oh no the overkill of luxury will kill us!). We couldn’t complain about the space this time, because we had the whole compartment to ourselves, but they cranked up the air-conditioning a bit to hard so in the end I was sitting with my scarf around my legs and with my towel around my arms, shoulders and head because it was so cold. The train itself was very new and nice and it only took 3 hours to get us there so we still had the whole day to discover Samarkand.

The hotel we booked was difficult to find, so we stopped at a nice looking place and decided to stay there for 2 nights and try to cancel our booking. It was because of Seb’s white lie (he told the guy that we were invited to stay at someone’s home) that we didn’t have to pay the first night, because the guy was real aggressive and angry at us, even though it wasn’t even noon when we wanted to cancel and we had only booked it a few hours before, just before we left Bukhara. Oh well, one bad experience doesn’t make a country, so we still enjoy it here even though they all try to rip you off and not just a little bit like in Mongolia but they try to get 4 to 5 times the price out of you almost every time you go to the restaurant. There was one place where we just had 2 drinks and a very (and I mean very) small plate of fried noodles and the guy wanted us to pay 55.000 Uzbek Sum (ok it still is only 17 euro or something like that, but still…) in the end we ended up paying the normal price of 12.500 Uzbek Sum (small difference right, and no we didn’t understand the guy incorrectly, because he went from 55.000 to 50.500 and then dropped it spectacularly to 12.500).

Another very nice example of the police state is the Registan here in Samarkand. It is a very nice place with some mosques and beautifully coloured buildings, but you have to pay to get close to them. We couldn’t even walk next to the rope that secured the place because the police were shouting at us and waving that we had to go away and that we couldn’t take a picture.

The money problems continue here in Uzbekistan since there is also only one bank here that will take Mastercard and it was a pain in the butt to find it… When we found it in the end, it was 3 minutes past 4pm and since they stop helping tourist in need at 4 we were out of luck! They would not help us under any circumstances and they do not have an ATM outside the building so we can not take any money out of our accounts, so we have to count until the last dollar and Sum we have to make sure that we make it through the weekend because on a Saturday or Sunday the bank is not open and we can only (maybe) get some money on Monday in Toshkent…  Keep our fingers crossed because otherwise we will have to pay our last dollars and hope we can make it to the border to Kyrgyzstan somehow…