Justin was up at 4:30, worried he might have caught a cold, but it had more to do with dehydration from the Vodka. He chugged a bottle of water and tried to get back to sleep, but to no avail. So when the first hint of daylight hit at 6, he left the room whilst Crystal slept. There were still all the lights on at Lights on at Gur-e-Amir, but no lights at the Registan. He walked all the way down (up?) to Bibi-Khanum mosque, waiting to see it in first light. Some people were coming to set up at the bazaar, but otherwise it was empty. Birds were chirping everywhere, getting a start on their day. The moon was still out, right above the minarets on the mosque. He went into the mosque when it opened, a little before 7. As he walked around, one of the workers asked if he wanted to climb the minaret there for a small fee. Nothing looked like a good candidate for climbing, so he just took some photos at ground level, then headed back to Registan for a final view, then headed back to the hotel.

We both got cleaned up, packed up, then got breakfast. We remembered to grab our passports (we kept worrying we'd forget them somewhere, as most hotels keep them), and also got our registration card. In Uzbekistan (and also Turkmenistan), each hotel gives you a registration card to indicate what nights you stayed there. When you leave the country you need to present all of these. If you're missing some, there's apparently a big problem. Our best guess is that they don't want tourists in the country hanging out with dissidents, terrorists, bad actors, etc. Having the registration card requirement lets the government know whom you've been staying with. For tourists like us on a group tour at hotels, it's really no problem, so long as you don't lose the registration cards.

We hit the road around 9. There was more traffic today than yesterday. We went past the airport, and asked Firdacz whether it is possible to fly direct to Samarkand. He said the only international flights are to Russia; everything else is via Tashkent. We headed northeast out of town, and after 30 minutes or so, we saw tall mountains to the east, with snow. It turns out these mountains are the border with Tajikistan, which we didn't realize was so close. Samarkand is actually only 25 miles from the Tajik border, and the drive is a straight shot east of town. Between Samarkand and Jizzakh we went up substantially in elevation and over a pass. After all the desert or fields we'd seen so far, the high plains had an entirely different topography. But then we headed back down into the Jizzakh area and it was back to more cotton fields. There were also stork nests all over the place. They used to be all over Bukhara, when Bukhara still had all of the reservoir pools. The storks ate whatever critters were in the pools, and when the Soviets closed all the pools, the storks had to find somewhere else to eat. But today, there were stork nests on top of the majority of telephone poles we passed by.

We got to Tashkent just before 1. Tashkent is a very big city. Like Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, it was flattened by Genghis Khan in the early 1200s. Like those three cities, it was part of the Silk Road. Unlike those 3 cities, it doesn't currently have any major historical sites. Instead it became a major population center under the Czar-ist Russia and the USSR, as thousands if not millions were relocated from other parts of Russia and the USSR to Tashkent, where the weather was warmer and there were opportunities for farming. Also, during World War II, the USSR relocated factories to Tashkent, as it was safe from the front lines. Tashkent was actually the 3rd or 4th largest city in the USSR, behind only Moscow, St. Petersburg and perhaps Kiev. Our hotel (The Lotte) was near the "center" of city. We had lunch at the hotel, and this was the first place besides Istanbul where we could use our credit card. This was by far the most "US" type of hotel we'd stayed at so far. The lunch time prices were exorbitant on a relative scale, but still only like $9-10 for an entree. We each had lamb chops, wine, and a cocktail. Walking around the hotel, there was some sort of a tennis tournament going on, with lots of tall thin white guys walking around. Justin would have fit in about 15-20 years ago.

We met Firdacz and our guide Batir at 3 for a brief city tour. Our first stop was the Courage Monument, an earthquake memorial. In April 1966, Tashkent was decimated by a 7.5 earthquake, and over 300,000 people were left homeless. The new city looks much more Soviet than the other places we visited, with Soviet-style buildings, wide streets with trees, big plazas for parades, and monuments all around the city. We asked Batir why Tashkent specifically was chosen by the Soviets to be such a big city, and he said it was because of its access to water, its ability to spread out with increased population, and its access to nearby Soviet Republics (now countries) of Kazakhstan (just 5-10 miles north of the city), Tajikistan (50 miles south of the city), and Kyrgyzstan (abotu 60 miles east of the city). The only other people at the Courage Monument was another wedding party. By now it was weird if we didn't see a wedding during the day, no matter the day of week.

The next stop was Independence Square. Batir mentioned that all the former Soviet statues had been taken down and replaced, almost immediately after independence. Where a statue of Lenin had once stood, there was a globe with an outline of Uzbekistan's position. Nearby was a War Memorial, where there were books showing the names of the 600,000 or so deaths just from Uzbekistan, arranged by location of their home (Samarkand, Tashkent, etc.). In that same memorial was a statue of a sad mother, and an eternal flame. Near the globe statue was a happy mother, hoping to balance out the feeling of the park. There was also a huge steel sculpture that had giant storks on the top. From Independence Square we walked east on Broadway, pausing for a couple minutes to look at some local artwork on display. We ended up at Timur Square, with a giant statue of Timur in a large island in the middle of a busy intersection. Crystal was especially impressed with the statue.

From there, it was a short walk back to the hotel. Right near the hotel was the ballet theatre, and we didn't have anything planned for the night, so we looked at the schedule, as it would have been cool to see the ballet in a former Soviet location. But there was not anything scheduled for tonight. It was nice weather outside, finally comfortable for short sleeves. We had checked the weather, and it was supposed to be nice for our last week of the trip. The middle week had been unseasonably cold, but we had "survived." ;-) We lounged around at hotel, then went to the bar. The service was the opposite of lunch (where we'd basically been doted on), and we were not sure what was up. The people must have walked past us a dozen or so times without so much as saying a word or taking our order. It was fairly busy, but not so busy that they couldn't pay us any mind. There was a nearby British guy trying to get good service as well. We didn't get dinner, but just split a snack. Upstairs we watched the news, but the bed was quite comfortable and we fell asleep quickly.

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