Thursday, October 31, 2019

Dushanbe and Bishkek

Dushanbe is a very pleasant city. It felt like we could be somewhere in Europe.  The Plane trees, parks and roads all contributed to that feeling.  It was also very hot in mid-September, so walking in the shade of the trees was a relief.  

We referred to the Lonely Planet, and headed off to see the recommended Ethnographic museum.  Only problem was -  it wasn’t where the Lonely Planet map said it was and was actually on the other side of town.  I then remembered someone’s comment in pre-trip research, that they were unsure if the Lonely Planet writer had actually even visited the city, so huge were the errors.  

So unintentionally having visited the outside of some university building, we backtracked and headed for the large Rudaki Park.  There were lanes and lanes of roses, and they were scented roses.  That and the smell of freshly cut grass was a pleasant change for us.  Nearby, was the 2nd largest flagpole in the world, and the ‘Whitehouse’, parliamentary buildings.  

Leaving the park, it was a relief to get inside the National museum and its lovely air-con.  As with anywhere, the exhibits on stones/geology were a bit dull (we are not really into them), but the rest of the collection was quite good.  Quite a lot of effort seemed to have been put into the displays and descriptions.  It was good to see more of the wall murals from Panjakent.  We had seen some lesser quality pieces in our visit to the museum in Panjakent.  But the best bits are in Dushanbe and the Hermitage in St Petersburg.  The room displaying the gifts from visiting nations, was not a winner for me, bowl from Pakistan, pen from India etc.  The top floor had a nice collection of art works by Tajik artists.

For lunch we walked a reasonable distance in the heat to go to the popular Turkish restaurant,  Merve.  The cold drink was particularly good, and food was great.   There were constant pictures of the President wherever we went 

Dinner was next door to our hotel in a nice modern cafĂ©.  At that time we didn’t know it was a chain and ended up at another one when we got to Bishkek.  Two meals, 2 beers and a coke = $12

The next morning it was out to the airport for our flight to Bishek, via Almaty.  There were great views of the snow capped mountains along the route.  Unfortunately the scheduled 2 hour stopover ended up being 6 hours and included boarding the plane and being made to disembark while they swapped out the plane for technical reasons.  And no internet in the terminal unless you have a local number to which the joining code could be sent to.  In the end it was a 4 hours delay for a 30 minute hop flight.  Luckily the driver the apartment arranged to meet us at the apartment was still waiting for us @10:30pm. No local money, no chance to walk the neighborhood but hey...we are in Kyrgyzstan.

Our 1st goal in Kyrgyzstan was finding an ATM and getting some money.  Beside our apartment was a popular called Bublika.  Coffee, and plates of pancakes and omelettes: we were ready to hit Bishkek.  It turned out to be another lovely city.  Not because of any particular sights, but rather for the parks and public spaces, kind people in cafes and it just had a good positive vibe.  At one point we were sitting in Oak Park, it wasn’t silent looking at the changing colour on the leaves of the trees, instead there was a constant thrum of acorns falling, rustling  through the trees and bouncing off the ground underneath.

USAid had been very active in helping the tourism industry progress and one of their initiatives was preparing walking routes, with supporting stories of the places you were seeing.  It was very well done and helped get us around the city point we wanted to see. There were a lot of parks, squares and sculptures and we didn’t visited them all.  

We had lunch in modern cafe which we had also been to in Dushanbe.  It was only after we sat down and recognized some of the decor did we realize this was a Russian chain called Shokoladnitsa.  The dumplings and local beer were well appreciated.  

Over the road was the Tsum, central department store.  Again the most useful shops were on the very top floor.  Here were a lot of same-same tourist souvenirs but there were a couple of shops with unique items.  The best selling the most delightful silk scarves with merino wool felted into them.  

We visited the Fine Arts museum, which had quite a large space but only a few really good pieces.  The good pieces, were very good, though.  It was particularly noticeable that the dominant colour in all the paintings was brown, reflecting the terrain and harsh environment.  But when it came to the textiles, they were unabashed riots of colour. 

In the way home we stopped in the supermarket.  It is always interesting to see the different  things in supermarkets giving a small insight into local life.  The one thing we both noticed was that bulk biscuits are a major thing here with a aisle devoted to scooping up all the freeflow biscuits you could want. We instead found chocolate marshmallow biscuits that we had had on the airplane - and they served us well as meal supplements over the next few days.  

In the evening we walked to a Georgian Restaurant.  "Pur Pur" has constant good ratings from a number of sources.  It was a good choice, and it lived up to expectations with lamb that melted in your mouth!  The freshly prepared Khachapuri bread and a carafe of Georgian wine made it well worth the walk. 

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