Dozens of Russian diplomats posted to the United States declared persona non grata and sent home. Thousands of American troops marching into Poland in the largest U.S. military reinforcement of Europe in decades. An entire world on the edge of its seat awaiting the inauguration of a new U.S. head of state. It was in this dramatic and turbulent political climate earlier this month that one hopeful American diplomat went on holiday to the Russian Federation.
Several weeks ago, the land crossing at the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan opened to vehicular traffic for the first time since I’ve been here. It takes about fifteen minutes from our house in Tashkent to drive past the ring road and up the M-39 to the crossing itself. After going through immigration and customs on both the Uzbek and Kazakh sides, it’s about another 90 minutes (depending on weather and road conditions) to the Kazakh city of Shymkent (Шымкент). Oh Shymkent – where have you been all my Tashkent tour?
A little more than a year ago, one of my former colleagues spent the last weekend before his packout from Tashkent hopping a domestic flight with his family. He told me that he couldn’t believe his two year tour had passed by without him ever making it to Khiva, an Uzbek city in the far west of the country. He told me, “If you get a chance to go to Khiva, take it. Don’t wait until the last minute when you need to pack and have a million other things to do.” So when the embassy’s Community Liasison Office (CLO) organized a trip last month to Khiva, my husband and I were among the first to sign up.
I spent the second week in September with my mom on a highly and long-anticipated trip to Moscow. As I mentioned in my previous post about our travel to Budapest, Americans must obtain visas for travel to the Russian Federation that exceeds 24 hour transit. This didn’t dissuade us; several of my A-100 diplomatic colleagues are serving at U.S. Embassy Moscow, and one of my dear friends and former Russian classmates there offered to sponsor us for three-year “guest of diplomat” visas. So with my coordination, my mom quickly obtained hers from the Russian Consulate in San Francisco. However, my issuance from the Russian Embassy in Tashkent took a bit longer.
In the last several weeks, my feet have touched the ground in six different countries. It’s been kind of a crazy time between working in the embassy, going on vacation with my mom, and then heading abroad again on a business trip. So, before too much time slips away, I want to share some of the photos and places I’ve visited, starting with Budapest.
I recently traveled with my mom to Samarkand, and then on to Budapest and Moscow. It was amazing to share visiting the ancient Uzbek city of Samarkand with my mom, as well as to experience a couple of new cities together.
My mom is currently visiting, and we have been hitting the Silk Road.
The weekend before last, I marked one year since my arrival in Uzbekistan. To celebrate, I took a road trip with friends and colleagues through the Fergana Valley and visited a museum/palace, a local ceramics workshop, and a silk-producing factory.
In just two days, thanks to the well-organized and efficient CLO (Community Liaison Office) who led the trip, we managed to log 425 miles and over 18 hours of driving through the rugged and unpredictable terrain.
For the last ten days, my husband and I have been on R&R travel outside of Uzbekistan. We left Tashkent and started off with a day’s layover in Turkey on the way to the Maldives, and we are currently in Malaysia.
We came to post knowing that Tashkent has an annual R&R entitlement, so I planned this first trip for almost four months with a lot of anticipation. Part of the allure of an R&R is to “rest and recuperate” from difficult working and living conditions in a post of assignment, and I have been really looking forward to this break. When our expeditors arrived to take us to the airport, I practically leapt out the door.
A few weekends ago, my husband and I took a two day trip up to Charvak Reservoir, a man-made lake about 60 miles northeast of Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent.
The reservoir is located in the western part of the Tien Shan mountains, and it definitely feels like Central Asia. Because of the road conditions, it can take a good 90 minutes to get there. Nearby Chimgan is also popular in the winter for skiing and sledding, and features lots of bare mountains, daunting as they are treeless. We stayed in a hotel some people call “the pyramids”, set literally right on the water. I’m sure it’s very crowded in the summer, but in the winter we had it all to ourselves.
This post is the second of two in my travelogue about my November trip to Prague, Sarajevo and Istanbul. If you would like to read the first post, you can find it here.
Sunday, November 8 was the first night that I was in Prague, and I slept deeply in my white, fluffy hotel bed underneath the vaulted wood ceiling. On Friday night, I’d been awake for most of the night, coughing and congested, and on Saturday night I’d never gone to bed at all, instead attending the Marine Corps Ball and then catching a 02:00 motor pool ride on Sunday morning to the international departures terminal in Tashkent. It was going to be my first trip outside of Uzbekistan since my arrival six months earlier, and I was thrilled.
On November 7, my husband and I attended the United States Marine Corps Ball in honor of the corps’ 240th birthday. The celebration was held here in Tashkent, and although I had a brutal cold, was lost and late, and forgot to have my dress hemmed, we rolled with it and had a good time.
In October, I had the opportunity to get out of Tashkent and see more of Uzbekistan not once, but twice – the first time on a three day work-related trip, and the second time on a short weekend trip with my husband and friends. (Actually, I did make one more trip out on October 30, but I’ll talk about that in my next post!)
I have been having some technical problems with my blog during the last three weeks, so I’m a little bit behind on posts. A lot has been happening lately, so I will try to catch up with a few posts this week.
In the first half of my Samarkand travelogue, I talked about our visit to the Amir Temur Mausoleum and Registan Square. In this follow-up companion post, I will describe our visit later that day to the Shah-i-Zinda (“Living King”) complex, a masterpiece lined with tombs.
The complex was founded between the 11th and 12th centuries, named for Samarkand’s patron saint, Kusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. A serious list of rules greets all visitors just past the ticket booth, where I paid barely two dollars for V and I to enter.