There are many stories about Ashgabat and the excesses of the previous President. It's true that Turkmenistan isn't the easiest country to obtain a visa for, and that downtown Ashgabat is unlike other Central Asia capital cities - but it's not so alien.
My guide (who I had to employ as a condition of my visa) gave me two options, a new hotel on the edge of the city, or the old ex-soviet Intourist concrete block slap bang in the centre of town. I chose the centre of town. My room was basic but it had a TV (with four very fuzzy channels), air conditioning and an en suite with a toilet and shower but no hand basin (that made washing my hands and interesting affair).
One of the true stories about Ashgabat is that street names have been removed and replaced with numbers. The American Embassy is on '1984' street. I'm sure there might have been some logic in the ordering of the street numbers but I couldn't work it out. Of course the locals ignore this new regime and still use the old street names which adds to the confusion.
The centre of Ashgabat has a number of new government buildings, they are all of the same basic design. Wide, low rise, quite squat with a low golden dome. The authorities really don't like people taking photos. my guide had told me in no uncertain terms not to take any photos of the Presidents Palace, and to be discrete when taking photos of other things.
While taking a stroll around town at dusk I got stopped by a plain clothed cop - he showed me some ID (which could have been a bus pass!), and I showed him my passport. Then he started talking at me, I played the dumb tourist and shrugged my shoulders and then he waved me on my way. Quite what that gained him I have no idea.
The other point of note in Ashgabat is The Arch of Neutrality a monument that straddles a four lane road and is in the shape of a kids space ship. The crowning glory of this monument is the gold statue of the ex-president that slowly rotates to greet the sunrise and salute the sunset. You can pay your money and take a lift to the top, the view from the top is pretty impressive.