Azerbaijan

October 2nd: We landed at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku around 6:30pm and learned that the sun goes down early there (around 6:30pm). That meant walking around a new city at night, looking for the hotel we had made reservations with. We walked around the dimly-lit streets of Baku for 2 hours before giving up and checking into another hotel. We were exhausted!

October 3rd: Turns out, there was no way to find our hotel on our own. After contacting them, we found out we had to enter off a different street than the address, walk past a barrier, go to apartment block 1 and buzz 55. There were no signs anywhere.

After checking into our hidden hotel, we set out to walk around Baku. One of the draws to the city is the architecture, especially the contrast between very old and very new. An example of this is the Flame Towers (Azerbaijan’s tag line is “Land of Fire”), or the Carpet Museum (designed to look like a rolled up carpet.)

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The Flame Towers from a distance. The building on the water (far left) is meant to look like a sun.

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I love that they built the sidewalk and staircase around the trees.
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The Carpet Museum
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The street cats are looked after in this city (and country from what I could tell). A quick internet search says that Mohammed once cut the sleeve of his shirt so as not to disturb a cat that had fallen asleep on it.

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At night, the Flame Towers light up with a rotating display of flames, water, the Azerbaijan flag, people waving the flag, and people golfing.

October 4th: We walked up to a view point near the Flame Towers. It was a hot and humid walk up a butt load of stairs, but totally worth the rewarding view.

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Apparently I can’t take enough pictures of these.

From the view point, we walked through the Alley of Martyrs, a memorial to those that lost their lives during Black January (a Soviet Army crackdown on Baku) and the Nagorno-Karabakh War (a major land dispute with Armenia).

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Eternal Flame Memorial

 

We also walked through the Alley of Honor, a cemetery for powerful and/or famous Azerbaijanis. It was beautiful. The headstones and statues in among the tall trees was unlike any other cemetery we’ve seen.

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We then went for dinner at Cafe Araz and had plov – a traditional rice dish with chunks of beef, apricots, cherry plums, and other fruits.

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Golfing Flame Towers

October 5th: We were both feeling tired and dopey so we strolled along the riverfront and sat and watched people walk by for most of the day.

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We stopped in at the Visitors Centre and they gave us a gift! They are really making a (successful) effort to make tourists feel welcome.
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They have single serve cat meals by the check out counters at the grocery stores. I think this is what they’re for.

October 6th: We woke up feeling much better for having rested the previous day. We walked up to the Botanical Garden and were pretty impressed with how run down it was. We definitely missed out on the Rose Garden, but the rest of it didn’t look like much. We did see a very small humming bird which made it worth the hike up there.

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Maintenance buildings?

From there, we bused out to Yanar Dag, a layer of sandstone that has been on fire since the 50s. Rumour has it that a passing shepard flicked his cigarette and ignited the natural gas leak. Oops.

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We have definitely noticed a different level of safety at tourist sites compared with home or Europe. There was a woman with a billowing skirt taking selfies with the fire – it made me nervous!
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Les kept saying, “just one more step back.”

October 7th: We packed up and headed north-west to Sheki. It was a warm 6 hour bus ride with the same 7 Azeri music videos loud and on repeat.

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Entering Sheki

We had checked out accommodations before arriving and picked the Karavansaray Hotel. It is an old “motel” from the Silk Route days, where travelers could spend the night.

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Cool door!
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Cool entryway!
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Cool arches!
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Cool courtyard!

Once we got into our room, it was slightly less cool. We expected old and cold but didn’t expect stinky, dirty, and dark. Our first anniversary ended up being far from romantic but that made it pretty funny 🙂

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“Finally! Separate beds!”
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We named this guy “The Tickle Monster”. It made it less frightening.

To be fair to the place, we slept rather well.

October 8th: We spent the day walking around Sheki. We checked out the Sheki Khan’s palace from 1762 which had intricate stained glass windows and murals of battles (but no photography inside.)

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A view from beside the palace.

We walked through the bazaar and got to try halvasi, a Sheki specialty (it tasted like ground nuts held together with loads of honey.)

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The beauty of plastic is that once you’re done with it, you can just chuck it in the river!
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We treated ourselves to a nice patio dinner.
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This cat-mum was vigilant with her kitten so curious about the fountain.

That was it for our time in Azerbaijan. Next, we head to Georgia!

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