Kralovec Family Journal: August 24, 2019

Papa & Ocean

It was our first full week of classes. One of my highlights was the morning cross country running practice with Ocean. She is now a middle schooler, and is out for her first sport, cross country running. The team has practices in the morning before school. She wants to qualify for the CEESA event in Kiev, Ukraine. I hope she continues running!

Farewell Dinner – Afonsa Restaurant – August 23

We said goodbye to my Uncle Jack. He was a godsend for helping us settle into our new home. Our house looks absolutely fabulous thanks to his efforts in organizing the kitchen, hanging paintings, prepping the gardens, etc, etc, etc. It has been so nice to have a father figure in my life again and he has given our family some stability. He really cares about our family and we are so happy to have him in our life. Thank you Uncle Jack, we love you!

I am enjoying working with the principals at the school. Jan and Angelika are so helpful, easy to get along with , work hard and know their educational practices. I think we are making a good team and I look forward to more good times ahead. We attended a US Embassy reception on Wednesday evening.

Amir Temur Station

I finally got to see a couple of the subway stations in the city. The metro was modeled after Moscow’s underground. We only sampled two of the stations, but the marble, lighting and archways were impressive. The system is old, but well kempt.

We set up our basketball hoop in the street in front of our house. It has been very popular with the neighborhood children. Owen and Oliver got into a game of two-on-two last night.

Mirabad Scenes

Finally, I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood this morning. I love the bright sunshine and the Soviet era apartment buildings and narrow streets near our house.

Romanov Palace of Tashkent

Front View of the Romanov Palace

The Russians occupied Tashkent long before the Soviet Union formed. They conquered “Turkestan” in 1865, a time when European nations were forming empires overseas. The take over of Central Asia was Russia’s attempt of matching other colonial powers of the era. Although there are no oceans or mountain ranges between Central Asia and Moscow, it is a long way away from the capital and effectively a colony.

When the Tsar’s armies came to what was then referred to as Turkestan, Tashkent was a minor market city. Samarkand and Bukhara were centers of power and wealth. The Russians set their base in Tashkent and many Russians came to administer the colony or work in the construction projects that were expanding the city.

Back View of the Palace

The Tsarist Russian government created a modern Russian city alongside the existing Asian Tashkent “Old City”. The idea was to model for the native Tashkenters how European order, technology and urban planning could improve their lives. They were creating a modern European city in the Kyzyl Kum (Red Sand) Desert of Uzbekistan.

Nikolai was an avid hunter and place statues of hunting dogs and deer at the entrances of his home.

The large Cathedral of the Transfiguration with its Bell Tower and Konstantinov Square with the statue of first Governor-General Von Kaufman built at that time were demolished by the Soviets in 1932. However, there is one prominent building left from that time period, the Palace & Outhouse (not the outdoor bathroom type) of Duke Romanov built in 1889 still exists.

Grand Duke Nicholas Konstantinovich

The palace was built for Grand Duke Nicholas Konstantinovich who has an interesting back story. He was the grandson of Nicholas I and born into wealth in 1850 in St. Petersburg. He was a military officer and playboy and must have been the one of the most eligible bachelors in the city. His bon vivant lifestyle led him to a scandalous affair with Fanny Lear and a theft of three diamonds from an icon owned by his mother. Nicholas K. was caught, declared insane and banished to Tashkent.

The Ankhor Canal is a pleasant area for exercise.

With lots of time and wealth, he did a lot of works in Tashkent, directing the work of the first canals that brought much needed water to the city. The Romanov Family ruled Russia for over 300 years, from the time of Ivan the Terrible to the Bolshevik Revolution. Their legacy can still be found in Tashkent today.

Excavation work between the “Outhouse” and the palace

The Romanov Palace is not open to the public. It was used by the Soviets as youth center and museum. I read where it was used as a reception hall for events hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The palace must have been luxurious in its heyday, but probably most of the art and original rooms have been cleared through the decades. The grounds are being maintained and there seems to be security around the building most of the time. I would love to get inside and see it!

Finding Tennis Courts in Tashkent

Owen and Oliver at the Eco Park Tennis Courts

This weekend we started looking for a tennis center for our family. We are avid tennis players. On Saturday we found two hardcourts at Eco Park. The city government built an “ecological” sports complex and park in 2017 on the grounds of the former Tashkent Zoo. It is really nice with a 1.4 meter running/cycling paved loop, badminton, table tennis, beach volleyball, exercise/yoga areas and best of all, two hardcourt tennis courts. There are also kiosk and cafes/restaurants in the complex. It is across the highway from the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

The courts are beautiful! It was a bit tricky to play however, as we had to call from the kassa (main office) to a manager? named Marina. The courts cost 50,000 soum or around $6 to use. It was 96 degrees so no one else was using the courts. It felt great to get back on the courts after a few weeks here!

We came back the next day and Marina said we couldn’t play because the courts were “being cleaned”. We did not see anyone there. Entering “tennis courts” in Google Maps, we found a sports complex called Burevestnik, so we thought we would give it a try. We could see several clay courts upon arrival in a nice sports complex, but were denied entry by a man dressed in pixellated-camoflauge gear. One of the tennis pros or player from the club came out and explained that the complex was owned by the National Security Service, the FBI of Uzbekistan and not open to foreigners. Oddly, the Burevestnik is the name of a Russian nuclear cruise missile. The gentleman kindly suggested we go to NBU Stadium, also known as the Yoshlik Sports Complex.

Walking To the Indoor Courts at Yoshlik
Running Track and Soccer Stadium at Yoshlik

These courts were a bit more expensive, 60,000 soum ($7). Once again, we called an English-speaking manager who was very friendly and offered equipment and a coach. We asked for the indoor courts. I was expecting a hot bubble, but instead we came to a glorious indoor tennis stadium. A bit dated, but so nice on another scorching summer day. The club had 5-6 clay courts, one named the Raphael Nadal Court and several hard courts as well. We played a mini-tournament and ended the session with an epic doubles match. The club seemed promising and we’ll follow up with phone calls this week to inquire about memberships.

Hotel Uzbekistan At Night

The Hotel Uzbekistan at night did not disappoint. The entire front facade was lit up with neon lights of the Uzbekistan flag. I wonder if guests see the colors outside of their rooms? We also walked into the lobby and it felt a bit old, classic Soviet socialist style, despite the renovation 15 years ago. As with the Hotel Yugoslavia in Belgrade, I always felt that some owner should really play up the Socialist kitsch with the decor and theme of the hotel. Morning calisthenics, posters celebrating the worker, staff dressed from the times, etc. I think it would be a hit!

The Hotel Uzbekistan at Night

We walked around in the center of the city after dinner. The Palace of International Forums next door is another impressive building. The downtown of Tashkent is really quite nice and developed compared to our neighborhood of Mirobad. The term “palace” is appropriate in this case. It reminded Owen of Washington DC.

Uncle Jack and the family (sans Oliver) in front of the Palace of International Forums

Tim O’Brien “The Things They Carried”

I read O’Brien’s book (The Things They Carried – 1990) of fictional short stories on the Vietnam War because my son Owen’s grade 11 IB English class will be reading it this year. The book is commonly read in high school English classes and is one of the preeminent books of the Vietnam War. I watched the classic Vietnam War movies like Platoon and Apocalypse Now and visited Ho Chi Minh City in June of 2017. I started watching Ken Burn and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War PBS series. (I should watch the entire series.) Tim O’Brien fought in Vietnam and the stories are based on his experiences and what he heard from fellow soldiers. The details of the stories ring true.

O’Brien’s prose flows easily and many of the stories have memorable lines. The short stories make it a good book to read before bed, one does not need to keep track of complex plot lines. He is a bit older than me, but grew up in small town Minnesota and I can relate to his perspective. The title comes from the first story, a description of the physical and emotional things soldiers carry in their backpacks while on patrol.

The book reinforced many of the themes of war literature. Humans are rarely put in life and death situations and this danger forms close bonds between soldiers. Many of the soldiers are just kids, 18 and 19 years old and the differences between small town America and the rainforests of Vietnam are huge. Just the shock of travelling outside the American midwest and placed in south east Asia would be shocking enough, but add a war and I can see why veterans struggle with PTSD. Another theme is the indifference of the “folks back home” felt by returning veterans. The story of Norman Bowker’s drive around the lake while remembering the death of his friend in a mortar attack really emphasized how returning veterans must feel. Sadly, this continues today with soldiers coming back from Iran and Afghanistan.

I also liked the story “On the Rainy River”. The story is set in the summer after the author is drafted and learns he is heading to Vietnam. He wavers between escaping to Canada or reporting to basic training. O’Brien feels he is a coward by not fleeing and living up to the expectations of his family and friends in his small town. Oh, the value of age and perspective. I am curious to see what class discussions and assignments Owen brings home his in English class.

Thank you Soviets!

Nukus Street, Tashkent

Some of the nice things about living in an ex-Soviet Union Republic are the wide streets and huge areas of public space. In a capitalist society that values individuals, there is more privately owned land in cities than in socialist societies. For a cyclist, the extra traffic lanes and large sidewalks provide safer cycling paths. This morning I went for my second extended ride and got in about 20 kilometers. The traffic before 7:00 AM is light and on Saturday, you get an extra hour to cycle before it becomes unsafe. Although there are sections where the sidewalks are uneven, a cyclist can get around pretty well around the city. There are also many parks in the city that provide cyclist protection as well.

Another legacy of the Soviets are the unusual architecture gems around the city.

Mention the term ‘Soviet architecture’ and instantly enormous concrete buildings come to mind. The term ‘Brutalist’, from the French ‘beton brut’ (raw concrete), flourished in the 1950s -1970s, inspired by the works of Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. As an architectural style it was also associated with social, utopian ideology.

After the devastating Tashkent earthquake of 1966, many large-scale apartment blocks were quickly built to house the homeless. Later, several grand buildings were constructed as well as the marvellous metro system

The massive Hotel Uzbekistan, centrally located at Amir Timur square, Tashkent, is a classic example of Soviet 1970’s modernist architectural style. In its heyday celebrities such as Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni and Raj Kapoor stayed there, as well as the power brokers of the USSR. 

Uzbek Journeys website September 19, 2011

One of my favorites so far is the Hotel Uzbekistan. The hotel was build in 1974 and has been renovated several times, the last being in 2010. The government was trying to sell its 80% ownership from what I last read. I plan on going inside and checking it out soon.

First Week in Tashkent

First week in Tashkent - July 22-28, 2019
Nadia posing in one of the many parks in the center of Tashkent

We are settling in to our new lives and are enjoying the school and our new home after 1 week in the city! The weather has been very hot, with day time temperatures over 100 F everyday. This is normal for this time of the year. The low humidity makes is nicer and having a pool at our home is an easy way to cool off.

The first few days we spent at the Hotel Sharq (sharq means “north” in Uzbek language). The hotel, like the city has a cool vibe with a really nice swimming pool and courtyard and a decent breakfast. We moved into a smaller room due to the air conditioners and after figuring out how to cool the fridge, we were comfortable with our stay. As in the Trip Advisor reviews, the desk and lobby workers were not the most attentive employees I have ever seen. I think it may be the long hours they work. They were nice and after a few days of practicing my Russian with them, they warmed up to our family. There is also a nice fitness center in the basement.

First week in Tashkent - July 22-28, 2019
One of the many canals flowing through the city

Nadia and I went for several walks and runs along the canals and in the many parks in the center of the city. It is quite beautiful in the mornings for exercise. Unfortunately, our house is located in a different neighborhood and it is a bit more difficult to find parks and areas to exercise. When we get a car and learn the city landscape a bit better, it will be easier. I laughed at watching local guys swimming in the canals every morning. I am tempted to try it myself!

First week in Tashkent - July 22-28, 2019
The Thursday portion of plov at Dunyo Family Restaurant

The restaurants are numerous and of high quality. We had several really good meals including L’Opera, an Italian restaurant located in a park near the hotel. I also went for the Uzbek national dish, plov. It is basically rice with carrots and onions, slow-cooked with either beef, mutton, or lamb in huge vats. It is a common dish all through Central Asia and the national dish of Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks take great pride in plov and there are many different varieties. The restaurant Dunyo (“World” in Uzbek) served a style from southern Uzbekistan and featured cow ligaments and tendons. This is the second time I’ve had it and luckily, I enjoy it. My friend Muhktor said Thursdays are plov day.

Most of my time has been spent at school or unpacking. The movers came on Wednesday. The shipment made it to Tashkent from Osaka in about 40 days! We have another shipment coming from the USA later. It is a new home and is missing things like a door bell and curtains, but we are very comfortable and the school is taking good care of us.

First week in Tashkent - July 22-28, 2019
Our 141 boxes from Japan arrived this week!

The Uzbeks and Russians we have met so far have been incredible kind and easy-going. The city and culture have a very positive and relaxed feel and I think we will enjoy living here.