I hate writing about summer travels. There is always just so sooo much I wanna share ad hoc, but since the next trip is always to come super shortly, I never manage to catch up. Ending up with a disaster of countless pictures and chaotic memories, I postpone again, usually finally trying to recover at least something already around Christmas holidays. So much gets lost and never shared that way 😦
Time to try my best. It’s easy to start with this post about Baku, because I spent only one day there. When I was planning my trip to Georgia, not even knowing where my starting point would be, but willing to visit Togliatti after, it was clear I’d have multiple connections throughout my route. Ahh I don’t even wanna recall how many troubles I as usual had with those, after one flight of my endless chain got cancelled. When I was checking for alternatives and saw a long layover in Baku, I didn’t hesitate a moment.
As I was approaching the capital, I had a feeling that I had already been there, because I have so many acquaintances from Baku that all seem to love their city and often tell something about it. However, the desert around surprised me a bit; I didn’t realize how much south I already was.
The airport is already gorgeous. I haven’t seen many of those «miracle rich oasis cities in the middle of a desert» in my life, so it was indeed wonderful. I was aware that taxi drivers are tricky and knew in advance the price to agree on. They started with 70 manat but I bargained down to 25, which was the absolute maximum, according to my local friends. On the way back from the city center I myself offered 15, which was obviously much more, than the driver parked in front of a luxury hotel expected. So, be creative. The ride itself was a lot of fun, too. If you are familiar with the culture and music a bit, you know what I mean. Driving across a desert suburb with extremely entertaining video clips and a fun driver was a good start to my cultural experience. The guy cared so much about me getting where I need to and being safe and finding my way around, that was adorable. I must be honest, being a blonde drags attention to you. But nothing extreme. Everyone is just interested, wants to be helpful and nice. I never felt uncomfortable, but you just have to understand local men’s way of approaching women and not get offended, but smile and accept compliments. I tried to dress appropriately, too, unlike the tame when I landed in Morocco alone in the middle of the might wearing shorts. I put on a long skirt and had a silk cloak, but tried to keep it pretty, since I knew the locals are always very nicely dressed when they leave houses. My expectations were correct, people were quite overdressed for a hot midday, but there were also women in more open clothes, so I’d say don’t freak out with your outfit, chill, but if you are a very European type and don’t wanna drag too much attention, avoid extreme minis.
Drawing conclusions about the cultural side, I must not skip the main part of any culture for me – the food. Ah, that food! I knew very well that Azeri people have feasts 24/7 and looove food and large get-together dinners, I had also tried the original dolma and qutabs from my friend Jamila, so I was very excited to get a meal. Oh my god, even some flat breads they were baking on the street as a fast food smelled better than my whole luxury dinner in Moscow the night before! I didn’t have much time and wanted to see the city, so I didn’t devote time to going to a restaurant. Therefore, no special recommendations this time. But a 2-weeks gastro-trip to Baku and eating everything I can see at Jamila’s wedding are definitely on my bucket list! This was just the intro to Baku for me, so I stopped at a small cozy cafe in the old town area and ordered eggplants stuffed with cheese and chestnuts and some local but dry wine (it exists; for instance, in neighboring Georgia I was really missing dry wines). No doubt, Azerbaijan has the best eggplants in the world!
My tour across the city was very rich in emotions, too. I loved the weather, it was very hot but windy. I can see it getting quite nasty in winter, though. But my day there was just perfect. I understand why the locals enjoy long walks along the promenade. It’s something I always miss in Russia – nobody really goes on a walk together. Everyone is always in a rush, running like dung-beetles, and well, it’s too dirty and dusty everywhere to enjoy walking. How a city in the middle of a desert is clean, but all Russian towns are covered in mud, is still a big question for me. Baku is really neat. Marble tiles, wrought iron gratings with roses, old light stone houses and hilly narrow streets building up a labyrinth of the old town are endless perfect settings for photo-shootings. The markets are interesting, too. It’s not just souvenirs or something like stone replicas of monuments like the ones they cell in Egypt or Mexico (well, everywhere), there is really cool beautiful stuff to be found there. I wish I could have brought a carpet or a lamp! People are very friendly and not really annoying, unlike all the markets I remember. But I must remind you, that I am a Russian-speaker, so are most of Azeris, in Baku at least. So I might have a totally different side of the story from tourists who don’t speak Russian. One man had a conversation with me in good English (probably the only one who couldn’t smell from 200m that a Russian is approaching), but I am not sure how well the rest of the population speaks English.
Just about three hours of walking was quite enough for me to see everything I wanted. My route was quite random, but I knew that the Old City and the promenade are where I have to go. I started from the President Park with the view on skyscrapers, then entered the Old Town where I wandered for very long exploring every corner, then a beautiful walk along the promenade with astonishing sea views and just very nice atmosphere of by-passers holding hands and smiling at me brought me to Hilton Baku and the House of Government – two interesting pieces of architecture. I assume there is much more to see in the city, but I was very satisfied with what I managed to cover on such short time. The Old Town is tiny, about the size of the first district of Vienna, but it’s so beautiful that I could spend a week just there. Eating!
Baku is definitely a must-see, so are their egg-plants a must-eat!