Monday, July 2, 2012

48 Hours in Tashkent

Too often visitors to Uzbekistan arrive in Tashkent, check into a hotel and then leave the next day for the wondrous Silk Road towns of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. What a pity!

Outside view of Sunduk restaurant, Tashkent
Although Tashkent may not have the monuments of other Uzbek towns - after all it was largely destroyed in the 1966 earthquake - it is a vibrant, green city of around 4 million people, with an excellent subway, inexpensive taxis and many interesting things to do. Please join me now for a weekend in Tashkent.

Saturday

Saturday morning head down to the very cool café, Sunduk, at 63 Sadik Azimov Street, (tel: +998 71 232 11 46) for brunch. The interior's small cosy rooms, with sepia photos and contemporary art, are most appealing. The menu offers mainly dishes in the Uzbek and Russian traditions, all with a modern twist. There are magazines to browse, good music and in summer there are outdoor tables. Best of all, Sunduk has an excellent coffee machine. (Note - Sunduk is not open Sundays).

Two-minutes walk from Sunduk is the Art + Fact Gallery, a space dedicated to photography. As well as a large ground floor exhibition area, there is also a downstairs *bunker* (formally a nuclear fallout shelter), that is used for exhibitions as well as its photography school and photo studio. The address is 20 Sadik Azimov Street, near the Japanese Embassy.  Phone ahead to check what's on: +998 (71) 232-03-60.

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 Ulugbek Holmuradov's earrings at Human Wear
Next visit Human Wear, a boutique for contemporary clothing, jewellery, embroidered boots and bags, home furnishings and quality souvenirs. Some of the best Uzbek designers are carried in Human Wear and many of them work with traditional motifs.

Recently I picked up a pair of ballet flats embroidered with pomegranate design, a silk velvet ikat jacket and a hand-embroidered silk dress. Human Wear is at 30/9, Usmon Nosir Street, just off Shota Rustavelli. It opens from 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. and is closed on Sundays. (tel: +99871 2554411)




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Ceiling of the Exhibition Hall, Union of Artists of Uzbekistan
Then stop by the Exhibition Hall of the Union of Artists of Uzbekistan. This is one of my favourite Soviet buildings in Tashkent.  It is lavishly decorated, cleverly incorporating Central Asian design elements. It hosts regular exhibitions of both applied and fine arts and is also a venue for emerging contemporary artists. Located at the corner of Uzbekistan Ave and Sharaf Rashidov St, close to Tsum department store, the space is open daily, except Mondays, from 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Not far from here is the leafy Golubie Kupola Park, where you'll find a long row of second-hand booksellers. It's a shady, quiet place to wander and browse the stalls. Most books are in Russian and Uzbek, though there are some foreign language titles. On my last visit I was delighted to pick up a copy of the rare and difficult-to-find Avant Garde Stopped on the Run, (about the Savitsky collection in Nukus) from Leningrad's Aurora Art Publishers. There's also a café for a drink and snack.

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Second-hand booksellers in Tashkent
Performances start early in Tashkent, often at 5:00 p.m. on weekends. Hopefully there is an opera or ballet at the charming Alisher Navoi Theatre. (The theatre is undergoing extensive renovation, and performances may be held at the Turkiston Palace instead. Regardless of venue, the quality of the performances is generally very high). Call the box office ahead  +998 71 233 90 81 to check.

Or maybe there is a concert at the State Conservatory of Uzbekistan, at 1 B. Zakirova Street? (tel: +998 71 144 5320 or +998 71 139 4653)

There is also the Ilkhom Theatre, the Soviet Union's first experimental, independent theatre founded during the Brezhnev era. This remarkable artistic collective has performed worldwide, garnering rave reviews and awards, including the Prince Claus Award 2011. Occasionally there are programs with  English surtitles.  The theatre is at 5 Pakhtakor Street (tel: +998-71-241-22-41) and performances start at 6:30 p.m.

Ilkhom poster designed by Yulia Drobova
Later grab a bite to eat at Sema de Roma, an excellent Italian restaurant at 40 Chekhova Street, (tel: +99871 150 1835/36,) There is outdoor seating on a large terrace, the menu has interesting vegetarian dishes as well as Italian standards, and Georgian and Italian wines are served.

Have an early night as Sunday is an early start.

Sunday

What better place to spend a Sunday morning than Tashkent's flea market, Tezykovka, in Yangiobod?  It is a proper flea market where you can buy books, home wares, old clothing, nails, animals, spare parts and plumbing stuff. I picked up a gorgeous, orange vintage ikat teapot when last there. Definitely go with a Russian-speaking guide or friend and watch your belongings.

Skip the market plov or soup option at the small food stands, and head back into town for Café Bon's excellent coffee and pastries. Branches are  at either 63 Shota Rustavelli Street (tel:+998 71 280-51-16) or 21 Chimkentskaya Street, near the Ukraine café (tel: +998 71 150 18 33/34). Both cafes are very cosy.

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Just like walking into a space ship: 1st floor circus entry
Then catch the metro to either Gafur Gulom or Chorsu station to make the 3:00 p.m show at the Tashkent circus, 1 Hadra Square. The building is a splendid example of Soviet cosmic architecture, (which you can admire from the outside any day). If architectural detail is your interest, however, then you will be thrilled to see inside.

There are lots of extraordinary juggling and acrobatic acts, clowns, an astonishing array of parodies of Russian pop singers, sometimes in drag. It's fun, fast and a most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There are usually circus performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from around US$4 - US$7. Call +998 71 244 23 32 or +998 71 244 35 91 to check times.

After such a busy weekend, it is probably time to relax with a treat in another classic Soviet building: the Uzbekistan Hotel's beauty salon, where you can have a reflexology foot massage or full body massage. The salon is open daily from 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Later in the evening, I would simply sip green tea and snack on fresh fruits. What a lovely weekend!

Related posts:
Another 48 Hours in Tashkent
Tashkent - A Night at the Opera
Tashkent: A City of Refuge  
Exploring Tashkent's Botanical Gardens with Ada Alexandrovna
Uzbekistan's Circus Traditions
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings
Tashkent Restaurants and Cafés: An Insider's View
Tashkent's Flea Market