It was the last day of the trip, but not even a full day. I got up early and, before breakfast, caught a metro to Chorsu Bazaar because there were sections of the vast market I had not examined the day before (even those sections I had seen the day before looked fascinating because the whole area was busier than in the late afternoon). I arrived just before 8.00am, but before immersing myself in the bazaar, wandered around some of the nearby streets because, despite insensitive development during and following the Soviet era, pockets of old Tashkent survive in the residential streets (which, yet again, are sometimes blocked from view by high walls). I also examined a nearby medressa and a mosque which had started life as a church (the domes give the game away about the structure’s origins). Very few shops are in the residential streets (why would there be many shops with Chorsu Bazaar so close?). As men made their way to work and children and young people to school, college or university, women engaged in chores in the home or swept dirt from the unsealed roads in front of the doors leading into their courtyards. Tashkent may have been the least interesting destination of the trip, but the morning confirmed that another day in the city would have been much appreciated.
I returned to the hotel where Hilary and I had agreed to eat breakfast almost as late as we could, at about 9.45am (breakfast was served every morning until 10.00am). I consumed another excellent selection of hot and cold items (the latter included smoked fish and meat), then we walked to the supermarket I had visited the day before to buy a few things to take home, green tea included.
The visit to the supermarket encouraged us to reflect on what had been our favourite food in Uzbekistan. Favourite items included some of the salads; some of the soups (e.g. pumpkin soup); a semolina dish like porridge served at breakfast; the jams; the eggs cooked different ways; the sweet and savoury pastries; the fried items in the markets with different fillings such as cheese, ground meat or spinach; some of the breads; the dried fruits; and the fresh cherries and ice cream. However, nothing could compare with the plov in Bukhara. As for drinks, we just preferred the green to the black tea, loved the beer and enjoyed some of the wine, but the best drink of all was kefir.
Back at the hotel we packed our last few things, then went downstairs for the journey to the airport.
In the airport car park we said goodbye to Davron, who had been an excellent guide from start to finish, and the two drivers who looked after us for most of the trip. If I recall correctly, we gave tips of $30 to Davron and $20 to each of the drivers. Because a problem had arisen with the visa issued to one member of the group (the visa had the incorrect expiry date on it), the person concerned, a woman aged 85, was led off by a young man in uniform and, after she was given a rough time by those with the authority to cause grief to elderly people who have done nothing wrong, “Deported” was stamped in her passport.
Nowadays, of course, passengers are not allowed to take bottled water through security checks at airports. You would think that, because of this, free drinking water would be provided at every airport so passengers can be refreshed before boarding their flight, but at many airports around the world this is not the case, even in countries with hot climates where airports can sap your liquid reserves very quickly. Instead, passengers at most airports are forced to buy bottled water and, for reasons that are inexplicable, the water always costs considerably more than it would cost in shops some distance from the airports (much the same problem exists with duty free goods such as alcohol. Such goods cost more, not less, than they do locally).
Sadly, Tashkent conformed to the pattern of airports denying passengers free sources of water. Moreover, duty free items were far more expensive than they would have been locally, so we confined spending to the purchase of water. Now that most airports have become just another shopping opportunity for people in transit who tolerate/ enjoy expensive and morally irresponsible consumerism, airports are places from which I long to escape as soon as I can. Even the much more thorough security checks that blight air travel post-9/11 I can tolerate, but the absence of free water, and the expensive shops that clutter the terminals, make me think with affection about how things used to be a generation ago.
Our flight to London Heathrow took off and, about fifteen minutes later, we crossed a large sheet of water. We also followed a wide river just to the south of the airplane’s flight path, but I do not know if it was the Amu or the Syr Darya. The flight path to the UK could have followed either river, the Amu Darya being for some of its length the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the Syr Darya being in Kazakhstan.