We are off to Central Asia late next month. Mr. Wonderful likes to travel to exotic places, provided there are luxuries to be had somewhere. Thus, we’ll be stopping in Istanbul on the way home. Our travel coordinator sent us a report yesterday about the status of our visa applications. Visas have been obtained for Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Now we are waiting for visas from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The trip is called a visit to Five ‘Stans. You really have to want to go there. First, the visa application process is paper intensive and expensive. Then you send off your paperwork and passport to a company that specializes in getting travel documents. Then you wait, and wait.
In the meantime, we are attacking the reading list that came with the trip itinerary. Mr. Wonderful is almost finished reading The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (Kodansha Globe) by Peter Hopkirk about the imperial struggle for power in Central Asia between Victorian England and Tzarist Russia. I am in the middle of Justin Marozzi’s Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World. In the early 1400s, Spanish ambassador Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo visited Samarkand, Tamerlane’s capital. According to Marozzi: “Everywhere he looked, Clavijo saw food… [meats,] fruits and vegetables including delicious Samarkand melons, grown in such abundance that many were cured and kept for a year.” (p. 215). While I doubt that we will see the “sheep with tails so fat they weighed twenty pounds” or silks and rubies from India in the shops of today’s Samarkand, the echoes of its history leap from the books on our reading list.