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Entries about architecture

A night at the Door to Hell

Central Asia - Ashgabat & Darvaza

sunny 32 °C
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Waking up in the mountains we made our way back by minibus to Ashgabat.

We first stopped off at the Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque, located in Gypjak, just outside the capital. This impressive mosque has capacity for 10,000 people - the largest in Central Asia, and is located in the birthplace of Turkmenbashy.

Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque

Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque

Not only is it visibly impressive being filled with gold, but also represents both the Qur'an as well as Turkmenbashy's own book, the Ruhnama in equal measure.

Turkmenbashy's mausoleum

Turkmenbashy's mausoleum

Again, the mosque is built symbolically based on the date of independence as well as having to it's west, the mausoleum of the former president as well as his family, many of whom who died in the Ashgabat earthquake in 1948 that killed 10% of the country's population.

After this we headed to the UNESCO Heritage site of Nisa, the Parthian capital, where there are views of the Mosque and Ashgabat, before heading back to Ashgabat itself to sightsee the rest of the city.

Wedding Palace

Wedding Palace

We began by circling the teardrop shaped Yyldyz Hotel, located on a hill over the city, before heading towards the Wedding Palace, a building that embraces the Rub el Hizb (eight pointed star) that is represented all over the country. Not only is it shaped accordingly, but also has a globe with an exaggerated Turkmenistan map located inside a cube shaped Rub el Hizb.

Downtown Ashgabat

Downtown Ashgabat

Enjoying views over the city of other monuments we then drove past the Ashgabat Stadium and into the city centre. Again, much of the city was empty and styled as if it was Las Vegas, full of white marble and luscious wide green Avenues.

Desert Travels

Desert Travels

Getting back to the hotel we relaxed for an hour before our 4x4s arrived that would take us to the Darvaza Gas Crater this afternoon. After a long drive through the desert along worsening roads, eventually we arrived at the 'Door to Hell' shortly before sunset.

The Door to Hell

The Door to Hell

The Door to Hell is an incredible experience. An industrial accident gone wrong, it has been constantly alight since the Soviets attempted to burn the remaining gas off in 1971.

The heat given off by the crater is intense and the sheer size of it, in the middle of the barren desert is overpowering. Whilst the context is amazing in the day, it is at night when the only light is the crater itself that the site lives up to the hype.

The Door to Hell by night

The Door to Hell by night

Spending a while taking selfies and enjoying the heat in the quickly cooling desert I then headed back to the camp for dinner and a night in a tent, closing the second day of the trip, and the last full day in the wacky Turkmenistan.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged architecture mosque monument city fire gas crater centralasia Comments (0)

Wacky Ashgabat & The Kopet Dag

Central Asia - Ashgabat

sunny 33 °C
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Over the last few years having settled into working life I have tried to spread my holidays throughout the year, with many short weekends away, as well as a big holiday lasting a week or two. After having visited India for a week back in January, in September I made the big trip of the year to Central Asia.

Having originally attempted to get on the tour in May, missing out due to my delay in booking, I went on Lupine Travel's second tour which actually fitted much better in my schedule later in the year. This was not a holiday I would be commencing alone.

The new LHR T2

The new LHR T2

Having spent the last two months getting my visas sorted for the trip, I was set to go. With no other option than taking a night flight, I spent all morning on Saturday grabbing as much sleep as possible, before taking an evening flight out of Heathrow to Istanbul. After a short hour transfer I then jumped on an overnight flight to the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat.

This was tough. Neither flight was longer than four hours, and getting food an hour in meant there was little time for sleep. Before I knew it I had arrived in Ashgabat, and despite it being 3am at home, it was 7am here, and my tour was to begin in just a couple of hours.

Getting my visa on arrival, I made my way through the week old airport to arrivals where I was picked up and met the first two travellers on my tour, Daniel and Noel before we headed to the hotel to wait for the rest of the tour members.

With the Turkmen visa having all our names and DOBs printed for all to see I was already well aware of the group's demographics - including that I was the youngest member of the tour, so it was quite reassuring knowing already who I'd be spending the next fortnight with. With two minibuses and our tour guide arriving at the hotel, we jumped in and made our way to the first sight, the Hippodrome.

Horse Racing

Horse Racing

Horse racing is the national sport in Turkmenistan, and whilst the city was almost completely empty, the stadium in Ashgabat was packed! Even at 9am... After observing the overwhelming majority of local women wearing traditional dress, we then made our way towards the market to look at carpets and animals before heading back to the city.

Turkmenbashy's Independence Monument

Turkmenbashy's Independence Monument

Ashgabat is a truly wacky city, full of bizarre buildings and empty squares. We arrived at the toilet plunger looking Independence Monument, where locals posed for wedding photos with the bride covered by a carpet.

Wedding

Wedding

The monument like most in Turkmenistan was built symbolically, using the date of the independence for different dimensions. It was also surrounded by many Turkmen flags as well as a golden statue of Turkmenbashy, the first president.

Neutrality Monument

Neutrality Monument

Heading further down the road we made it to the tripod shaped Neutrality Monument, again golden coloured with a statue of Tukmenbashy. Now moved to the outskirts of the city, the statue used to rotate to face the sun.

Leaving the city past the Alem Cultural Centre, with it's enclosed Ferris Wheel, and the TV Tower, we made our way towards the west and the Kopet Dag mountains, which form the border with Iran and dominate the landscape.

Stopping at Köw Ata, an underground thermal lake, I had originally attempted to swim inside. However after a long day I realised that it was probably not a wise decision and so instead sat with the other group members over lunch.

Köw Ata

Köw Ata

After being stung by a wasp, we reunited and headed towards the village of Nokhur in the mountains where we would be staying overnight.

In the mountains

In the mountains

Whilst Ashgabat was a modern clean city, the rest of the country was significantly less developed and accordingly so was the village.

Dinner at the homestay

Dinner at the homestay

After stopping off to look at sacred trees we arrived at the homestay where we ate a dinner provided by the family before settling down for the night sleeping on blankets in one large room. I took an early night and after going to the toilet (which as you can imagine was a pit in the ground a little walk away downhill from the house) I settled down for the night after a very busy first day.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged mountains architecture monument city centralasia Comments (0)

A Romantic Getaway

Italy - Florence

sunny 32 °C
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Waking up in Rimini after my side of the bed had been invaded throughout the night it was time to make our way towards the second stop on the trip - Florence.

Going back to the train station, we boarded a train back to Bologna, this time having a mooch around before our onward trip.

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

Dropping our bags off at the luggage storage in the station, we walked into the city centre, taking in the ambience of the historic Italian city, arriving at the Piazza Maggiore, taking a walk around the main square, towards the two leaning towers, before making our way back to the station. Quick, but enough to see the city itself.

Two Towers

Two Towers

After obtaining our bags we found out that we should have prebooked our onward travel, Unlike the other trains which were all regional and cost around €10-15, this was an express train whisking us through the central mountains, of which all second class tickets were already sold out.

Either we wait an hour to take a slow train that wouldn't arrive until 5pm, or we pay €40 and go business class for the half hour trip arriving in the early afternoon. We went for the latter and after briefly enjoying reclining chairs in AC, we arrived in the birthplace of the Renaissance - Florence.

Duomo

Duomo

The city is full of historical architecture, housing works by Michelangelo and da Vinci amongst others, and after dumping our stuff off at the hotel, we took a walk around starting with the Duomo cathedral, before making our way down to the Piazza della Signoria, where a copy of Michelangelo's David stands in it's original place.

David

David


Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

Walking down towards the Arno river, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio, towards the Pitti Palace, before walking back along the riverside to the hotel.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

A busy hot day much like the previous, we chilled out in the room before grabbing a pizza and having a relaxing evening before our final day of the trip...

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Italy Tagged art architecture history city italy2016 Comments (0)

Hungary for Budapest

sunny 29 °C
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The first time I visited Budapest, back in August 2013, I found the city to be beautiful, but under the highest temperatures in it's history - hitting almost 40˚C, it was a challenge to truly enjoy the city.

This time, Chris and I were much luckier. Despite threats of showers longing all week it was a beautifully sunny weekend in the high 20s. However with much of our luck being used on the weather, the travel there and back was our downfall.

Foxy & Kevin Bear joining us too

Foxy & Kevin Bear joining us too

With an early evening flight from Luton I took the afternoon off and we made our way to the airport with plenty of time to spare. With Luton Airport security being highly shambolic it took us a long time to finally get through - tonnes of bags being sidelined for further inspection but without anyone actually carrying it out. Waiting an age for our bags to finally be looked at, after solving the problem - a non-resealable bag being used for liquids, the stupid man resent the entire basket back through the scanner to end up back of the queue again.

Eventually getting our bags through we made our way into the departure lounge to find our flight had suddenly been given a two hour delay. Great - now we would arrive so late that the shops would all be shut by the time we arrived to grab some drinks. Next thing, it was back on time again.

After the usual delays caused by allocated seating we were finally on the plane ready to take off when, oh - we had missed our slot and would have to wait an hour to actually take off. In the meantime, the trolley service came around and low and behold an hour after schedule we finally made it into the air. Eventually arriving late in Budapest we made our way to the hotel finally arriving and finally getting to sleep just before midnight.

With just a day and a half to actually see the city, we wasted no time the following morning grabbing breakfast and making our way into the city. Already by 10am it was in the high twenties and with two large hills to climb it was going to be a busy and sweaty day.

Parliament

Parliament

We began by visiting the Gothic Parliament building, where recently renovations to the square outside had taken place, before proceeding to walk down the east bank of the Danube, past the monument to the Jews shot during WWII, to the Lion flanked Chain Bridge.

Chain Bridge

Chain Bridge

Trying unsuccessfully to get Chris to show me his Lion impression, we crossed the bridge and made our way up Fisherman's Bastion, where there are fabulous views over the Parliament on the other side of the city.

Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion

Carrying on towards Buda Castle, we made our way back down the riverside and eventually to Gellert Hill, where after missing the correct turning we ended up scaling a rockface to make our way to the Liberty Monument at the top and gain stunning views over the whole city.

Budapest

Budapest


Central Market Hall

Central Market Hall

After making our way back down, having done the hardest parts of our walk around it was still early afternoon and so after stopping off at the Central Market to buy some tat we decided to head back to the hotel and spend the afternoon at the Thermal Baths.

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

The Széchenyi Baths are truly historic in the city and make up the largest complex in Europe. Whilst the inside baths were small and had numerous pools ranging up to 40˚C, there were also three large outside pools, including one with a rapid pool, that reached up to 38˚C. There was also a large screen up to show the Euro 2016 matches, which today also included Hungary vs Iceland, creating a wonderful atmosphere in the sun and heat of the Hungarian summer.

Returning back the the hotel after a few hours relaxing at the baths, we dropped off our swim clothes and made our way back into the city for dinner, before walking back up the main street to Chain Bridge for night time views of the Bridge and Buda Castle across the Danube.

Budapest by night

Budapest by night

The following morning we checked out and left our bags at the hotel before heading back to the Baths in the city park, walking down to Heroes's Square, before continuing down the tree lined Andrassy Avenue.

Heroes Square

Heroes Square

Stopping at the House of Terror, where the KGB Headquarters in Hungary were located, we had a history lesson in the Cold War era of the country which concluded our weekend break.

House of Terror

House of Terror

We then headed back the hotel to grab our bits and eventually make our way back to the airport for a delayed flight back to the UK.

A thoroughly enjoyable weekend in the beautiful Hungarian capital.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Hungary Tagged bridges architecture history city relax torture macabre Comments (0)

The Rain in Spain...

all seasons in one day 20 °C
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After an afternoon in Andorra I headed back on the bus through Catalonia and arrived back by early evening in Barcelona.

Having been to Barcelona once before I was a little unsure if the city would entertain me. However as this had been a day trip over ten years ago I was proved wrong. There was more than enough to keep me occupied.

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

I started my adventures in Barcelona by heading out to see the Sagrada Familia by night, which was nicely lit up, before heading back towards my hotel via the promenade and the ViennaSphere. However it was back at the hotel that the real adventures would happen - getting into my bathroom!

Unfortunately the bathroom lock had jammed, and as I got out the shower I found I had trouble getting back into the room. However with a little tug it was fine. I opened the window and to prevent a draft I closed the door. Going back 15 minutes later to open it I again had problems getting in. However no matter how hard I tried the door simply wouldn't open. Having to put my clothes back on I went back to the reception where the guy came back and tried to open.

Coming back after finding a ruler to try and use to open the door, he eventually resigned to the fact he "had no tools" and the mechanic wasn't coming back until tomorrow. This was fine, but how was I supposed to go to the toilet tonight? Well luckily there was a toilet opposite the room so that wasn't anything to worry about - before he left he gave one final tug and it miraculously opened. "Phew" I thought - so I quickly put my shoes in the way so that the door wouldn't slam shut again.

View over Barcelona

View over Barcelona

The next day I got up, gave the eclipse a miss due to the cloud, and placed the chair in front of the door to keep it open. I then headed out towards the old city, taking a walk past the cathedral and buying some souvenirs before taking the funicular up to the Montjuïc hill.

Inside the Olympic Stadium

Inside the Olympic Stadium


Olympic Park

Olympic Park

From the hill there are some great views of the city, and this is also where the Olympic Park from 1992 is located. I walked around, going in the Olympic Stadium before heading down the hill to Plaça d'Espanya, with its monumental gates - gaining a great view from the roof of the former Bullring, which is now a huge shopping centre.

Plaça d'Espanya

Plaça d'Espanya


Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló

After this I headed off to visit some of Gaudí Barcelona - stopping off at the Casas Batlló and Milà before heading back to the Sagrada Familía. I would today be entering and had intended to go up the towers. However due to the horrendously windy weather this wasn't possible. I therefore just made do with witnessing the massive construction from the ground.

Stained Glass inside the Sagrada Familia

Stained Glass inside the Sagrada Familia


Inside the Sagrada Familia

Inside the Sagrada Familia

After having dinner I then headed out to the last stops for the day, heading out from the Arc de Triomf and heading south through the park to the beach, where there were huge waves, showing just how windy it was today.

Arc de Triomf

Arc de Triomf

Going back to the hotel I found that the maid had moved the chair and closed the bathroom door again!! I now had to head back to reception and the fiasco continued, Luckily the mechanic was still there and so he came to fix my door.

With the WiFi also dead, I headed back out to McDonalds to use some quick WiFi when it had began to rain before going to bed for the last day of the trip.

Park Güell

Park Güell

The next morning was again pretty miserable weather wise, but as I had just one more place to visit I couldn't complain too much. I headed out of the city to Park Güell which is the best place to witness Gaudí architecture. Usually there are impressive views of the city too, but unfortunately this wasn't really to be seen.

And this is where my return to the city ended. It had been very interesting and surprisingly busy time and there is much to see in the city. If the weather had been great it would have been the icing on the cake, but even without that it was still a great time!

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Spain Tagged architecture church city hill olympic Comments (0)

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