Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Photo: Atilin [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
It just got a lot easier to travel to Uzbekistan. Over the summer, the landlocked Central Asian country began using an electronic visa system. The online process drastically reduces the amount of time that foreigners spend trying to obtain a 30-day visa to the country. Even better, if you’re only passing through Uzbekistan, for up to five days, you no longer need a visa at all, as long as you already have an onward ticket. It’s finally time for you to check out Tashkent.

Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan. It’s a sprawling city in the northeast corner near the border of Kazakhstan. It sits along the confluence of the Chirchiq River and its tributaries. The Altai mountains stand in the distance. While it was known as the midway point between Europe and China along the Silk Road.

Given its location, you expect a historic city. You’re wrong. Between a revolution in 1917, after which a divided city became a Soviet republic, and a devastating earthquake in 1966, much of the Old Town—within a maze of mud-brick houses, mosques, and madrasas—was destroyed. It’s been rebuilt as a modern city since then, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Streets are now wide and lined with trees. Green parks are full of fountains. Tall buildings are made of glass. Plus Tashkent International Airport has become the third-busiest airport in Central Asia.

Photo: Aster Hotel Group Co.

It’s in between the city and the airport that you’ll find the Aster Hotel Group. This is the first boutique hotel to open that matches the redesigned city. Though it sits in a quiet residential area, the hotel caters to business travelers. Don’t let that stop you from staying here. It means you can expect strong Wi-Fi, plenty of workspace, and modern amenities.

The lobby of the red-brick hotel is decorated with purple chairs, whimsical lights, and huge vases. It’s a polished space that immediately puts you at ease. Shade, an elegant restaurant, features velour booths and a summer terrace. While Some More, a stylish space with exposed brick walls, is a coffeehouse where you can work remotely during the day and then sip a vodka drink—made popular during Soviet times—later in the evening.

It isn’t until you head upstairs that you start to get more of a traditional Uzbek feel. Your deluxe room is more warmly decorated than the hotel’s communal spaces. Its neutral palette is paired with touches of gold. An intricate, oval-shaped rug lies over the wooden floor. Ornate chairs sit on the opposite side of a huge bed. Even the light fixtures are handcrafted. It’s once you see how well the traditional and the modern blend that you finally feel ready to tackle Tashkent. You have now five visa-free days.

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