Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Our day out to the mausoleum made from papier maché. And more.

It seems as though I have become a proper human being in that weeknights are now ‘bed by half nine’ nights and the weekends are when life happens. Not only that, but the realisation hit me hard that being hungover on a Sunday and having to be up by 6 on a Monday is actually pretty upsetting.

This weekend’s adventure was a trip to Samarkand, a place that some people from Britain might have heard of. It is the third largest city in Uzbekistan and contains a lot of stunning ancient Islamic architecture. The whole place comes across as a lot more ‘Eastern,’ but more on all that later.

In order to be able to spend an ‘excursion-length’ amount of time there, we had to meet at the station at 7am, which some members of the group were happier about than others. Then bags are searched, tickets are stamped and passports are checked. It makes going on a train a lot more of an experience, honest. We had little compartments on the train, where they brought us tea, and there was a restaurant with a wide range of biscuits and… other biscuits.

British trains don't have carpet quite like this.

Upon arrival in Samarkand, we decided (well, most of us decided) to go and get some plov. We went to a seriously fancy place, was told there was no plov for us so left in disgust for a more canteen-like place. The plov was served with the salty milk stuff, or ayran, as I should call it, which apparently will cure any stomach ailments. I just wish I could eat more of it; the taste isn’t too bad but it does give off a ‘farmy’ flavour if you overdo it.

The next stop was the Amir Temur mausoleum. We paid for a guide who told us all about the place, peppered with jokes about how pomegranate juice was the Red Bull of the 14th century. Apparently, before Amir Temur’s battles, a huge stone bowl would be filled with pomegranate juice and the soldiers would all drink from it. After the battle, the soldiers would drink again, and the difference in the levels would show how many soldiers had died.

This was all fascinating, but it was not until we went into the mausoleum that my brain melted. The main building was under a dome with a selection of graves in the centre. It was so beautiful that it nearly made me cry, and actually did make me do a little tear when the guide informed us that the entirety of the decoration in the building was made from papier maché. It had been restored in 1994; some of the outdoor tiles were put in 600 years before and were still bright blue, yet the ones that were around 20 years old were already losing their colour.

Can you make that from paper soaked in plaster? Can you?

The next place we visited was Registan Square, which was a massive open square surrounded by three buildings called ‘madrasahs.’ The buildings themselves were lovely, little courtyards surrounded by archways. However, they may have become a little more touristy since being built, as these courtyards were full of shops selling plates, bowls and, surprising, pictures of naked fairies.

Our last stop before heading home was a mosque with several tombs and a graveyard. I think it was called Shah-i-Zinda, but I may be wrong. It was super gorgeous, but had many rules to follow. Some were fairly reasonable, such as ‘do not shout’ and ‘be respectful’ but some were interesting translations, for example: ‘prohibited kissing and going around’ and ‘forbidden cooking, having a rest.’ So we made sure that we did not go around while avoiding resting. It was a pretty impressive feat.

The train home was rather lovely; we took pictures of the sunset and played a card game which we named Islambek after the lovely man who taught us to play it. The train guards came to watch and one of them even joined in. He loved us so much that he shook our hands as we got off the train.

Post-Samarkand was obviously pub time, Sunday was a good old rest and then on Monday evening, I went to my first ever football match! How many people can say that their first ever live football match was an international friendly between Uzbekistan and New Zealand? Spoiler: Uzbekistan won 3-1 and there was a hilarious fight. Which Uzbekistan probably also won.

This is how many people can say their first ever live football match was an international friendly between Uzbekistan and New Zealand.

That is all from me. Have a lovely week.

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