The time of The Stans has finally arrived – or has it? Your heroines take their first pounding: Gatwick, UK to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Well, we don’t even know where to start on this one. Just as Susan and Vita were panicking and running through Dublin airport as they had heard a gate closed tannoy for their flight to Gatwick , a message arrived from Jill saying she had boarded the wrong plane and almost flown to Belfast ! Resulting in her missing her Gatwick flight and having to pay a fortune to detour through Heathrow with British Airways instead.

Vita enjoys her first ever breakfast airport beer (“It’s tradition Vita!”, “OK my Sooze!”)

After a few hours in the No. 1 lounge in Gatwick of Susan trying to teach Vita how to play playstation, and Vita throwing a variety of pastries around, Jill finally made it to Gatwick and we were reunited as a shark with 3 privvy legs. We celebrated it in style with Bloody Marys and some nice relaxing episodes of Charmed, which made us realise that as we had the power of three we may also possess witchy powers, which we used to refill the porridge kettle with chilli – coincidence? We think not!

Focussing our witchy powers in the No. 1 lounge in Gatwick.

On top form and with joy in our hearts we merrily skipped to the gate to catch our flight to Moscow, from where we had a harrowing 6 hour wait in the lounge with free bar and food to catch another flight to Ashgabat. Upon proudly displaying our boarding passes to the gate keepers we were asked where our visas for Moscow were, well we don’t need any as we are only transiting and not leaving the airport (we had done much research on the subject and found that this was all fine and dandy so were certain of our status), to which they replied “Easyjet is a point to point airline and as such we don’t do transit”. A phrase which was about to be burned into our brains from hearing it repeatedly during the next few hours. Whilst on the phone to the manager, Phillipe, we sadly watched our flight to Moscow depart down the runway, so close and yet so far away. An emotion to which we were about to become very accustomed. Heads still held high and refusing to be cowed by The Man we defiantly strode back to the obvious next outpost, Wetherspoons, to weigh up our options.

We knew there was a flight via Istanbul which arrived in Ashgabat at exactly the same time as the Moscow flight, however it was €800 each so we decided further research was in order to try and find a cheaper route. After a a couple of hours of fruitless searching and lots of pints we found that booking the Istanbul flights separately resulted in a much better price so we tried to buy them only to find that there was only 1 seat available Gatwick – Istanbul – Merde!!! Thinking on our feet like true Americans we attempted to get on stand by for the flight and after being diverted through 5 different phone numbers we found our hero, Shugbat, who told us that he did indeed have 3 seats available on the flight and all we needed to do was walk the 200 metres from the departure lounge to the Turkish Airlines ticket office to buy them. Unfortunately this seemingly simple task proved to be our undoing as Gatwick security insisted on us being escorted from airside by our original flight carrier, not only making us feel like criminals in the process by responding to our innocent query of how to pop out to pick up tickets with “You don’t have an onward flight it’s illegal to be here”, OK well let me out then and I won’t be. NO that’s impossible it has to be your original flight carrier”, “Then we’re at an impasse sir!”. Easyjet themselves had just left us after denying us our flight so we had no clue that we weren’t supposed t be there and obviously didn’t give a flying eff about it as we had a painful wait restlessly watching the minutes tick by until the next flight took off. Susan had called back the Turkish Airlines guy and explained the situation and he also offered to send somebody to escort us out, however as final boarding was being called for the flight we decided enough was enough and legged it to the departure gate to see if anything could be done. Amazingly, it was the same lovely man we had already spoken to and he had actual emotions and compassion so bent the rules and used the gate computer to sell us tickets for the flight. Passports shown and money paid we were more than over the moon about our jammy luck in getting the flight. This of course did not please the Gods so just as Shugbat we about to press the button to confirm out seats the airline closed the flight, he couldn’t complete the booking despite all attempts to reopen it just for the 30 second it would take and we yet again had to watch another flight take off while we stood morosely at the gate. Jill was particularly upset as this was the THIRD plane who had shown her it’s bum that day. Refusing still to be cowed we tramped back to reformulate our plan. En route back to the pub we bumped into our Easyjet representative to escort us from the premises – too little too late Easyjet!! The woman was lovely though and actually had emotions and was very sympathetic of our plight but had no power to do anything about it other than to give us some helpful advice on how to complain to them and get stuff done and escort us to pay a visit to the manager, where we got the chance to meet face to face our nemesis, Phillepe, who again repeated the same 3 sentences of Easyjet corporate ballshute and refused to admit any wrongdoing even when Vita had proved that there was nothing in the T&C about the visa situation being different with them over other airlines. Plans for court in hand we headed to see our Turkish Airlines man again for some actual useful help and to hopefully book a flight and get our feet out of Gatwick bloody airport. At this point it was a choice between dashing to Heathrow to get to Istanbul and then an 9pm flight the next day or waiting in Gatwick and getting a connection from there at lunchtime. As it was a tight squeeze to catch the Heathrow flight we opted for the safe choice and booked the flight from Gatwick. There was a Hilton hotel in the airport for a reasonable rate so off we trotted, still laughing and refusing to let The Man get us down, but with a whole day gone and not dish washed or a baby bathed.

We actually ended up having a quite nice night in the hotel bar, having a meal, many drinks, laughing at the absurdity of the past day and being glad we had formulated a plan B.

Emergency shenanigans in the Gatwick Hilton

The flight wasn’t until midday the next day, so we had a nice easy start to the day with a delicious hotel breakfast and surprisingly (after the vast quantities of commiseration boozes we had all consumed the previous day) no hangovers. Despite our nervousness about the continuation of bad luck from the day before, we caught the Istanbul flights no problem, saw our lovely friends from the day before at the gate (who said they had spent the night worrying if we had managed to make it anywhere) and were suffocated in luxury by the extravagant services like actual leg room, little movie screens, complimentary in flight meals (although they hadn’t noted our request for Susan’s meal to be vegetarian…or Vita’s to be a bland diabetic gluten-free hindu baby meal – they still rustled up an impressive platter for her on the fly) and the best part – FREE BAR!!! We are so happy that our next four long haul flights are with Turkish Airlines!

Finally – an airline lets us onto an actual plane!!
Turkish Airlines are so great they will even take daft pictures of you waiting to take off.

On arriving at Istanbul, we bought a round of beers that ended up coming to about $15 (for 3 tiny ones!) so decided that since we had two hours to kill and would need many more beers, checking ourselves into the premier lounge would be the cost effective choice. The lounge in Istanbul was AMAZING – lovely hors d’oevres and cakes and ridiculous measures of spirits (from the FREE BAR) poured by the friendly but lecherous bartender who kept trying to interest Susan and Vita in a threesome (Jill was in the smoking area at this point (also being independently letched at by random Turkish men) otherwise it would have been an orgy).

A small measure of Chivas Regal in Istanbul airport lounge.
Through the gate and fingers about to be crossed that we will get on the Istanbul – Ashgabat flight.

We were quite gutted when our gate was announced as we could have happily spent another few hours enjoying nibbles and giant whiskies (and trying to ignore the man behind us who was taking up 8 seats to himself and all the plug sockets, while Skyping his wives without headphones on) but were still over the moon to finally be getting to Turkmenistan. The gate was full of Turkmen families, with the hugest and most bizarre hand luggage you ever saw (continental quilts, picture frames, jet ski at a 45 degree angle) and the ladies were immaculately turned out in traditional dresses and head scarves. Still worrying that we had got so far and at this point something was bound to go wrong for us, especially as the Turkish Airlines app which had Susan and Vita’s boarding passes had managed to lose them and there was no option to display them anywhere but they just let us through anyway as they are Gods among airlines unlike Sleasyjey who are slugs or possibly those macro bacteria who sit in septic tanks all day and eat puu. When we eventually got on the plane to Ashgabat we were so elated our hearts could burst (and probably Vita burst into Pavarotti song). We had a bit of craic with all the Turkmens and their massive hand luggages stuffing it all into the tiny overhead compartments and giggling away to each other and us at it all. It was really good clean Christian (and Muslim) family value fun. As there were a few rows of empty seats at the back we forewent out allocated seats and moved to them (as we had noted that the drinks trolley started form the back not the middle on the last flight and we are no fools) . A wonderfully attired Turkmen lady was sat in front of us with the whole row to herself and she proceeded to recline all 3 seats to their full extent, put up the arm rests and lie down for a nice snooze – despite it being take off when all of that if forbidden they didn’t even mention she didn’t have her seatbelt on! Susan being the seat Nazi that she is and hating anyone being rude enough to recline onto her never mind when there isn’t even a person in the seat, reached around and pressed the button to push the seats back upright again. Diva was not happy but Susan felt vindicated as it is illegal during take off and was being egged on by Vita as she is Latvian so therefore a troublemaker and defying regulations goes against her Soviet standards. After a short battle and the bringing in of the defender knees, Diva was defeated and the poor woman had to go to sleep across her 3 seats with the backs upright. We apologise to Turkmenistan for such cruelty to your citizens.

We had yet another luxury Turkish airlines meal and boozes, and watched One Chance which resulted in Vita listening to/singing Pavarotti for the rest of the flight. Finally arriving in Ashgabat, we had to queue for ages to collect our visas (that ended up costing twice as much as we’d expected!), still worrying that the Gods were against us and that something would be wrong with our paperwork so we would be denied entry into the country at the last hurdle. But amazingly it all went smoothly, albeit slowly, and we were soon on our way through security (bypassing all the Turkmen people with their huge boxes full of everything, each being painstakingly searched by customs, but they let us through first as all we had was small hand luggage and no Turkish carpets). We eventually made it through to Arrivals where we were greeted by our guide for the next few days in Turkmenistan, Mr Dima. Dima dropped us off at our hotel (Hotel Paytagt) and we agreed that he’d be back to pick us up at 10am. It was already 6.30am by this point (Turkmenistan is +5 hours from the UK) and we all winced when setting our respective alarms when it said “alarm due in 2 hours time”. Nevertheless, we had a celebratory bottle of beer on our balcony and enjoyed the Vegas-like Skyline of Ashgabat (even though it only had one owl) before we retired to our boudoirs.

We had finally made it to Turkmenistan, where the REAL adventure would begin!!

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