Day 46: Baku, or Bakı, or Baqy, or Baky, or Baki or perhaps Bakou?
Baku Travel Blog› entry 68 of 260 › view all entries
May 21st, 2010 – by: Biedjee
The border crossing into Azerbaijan was the most stringent border crossing so far on this trip. My entire compartment got searched and scanned, my luggage was searched and I had to declare all my valuables and equipment. They were particularly interested in my camera equipment. Why would I take such a large camera with me to Baku? What was I going to do with it? I showed the man the pictures I had taken in the zoo today, and also those of Kazbegi, and that seemed a satisfactory explanation to him.
But I must say that I was somewhat nervous crossing this border.
That said, this is a strange region, anything can happen. I already had to explain why I only had a four day visa (hey, I never asked for such a short term!) and where I was going next.
Apart from the camera incident the border crossing was relatively painless (a bit slow though).
When I woke up the next morning and looked out the window it was as if I had arrived on another planet.
In Baku I was staying with some couch surfers.
Upon arrival at Baku station I called Christiane for instructions on how to get to their flat, which turned out to be a very pleasant, if very warm, walk. Their apartment was brilliantly located in the city centre. Upon arrival I was greeted by Yelena, yet another flatmate who had just moved in.
She was American of Ukrainian descent and had only arrived to Baku a few days earlier, so she hadn't seen much of the city either.
We decided to do some sightseeing together and for the rest of the afternoon we wandered around in the 'new centre', the modern part of town which clearly shows the effect of the oil industry. This is how I'd imagine Dubai, even though there's hardly any high rise in Baku. But the wide streets are filled with expensive cars, there are expensive shops everywhere, and all the buildings look as if they have been built in the past five years (which they probably were, the whole city looks like one big construction site).
Our walk brought us to Bulvar park, the Caspian Sea front. For the past six weeks the Black Sea had dominated my trip, for the next two months it will be the Caspian Sea as I travel through four of the five countries bordering the largest lake of the world (it is a lake, but international law provides for more lenient territorial claims at seas, hence the surrounding countries prefer to call it a sea).
The Bulvar (boulevard) is one of Azerbaijan's more controversial national parks, as it consists of little more than a city park, some walkways, several fountains and some fairground rides.
It is a nice place to chill out for several hours, as locals do on a daily basis. I guess it is even nicer to hang out in the cool of the evening, rather than in a 30-degree heat of the day.
Baku is a strange city. The country is predominantly Muslim, but people do not practice all that openly. Hardly and woman wears a head scarf and I was surprised by the seemingly absence of mosques. Quite a difference from Turkey.
The only thing that betrays this country is Muslim is the idolisation of politicians. Azerbaijan's father figure Heydar Әliyev, is almost considered sacred here, with his face plastered all over the place and statues everywhere.
Back in the flat I met my other host, Christiane, who works as a German teacher in Baku. Unfortunately being a teacher means she has to work at the strangest hours and that evening she was to tutor some students, so she couldn't join Yelena and me for a meal.
Yelena had been in touch with some couch surfers before coming to Baku and she was meeting up with an Azeri, Hussein. I joined them for dinner.
Hussein was an Azeri Kurd, and like the Kurds I met in Turkey he was very friendly and hospitable. He works as a drilling engineer on an oil rig (what else) and it was very interesting to hear his point of view on the oil industry and how it has shaped the world.
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