Thurs, Nov 7, 2013
We drove the rest of the way thru the Karakum desert.
As we approached Ashgabat, we could see the mountains that form the border of Turkmenistan and Iran. We are less than 7 miles from Iran here in Ashgabat. Ashgabat is the capital of Turkmenistan. It is infamous for it’s fantastic marble structures and gold statues of the former president. Photography is greatly limited in this country and especially in Ashgabat. You can’t take pictures of many buildings, such as the train station and certain statues.
We are staying at a nice 4-star hotel called Ak Altyn hotel. I met up with Sam and Mindy to go to lunch but we walked down one of the only streets in town that didn’t have any restaurants. Eventually we found the British Pub and decided to have a very late lunch there. I had a very bland margarita pizza. Afterwards, I looked at some of the carpet shops. Turkmenistan is very famous for its rugs, as they have a special design. The salespeople in the shops just seemed to ignore me so I guess I won’t be bringing home a rug. I also stopped in two of the local markets, trying to see what was for sale given that we need to cater our own food for the Caspian Sea ferry crossing.
Walking the streets of the capital are interesting – especially how the people dress. The school children all look the same – the boys in sharply pressed black suits, white shirts, and black ties. The girls have on long kelly green dresses with white aprons. The local women are also very sharply dressed. Many of them wear long dresses of green, red, or fuchsia. Some of the dresses have some traditional trim around the neckline and some women wear their hair with two long braids.
I just had some snacks for dinner as a few people from the group congregated in the hotel hallway for a small party since we were the only group occupying the 6th floor of the hotel. The nighttime views from the hotel are great.
The morning views of the same buildings:
Fri, Nov 8
We had a large breakfast at the hotel and then set off on a half day tour of the city of Ashgabat. We had the option of paying $10 extra for this tour and it was well worth it. 13 of us were in a mini-bus with our local guide Bat and a driver. We learned a little about the big earthquake of the 1940’s. It destroyed the entire city except for 3 structures so the whole city is fairly new. One of the standing structures was a clock tower near our hotel that still displays the time of the earthquake. We drove a few miles west of the city and visited the Turkmenbashi Mosque. This is the largest mosque in Central Asia and can house over 10,000 visitors at the same time even though our guide reckons there is rarely more than 200 people in there. The building was beautiful with amazing hand knotted rugs, a huge dome, and four 91 meter minarets, with ’91 to commemorate the independence from the Russians in 1991.
Next, we visited several sites around the city. The amount of construction here, all in shiny white marble, is amazing. We stopped at a park with a gold statue of the megalomaniac former president Niyazov and a huge statue of the famous Akhal-Teke horses that are native to the area.
We next stopped at the marriage palace – everyone gets married here and there is a nice view of the new city.
We stopped at the newly build soccer stadium to stop at a cafe for drinks and use the toilet. There are lots of sports stadiums being built because Ashgabat will be hosting the 2017 Asian games (sort of the Olympics for the Asian nations).
Next, we stopped at a huge park that housed the moved Arch of Neutrality monument, that looked like a rocket with a gold Niyazov on top.
Our last stop with the Monument to the Independence of Turkmenistan. This one is shaped like a toilet plunger and is surrounded by statues of famous Turkmens.
The architects of this city are certainly creative. Buildings here include a hotel in the shape of an oil drop, a skyscraper with a giant globe coming out of the top floor. Buildings shaped like the 8-point star which is the national symbol of Turkmenistan. But my favorite was a building in the medical part of town that houses the dentists in the shape of a molar!
As we neared the center of the city we were dropped near the Russian Market. I had lunch of a wrap filled with chicken kabob, french fries, and salad and a piece of “Snickers” cake. We had to do some shopping for the upcoming day on the ferry. We were also all to buy a tea cup because we were planning to have a tea party to celebrate Mindy’s birthday on the ship. I bought a strange glass cup that says “Hopping for you.” and has a picture of a blue elephant with a very large head kicking a soccer ball. Even the market is made of marble and displays some public art.
I returned to the hotel and helped Robbie stock the bar on the truck. It was difficult to find beer here that wasn’t in glass bottles. Afterwards, I went to the hotel sauna for a bit.
For dinner, Anna and I went back to the market and had a Somsa which is a baked meat pie.