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Touring Tyne & Wear

Northumbria - Newcastle, Gateshead & Durham

semi-overcast 19 °C
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After two busy days, we decided to take our time a bit more today, and would spend it seeing the sights in Tyne & Wear without too much driving.
We began by heading to the centre of Gateshead, parking at the SAGE Centre, and going for a walk around the Tyne, crossing into Newcastle over the Millennium Bridge.

Tyneside

Tyneside

We then continued walking along the riverside under the Tyne Bridge before heading up to the Castle, which has been cut in half by a railway viaduct, somewhat ruining the image of how it would have been every few minutes!.

Newcastle Castle

Newcastle Castle

After heading back towards the car park we drove out of the city, stopping at the Angel of the North, which unlike most places was still full of tourists.

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

After a short stop, we headed to the furthest place on today's trip - Durham.

Covid had really affected Durham, and it felt particularly empty - especially around the old city. Much of the peninsular is taken up by the University - various halls and colleges, which were all empty. Even the souvenir shop was closed.

Durham

Durham

However as luck would have it, the cathedral had not been closed, and opened for the day just as we arrived. We had a quick look around, and then headed for a walk around the riverside.

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Our last stop for the day was to the Penshaw Monument, just outside Sunderland, where after climbing the steep hill to the top, there were scenic views to be had across the local area.

Penshaw Monument

Penshaw Monument

Normally we don't tend to spend an awful lot of time in each place anyway, but with a lot of places closed it meant we had whizzed around even quicker than normal, and after just a few hours we were already back!

We were however not done for the day. Being opposite a TGIs we decided to book ourselves a table, and so instead of grabbing a quick meal we went out to eat - the first time post lockdown. In a way it was nice to feel like getting back to normal, however at the same time we were constantly reminded due to the empty and roped off tables and one way system in place. Something to tell the kids in 20 years!

Posted by kmmk17 08:16 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged monument river bridge city hill Comments (0)

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)

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