I didn't make it to Khiva. I found Samarkand fascinating - obviously the sights (even though it is noti mmediately obvious the degree to which they are modern reconstructions) are something very special - perhaps the Shah-i Zinda mausoleum, as it is still a place of religious devotion and pilgrimage, especially, as one could see popular devotion there, not just tourism. But I also found the combination of medieval (or ostensibly medieval) and modern fascinating and appealing. Things like: seeing old men sitting out in the streets with their friends, wearing traditional blue felt clothing, drinking tea; or going to the market and cafes there for somsas for lunch; having a wine-tasting session (with history and commentary given - obviously that I speak Russian helped) in the wine factory (man their wines are excessively sweet, and how they came to be made there is fascinating, and while their black balsam is.no
match for Riga's or Unicum, it's alright); discovering the fashion museum; drinking tea in a workers cafe outside the city centre. But all in all it struck me.as
being a fairly agreeable provincial (yes, post-Soviet) university town with some amazing historical sights at its heart. The other thing that struck me was that I have been anywhere where so many Russian-speakers curse so little! Which maybe also says something about the character of the town. I rather liked it. Main downer? A surprising lack of good restaurants (or even bad ones) oh, and taxi drivers trying it on, until.I argued at length with them.in
Russian. Seeing a beauty salon named after Beyonce was a big surprise!
Bukhara I thought suffered by the detachment of the historic quarter from the rest of the town (which really did strike me as lifeless and unremarkable). And (despite the fact it had the only madrassah in USSR!) in places felt like too much of a museum piece, albeit a fairly unkempt one. But the people were very friendly.
Now, after those citirs, Tashkent was a letdown.