A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about museum

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)

Mary City Sightseeing

A leisurely day


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

Despite being up three times in the night, I managed to get nine hours sleep last night. I still feel tired though.

After a breakfast of egg, salami and bread, we head out to explore the town of Mary.

large_abeb6050-2b36-11eb-89f0-37e8cfb48f64.jpg
As in Ashgabat, everything seems to be white and gold here too.

Mary Museum

The map shows the different areas of Turkmenistan, and Meylis points out the route we took across the desert. All the images from the museum are taken without flash, and from behind glass, so are mostly of very poor quality.

large_cb5648b0-2b36-11eb-89f0-37e8cfb48f64.jpg


The first part of the museum is dedicated to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the current leader of Turkmenistan, featuring photographic evidence about his super-powers, with such amazing qualities and abilities, such as football, tennis cycling, horse riding, rally driving, target shooting, martial arts, running, cooking, cotton picker, factory worker, even a qualified surgeon!

large_7906ab20-2b6a-11eb-81f5-b59c8366ca61.jpg

The next section is a display of the animals found in this region.

large_409dd540-2b6c-11eb-82e3-a785d16cce9f.jpg

large_49a38e50-2b6c-11eb-82e3-a785d16cce9f.jpg

large_51dd1dc0-2b6c-11eb-82e3-a785d16cce9f.jpg

large_a283aee0-2beb-11eb-805f-75e495567237.jpg
7th century lamps found at Merv archaeological site

large_0842e4d0-2bec-11eb-805f-75e495567237.jpg
14th century jewellery featuring serdolik stones

large_e38f7d00-2bec-11eb-805f-75e495567237.jpg
Sugar and tea - essential trade items along the famed Silk Road

large_f747b4c0-2bec-11eb-805f-75e495567237.jpg
Gold medal from 5th Asian Games

large_172cd630-2bed-11eb-805f-75e495567237.jpg
Weighlifting medals

large_26e6de40-2bed-11eb-805f-75e495567237.jpg
Viktor Sariyanidi, the man who discovered Gonur Depe archaeological site

large_e3a61cd0-2bed-11eb-805f-75e495567237.jpg
Painting using just red and white colours by A Akyyev called Guljemal Khan

A number of dioramas show traditional life in Turkmenistan.

large_95feb3f0-2c08-11eb-8c5a-ad0d0141596c.jpg

large_9f9ed840-2c08-11eb-8c5a-ad0d0141596c.jpg

large_a8ca8fe0-2c08-11eb-8c5a-ad0d0141596c.jpg
Showing the traditional bread oven

large_d933aa00-2c11-11eb-b0b9-110978e02e9a.jpg
Needles for making holes in the bread

large_54c8f930-2c13-11eb-8222-617e8849519a.jpg
Traditional Central Asian felt making

large_81869120-2c14-11eb-8222-617e8849519a.jpg
A traditional Turkmen wedding

large_5b43d6c0-2c15-11eb-8222-617e8849519a.jpg
Desert hunting dogs - still used today. No weapons are allowed while hunting, only dogs

large_6812f3e0-2c15-11eb-8222-617e8849519a.jpg
Traditional yurt

large_74d2cec0-2c15-11eb-8222-617e8849519a.jpg
Inside the yurt

The most interesting section of the museum, to me, is the part dedicated to the items found during excavations of Gonur Depe, the archaeological site we visited yesterday. These exhibits completely blow my mind – it is almost incomprehensible to take in the fact that they are FOUR THOUSAND years old!

large_0be57c10-52b1-11eb-a3bd-31285b655afb.jpg

large_24c82e80-52b1-11eb-a3bd-31285b655afb.jpg

large_34c7cb10-52b1-11eb-a3bd-31285b655afb.jpg

It is believed that life ended in Gonur Depe as the river changed course and deprived the inhabitants of a water source. As they left, they practised the scorched earth policy, setting fire to the town before departure.

large_85d722d0-52b1-11eb-a3bd-31285b655afb.jpg
How historians believe the people of Gonur Depe looked like.

large_261eef70-52b2-11eb-a3bd-31285b655afb.jpg
Model of Gonur Depe in its heyday

While the items unearthed at Merw – which we will be visiting tomorrow – are nowhere near as old as they ones from Gonur Depe, they depict a rich mix of cultures as Merw was known as the heart of the Silk Road.

large_fa3b50e0-52bd-11eb-8c15-59ab5e823133.jpg

large_09bc2080-52be-11eb-8c15-59ab5e823133.jpg

large_15e93140-52be-11eb-8c15-59ab5e823133.jpg
The intriguing mythical bull figure

large_25c16fb0-52be-11eb-8c15-59ab5e823133.jpg
Artistic interpretation of Merw

Mary Library

We leave the museum to explore more of the town of Mary. The roof of the library opens up to reveal tulip-type petals, hiding a powerful telescope. This is a nod to the famous Observatory in ancient Merw, where dozens of scientists, including Omar Khayyam studied the universe.

large_0c160420-52c0-11eb-a444-b7800d0d771c.jpg

The library holds three million books and can accommodate 600 readers at any one time. It was opened in 2011 and cost $36 million to build. The library is a reminder that Merw was famous for the world's largest library that was once the centre of science, education and culture.

Gurbanguly Hajji Mosque

The mosque was renovated during Ramadan last year, replacing the previous orange dome with the current gilded version.

large_605d1c60-52c2-11eb-82d2-ab4033bc1213.jpg

The prayer hall can hold 3,000 male worshippers, with a further 2,000 women on the second floor. Unlike the previous mosques we have visited, where the writing has been in the local Turkmen language, here the scripts are all in traditional Islamic calligraphy.

large_6b8ba8e0-52c2-11eb-82d2-ab4033bc1213.jpg

large_796e31d0-52c2-11eb-82d2-ab4033bc1213.jpg
The beautiful dome

Pokrovskaya Russian Orthodox Church

The church was built around 1900 by Russian forces after they seized the city in 1884 and guarded it against frequent attacks by British forces and Afghan armies.

large_115cbfc0-52c8-11eb-837f-03d7b8e99621.jpg

Following the Russian Revolution and the Establishment of the Soviet Union, religious freedoms were curtailed and by the 1930s, the church was closed, the priest executed, the cross torn down, and the building repurposed as a club and later a military warehouse. The church returned to its original function in 1947, following the end of World War II, though religious activities remained tightly controlled under Stalin's officially atheist regime.

large_2a465000-52c8-11eb-837f-03d7b8e99621.jpg

Only with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was atheism no longer encouraged by the state. Following the breakup of the USSR, the various Republics were free to form their own religious policies. In Turkmenistan, the Russian Orthodox church is officially recognized as about 3% of the population are Orthodox believers.

large_4bdccaf0-52c8-11eb-837f-03d7b8e99621.jpg

large_56bb3ba0-52c8-11eb-837f-03d7b8e99621.jpg

Just like Doubting Thomas, devotees touch the crucified feet of Jesus, as can be seen by the flaking worn-out paint.

large_39e751d0-52c8-11eb-837f-03d7b8e99621.jpg

large_68f5d410-52c8-11eb-837f-03d7b8e99621.jpg

Outside the church we encounter a group of beggars, the first we've seen on this trip. I ask Meylis if I can give them something, and how much. He suggests 10 manat (less than £3), and that I tell them to “deletes”, which means share. They appear very grateful. (bad photo from inside the car as we drive off)

large_Beggars.jpg

Aladdin Café
Today's lunch restaurant, located near our hotel, is a funky retro-style café (Turkmenistan's answer to the Hard Rock Café chain) with quirky charm and good, mostly Turkish, food.

large_e0cc7e80-52d2-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg

large_eafe5b80-52d2-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg

large_f84e1a50-52d2-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg

large_051daca0-52d3-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg

large_10cd5000-52d3-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg

large_2a44c860-52d3-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg
Tavuk Döş – a tasty and tender chicken dish, here shown with Dymok, a smoked vegetable salsa

large_39f70840-52d3-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg
Karişik Pide – Turkish pizza with minced lamb

Shopping

After lunch Meylis takes us to the supermarket for 'essential supplies' for a room picnic this evening. We buy some local wine (against Meylis' advice – he says it is “no good”. I always like to try local food and drink, so at just $2, I take a chance), cheese and various snacks. I am out or rum, so we look at the Bacardi in the wine store, but when we compare the price of the imported rum (460 manat, a very steep £100) against that of the local vodka at 26 manat (just over £5), it's a bit of a no-brainer. The supermarket, like many other shops in this part of the world, has no small coins, so gives us back sweets and chewies in lieu of change.

large_5b63db20-52d3-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg

We continue to the pharmacy for a cold spray for David's leg. The only thing they can offer is a cream, and he gets headache tablets as change.

large_67930ec0-52d3-11eb-a089-750c42fa444b.jpg

Free afternoon

Back in the room we find that there has been no maid service while we have been out, which means there is no toilet paper. We anticipated a shortage, as this seems to have been the norm so far on this trip, so we bought some earlier in the grocery store.

Having ended up with a bit more time here in Mary than anticipated due to the change of itinerary after David hurt his leg, there is nothing planned for us for the rest of this afternoon. There are no book stores nearby, nor a hotel shop, and I didn't bring my kindle, any books or magazines, as I didn't expect to have any time to read them. Most western websites are banned – YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, BBC and other news outlets, even my chiropractor's site is unavailable. I can get gmail, that's my only way of keeping in touch with the outside world, and the VPN I purchased before leaving home, is not working either. There is a pool, but neither of us brought swim wear. Not only can David barely walk, it is also over 40 °C outside , so exploring the surrounding area on foot is out of the question. A snooze it is then.

Room Picnic

Our room here in Mary is spacious and well furnished, perfect for a room picnic. Using my sarong as a tablecloth and the lids of our Tupperware containers as plates, plus we always bring plastic tumblers and sporks (combined spoon+knife+fork) – we are well equipped.

large_fdb7bb10-5339-11eb-a236-2d4adc0ec1f3.jpg
As always, we have bought way too much food, and also some surprising stuff – what we thought was a savoury snack, turns out to be sugar puff cereal! Oh well.

large_e2b89bd0-533a-11eb-a236-2d4adc0ec1f3.jpg
David's doorstep cheese sandwich!

large_148ab570-533c-11eb-b8df-c11bbe07cba2.jpg
The wine. What can I say about the wine? It smells, looks and tastes like medicine, or a really bad Muscat wine. Maylis was right, it is D.I.S.G.U.S.T.I.N.G.! One mouthful and the rest goes down the loo!

large_6befe880-533c-11eb-b8df-c11bbe07cba2.jpg
The vodka makes up for it though, this was a brand recommended by Artem. When the locals drink vodka and Coke, they have it in two separate glasses, and will take one mouthful of neat vodka followed by one mouthful of Coke. We mix it together in the same glass, however.

That bring us to the end of another day in Turkmenistan, on a fascinating trip arranged by Undiscovered Destinations. If you are into unusual travel destinations, check them out, they have a number of great itineraries, as groups or private tours.

large_92029cc0-533c-11eb-b8df-c11bbe07cba2.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 23:32 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged mosque church shopping museum wine picnic pizza mary library vodka hard_rock_cafe rum supermarket pharmacy cheese yurt turkish_food merv vpn russian_orthodox_church pide orthodox_church undiscovered_destinations room_picnic gurbanguly_berdimuhamedow leg_injury gmail golden_dome mary_library merw mary_museum gonur_depe felt_making serdolik archaeological_finds gurbanguly_hajji_mosque spork sore-leg aladdin_café pokrovskaya Comments (2)

Serdar - Kopetdag - Magtymguly - Mollakara - Balkanabad

Moon Mountains and the Salt Sea


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

Breakfast this morning in the guest house here at Serdar consists of yogurt, cherry jam, cheese, tomatoes and the ever-present bread. There can't be many nations on earth who eat as much bread as the Turkmen do.

large_862d5370-e5cb-11e9-a95d-53d804c8da72.jpg

Later we are asked if we want fried egg and salami. It's an unusual combination, but rather enjoyable.

large_8fa667c0-e5cb-11e9-a95d-53d804c8da72.jpg

This morning's drive takes us south through barren and desolate scenery, with no trees or even falcons, which we saw many of on our journey yesterday. Nothing. The place appears eerily devoid of life.

We are now nearing the Iranian border and arrive at a restricted area that requires special permission to enter. We have been warned that the checks here may take a while, and that we are to avoid photography at all costs. We hand over our passports, which Artem (our cute driver) takes to the police post along with vehicle registration documents, his driving licence and the tourist authorisation certificate; and wait. And wait. Meanwhile we listen to music in the car; Artem plays a good mix of popular western and Russian songs. The procedure takes just over 25 minutes in all, and we are on our way again.

Moon Mountains

The Kopetdag Mountains is a 600 kilometre long mountain range stretching along the Turkmenistan-Iran border. The landscape is distinctly lunar in appearance, living up to its local nickname of 'Moon Mountains'. The name Kopetdag, in fact, means 'many mountains' in the Turkmen language.

large_04bcb240-e69d-11e9-8373-b31ddda0bb85.jpg

large_2afe3eb0-e69d-11e9-8373-b31ddda0bb85.jpg

Once located at the bottom of the sea, the heavily furrowed sedimentary rock slopes look like soft gravel or even slag heaps, but are in fact more akin to solidified mud, and very firm underfoot. We see evidence of crustaceans on the ground, adding to the surreal atmosphere.

large_140078e0-e69d-11e9-8373-b31ddda0bb85.jpg

Stretching as far as the eye can see, the forbidding desert-like landscape is as curious as it is beautiful – seeing the arid remains of low-level vegetation, I can but wonder what it would look like in spring, after the rains, when plants and flowers come to life.

large_35e980a0-e69d-11e9-8373-b31ddda0bb85.jpg

large_40d0f200-e69d-11e9-8373-b31ddda0bb85.jpg

This area is rich with pomegranate and walnut trees, and we see a number of the former along the side of the road.

large_09cfc270-e69f-11e9-8df9-cfe0ca3e4e3e.jpg

It's the first time we have seen pomegranates in their natural habitat, and I am keen to see how they grow and photograph them. That is one of the numerous things I love about travel – exotic fruits that I have only ever seen in the supermarkets, are commonplace somewhere in the world. It never ceases to amaze me that however much we travel, we still manage to get 'firsts' on every single trip.

large_129194b0-e69f-11e9-8df9-cfe0ca3e4e3e.jpg

Magtymguly Museum

We make a stop at a small museum dedicated to a local hero, Magtymguly Pyragy, who was an Iranian-Turkmen spiritual leader and philosophical poet in the 18th century.

large_ef1c37d0-e773-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg

large_05e870e0-e775-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg

Looking at the copies of some of the books Magtymguly has written, I am intrigued by the frames within each page containing diagonal writing. Neither the guide nor the museum curator are able to shed any light on this peculiar aspect.

large_206e24f0-e775-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg

large_2ac5b260-e775-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg

Magtymguly was much more than a renowned poet; he also worked as a silversmith for a while.

large_80d76df0-e776-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg

He even made a wedding ring for Mengli, the girl he loved and wanted to marry. Unfortunately her family forbade the union, and the ring remained unworn.

large_c54f5a60-e776-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg

Magtymguly had a number of strong political views, and fought to keep the Turkmen-way sacred, as well as maintaining the harmony and integrity of the Turkmen nation. He became a symbol of Turkmen unity but also a common voice of Turkish and Islamic world and is revered not only in Turkmenistan but also in neighbouring countries. The museum is very proud of the artefacts associated with his life and career.

large_8a0aaa30-e777-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg
17th century ewers found during excavations

large_d5ceb8d0-e777-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg
Meat cooler made from sheep skin

large_36f41b50-e778-11e9-a17e-659f016eeb6a.jpg
Kitchen implements, including a pestle used to make the customary small holes found in the traditional Turkmen bread

David is suffering from a severe cold he picked up on the flight out here, with his eyes being extremely sore and sensitive to light, so stays behind in the car while I have the museum, guide, and curator to myself.

The journey back through the border control is way quicker, just a mere three minute passport check and we're on our way, continuing further west. For a while the road is intermittently bumpy, with a number of potholes, and a couple of times I find myself caught unawares and bouncing off the ceiling.

Lunch

Yet another private room with a huge flat-screen TV. This one is not playing Lara Croft, however, but a very funny Russian slap-stick comedy about an incompetent chef in a restaurant. There is no need to understand Russian to appreciate the humour, although Meylis translates any dialogue of importance. None of us want to leave when we have finished our meal, as we are desperate to find out what happens next in the soap opera. Alas, we will never know the fate of the live goose the hapless chef bought.

large_321d2090-e7b4-11e9-b695-7f55c4ed3d64.jpg
After the huge lunches we've had the last couple of days, and as my tummy is still pretty fragile, I order just a plain lentil soup accompanied by the ubiquitous bread

The road from here is long and straight, cutting through a vast flat area with the Kopetdag Mountain Range behind, and in the distance a mirage appears on the horizon. It must be soul-destroying boring to drive, and although the speed limit is 90km / hour, we are travelling a 'little bit' faster than that.

large_6ecf26f0-e7b4-11e9-b695-7f55c4ed3d64.jpg

Sand from the Karakum Desert (which covers 80% of the country) blows across the road for a few miles, offering some reprieve - and interest - from the previous monotonous view.

large_3de05680-e7b5-11e9-b695-7f55c4ed3d64.jpg

large_50712540-e7b5-11e9-b695-7f55c4ed3d64.jpg

In this arid and barren region we are surprised to see a flood plain. Apparently the water is still here since some heavy rain they experienced in April. I am absolutely flabbergasted that surface water can survive the oppressive dry heat in this region for five months without evaporating. That must have been some rain storm! It's not just a small puddle either, but covers quite a substantial area. Meylis tells us that at the time the road was deep under water for a couple of weeks. I can well imagine that is must have been pretty bad for there still to be so much flood water left now.

large_37760170-e7b8-11e9-9591-2fd86838bd70.jpg

We stop at a filling station to put fuel in the car, and are impressed by the Eco 93 petrol sold here. Apparently it is the first 'clean petrol' in the world, made from gas (of which Turkmenistan has rather a lot). At 2 manat a litre (57c / 46p at the official rate of 3.5 manat per dollar) it is more expensive than regular petrol. I wish I could take some home!

large_c9a46130-e7b9-11e9-9912-493696835f24.jpg

Mollakara Sanatorium and Salt Lake

Opened in 2012, the modern health spa was built in a famous therapeutic mud resort on the shores of Lake Mollakara. The lake is fed by underground sources, and its healing features include chlorides and sodium sulphate, magnesium, iron, bromine salts and other minerals.

large_2f660380-e83b-11e9-9ea2-f73aba083a59.jpg

Artem is trying to find a way down to the lake, but it seems the sanatorium wants to monopolise the salty waters, and has closed all gates and entrances that lead down to the shore. After trying a number of options, which include ignoring signs, attempting to pick gate locks, and driving off road to get around fencing; we finally manage to get near the water's edge, only to find the lake is almost dry!

large_40251f80-e83b-11e9-9ea2-f73aba083a59.jpg

How astonishing! We passed areas of flooding just a few miles back, yet here there is very little water left in the lake! The sanatorium websites talk about swimming and floating in the alkaline waters - here it is so shallow that you'd be lucky if your ankles get wet!

large_783537f0-e842-11e9-8e48-15bef6e9f7c4.jpg

After driving around a little bit more, Artem finds another part of the lake, where, although there is very little water left, the salt deposits are easily accessible close to the road.

large_96acc3d0-e83b-11e9-9ea2-f73aba083a59.jpg

large_38064e90-e83c-11e9-9ea2-f73aba083a59.jpg

The salt has formed little ridges on the surface, creating an interesting texture.

large_fcffdfe0-e83c-11e9-84d6-25d78c41acfe.jpg

large_08a34e40-e83d-11e9-84d6-25d78c41acfe.jpg

large_55bd8190-e83e-11e9-84d6-25d78c41acfe.jpg

large_13c0e370-e840-11e9-84d6-25d78c41acfe.jpg

Like little kids, all four of us go and play on and with the crusty salt formations.

large_2e8b1760-e83c-11e9-9ea2-f73aba083a59.jpg

large_a6e056c0-e83d-11e9-9ea2-f73aba083a59.jpg

large_b0576f40-e83d-11e9-9ea2-f73aba083a59.jpg

large_e4c3bef0-e842-11e9-8e48-15bef6e9f7c4.jpg

large_8943b700-e843-11e9-8e48-15bef6e9f7c4.jpg

The benefits of salty water and mud treatments have been know to people from old times, and as long ago as 1900 there was a sanatorium built here.

large_eda12c50-e83e-11e9-84d6-25d78c41acfe.jpg

Who needs an expensive health spa to reap the benefits?

large_4d730cc0-e83f-11e9-84d6-25d78c41acfe.jpg

Cemetery

It seems that different regions of Turkmenistan have different traditions and cultures when it comes to burying their dead. The grave markers at this cemetery consist of leaning plants of wood.

large_b746a030-e844-11e9-8e48-15bef6e9f7c4.jpg

Balkanabat

large_b3889be0-e846-11e9-8958-9141bbe27db9.jpg

This area is well known for its strong winds (which we saw evidence of earlier, with the sand drifting across the road), something that is reflected in this sculpture depicting desert people leaning in to the wind and shielding their faces from the blowing sand as they walk.

large_cd70fe80-e846-11e9-8958-9141bbe27db9.jpg

large_0ee10cb0-e848-11e9-8958-9141bbe27db9.jpg

Balkanabat may be a modern city built on the proceeds of oil; but there are still unattended camels wandering around the streets.

large_28dcd040-e848-11e9-8958-9141bbe27db9.jpg

Nebichi Hotel

As with the hotel we stayed at in Ashgabat, Nebichi Hotel looks palatial from the outside and has a grand-looking lobby.

large_0aa04e60-e84b-11e9-ad49-f70522861532.jpg

What it doesn't have, however, is a lift. Nor does it provide more than one set of towels or spare roll(s) of toilet paper. This seems to be a common trend here in Turkmenistan, and we ring for Housekeeping to bring the missing items to the room. Thankfully Meylis helps carry our bags up the two flights of stairs. Having a strong young man for a guide, certainly has its advantages.

large_186f4f50-e84b-11e9-ad49-f70522861532.jpg

Dinner

As he did last night, Meylis knocks on the door as he has been asked to come down to the restaurant to help us order as the waitress speaks no English.

large_6fc702f0-e84d-11e9-9616-7dc8a374df71.jpg

The restaurant is full of idiosyncrasies – lovely linen tablecloth, covered in tacky-looking plastic; and the beautifully folded cloth napkins are apparently just for decorative purposes. Once the waitress has taken our order, she removes David's napkin and places it on a storage cabinet next to us. As soon as she is out of sight, however, I recover the napkin and place it back onto David's plate. When she returns with our drinks, the server yet again removes the cloth napkin, and brings us cheap paper serviettes instead. By this stage I have already unfolded mine and put it on my lap, so the moment she disappears back into the kitchen again, I carefully re-fold it, thread it through the little serviette-ring and put in with David's on the side. I might as well comply with the unwritten napkin rule and enjoy a my beer.

large_d9fc6240-e84e-11e9-a940-ad718446e54b.jpg

large_79546290-e84d-11e9-9616-7dc8a374df71.jpg
Too pretty to be used

large_dd1c0e40-e84d-11e9-a940-ad718446e54b.jpg

David's head cold is still making his eyes extremely sensitive to light, so he plays Mr Cool with his sunglasses on.

large_0c3a9610-e84e-11e9-a940-ad718446e54b.jpg

Adana Kebab - meat in a wrap with vegetables and a tasty sauce.

large_8a27df00-e84f-11e9-a940-ad718446e54b.jpg

large_973368e0-e84f-11e9-a940-ad718446e54b.jpg

The beef stroganoff features the best meat we've had so far on the trip

large_ebbc08e0-e84f-11e9-a940-ad718446e54b.jpg

Russian salad. With ham. In a Muslim country. OK.....

large_7aac0de0-e84e-11e9-a940-ad718446e54b.jpg

The food is good, and we go to bed feeling very satisfied after another fascinating day here in Turkmenistan. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private trip for us.

large_43270850-e850-11e9-a940-ad718446e54b.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 06:12 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged beer desert landscape cemetery scenery museum dinner tv flood camel salt gas petrol cold travel_photography mirage poetry fuel arid comedy poet turkmenistan salt_lake kebab central_asia undiscovered_destinations head_cold pomegranate karakum ex_ussr fried_salami border_checks moon_mountains kopetdag kopetdag_mountains lunar_scenery pomegranate_trees magtymguly magtymguly_museum private_dining lentil_soup karakum_desert mollakara sanatorium mollakara_sanatorium mollakara_salt_lake balkanabat petrol_station nebichi_hotel idiosyncrasy napkin napkin_saga serviette adana_kebab beef_stroganoff stroganoff russian_salad Comments (11)

Ashgabat and Nisa

Our first day in the Forgotten Stan

33 °C
View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As he dropped us off at the hotel last night, or rather early this morning, Meylis (our guide for the trip) suggested meeting at 11:00 today, allowing us time to catch up on a little sleep. We are therefore rather surprised when we get a call from reception at 08:30: “There is a man from your company here who needs your passport for registration”. Reception sends the bellboy up to collect the passports, which is great as we then don't have to get dressed yet.

Five minutes later there is another call from reception: “There is a man from your company here who needs your passport for registration”. David tries to explain that we have already dealt with this and that the bellboy has our passports. They don't understand and after a few minutes of trying to explain in every different way possible, David ends up having to go down to talk to them in person. By the time he gets down there, it is all sorted, of course. So much for sleeping in!

This is what we were woken so early for – several copies of a 'Entry Travel Pass'. Ironically we were never asked for copies of this during our two week tour.

large_05b36260-dc99-11e9-8861-15154d0d7e58.jpg

large_9764bc30-dc95-11e9-842f-d7da9e98fb38.jpg
This was our first sight of the capital city of Ashgabat in daylight, the view from our hotel window.

We later ask the guide what the amazing monument is. "Oh, that is just a roundabout" he said. As the trip goes on, we find that every large roundabout in the major cities has such beautiful white marble and gilded monuments in the centre. Quite surreal.

This is what the roundabout looks like from Google Maps:

large_e7f19d80-dc95-11e9-842f-d7da9e98fb38.jpg

The 8-pointed star seen on the aerial view of the roundabout is found everywhere in Turkmenistan. And I mean EVERYWHERE: railing, lifts, walls, lamp posts, the country's flag, trash cans, emblems.... you name it, it probably has a star on it! Apparently it signifies the Muslims' belief that there are eight steps to heaven.

White Marble Buildings

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog post, the former president of Turkmenistan had a thing for white marble, a tradition that his successor has carried on. Today Ashgabat holds the Guinness World Record for the most marble buildings in any city, with 80% of public buildings covered, using 5 million cubic metres of marble.

large_85c8da20-dca8-11e9-9707-39adcc9fb8e5.jpg

It certainly makes for a bright and clean look for the city, something that is further enhanced by the total lack of advertising hoardings, graffiti, litter and traffic. Ashgabat has to compete with Pyongyang in North Korea as the capital city with the least amount of cars on the road.

large_94608240-dca8-11e9-9707-39adcc9fb8e5.jpg

We see a few of the many gleaming buildings as we drive through the empty streets this morning.

large_9fcdc570-dca8-11e9-9707-39adcc9fb8e5.jpg

Owadan Tourism

Our first stop this morning is at the office of our local agent, where we are introduced to the General Director.

large_7e853180-dcaa-11e9-9b51-67201e49cc54.jpg

large_f3974940-dcaa-11e9-9b51-67201e49cc54.jpg

They have created a small one-room ethnographic museum where tourists can learn about the history and culture of the various aspects of Turkmen life.

large_77f08300-dcab-11e9-9b51-67201e49cc54.jpg

Here we see two different types of carpets – the white one, made from felt, symbolising spring; while the red carpet, coloured by pomegranate, indicates autumn.

large_b2708e30-dcab-11e9-9b51-67201e49cc54.jpg

large_0a0a17b0-dcac-11e9-9b51-67201e49cc54.jpg

large_34ae6200-dcac-11e9-9b51-67201e49cc54.jpg
The Dutar - a two-stringed musical instrument

large_caf9e090-dcac-11e9-9b51-67201e49cc54.jpg
I love these colourful boots. On the shelf above you can see the traditional skull
caps many of the local men wear.

large_d3bf3870-dcb0-11e9-97f6-6d5cddc76178.jpg
David 'playing' the Dutar

Silk Road Map

The Silk Road Map on the carpet is prepared according to the map from Seyahatname 'Book of Travels' written by the well known 17th century Turkish traveller Evliya Chelebi (1611-1684), who travelled for more than 40 years, mostly on the western part of the Silk Road.

UNESCO considered Chelebi 'Man of the Year' in 2011 on the 400th anniversary of his death.

The carpet was woven by the General Director's family in 1999.

large_2d9c05c0-dcb2-11e9-9d2b-e373c910d9f2.jpg

Before we leave we are encouraged to have a cup of tea, and are given a box of chocolates to take away, as well as a couple of traditional wallets.

large_e0b1e650-dcb4-11e9-97f6-6d5cddc76178.jpg

large_36a70d00-df86-11e9-b5fa-09308e710767.jpg

Nisa

By the time we arrive at the ruins of this 3rd century capital of the Parthian Empire, which are reached via a long staircase, I am very hot, my back is hurting, the two blisters on my feet are painful, and the jet lag is catching up with me. It all seems too much trouble.

large_fe9e85f0-dd1e-11e9-b055-5571dcb8a96e.jpg

large_08ff3da0-de3c-11e9-bd19-f5120e4dc9ce.jpg

Known as Midridatkert city in ancient times, the fortress of Old Nisa had walls that were nine metres thick with 43 rectangular towers and has now been given a UNESCO Heritage status.

large_0d3ac1f0-dd1f-11e9-b055-5571dcb8a96e.jpg

The so-called Round Hall, with a diameter of 17 m. The Old Nisa architecture is unique, original and is unprecedented in whole Central Asia, merging architectural traditions of antique Greece, Rome and the East.

large_1caff8d0-dd1f-11e9-b055-5571dcb8a96e.jpg

Old Nisa's walls protected the royal palace, Zoroastrian temples and the power and prestige of successive ruling dynasties until its eventual destruction at the hands of the Mongols in the 13th century.

large_2d3455c0-dd1f-11e9-b055-5571dcb8a96e.jpg

Old bricks and shards. I am utterly disgusted to see some Australian tourists picking up bits to take home as souvenirs, boasting about the age and historical importance of the fragments. Shame on them! I really regret not saying anything at the time.

large_391bf910-dd1f-11e9-b055-5571dcb8a96e.jpg

Restored pillars showing the old and new bricks.

large_45124260-dd1f-11e9-b055-5571dcb8a96e.jpg

large_50cda590-dd1f-11e9-9715-d5f6b6a93850.jpg

The necropolis. Only about 30% of the site at Old Nisa has been excavated.

large_6efb04e0-dd1f-11e9-9715-d5f6b6a93850.jpg

The Red Hall; so called because remains of red walls have been found underneath the mud.

large_9b4f2210-dd1f-11e9-9715-d5f6b6a93850.jpg

Looking out over New Nisa in the distance. It has not been excavated as yet, so does not feature on our itinerary.

large_e3891f90-dd1f-11e9-9715-d5f6b6a93850.jpg

Lunch

Returning to Ashgabat, we stop for lunch at a tourist restaurant where seating is offered in private yurts with no furniture where you sit on a carpet on the floor; or at 'proper' seating areas in the leafy gardens.

large_f2564f40-dd22-11e9-8c8f-8f3832f04bb3.jpg

The waitress brings over a menu in tablet form, with photos of each dish and a clickable caption in English which brings up more information about the dish. Love this idea, especially when you don't speak the language.

large_131364b0-dd24-11e9-8c8f-8f3832f04bb3.jpg

For starters we choose a dish called Dograma, consisting of lamb, bread, green onion, fresh tomatoes, water, salt and pepper. It is very tasty, and extremely filling.

large_61048c80-dd24-11e9-8c8f-8f3832f04bb3.jpg

large_805540b0-dd25-11e9-81a7-5febafe1cdb1.jpg

Main course is Manty, which is delightful little dumplings, a very traditional Turkmen dish. They are usually filled with a choice of meat, pumpkin or spinach. We decide on the meat variety. They are served with a small dish of smetana (a type of soured cream).

large_d60e8df0-dd24-11e9-81a7-5febafe1cdb1.jpg

The choice of salads in Turkmenistan really impresses me. Each and every restaurant has a huge selection of interesting salads, not at all what I am used to from the UK. Today we choose a concoction called Men's salad: green leaves, boiled beef, gherkins, mayonnaise, white cheese, salt and pepper.

large_eb8919b0-dd25-11e9-8386-91492a33b798.jpg

Independence Square

The Independence Monument is an extravagant affair, covering an area of more than 80,000 m². The entire structure is 118m high, with the minaret-like tower standing at 91m.

large_f68ec6c0-ddfc-11e9-89ba-3962bbbbcdc5.jpg

The monument is surrounded by statues of 27 of the most prominent Turkmen heroes.

large_e0528e30-dd36-11e9-a7cd-018d5a1c7a3f.jpg

Quite by accident we manage to time our visit to coincide with the changing of the guards; which takes place every two hours.

large_6c3e2570-dd38-11e9-9e4b-9f561ba65b9e.jpg

large_78cbf3d0-dd38-11e9-9e4b-9f561ba65b9e.jpg

large_824dbab0-dd38-11e9-9e4b-9f561ba65b9e.jpg

The square is also home to a number of spectacular fountains.

large_4e642b60-dd3a-11e9-a454-119f65ebdd0f.jpg

The founder emperor of the Seljuc Empire that reigned in this region prior to the Mongolian invasion in 1037.

large_be70d960-ddfa-11e9-89ba-3962bbbbcdc5.jpg

Statue to the first Turkmen leader. In his hand he holds three arrows. Legend has it that he demonstrated the power of team work by breaking an arrow in two, quite easily. Then, holding all three arrows in his hand, breaking them was not so easy; and when he had six halves together, it was impossible to break them – proving that alone you are weak, together you become strong.

large_70b67900-ddfa-11e9-8f95-fd9706a4c3a5.jpg

The five heads of the eagle on this symbol represent the five states of Turkmenistan, protecting both internal and external enemies (the two-headed snake)

large_087bd0e0-ddfc-11e9-89ba-3962bbbbcdc5.jpg

Everything in Ashgabat is ornate, include the street lamps; here decorated with the crescent (symbolising the new moon = new country) with five stars representing the five states, and the ubiquitous eight-pointed star denoting the eight steps to heaven.

large_8c693400-ddfd-11e9-89ba-3962bbbbcdc5.jpg

One of the numerous gold-plated statues to the former president Saparmurat Niyazov. As the self-declared 'President for Life', Niyazov gilded the country with his own image in a cult of personality that makes Kim il Jong look like an amateur.

large_d3e24090-ddff-11e9-999e-1fc121ccaf1c.jpg

National Museum

large_f619b140-de11-11e9-9b6b-f59c25ec9a84.jpg

As with nearly all museums and archaeological sites in Turkmenistan, we have to pay a 'camera fee' in order to be able to take photos inside. Mostly the price is 50 manat as here, around US$14 according to the official exchange rate of 3.5 manat to the dollar.

large_008d7940-de12-11e9-9b6b-f59c25ec9a84.jpg

Like so many of the places we visit on this trip, the museum is housed in a grand building, with lots of gold and marble.

large_72b6d180-de29-11e9-a5a0-cf3175d2a928.jpg

large_8c1b0770-de12-11e9-9b6b-f59c25ec9a84.jpg
Map showing the five states that make up Turkmenistan

The museum covers several sections, from prehistorical man to more recent finds.

large_a6568130-de14-11e9-9b6b-f59c25ec9a84.jpg

large_b1b4d040-de14-11e9-9b6b-f59c25ec9a84.jpg
Archaeological finds from the 3rd Millennium BC at Altyn Depe

large_71108440-de18-11e9-95b5-99ae2bed6b80.jpg
Model of how Gonur Depe - which we shall be visiting later on during our trip - would have looked in its heyday in the 3rd millennium BC

large_4ced2440-de15-11e9-9b6b-f59c25ec9a84.jpg
Bronze Tools from Gonur Depe, dating back to the 3rd - 2nd millennium BC

large_561d8f70-de18-11e9-95b5-99ae2bed6b80.jpg
Also found at Gonur Depe

large_a107dbb0-de1f-11e9-9c10-cbba9d1622b6.jpg
Terracotta fragments of Ossuary found at Munun Depe, from 1st century AD

large_f1bdac50-de20-11e9-973a-a9a80dd0c244.jpg
Beautiful Rhytons (horn-shaped ceremonial drinking vessels)

large_846ffe90-de21-11e9-9cc0-2dcf815dc821.jpg
Buddhist sculpture found at Merw

large_94f14e40-de21-11e9-9cc0-2dcf815dc821.jpg
The campaign of Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC

large_b4363810-de21-11e9-9cc0-2dcf815dc821.jpg
A much more recent ceremonial sword, set with 98 precious stones

large_a2f9b940-de22-11e9-9cc0-2dcf815dc821.jpg
Items found at New Nisa, 3rd century AD

large_2002a360-de29-11e9-a5a0-cf3175d2a928.jpg
Turkmenistan has been very much a crossroads of cultures over the years, including being part of the famed Silk Road.

Flag

Everything is grand in Turkmenistan, including this flag pole, complete with a jet engine at the bottom to ensure the flag billows even on windless days. There is no need for it today.

large_cfbb6ee0-de2e-11e9-bb1e-fd30c264c00f.jpg

After independence from the USSR in 1991, a new flag was designed for the independent Turkmenistan, and it is the only country in the world that has carpet designs on its flag. The red stripe on the left with the five patterns, shows the various traditional design of carpet from the five different states in the country. These five motifs, like the eight-point star, feature in so many places within the country: boxes of chocolates, hotel door frames, posters, building decorations, the airport etc. The crescent moon, as well as being a traditional Islamic symbol, also represents the rising of a new country, and the five stars its separate states.

large_28065190-de30-11e9-b5a9-b977ef1c3d0a.jpg

Arch of Neutrality

While countries like Switzerland and Sweden have neutral foreign policies, Turkmenistan in the only country which is officially recognised by the United Nations as truly neutral. This has been recognised by the addition of a wreath below the carpet symbols on the country's flag.

large_10360740-de35-11e9-9b83-83d608281595.jpg

large_86ffa270-df87-11e9-b5fa-09308e710767.jpg

Note the five carpet designs on the plaque, as well as the eight-pointed star decorations.

large_1b552a70-de35-11e9-9b83-83d608281595.jpg

On top of the 75 metre high monument stands a 12 metre high gold statue of Saparmurat Niyazov, the infamous previous leader. His statue was designed so that it would rotate in order for the great leader to always be facing the sun. Upon his death in 2006, it was agreed that the statue should 'die' with him, and the rotations were turned off.

large_2c9cfe70-de35-11e9-9b83-83d608281595.jpg

Wedding Palace

On a small hill outside the otherwise very flat capital city, sits the bizarre and eccentric Wedding palace – also known as the Palace of Happiness. Built in 2011, the Wedding Palace is created of a number of star shaped floors topped with a 'disco ball' featuring a map of Turkmenistan in gold. Note the eight-pointed stars around the globe and the carpet pattern decorations on the sides of the stars.

large_41bee610-de3a-11e9-bd19-f5120e4dc9ce.jpg

As well as six halls for wedding ceremonies, there are banquet halls for parties and receptions, shops, hair dressers, beauty salons and photography studios, and a small hotel with 22 rooms for newly-weds, Apparently, you can get a divorce here as well, as it is said that divorce can bring some people happiness too! There is also a huge portrait of the current president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, and one of the conditions for being granted a marriage licence is to have your photograph taken in front of his picture.

large_4ff9a120-de3a-11e9-bd19-f5120e4dc9ce.jpg
The (white, obviously) wedding cars in the country are always lavishly decorated.

Further up the hill stands the equally offbeat building that houses Yildez Hotel. The roads, like elsewhere in the capital, are totally empty for cars, and the numerous street lamps sport unusual, and elegant shapes.

large_4a4fa0c0-de3b-11e9-bd19-f5120e4dc9ce.jpg

Being just slightly higher than the main part of town, we do get a bit of an overview of the White City below.

large_488db000-de3c-11e9-bd19-f5120e4dc9ce.jpg

large_5173d320-de3c-11e9-bd19-f5120e4dc9ce.jpg

Grand Turkmen Hotel

When we get back to the hotel, we notice a couple of little things that we later realise will come to be standard in most the places we are staying on this trip: just one set of towels and no spare toilet paper.

The view from the balcony is pretty darn good though, with changing coloured lights on the monuments.

large_565b34e0-de3d-11e9-867e-8d0c7c880fee.jpg

large_68f29350-de3d-11e9-867e-8d0c7c880fee.jpg

Considering this is supposed to be a four star hotel there are a few other annoyances too: the bedside table and the glasses in the bathroom have not been cleaned when they made the room up today; one of the bedside lamps do not work; neither does the standard lamp next to the TV, and there are no spare sockets for charging our phones, so we have to unplug one of the bedside lights. I suppose as it is not working anyway, it doesn't really matter.

We are too tired to even contemplate going out for dinner tonight, and settle for a glass or two of Duty Free rum and some nibbles. My back is hurting, and I now have two more blisters on my feet!

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private tour for us.

large_7772e2e0-de3d-11e9-867e-8d0c7c880fee.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 15:11 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged fountains ruins monuments flag museum necropolis lunch unesco carpets turkmenistan ashgabat nisa silk_road united_nations central_asia national_museum manty undiscovered_destinations wedding_car smetana ethnographic_museum lamp_posts guinness_world_record neutrality dutar grand_turkmen_hotel ex-ussr entry_travel_pass eight_pointed_star white_marble empty_streets owadan_tours turkmenistan_national_museum old_nisa parthian_empire parthian tablet_menu dograma independence_square changing_of_the_guards seljuc saparmurat_niyazov arch_of_neutrality neutral_country wedding_palace gurbanguly_berdimuhamedow yildez_hotel Comments (11)

São Tomé city tour and Monte Café

An easy day


View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

I set the alarm for 06:30 this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds before breakfast. I am not disappointed.

large_1b895b70-60f9-11e8-b656-a517d5442a14.jpg
Yellow-billed kite

large_2c142100-60f9-11e8-b656-a517d5442a14.jpg
Village Weaver

large_3cb13610-60f9-11e8-b656-a517d5442a14.jpg
São Tomé Prinia

large_52edcec0-60f9-11e8-b656-a517d5442a14.jpg
Yellow Fronted Canary

large_61e7bb20-60f9-11e8-9cae-cde7a26c98d7.jpg
Yellow Billed Kite

large_6e9594a0-60f9-11e8-9cae-cde7a26c98d7.jpg
Village Weaver

Four 'lifers' (new species to us) before breakfast on the first day! I also spot a couple of cute little lizards.

large_cea7b260-60f9-11e8-9cae-cde7a26c98d7.jpg

large_d7d6c560-60f9-11e8-9cae-cde7a26c98d7.jpg

large_136dbed0-60fa-11e8-807f-8384375a64d5.jpg
Breakfast

Forte de São Sebastião

The old San Sebastian Fort has now been turned into a museum.

large_cc8e0080-6101-11e8-b772-f902ff25b446.jpg

The square outside is home to statues depicting the first settlers in São Tomé and Principe.

large_ffe53bc0-627c-11e8-88e9-61e009274831.jpg

São Tomé & Principe were both uninhabited prior to colonisation by the Portuguese in 1470 who came in search of land to grow sugar and as a base for trade with mainland Africa. São Tomé, being right on the equator and more than wet enough, fitted the bill perfectly. Slaves were brought over as forced labourers from Congo and Angola on the African coast to work the plantations. The first successful settlement was established in 1493 by Álvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the Portuguese crown and by the mid-16th century the islands were Africa's foremost exporter of sugar.

large_09a0b040-627d-11e8-88e9-61e009274831.jpg

Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were 'undesirables' sent from Portugal, mostly Jews, a great number of whom soon died.

large_bcb62860-628f-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

By 1515, São Tomé and Príncipe had become slave depots for the coastal slave trade centred at Elmina in Ghana. The interesting little museum chronicles the history of the country, but unfortunately photography is not permitted inside most of the rooms in the fort, so you will just have to make do with some external shots from the courtyard.

large_ee7dd730-628f-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100 years as a result of competition from the West Indies, and São Tomé was now primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.

large_07438bc0-6290-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

In the early 19th century, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced to São Tomé. Large plantations (known as roças), mostly owned by Portuguese companies, sprung up all over the islands. Soon São Tomé became the world's largest producer of cocoa, with 800 of these plantations, and although this is no longer the case (and so many of the roças lie in ruins), cocoa remains the country's most important crop.

The second room in the museum shows examples of the different types of cocoa beans (and there was I thinking a cocoa bean was a cocoa bean). The plant was originally brought from Portugal as an ornamental plant, and remained so until someone said: “You're wasting your money, this plant grows so well here you should start a plantation”. Experts were imported from other Portuguese colonies such as Mozambique and Angola, and the rest is history.

large_85863d20-6290-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

Other rooms are devoted to Catholicism, the President, the Flag, dining room, culture room (including voodoo paraphernalia and mannequins in various traditional costumes) and a gallery of old pictures from the city.

large_5d5fa790-6291-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

By far the most emotional and poignant of all the exhibitions, is the Massacre Room. I find most of the pictures too distressing to look at, yet again despairing at man's inhumanity to man.

By the time we get to the 'turtle room', my back is giving me a lot of pain. I had hoped the pain would be gone by this morning after a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed, but not so; it is getting worse and worse.

large_09ddacb0-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

São Tomé is home to five different species of turtles, and much education work is taking place to ensure their continuing conservation.

large_1a91cc30-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_267e7890-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_2ef02f00-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg
I had no idea Leatherback Turtles could grow that big!

Climbing onto the roof is proving to be quite a task because of my painful back. It is worth it for the view though.

large_a019e900-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_944c8470-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_a97a4530-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_b24454d0-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg
The graves of some 'important people' of a bygone age.

large_c1947780-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

Catedral de São Tomé

The 16th century cathedral is the oldest on the island and is reputed to be the first Catholic church to be built in an African country.

large_0e0f6720-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg

The original building was constructed from wood, but the church was rebuilt in a more durable material - concrete - in the 17th century.

large_1b902100-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg

As a place of worship, it is popular, especially for Sunday mass, when the pews are full.

large_3020b760-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg

Damaged by fire during a revolt in 1975, the church was repaired from donations.

large_821231c0-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg
Beautiful relics from the Portuguese era.

Parliament Building

Photographing this building is not permitted, with armed guards posted outside. Despite my experience in 2011 when I was chased down the road by one such guard after taking a picture of a bank in Algiers, I risk a covert shot from a distance.

large_f38f8a00-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg

Driving by the market and later past the popularly named 'Think Square' where Sãotoméans gather to work out a survival strategy when they have no money (unemployment sits at 70%), we head out of town and up into the hills. I am pleasantly surprised at the condition of the road: there is some sizeable areas of tarmac between the potholes. The first settlement of any size we reach is Trindade, the second biggest city in São Tomé, with 45,000 inhabitants. It was here that a rebellion took place in 1953, where hundreds of native Creoles were killed or captured and tortured to death (known as the Batepá massacre). Later their bodies were thrown in the sea, like animals. "Throw this shit into the sea to avoid troubles," the Portuguese governor was quoted as saying. A memorial has been built to mark the spot and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.

large_a787fcc0-632f-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Roça Monte Café

One of the largest coffee plantation on the island, Monte Café has now been turned into a museum offering a tour of the coffee production process.

large_b7ec8030-6330-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

At 600m above sea level, the air is considerably cooler here than in town, and the climate is ideal for growing Arabica coffee.

large_e56a0230-6330-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

We are invited up the stairs of one of the old warehouses, to walk through the exhibitions with a Portuguese-speaking guide, and Agostinho as a translator. Here the men toiled the plantations while the women worked in the factory.

large_33877f40-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

I am in agony with my back now, and seek out a chair on the balcony after the first couple of rooms, especially as photography is not permitted inside the museum.

large_a6d8bf10-6331-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Alei Coffe Shop

Despite taking a double dose of painkillers, my back is still going into spasms, unfortunately marring my enjoyment of the excellent lunch.

large_0c010c30-6332-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
Ceviche with marlin, passionfruit, onion and cucumber

large_2771bc80-6332-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
Red snapper with plantain, breadfruit and rice. The green stuff is described as a 'lusoa sauce' and is really quite nice. I have been unable to ascertain what it is in English - maybe the green tops of sweet potato.

large_7809c160-6332-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
David tries the locally brewed beer, Rosema, which comes in unmarked bottles without a label.

large_ce25f9b0-6332-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
Passionfruit cheesecake

Passionfruit is grown in abundance here on São Tomé, and I am intrigued by the size of them. I had no idea there was more than one type of passionfruit.

large_00c766b0-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_0935e8d0-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Miramar Hotel

With my back being so painful, we return to the hotel a little earlier than planned, where I have a short siesta and feel some better afterwards.

large_b21c9660-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Like last night, we wander onto the terrace for a drink outside before dinner. Tonight we choose some Portuguese Vinho Verde, which goes down very nicely.

large_bf102b70-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_c8c389a0-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_d1711090-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_daa41b30-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_e29de280-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Dinner

I am assuming the hotel is not full this evening, as we are the only diners at 19:30. Tonight's special is chicken stroganoff, and we both choose that. It is very good.

large_228179c0-6334-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_2abbcc80-6334-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
Coconut jelly on a biscuit base

The end of another interesting day in São Tomé, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

large_57aee8d0-6334-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 07:45 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged turtles fish fort museum cathedral africa birding parliament coffee trindade pain slavery ceviche defence canary plantations weaver massacre demonstrations cocoa bird_watching roca red_snapper undiscovered_destinations sao_tome batepa_massacre miramar_hotel prinia endemic_birds forte_de_são_sebastião sugar_plantations roca_monte_café vinho_verde passionfruit back_pain Comments (4)

Salalah: Taqa, Derbat, Sumharum, Bin Ali's Tomb, Mirbat - UK

Last day in Oman


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Taqa Open Air Museum

A small collection of replica dwellings shows how local people lived in the Dhofar mountains in the old days. The hut on the left would have housed the family, while the building on the right was for the animals.

large_651218c0-4cb0-11e8-a495-eb53e6b625a9.jpg

large_70faa670-4cb0-11e8-a495-eb53e6b625a9.jpg

large_7d1bd050-4cb0-11e8-a495-eb53e6b625a9.jpg

Taqa Castle

Built in the 19th century as a private residence for the Sheikh and his family, the castle was restored some 15 years ago.

large_423a6a00-4fcb-11e8-89be-099a45b5d1a9.jpg

large_4b4b94c0-4fcb-11e8-ac0c-87cd7e84e332.jpg
Barza – the vestibule where visitors would wait to see the governor.

large_3ae418e0-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_4eaccb60-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

Issa shows us the type of bowl used when milking camels. Camels are majorly fidgety animals and have to be milked quickly as they won't stand still for long. Stones from the fire are then added to the bowl to 'sterilise' the milk.

large_e1be07f0-50aa-11e8-9f27-fd232f9dc041.jpg

The responsibility for the camels is usually the men's domain, while the women look after the sheep and goats.

large_52d52450-50ab-11e8-9f27-fd232f9dc041.jpg

This room was used as a store for household items and as a workroom for grinding wheat, pounding spices, churning milk, and grating coconut.

large_4e4d35c0-50ac-11e8-8fde-9d2eed914772.jpg

large_61d6cce0-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg
Tannur Oven

large_6f0e48c0-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg
The prison

large_7b2894d0-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg
They seem to have left behind a prisoner in the cell.

Wadi Dirbat

As we make our way towards Wadi Dirbat, we see a number of camels in the road; creating the quintessential Middle Eastern scene of my imagination.

large_bfc91080-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_c8bf3930-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_d784a810-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

There are camels everywhere and they are all heading the same direction.

large_e178dfd0-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_ea7d8770-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_30ef4da0-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

This is what they have come for: the water. And this is what we have come for: to see them in the water.

large_3f38aeb0-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_4c6ea3f0-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_58bcd140-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_6f7a32b0-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_7746f690-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

Sumhuram Archaeological Park

The ancient site of Sumhuram dates back to the 3rd century AD and is the most important pre-Islamic settlement in this area.

large_34f90eb0-516e-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

Built near the harbour of Khor Rori, it was once a wealthy port situated on the trading route between the Mediterranean and Asia.

large_3dd65830-516e-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

The city gate of Sumhuram was an imposing defensive structure. The access was tortuous, steep and blocked by three successive wooden doors.

large_c1520330-516e-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

The fort was protected on all sides and almost impregnable.

large_65dca9a0-516f-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_b5767860-516f-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_f3322690-516f-11e8-a775-5313471b32d8.jpg

large_bdd9d6f0-516f-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg
Khor Rori Port - the approach to the fort from the sea - the walls on this side did not have any openings, thus making it very secure.

large_eab02700-5170-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_a7e74a20-5170-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_418df710-5170-11e8-a775-5313471b32d8.jpg
Flamingos in the bay

large_6c232630-5170-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_574c90b0-5171-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

The fascinating and informative Audio Visual show in the Visitors' Centre brings the whole place to life.

large_4236a840-5172-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_4b377f50-5172-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_54108310-5172-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

Bin Ali's Tomb

Originally from Tarim in Yemen, Bin Ali came to this region in the beginning of the 12th century to teach Islam and build schools. A mosque has been built over his tomb, which is still used for prayer and mourning and this is now one of the most important Islamic sites in the region, partly because Bin Ali is said to be a descendant of the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.

large_66cce3c0-5174-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

The tomb and mosque are surrounded by a large traditional cemetery.

large_72c772d0-5174-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_7f4e6360-5174-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

Issa explains how the female graves have three headstones and those containing the remains of a man have two.

large_892b1b80-5174-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

Mirbat

Once the capital of Dhofar, Mirbat is now primarily a fishing village with many old decaying merchant houses.

large_9ef94580-5175-11e8-aa33-59d4f365e9a5.jpg

large_a7646c40-5175-11e8-aa33-59d4f365e9a5.jpg

large_b036b940-5175-11e8-aa33-59d4f365e9a5.jpg

large_289ba580-5176-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_475c4420-5176-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

I find the crumbling old buildings quite charming despite some being in a badly dilapidated state.

large_84c2eeb0-51dd-11e8-ba93-6b9fe7a373db.jpg

large_b604a4a0-51dd-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_198f5c70-51e0-11e8-abb2-451fc14dc74d.jpg

We take a little wander around the old town, and again I am drawn to the ornate doors and windows, some of which are in a better state of repair than others; but all of which could tell a story or two about the people who once lived and worked here.

large_8a6451a0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_94c9c1c0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_9dae5e40-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_a69ac2f0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_af5da6a0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_b83300e0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_c3522410-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_cd21bcd0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

The Old Town is deserted, and the busy working port is not exactly bustling either.

large_f6599f40-59c8-11e8-9be2-8f84e64032d0.jpg

large_0218fa10-59c9-11e8-9ce4-7de6e9cd261a.jpg

large_12bbdb80-59c9-11e8-9ce4-7de6e9cd261a.jpg

large_1bd877f0-59c9-11e8-9ce4-7de6e9cd261a.jpg

large_27bd8330-59c9-11e8-9ce4-7de6e9cd261a.jpg

When we get back to the hotel, we are informed that our flight this afternoon has changed and is now 5½ hours later. We manage to secure a late check out and have a snooze followed by something to eat and then listening to piano music in the lobby before trying to check in on line for our flights. When we get an error message stating “Flight Cancelled” we panic ever so slightly, and email Undiscovered Destinations (who arranged our trip) to see if they can find out for us what the situation is. They quickly come back to us to confirm that the flight is indeed running, so we assume the error message is just a computer glitch.

Homeward Bound

Salalah Airport is a joy. There is no queue for check in, and I chat up the guy on the counter who gives us window and aisle seats and blocks out the middle seat so that we can spread out. Success.

large_3116be00-59ca-11e8-9be2-8f84e64032d0.jpg

At Muscat Airport we have to collect our bags, but again there is no queue to check in. Just like we did on the way to Salalah, we are made to wait in the bus while they finish off getting the plane ready to board.

The flight back to the UK via Istanbul is uneventful and at Heathrow we get plenty of exercise walking from the gate to the main terminal building – I swear it is at least half a mile!

And so ends another successful tour with Undiscovered Destinations. If you are interested in travelling to some of the more little-known places off the beaten path, check them out. They can arrange group or private tours and have a huge selection of destinations to choose from.

As for Oman: we absolutely loved it! The country as a whole has moved directly into our Top Three list of favourite countries, with its friendly people, cleanliness (including a number of fabulous public toilets), good food, nice hotels, stunning scenery, and a host of interesting historical and cultural sites. Go now before everyone else discovers it.

large_569c4d70-59ca-11e8-9be2-8f84e64032d0.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 04:34 Archived in Oman Tagged history travel fort cemetery tomb museum port castle necropolis old deserted asia camels ancient mediterranean oman archaeology wadi trade middle_east frankincense salalah taqa taqa_castle camel_milk wadi_dirbat sumhuram sumharam_archaeological_park frankincense_trade impregnable khor_rori bin_ali mirbat dhofar Comments (1)

Muscat

Half a day in the capital


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having arrived at the hotel at 03:30 this morning, we miss breakfast totally and sleep through until we are woken by Housekeeping at 11:00. I am sure this is a sign of getting old: some 30 years ago we would have been up at 07:00 to make the most of our time here in Muscat; today we thoroughly enjoy the lie-in and leisurely start.

Al Falaj Hotel

Named after the traditional irrigation channels that Oman are famous for, the hotel is in a residential suburb of Muscat, with very little around in the way of amenities. The hotel itself, however, is very pleasant, with super-friendly staff, a nice pool and comfortable rooms.

large_Al_Falaj_Hotel__1.jpg
Hotel entrance

large_Al_Falaj_Hotel__Lobby_1.jpg
Lobby

large_Al_Falaj_Hotel__Lobby_2.jpg
Self-playing piano in the lobby

large_Al_Falaj_Hotel__Pool_1.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_Hotel__Pool_3.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_H..estaurant_6.jpg
The outside dining area

Interestingly, it has a Sri Lankan Tea Shop off the lobby and a Japanese Restaurant on the top floor.

large_Al_Falaj_H.._Tea_Shop_1.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_H.._Tea_Shop_2.jpg

Lunch

While not being at all keen on a buffet lunch, there really isn't much choice here. The mezze starter selection is nice, and I enjoy the tabbouleh and hummus in particular.

large_Al_Falaj_H..estaurant_5.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_H..estaurant_1.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_H..ch_Buffet_3.jpg
Mezze selection

The chicken is a little too dry and I am intrigued by the 'bacon', which looks and tastes exactly like regular bacon. As Oman is a strict Muslim country, pork is banned, so it is probably turkey, but it is certainly a very good imitation.

large_Al_Falaj_H..ch_Buffet_4.jpg

Thinking this is labneh in oil, I am very disappointed to find it is in fact pickled Brussels sprouts. I guess it was meant to be for decorative purposes only...

large_Al_Falaj_H..led_sprouts.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_H..ch_Buffet_1.jpg
Fresh fruits and desserts

The chocolate mousse is even better than it looks!

large_Al_Falaj_H..ch_Buffet_2.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_H..olate_Mouse.jpg

Aslam, the restaurant manager, comes over to chat with us. Like most of the staff, he comes from Sri Lanka. That could explain why all the main course dishes are Indian-style.

large_Al_Falaj_Hotel__Aslam.jpg

There are some nice decorative touches in the restaurant too.

large_Al_Falaj_H..estaurant_2.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_H..estaurant_3.jpg

large_Al_Falaj_H..estaurant_4.jpg

Old Muscat

At 15:00 Said, our guide for the next eight days, picks us up for a short tour. First he stops for a view over Old Muscat, with the City Gate, Forts and Palace clearly visible.

large_Old_Muscat_1A.jpg

Bait Al Zubair Museum

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_1.jpg

Photography is not allowed inside the museum unfortunately, which is a great shame as there are some amazing displays: clothing and jewellery, including the khanjar, the ornamental dagger worn on a belt. Mannequins show the traditional costumes from various parts of Oman, much of which seems to be inspired by Indian outfits. The Omani wedding displays are my favourite.

Scaled models show the four main forts of Oman: Nizwa, Quriyat, Jabrin and Al Hazm.

The section dedicated to guns is of less interest to me than the kitchen utensils and cooking implements. I am particularly taken with the Al Dallah, the coffee pots that look like they are taken straight out of an Arabian fairytale.

The second part of the museum, housed in a different building, shows old photograph from Oman before the Renaissance of 1970, when the current Sultan turned the country around from a poverty-stricken backwater with just three schools and one hospital in the entire country; to the modern progressive nation we see today.

There is also a wonderful exhibition with winners from a recent photographic competition. Absolutely breathtaking photographs!

Rooms are set out as they would have appeared in the living quarters of the late Sheikh Al Zubair bin Ali (founder of this museum) in the 1940s and 50s. It is interesting to note that most of the furniture came from England and India.

Amongst the exhibits are two items that make me feel particularly old – my very first camera (Kodak 66) and a desk caddy very, very similar to the one I inherited from my grandmother.

The grounds of the museum are nicely laid out, with further exhibits and a miniature village scene.

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_5.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_6.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_9.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_10.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_11.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_12.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_13.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_14.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_15.jpg

There are also a number of these sponsored painted goats dotted around the grounds.

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_2.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_3.jpg

large_Bait_Al_Zubair_Museum_4.jpg

Kalbuh Bay Park

After a refreshing juice stop, we continue to the Muttrah Corniche from where we will watch the sun set over Muscat.

large_Kalbuh_Bay_Park_1.jpg

large_Kalbuh_Bay_Park_5.jpg

large_Kalbuh_Bay_Park_2.jpg

large_Sunset_on_..Corniche_14.jpg

The park is a lovely little haven, with fountains and pavilions; and is popular with locals and tourists alike.

large_Kalbuh_Bay_Park_3.jpg

large_Sunset_on_.._Corniche_7.jpg

large_Watchtower.._Bay_Park_3.jpg
David climbs the watchtower for a better view

large_David_s_view.jpg
David's view

I love the way the low sun makes the hills disappear into misty oblivion, with paler colours on the further away peaks.

large_Sunset_on_.._Corniche_5.jpg

Off shore is the Sultan's private yacht – better looking than any cruise ship!

large_The_Sultan..ate_Yacht_3.jpg

On a hill above the park stands a giant frankincense burner

large_Giant_Fran.._Bay_Park_1.jpg

Tourists are ferried around the harbour in dhows, the traditional ships historically plying these waters.

large_Dhow_4.jpg

large_Dhow_3.jpg

As the sun gets lower, the colour of the sky intensifies.

large_Sunset_on_..Corniche_15.jpg

large_Sunset_on_..Corniche_16.jpg

Going, going, gone

large_Sunset_on_..Corniche_17.jpg

large_Sunset_on_..Corniche_18.jpg

We stay for a while after the artificial lights come on along the promenade and on the giant frankincense burner.

large_Muttrah_Co..fter_dark_2.jpg

large_Muttrah_Co..fter_dark_3.jpg

large_Muttrah_Co..fter_dark_1.jpg

large_Giant_Fran.._Bay_Park_2.jpg

Kargeen Caffe

Tonight is the only night where food is not included, so we wanted to make the most of it by choosing a restaurant very carefully. Usually included hotel dinners tend to be international buffets, and I wanted to try some traditional Omani food. I spent a fair amount of time on the internet searching for somewhere not too touristy, but not so traditional that we have to sit on the floor. This is what I came up with, and we certainly aren't disappointed as we walk in: the place oozes atmosphere. The clientele is a mixture of ex-pats, tourists, families and trendy young Omanis.

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_17.jpg

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_16.jpg

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_15.jpg

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_14.jpg

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_13.jpg

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_12.jpg

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_10.jpg

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_3.jpg

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_6.jpg
I am not sure how I feel about being watched by a couple of sheep while I eat...

large_Kargeeen_C.._and_Breads.jpg
Labneh plate and breads

large_Kargeeen_C..uffed_Bread.jpg
Traditional stuffed bread

large_Kargeeen_C..abne__Bread.jpg
Main course of shuwa and chicken biriyani

large_Kargeeen_Caffee_-_Shuwa.jpg
Shuwa - tender lamb traditionally cooked for 24-48 hours in an underground oven.

What a lovely way to end our first day in Oman. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

large_A36F4AA6C1F3E5311EC0DB03DBE210C9.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 11:38 Archived in Oman Tagged sunset sheep museum oman buffet muscat dhow corniche mutrah undiscovered_destinations al_falaj_hotel old_muscat lunch_buffet bait_al_zubair muttrach_corniche muttrah kalbuh_park kargeen_caffe shuwa labneh Comments (3)

Dar es Salaam - Moroni (Comoros)

We're here!


View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

Much as I love Tanzania, this trip is something totally different. Today we are continuing to the small island nation of Comoros.

“Comoros? Where’s that?” has been the common refrain when I tell people where I am going.

large_Where_is_Comoros.jpg

Nestled between Madagascar to the east and Mozambique on the African mainland to the west, Comoros consists of three major islands: Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani) and Moheli (Mwali). Internationally, the islands are known by their French names, and I have added the local Comorian names in parentheses.

large_Comoros_Map_1.jpg

It’s not exactly all the rage

The reason you haven’t heard of Comoros lies largely at the door of its total lack of commercial tourism, unlike that which its neighbours Mauritius and Seychelles close by ‘enjoy’ (or endure, whichever side of the fence you are). According to the Tourist Office, the islands receive fewer than 3,000 visitors each year (the last data I could find was from 2011, when 2,497 tourists entered the country). To put things into perspective, the Seychelles received 36,000 tourists in April this year alone.

As described by an online travel deal comparator promoting the islands: “Not many tourists travel to Comoros in the Indian Ocean and for good reason: there is regular seismic activity on top of great political instability”.

Cloud Coup Coup Land

Affectionately known as ‘Cloud Coup Coup Land’ as a result of its numerous (more than twenty) coups d’états since its independence in 1975, with various heads of state assassinated. Subsequent instability has left the small archipelago desperately poor (said to be the third poorest country in the world), unsurprisingly corrupt, and relatively untouched. It has an unemployment rate of 80% and it is believed that around 50% of the population live below the poverty line of US1 a day; and unfortunately it has few natural resources with which to recover its failing economy.

Dar es Salaam - Moroni

Anyway, back to today’s journey.

We are up at the crack of dawn this morning for a 5am pick up for the transfer to the airport. The journey that took well in excess of an hour last night in the terrible traffic, takes us a mere 20 minutes this morning.

Check in

We approach the Air Tanzania check-in desk with trepidation, and hand over our passports. The young girl types away on her computer and we are asked to place our bags on the scales. This is looking promising. My heart sinks, however, when she asks: “Are you travelling with Air Tanzania?” I hand over the original e-ticket plus the email and explain that we were originally booked on the Precisionair flight this morning which has been cancelled and that they informed us we have been re-booked with Air Tanzania instead (see yesterday’s blog for the full explanation). "Ah, that's why I can't find you on my system" she confirms. I hold my breath, waiting for the rejection and expecting her to pass the buck and tell us to go and sort it with Precisionair. She doesn’t. She calls them herself and asks us to sit down and wait while she sorts it out.

large_Dar_es_Salaam_Airport_1.jpg

We sit and we wait. And we wait, and then we wait some more. After around 30 minutes the supervisor comes over to tell us “it is being sorted”.

One hour. I go and ask. The supervisor tells me: “It is all confirmed, we are waiting for the second paper to be completed. Just sit down and relax.” I sit down. And relax. Sort of.

We eat the packed breakfast the hotel provided us with while we wait. And wait. And wait some more.

20 minutes before the departure of the flight and 2½ hours after we first checked in, we finally have boarding cards!

large_DAR_-_HAH_..card____081.jpg

Passport control is very slow, leaving us no time to buy any rum in the Duty Free as we go straight on to the plane.

large_Air_Tanzania_1.jpg

As we climb high and leave the metropolis of Dar es Salaam behind, I am looking forward to lazy days on tropical beaches in this ‘hidden paradise’.

large_Dar_es_Sal..m_the_Air_1.jpg

large_Tanzania_from_the_Air_5.jpg

I am surprised to be served a small snack on the short flight – it is only about one hour and 20 minutes long.

large_Air_Tanzan..flight_meal.jpg

It’s not long before we spot the peaks of Comoros’ highest point, Mt Karthala in the distance.

large_Comoros_from_the_Air_1.jpg

The origin of the name Comoros comes from the name given to the islands by an Arab geographer in the Middle Ages: Djazair al ‘Qamar’, which translated into English means Moon Islands. It is said that the first Arabs who arrived in the archipelago were enthralled by the lunar-like landscape caused by petrified lava on the pure white sand of the beaches. Looking down on the coastline below, I can see what they mean.

large_Comoros_from_the_Air_2.jpg

Soon we are approaching the small runway of Prince Said Ibrahim Airport in Moroni (I have no idea how this airport got its three letter code HAH).

large_Comoros_from_the_Air_4.jpg

large_Comoros_from_the_Air_3.jpg

large_Moroni_Airport_1.jpg

At immigration there are two forms to fill in, and my Norwegian passport seems to cause a bit of a stir, with the official calling her supervisor over to check it out. She speaks no English, I speak almost no French and even less Comorian. She keeps repeating “Visa! Visa!” I am not sure if she means I should have obtained a visa before travelling or that she is going to issue me with a visa.

It turns out to be the latter.

large_Comoros_Visa_Grete__080.jpg

I am very impressed they manage to produce a sticky-backed printed visa complete with my picture right here in the little immigration booth. She even asks me which page of my passport I would like it stuck on. There isn’t much choice in my case, as I only have one single spare page left in my passport; the rest is full with stamps and visas.

After a cursory luggage check in the Customs area, find ourselves outside in the sun looking for someone carrying a sign with our name on it. Again. We look around, nothing. Again. Neither of our mobile phones seems to work here in the Comoros, something we were warned about, so we are unable to call our guide or the office. Hovering by the exit for a few minutes soon attracts the local taxi touts, one of whom speaks a little English. He is thankfully not persistent and we chat to him for a while, explaining that we have someone coming to meet us from a local agency. When, after around 20 minutes or so, our pick-up still hasn’t arrived, he kindly uses his own mobile phone and rings the telephone number we have been given for the local agent’s office. It goes through to an answering machine. He then tries the number the agent supplied for the local guide we are to have for the duration of our stay here, Mr Akim. Success. David talks to Mr Akim and explains that we are waiting at the airport for him. Mr Akim is somewhat perplexed, and stutters as he laments: “I didn’t know you were coming… I am nowhere near the airport…” He sounds genuinely concerned (and extremely confused) and asks us where we are staying. “Take a taxi to the hotel… but the hotel is not booked…” We are both feeling a little tense and rather uneasy by this stage, wondering what else can go wrong, and if this trip is maybe jinxed in some way

Out of the corner of my eye I spot a chap walking purposefully directly towards us, and in his hands I can see a sign “Grete & David Howard”. He introduces himself as Yahaya, and is full of apologies for being late. Great! First a feeling of relief, then confusion. Oh. So, if this is our guide, who is the person we are talking to on the phone?

(It later transpires that the local agent had arranged another guide for us, but didn’t let us, or Undiscovered Destinations, who we booked the trip through, know)

large_Moroni_Airport_2.jpg
Waiting for the car at the airport

The car boot is not big enough to take both the bags and close as well, so we drive along with the boot lid open. It doesn’t really matter: these are not fast roads.

large_Car_boot_doesn_t_close.jpg

But first we must get the car started. It fires, turns and then dies. Time after time, again and again. We, and the luggage, get out of the car in order to access the spare battery the driver keeps in the boot, and the tools under the rear seat. This is obviously a regular occurrence.

As we approach the capital, we hit a huge, slow-moving traffic jam. “There is a strike,” says the girl whose name I heard as Malika and David thinks is Monica. We take a short cut through some badly pot-holed back streets, and stop at a small shop that doubles as a money changer.

large_Itsandra_P..ch__Comoros.jpg
Pretty beach outside Moroni, the capital

National Museum

On the way to the hotel we stop for a visit to the small, but reasonably interesting National Museum.

All the Comoros islands were created at various times as a result of volcanic activity on the seabed resulting in each of the islands having a distinct topographical characteristic as a result of their different ages.

large_National_M..canic_Rocks.jpg
Volcanic stones

According to pre-Islamic mythology, however, a jinn (spirit) dropped a jewel, which formed a great circular inferno. This became the Karthala volcano, which created the island of Grande Comore.

large_National_M..r_volcanoes.jpg
A cross section of the earth, showing Mt Karthala, the still-active volcano on Grand Comore

large_National_M..tery_shards.jpg
Pottery shards

large_National_M.._Coelacanth.jpg
Coelacanth - the fish thought to be extinct for millions of years until it was re-discovered here in Comoros in 1938

large_National_M.._Pufferfish.jpg
Pufferfish

large_National_M..Whale_skull.jpg
Whale skull

large_National_Museum_-_Shells.jpg
Shells

A few bedraggled and sad looking stuffed birds

large_National_M..aspian_Tern.jpg
Caspian Tern

large_National_M..nged_Plover.jpg
Common Ringed Plover

large_National_M..Blue_Pigeon.jpg
Comoro Blue Pigeon

large_National_Museum_-_Drums.jpg
Drums and other musical instruments

large_National_Museum_-_Pots.jpg
Various pots and containers

large_National_M.._-_Oil_Lamp.jpg
Oil lamp - usually whale oil was used

large_National_M..igger_Canoe.jpg
Outrigger canoe - the museum guide explains that he was a fisherman himself, using one of these for many years; much to his father’s disappointment, as he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and become an Imam.

large_National_M..ane_Crusher.jpg
Sugar cane crusher. The juice is later turned into 'honey'.

large_National_M..rom_coconut.jpg
Items made from the coconut palm - no part of the plant is wasted

Medina

Walking down through the Medina (old market) of Moroni, we cause quite a stir. There is lots of laughter, pointing and many shy smiles, plus a few requests for us to take them back to England with us. Tourists are a rarity here.

large_Moroni_Old..uit_and_Veg.jpg
Fruit and vegetables

large_Moroni_Old_Market_-_Beans.jpg
Beans

large_Moroni_Old.._-_Chillies.jpg
Chillies

large_Moroni_Old..et_-_Onions.jpg
Onions

Many Comorians believe that having their photograph taken will bestow them with bad luck, so I am therefore very surprised when this lady actively wants to have her picture taken with me. Don’t you just love the look on the face of the woman behind though?

large_Moroni_Old.._and_Friend.jpg

large_Moroni_Old..t_-_Butcher.jpg
Butcher

This lady not just asks us to photograph her young daughter, she begs us to take the child back to England to “give her a better life”.

large_Moroni_Old..t_-_Child_1.jpg

large_Moroni_Old..t_-_Child_3.jpg

I am not sure the girl, however, is equally enthralled with that idea.

large_Moroni_Old..t_-_Child_4.jpg

Some more images from the market:

large_Moroni_Old_Market_2.jpg

large_Moroni_Old_Market_1.jpg

large_Moroni_Old_Market_3.jpg

large_Moroni_Old_Market_-_Shoes.jpg
Shoes

large_Moroni_Old..et_-_Tailor.jpg
Tailor

Also in the Medina, behind these elaborate doors, is the palace once used by the last prince of Comoros.

large_Doors_to_t.._of_Comoros.jpg

The Old Town

We continue through the maze of narrow alleyways in Moroni Old Town.

large_Moroni_Old_Town_1.jpg

large_Moroni_Old_Town_2.jpg

Similar in many ways to Zanzibar’s Stone Town (they share a lot of history and culture), the old town has many beautifully carved doors.

large_Moroni_Old..rved_Door_1.jpg

large_Moroni_Old..rved_Door_2.jpg

As we get nearer to sea level and the large Friday Mosque, the alleyways open up and the vestiges of grand mansions appear, now but sad relics of faded glory.

large_Moroni_Old_Town_3.jpg

large_Moroni_Old_Town_4.jpg

Sultan Ahmed Mwigni Mkou Mosque

Historically, Comoros was divided into a number of Sultanates following the arrival of Arab settlers starting in the 11th century. Mwigni Mkou was the biggest of these Sultans, reigning for over 40 years.

large_Sultan_Ahm..ou_Mosque_1.jpg

large_Sultan_Ahm..ou_Mosque_2.jpg

The Town Hall

large_The_Town_Hall.jpg

Retaj Moroni Hotel

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_14.jpg

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_13.jpg

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_12.jpg

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_1.jpg

After checking in and dumping the bags in the room, we head down to the restaurant to see if we can get a small snack for lunch. Passing through the bar, we see a pizza oven and someone rolling dough, which will be perfect as neither of us are particularly hungry.

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_10.jpg
Pizza oven!

When we arrive at the restaurant, all they are doing is an international buffet. We both hate buffets with a passion and decide to forego lunch and take a wander around the hotel grounds instead.

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_2.jpg

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_3.jpg

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_4.jpg
Swimming pool complete with water!

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_5.jpg

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_7.jpg

large_Retaj_Moroni_Hotel_9.jpg

Dinner

After a stroll to the local supermarket and a nice little siesta, followed by a shower and change, it is time to go down for dinner. This time they do have pizza, which is what we order.

Mine has meat, chicken, vegetables and egg on it – it is the first time I have ever had egg on a pizza.

large_Meat__Chic..d_Egg_Pizza.jpg

David chooses his to be topped with turkey and mushrooms.

large_Turkey_and_Mushroom_Pizza.jpg

The Retaj Hotel is own by a Qatari organisation, and as such they abide by their strict Muslim beliefs: no alcohol served in the hotel at all!

large_A_Toast_of_Water.jpg

It is not quite the same toasting our safe arrival in Comoros – our 139th country – with water!

Starry sky

As we make our way back to the room, I notice the sky is clear and full of stars, so I go and grab my camera and tripod and head for the darker areas of the hotel grounds to look for the Milky Way. Considering we are on the outskirts of the capital, there is surprisingly little light pollution here.

large_Starry_Sky_3.jpg

The land arrangements of this trip was organised by Undiscovered Destinations.

large_D4FBF56B911D2D91D7B6DFED27F6EAC5.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 00:47 Archived in Comoros Tagged mosque beach travel hotel volcanic_rock market flight museum africa tanzania muslim lava tourism old_town pizza swimming_pool airline islam indian_ocean medina town_hall sultanate hah dar_es_salaam comoros undiscovered_destinations air_tanzania precisionair moroni retaj_moroni coelacanth pufferfish mt_karthala Comments (4)

Sucevita - Voronet - Târpeşti - Galați

Missing shoes, painted monastery, eclectic museum, more moonshine and a long drive.

sunny 32 °C
View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After all the beer, home made wine and double distilled moonshine yesterday evening, I slept deeply last night; and woke up feeling deservedly groggy this morning.

I sit on the balcony for a while, hoping the fresh air might make me feel better, and when Andrei surfaces, he looks as if he too had a rough night. “Have you seen my shoes”? he asks. We have a quick look around, but no sign of any shoes.

Later, as we go for breakfast, Andrei spots his shoes outside the dining room. Having no recollection of where you left your shoes and how you got back to your room is a sure sign of a good night; bearing in mind that he must have walked across the courtyard barefoot last night.

large_Life_is_not_a_Fairy_Tale.jpg

Voronet Monastery

Regarded by many as the most beautiful of all the painted churches of Bucovina, Voronet was built in 1488, with the frescoes added in 1547.

large_Voronet_Monastery_1.jpg

The monastery is often referred to as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the East’, or ‘The Blue Monastery’, due to the intense shade of blue on its frescoes, known in Romania as ‘Voroneț blue’

large_Voronet_Monastery_3A.jpg

The frescoes illustrate biblical scenes and important historical events; and Andrei explains them all to us. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who is as knowledgeable as Andrei; in every subject, not just about the sites he takes us to.

large_Voronet_Monastery_4.jpg

large_Voronet_Monastery_5.jpg

At this stage I have to admit that so much of it is going whoosh past me today, my concentration and enthusiasm are rather lacking this morning.

large_Voronet_Monastery_6.jpg

I come away from the monastery with way fewer pictures than I normally take, and not a single note in my trusty note-book.

large_Voronet_Monastery_7.jpg

Nicolae Popa Museum

In the village of Târpeşti, we visit this private museum, set in beautiful gardens complete with Popa’s eclectic carvings, inspired by Dacian statues.

large_Nicolae_Po..al_Museum_8.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..al_Museum_7.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po.._Museum_10_.jpg

Nicolae was a craftsman, artist and collector, who started his amazing collection as a child with his New Year masks.

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_14.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_17.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_20.jpg

The exhibits include ancient archaeological finds from 5000 years ago, more recent agricultural tools, various ethnographic objects such as clothing and belts, paintings and embroidery, and traditional household objects.

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_15.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_24.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_26.jpg

Wounded in action during WWII, and later imprisoned by the communists for his resistance work; Nicolae Popa went on to passionately dedicate his life to preserve Romanian folklore and values.

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_23.jpg
Nicolae Popa himself

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_21.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_27.jpg

He created hundreds of ritual masks and traditional costumes, composed lyrics, organised various folk performances, and wrote several books. His collection of traditional objects and creation of his own artwork continued right up until his death in 2010, aged 91. Today his family continue his traditions.

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_30.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_31.jpg
Pan for making polenta

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_35.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_36.jpg

large_Nicolae_Po..l_Museum_39.jpg

After exploring the museum, we take lunch in the grounds, in the shade of plum trees.

large_Nicolae_Po..m_-_Lunch_1.jpg

We start with some home made cheese and bread.

large_Nicolae_Po..ch_-_Cheese.jpg

Followed by the ubiquitous soup. Unlike in Russia, where it denotes beetroot soup, in Romania borsht is any soup soured by the juice of fermented wheat husks.

large_Nicolae_Po..unch_-_Soup.jpg

Main course consists of meatloaf, creamed potato, salad and a tomato-based sauce.

large_Nicolae_Po.._-_Meatloaf.jpg

On the right of the picture you can see the large jug of water, medium sized jug containing home made wine, and the smallest one with double distilled moonshine. For lunch.

large_Nicolae_Po..m_-_Lunch_2.jpg

large_Moonshine.jpg

Galați
As a result of the fairly alcoholic lunch, I sleep most of the time as we make our way south towards the Black Sea. My knee is bothering me greatly, giving me so much pain that I feel nauseous. We stop once for me to stretch my legs, but it is soon agony again once I am back in the car. When we finally reach Galați and our accommodation for the night, the Vila Belvedere, I cry with relief as I get out of the car.

large_Vila_Belvedere.jpg

Feeling somewhat sorry for myself and in pain, we decide not to go out for dinner tonight. We grab a snack in the room and re-pack into a small overnight bag for the trip to the Danube Delta tomorrow.

Thank you yet again to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging our private tour of Moldova, Transdniestr and Romania.

large_17EA7509D28040DF32540791655429A1.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 14:39 Archived in Romania Tagged travel museum folklore collection shoes romania monastery unesco hangover undiscovered_destinations moonshine lost_shoes voronet voronet_monastery unesco_heritage_list voronet_blue nicolae_popa popa_museum nicolae_popa_museum ethnographic_museum meatloaf galati vila_belvedere Comments (0)

Chișinău - Bendery - Tiraspol

♫♪♫ Back in the USSR ♫♪♫

sunny 38 °C
View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

That pesky lift this morning! Complete with our luggage, ready to check out, we press the call button. We can see the lift come up from the ground floor, then go straight past us to the top floor. It's the same on its way back down – it does not stop on the third floor for us. Five lifts whizz past on their journey either up or down, as our frustration grows. When one eventually stops, it is full. The same happens with the next two. This is getting beyond a joke; walking down the stairs is not an option with all our luggage. Finally an empty lift arrives and we manage to get in. Just. We feel like sardines pressed up against the mirrored walls of the miniscule lift.

Today we have a new driver, Ivan, to take us across the border from Moldova into Transdniestr. Valeriu pulls us aside before we get to the car and with a hint of drama requests that as Ivan hails from Transdniestr, we do not mention anything about the relations between the two countries or the political situation while in the car with Ivan.

Border Controls

The Moldavian side of immigration goes without a hitch and we don’t even have to leave the car. After travelling through a substantial stretch of no-mans-land, we arrive at the Transdniestr border, where we enter a small wooden hut on foot. Having heard stories about how previous travellers have had to bribe officials and even having their camera equipment confiscated at the border, I leave everything back in the car. Through the small window used by the immigration official, I spot a wall full of a ‘rogue’s gallery’ featuring artist impressions of ‘wanted’ travellers. We hand over our passports. Valeriu is travelling on an ID card, whereas Ivan has what looks like an old USSR passport, but is in fact issued by the government of Transdniestr. As Transdniestr is not recognised as a nation by most countries in the world, this passport is about as useful as a chocolate teapot: it cannot be used for overseas travel!

large_Passport.jpg

The atmosphere in the hut is tense; with people shuffling about uncomfortably and speaking in hushed voices. Finally we receive our approval to enter the country. The border officials do not stamp passports; instead a loose-leaf permit is issued which we need to hand in when leaving the country. “Do not lose it!” Valeriu implores, and I guard this piece of paper with my life, fearing the consequences!

large_Transdnies..try_Permit1.jpg

We have permission to enter the country for 24 hours only, with the permit dated and timed TO THE SECOND!

large_Transdnies.._the_SECOND.jpg

We’re in!

Transdniestr

So what’s the big deal with the border crossing between these two countries?

Transdniestr is a breakaway republic nestled between Moldova and Ukraine. Following the break-up of the USSR, conflict between Moldova and the Transdniestr republic escalated to some serious and bloody military clashes, which ended in an uneasy ceasefire. The territory of Transdniestr broke away from Moldova, who granted it the status of ‘Transnistria autonomous territorial unit with special legal status’. Although the ceasefire has mostly held, the territory's political status remains unresolved: Transdniestr is an unrecognised but de facto independent state with its own parliament, currency, flag, anthem and border controls. And passports.

large_Map_of_Transdniestr.jpg

So why did they not want to be part of Moldova?

Unlike the majority of Moldavians who are of Romanian descent and speak a form of Romanian, the people who live in this small, self-declared republic are mainly ethnic Russians and speak Russian.

This is how the BBC describes Transdniestr:

”…one of the post-Soviet space's ‘frozen conflicts’. The international community does not recognise its self-declared statehood, and the territory, which remains in a tense standoff with Moldova, is often portrayed as a hotbed of crime. It has a reputation for corruption, organised crime and smuggling, and has denied accusations of illegal arms sales and of money laundering.”

That’s OK then.

Wikivoyage also warns tourists that:

”Visitors should note that they are highly likely to face demands for substantial bribes from the border guards either on entry or exit from Transnistria (or both). Despite official orders from the previous President Smirnov to act professionally and to decline such payments, bribery is rife and your passport may be destroyed if you do not pay. Indeed, you may be turned away from the border on the Moldovan or Ukrainian side if you are unwilling or unable to pay the border guards a bribe.”

Which is the reason we approached the border controls with some trepidation and distrust, and why I am terrified of losing my slip of paper.

Bendery Fortress

The fortress, also known as Tighina, dates from 1538 when it was built to protect what was then one of the most powerful cities in Moldova.

large_Bendery_Fortress_5.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_1.jpg

The Military Historical Memorial is the cemetery where soldiers who died in the two world wars are buried, as well as those who lost their lives during the storming of the fortress by Ottomans, Ukrainian Cossack soldiers of Mazepa, and Swedish soldiers under the rule of Charles XII (who took refuge here), mostly from the 18th century.

large_Bender_Mil.._Memorial_2.jpg

In 1710, Pylyp Orlik (a Cossack Hetman in exile) wrote one of the first state constitutions in Europe here at Bendery, and was named as the ‘Protector of Ukraine’ as a result. This open book celebrates the occasion.

large_Bendery_Fortress_6.jpg

Busts of various Russian generals who liberated the fortress from the Ottomans in the 18th century.

large_Bendery_Fortress_8.jpg

It looks like the Ottomans have returned.

large_Bendery_Fortress_9.jpg

The fortress is pretty unusual in that each of the eleven towers has a different shape.

large_Bendery_Fortress_3.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_4.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_7.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_10.jpg

In the small museum hangs a portrait of Carl XII of Sweden, who fled south after the Swedish assault in the Great Northern War in the 18th century ended in disaster and saw him badly injured. He and around 1000 of his men took refuge in Bendery Fortress where he was initially welcomed with open arms by the Ottomans.

large_Bendery_Fo.._-_Carl_XII.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_15.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_16.jpg

Also in the museum are relics from an ancient Greek settlement found here, old currency, and a cool model of the fort showing how it would have looked in its heyday.

large_Bendery_Fortress_17.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_19.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_20.jpg

large_Bendery_Fortress_21.jpg

Outside in the courtyard we find a trebuchet and some stocks.

large_Bendery_Fortress_11.jpg

large_In_the_Stocks_1.jpg

We move slowly back to the car as the temperatures are already in the high 30s. It’s going to be a hot one today!

Tiraspol

Internationally this city is recognised as the second largest city in Moldova, but Tiraspol is in fact the capital of the breakaway republic of Transdniestr, and celebrates its Russian connections with a fairly modern statue of Lenin in front of its Parliament.

large_Statue_of_Lenin_1.jpg

large_Statue_of_Lenin_2.jpg

Glory Monument

Monument Plaza features commemorations to those who died defending Transdniestr during both world wars, the Afghan War, and the Great Patriotic War (the breaking up of USSR and ‘independence’ from Moldova 1990-1992).

large_Glory_Memorial_1.jpg

large_Glory_Memorial_2.jpg

large_Glory_Memorial_7.jpg

large_Glory_Memorial_4.jpg

large_Glory_Memorial_5.jpg

The T34 Tank was brought from Hungary in 1945. Underneath it is a capsule with soil from Volgograd (site of the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942).

large_Glory_Memorial_-_T34_Tank.jpg

large_Glory_Memo..wful_Mother.jpg
Statue of the Sorrowful Mother

large_Glory_Memo..nal_Flame_1.jpg
Eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

large_Glory_Memorial__-_Chapel.jpg
A newish chapel

Dniester River

The river is used for a variety of leisure activities, such as boating, fishing, sunbathing, or swimming.

large_Dniester_River_1.jpg

large_Dniester_River_2.jpg

large_Dniester_River_3.jpg

Central Square

Here we find a statue to Alexander Suvorov, a national hero and city founder who liberated Bendery Fortress back in 1770.

large_Statue_of_.._Stuvorov_2.jpg

What I didn’t expect to see, however, is a group of Hari Krishna singers here!

.

Independence Day celebrations

Two days ago – on September the 2nd – Transdniestr celebrated its Independence Day, and everywhere we go in Tiraspol, we see posters and decorations, including these banners in the colour of the Transdniestr flag.

large_Independen..ebrations_1.jpg

large_Katherine_the_Great_1.jpg

large_Katherine_the_Great_2.jpg
A statue to Catherine the Great, the Russian leader under whom Suvorov fought when he founded Tiraspol.

In-Line Skating

I am really impressed to see this guy, who must be well into his 70s, keep up with the youngsters in the skate park! Respect!

large_In-Line_Sk.._Tiraspol_1.jpg

large_In-Line_Sk.._Tiraspol_2.jpg

large_In-Line_Sk.._Tiraspol_3.jpg

City Hall

We stop to admire the City Hall and later Valeriu asks if we would like to taste some Cognac. We are both feeling the heat today, and I have an upset tummy, so we kindly decline.

large_A1D538E0CA0F93692FFB513117E969DA.jpg

Kvmahëk Restaurant

Instead we continue to lunch, at a Ukrainian restaurant well known for its excellent food.

large_Kumanjok_Restaurant.jpg

When we arrive, we are presented with vodka shots accompanied by some amuse bouche.

large_Vodka_Shots_1.jpg

This will be 'kill or cure' for my upset tummy, for sure.

large_Vodka_Shots_3.jpg

I'll go with the 'cure.

large_Vodka_Shots_4.jpg

We start with the ubiquitous soup of course, this time traditional borscht – beetroot soup with smetana (soured cream).

large_Boscht_1.jpg

The restaurant specialises in varenyky – traditional Ukrainian pierogi - and we have a selection, filled with cheese, potato, and even cherries.

large_Varenyky__..nd_potato_1.jpg

large_Varenyky__..th_cherries.jpg

Hotel Russia

After the late lunch, Ivan drops us off at Hotel Russia; he then has to drive Valeriu back to Chișinău for another tour this evening! Talk about being in demand!

large_Hotel_Russia_1.jpg

The hotel is very new and modern, with a retro style throughout.

large_Hotel_Russia_2.jpg

large_Hotel_Russia_3.jpg

The A/C is very welcome and we take a long nap, followed by a refreshing shower and feel very much better afterwards – almost human again.

I start to snigger as I read the description of the hotel services, detailing how they offer “speed dating” in the bar. It certainly sounds like a euphemism to me, and I become even more convinced when I read about their “private room where you can relax in utmost privacy or conduct confidential business negotiations” I feel sure that there is more to this place than just a hotel.

large_Hotel_Russia_11.jpg

Dinner and ‘entertainment’

It is still very warm out when we go down for dinner, but thankfully there is a shady courtyard where we can eat.

large_Hotel_Russia_4.jpg

It seems they are expecting us, and a very pretty waitress brings us some water and later a salad, explaining that the ‘meat will be around 20 minutes’. Or at least I think that is what she is trying to tell us.

large_Hotel_Russia_-_salad.jpg

Initially we are the only two people in the restaurant, but there seems to be a private party or something going on next door, and we watch guests arrive. One by one, or sometimes in pairs, the most stunningly beautiful girls arrive, wearing precipitously high heels, skirts so short that if they even slightly bent over I could see their breakfast, or dresses so tight they would have needed a shoe horn to get into them – usually with splits reaching for the armpits. When I say that these girls are glamorous, I mean it to the point that they would not look out of place on a red carpet in Hollywood. These are amongst the most beautiful and elegant girls I have ever seen!

large_Hotel_Russia_7.jpg
Watching the comings and goings. No pun intended.

The girls are truly conversation-stoppers. Or rather starters – we do wonder with so many flashy and seductive girls (and mostly scruffy corpulent men) if this is anything to do with the “speed dating” and “private room” we read about earlier…?

large_Hotel_Russia_12.jpg
David is bemused but enjoying the view.

They all disappear behind a wall at the end of the terrace, to what I presume is a private party, but being the nosy sort, I go to have a peek. The setting is equally sophisticated, with colourful drapes and a multicoloured fountain.

large_Hotel_Russ..Fountains_9.jpg

large_Hotel_Russ..ountains_11.jpg

Having taken what I had hoped was a surreptitious photo of the girl in the gold dress; the chap in the background comes up and starts to talk to me in Russian. Although I can’t understand what he is saying, I feel quite uncomfortable about his demeanour, so I shrug my shoulders, smile sweetly and hurry back to where David is sitting.

large_Hotel_Russia_21.jpg

Our main course soon arrives, a very tasty beef stew with potato wedges.

large_Hotel_Russ..nd_Wedges_2.jpg

The dining area is more like a café or bistro, and the first two courses were fairly plain and ordinary; the dessert is therefore all the more of a surprise when it arrives! It is almost as glamorous and dazzling as the girls!

large_Hotel_Russ..e_Caramel_2.jpg

large_Hotel_Russ..e_Caramel_3.jpg

Not wishing to gatecrash the party next door, nor wanting to change money into Transdnistrian Roubles just so that we can have a drink in the bar; we retire to the room fairly early.

I’ve been asleep for a couple of hours when a sudden noise wakes me up. I hear the clippety-clopp of high heels on the hard floor of the corridor, then the slamming of a door. I look at my watch – it is 02:30. More clippety-clopp and door slamming follows, accompanied by giggling and laughter. It seems a number of guests are returning to their rooms a little worse for wear.

I have almost managed to drift back off to sleep by ignoring the noise from the corridor, when I hear shouting. Loud shouting. First a male voice, and then a female. A very loud door-slam follows, with the noise seemingly emanating from the next room. More shouting. They are obviously having a major ‘domestic’ dispute. At around 04:15 there appears to be a ceasefire, and I am just returning to a slumber when they start off again. At one stage the fight gets pretty intense, it sounds like things are being thrown around, and I am very much expecting to hear the sound of broken glass followed by sirens. Thankfully that does not happen.

At 05:15 the argument reaches a crescendo: the female screams what I can only assume are Russian profanities, slams the door and leaves him, running down the corridor with more clippety-clopps. It doesn't sound like he follows her.

Was this another "speed date" gone wrong, or did the "confidential negotiations" break down? Either way, I am extremely grateful for silence at last. and I collapse into a deep sleep.

And so endeth another 'interesting' day in Moldova / Transdniestr with Undiscovered Destinations.

large_AFA75888AB3C41DFD9901E77B114B2B4.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 04:13 Archived in Moldova Tagged lenin fountain memorial museum party border_crossing fortress passport chisinau immigration moldova bender transnistria hookers hotel_russia tiraspol transdniester transniestra hotel_codru codru bendery tighina bendery_fortress tighina_fortress berder_fortress carl_xii glory_memorial Comments (0)

Butuceni - Capriana - Hincu - Chișinău

Our first canonisation


View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The restaurant looks completely different this morning without the wedding party, decorations and DJ equipment.

large_Butuceni_E..estaurant_1.jpg

For breakfast we are on the same table as a group of eleven Finnish tourists, and like last night, there is way too much food.

large_Butuceni_E..Breakfast_2.jpg

large_Butuceni_E..Breakfast_1.jpg

Some sort of rice pudding, doughnut-type pastries, feta-style cheese, yogurt and tomatoes more than fills us up.

large_Butuceni_E..Breakfast_3.jpg

After breakfast we take a short walk around Butuceni Village, with its collection of cute old buildings, ornate gates and jumbled street furniture.

large_Butuceni_Village_1.jpg

large_Butuceni_Village_3.jpg

large_Butuceni_Village_4.jpg

large_Butuceni_Village_6.jpg

large_Butuceni_Village_2.jpg

large_Butuceni_Village_5.jpg

I call in the village shop to get some water, and notice the elderly shopkeeper uses an abacus to add up the purchases. I don’t think I have seen one of those in use since we visited the old USSR back in the 1980s.

large_Abacus.jpg

I am also very surprised to see a British car in the village!

large_Butuceni_V..ritish_Car_.jpg

Capriana Monastery

On our way to Capriana, we spot a number of police cars that increase in frequency and number the nearer we get to the monastery. The last bit of road leading to the complex is closed off with a police cordon, and parking is impossible anywhere near the area. There are people everywhere; most dressed in their Sunday best. The national TV station is present and there are food stalls and first aid tents set up. Somebody important must be visiting – other than us, I mean.

large_Capriana_Monastery_1.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery_2.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery_5.jpg

Even from a great distance we can clearly hear the church bells and some beautiful chanting.

.

Valeriu is as perplexed as we are, but his confusion soon turns to awe as he realises that the liturgy is being led by none other than the Patriarch of Moscow – who for those of us not in the know (including me and David), he is the 'head honcho' of the Moldavian Orthodox Church, held in the same esteem as the Pope is for the Catholics.

large_Capriana_Monastery_3.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery_4.jpg

The air is full of celebratory reverence, devoted admiration, and pious wonderment; and we soon discover the reason: Moldova is getting its very first Saint in the shape of Metropolitan Banulescu Bodoni who died 200 years ago. We, along with thousands of others, are in fact attending their – and our - very first canonisation. How cool is that?

large_Capriana_Monastery_12.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery_10.jpg

The Church of St Mary

The crowds are too great to do sightseeing justice, but we follow the throngs of worshippers into the church of St Mary. Dating from 1545, it is the oldest of the three churches that make up the monastery complex, and the oldest preserved church in Moldova.

large_Capriana_Monastery_7.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery_6.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery_13.jpg

After falling into decline during the 17th century, the church was reinvigorated in 1813, and for a while thrived. In 1940, the whole monastic estate was confiscated by Soviet troops, the monks fled and the churches were desecrated and pillaged. During the 1960s and 70s, the monastery was used as a sanatorium for sick children and later as a dance hall. In 1989 reconstruction of the monastery began and Capriana once again became a place of religious services.

large_Capriana_Monastery__5_.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery__2_.jpg

It amuses me that a woman’s hair must be covered before entering the church, yet a tight, short dress is fine.

large_Capriana_Monastery__9_.jpg

Despite not being religious, I find the visit to the church quite emotional and very spiritual. Valeriu gives us a candle each as we enter the church, for us to say a prayer and then ‘plant’ the candle.

large_Capriana_Monastery__7_.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery_14.jpg

large_102BD7A39DC546ACFCFE88852B4305C0.jpg

large_Capriana_Monastery_15.jpg

The Church of St George

Dating from 1907, the church of St George is smaller and nowhere near as crowded.

large_Capriana_M.._s_Church_3.jpg

large_Capriana_M.._s_Church_1.jpg

We leave the crowds behind and call Leonid to come back and pick us up for the journey to Hincu.

Hincu Monastery / Convent

Located in the picturesque Codrii Forest, reaching Hincu Monastery involves a very pleasant stroll up through the woods, although I didn’t expect to see a monk on a tractor along the way.

large_Hincu_Monastery_2.jpg

large_Hincu_Monastery_1.jpg

Founded in 1678 by the daughter of the High Steward Mihai Hincu, Hincu is one of the richest monasteries in Moldova. The convent was then known as Parascheva. After the wooden church and cells were destroyed several times during Tatar invasions in the 18th century, the nuns left. The care of the convent fell on monks from a nearby monastery, who repaired the cells and eventually moved in.

large_Hincu_Monastery_7.jpg

With the arrival of the Soviets in 1944, the monastery closed and the monks were 'asked' to leave. In 1978 the monastery was taken into use as a sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers, while the church was turned into a club. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990, Hincu once more became an active monastery, albeit short lived: in 1992, the community was abolished and the monks moved out. Later the same year, a few nuns returned and started the reconstruction of the monastery / convent – which just proves that if you want a job done, get the girls in!

large_Hincu_Monastery_9.jpg

large_Hincu_Monastery_10.jpg

large_Hincu_Monastery_11.jpg

large_Hincu_Monastery_12.jpg

Next-door a new church is in the process of being constructed, but apparently they have run out of funds, so the interior is still fairly basic, without any of the usual adornments normally associated with orthodox churches.

large_Hincu_Monastery_13.jpg

large_Hincu_Monastery_15.jpg

The grounds are beautiful, with beds bursting to the seams with brightly coloured flowers. I guess this is the female touch that comes from it being a convent now rather than a monastery.

large_Hincu_Monastery_18.jpg

The nunnery has one of the best tended and colourful cemeteries I have ever seen!

large_Hincu_Monastery_19.jpg

From Hincu we continue the short distance to the official visitors area of Codrii Forest.

Codrii Nature Reserve

At the reserve head quarters we have a picnic in a specially constructed ‘pavilion’, set in a serene and tranquil location in amongst the trees.

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_1.jpg

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_11.jpg

Founded in 1972, it is the oldest scientific nature reserve in Moldova, and boasts some 1,000 species of protected plants, 43 species of mammals, 145 species of birds, 7 species of reptiles and more than 8,000 species of insects.

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_2.jpg

Natural Museum

Guided by the curator’s daughter Doina - who is keen to practise her somewhat limited English - we are shown around the small museum detailing some of the species found in the area.

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_5.jpg

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_3.jpg

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_4.jpg

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_7.jpg

While David goes with Doina for a hike down to the lake, I join Valeriu in the ‘pavilion’, listening to Deep Purple and discussing palaeoanthropology. As you do.

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_9.jpg

large_Codrii_Forest_Reserve_10.jpg

We leave the countryside behind and return to Chișinău, taking a nap in the car on the way.

Chișinău

Back in Chișinău we drop the bags off at the hotel and continue to the National History Museum.

large_Codru_Hotel_2.jpg

Chișinău National History Museum

The museum's large, bright, clean and modern rooms feature exhibits dating from pre-history, through various occupations to independence of this small country.

The visit feels a little rushed, but to be honest I am not at all unhappy about that as I am tired, it is uncomfortably hot and my back is hurting.

large_National_M.._Chi_in_u_2.jpg

large_National_M..Chi_in_u_13.jpg

large_National_M.._Chi_in_u_4.jpg

large_National_M.._Chi_in_u_6.jpg

large_National_M.._Chi_in_u_7.jpg

large_National_M.._Chi_in_u_8.jpg

large_National_M..Chi_in_u_11.jpg

large_National_M..Chi_in_u_14.jpg

large_National_M..Chi_in_u_15.jpg

Hotel Codru

As it is only a couple of blocks away, we walk back to the hotel (rather than let Leonid drive us) to pick up the luggage we dumped earlier and check in. We’re back in Room 313, and yet again we negotiate the tiny lift, just about 1m², where there is barely enough room for two (large) people with two backpacks, two wheelybags and two camera bags.

Dinner

After some chill time and a welcome shower, we wander downstairs to have dinner. The restaurant is closed for of a wedding reception (another one? That’s exactly what happened to us last night!), and the outside terrace is out of bounds because of a private party; which leaves us the bar. That suits us fine, as we really just want a small meal and a glass or three of wine.

large_Chicken_St..nd_Mamaliga.jpg
Chicken stew with branza (feta type cheese), smetana (soured cream) and mămăligă (polenta)

large_Moldovan_S.._Clay_Pot_1.jpg
Moldovan style roast beef in a clay pot
large_Moldovan_S.._Clay_Pot_2.jpg

large_Grilled_Ve..le_Potatoes.jpg
Side dish of grilled vegetables and country style potatoes

large_Pucari_Wine.jpg
Wine!!!!

The food is delicious (especially the cheese) - and we are both very impressed with the wine - very, very smooth!

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for another great day in Moldova!

large_38D57E7F0FBD3BA437E7FA05651D78C5.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 00:49 Archived in Moldova Tagged trees food flowers nature hotel cemetery museum woods wine monastery forest saint convent chisinau moldova nunnery natural_history codru_hotel pucari pucari_wine capriana capriana_monastery hincu codrii codrii_forest canonisation moldovian_food Comments (0)

Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part II

Rain doesn't stop play, it creates photo opportunities


View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

large_Game_Drive_5.jpg

Lake Magadi

After leaving the ‘Lion Tree’, we try to find somewhere to stop for our picnic lunch. Malisa’s initial plan is to park down by Lake Magadi, but there is no shade whatsoever and the sun is relentless.

large_Lake_Magadi_11-2.jpg

large_Lake_Magadi_11-1.jpg

large_Lake_Magadi_11-4.jpg

Terns

On the shores of the lake, a number of terns are congregating: Whiskered, White Winged Black and Black.
As we get closer, they all take off en masse.

large_Terns__Whiskered_11-1.jpg

large_Terns__Whi.._Black_11-1.jpg

large_Terns__Whi.._Black_11-2.jpg

large_92293589E279EAF774E0BB8D5DE58DA1.jpg

large_922BB5F0A4BAA11F98DFF7462EC3233A.jpg

large_Terns__Whi.._Black_11-3.jpg

large_Terns__Whi.._Black_11-4.jpg

large_Terns__Whi.._Black_11-5.jpg

Rueppell's Long Tailed Starling

large_Staling__R..Tailed_11-1.jpg

Grey Backed Shrike

large_Shrike__Grey_Backed_11-1.jpg

large_Picnic_8A.jpg

We finally find a tree to take our picnic under, listening to the grunting of hippo as we eat. When Lyn comments to Malisa that the sounds appear awfully near, his reply doesn’t exactly re-assure her: “This is leopard country…” Seeing the paw prints in the sand, Lyn makes a hasty retreat to the car.

Banded Mongoose

This is an enormous family!

large_31845AAB0B69C485DEA4B3439F971CF2.jpg

large_Mongoose__Banded_11-12.jpg

large_Mongoose__Banded_11-13.jpg

large_Mongoose__Banded_11-14.jpg

large_Mongoose__Banded_11-15.jpg

Cape Buffalo

A buffalo tries – unsuccessfully – to hide in the long grass.

large_Buffalo__Cape_11-11.jpg

Ostrich

A male ostrich shows off his typical breeding plumage: bright pink legs and neck.

large_Ostrich_11-21.jpg

large_Ostrich_11-22.jpg

Moru Kopjes

large_Moru_Kopjes_11-1.jpg

large_Moru_Kopjes_11-2.jpg

large_Musical_Notes.jpg

Gong Rock

On top of one of the kopjes is a strategically placed, strange-shaped rock. This large rock with holes emits quite a gong when hit with a stone. In the old days – before the Maasai were relocated to make this an animal-only national park - it was used as a form of communication, to call together clan members to meetings. These days I guess they use mobile phones.

large_Gong_Rock_11-0.jpg

large_Gong_Rock_11-1.jpg

large_Gong_Rock_11-3.jpg

large_Gong_Rock_11-21.jpg

large_Gong_Rock_11-22.jpg

large_Gong_Rock_11-23.jpg

.

large_Gong_Rock_11-6.jpg

Maasai paintings

The kopjes here at Moru also hide a number of rock paintings believed to be several hundred years old. The colours used are similar to those on the Maasai shields, so it is thought that they were painted by a band of young Maasai warriors who wandered this area for several years before settling down to their pastoral life.

large_Maasai_Paintings_11-31.jpg

large_Maasai_Paintings_11-6.jpg

large_Maasai_Paintings_11-7.jpg

The colours used were created from plant matter: the black from volcanic ash, the white and yellow from different clay, and the red from the juice of the wild nightshade.

large_Maasai_Paintings_11-1.jpg

large_Maasai_Paintings_11-2.jpg

I am intrigued by the bicycle.

large_Maasai_Paintings_11-3.jpg

large_Maasai_Paintings_11-4.jpg

Rock Hyrax

The area around the kopjes is supposed to be home to Serengeti’s last remaining black rhino and is a favourite hangout of leopards apparently. But all we see are a few rock hyraxes.

large_Rock_Hyrax_11-101.jpg

large_Rock_Hyrax_11-103.jpglarge_Desperation_2.jpg

My tummy really is in a bad way now, causing me quite some concern; and I beg Malisa to find me a proper toilet. “We are very near” he tells me.

Dark Chanting Goshawk

large_Goshawk__D..nting_11-11.jpg

large_Goshawk__D..nting_11-12.jpg

Serengeti Rhino Project Visitors Centre

large_Walking_Rhions.jpg

Half an hour later, we reach the Rhino Information Centre, where the toilets are indeed very good.

large_F97E3C20BA1C45B593AEAA91F2945623.jpg

Phew!

Mostly as a result of poaching, the black rhino population has declined to a critically endangered point, with an all time low of 2,300 individuals in the wild. Fewer than 700 eastern black rhinos survive in the wild, with Serengeti being home to around 30 of them.

large_Rhino_Info..Centre_11-2.jpg

large_Rhino_Info..Centre_11-5.jpg

Named after the German conservationist Michael Grzimek who devoted his life to the Serengeti, the Visitors Centre has displays about the rhino and how the conservation strategies are being employed to ensure the continued survival of the rhino.

large_Rhino_Info..Centre_11-1.jpg

large_Rhino_Info..Centre_11-6.jpg

large_Rhino_Info..Centre_11-4.jpg

The exact location of the park’s rhino population is a well kept secret, with a small army of rangers and wardens looking after the animals 24/7.

large_Rhino_Info..Centre_11-7.jpg

large_Rhino_Info..Centre_11-3.jpg

large_EF6CCC68A0C7FA755079B1A3FA4E1B58.jpg

One of the reasons the crocodile is often found with his mouth wide open, is to attract insects, who are drawn to bits of meat left in the croc’s teeth. The insects again attract birds, and as soon as an unsuspecting bird enters the mouth – slam! The bird is no more.

large_Crocodile_11-11.jpg

large_Crocodile_11-12.jpg

For some reason that reminds me of this Youtube clip.

.

Squacco Herons

large_Herons__Squacco_11-1.jpg

large_Hamerkop_Nest_1.jpg

These enormous nests take the birds up to three months to build, and are the height of sophistication, with three rooms inside. The nests can weigh up to 90kg, measure 1.5 metres across, and are strong enough to support the weight of a man! These birds are compulsive nest builders, constructing three to five nests per year whether they are breeding or not. When the hamerkop abandons a nest, Egyptian Geese move in.

large_Hammerkop_Nest_11-1.jpg

large_Hammerkop_Nest_11-2.jpg

Many local people believe the hamerkop to be a ‘witch bird’ because they collect all sorts of stuff for their nest building, including human hair!

More Ostriches

large_Ostrich_11-71.jpg

Giraffe

large_Giraffe_11-81.jpg

Rain

large_Rain_10.jpg

In Africa, rain is a blessing, for humans, animals and the environment.

♪♫♪ I bless the rains down in Africa… ♪♫♪

"Africa" by Toto

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in twelve-thirty flight
Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say: "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

.

Rain can also be a blessing for photographers, creating some lovely moody shots.

large_Rain_and_Mist_11-6.jpg

Lions

Seeing a herd of Lancruisers in the distance, and knowing that they always hunt in packs, we surmise there must be a suitable prey around.

large_Landcruise.._Packs_11-1.jpg

We are not disappointed. Wet and bedraggled, there is a pride (or sawt) of lions in the long grass, with what’s left of a dead wildebeest.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-5.jpg

Two mums and three cubs (around 1½ - 2 months old) gather around the carcass.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-6.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-7.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-9.jpg

The rain is persistent now; so we put the roof down to stop everything in the car getting wet. Although, looking to the west, it does seem that it might clear up soon.

large_Weather_Clearing_Up_11-1.jpg

Actually, almost as soon as we put the roof down, the rain eases off. Typical. We leave it down for a while to see what happens, but as the rain seems to hold off, we raise it again to allow for more movement and ease of photography.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-12.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-13.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-15.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-18.jpg

One of the mums has had enough, and goes off, growling.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-20.jpg

She then lies down in the short grass to tidy herself up from the eating and the rain.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-26.jpg

Followed by a quick roll on the ground.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-27.jpg

Before continuing her stroll.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-28.jpg

The other mum watches her girlfriend with interest.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-30.jpg

And decides that she too would like a roll in the long grass. Copy cat!

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-31.jpg

Obviously her tummy is not quite full yet: she goes back to the wildebeest for another bite or two.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-33.jpg

The cubs try to emulate mum, tugging at their dinner.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-36.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-37.jpg

I have to say that the normal cuteness associated with lion cubs is not very evident in the wet!

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-45.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-50.jpg

Eating is boring when you’re a young lion cub, playing with mum is much more fun!

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-57.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-58.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-65.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-59.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-60.jpg

Mum, on the other hand, is not impressed. “Will you stop that for goodness sake, I am trying to eat!”

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-61.jpg

"But muuuuum..."

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-63.jpg

Sunshine

Meanwhile, the sun is trying to come out.

large_The_Sun_is..me_Out_11-1.jpg

large_The_Sun_is..me_Out_11-2.jpg

It seems mum number two has also had her fill for the day, leaving the kill behind; licking her chops as she wanders off through the long grass.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-68.jpg

She stops to sniff the air; her face still bloody from dinner.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-72.jpg

Aha! So, that is what she could smell!

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-75.jpg

Dad settles down for a rest – or at least that’s what he thinks. The cubs have other ideas.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-76.jpg

Just like mum, dad is not amused either and growls at the playing cubs, who have been jumping up and down on his back and rolling around all over him.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-77.jpg

The playful kitties go back to annoying mum for a while.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-87.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-78.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-95.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-96.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-97.jpg

She is still having none of it.

large_4FB6CFB89AA4C0B42D238E095A0813BC.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-89.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-86.jpg

I am sure this is an expression mothers throughout the world can relate to: the sheer frustration of pleading young eyes.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-90.jpg

Eventually they realise it is less hassle to just play amongst themselves.

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-81.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-79.jpg

large_Lions_in_the_Rain_11-83.jpg

Time to get a move-on

We reluctantly leave the playing kitties to head for camp. It is already 18:15 and we have another 45 minutes drive from here. "Depending on what we see on the way", as Malisa always says when we ask him how long it will take to get somewhere.

The roads are wet and slippery and in his rush to get to camp before we get into trouble, Malisa starts to skid on the muddy track, then over-compensates. For a brief moment we are hurtling sideways at some speed before he manages to skilfully correct the car. Well done that man! Although I found the ‘Serengeti Drift’ quite exhilarating!

Hyenas

This weather seems to have really brought out the hyenas, as we see a dozen or more during one particular stretch of road. Or perhaps they just like this specific area.

large_Hyena_11-31.jpg

Shooting straight into the setting sun makes for some spectacular backlit images.

large_Hyena_11-33.jpg

large_Hyena_11-35.jpg

Rainbow

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-30.jpg

Seeing the rainbow, I ask Malisa to find me a giraffe for the foreground. Not too demanding then!

The nearest I get is an elephant and a tree. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

large_Elephant_and_Rainbow_11-1.jpg

Sunset

This evening’s stormy clouds have created one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in Africa, with moody, threatening clouds and ever-changing colours.

I hang out of the window with my camera all the way to the lodge; constantly changing the settings (mainly exposure and white balance) to try and achieve different effects. You can see some of the end results below.

large_Stormy_Clo..Sunset_11-7.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..Sunset_11-8.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-12.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-13.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-14.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-15.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-18.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-23.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-27.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-28.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-41.jpg

large_Stormy_Clo..unset_11-43.jpg

Serengeti Serena Lodge

Just as we arrive at the lodge – in the dark – a long tailed mongoose crosses the road. A very rare animal to spot, it is a first for us. Even Malisa is exciting about it!

large_Serengeti_Serena_Hotel.jpg

The car park is full and very dark; and we have to negotiate lots of obstacles to get to reception. They are busy and check-in is the slowest we have experienced so far. Eventually we are taken to our rooms – it is a great shame that we cannot see them, as they look very unusual and rather fancy from the post card!

large_Serengeti_..afari_Lodge.jpg

The design of this hotel is based on traditional Maasai dwellings, with a number of thatched-roofed rondavels dotted around the ground. We give it the nickname of the ‘Nipple Hotel’ due to…. well, I am sure you can figure that out yourself.

large_Serengeti_.._Lodge_12-1.jpg

large_Serengeti_..ari_Lodge_2.jpg

The restaurant is disappointing, with no available tables when we arrive, and most of the buffet food is finished. I am feeling quite weary this evening, and I can’t even finish my one bottle of beer. I must be tired!

As he walks us back to the room, the escort points out a bush baby in the trees.

large_Bush_Baby_11-1.jpg

Lyn and Chris' room.

large_Lyn_and_Chris__Room_11-1.jpg

The room is much too hot despite a fan, and I cannot bear to be surrounded by the mosquito net, so I remove it. I am covered in bites anyway, and they itch like mad in the heat this evening so I struggle to sleep.

Despite an unsatisfactory evening and night, we had an otherwise excellent day on safari. Again. Thank you Calabash Adventures and guide Malisa.

large_61A8088894DB3FC19F810A5F31C5C4B1.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 13:15 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises trees birds sky rain beer sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation hotel roads museum cute holiday fun africa safari rainbow tanzania crocodile mist moon unesco birding tourists picnic wet photography buffalo lions giraffe hippo roadtrip lion_cubs ostrich conservation serengeti hyena heron terns starling misty mongoose hyrax jackal skidding rock_art stunning bird_watching hippopotamus game_drive backlit road-trip adorable safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company hammerkop lion_kill serena_hotels long_grass_plains central_serengeti kopje stormy_clouds rock_hyrax banded_mongoose moru bedraggled black_backed_jackal nile_crocodile squacco_heron lions_in_the_rain serena_serengeti seronera rhino_project muddy_roads mud_on_road controlled_skid lake_magadi hamerkop hamerkop_nest rhino_conservation cape_buffalo moru_kopjes gong_rock maasai_paintings mosquito_bites rim_lighting Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 12 of 15) Page [1] 2 » Next