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.)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.)
We walked through the bazaar and got to try halvasi, a Sheki specialty (it tasted like ground nuts held together with loads of honey.)
That was it for our time in Azerbaijan. Next, we head to Georgia!