What do you get when you combine Riad, Pyongyang and Las Vegas? Welcome to Ashgabat and the “City of Love”. The only thing french here are the architects who designed the palace Turkmenistan’s current leader President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. Ashgabat or Ashgabat translated into Farsi literally means “City of Love”. This is what I have learned so far about this city before arriving. Our plane from Urumqi descended from the darkness of the Eastern suburbs into a valley of sparkling neon lights and glowing white towers. The colorfully lit city appeared lively from above, but we soon found out it was more like the typical 80’s sitcom plot where the well planned party that no one shows up to.
The customs and visa formalities went as quickly as they could after landing at the Saparmurat Turkmenbashi International Airport. We arrived in the early morning hours and our guide along with a driver were waiting in the empty arrival hall. We were anxious to get to our soviet style Hotel Ashgabat after the long flight. The guided tour is still a required for those wanting to visit for more than a few days and every minute is precious. The payment for this tour was due upon arrival in cold hard cash. It seems wise to pay with cast rather than making a pre-trip wire transfer.
We got our first glimpse of the city on our short trip from the airport to the Hotel Ashgabat. Our guide bid us farewell and said to just stop by the office in the morning. I had a laugh when his directions from the hotel to his office included “it’s the white building across from the shopping mall.” I was too exhausted to ask more. I just wondered if the city meet expectations the next day? Hopefully I’ll get to take some good pictures and maybe find that there is a way to get online here.