- Do they have elections? Yes.
- Do they have private property? Yes.
- Do they have freedom of the press? Nyet.
- Human rights? Not so much.
- Corruption – YES! At all levels of government and commerce.
I once heard a fellow traveler say, “The reason I travel is to learn how little I know about the world”. I wish I’d said that as our arrival yesterday in Uzbekistan shocked my expectations. What did I expect? Perhaps something more Asian with crowded streets, motor cycles and street vendors or something more Middle Eastern with women in hijabs or at least head scarves. What did I discover? Wide streets, smooth traffic flow (cars only, no bicycles or motor bikes), large and beautiful government and commercial buildings, extensive parks, a few people in traditional clothing but most in modern fashions, etc.
Of course Tashkent is the capital and the center of commerce and even here not all the neighborhoods look like this. There are still thousands of drab Soviet era apartment buildings and traditional neighborhoods of adobe walled homes with no windows only toward the inner courtyard and none to the outside (Arabic style).
Uzbekistan is the largest of the Central Asia Stans. Its population consists of over 100 ethnic groups and is primarily Muslim but there is religious tolerance and strict separation between religion and politics. It is a constitutional republic, in theory a democracy, but the President Islam Karimov has extensive powers and has held that position since 1991 when Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union. (That's 23 years!) One Internet source describes Uzbekistan as, “No country in Central Asia seems to have it so good, yet at the same time have it so bad, as Uzbekistan.
We've spent 6 days in Oia (at the western trip of Santorini Island) with the Beautiful People - the rich and famous. They are all young, thin and wealthy. We rode the local bus into Fira one day and as we got off we overheard one of these lovely young ladies exclaim, “I’ll never take public transportation again in my entire life!” Does the word Princess came to mind? Across the street they are paying up to $5000 a night for room with a sunset view. (Where do these 20-somethings get the money?) In contrast we have a timeshare for a week on the other side of the street where we have to walk 25 feet to the pool to see the sunset and it costs us about $125/night.
We rented a car yesterday to tour the island. First stop – Fira to drop off our laundry. We’ve done bulk laundry all over the world for a few dollars a load. Yesterday was a different story - we paid 13 euros/load, and we had more than one! Our suitcases smell better. Other stops – more ancient ruins, a monastery, lighthouse, winery and other tourist areas. We were happy to learn that regular people also vacation on Santorini - they just stay other places. Like all the Greek Islands, this is a dessert island. It cannot sustain livestock. Grape vines produce 1/10 the amount of grapes per acre as other places, but they make some excellent wines! For a few months each summer people flock here from all over the world for the spectacular sea views and sunsets.
We're heading to Uzbekistan tomorrow. There were 4 of us scheduled on this pre-trip but unfortunately one of our friends had emergency surgery in Athens last week and is still in the hospital there. Good thing it happened here rather than Uzbekistan! Now Rand and I are the only ones going. It occurs to me that we may be in over our heads this time. Fortunately we're with OAT, a reputable company. We’ll report our adventures as they unfold!
Our Dalmatian Coast and Greece trip is over - four countries, 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites, innumerable ancient walled cities, well over 100,000 steps (according to our pedometers), countless calories, and many fond memories. Wednesday we said good-bye to our traveling companions of the last 2 weeks. We disembarked from our boat, the Athena, and rented a car for a few days on our own.
After carefully noting the scratches, dents and other imperfections on the car, stowing our luggage, adjusting the mirrors, and figuring out how the AC worked we began our adventure to the Peloponnese (the peninsula south-west of Athens). We hadn’t gone 5 kilometers before taking a wrong turn. Fortunately the man at the next toll booth spoke enough English to get us back on track. We drove for nearly 4 hours – first on 4-lane toll roads, then on narrow, twisting mountain roads to ancient Olympia where we stayed in a tiny pension. FINALLY – real Greek food! And it’s delicious.
We returned to the ship for lunch followed by a swim in the warm and beautiful Adriatic. That evening we cruised through the through the legendary Corinth Canal on your way to Athens.
Athens is cleaner and much less traffic than when I was here several years ago – thanks to a new subway system and road improvements made for their recent Olympics. We enjoyed a guided city tour before heading up the hill to the Parthenon. The crowds were terrible but the morning was pleasantly cool. After a bit more time in town we returned to the ship, the Athena, to pack our bags, enjoy a final dinner and say goodbye to our new friends.
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