Baku Travel Blog› entry 430 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Zaur (Azerbaijan)
Our bus briefly passed through central Baku on the way to the terminal and I was impressed at the architecture and style of the city. Fifteen minutes later we reached the end of the line and exited into a dark, gloomy evening, surrounded by Soviet buildings in a far from appealing district. Unfortunately our couchsurfing host had informed us that he had left town, so we were left with a difficult choice of which overpriced cess pit we would spend the night in. As it was already gone 19.00, the sensible choice was to grab a room by the bus station at Velotrek Hotel, which also sounded the best of a bad bunch from the review in our book. 30 Manats ($37.5) secured us a musty smelling, damp room, with mini tv and en-suite bathroom.
Having taken a nice warm shower to wash away the cobwebs of the last 31 hours spent travelling from Qazvin, Julia suggested that a trip into the city may brighten our spirit. Heading to the nearby Metro our first objective was to shrug off the begging gypsies, and our second was to try out one of the kebab stalls, located along the street. 1.20 Manats ($1.50) purchased a tasty enough doner kebab, which would become a staple food of our time in Azerbaijan.
The Metro into the centre was incredibly cheap, costing only 0.05 Manats ($0.06) and huddled into a carriage it really felt like being back in Russia. Crooked noses, dark skin, leather jackets, unshaved faces (men and women) and inquisitive looks filled the faces of the passengers.
Exiting at the train station Metro the most obvious point of reference seemed to be Heydar Aliyev Park, so Julia approached a young couple and asked which direction we should head in. The reply came 'every park is Heydar Aliyev Park in this city. Which one exactly?'. Heydar Aliyev was the former President, who passed away recently, only to be succeeded by his son in a rigged election. Like Turkmenistan and indeed the majority of former Soviet States, Azerbaijan has fallen prey to corruption at the highest level. Votes are fixed, bribes are payed and slush funds grow by the day. The government profits from the oil that is being extracted from the Caspian Sea, whilst the ordinary Joe on the street struggles to make ends meet.
The park was only 100m away and along with some pretty fountains, a towering statue of Aliyev stood dominating the central square. More interesting were the surrounding buildings, which were attractively illuminated. Unlike Ashgabat, the politicians here at least seem to have some taste in how to spend their new found riches and the city presented itself as livable rather than some wonder world or theme park.
We spent the next 3 hours walking around town, much of which was pedestrian friendly. Interesting buildings that we passed included the Baku Jazz Centre, Heydar Aliyev Concert Hall, Nizami Museum of Azerbaijan Literature and a Nizami Statue.
Baku's real gem is its historical Old Town, which has gained UNESCO recognition and quite rightly so. The area is enclosed by the old city wall, much of which is visible today. Entering through the gates at the east of the wall, we randomly wandered through the cobbled streets, coming across points of interest on a regular basis. An old caravanserai, Maidens Tower, mosques and hammams all made an impact and we also got a brief glimpse of Baku Bay.
Exiting the old town we visited the Socar Building, Heydar Aliyev Foundation Building, State Art Museum, Baku Philharmonic, City Hall, Institute of Manuscripts and Ismailiya Palace.
On Sunday morning we awoke at 10.00, having not slept too well due to the cold. We left our bags in reception and went out for the day to see what the city looked like during the daytime. It was a miserable day, cloudy and cold and I figured this is what we had to look forward to for the next 4 months. Following the same path that we had taken the night before, we exited the Metro at the train station and headed to Heydar Aliyev Park. I was impressed by the golden Milli Bank building, which really dominated the landscape, although some interesting spots of graffiti also caught my attention.
I thought the centre looked quite different in the daylight, with some buildings looking very plain without lighting, whilst other buildings that had not been illuminated looked much nicer. Although we were enjoying walking around, neither of us were kidding the other, our minds were set on one thing, and one thing only - Maccas! Julia treated me to a double cheeseburger menu and some extra chicken nuggets to share. Memories of being a youngster and having my Dad take me for a special occasion flooded back, as we pigged our grinning faces!
Feeling at one with the world, we went back into the streets to continue sightseeing. We entered the old city through the beautiful double gates and made our way to Maidens Tower. Our student cards got us in for 60q ($0.
For the rest of the afternoon we wandered through the old city and its charm really rubbed off on me. To finish the day we went to the Palace of the Shirvanshah's, which dated back to the 15th Century. We got in for 1 Manat ($1.25) each, which was half price and at last our knock off ISIC cards were coming in useful! The palace contained mosques, mausoleums, apartments and a decrepit hammam amidst other things.
We had been in contact with couchsurfer Zaur all day and in the end we arranged to meet at 19.00 at the Velotrek Hotel. He arrived half an hour late and we jumped into a taxi to go to his cousin Misha's house, which was where we would be staying.