A Travellerspoint blog

Austvågøya - Vestvågøya

My birthday!


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This morning we are moving on to another place and another apartment. Along the way, of course, we stop frequently to take photos.

But first, a last goodbye to Laukvik, which has been our home for the last couple of nights.

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Sunrise over Vestpollen

Vatterfjorden

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Tjelbergvika

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Lyn at Tjelbergvika

I am loving the patterns created by the frost on the puddles in the car park.

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Hopspollen

Henningsvær

Our last landlady suggested Henningvær would be a worthwhile diversion from a photographer's point of view; so we turn off south just before leaving Austvågøya. The road there along the coast is very pretty in itself.

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Sometimes dramatic with deep oranges and silhouetted islands, while other times showing delicate pastels, the sunrise is still waiting to fight it out with the upcoming sunset for our attention.

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The bridge across to Henningsvær

This is as high as the sun will rise above the horizon - it's just before midday, so soon the sun will starts its journey back down again and sunrise will become sunset.

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We find somewhere to park and go off for a walk around the small town. Today being my birthday, Lyn has promised to treat me to waffles and hot chocolate. We feel sure that Henningsvær – being a well known and somewhat touristy place – will have somewhere suitable.

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The gallery / souvenir shop / café is, like everything else in these parts, closed for winter. No waffles for me today then.

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Henningsvær is a quaint little town, and like so many others in this area, it is nestled between steep sided craggy mountains and the sea.

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How's that for a stone wall!

We leave Henningsvær behind and carry on our journey today, past ever-changing stunning scenery.

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It has been a lot milder the last couple of days, hovering around freezing most of the time, which means much of the snow has melted.

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The bridge to Gimsøya

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The sun has now turned and is on its way down again.

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Gimsøya

Vestvågøya

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Just above the horizon, strange cloud formations gather, merging in with the mountains below.

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The light is failing now, even though it is only 13:45!

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We have been through some amazing tunnels on this trip, some several miles long. There is a bit of a joke about the tunnels in this area: “Go to Northern Norway to see the mountains – from the inside!”

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We check out a few places for possible northern lights photography before continuing to our overnight accommodation.

Ure Rorbuutleie

There is some confusion when we arrive at the apartment. We try to ring the number provided, but no reply. Reception is closed, with a sign on the door suggesting that we ring them.

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After several attempts, we eventually get through and are given the secret location of the key!

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For a number of years I have wanted to stay in a rorbu. Traditionally a type of seasonal house used by fishermen, the buildings are built on land, but with the one end on poles in the water, allowing easy access to vessels. These days they are mostly rented out to tourists.

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Having checked the aurora forecast and found it to be some good activity this evening, we grab an early dinner and head out in search of Northern Lights.

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For my birthday dinner I chose to cook a traditional Norwegian meal of reindeer balls with boiled potatoes.

Utakleiv

We found this place earlier and decided it would make a good location for capturing the aurora borealis. It seems we are not the only ones. It's a large car park here, and several other people out with their tripods.

There is some light cloud cover, but you can still quite clearly see the green streaks in the sky.

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As the evening wears on, however, the cloud cover thickens.

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After a while it becomes increasingly difficult to see the northern lights with the naked eye. The camera, however, is still able to capture it.

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More and more people arrive, unfortunately for them it is too late to see the best part of the light show, and their torches shine brightly across my photos.

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When the sky is completely covered in a thick cloud, we decide to call it a day and go back to the apartment for a drink to celebrate my birthday.

Cheers!

Posted by Grete Howard 14:32 Archived in Norway Tagged sunset travel lights sunrise birthday northern norway lofoten aurora northern_lights nordland rorbu norge ure aurora_borealis northern_norway nordnorge austvågøya laukvik gimsøya vestpollen vestvågøya vatterfjorden tjelbergvika hopspollen henningsvær rorbuutleie utakleiv Comments (2)

Austvågøya

In search of the lights


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Laukvik

We take a quick look at the small settlement of Laukvik (where we are staying) this morning before setting out to explore the rest of Austvågøy Island.

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Misty mountains at Delp

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Right at the start of the planning stages for this trip, I did an internet search for “Northern Lights Lofoten” and images. Looking at the ones I really liked, I then tried to establish where they were taken. Photographing the northern lights requires a lot of planning, as it is not just a question of pointing the camera at the sky and pressing the shutter. I wanted a decent foreground / background, and as the lights generally appear to the north, it had to be carefully worked out. Not only do I need find a suitable scene, but also somewhere where we can stop the car and ideally for us to be able to get off the road with the tripods. Another consideration was whether or not we wanted the moon to be present – I chose half and half: present in the early evening for the first few days, while for the remainder of the trip it won't doesn't rise until later in the night. The aurora most commonly makes an appearance between 22:00 and 02:00, but of course that can vary a lot.

What we are doing today, is to physically drive around to recce the sites I have made a note of on my map. It is so much easier to check them out in daylight, then we bookmark them on the SatNav for later.

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Fiskebøll

This looks like a good place to observe and photograph the aurora from, with the beach in the foreground, sea in the middle and mountains at the back. We'll make a note of that for later.

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The further north you go, the more time the sun takes to rise (and set). As you can see, the sun hasn't made it very far up the horizon in the hour-and-a-half since the last sunrise photo I took.

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Driving towards Vestpollen

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Near Osen

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The roads in both Vesterålen and Lofoten consists of many, many tunnels and bridges, linking the numerous islands that make up this archipelago.

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The bridge at Lyngvær

We cross another bridge on to Gimsøya Island.

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Sunrise has now turned into sunset. Just like that.

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I wasn't prepared for just how grandiose and awe-inspiring the scenery would be.

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We return to base and have some dinner and chill before popping out again later to look for the lights. The forecast is good.

Northern Lights

While out for a cigarette, Lyn spots some lights in the sky and we all go and investigate. By the time we get out there, those 'lights' have turned to bright green sheets of colour swirling around the sky. Frantically grabbing our camera gear, we take a few shots right by the accommodation as we Fear that they are not going to hang around for long.

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The aurora show no signs of fading, so we move on to Morfjorden, one of the sites we bookmarked earlier in the day.

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The last stop this evening is near Fiskebøll, the beach we visited earlier. Here we have the lights in three directions with ample opportunities for different foregrounds.

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After three hours of spectacular light displays, the aurora borealis once again goes back to sleep, and we return to base to do the same. What an amazing day!

Posted by Grete Howard 15:30 Archived in Norway Tagged mountains sunset landscape beach scenery sunrise mist lofoten aurora northern_lights nordland norge arctic_circle aurora_borealis nord_norge astro_photography northern_norway nordnorge austvågøya laukvik norwsay gimsøya delp fiskebøll vestpollen osen lyngvær morfjorden Comments (4)

Hovden - Laukvik

Moving on to Lofoten today


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday was dull and grey, whereas when we wake up this morning the harbour is bathed in a glorious light!

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View from Frugga Feriehus in one direction...

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...and in the other

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View of the harbour at the end of 'our' road

Some beautiful – albeit almost monochromatic – reflections in the still fjords as we make our way south.

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While I love the scenery, I really don't think I could live here, it is far too remote for me. This, I presume, is a holiday cabin (hytte); and only accessible by boat by the looks of it.

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Vågen

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Drift Ice

The fjords have obviously been previously frozen and now that the weather is milder, the ice is cracking up and moving with the sea, creating interesting 3D patterns.

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Bjørndalen

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We stop in Sortland, the first town we have seen since Andenes, to stock up on provisions and diesel.

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Sortland

We are now leaving Langøya Island and crossing the bridge to Hinnøya. I love the tall curved bridges around here – made that way to allow for Hurtigruten to pass under.

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Hurtigruten at Ånstadsjøen. The coastal ship has supplied goods and moved people between Bergen and Kirkenes in the far north for over 120 years.

Stormy skies

What started with a glorious light this morning has now turned into dramatic storm clouds.

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LivLand Lofoten

As we get nearer tonight's accommodation, I ring the number given to us by Booking.com. A man answers. I am assuming he is speaking Norwegian, so I do so myself too. He replies in 'nordlandsk', the local dialect. After asking him to repeat what he said half a dozen times, I apologise and explain that I have lived abroad for 45 years and my Norwegian is very rusty. I try to repeat everything I 'think' he says, so that at least if I have got it wrong, he will realise that!

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The conversation put me in mind of the Barclaycard advert with Rowan Adkinson some 20 years ago: “We are both fluent; sadly in different languages".

The way I understand it, his wife is going to meet us at the house, and she is 15 minutes away. So are we. After waiting around for a while when we get there, David offers to ring up again and speak to him. I listen in and decide that this chap is way easier to understand in English than he is in Norwegian!

He tells David where to find the key, and we let ourselves in. We are now in Lofoton, where we are staying in a small settlement called Laukvik. The accommodation looks out over a pretty little bay.

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Our part of the building

Yet again the stairs are steep and winding. Is that a local speciality? The main problem with these stairs, however, is not just the gradient, but also the fact that each step is so shallow – around half the size of my foot! It is not so bad going up, but I already have recurring nightmares about falling down stairs (and other precipices) without the thought of trying to (carefully) negotiate these each time I want to use the loo in the night!

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The bedrooms and bathroom are downstairs (with the latter having lovely underfloor heating beneath the tiles). Upstairs is the open plan lounge-diner and kitchen.

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The landlady turns up soon after we've settled in and she is thankfully very much easier to understand than her husband. We chat for a while about local conditions, snowfall, avalanches and such like. Before she leaves, she warns us that the old house can be quite noisy in the wind.

We are all finding it quite hard to adjust to the limited daylight hours, and feel somewhat confused that even though it is only 4pm, it is pitch black outside.

I am looking forward to having a shower this afternoon. I strip off and tip toe across the cold floor and into the lovely large bathroom, where the underfloor heating immediately warms my feet. The nearer the shower I get, the hotter the floor becomes. The heater appears to be right underneath where the shower is, and I soon hot-foot it (literally) back out again. It is unbearably hot, like walking on tropical sand in the heat of the day! Ouch! No shower for me tonight, as I didn't bring any flip-flops with me to protect my feet! We turn the heating down a little and hope it will be better tomorrow.

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With no aurora activity this evening (the sky is full of dark clouds), we have a few drinks before retiring for the night. The storm is raging out there now, and we are looking forward to a cosy evening listening to it from the comfort of our beds.

The first thing that strikes us about the wind is that it seems to be coming up through the floorboards! I have never experienced that before, and I don't understand how it can happen, as the house is not on stilts!

Once we settle into bed, we certainly understand what the landlady meant when she said the house is noisy! Wow! I have never known a building to make a racket like that before! While it isn't scary, I cannot describe the sounds, they are like something you'd hear in a horror film: whistling, groaning, squeaking, knocking, whining, howling, and almost barking. By morning we think we're the ones that are barking!

Good night. Not. Beds are comfy though.

Posted by Grete Howard 14:34 Archived in Norway Tagged harbour landscape storm scenery ice sunrise steps stairs norway windy wind lofoten norge hurtigruten sortland nord_norge langøya northern_norway vesteralen hinnøya frugga_feriehus hovden austvågøya laukvik vågen frozen_fjord drift_ice bjørndalen ånstadsjøen sormy_skies storm_clouds nordlandsk livland_lofoten narrow_steps underfloor_heating noisy_house døgnvill Comments (2)

Langøya

Island explorations


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We are disappointed to find the thermometer showing around zero today, and once we leave the house we can see that the mild weather is already beginning to melt the snow.

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View from Frugga Feriehus across the harbour at Hovden.

The plan today is just to explore Langøya Island and bookmark a few possible sites for photographing the Northern Lights later should we have the opportunity. As soon as we have finished breakfast, we head off in an anticlockwise direction.

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Sandvika

A beautiful sandy bay (which is in fact the direct translation of its name) with a gorgeous beach – I bet this place gets busy in summer!

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White Tailed Sea Eagle

The excitement in the car soars when we spot an eagle sitting on some rocks. I get my camera ready and wait for him to fly off. He is a long way away, but I still want to try and capture him with my camera and long lens (plus some serious cropping when I get home).

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Eventually he flaps his wings and takes off, and only then do we realise that there are in fact two of them.

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Quarry high on the hillside

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The small settlement of Gustad - every dramatic scenery should have a red cabin or two

I am fascinated by the ice on the frozen fjord and how it cracks up with the movement of the sea.

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Sunrise

Today has been mostly grey, albeit with some dramatic clouds.

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A brief moment of sun

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And it's gone again!

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Straumsnes

Some places have more snow than others.

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In order to save money, we make sandwiches every day for lunch. That was always the plan, which is just as well, as it seems every café and restaurant in this area is closed for winter, so we would really struggle to find somewhere to eat if we didn't have our own packed lunch.

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Guvåg

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Is this Vesterålen's very own Loch Ness Monster?

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Verhalsen

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By 14:00 it is already quite dark – adding an extra layer of drama to the already impressive scenery.

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Icicles

We see more enormous icicles today, and we still find them quite extraordinary.

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I really should have included a person for scale, but these rocks are around eight feet tall.

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Avalanche Risk

With steep-sided mountains tumbling almost into the sea and just a small strip of land available for habitation, it stands to reason that these islands are at risk of avalanche during times of heavy snowfall.

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Fisheries

With such a long coastline it is only natural that this area is known for its fish and seafood. Some are wild caught and others are farmed, such as here. The last couple of days we have sampled the local delicacies with prawn and crayfish on the menu.

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It is really quite dark now, and we are making our way back to base, but we still manage to find a couple of places to pull off the road so that Lyn and I can get our tripods out and take a few last photos of the day.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:44 Archived in Norway Tagged snow beach sunrise eagle europe norway europa icicles norge loch_ness_monster nord_norge langøya northern_norway vesteralen nordnorge frugga_feriehus hovden sandvika sea_eagle gustad straumsnes guvåg verhalsen avalanche_risk fisheries Comments (3)

Risøyhamn - Hovden

A day of driving


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One of my plans for some creative photography when I am here in Norway, is to take pictures of frozen bubbles. We set everything up – cameras on tripods, husband on blowing duty, photographers on the remote releases. Despite the thermometer showing -2 °C, the bubbles refuse to freeze, and after several attempts we give up and move on.

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We are leaving Risøyhamn this morning, driving down through Hinnøya Island and crossing the bridge onto Langøya Island for our next accommodation.

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The day consists mainly of driving through some stunning scenery. Stopping is often very difficult, as there aren't many lay-bys around, and if we do see somewhere, it has usually not been cleared of snow, thus making it too dangerous to pull in. Many of these photos are taken from a moving car, while occasionally David is able to just stop the car for a few minutes if the traffic is light.

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The bridge across to Langøya

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Icicles

When we eventually find a large parking area to pull off the road, we are delighted to see the 20-foot high black rock face is spectacularly covered in the most amazing enormous cascading icicles. What a sight!

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The light is fading now, but the reflections remain fabulous on the very still water.

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Frugga Feriehus

By the time we reach our accommodation for the night, right at the end of as small track in Hovden, it is completely dark. The apartment is modern, built on a hillside, with the entrance at the bottom, and all wood inside with glass balustrades.

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It's a bit like “Death by Ikea” (the following two pictures were taken from the Booking.com website – who we booked it though; as I forgot to take pictures inside).

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David does, however, photograph the stairs leading up to the top floor – like a loft room. The steps are more like a ladder!

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Dinner

Before we left home, I promised to make Lyn one of my favourite Sunday dinners from when I grew up in Norway: whale steak.

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Tender and lean, like the finest beef, whale meat is nothing like you imagine.

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The whale and mushroom casserole has to be served Norwegian style, with the ubiquitous boiled potatoes. When I grew up in this country, no meal was complete without boiled potatoes!

This evening is proving to be cloudy, so we settle down with a drink, safe in the knowledge that we are not going to be going out looking at the Northern Lights tonight!

Posted by Grete Howard 13:43 Archived in Norway Tagged snow reflections fjords scenery norway icicles norge bubbles langøya risøyhamn northern_norway vesteralen inside_the_arctic_circle nordnorge hinnøya frozen_bubbles artcic_circle frugga_feriehus hovden whale_steak whale_dinner whale_beef Comments (4)

More Andøya

A leisurely day


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We set out to do more explorations of Andøya today, and are very excited to see the coastal voyage ship Hurtigruten ready to dock at Risøyhamn.

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As we don't have the pressure of collecting Lyn's luggage today, we have the chance to stop for photographs a little more often.

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Failing to find a suitable lay-by, I merely take photos through the windscreen.

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Sørmela

The topography here in Vesterålen is nothing short of spectacular, with steep cliffs tumbling straight into the sea. Communities have been carved out of the small area of flat land that are found near the ocean; or where there is no suitable ground, the road is cut into the hillside for want of any other space. This is why the coastal voyage postal ships were so vital before the roads – and bridges – were built.

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The roads also travel through the mountains on several occasions, with some very long tunnels, as well as short ones such as here.

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There are some impressive waves too.

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Woodpecker

Without warning, a woodpecker cuts across the bow of the car and flies up onto a telegraph pole. Excitedly we wait for him to reappear so we can take a decent photo of him. He doesn't. He hides behind the post until he decides he has teased us enough and disappears into the distance. Later identified as a Grey Headed Woodpecker, he is another new bird to us.

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Rubbish photo, but we saw him!

Every few minutes there is a scene that I beg David to stop the car for so that I can photograph it. I have to confess that I often just shoot from the passengers seat, as most times we are unable to find an area to pull off the road where we can safely get out of the car. Thankfully traffic is light to the point of almost non-existent, so we are able to just stop the car on the main road for long enough to take pictures.

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Once we are back on Hinnøya, we take the road from last night, but continue on further.

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At a junction we are unsure of which direction to take, and soon realise we've probably chosen unwisely when we come across a sign that states: “Construction road. Bad Condition. Continue at your own risk.”

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We do continue for a short distance, but decide that it probably isn't worth the risk and with nowhere to turn the car, David ends up reversing back to the crossroads.

The other choice at the intersection takes us past farms with a few domestic animals, the first we've seen on the trip so far.

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While the sky is still showing feint hues of pink, purple and yellows, the moon is just rising and looming large from behind the mountains.

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Reindeer

David spots it first: an animal in the road. A horse maybe? No, it has antlers, it must be a deer.

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As we get nearer we realise – to our great surprise - it is in fact a reindeer! Not just one, but two!

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Another one appears and crosses the road in front of us. This is seriously exciting!

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As more and more reindeer come into sight, it becomes apparent that these are indeed domesticated – albeit free range – reindeer.

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Burying their heads in the snow, they dig for moss and other tasty vegetation.

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They may be part of a domestic herd, but is still the first time I have seen reindeer walking around freely in all the years I lived in Norway. What a very special experience!

The daylight is all but gone by the time we get back to the house. We are hoping for some more Northern Lights this evening, but unfortunately they are not playing ball, so we spend the evening eating, drinking and chatting.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:40 Archived in Norway Tagged landscapes waves scenery farm tunnel moon norway woodpecker reindeer norge hurtigruten nord_norge risøyhamn drive_by_shooting northern_norway vesteralen andøya nordnorge hinnøya sørmela coastal_voyage Comments (3)

Andøya

Lyn is reunited with her luggage


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I received a text late last night saying that Lyn's case has made it to Andenes Airport, and to contact them to arrange delivery. We are going to Andenes for shopping today anyway, so it seems a much better idea for us to collect the bag from the airport, rather than having to arrange a time for delivery, which means we have to make sure we are in the house when they arrive.

This morning promises some nice, albeit cold, weather, and Lyn and I wander down to the coast while David scrapes the ice off the car.

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Risøyhamn Bridge

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Mountains reflecting in the still waters

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Everything looks better with a sprinkling of snow

Andøya

We are heading across the rather impressive 750 metre long Andøy Bridge, which takes us from Hinnøya to Andøya – two of the islands that make up the Vesterålen archipelago.

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The bridge is pretty impressive from whichever way you look at it, and approaching it by road from our end, it looks impossibly steep.

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It is, in fact, 30 metres high to allow for ships to pass under, such as Hurtigruten, the coastal voyage ship which historically provided a lifeline to the people living in isolated village, and these days also ferries tourists along this coast.

There are not many roads on the island, so the plan is to drive up to the top on the west coast, and back down on the east coast.

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The scenery is breathtaking, with steep, craggy cliffs and the sunrise reflected in the inlet with its broken up ice.

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With short daylight hours (the sun rises at 8:30 and sets at 14:00), the light is wonderful for most of that time, changing between a delicate pastel pink and a shocking orange. And all the shades between.

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At one of our stops we see a Sea Eagle flying overhead, but he is way too quick for me to photograph. The ground is icy, and walking is quite precarious.

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Andenes Airport

Small and very unassuming, the airport is deserted when we arrive. I spot a security guard in the back room and call out. He saunters across and tells me the staff member we want (the only one there apparently) is outside “seeing the plane off”. After a few minutes the man we apparently need comes back in again, looks at us and states: “you're here to collect the bag”. Moments later he brings Lyn's case out from the back room and hands it over, shrugging his shoulders at my suggestion that he might want to see the paperwork. That's laid back.

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An emotional reunion

Andenes is a 'big town' and we do a little drive-through sightseeing before stopping for a food shop as well as petrol.

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Andenes Harbour

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REMA 1000. Although a 'discount store', prices are still about double what we are used to from the UK

While we were enjoying the sunrise earlier, it has now evolved into sunset.

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Risøyhamn

We stop at the small village just short of the bridge to take in the last half an hour of the setting sun.

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Icicles

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That bridge again

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Cormorants on the bridge legs

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Red Breasted Merganesers taking off (a new bird for us - yay!)

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Flying into the sunset

Sunsets and light are strange bedfellows: standing facing the sunset, I get this dramatic view...

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… while immediately turning 180° with my back to the sun the light is altogether more delicate.

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Before the light disappears completely, we make a recce of possible places to photograph the northern lights tonight should it decide to play ball.

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From here maybe...?

Northern Lights

Despite not being able to see anything interesting in the sky, we make a trip out after dinner and head for the place identified earlier. The night view is nice, but the very feint lights are not really in a good position. We are also disappointed that the bridge is not lit at night

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David spots a small arc at 90° angle to the bridge, just over the hill at the end of the road.

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Nothing spectacular, and the foreground is dull, so we move on.

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Interesting foreground, but the lights are still rather pale and the moon somewhat dominates the picture

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On a private road near a farm we have a good view, but the street lights are a nuisance.

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Fearing the aurora is not going to do much more this evening we head towards home, but on a whim I suggest we take a road not yet explored.

Bingo!

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For the next hour we watch as the lights glow, fade and pulse; varying from an intense flash to a gentle glow and an amazing radiance over the entire sky. At times they appear to dance across the sky with greenish swathes of light moving in waves and creating dramatic patterns of illumination. What a wonderful experience.

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We move on to one last location before calling it a night, sated with the delights of what we came here for: The Aurora Borealis.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:49 Archived in Norway Tagged sea sunset harbour airport bridge sunrise eagle norway archipelago aurora northern_lights lost_luggage hurtigruten grocery_shopping arctic_circle aurora_borealis andenes risøyhamn vesteralen andøya inside_the_arctic_circle nordnorge andenes_airport andøy_bridge hinnøya rema_1000 merganeser Comments (5)

Bristol - Gatwick - Oslo - Evenes - Risøyhamn

Heading for the cold north


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Thursday 14th November 2019 Bristol - Gatwick

Originally booked for February this year, we had to cancel when my dad was very poorly. Fast forward to November, and we are on our way, with our good friend and fellow photographer, Lyn.

Our flight is early in the morning from London Gatwick, so we stay in the Premier Inn at the airport the night before. As Lyn was working today (these poor people who are not yet retired!), we get there late, and go almost straight to dinner.

While the waiter is dishy (and way too young for me unfortunately), the food is just passable. Both Lyn and I have the Hunter's Chicken, which is very much on the small side and served with too small a portion of BBQ sauce. Never mind, we are having churros for dessert, a firm favourite. What a disappointment! They are cold and chewy. We are offered another portion, or a free drink to compensate, but decide to call it a day.

Friday 15th November 2019 Gatwick – Oslo – Evenes - Risøyhamn

We are always excited when we get a new experience on our travels, but this is a first I could definitely have done without: I spend the entire night awake, just lying there, staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to catch up with me. It doesn't. At all. All night. I am hanging this morning.

With valet parking arranged, they picked the car up last night, so all we have to do is walk across to the airport this morning.

Self check in is easy. Or at least it is when the young man comes over and does it for us. We are now finally on our way. We are pleasantly surprised that we are able to check the luggage in all the way to Northern Norway despite the second leg being a domestic flight.

The first flight is reasonably painless, it is not full and we are able to spread out a little. There are two large groups on the plane, one of which I assume is a large Indian family, and the other is a number of Caribbean Africans who speak a form of Creole or Patois.

Transfer at Gardemoen (Oslo), however, is anything but painless. Mrs Hitler at Security wants everything out. All the cameras. All the batteries. She could do with a personality transplant as she tuts and sighs when we are not fast enough for her liking, and I put my stuff in the basket she is trying to grab. We still make it to the gate in plenty of time.

Arrival at Evenes is very low key. By the time we get to the luggage carousel, the bags are already going round. Mine and David's. We wait for Lyn's. And wait. And wait. When there are no more bags arriving and the belt stops, the realisation that her case has not made it sinks in.

We head for the Service counter to report it missing, where we are lucky to go straight up to the waiting staff. By the time we have finished explaining when we last saw it, what it looks like, what flight we were on, and given our forwarding address to the young trainee whose typing speed must have been around one word per minute; a long queue has formed behind us. We are given a receipt with a telephone number and told that the case will be sent on to Andenes this evening where we can either collect it or it will be delivered tomorrow.

Meanwhile, David has arranged our hire car, and we walk down the dark slippery pavement to the car park, where the car is not only waiting for us, unlocked; the engine, and more importantly, heater, is on.

We're on our way.

Our first stop is the local convenience store, part of a petrol station, in order to buy some food for the next 24 hours. There is very little choice, the store is full of chocolate, crisps and other snacks, but as for 'meals', frozen pizza is about the only thing they have.

Despite it only being around 4pm by this stage, it is pitch black, and we can't see much as we make our way to the first accommodation.

Hjerterom i Andøy

Half an hour before we are about to arrive at the house, I ring the owner. I speak to him in Norwegian and he answers me back in Norwegian. We are clearly speaking two different Norwegians, and I spend the entire conversation asking him to repeat what he said. Eventually I have to admit that I have spent 45 years abroad and my Norwegian is somewhat rusty. It is not, but the 'dialect' they speak in this part of Norway might as well be a foreign language.

We find the house without problem thanks to the Garmin Sat Nav we brought with us from home, and are given a guided tour by Ole-Robin, the owner.

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On the ground floor is a large lounge-diner, a sizeable kitchen-diner, another small lounge area, the bathroom and one of the bedrooms.

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Lounge area

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Dining area

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Kitchen-diner

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The other small sitting room

Up some dangerously steep stairs are another three bedrooms. I now understand why there is a bucket in the bathroom named “potty”. There is no way I would want to climb those stairs in the middle of the night – they are lethal!

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Tonight is cloudy with no chance of seeing the Northern Lights, so we settle in for the night with a few drinks and the pizza we bought earlier.

Posted by Grete Howard 13:31 Archived in Norway Tagged oslo flight stairs norway norwegian churros gatwick lost_luggage risøyhamn premier_inn valet_parking vesteralen norwegian_airlines evenes gardemoen hire_car hjerterom_i_andøy andøya Comments (5)

Murzachirla - Mary

Leaving the wilderness behind and heading back into civilisation


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I slept surprisingly well last night, and only got up once in the night to use the latrine tent. I struggle to get up off the floor this morning, however, with my knees giving me some trouble.

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When we emerge from the tents, Meylis points out jackal marks in the sand.

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Artem is still asleep in the back of the car, and is not too amused when I point my phone at him to take a photo. “Why you wake so early”?

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Breakfast consists of bread with a local hard cheese and Nutella.

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Breakfast is accompanied by a beautiful sunrise with some spectacular clouds.

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Two men on donkeys accompanied by three dogs appear on the horizon, and proceed to circle around us, menacingly. We quickly pack up and leave.

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I see one of the tyres is bulging, I hope Artem gets that changed before we get to the fast roads back in civilisation later today. If that blows at 120 km/hr it could cause a bit of mayhem!

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The first part of the journey is along rough, sandy tracks.

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Gonur Depe

Covering a huge area, the UNESCO protected archaeological site of Gonur Depe dates from the early Bronze Age (2400-1700 BC).

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It is believed that this was the home of Zoroaster, the founder of the religion Zoroastrianism. Excavations have revealed four fire temples, as well as evidence of a cult based around a drug potion prepared from poppy, hemp and ephedra plants. This potent brew is almost certainly the haoma (soma elixir) used by the magi whom Zoroaster began preaching against in Zoroastrian texts.

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Some of the buildings have been reconstructed, and Artem gets permission from the curator to drive us around the site due to David's inability to walk more than a few steps.

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Each of the citadels had three walls, with the servants living outside, the oligarchs in the middle and the royal family in the centre.

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Defence holes where spears would have been fired to stop invaders climbing the walls.

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The inner courtyard

Much of the site is still unexplored, and there is no doubt a great deal of fascinating history yet to be found. The ruins were not discovered until a Russian archaeologist flew over the area in a helicopter in 1972.

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Margoush, the oroginal name of this city, is of immense historical importance, and is believed by some historians to be the fifth major civilisation (the four others being Indian, Chinese, Mesopotamian and Egyptian). UNESCO, however, do not accept that line of thought as there is no evidence of a unique alphabet.

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In a couple of ramshackle sheds we find a dark and dingy museum which belies the significance of this site (although some of the more important and well preserved pieces are in the National Museum in Ashgabat).

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Many items of pottery have been unearthed, as well as an entire row of potteries being found on the site, certifying that earthenware was in high demand.

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We all get momentarily distracted by a snake, believed to be the venomous telescopus fallax, known locally as the Arrow Snake.

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The King died in battle, and when the city elders heard the news, they buried all his possessions in a shallow grave, including his two horses, a camel, dog, his chariot and so on. The king's body has never been recovered.

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I find this completely mind blowing – these items are over 4,000 years old!

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Supposedly the original Bronze Age spade!

It is believed the city was slowly abandoned during the Bronze Age as the Murgab River changed course, depriving the city of water.

We too abandon Gonur and head for Mary, our overnight stop. We still have some more rough tracks to negotiate before we get there, however.

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The bumpy ride doesn't seem to stop Meylis falling asleep.

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We see a huge black desert spider on the track, as well as a marmot crossing, which makes Artem stop rather abruptly, waking up Meylis and causing the water I am drinking quirt up my nose!

Once we hit the sealed road, we are held up by a herd of camels.

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Lunch

Meylis takes us to a restaurant with specialises in what they call Afghan Salad. Side vegetables are not really the thing here in Turkmenistan, but every restaurant has a choice of 6-10 different salads, mostly made with tinned vegetables: peas, corn, beans, mushrooms etc, and often smothered in mayonnaise. Some are very good, others less so, and I do miss fresh vegetables.

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The salad is made with tomatoes, crispy lavash (a type of thin buckwheat flatbread) and meat. The meat is cooked very well and not at all greasy, and the mix of textures is nice.

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David orders Kakmach (meat in sauce) with chips (and very good the fries are too), whereas I have buckwheat with a meat sauce.

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Both the boys choose the lamb chops - as you can see, just a bit of garnish, no side veg.

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There is always plenty of bread to accompany every meal, however.

From here it is an easy journey to the modern town of Mary, where we will be spending the night in the luxury 4* hotel of the same name.

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After the last three days of desert driving, a hot, powerful shower and clean bed is very welcome indeed. We take a much needed nap.

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As with all the other hotels we've stayed in so far, toilet roll is in short supply.

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David's leg is still very painful, swollen and bruised.

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Dinner

Like so many other places, the restaurant is completely empty this evening. We order Goulash which comes with mushrooms, mashed potato and onions; a portion of samsa (savoury pastry) with a side of what they describe as a piquant salad. I ask about chips. “You want chips?” “Yes please”

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The beers come reasonably quickly, but it seems like an eternity before the waitress comes to tell us the the samsa “is off”. I select something called 'macaroni and meat' instead.

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Then the chips arrive. Oops, it didn't occur to me that they would speak American English here rather than British English (in the UK, what Americans – and obviously Turkmen – call chips, we know as crisps; and chips to us is thick potato fries.). Oh well, we enjoy this nibble with the beers as we wait for the food.

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When the food arrives, we are pleased that the portions are reasonably small compared with what we have been served at times on this trip.

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David's goulash - which he describes as "OK".

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My macaroni with meat is decidedly heavy on the pasta, which is overcooked and the whole dish is tasteless

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The piquant salad is anything but piquant.

Paying the bill we are surprised that it is quoted in Dollars, a first since we've been here. We certainly can't complain at the price though: $17 to include the beers. In a four star hotel.

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We take the 'chips' back to the room with us, as the restaurant not only has zero atmosphere, but we get the impression they don't want us to linger any longer as they are ready to close up. I feel really quite drunk at this stage, probably from the large bottle of 14% beer, or maybe the unknown Russian tablets I am taking for my upset tummy has something to do with it.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this unusual and exciting trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:44 Archived in Turkmenistan Comments (2)

Darwaza - Karakum Desert

Our wild desert adventure

After a night disturbed by a dog howling at the moon, I wake before sunrise.

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The campervan and a lone tent at the crater edge

Thankfully my stomach feels a lot more settled this morning, and I tuck into a breakfast of egg, bread, butter, jam, yogurt and cake.

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Today we are spending the day crossing the Karakum desert, starting off on tracks that waltz their way through, over and around soft dunes dotted with low tufts of grass and small shrubs.

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'Track' is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, these are mostly just a few tyre marks in sand.

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A couple of times we get stuck in the soft sand and have to reverse to take a 'running jump' at the dune.

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Camels

Here and there we see camels. They are not wild, but most certainly free range.

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The soft dunes give way to hard, compacted earth and for an hour or so we drive across a flat, featureless landscape.

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Once gain we climb to the top of a classic sand dune. The sand is fine and soft and beautifully sculpted by the wind.

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Lizard

We see a little lizard on one of the dunes. Artme stalks the little guy, trying to creep up on it to catch it, but all he manages is to grab hold of its tail before it escapes.

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As the day goes on, my diarrhoea returns and we make frequent stops for me to fertilise the small bushes along the side of the track.

Damla Village

We stop at the small village of Damla for a pre-arranged lunch. The 100 or so inhabitants are mostly subsistence farmers, with meat featuring heavy on their menu. Rice and vegetables are brought in by truck and bartered for goat and camels.

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The wells are dug to a depth of six-seven metres below the ground.

It's a windy place, and David imitates the Desert Wind statue we saw in Balkanabat.

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Lunch

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Lunch is a simple affair, with a goat plov. Surprisingly enough, it is the first plov we've had on this trip.

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We sit and talk to a small group of Belgian and Dutch travellers as we eat. A couple of the girls are wearing indecently short shorts, and I feel so embarrassed for them in such a conservative country (they, however, seem totally oblivious to it).

The local kids are rather nonplussed.

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And so am I as to why a small black cat is tied up with a thick rope near the kitchen area.

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We leave Damla village and the little bit of civilisation behind, entering deeper into this beguiling world of sand.

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Eagle's nest

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Camels at a waterhole

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Murzachirla

At 3pm, we stop in the small village of Murzachirla, where it had been suggested that we camp for the night. Artem asks if maybe we would like to carry on driving for a bit, which suits me fine. I would very much prefer to camp wild in the desert rather than in a village, for two reasons: I still have an upset tummy, and I would hate to have an audience; and I like the romantic notion of setting up camp in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sand dunes and not much else.

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It feels unbearably hot here when we get out of the car. The thermometer says 33 °C (91 °F), but it feels so much hotter. Even the goats are hiding in the shade.

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The desert appears to go on and on and on and on. Not surprising really, as the Karakum Desert covers 80% of the land in Turkmenistan.

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Here and there we see evidence of gas production, but no human life for hours. Just the odd desert squirrel or lizard.

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Wild Camp

Artem finally spots a suitable area that is flat enough to pitch the tents, and stops the car.

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Within minutes Artem has erected two tents – one for me and one for David. The two boys will be sleeping in the car tonight.

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Despite this being a 'wild' camp, it is far from roughing it: we have a table, camp stools, a large gas cylinder to cook with, even LED lighting on a lamp post run from the car battery!

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Picking up a shovel, Artem tries to find a suitable place for our toilet. Much to my delight, he then collects a metal frame from the car, upon which he places a regular toilet seat and finally erects a tall tent around the whole thing. Ta da! A latrine tent! This is a new experience for us, and far preferable to taking a shovel with us each time we want to crouch behind a bush.

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There is lots of food and drink and even more laughs as we polish off two bottles of vodka between the three of us. Artem keeps trying to teach me the Russian word for "cheers" - "za zda-ró-vye" - but as soon as I have said it, it goes straight out of my mind again. I just have to keep drinking until it sticks! After a while everything is so, so funny - every time I look at Artem we just both start giggling.

When we have finished eating, the leftover food is buried deep in a hole in the ground. Still a stray dog manages to find it and dig it out! Doh!

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We don't even need the LED flood light as the moon is so bright.

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With just one person in the tent, it offer plenty of space for the inflatable sleeping mat as well as the luggage. Artem complains we are party poopers when we retire to bed at 01:30

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Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this wonderfully exciting trip to Turkmenistan.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:20 Archived in Turkmenistan Comments (4)

Dashoguz - Konye-Urgench - Darwaza

The Gates to Hell


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

With David still being unable to put weight on his leg to walk, we take a serious discussion about the programme this morning; and when Meylis and Artem arrive, we tell them about our suggestion for Plan B:

Instead of driving from Turkmenabat to the village of Koyten where we have two days of walking in the Kugitang Mountains at the end of the trip, we propose that we return to Mary for a night, then continue to Ashgabat for the last night here in Turkmenistan. It seems totally pointless to travel all the way to the far north east of the country, seven hours drive each way, when David would be unable to do ANY walking when we get there.

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Discussing Plan B

It also means the journey home won't be so arduous, as the original plan saw us driving seven hours to Turmenabat, flight to Ashgabat, a few hours for change and a shower in Ashgabat, then fly home via Dubai – making it a heck of a long day.

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The boys think it should work, but obviously they have to check with the office, whose immediate reply is “of course”. The service from Owadan Tourism, the local agent here in Turkmenistan has really been excellent!

Pharmacy

Before we leave town, Artem takes me to a pharmacy so I can get something for my upset tummy, as the Ciprofloaxin isn't working. I am given some capsules and told to take one of the green ones and two of the silver. Getting it all mixed up, I take two of the green and one of the silver.

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I later find the green packet contains Tetracycline and the other one probiotics, so no real harm done by the 'overdose'.

Konya-Urgench

The UNESCO Heritage Site is the place of the the ancient town of Ürgenç, and the capital of Khwarazm Empire, parts of which are believed to date back to the 5th century BC.

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Its inhabitants deserted the town in the 1700s in order to develop a new settlement, and Kunya-Urgench has remained undisturbed ever since.

Many ruined buildings of the former town are dotted over a large area, and most tourists walk between one site and the next. With David's bad leg, however, we are given special permission to drive, and the barrier is lifted up for us to enter.

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Türabek Khanum Mausoleum

This is the largest and most impressive of the surviving monuments at Konye Urgench, the mausoleum is final resting place of Türabek Khanum.

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The story goes that a renowned architect was madly in love with Türabek and asked what it would take to win her love.

“Design me a unique building, like no-one has seen before” she said, “and I will marry you”

He does.

Still not satisfied, she stipulated: I need you to jump from the top of the building to prove you love me. Then I will marry you.”

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After he made his leap of love and broke both legs in the process, the cruel heartless woman stated with disdain that she couldn't possibly spend the rest of her life with a cripple. Ouch!

Instead Türabek married the ruler at the time (1321-1336) - Qutlugh Timur.

Türabek Khanum Mausoleum is recognized as one of the earliest monuments to make extensive use of mosaic faience (multi-coloured ceramic tiles).

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The inner dome is of particular interest with its 365 stars (one for each day of the year), 24 arches with 12 of them open to the elements, and the other 12 closed (to represent the 12 hours of daylight and 12 of night time). The 12 larger arches below denote the months of the year.

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And lastly, four large windows stand for the four seasons.

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The tomb chamber

Another interesting thing about the mausoleum is that while the outside shows eight sides, from the inside you can only see six.

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This drawing shows you how.

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Kutlug Timur Minaret

Legend tells that the minaret once had a golden dome atop with a fire inside, and when Genghis Khan arrived at this site, he thought he was seeing two suns and fired his catapult at the minaret, causing the top of the tower to lean. A much more logical story would be that it was caused by the Mongolians breaking a local dam, creating a considerable flood which undermined the structure.

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In the photo below you can see the entrance door is a considerable distance from the ground. When the minaret was built the access to it was via a bridge from a mosque close by.

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Inside the mausoleum there are 144 steps (12x12) in a spiral fashion (anticlockwise, of course, as it would be in Islamic architecture). At 62 metres high, it is the tallest building in Central Asia.

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The site includes a few more reminders of its once great importance at the time when Urgench was the capital of the Khorezm Empire.

Soltan Tekesh Mausoleum

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Sultan Ala al-din Tekesh was the founder of the Khwarezm Empire and its ruler between 1172-1200.

Fahr-ad-din Razi Mausoleum

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The mausoleum of famed Muslim theologian and philosopher (1149-1209) is one of the earliest surviving structures in Konye-Urgench.

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Kufic Arabic letters

Reading these intricately carved scriptures, taken from the heart of the Koran, is said to bring forth angels to protect you from the evil eye.

Najm ad-Din al-Kubra Mausoleum

The façade of Kubra's mausoleum (on the left) is leaning toward the Sultan Ali Mausoleum which stands directly opposite it, in what is believed to be a show of respect.

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Pilgrims make an anticlockwise circumbambulation around a piece of wood sticking up from the platform of the gukhana - the building which contains Kubra's cenotaph. The post is said to mark the traditional place where Kubra's head was cut off and buried during the Mongol conquest.

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Lunch

We stop in Konye Urgench town for lunch in a very touristy place with several other westerners. Both David and I order samsa – a pasty-like snack which traditionally is made from a choice of meat, spinach or pumpkin. Today we have the meat variety.

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Desert Drive

Driving out of town we head for the Karakum Desert and the adventure that lured me to this country in the first place.

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I love these little three wheel tractors - I have never seen those anywhere else

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There are miles and miles of cotton fields along the side of the road

After a couple of hours, we leave the sealed road behind and continue on sandy tracks.

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I have to pinch myself at this stage, as it doesn't seem real. For so many years I have dreamed about the burning crater of Darwaza, expecting it to be out of reach for me, and here I am, on my way to see it, and in a few hours I shall be feeling its heat.

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I gasp as we reach the top of a hill, and there, spread below me, is the flat desert floor. With a huge hole. Darwaza Gas Crater. Wow.

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Darwaza Gas Crater

The crater – or more accurately sink hole – far exceeds my expectations. Although I thought it would impress me after dark, I was not prepared for the sheer magnitude and drama exuded during daylight hours.

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Even the disappointment of finding the crater surrounded by a fence, does not take away from the extraordinary sight before me.

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The fence was erected within the last twelve months as The Mongol Rally made a stop here, and officials were concerned about drivers going over into the massive fiery hole. And quite rightly so: from a car it can be quite difficult to see the edge of the crater.

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I guess the fence is there more as a visual barrier than a physical one as such, as it has been broken down in many places, and is easy to climb across.

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The back story

Colloquially known as The Gates of Hell, the Darwaza Gas Crater was accidentally created in 1971 when a Russian drilling rig punctured a gas chamber which subsequently collapsed, taking the entire rig with it into the newly crated sink hole.

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Fearing the poisonous gases would create an environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. That was 48 years ago.

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We chat to four German guys who have travelled down from their home country in their campervan, a journey which took some three months. I am concerned that they have parked so close to a flaming crater with a massive gas cylinder on the side of their van!

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The temperature in the centre of the fiery cauldron is said to be between 6,000 °C and 7,000 °C. That is mighty warm! Standing close to the edge (where the flames reach around 700 °C), is OK for short periods, apart from downwind from the crater, where it is unbearably hot!

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Although I could stare into the flames for hours, we reluctantly leave the burning crater to head to the nearby yurt village, owned by Owadan Tourism, our local agent.

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I must admit that while it almost seems like sacrilege to build a (semi) permanent camp here next to the crater, the thought of having a proper bed and toilet facilities does rather please me. But first we are shown how the local chorek bread is made in traditional ovens.

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We get a chance to taste it as well.

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The general director of Owadan, who we met in Ashgabat, is here, and he explains how he leased this land to build up a solid tourism business here for people who want that little bit more comfort.

Horses and camels have been brought out here, for tourist rides and photographic opportunities.

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Our accommodation is not part of the main complex (which is occupied by a larger Belgian / Dutch group); we have a small, select camp with is much more private, with just 3 yurts for the four of us.

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It is set up on a hill, overlooking the crater.

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Chez nous on the right

The yurt is spacious, with three beds and a set of drawers.

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There is also a toilet block with cold showers and flushing loos. Plus a massive pile of toilet rolls. Now I know why there has been such a shortage of paper in all the bathrooms so far on this trip – all the rolls are here!

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In a small communal area we are served dinner, and get chatting to a couple from Brazil who flew in from Almaty in Kazakhstan this morning and are continuing to Baku in Azerbaijan later this evening. They are obviously 'collecting countries' and boast of having visited 120 so far. Meylis takes great delight in informing them that we can beat that, with over 150 countries and overseas territories. They struggle to understand why we'd want to spend two weeks exploring the one country, rather than moving on to one we haven't been to.

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The kitchen and dining area

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Vegetable soup

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Grilled chicken with grilled veg, tomato sauce, [] smetana[/i] (Russian style soured cream), chips and salad

Artem has gone off to fill the car up with diesel for the long journey across the desert over the next two days, and once he is back and has had something to eat, we all go down to the crater for a party.

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And what a party! The boss gifted us a bottle of vodka earlier, and we are joined by one of the other drivers called Max, as we share jokes and stare into the eternal flames.

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The fire in the crater is made up of thousands of little flames, and is stunningly spectacular. Photographs cannot do it justice, and I give up trying to take pictures, and just sit by the crater enjoying the moment. After all, I have dreamed of this place for so long.

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We eventually retire to our yurts, where I promptly get locked in the toilet! Eventually, after no-one hears my screams (for what seems like an eternity), I figure out that there is a double lock and you have to pull the door towards you and lift it at the same time as turning the key.

David has more luck in the ablutions block and comes back terribly excited, having seen a three-inch long scorpion on the path!

Even after the generator is switched off for the night, the moon lights up the landscape beautifully, and I go outside for one last photograph of the crater, before going to bed feeling unbelievably content, having just fulfilled a long time ambition and dream.

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Thank you Undiscovered Destination for making my dream happen.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:15 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged desert horses party flames fire unesco tractor camels ancient gates_of_hell scorpion pharmacy yurt turkmenistan minaret timur central_asia gas_crater undiscovered_destinations upset_tummy sink_hole karakum toilet_rolls darwaza ex_ussr karakum_desert dashoguz ciprofloaxin owadan_tourism konye_urgench tetracycline urgenc khwarazm soviet_central_asia tubarek_khanum mausolem kutlug_timur soltan_tekesh fahr_ad_din_razi kufi_arabic_letters najm_as_din_al_kubra darwaza_gas_crater darwaza_crater locked_in_toilet vodka_party yurt_camp chorek Comments (5)

Turkmenbashi - Dashoguz

A day of travel


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I don't know what I ate last night that didn't agree with me, but whatever it was certainly aggravated an already unsettled tummy. I won't go into detail, as I am sure you don't want to know. Suffice to say it was messy. Very messy.

Typically, the breakfast buffet this morning, as you'd expect from a five star hotel, is superb, but all I want is some plain bread. At least the bread is deliciously fresh.

A couple of times during breakfast I have to make use of the toilets in reception. Beautifully clean and modern, they have motion activated light sensors in each cubicle. I am all for saving the environment, but these have been set to switch off after three seconds. Between me reaching out to pick some paper, and actually using it, the light goes off. I spend more time waving my arms around trying to see what I am doing than actually doing it. If it wasn't for my awful upset tummy, it would be rather amusing.

We have a slightly later than normal start this morning, and while David hobbles back to the room to rest his poorly leg after breakfast, I wander around the hotel and grounds taking pictures.

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Our room

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David elevates his leg on cushions on our balcony

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The balcony overlooks the grounds

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The leaves on the trees are just beginning to change colour for the Autumn

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The accommodation is in villas featuring four rooms per building. Our room is bottom right.

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The entrance to the hotel

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I find this Instagram swing totally surreal, especially since Instagram is blocked in Turkmenistan

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The front porch

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Reception

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The bar

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Lounge area

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Patio

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Swimming pool

It's a shame we don't have time here to enjoy all these lovely facilities, especially as David could do with resting his leg, and I would love to be somewhere with a toilet easily accessible, rather than spending the whole day travelling.

When Meylis arrives, he arranges a taxi to take us back to the car park where the driver will be waiting for us.

According to our programme, Artem - the driver who has been accompanying us so far on this trip - is to pick us up at the car park this morning, then drop us off at the airport for our flight to Dashoguz, where another driver will meet us. Artem, apparently, has had so much fun driving us around, that he has begged his boss to do the rest of the trip with us too. This of course means he has to drive from here to Dashoguz, a 14 hour journey, so he set off right after he dropped us off last night. We are not just feeling greatly honoured that he enjoys our company that much; we are also delighted to have him as our driver - we find his driving safe and comfortable, he is courteous and fun to be with, and he plays great music!

It does mean, however, that we have another, local, driver for our tour this morning. Because of David's inability to walk, we do our city sightseeing by car rather than as a walking tour.

The Port

Turkmenbashi is the second city in Turkmenistan and has an impressive modern port. From here oil and gas is exported, and passenger ferries run across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan.

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Oil depot

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Japanese Cemetery

During WWII, some 3,000 Japanese prisoners of war were incarcerated in Turkmenbashi; and even after they were 'liberated', they were never permitted to leave the town and were employed as forced labourers. We see a number of houses in town that they built, distinguishable from the Soviet blocks and modern buildings by their architectural style.

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Turkmenbashi Airport

This modern terminal was built for the 2017 Asian Games and is desperately under-utilised now, almost empty.

In order to enter the terminal building, all our luggage has to go through a scanner while we enter through an X-ray arch. The machine bleeps ominously as I walk through, yet I am dismissively waved on. Much as it makes my life easier, it is frankly quite a ridiculous and futile exercise and no way to conduct a security screening.

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Two trolleys turn up laden with snacks, and for a while we watch the Tuck Shop Wars in the terminal as they both vie for customers. There is only our flight departing this morning, and we see only one person purchasing something.

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As usual we receive VIP treatment here, as Meylis takes our passports, tickets and luggage to check in for us. The same thing happens after we land in Dashoguz – we are ordered to sit down while Meylis collects our luggage.

My tummy is still troublesome, despite taking Ciprofloaxin antibiotics earlier. I hope I can get rid of the problem before we venture into the desert tomorrow.

Hotel Dashoguz

Having stopped off at the supermarket for essentials (water, vodka, coke and ice cream), we continue to our hotel. As we make our way along the wide avenue, I spot an impressive large marble structure, and exclaim: “Wow, look at that fab building”

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“That's your hotel” Meylis states, wryly.

Like other hotels here in Turkmenistan, the lobby is palatial, with polished marble and grandiose furnishings.

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The room is of a good size, with a comfortable armchair complete with foot stool for David to rest his poorly leg on.

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Dinner

The restaurant is equally grand, with padded seats, cloth-covered tables and fancy drapes. But no diners. Nor staff. We hang around for a bit, coughing and talking loudly hoping to attract someone attention, but although we can see people in the kitchen, no-one appears to greet us.

Having seen that there are several people in the bar as we walked past (including the first two westerners we've seen since we left Ashgabat), we decide to head back there instead. We find a small table as far away from the party of six Russians as possible – four of whom are smoking while the rest are eating. Having been used to non-smoking establishments for so long now, I find second-hand smoke quite revolting. It does, however, bring back memories of the good (bad) old days of my nightclubbing era, especially with the dim lighting and loud music.

Most bars in this country have a huge TV screen, and in the evening can be found showing Russian and western music videos. The music tonight is excellent, and the raunchy videos are bordering on being pornographic; which I find quite surreal in a Muslim country where the vast majority of women are dressed conservatively with headscarves and long flowing dresses which cover the arms and legs.

We order two small pizzas, and a drink – David has beer, but I have to have a Pepsi as they don't have Fanta or anything similar.

The pizzas, when they arrive, are huge; and here there is no napkin snobbery – we get neither a cloth nor a paper one!

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We retire to bed feeling as ready for the adventure ahead of us as we can be considering David can't walk and I have the runs. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private tour of Turkmenistan.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:05 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged flight cemetery port pizza turkmenistan turkmenbashi ig instagram undiscovered_destinations upset_tummy yacht_club domestic_flight caspian_sea yelken yelken_yacht_club dashoguz torn_calf_muscle turkmenistan_airlines japanese_cemetery tuck_shop ciprofloaxin Comments (6)

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