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Turkey's Magical Hideaways 2014

Pre-trip: The Silk Route: Tashkent, Bukhara & Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Touch the heart of the Silk Road on this journey through Uzbekistan and traverse the routes once threatened by marauders and Mongol hordes. Explore minarets and mausoleums, mosques and madrassahs, and witness the rich confluence of cultures along the world’s most famous ancient trade route.

It's Included:
Roundtrip airfare between Tashkent and Istanbul and airfare from Tashkent to Bukhara
Accommodations for 3 nights in Tashkent, 2 nights in Bukhara, 3 nights in Samarkand, and a day room in Istanbul
20 meals—8 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 7 dinners (including 1 Home-Hosted Dinner)
14 small group activities
Services of our own resident Trip Leader who speaks English and a native language
All transfers
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    Fly from the U.S. to Tashkent, Uzbekistan via Istanbul, Turkey.

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    A day room at a hotel near the Istanbul airport will be available. Our flight to Tashkent departs shortly after midnight.

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    Upon arrival in Tashkent, a simple lunch will be followed by an orientation tour of our surroundings. This evening we enjoy a Welcome Dinner at our Tashkent hotel.

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    Today, we explore Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital and a renowned Silk Road city. Rock paintings in the nearby Chaktal Mountains revealed that humans have inhabited the region surrounding Tashkent since as early as 2,000 BC, making it one of Central Asia’s oldest cities. Our discoveries include Abdul Kasim Madrassah, a workshop where local painters, lacquer workers, and potters ply their craft; and a visit to the Chorsu Bazaar, a covered market in Tashkent’s Old Town filled with acres of exotic spices and locally grown produce. Lunch is on our own at the famous Central Asian Plov Center, a series of eateries specializing in plov, the savory Uzbek national dish made of rice, meat, and spices.

    Then we'll visit the Museum of Applied Arts to view its collections of traditional folk art from all regions of Uzbekistan. We’ll also spend some time at Independence Square, a symbol of freedom for the Uzbek people who declared their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Courage Monument was built here to honor the local citizens’ tremendous rebuilding efforts after a 1966 earthquake devastated the city. We’ll also view the World War II monument, dedicated to the 400,000 Uzbeks who died during the war. And we'll stop to visit the famous "Cosmonauts" subway station. Later, we’ll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast this morning, we fly to Bukhara. Like Samarkand, the city was a prominent destination along the Silk Road that grew wealthy on the back of the trade that passed through. After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll begin a walking tour centered on Bukhara’s Old Town, exploring the many mosques and mausoleums of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll see numerous blue-domed minarets and some of the lasting destruction from the 13th-century invasion by Genghis Khan. Dinner is at our hotel.

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    After breakfast, our Bukhara walking tour continues. Afterwards, we drive to Bolo Hauz Mosque—an opulent 18th-century structure situated next to a striking octagonal hauz (pool)—and the Chashma Ayub Mausoleum, the legendary spring brought forth by the prophet Job upon striking the ground with his staff. We'll stop outside of the Ark Citadel, the city’s ancient fortress that was made famous during the 19th century, when the British and Russian empires fought for dominance of Central Asia—a rivalry that became known as “The Great Game.” At medieval Zindan Prison, we'll see where British officers Charles Stoddart and Arthur Connolly were held in a pit for two years before being publicly beheaded. We’ll also visit the set of historical buildings situated around Lyab-i-Khauz, a quiet plaza in the shade of mulberry trees. We’ll enjoy some free time here before visiting one of Bukhara's synagogues.

    After lunch on our own, we'll visit Bukhara’s famous “trading domes,” a series of covered bazaars built in the 16th century that became a symbol of city and reflected its importance as a crossroads of the Great Silk Road. Then we enjoy dinner at a local restaurant in the heart of Bukhara.

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    Today we begin our overland journey to Samarkand, stopping at Gijduvan en route. Known for its production of exquisite pottery, we have the opportunity to visit a local ceramic master and learn about the centuries-old traditions of this ancient art form. Afterwards, we’ll tour a museum dedicated to ceramic manufacturing in the region and shop the wares at a showroom housing vibrant plates, bowls, and vases. We'll also stop to visit the ruins of Rabat Malik,  an 11th-century caravanserai along the Silk Road.

    We’ll arrive in Samarkand in time for lunch at a local restaurant. Then, we'll visit the 15th-century Ulug-Bek observatory, a three-story structure atop a sweeping plateau just outside of Samarkand that was used by the astronomer, sultan, and grandson of Tamerlane, Ulug-Bek, to catalog the stars and map out the sun, moon, and planets. He also calculated the length of a star year almost exactly the same as the calendar we use today. After a stop at a home bakery to learn about the preparation of the famous Samarkand bread, we’ll return to our hotel to rest. Later, we’ll gather together for dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Today we continue our discoveries of Samarkand, one of the oldest cities in the world. Established during the middle of the first century BC, Samarkand—like many others along the Silk Road—was conquered several times, including by the troops of Alexander the Great, the Arab Caliphate, and Genghis Khan. We’ll explore several of the city’s elaborate monuments detailed in intricate ornamentation, mosaics, and blue-tile domes. We begin in Registan Square, the historic square in the heart of the city that once hosted public executions, royal proclamations, and a sprawling bazaar. Today, the expansive space is used for holiday celebrations and important public events. Fringed on three sides by ornate madrassahs (educational centers), the space is a vibrant meeting point for residents of Samarkand, and at night, illuminated by floodlights, the delicate tiling and mosaic work make for a glittering spectacle.

    After lunch on our own, we continue our discoveries at Gur Emir, the mausoleum of conqueror Tamerlane and his descendants, where we'll see the architectural components that would inspire the design of the Taj Mahal. We’ll visit Shakhi-Zinda, a towering necropolis where Kusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the prophet Muhammad, is buried. And we’ll stroll along the expansive courtyard of marble flagstone at the Bibi-Khanum Mosque—an impressive structure that legend says was a gift to Tamerlane by one of his wives. We’ll also have time to explore the colorful Siab Bazaar, where fruit and vegetables grown from the rich soil of the Zarafshan Valley are sold.

    Later this evening, we’ll be welcomed into the home of a local family to enjoy a traditional meal and learn about life in this ancient city.

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    After breakfast, we’ll take an excursion to Shakhrisabze, the birthplace of Tamerlane, the most influential military leader of the Mongol Empire. We’ll pause en route to meet with members of a local family in a small village.

    Then, we’ll see the remains of Ak Sarai Palace before embarking on a walking tour of Shakhrisabze. We’ll see the towering blue domed Kok Gumbas Mosque, and the Dorus Siadat complex, a mausoleum of whitewashed walls built as a burial site for Tamerlane’s beloved son Jahangir who died in a horse-riding accident. Legend says that the fearsome ruler was so distraught over his son’s death that upon his passing he vowed never to smile again.

    We have lunch at a family-run restaurant before traveling back to Samarkand.

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    After breakfast, we’ll journey back to Tashkent, making several stops en route. Upon arrival, we have lunch at a restaurant in Tashkent, followed by free time. We’ll meet back this evening to enjoy our Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    We have a pre-dawn check-out before our flight to Istanbul, where we join the rest of the group and begin Turkey’s Magical Hideaways.