We’ve spent 3 days in Ashgabat, a heavily manicured town centre of marble buildings and gold domes, which looks rather like it was designed in Sim City. Most of the buildings and monuments are dedicated to the President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov, a former member of the Politburo who renamed himself Turkmenbashi, meaning Leader of the Turkmen.
The Arch of Neutrality below is 75m high and topped with a 12m gold statue of Niyazov, which rotates 360 degrees in 24 hours to always point at the sun.
The first afternoon we arrived was spent by the pool, eating great Italian food from the hotel restaurant. The hotel is owned and named after Niyazov’s sun, possibly explaining how he could source buffalo mozzarella in the middle of a desert.
The second day we went to Ashgabat market, which seemed to sell everything, including the famous flying camels. That afternoon we wandered round town chased by the police and army every time we tried to take a photo. We sneakily managed a few, but at the border they take your camera and check for photos, deleting anything sensitive (although those of us at the back of the line switched to an empty memory card in plain view of the guards which they chose to ignore). That night we went to the ‘British Pub’ which served Russian beer and Mexican food in a mainly French setting.
Our Azerbaijan visas didn’t come back from the embassy in time so we had an extra morning to potter about. I went to the supermarket to buy some food for the upcoming ferry crossing. I picked up lots of snacks and some cream crackers so imagine my delight when I also found the cheese counter full of big blocks of Australian cheese, which I took to be cheddar. Imagine my further delight when I got back to the hotel to discover my Australian Cheddar turned out to be 1kg of very hard butter. Had to go back and buy another kilo of Edam, so all was not lost.
Sad moment saying goodbye to the rest of the group who weren’t coming to Istanbul. Some of them had been with us since Xian, China, 10 weeks ago.
Last thing we do before leaving Ashgabat is fill up with diesel, which at $0.02/litre costs less than $5 to fill up the truck, then spend the day driving alongside the Iranian border to the ferry port in Turkmenbashi (via about 12 police stops…).