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.

large_f5b986d0-2d58-11ea-9b41-d55c0ae56d37.jpg

large_c49a7bb0-2cb6-11ea-8cb7-ffb25464204a.jpg

large_e91db650-2cb6-11ea-8cb7-ffb25464204a.jpg

large_17c8bbd0-2cb7-11ea-8cb7-ffb25464204a.jpg
Sunrise over Vestpollen

Vatterfjorden

large_aa34b640-2cb7-11ea-8cb7-ffb25464204a.jpg

large_129538d0-2d59-11ea-9b41-d55c0ae56d37.jpg

Tjelbergvika

large_ab625bc0-2db2-11ea-ade3-1d1b9c3cdb0d.jpg

large_b5544990-2db2-11ea-ade3-1d1b9c3cdb0d.jpg

large_059f44f0-2cb8-11ea-8cb7-ffb25464204a.jpg
Lyn at Tjelbergvika

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

large_2b669850-2cb8-11ea-8cb7-ffb25464204a.jpg

large_36801630-2cb8-11ea-8cb7-ffb25464204a.jpg

large_40692a60-2cb8-11ea-8cb7-ffb25464204a.jpg

large_5b0da250-2cbe-11ea-8b0e-91c4b260cd1c.jpg
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.

large_4e3f96a0-2cbe-11ea-8b0e-91c4b260cd1c.jpg

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.

large_7c927490-2cbf-11ea-a255-056903f3f2fa.jpg

large_fdc5a770-2cc5-11ea-8963-33a64bc48421.jpg

large_3d87a8c0-2ccd-11ea-b50d-0dd2341df14d.jpg

large_66655720-2f2e-11ea-bbd7-e34c5c43fd61.jpg

large_5a7ceb50-2ccf-11ea-ac7e-0798c2b084df.jpg
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.

large_c54f7500-2cd0-11ea-ba45-035322fb23ab.jpg

large_6b8232e0-2ce1-11ea-9e7c-617c50ab5591.jpg

large_8ce764a0-2ce1-11ea-bbdc-cb7ffddfe6a6.jpg

large_caaac8e0-2f2f-11ea-999d-951b7f69de2e.jpg

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.

large_e2324330-2ce1-11ea-bbdc-cb7ffddfe6a6.jpg

large_85d1c650-2ce2-11ea-9e7c-617c50ab5591.jpg

large_096f5130-2ce3-11ea-9e7c-617c50ab5591.jpg

large_54123100-2ce6-11ea-8b4d-8950208c5c30.jpg

large_5e28e4e0-2ce6-11ea-8b4d-8950208c5c30.jpg

large_5f3fddb0-2ce7-11ea-b94b-a91fe0ff8143.jpg

large_a5d77900-2ceb-11ea-863b-f9176e00fa00.jpg

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

large_60617050-2d55-11ea-aa25-e7e3fc1df36c.jpg

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.

large_59260120-2f30-11ea-999d-951b7f69de2e.jpg

large_13f18600-2f31-11ea-b372-11d1ac01dcf5.jpg

large_5cb76fd0-2f31-11ea-b372-11d1ac01dcf5.jpg

large_a27ff820-2f31-11ea-a205-3fef4dc52574.jpg

large_d1c81610-2f33-11ea-a5f0-d56cc19da9d4.jpg
How's that for a stone wall!

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

large_9105ccb0-2f35-11ea-a5f0-d56cc19da9d4.jpg

large_9a901f10-2f35-11ea-a5f0-d56cc19da9d4.jpg

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.

large_38ef7ca0-2f36-11ea-a727-e17cd6a0b107.jpg

large_794ab4e0-2f36-11ea-a727-e17cd6a0b107.jpg
The bridge to Gimsøya

large_b4895fb0-2f37-11ea-a727-e17cd6a0b107.jpg

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

large_17a14360-2f38-11ea-a727-e17cd6a0b107.jpg

large_6fcef690-2f38-11ea-a727-e17cd6a0b107.jpg

large_1e528fb0-2f39-11ea-a727-e17cd6a0b107.jpg
Gimsøya

Vestvågøya

large_2aab0b50-2f3b-11ea-a576-71630e1d956e.jpg

large_9809daa0-2f3b-11ea-a576-71630e1d956e.jpg

large_90f43c50-2f3c-11ea-a576-71630e1d956e.jpg

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

large_58ae09a0-2f3e-11ea-8441-e5213f0da19e.jpg

large_cb9b93b0-2f3e-11ea-8441-e5213f0da19e.jpg

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

large_a0989220-2f3f-11ea-8441-e5213f0da19e.jpg

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!”

large_419ad520-2f40-11ea-8441-e5213f0da19e.jpg

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.

large_9a436490-2fb7-11ea-80b0-95392197b231.jpg

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

large_a634a4d0-2fb7-11ea-80b0-95392197b231.jpg

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.

large_03322f90-2fb8-11ea-80b0-95392197b231.jpg

large_0d961910-2fb8-11ea-80b0-95392197b231.jpg

large_19150f80-2fb8-11ea-80b0-95392197b231.jpg

large_b0ccc410-2fbf-11ea-8d62-232181e3e9c1.jpg

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.

large_7fcf2690-2fc0-11ea-8d62-232181e3e9c1.jpg
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.

large_bda7dd30-2fc1-11ea-8d62-232181e3e9c1.jpg

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

large_c9b07600-2fc1-11ea-8d62-232181e3e9c1.jpg

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.

large_d811cbe0-2fc1-11ea-8d62-232181e3e9c1.jpg

large_e4ca53c0-2fc1-11ea-8d62-232181e3e9c1.jpg

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.

large_f12615a0-2fc1-11ea-8d62-232181e3e9c1.jpg

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.

large_affcc310-218b-11ea-88d9-35e66ff6bab9.jpg

large_bc0d2410-218b-11ea-88d9-35e66ff6bab9.jpg

large_43e9cd50-218e-11ea-9cf0-85c12b59fc95.jpg
Misty mountains at Delp

large_88d95ac0-218e-11ea-9cf0-85c12b59fc95.jpg

large_fdbb28d0-2190-11ea-9cf0-85c12b59fc95.jpg

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.

large_21d12940-21be-11ea-9f32-cb60d2417706.jpg

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.

large_c9fb93e0-218b-11ea-88d9-35e66ff6bab9.jpg

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.

large_ca5fcc90-218e-11ea-9cf0-85c12b59fc95.jpg
Driving towards Vestpollen

large_165afb50-2190-11ea-9cf0-85c12b59fc95.jpg
Near Osen

large_ebaf8fa0-2190-11ea-9cf0-85c12b59fc95.jpg

large_c26433b0-2192-11ea-9f0a-43916743af6a.jpg

large_0e2f5d80-21af-11ea-a905-c99b82c32170.jpg

large_fbfccca0-21b4-11ea-b216-617d4f603ac2.jpg

large_0784ead0-21b5-11ea-b216-617d4f603ac2.jpg

large_142f68f0-21b5-11ea-b216-617d4f603ac2.jpg

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

large_bb0ddb80-2196-11ea-9458-db5e632a520d.jpg
The bridge at Lyngvær

We cross another bridge on to Gimsøya Island.

large_8a987640-2196-11ea-9458-db5e632a520d.jpg

Sunrise has now turned into sunset. Just like that.

large_ffbf9fd0-219a-11ea-a080-fd48caa3e78c.jpg

large_14f80ef0-219b-11ea-a080-fd48caa3e78c.jpg

large_40c6c0c0-21a1-11ea-9367-371f247fad50.jpg

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

large_53ac25e0-21a6-11ea-a733-b785bf669472.jpg

large_60cc68e0-21a9-11ea-9474-716afc141f6f.jpg

large_494eeef0-21ad-11ea-a905-c99b82c32170.jpg

large_59ebb5e0-21ad-11ea-a905-c99b82c32170.jpg

large_ae16a580-21ad-11ea-a905-c99b82c32170.jpg

large_f415fba0-21b5-11ea-b216-617d4f603ac2.jpg

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.

large_0c7580d0-2265-11ea-ac30-856305b3f79b.jpg

large_3906ce10-2265-11ea-ac30-856305b3f79b.jpg

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

large_e7fced30-2267-11ea-a27e-73ab292ebbba.jpg

large_f30e2db0-2267-11ea-a27e-73ab292ebbba.jpg

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.

large_39c841f0-2268-11ea-a27e-73ab292ebbba.jpg

large_49929db0-2268-11ea-a27e-73ab292ebbba.jpg

large_533951b0-2268-11ea-a27e-73ab292ebbba.jpg

large_6c1a5670-2268-11ea-a27e-73ab292ebbba.jpg

large_80fb56c0-2268-11ea-a27e-73ab292ebbba.jpg

large_925b6db0-2268-11ea-a27e-73ab292ebbba.jpg

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!

large_819a3240-1f5c-11ea-bbdc-2f7896b8e98c.jpg
View from Frugga Feriehus in one direction...

large_8c8fad60-1f5c-11ea-bbdc-2f7896b8e98c.jpg
...and in the other

large_a693fc70-1f5c-11ea-bbdc-2f7896b8e98c.jpg
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.

large_f4451460-1f64-11ea-93c6-b1201d452b03.jpg

large_e53316b0-1f65-11ea-93c6-b1201d452b03.jpg

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.

large_32bf7320-1f6f-11ea-938a-4d86fc3acbdf.jpg

Vågen

large_4320aaf0-1f5f-11ea-84d3-21250e595991.jpg

large_4f337cf0-1f5f-11ea-84d3-21250e595991.jpg

large_59db7450-1f5f-11ea-84d3-21250e595991.jpg

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.

large_70cf95d0-1f62-11ea-aa05-8735c246df05.jpg

large_7f17be60-1f62-11ea-aa05-8735c246df05.jpg

large_8c66b9e0-1f62-11ea-aa05-8735c246df05.jpg

Bjørndalen

large_512e9760-1f64-11ea-93c6-b1201d452b03.jpg

large_5db7d1e0-1f64-11ea-93c6-b1201d452b03.jpg

large_676b0900-1f64-11ea-93c6-b1201d452b03.jpg

large_7163ad90-1f64-11ea-93c6-b1201d452b03.jpg

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

large_16ec8920-1f70-11ea-938a-4d86fc3acbdf.jpg
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.

large_058a21e0-1f68-11ea-8b20-2fa03f705352.jpg

large_c9090c00-1f66-11ea-93c6-b1201d452b03.jpg
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.

large_a7784420-1f6b-11ea-b6e4-b1df12e70181.jpg

large_85256c20-1f6d-11ea-8e86-6931da6e1f55.jpg

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!

large_f4bcbac0-1f77-11ea-90b1-2d53664ea2cd.jpg

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.

large_1fa86e50-1f78-11ea-90b1-2d53664ea2cd.jpg
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!

large_dd421070-1ffe-11ea-bea2-3d2304101276.jpg

large_e6d03360-1ffe-11ea-bea2-3d2304101276.jpg

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.

large_91ea00f0-1f78-11ea-90b1-2d53664ea2cd.jpg

large_9e7dc2c0-1f78-11ea-90b1-2d53664ea2cd.jpg

large_a997b5d0-1f78-11ea-90b1-2d53664ea2cd.jpg

large_b3c6d3b0-1f78-11ea-90b1-2d53664ea2cd.jpg

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.

large_8258f150-1fff-11ea-bea2-3d2304101276.jpg

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.

large_fc0bcfa0-1db5-11ea-be74-b718e3268390.jpg
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.

large_edde0670-1e71-11ea-80eb-c125f8805457.jpg

large_3edd0990-1db9-11ea-9a6a-2788a46fd260.jpg

large_4c0eb910-1db9-11ea-9a6a-2788a46fd260.jpg

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!

large_3d5cf1e0-1dbc-11ea-b210-dd41f2c6ab1d.jpg

large_819133b0-1dbe-11ea-be6d-1fd68aaeba7e.jpg

large_4e3e3480-1dbf-11ea-be6d-1fd68aaeba7e.jpg

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).

large_9c94bbc0-1de9-11ea-b879-976bb3e6a03d.jpg

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

large_ab07ebf0-1de9-11ea-b879-976bb3e6a03d.jpg

large_ca5d0260-1de9-11ea-b879-976bb3e6a03d.jpg
Quarry high on the hillside

large_e4fb6e60-1dc4-11ea-a485-337f060ec770.jpg

large_ab717ba0-1dc7-11ea-b1e7-9ddd4ed84a81.jpg
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.

large_e889d000-1dea-11ea-b879-976bb3e6a03d.jpg

Sunrise

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

large_d53b35b0-1dcd-11ea-ba25-15191c7119b0.jpg
A brief moment of sun

large_b785a2d0-1deb-11ea-b879-976bb3e6a03d.jpg

large_b0cca370-1dec-11ea-b879-976bb3e6a03d.jpg

And it's gone again!

large_06aa68a0-1dec-11ea-b879-976bb3e6a03d.jpg

large_c1077da0-1dd3-11ea-bea4-47dbdc31ae66.jpg
Straumsnes

Some places have more snow than others.

large_d0dd2e90-1dd4-11ea-bea4-47dbdc31ae66.jpg

large_52530200-1dd6-11ea-bea4-47dbdc31ae66.jpg

large_04481b30-1dd7-11ea-bea4-47dbdc31ae66.jpg

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.

large_21c618f0-1ddd-11ea-8455-15c71bfe25b4.jpg
Guvåg

large_53bff950-1df3-11ea-9605-0b9ccc1e8704.jpg
Is this Vesterålen's very own Loch Ness Monster?

large_4ecac4a0-1de1-11ea-b855-17d28b7d9c2f.jpg
Verhalsen

large_97424050-1de1-11ea-b855-17d28b7d9c2f.jpg

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

large_572fdb70-1de2-11ea-b855-17d28b7d9c2f.jpg

Icicles

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

large_19428400-1de4-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg
I really should have included a person for scale, but these rocks are around eight feet tall.

large_6217d720-1de4-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

large_6ec64ce0-1de4-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

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.

large_0f196420-1de5-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

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.

large_70b9f4a0-1de6-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

large_a78b0190-1de6-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

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.

large_4aa57630-1de7-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

large_a608d8f0-1de7-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

large_b1f3feb0-1de7-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

large_f3e34470-1de7-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

large_81122690-1de8-11ea-8fe6-13d47e0e9710.jpg

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


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

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.

large_a36dfd30-19de-11ea-a7bf-f7f1c2f786dc.jpg

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

large_748d5900-19ef-11ea-b454-7d4b76e99aa0.jpg

large_7e577380-19ef-11ea-b454-7d4b76e99aa0.jpg

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.

large_df4744e0-19e0-11ea-ad69-b3a53f82ef8f.jpg

large_ea98e9c0-19e0-11ea-ad69-b3a53f82ef8f.jpg

large_f6ce8600-19e0-11ea-ad69-b3a53f82ef8f.jpg

large_0306e160-19e1-11ea-ad69-b3a53f82ef8f.jpg

large_11c59980-19e1-11ea-ad69-b3a53f82ef8f.jpg

large_1be54e10-19e1-11ea-ad69-b3a53f82ef8f.jpg
The bridge across to Langøya

large_2db20980-19e1-11ea-ad69-b3a53f82ef8f.jpg

large_3a359eb0-19e1-11ea-ad69-b3a53f82ef8f.jpg

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!

large_bdd77d10-19e6-11ea-ab16-d52ee1b875f3.jpg

large_cc22b2e0-19e6-11ea-ab16-d52ee1b875f3.jpg

large_d7b41fe0-19e6-11ea-ab16-d52ee1b875f3.jpg

large_e1f78910-19e6-11ea-ab16-d52ee1b875f3.jpg

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

large_94a4b890-19f0-11ea-b454-7d4b76e99aa0.jpg

large_a5ac4f40-19f0-11ea-b454-7d4b76e99aa0.jpg

large_b812b2a0-19f0-11ea-b454-7d4b76e99aa0.jpg

large_c5602780-19f0-11ea-b454-7d4b76e99aa0.jpg

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.

large_02953930-19f4-11ea-adb9-17da34188e86.jpg

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).

large_1c3c4280-19f3-11ea-adb9-17da34188e86.jpg

large_25b57de0-19f3-11ea-adb9-17da34188e86.jpg

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

large_ada85010-1ffc-11ea-aff7-09410a4b77a1.jpg

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.

large_e1e7f050-19f4-11ea-adb9-17da34188e86.jpg

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

large_ec0051e0-19f4-11ea-adb9-17da34188e86.jpg

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


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

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.

large_bd42f4e0-12f9-11ea-9f58-675051def3ef.jpg

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.

large_cde8e390-12f9-11ea-9f58-675051def3ef.jpg

large_d8caafa0-12f9-11ea-9f58-675051def3ef.jpg

large_3d2704c0-12fb-11ea-9f58-675051def3ef.jpg

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

large_e7b9bf30-12fc-11ea-84d6-33bc515f4dee.jpg

large_8a372920-1300-11ea-86d2-7def56d3fff9.jpg
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.

large_bc7d35a0-1382-11ea-b76c-c1c6007c1677.jpg

large_488d9a50-1381-11ea-b76c-c1c6007c1677.jpg

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

large_6f081110-1381-11ea-b76c-c1c6007c1677.jpg

There are some impressive waves too.

large_ec35d000-1381-11ea-b76c-c1c6007c1677.jpg

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.

large_8edd8170-1389-11ea-945e-57d17fe98dbb.jpg
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.

large_eef5c440-138a-11ea-945e-57d17fe98dbb.jpg

large_f8e25ae0-138a-11ea-945e-57d17fe98dbb.jpg

large_811d02a0-138d-11ea-8da0-cdf208cbae2f.jpg

large_ffa76400-1390-11ea-832c-019fa0898519.jpg

large_0abb3c90-1391-11ea-832c-019fa0898519.jpg

large_70f21380-1391-11ea-832c-019fa0898519.jpg

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

large_d3fbb070-13bf-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

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.”

large_3b46b680-13c0-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

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.

large_d9c20b10-13c1-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

large_0dcc7360-13c1-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

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.

large_70ad7db0-13c3-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

large_f2094b60-13c2-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

large_fa7b01d0-13c2-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

large_0b70be30-13c3-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

large_13bb1680-13c3-11ea-a4e4-ad4ee653509a.jpg

Reindeer

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

large_e61c2100-192c-11ea-908a-8df0e81af453.jpg

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

large_01378560-192d-11ea-908a-8df0e81af453.jpg

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

large_2070d670-192d-11ea-908a-8df0e81af453.jpg

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

large_507ea040-192d-11ea-908a-8df0e81af453.jpg

large_4fe54670-192d-11ea-908a-8df0e81af453.jpg

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

large_4f8c29f0-192d-11ea-908a-8df0e81af453.jpg

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.

large_5c6f3ce0-1930-11ea-97c6-3573430520bd.jpg

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


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

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.

large_a49004b0-11eb-11ea-8d85-f34aab5acdf2.jpg
Risøyhamn Bridge

large_b754b4b0-11eb-11ea-8d85-f34aab5acdf2.jpg
Mountains reflecting in the still waters

large_c9fe62a0-11eb-11ea-8d85-f34aab5acdf2.jpg
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.

large_f9374b30-12e6-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

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

large_6830dec0-12e7-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

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.

large_cf1d2300-12e7-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

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

large_08a6e750-12e8-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

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.

large_9ba0f0f0-12e8-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

large_abcbbc30-12e8-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

large_c8ce0900-12e8-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

large_db6148c0-12e8-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

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.

large_d11adce0-12e9-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

large_e6de9c10-12e9-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg

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.

large_8bbeb580-12ea-11ea-815f-5f1f407341a5.jpg
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.

large_1a3cd720-12ef-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
Andenes Harbour

large_29253750-12ef-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
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.

large_9b992490-12ef-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

large_b3b50490-12ef-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

large_cb67c280-12ef-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

large_eab33c00-12ef-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

large_f9c5b970-12ef-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

large_07f1a770-12f0-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

Risøyhamn

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

large_71c3a680-12f0-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

large_7e6d6150-12f0-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
Icicles

large_90aeb080-12f0-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
That bridge again

large_b2ffc8e0-12f0-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
Cormorants on the bridge legs

large_27bf53d0-12f1-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
Red Breasted Merganesers taking off (a new bird for us - yay!)

large_4227bbe0-12f1-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
Flying into the sunset

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

large_8dd81b70-12f1-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

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

large_a1200530-12f1-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

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

large_09540bb0-12f2-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
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

large_7d9d5530-12f2-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

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

large_a9ec4240-12f2-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

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

large_da580a90-12f2-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg
Interesting foreground, but the lights are still rather pale and the moon somewhat dominates the picture

large_f0d49270-12f2-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

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

large_5a10ba20-12f3-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

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!

large_a584d400-12f3-11ea-b014-5742cdf34c0e.jpg

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.

large_8d0e5b70-12f4-11ea-ac65-bbb889ec84dd.jpg

large_988562a0-12f4-11ea-ac65-bbb889ec84dd.jpg

large_afb8b760-12f4-11ea-ac65-bbb889ec84dd.jpg

large_c6a454c0-12f4-11ea-ac65-bbb889ec84dd.jpg

large_d5070a30-12f4-11ea-ac65-bbb889ec84dd.jpg

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.

large_2082ec40-12f5-11ea-ac65-bbb889ec84dd.jpg

large_2e2f22f0-12f5-11ea-ac65-bbb889ec84dd.jpg

large_39290ae0-12f5-11ea-ac65-bbb889ec84dd.jpg

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


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

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.

large_f5014790-1102-11ea-b710-15d5381408ad.jpg

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

large_0d8426c0-1103-11ea-b710-15d5381408ad.jpg
Lounge area

large_220c58b0-1103-11ea-b710-15d5381408ad.jpg
Dining area

large_35d46ef0-1103-11ea-b710-15d5381408ad.jpg
Kitchen-diner

large_4434da70-1103-11ea-b710-15d5381408ad.jpg
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!

large_594994f0-1103-11ea-b710-15d5381408ad.jpg

large_e37ff790-1103-11ea-b710-15d5381408ad.jpg

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)

Ashgabat - Dubai - Heathrow - home

The long journey home


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

After breakfast we wander down to the lobby – partly to access the internet, and partly to get away from the drab room. An English-Danish couple approach us, asking if we know anywhere around the hotel to change money. They are very well travelled, and we hit it off immediately; so much so that they end up sitting there chatting to us for nearly three hours, sharing travel stories.

By this stage we manage to arrange a room swap, and thankfully return to something more comfortable. While we have stayed in very much worse rooms on our travels, they were never part of a four-star hotel!

With the help of a porter, we move out stuff over, followed by another room picnic using up all the leftover snacks. This room is a big step up from last night, with two chairs, a nice rug on the floor, two sets of towels, extra loo paper (that's a first in Turkmenistan!), two dressing gowns, extras pillows, a bolster on the bed, pretty bed spread, and two bottles of complimentary water.

large_e5cac920-90d8-11eb-be56-35c658362d1b.jpg

We take a nice long nap, followed by a shower, and get ready for dinner at 18:30. The restaurant is deserted. We are the only people there (yet they couldn't find us a decent room yesterday?), and the menu is limited.

We both order chicken in cream sauce and I ask for a Fanta. No Fanta, only Coke. Not being particularly keen on naked Coke (without rum or vodka, that is), I ask for an apple juice instead. As with everywhere else, they don't seem to provide individual cartons, so I end up with a whole litre of the stuff!

large_ea294bd0-90d9-11eb-8414-2b807ea9f454.jpg

They have no Berk beer (but there was some in the mini bar in the room earlier), only Zip Light. Light? At 11%? As Boney M says: “Oh, those Russians!”

large_e8ff4ac0-90d9-11eb-be56-35c658362d1b.jpg

The waitress brings over a huge basket of bread while we wait for the food. It is very fresh, and would be delicious with lashings of butter. No butter.

large_Bread.jpg

After a few minutes the surly-looking waitress comes back to explain that they have no chicken. I ask for beef stroganoff with rice instead, while David chooses beef in cream sauce with chips (or rather fries, we've made that mistake before here in Turkmenistan). When the food arrives, David's dish comes with rice and mine is accompanied by chips. Oh dear. The chef had TWO meals to make this evening.

large_ea436380-90d9-11eb-8606-775acdb5589e.jpg

large_ea4622a0-90d9-11eb-b53c-919297b80cd7.jpg

Locals do not eat with a fork and knife like we would, only a fork, using the bread to push the food onto the fork. The food is quite tasty, albeit a little greasy. We don't linger in the restaurant after the meal, but return to the room for a very short night.

large_0060acc0-917c-11eb-a0be-ff377cab8b6c.jpg
Tonight's sunset

Friday 20th September

We're up at 01:00 for a 02:00 pick-up. There is quite literally no traffic, so we reach the airport in just ten minutes, ready to start the rigmarole of getting through the bumbledom of official pomposity and nonsensical regulations.

large_000630b0-917c-11eb-8a5b-1d968120fedf.jpg

In order to enter the airport terminal, we are scanned and the luggage is X rayed, and passports are checked. As soon as we are deemed suitable to be able to get inside, we request a wheelchair for David. Airports in general are such huge places with miles of corridors to make even the most able-bodied traveller weary.

large_00475860-917c-11eb-8957-fdb1cd9660d5.jpg

At check in, we yet again have to show our passports, and by the time we reach the pre-security passport check, we are waved through in front of the queue waiting, without anyone even looking at out passports.

The security check is much the same – the carry-on luggage goes through the X ray, which detects what the official suggests might be a knife. I show him my nail file and again we are just waved through.

large_007f5850-917c-11eb-b633-f3b661cb328f.jpg

By the time we reach the boarding gate, our passports have been checked five times, and we've been through three X rays. Should be safe then. One of the benefits of travelling in a wheelchair, is that you do get priority boarding. Pushing David in the chair down the slope to the plane is hard work, not made any better by the fact that the rubber handles come off the chair where I have held on so hard to make sure it doesn't run away from me.

The plane between Ashgabat and Dubai is nowhere near full, and we get to have a row of three seats each. One poor chap has paid for two seats in order to have the extra space, and not only could he have got that without paying, the two seats he has been allocated are actually far part! Doh!!!!!

The second flight from Dubai to London Gatwick is full, however, and we end up with the two middle seats in a row of four – our least favourite seats. Arriving at Gatwick, we are amongst the first off the plane, and the porters point to a bunch of wheelchair just inside the tunnel “pick a wheelchair, any wheelchair...” It even comes complete with a porter to push this end, so I don't have to. In fact I struggle to keep up with them, and when the lift is not big enough for the three of us, I end up taking the escalators and have to run to catch them up again. We end up in a holding area, which has a great atmosphere, and while we wait for the electric buggy to come and collect us, we bond with fellow kindred spirits (ie other invalids).

large_ffd81bd0-917b-11eb-8667-f99f1c209ce4.jpg
In the buggy

At immigration, the buggy driver gathers up all the passports and takes them over to an official, who brings them back as soon as he has checked them out. The buggy drops me off at the luggage carousel and takes David right through customs to a pre-agreed meeting area while I collect our bags. After helping a girl who is on crutches get her bag, I meet up again with David outside Marks & Spencer for the short walk to where the Valet Parking chap is meeting us with the car.

The journey home takes almost twice as long as it normally does, due to series of traffic jams every few miles. David has booked an appointment with the chiropractor this afternoon, but we have to ring him and cancel, as we won't make it. Which is probably just as well – for the last few miles David's stomach has been feeling increasingly unsettled, and as soon as we walk through the door, it explodes both ends. It must have been something on the plane, as mine follows half an hour or so later. Welcome home!

Posted by Grete Howard 14:46 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged flight airport security dubai passport luggage plan wheelchair gatwick ashgabat diarrhoea room_picnic grand_turkmen_hotel delsey_dining fanta Comments (2)

Mary - Ashgabat

The beginning of the end


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

I had another dreadful night last night, with terrible insomnia, and when I did nod off, I was plagued with horrendous nightmares. But at least my upset tummy does seem considerably better this morning.

We try to check in on line for our flights home tomorrow, but get an error message saying “request failed, unable to access your details, please visit our desk at the airport”.

It's the last leg of our journey through Turkmenistan today, making our way back to Ashgabat. We start by trying to find a petrol station that sells 95 Octane petrol, but have to settle for 92 in the end.

large_38a7b2a0-8fe1-11eb-bfdd-3fd2b934e1b4.jpg
An enormous yurt leftover from the Nowruz celebrations in March (Persian New Year)

The roads are straight, there is very little traffic, the scenery is flat, with no trees, only small shrubs. It is all so, so, so, so dull, and I soon drift off into a lovely snooze, only to wake up when we arrive in the town of Tejen, where we are stopping for lunch.

large_bfc47500-8fe8-11eb-aa7b-4946093c93a3.jpg

As we get out of the car, the heat hits me like a slap in the face; after the efficient A/C inside the vehicle, it comes like a shock!

Ak Öyli Restaurant

Made out to look like a yurt camp, albeit one that is sheltered from the strong sun by a make-shift roof, this place offers an option of eating inside one of the yurts, or on tables at the back. We choose the latter, for two reasons: the yurts have no seating, but serve the food on rugs on the floor; and the heat inside the yurts is stifling compared with the outside where there is at least a little cooling breeze. We are also able to sit on chairs at a table, which is essential with David's poorly leg.

large_87638b30-8fe6-11eb-8cc5-415473e698c8.jpg

large_87301f20-8fe6-11eb-8cc5-415473e698c8.jpg

I order some kefir, in the hope that it will be good for my stomach.

large_30accb20-8fe7-11eb-8116-9972a3018929.jpg

The reason Meylis and Artem have stopped here, is that the restaurant specialises in the local dish known as 'manty' – a dumpling similar to the kinkali in Georgia, momos in India and the Chinese gao.

large_3088a150-8fe7-11eb-b5c0-5bdd53ffff34.jpg

I check the thermometer as we get back into the car; and it starts off at 36 °C, and continues to rise as we carry on towards Ashgabat, soon reaching 43 °C. No wonder I was feeling hot and bothered.

large_b7a7ee00-8fe9-11eb-aa7b-4946093c93a3.jpg

Having been complaining through the trip at the lack of vegetables served with meals in the restaurants, I am not surprised to see that even at the huge fresh produce market, there appears to be a total lack of vegetables for sale – the only ones we see, are a couple of stalls with squash.

large_f04ffa50-8fe8-11eb-aa7b-4946093c93a3.jpg

Sand Storm

Suddenly a huge wind blows up, bringing with it sand from the desert and reducing the visibility considerably.

large_e830bff0-9004-11eb-88e8-e965c1547390.jpg

large_ec907090-9004-11eb-88e8-e965c1547390.jpg

Tumble-weed blowing across from the desert makes it look like a scene from a film, and when a whole load of camels stroll down the road, that scene becomes even more bizarre.

large_e42dfc60-9004-11eb-a9d4-0f5af8baa4d6.jpg

large_e82a3040-9004-11eb-bfb9-6941d5a54ec0.jpg

Maylis was planning on stopping at the Silk Road site of Abywerd, a hitherto unexcavated Bronze Age settlement. At the moment it consists mainly of 180 earthen mounds, and Meylis figured it would be too windy to be worth a stop, with all the sand blowing everywhere in the desert.

We are very close to the Iranian border here, we can see their flag in the distance, and I receive a “Welcome to Iran” text on my phone.

large_e2582af0-9004-11eb-a9d4-0f5af8baa4d6.jpg
You can just about make out the flag in the dust storm

As we get nearer to Ashgabat, the wind seems to drop, and the air becomes clearer.

large_aab81e20-9018-11eb-a91d-fb397c70fa54.jpg

Ärtogrul Gazy Mosque

Built in 1993, this was the first mosque constructed after Turkmenistan's independence from the Soviet Union as a gift by the Turkish government and became a symbol of freedom and virtue. It is named after Ertuğrul, the father of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire.

large_35512fa0-9018-11eb-94e7-f94295233183.jpg

Reminiscent of the Blue Mosque of Istanbul (especially the view from the rear, which we did not see); this, the largest mosque in Ashgabat, can accommodate up to 5,000 worshippers at a time. We see two.

large_356d6a30-9018-11eb-a8d9-6ffa22b074c5.jpg

It is said that the lack of worshippers dates back to a bad reputation acquired during its construction, when several unexplained deaths occurred. This has resulted in making some people believe that there is a dark force connected to the mosque, bringing misfortune to those attending prayers.

large_350580a0-9018-11eb-94e7-f94295233183.jpg

Inside the mosque there is a large courtyard with a fountain, and its prayer hall abounds with paintings, gilding and stained glasses.

35fd0000-9018-11eb-a8d9-6ffa22b074c5.jpg

large_36fb3620-9018-11eb-a8d9-6ffa22b074c5.jpg

large_37cd5330-9018-11eb-a8d9-6ffa22b074c5.jpg

We stop nearby to pick up some take-away samsa for dinner – Artem has to drive to Darwaza this evening after dropping us off, to pick up some tourists who came in from Uzbekistan. We are more than happy to have another room picnic this evening.

Halk Hakydasy Memorial Complex

For our very last stop of the day – and indeed that of the tour – Meylis takes us to a memorial site known as 'People's Memory' on a hillside overlooking Ashgabat.

large_f6b6b6c0-90b2-11eb-96c2-eb401c22fc3e.jpg

The entrance is grand, and with the late afternoon sun reflecting off the gilded arch, it looks like the roof is on fire.

large_f6693300-90b2-11eb-9f9f-a3ca6b57b434.jpg

The complex consists of three separate memorials, and was officially opened on Turkmenistan Memorial Day in 2014.

large_433f4be0-90c9-11eb-b6d6-e7f2b16d364d.jpg

Ruhy Tagzym
Ruhy Tagzym is the most remarkable monument of the three, and is dedicated to the victims of the 1948 earthquake in which 90% of the Ashgabat population died. It is a bronze sculpture depicting a huge bull, supporting the Earth on his mighty horns.

large_91472cd0-90c5-11eb-9e28-edf5be52d7e7.jpg

Ancient legends tell of a bull holding the earth, with earthquakes caused when the bull shakes his horn and its deep bellowing being the underground rumbles; the monument symbolises the deep impression left on Turkmenistan's first president, Saparmurat Niyazov by the disaster, in which he was orphaned.

large_91114fc0-90c5-11eb-9e28-edf5be52d7e7.jpg

It's a poignant sculpture, giving a vivid description of the situation during the earthquake. We see bodies coming out of the cracks of the earth; and what is said to be Niyazov's mother's desperate last attempt at saving her son, holding him over the rubble of the city.

large_92495a90-90c5-11eb-9e28-edf5be52d7e7.jpg

Baky şöhrat
Also known as the Eternal Glory Monument to those who fell in the Great Patriotic War (a term used in Russia and some other former republics of the Soviet Union to describe the conflict fought between 1941 and 1945 along the the Eastern Front of World War II, primarily between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany)

large_980ef1e0-90c7-11eb-b6d6-e7f2b16d364d.jpg

Five tall steles with a base in the form of an eight-pointed star (the symbol of Turkmenistan, taken from the Islamic Star Rub el Hizb) surround the eternal flame.

large_988d70b0-90c7-11eb-b367-19cb695a9d2e.jpg

large_983d06c0-90c7-11eb-af83-199ee84ae926.jpg

Milletiň ogullari
The Sons of the Nation monument is to remember the heroes who died during the battle near Geok Depe; as well as commemorating those who fell in other battles for the Motherland. It depicts a mother waiting for her husband and sons.

large_9ad245b0-90c9-11eb-b6d6-e7f2b16d364d.jpg

Along the walls of the Museum of Remembrance are friezes with scenes from the conflict in Turkmenistan from 1879 to 1881, known as The Battle of Geok Tepe.

large_2f8b6470-90ca-11eb-b6d6-e7f2b16d364d.jpg

Grand Turkmen Hotel

After two weeks on the road together, it is sad to say goodbye to our driver Artem, who, despite the language barrier, has become a very good friend. Meylis, however, will be taking us to the airport the day after tomorrow.

The hotel only has wifi in the lobby, so while we are in the reception, we check out our emails and find we have received an message from Mark at Undiscovered Destinations, which includes our boarding cards! It seems our attempt at checking in for our flights on line this morning worked, but I guess that as Mark was the one who booked the flights for us, they were sent to him rather than us. Oh well, it's all good.

Our room features two very nice and comfortable chairs, but the A/C is not working. Reception send up an engineer to try and fix it, but he tells us it is "kaput”. He speaks no English and just walks away, so we prepare ourselves for a very hot night. Not long after, however, a porter arrives to take our luggage to a different room. Oh good.

large_7577dd90-90cc-11eb-886d-9f59e748fd5b.jpg
David's leg is no better

The new room, however, is very much inferior to the first one, and indeed to the one we stayed in at the start of the trip. There is only one chair, the room smells heavily of smoke, there is no carpet covering the bare floor boards, a tiny TV, just old and rough brown blankets covering the hard single beds with no fancy bedspread, only one bottle of complimentary water, one bedside light, and one set of towels. But at least it's cool! I get the distinct impression this is either part of the drivers' quarters, or an emergency room. We complain to reception, who inform us that they have no more twin rooms. Really?

large_75b27590-90cc-11eb-8b21-21be9c439783.jpg

We are too tired to argue, so we eat the samsa we bought earlier, washed down with vodka and Coke, and go to sleep.

large_7578a0e0-90cc-11eb-ae9b-f9d200810511.jpg

Yet again Undiscovered Destinations have arranged a fascinating trip for us.

large_9c5b9d70-90cc-11eb-8b21-21be9c439783.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 10:13 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged mosque memorial sculpture road destinations camels mary petrol silk earthquake islam dumpling wwii yurt nowruz ashgabat insomnia antibiotics central_asia manty undiscovered nightmares grand_turkmen_hotel geok_depe ex_ussr turkmeninstan ärtogrul_gazy_mosque kefir sand_storm iranian_border iranian_flag airport-check_in tejen ak_öyli_restauranthot milletiň_ogullari baky_şöhrat eternal_flame ruhy_tagzym halk_hakydasy_memorial_complex samsa Comments (1)

Türkmenabat - Mary

Not a good start


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

Having taken an early night last night, I wake up with a jolt at 01:30, panicking that I can't breathe and sit bolt upright in bed. Feeling extremely nauseous, I quickly rush to the bathroom, only to stumble straight from the bed into the wall opposite. By now I feel totally disorientated, unsure of where I am and what is happening; I am still struggling to breathe as I finally make my way to the bathroom to be sick.

I stumble back into bed, too knocked out to worry about anything, and slip into a deep and seriously disturbed nightmare. Half an hour later, I find myself back in the bathroom bending over the toilet to be sick. This cycle goes on for the rest of the night, with ghastly dreams and hallucinations worthy of any Stephen King horror film. By morning I feel like a wrung-out dish cloth, and after the night-from-hell, I decide to look up some information about the tablets I took last night.

Easier said than done. The writing is in Cyrillic (interestingly enough, they are produced in India), and I received no leaflets or information with them, not even a box. The pharmacist spoke no English, and the instructions she gave Meylis were scant.

My first port of call is Wikipedia to translate the Cyrillic characters into Roman letters, then I use Google to access information about the medicine.

large_5c9c4950-8e56-11eb-b808-89b64064b466.jpg

It seems I am taking Tinidazole and Ciprofloaxacin. I have plenty of experience with the latter, so it can only be the Tinidazole that has affected me. Further research discovers that the list of side effects basically described my gruesome experience step by step. Only coma evaded me last night – or at least as far as I know.

large_fc462840-8e56-11eb-b808-89b64064b466.jpg

I then read on and discover that my rum and coke in the room and beer in the restaurant most likely exaggerated my malaise last night.

large_42f259d0-8e57-11eb-b808-89b64064b466.jpg

“...unpleasant side effects...” is the understatement of the year!

Breakfast

We wander across to take the lift from our room on the 2nd floor up to the 4th floor for the restaurant. The lift door closes, we press the button, and the lift drops six inches then kaput. After pressing a few more buttons, with the lift refusing to budge, we (thankfully) manage to open the doors and walk up the stairs.

The lift in this hotel takes a little getting used to – we are in room 102, which is on the first floor as far as British people are concerned but the second floor in Turkmen terms (and Norwegian). For those not in the know, in Britain we talk about the main lower floor as 'ground floor', the one above that is 'first floor', the next one 'second floor' and so on. In Turkmenistan (which is also what I grew up with), the lower floor is called 'first floor', the one above 'second floor' and so on. The lift seems to be confused between the two different ways of denoting floors: the push button for our floor says 1, whereas the LED display above the door when we get there, displays 2. The first time we went up in the lift, we ended up on the floor above us and had to walk back down again.

large_e5366500-8eee-11eb-a807-57ab25c88113.jpg

Like the rooms, the restaurant is also simplistic modern, but with a white grand piano; and the waiter arrives climbing in through the window. Obviously.

large_e1b9cbf0-8eef-11eb-8982-6db1edf9a1e3.jpg

To start, we are served pancakes with a thick opaque liquid which appears to be some sort of syrup or toffee sauce; with brightly coloured bread rolls.

large_efde18d0-8eef-11eb-8982-6db1edf9a1e3.jpg

The main part of the breakfast is the usual meat, cheese and eggs, served with olives, tomatoes and cucumber.

large_6865f660-8ef0-11eb-8982-6db1edf9a1e3.jpg

Every bar and restaurant we have been to in Turkmenistan have been showing highly sexualised music videos on huge TV screens, even at breakfast time!

Cotton

Having changed our itinerary as a result of David's leg injury, we are heading back to Mary today, passing through areas with cotton plantation, something that is a bit of a curiosity to me.

large_d9214c40-8ef2-11eb-98ee-a14d3581d896.jpg

large_de126770-8ef2-11eb-98ee-a14d3581d896.jpg

large_e1bef4b0-8ef2-11eb-98ee-a14d3581d896.jpg

large_e5394e60-8ef2-11eb-98ee-a14d3581d896.jpg

Wedding

We also come across a wedding cavalcade with both western style decorations and one with a lot more local flair.

large_fd6e2d40-8ef5-11eb-9080-a18845c06c00.jpg

large_007cf3e0-8ef6-11eb-9080-a18845c06c00.jpg

Merv

We see remnants of the 15th century walls of this famed Silk Road oasis long before we reach the main archaeological site.

large_d6ecc9f0-8efb-11eb-8cc5-2bce885b3258.jpg

Merv, a definite highlights of this trip, was one of the most important cities of the Silk Road, and served as the capital of a number of empires and kingdoms over the course of its more than 4,000-year-long history.

large_d4e18340-8f40-11eb-96a9-0fec6d34f69f.jpg

Greater Kyz Kala Fortress.
Locally known as the Maiden Castle, as a result of the hair pin found here during excavations, whereas tourists have colloquially named it the Tiramisu Fort on account of the sides being reminiscent of the finger biscuits used in the famous dessert. The corrugated look is in fact designed to prevent erosion. It has obviously worked!

large_e7862820-8f40-11eb-96a9-0fec6d34f69f.jpg

It is believed that the Kiskala was built in the 7th century AD, when the Arabs invaded Merv, reinforced by the discovery of Arab coins. National Geographic suggests it was used as an elite rural residence. The structure is the largest ancient monumental köshk (castle mansion) in Central Asia

Lesser Kyz Kala
Known as the 'Boys Palace', legend tells that young men wishing to marry the girl of their dreams should use a slingshot to fire an apple from this much smaller castle, for the girl to catch it in the Maiden Castle. Given the distance between the two, it is no wonder the city died out.

large_473b1010-8f54-11eb-8a89-439038558671.jpg

There are plans to restore and reconstruct this UNESCO Heritage site, and we can see a number of mud bricks ready to be used.

large_c8d7bc80-8f41-11eb-9f30-7b386d96c0a6.jpg

Gäwürgala Town Walls
Reputed to be founded by Alexander the Great, Merv first became a significant centre under the Achaemenian Empire in the 3rd Millennium BC, and It was subsequently ruled by the Sassanids, Greeks, Arabs, Turks and Persians. It was from Merv in the 8th century that Abu Muslim proclaimed the start of the Abbasid revolution. At the height of its importance as the eastern capital of the Seljuk Empire in the 11th and 12th centuries, it was a vital centre of learning. Here Omar Khayyam worked on his celebrated astronomical tables. Meylis points out where each of the rulers have left their mark, sometimes through extensions of the same construction.

large_70244ca0-8f43-11eb-8ebb-b91e077952ae.jpg

By the 12th century, Merv was the largest city in the world. At this point I have to admit my ignorance, and confess that until I started researching for our trip to Turkmenistan, I had never herd of Merv. As one article states, it is “one of the most famous cities you’ve (probably) never heard of.” Archaeologists have found evidence in this older Merv of a cosmopolitan urban society, boasting communities of Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Manicheans, Christians and Jews.

large_f88ae660-8f45-11eb-9c07-85773870b494.jpg

But only a decades later, in 1221, Tolui Khan, the fourth son of the notorious conqueror Genghis Khan, entered the city with his Mongol army. Tolui promptly ordered his soldiers to kill every single one of Merv’s inhabitants after they refused to pay tribute to the great Mongol warlord. In all, it’s said the devastating Mongol destruction of Merv left between 700,000 and 1 million people dead, including several hundred thousand refugees that had been seeking shelter nearby and were swept up in the carnage.

The hole in the wall you can see in the image below was created during the devastating attack by the Mongol army.

large_138a5e50-8f46-11eb-9c07-85773870b494.jpg

Abdullah Khan Kala
Not much remains of the fortress erected by Timur's son Shāh Rukh in the 15th cent. In its heyday, it was covered with mud bricks on the outside, with 44 watch towers. The fortifications were surrounded by huge water filled moats up to 30 m wide, with the only drawbridges in Central Asia at that time.

large_10e0b360-8f4c-11eb-aa14-cb23b026122a.jpg

Tombs of the two Askhabs
The Askhabs were 'standard bearers' of the Prophet Mohammed. The 7th century tombs belong to al-Hakim ibn Amr al-Gifari on the left, while the larger toms is that of Buraida ibn al-Huseib al-Aslami, who was the first Arab to arrive in Merv in 651, to convert the Zoroastrians, Jews, and Persians to Islam. At the time, Merv was known as 'The City of Infidels'

large_e54c5df0-8fb2-11eb-8cf1-85ea052ebaef.jpg

The two large portals (known as iwans) behind the tombs are much newer, constructed by Shāh Rukh (Tamerlane's son) in the 15th century.

We are both really feeling the heat this morning. While the thermometer in the car says a mere 36 °C, it feels more like 46 °C. Keep drinking that water, girl, keep drinking!

Sardoba
Built in 1140, the underground reservoir, designed to keep water cool, has been lovingly restored. The original dome was clad in blue tiles, reported to be visible a day’s march away.

large_e418ae00-8fb4-11eb-b7ef-cd0bcbf6532b.jpg

large_f4c9c040-8fb4-11eb-b7ef-cd0bcbf6532b.jpg
Restored bricks

large_03cde5d0-8fb5-11eb-b7ef-cd0bcbf6532b.jpg
We can just about make out water at the bottom

large_1cb04a20-8fb5-11eb-b7ef-cd0bcbf6532b.jpg
Detail on the original stucco

The Tomb of Hodja Yusuf Hamadani
Born in 1048, Hamadani is regarded as one of the founders of Sufism. He died in 1140 on the way between Herat and Merv, after which his body was was carried to the city and buried here.

large_9a4711d0-8fba-11eb-87ea-d594dea8370f.jpg

large_a8cf2990-8fba-11eb-87ea-d594dea8370f.jpg

The mosque was built in his honour in the 16th century by the Timurids and was one of the very few mosques in Turkmenistan that was allowed to operate, albeit under tight control, during the Soviet period.

large_b8b46050-8fba-11eb-87ea-d594dea8370f.jpg

This site is one of the most important places of shrine pilgrimage in Turkmenistan, and we see members of the Buluk tribe, who are refugees from Pakistan. While illegal, they apparently live peacefully in the village by bribing officials.

large_c4c5d2c0-8fba-11eb-87ea-d594dea8370f.jpg

Local people are very superstitious, and many come here to make a wish for a new car, more money, better job, good health etc, by placing bricks leaning against each other, much as western people may create spiritual rock cairns.

large_44590380-8fbc-11eb-a9f8-4f72fd9767c1.jpg

large_44b4df20-8fbc-11eb-a3d0-87e178bc0ece.jpg

Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar
Hailed by UNESCO as a “unique artistic and architectural achievement comparable in importance to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Taj Mahal”, the mausoleum is also known as Dar-al-Akhyre (" The Other World").

large_75118810-8fc3-11eb-9809-c36b33a7a09e.jpg

large_0ed193f0-8fc4-11eb-acfc-91a5916c669a.jpg

The Sultan, who died in 1157, is revered as 'Alexander the Great of his time', and the mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage of thousands of believers and a main tourist attraction, yet we have the place to ourselves.

large_e8ef8ca0-8fc3-11eb-95f4-6353601b4402.jpg

Unusually, the mausoleum was built while he was still alive, and was restored in 2002 by the Turkish government as a gift to Turkmenistan. The building would have originally stood, not in its current isolation, but as part of a complex of religious buildings, including the city’s main mosque. The monument's foundations and walls were built so strongly that Mongol invaders were unable to destroy the tomb even after setting it ablaze.

large_73ba0e60-8fc3-11eb-9809-c36b33a7a09e.jpg
The tomb prior to restoration

large_7495ef70-8fc3-11eb-9809-c36b33a7a09e.jpg
Stele commemorating the Turkish efforts in the restoration

The cenotaph on the floor of the mausoleum was a 19th-century addition, and is not the tomb of Sultan Sanjar.

large_c24cf470-8fc3-11eb-95f4-6353601b4402.jpg

There is a legend attached to Sultan Sanjar (oh, how I love such legends!). Despite never having seen her, but having heard all about her great beauty, Sanjar fell in love with a girl known as Peri (the name for a Persian supernatural being). Upon asking her to marry him, she stipulates three conditions:

1. You are not allowed to watch me walk or look at my feet.
2. You may not watch me comb my hair
3. You must not hug me

One day when Sanjar opens the door, he accidentally spots her walking, and it appears that her feet do not touch the ground. When curiosity gets the better of him and he later opens the door again, the Peri is combing her hair, having removed her head from her body. As soon as she spots him, she puts her head back. Dismayed by these revelations, the Sultan exclaims “I don't care how you are, I want you!” and promptly embraces her, only to find her body is devoid of bones.

With the Sultan having broken all three rules, the Peri immediately turns into a dove, soaring high in the sky. Sanjar tearfully begged her: "I shall die if I don't see you again”, to which she replied: “in order to see me, you must construct a building with an opening in the dome so I can fly in; then come every Friday to see me”.

Sultan Sanjar promptly started construction of the building which was later to become his mausoleum, and every Friday devotees still come to see the Peri, in the incarnation of a dove, fly through the structure.

Despite today not being a Friday, we are delighted to spot a dove flying in through the hole in the roof; although I wasn't quick enough to grab a photo.

large_25543650-8fc4-11eb-acfc-91a5916c669a.jpg

The sheer size of the city and its ruins makes Merv among the most impressive and complex archaeological sites on Earth, and there is so much more to see. Artem has been driving us all around the walls, rather than David trying to walk on his poorly leg. It is now time to head back to Mary and a free afternoon for David to rest that leg.

large_d4ca5050-8fc5-11eb-824d-fd30c9d37009.jpg

Meylis is trying to persuade us to stay one more night here in Mary, and then travel from here straight to the airport for our flight home, partly because he really likes it here, and partly because he is concerned that he'll be immediately sent off with more tourists on another trip if he returns to Ashgabat tomorrow. Our flight home is in the evening the day after tomorrow, and it would undoubtedly be better for David to rest his leg up in the hotel in Ashgabat before the long flight rather than to sit in the car for several hours that day. We therefore decide to stick to Plan B and move on tomorrow (Plan A was to go trekking in the far north east of the country, obviously totally out the question as a result of David's injury).

large_fd314c70-8fd3-11eb-a7d0-cb6151bd270d.jpg
Modern bus shelter in front of a Soviet style apartment block in Mary

large_b28ee830-8fd8-11eb-b567-7b1b49187b57.jpg
I love the fact that the bus shelters are fully air conditioned to deal with the hot Central Asian summers

Aladdin Café

But first, lunch. We head back to the Aladdin café near our hotel in Mary, with its great food, reasonable prices and good atmosphere.

large_e0ed98e0-8fcc-11eb-9194-3fa3bff14fdf.jpg

We get all this, plus 1.5 litres of Fanta (most restaurants in Turkmenistan do not have small bottles or cans of pop, only these big ones), bread and watermelon for less than $30. With prices like these, which are cheap for us, but expensive for the locals, we have been paying for Artem and Meylis' meals every day.

After a much welcomed snooze, we have a room picnic this evening, also known as 'Delsey Dining' after the famous suitcase, once the luggage-of-choice for any self-respecting air crew who would often bring foods with them from home to eat in the room, and pocket their daily dining allowance. No alcohol for me today, though – I don't want to go through that experience again tonight thank you very much!

large_666ab0d0-8fdb-11eb-841a-1f969d6ccb0f.jpg

One of the main benefits of eating in the room tonight is that David is able to elevate his leg, which seems to be turning more purple by the minute.

large_8ea10860-8fdb-11eb-841a-1f969d6ccb0f.jpg

Even without alcohol, I start to struggle with my breathing, develop hot flushes, and the diarrhoea has returned this evening, despite staying away all day. It does seem that the body knows when there are no toilets around, such as in Merv this morning. Like most other hotel rooms we've stayed in, this one only offers one nearly empty spare toilet roll.

Many thanks to Undiscovered Destinations who have yet again arranged a fascinating trip for us.

large_4738bd50-8fdc-11eb-841a-1f969d6ccb0f.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 09:18 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged mosque ruins tomb muslim unesco greek dome pilgrimage mary archaeology ancient_city vodka mausoleum zoroastrian islam cotton dove pharmacy turks superstition wikipedia lift turkmenistan legend refugees tiramisu cyrillic merv silk_road cipro arabs antibiotics reservoir medicines peri stucco central_asia mongols undiscovered_destinations turkmenabat wedding_cars nightmares room_picnic leg_injury aladdin_café sardoba -ex_soviet bruising google_translate tinidazole ciproflaxin ciprofloaxacin dizzy side_effects grand_piano cotton_plantations kyz_kala omar_kayyam achaemenian_empire sassanids persians abu_muslim seljuk tolui_khan ghengis_khan mongol_sacking mongol_army andullah_khan_kaka askhabs ice_house sufism hodje_yusuf_hamadini timurids rock_cairns sultan_sanjar delsey_dining Comments (2)

Mary - Türkmenabat

Another city, another museum


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

I slept well last night, until 5am this morning, although I did have lots of strange 'fantasy' dreams. David's leg is worse today, despite spending some considerable time last night with it elevated.

large_3bdb5690-8e45-11eb-91df-ab716bd21522.jpg

The barman from two nights ago, recognised me as I walk through on my way to breakfast, and even smiled – which is quite something, as Turkmen don't generally appear to smile much.

We are checking out of the hotel in Mary this morning and continuing to Türkmenabat in the north east near the border with Uzbekistan.

large_b3d26ec0-540e-11eb-a565-2f6747d58cdc.jpg

As soon as we leave the confines of the built up area, we are struck by the huge disparity between the clean, modern, wealthy looking cities in Turkmenistan, and the countryside where life still carries on in a much more traditional and simplistic way.

large_5308cb60-540f-11eb-a565-2f6747d58cdc.jpg

large_62ee0220-540f-11eb-a565-2f6747d58cdc.jpg

large_6cdc1f60-540f-11eb-a565-2f6747d58cdc.jpg

large_72a83140-540f-11eb-a565-2f6747d58cdc.jpg
Cotton transport

Police Checkpoint

Every few kilometres there is a police check point. The police, like so many other places in the world, are not only devious and hiding behind bushes and trucks when speed checking, they are also open to bribes. Many vehicles have speed check radars, and cars going the opposite direction practise 'positive reporting' by flashing their headlights and signalling: 1 finger in the air means there is a radar ahead, while waving of the palm means the road is clear. With so little traffic on the road, we see most oncoming drivers do this.

large_e3bc0000-5414-11eb-b5fa-050239247ab3.jpg

PYGB refers to the department looking after exit and entry between the separate provinces, whereas PYGG is the regular police service.

large_5fd84ef0-5415-11eb-b5fa-050239247ab3.jpg

We are stopped and Artem is asked for his driving licence, our official tourism permits (checking that is has been stamped), plus Meylis has to give all his personal details such as name, address, guiding licence and phone number).

Türkmenabat

large_911bf4b0-8cc0-11eb-9241-3b5b1ced8063.jpg
Türkmenabat City Hall

Being so close to the Uzbek border, Türkmenabat would have been the first city merchants reached within the country when travelling along the Silk Road from Uzbekistan. The name means “city built by Turkmen”. In the old days, the place was known as Amul.

large_88921b00-8cc3-11eb-9119-1d10d2545b32.jpg
Wedding Palace

Restaurant Praga

We stop at a very nice restaurant for lunch, in a style of how I imagine a 'Gentleman's Club' in London looks like, with all dark wood and a giant old-fashioned globe.

large_0f4bcf70-8cc3-11eb-9119-1d10d2545b32.jpg
When we arrive, Artem notices that the tall clock in the background is not working, but by the time our food arrives, Artem has fixed it.

Scattered around the place are eclectic decorations, such as a toy Mini car, a Routemaster double decker London bus and a scale model of the Parliament in Budapest.

large_499a6a60-8cc3-11eb-9119-1d10d2545b32.jpg

The cutlery is wrapped in individual monogrammed cloth pouches.

large_718dec90-8cc3-11eb-9119-1d10d2545b32.jpg

Even in the toilets, there are single use monogrammed terry towels, as well as flashing mirror lights.

large_4cfc3d90-8cc4-11eb-9c93-a38c9cab9b55.jpg

Meylis and Artem both have fajitas for lunch, with the latter complaining about there being too many vegetables on his plate: “I'm not a cow!” he says, and proceeds to eat the meat and tortilla, leaving all the veggies on the side. The guy seems to live on meat, bread, vodka and cigarettes.

large_fa93eca0-8d5f-11eb-849a-ff5ab7404e34.jpg

large_06ee00d0-8d60-11eb-849a-ff5ab7404e34.jpg

Artem is a terrible flirt – or should I say an 'excellent' flirt, and despite not understanding what they are saying, it is obvious that there is some pretty magic chemistry between him and the waitress.

I order chicken stuffed with cheese and mushrooms, and supplement it with Artem's discarded vegetables.

large_16dcad70-8d60-11eb-849a-ff5ab7404e34.jpg

Unlike our driver, I am of the opinion that a meal without veggies is not a proper meal. That is one of the downsides of eating out when travelling – they rarely serve enough vegetables for my liking. Side vegetables are almost unheard of here in Turkmenistan, and although most menus offer a selection of salads, they are mostly made up of tinned vegetables and mayonnaise.

Türkmenabat Museum

After lunch Artem takes us to the local museum. As we arrive, Meylis looks a little concerned, and asks us to wait in the car while he checks it out. After a few minutes he comes back laughing, explaining that the museum has recently moved to a new purpose built place in another part of the city, and this somewhat run-down pre-Soviet building that we are pulled up in front of, now houses the Pensions Department.

The new building is stunning, in keeping with the majority of modern Turkmen architecture, and boasts the largest diamond-shaped roof in the world.

large_9fb62d20-8eea-11eb-9764-d915f2059244.jpg

The museum has not been open very long at all, and they are anything but organised: they have no English speaking guides and have 'run out of' even Russian and Turkmen speaking ones. They also don't have any change when I pay 50 manat for the camera fee (just over £10), but they promise to let me have the other 50 manat by the time we leave. I am told "no photos of our leader" - numerous exhibits show images of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.

large_8849bfc0-8d65-11eb-8c35-7b3bcd05bbfb.jpg
Sheep and camel wool, including the black karakul, which we can see in the photo on the wall behind

large_f8a68cd0-8d65-11eb-8c35-7b3bcd05bbfb.jpg
Medicinal plants

large_a1067e30-8d66-11eb-8c35-7b3bcd05bbfb.jpg
Chemicals produced in a factory here in Türkmenabat: Sulphur, Bentonite, Ammonium Superphosphate, Meliorant, Granulated Superphosphate, Chalk.

The Silk Road
The museum focuses heavily on the fact that Türkmenabat – or Amul as it was known then – was an important city on the ancient trade route.

large_8b3dc6e0-8d6f-11eb-8e2d-57662eb2fe54.jpg
Map of the famed Silk Road routes within Turkmenistan. The name 'Silk Road' is a bit of a misnomer, as it was not just one single road, but a network of trade routes from the 2nd century BC until the middle of the 18th century.

large_6eeb1be0-8eec-11eb-8d7a-998874716519.JPG
Map showing the main routes (from Wikipedia)

large_c12d4d70-8d6f-11eb-8e2d-57662eb2fe54.jpg
Diorama depicting a camel train on the Silk Road

large_cf211ff0-8e29-11eb-b30f-6195d8d0bd69.jpg
These domes, known by their Persian name of Sardoba, are cupolas built over fresh water sources and areas of rainwater accumulation, to ensure that the water does not evaporate and stays cool. These installations were built every 30-35 kms along the Silk Road and are indicative of a unique hydro-engineering ability.

large_f044df10-8e2d-11eb-b499-059830baf833.jpg
Similar to those found in India, Mesopotamia and Egypt, the irrigation systems of the ancient Central Asian civilisations rely on a water-dipping device consisting of a wheels and gear train operated by draught animals walking in a circle. The ceramic vessels are known as chigìr’.

The Silk Road covers a distance of some 12,000 kms, and was a well developed merchant trade route. Caravanserais were built along the route, featuring rooms for relaxation or overnight stays, as well as space where the horses and camels could be fed and watered and provided with shelter from the weather and any wild animals.

large_c0362380-8e30-11eb-97a5-131d1423a6b5.jpg
Diorama featuring Daya Khatyn Caravanserai

Many of the caravanserais also doubled as 'shopping centres', where goods from China, such as silk, iron, nickel, fur, and paper were traded with local Central Asian goods: woollen fabrics, carpets, jewels, ceramics and thoroughbred horses; as well as tea, perfume and incense arriving from India.

large_dded1a50-8e30-11eb-97a5-131d1423a6b5.jpg

large_1c1e6db0-8e31-11eb-97a5-131d1423a6b5.jpg

large_6c7f35f0-8e31-11eb-97a5-131d1423a6b5.jpg

In the Middle Ages, Turkmenistan was well known as a centre of education, and book-trading was widespread throughout Central Asia. The diorama shows a cleric in a madrasa (Islamic religious school)

large_f521c0e0-8e2b-11eb-92a3-ab6a0eb81bb0.jpg

Pharmacy

On the way to the hotel, we stop to get some stronger tablets for my upset tummy.

large_e367bfc0-8e4f-11eb-b925-896e7622a8e4.jpg

Yupek Yoly Hotel

A strange mix of minimalistic modern and classic Turkmen luxury, the hotel has an interior atrium with the rooms off a central gallery overlooking the reception area from each floor.

large_38866690-8e42-11eb-b21a-d9e86635b324.jpg

While the lobby is fairly traditional, the rooms remind me of a cheap European motel.

large_1d6b0230-8e42-11eb-b21a-d9e86635b324.jpg

Except the bathroom, which has an ultra-modern power shower with more bells and whistles than I know what to do with; and huge mirrors on two of the walls. Thank goodness for steam!

87a7f810-8e42-11eb-b21a-d9e86635b324.jpg 8c7a40a0-8e42-11eb-b21a-d9e86635b324.jpg

The shower runs out of hot water before we are both able to have finish our ablutions, however, and while we have two hand towels, they have only provided one bath towel.

The door, on the other hand, is in the same ornate style we have seen elsewhere.

large_d724c8f0-8e42-11eb-b21a-d9e86635b324.jpg

By now, David's leg is beginning to show some serious bruising. Should we be worried? We try and contact John, our chiropractor, which is easier said than done from Turkmenistan where all social media is banned, along with several popular websites offering emails. We have no mobile signal on our phones either, but we do finally manage to get through via gmail.

large_8c7d3020-8eed-11eb-8594-c32a10557bfd.jpg

Restaurant-Club Traktir

Looking more like a brothel than a posh restaurant, this place is one of the two best eateries in town (the other one being Restaurant Praga where we had lunch). When I see an American Embassy car outside, I realise it can't be all bad. Or can it?

large_a7315630-8e48-11eb-9132-e9ba63f0349b.jpg

Entrance to the restaurant is down a long corridor with flashing light nets.


Seating is in individual booths, with glistening black flock wallpaper, and black and gold ceiling. (it's an awful photograph, but it gives you some idea of what the restaurant looks like)

large_3758ad40-8e48-11eb-9132-e9ba63f0349b.jpg

large_15fd4a10-8e49-11eb-9132-e9ba63f0349b.jpg

I notice a couple of little amusing translations on the menu, such as “second blouses”, “chicken on a green cushion”, and “beef in gold ring”

large_d3bd9a60-8e48-11eb-9132-e9ba63f0349b.jpg

The food – descriptions below as it appears on the menu – is extremely good.

large_38706200-8e4c-11eb-ab56-f3df161ba0b9.jpg
Roast beef with mushrooms and potatoes, with garlic aroma and fresh cut herbs.

large_4e5c3810-8e4b-11eb-bb50-09a78f68afaf.jpg
Pallo-Segretto – meat balls with cheese filling

large_3bfc47e0-8e4c-11eb-ab56-f3df161ba0b9.jpg
Toretta – gastronomic tower of chop veal and chicken filet, laid by layers with vegetable streaks of eggplant, tomatoes and rennet cheese.

Artem wants to stay in the bar, drinking, but both David and I are feeling less than enthusiastic this evening.

large_11a7c0b0-8e4b-11eb-bb50-09a78f68afaf.jpg
The garish-looking bar - apologies for another rubbish mobile phone photo

When we get back to the room, or in David's case, hobble back to the room, I still have diarrhoea, and take some of the tablets I bought earlier. We can hear loud music which appears to be emanating from just the other side of our room; with what sounds like a live stage with a boy band and screaming girl fans, almost rioting.

On that note, we go to bed, after another interesting day here in Turkmenistan, as arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

large_a3be07c0-8e50-11eb-b925-896e7622a8e4.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 10:20 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged police museum russia mary pharmacy turkmenistan caravanserai soviet_union ex-soviet permit central_asia undiscovered_destinations upset_tummy turkmenabat diarrhoea police_checkpoint drivers-licence tourism_permit türkmenabat_museum silk-road amul restaurant_praga sardoba yupek_yoly_hotel restaurant_traktir flock_wallpaper bad_ankle swollen_leg Comments (4)

(Entries 37 - 48 of 460) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »