Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ganja.

Posing with a pair of complete strangers, across the street from the Bottle House in Ganja.  They approached us and asked for us to
stand with them.  Oddly, the photo was taken with my camera!  We never got their names.

We woke up to a cold and very foggy morning in Sheki. The night mist had covered the hills. It would lift as the day went on.   We checked out of our hotel shortly after 9a this morning and went back to the place we had dinner to have light breakfast. We ordered bread, butter, cheese, egg which came prepared like an omelet, and a small pot of tea which we shared with Rafael. We've come to know his eating habits well these past few days. He only needs a cup of tea and a bit of something sweet to get him going in the morning.


After breakfast, we headed to the local market, which Rafael had to stop multiple times to ask for directions, to buy me a cheap pair of rubber slippers. I only need the one for my left foot. When we arrived at the market, Rafael offered to go and get it for me while Pat and I waited in the car. A short while later, he returned with a plastic bag. Inside was a large pair (European size 44/45) of blue colored slippers. He tried to get a pair that would close match the color of my blue sock. I put the slipper on and even though it's much too long, the width is absolutely perfect. I am now a fashionable gimp.


Our first destination of the day was Mingachevir (Azeri: Mingəçevir).  Thankfully, it was a short drive as the landscape had long become same old, same old for us.   Kinda boring.


It's very easy to just fall into daydreaming when there's nothing interesting to keep you focused on what's passing by outside your window.


Mingachevir, here we are!

In Mingachevir, where we stopped for a few minutes to check out a riverside park and promenade. Nice little place but dead as it's a bit chilly to be out and it's a Sunday. I presume folks are home spending time with their families.

Rafael parked our car next to these SUVs.  There are a lot of very nice, big,  high end model cars on the roads in oil rich Azerbaijan! 

Pretty little park.  Not a soul around!


We strolled for a short distance along the promenade before meeting back up with Rafael.

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A cable, which no longer runs, used to take folks to and from the other side of the river.


Rafael had struck up a conversation with a local man who was doing a bit of fishing.  We only spent a few minutes with him but he never pulled up anything.  Apparently, there are fish to be had but maybe it wasn't the right time of day to be here?



The water was surprisingly very clean!

Back in the car, our next destination was a place that Rafael referred to as a lake with a nice beach that is popular with locals in the summer time. I wasn't expecting much and well, there was not much. As it turned out, the lake is actually a reservoir and the beach is more pebbly than sandy.  The Mingachevir Reservoir is the largest reservoir in the Caucasus.


Then was off to Ganja (Azeri: Gəncə), Azerbaijan's second largest city.  Comparatively speaking, Ganja would be considered a small city by US standards.

Our first stop was at another park....located right in the heart of town.  Rafael parked the car by a row of shops and we crossed the street to the park.


Ganja is another spotlessly clean city.  These two women were hand sweeping the road!

The park was just newly built and looked very nice though it's still in need of some landscaping to add some nice greenery.


I noticed the rack of rental bikes and I asked Rafael if biking was a popular activity in Azerbaijan and he replied that it was not.  Perhaps, the bike rack was installed with the premise of "build it and they will come" in mind.  Folks will see the bikes and want to give riding them a try??


To encourage biking, the park planners also put in a bike lane.  You never know, folks might just take up biking around here!


The park and promenade were situated alongside a river but this one was nothing to admire. Brown colored water streaming over river rock. There was barely a trickle of water. Perhaps as spring progresses, there will be more water.

We continued our visit to Ganja.  Rafael drove by a row of shops facing the city's main administration building aka city hall.  He spotted the men's dress shop that belongs to a family friend. He wanted to pop in and say hello so he parked the car and went. In less than a minute later, he was back at the car. The shop was open but his friend was not there. Later, he chatted with his friend on the phone and found out that he was on his way to Qabala with his family! Perhaps we crossed paths with him on the road!

Next stop was Cuma (Juma) Mescidi aka Friday mosque.  The mosque was built in 1606 by Shah Abbas the Great; hence it's also referred to as the Shah Abbas Mosque. The mosque was built of red brick, which was traditional for Ganja. In 1776, two minarets were attached to the mosque and in 2008, the mosque was totally reconstructed which explains why it looks so new.

Rafael left Pat and I to visit the mosque on our own.  We started by walking around it.


Juma Mosque

The mosque is on the right and I  believe that the building on the left is the madrasah.

There were the gnarly stumps of several really old trees in the courtyard. 

A view of the facade of the madrasah.

Front entrance of the mosque.  We didn't see any women around so we were not comfortable venturing inside.

A close up view of a shebeke window.

Neither Pat nor I were interested in going inside the mosque so we left our scarves in packs. Quick walk around the complex grounds which also includes a madrasah and hamman.  There was no sight of Rafael so we decided to wander about some more on our own.

I had noticed what looked like a pedestrian only shopping area across the street. We decided to quickly check it out.


It was an odd collection of establishments. A few retail shops mixed in among quite a few travel agencies and banks.


The place was a virtual ghost time.  Barely a handful of people walking around probably because there's nothing here to keep them here.....like a restaurant or cafe.   There was nothing interesting for us either so we crossed back to where our car was parked and Rafael was there waiting for us.


For some reason, I took a picture of these directional signs.

Then, it was off to the Bottle House.  We whizzed along one of the main roads in Ganja.  A quick glance down a side street reveals the reality of life here.  What fronts the main road is new and nice.  One block back and well, you're in the real 'hood.



Travel a bit further away from the center of the city and it's another world.  Here, Ganja looks and feels more like the other small cities we've driven through.



I really had no idea what the Bottle House was all about but if you search for what there is to see adn do in Ganja, it's sure to be listed as highlight.

We wound our way through the backstreets of a quiet neighborhood.  Then, lo and behold, we saw a very quirky looking building.  No doubt this was it.


The house was built by a local architect, Ibrahim Dzhafarov, in 1966 in memory of his younger brother and other people who died in World War II.


Although you see pieces of brick here and the house is supposedly constructed entirely of bottles, 48,000 bottles to be exact.


In addition to the bottles, Dzhafarov  also used pebbles, pieces of mirrors, glass and mosaic elements to add some unique artistic touches to the house.  The house looks like a giant arts and crafts project.  I'm sure Dzhafarov had a lot of fun putting it together.


Underneath the roof of the house there is a portrait gallery of Ibrahim's works, where the author tells a story of his family throughout the country's history from 1945 to the Olympic Games in Moscow.  

Just under the pitch of the roof, the word “Ganja” is laid out with the bottle bottoms.



The house is a private residence so you can't go inside.  I guess the owners are used to having strangers stand out front and gawk at their home!

We were actually standing across the street, next to a white pavilion, to look at the house.  Inside the pavilion were dozens of women dining. An older man offered tea to Pat and I and we both initially declined but he kept insisting so Pat took a glass. It wasn't until a man standing next to me explained to me the affair was funeral party and it's customary to offer food that I accepted the glass of tea.  They then also offered us some food and as tempted as I was to take a piece (or two or three or as many as my two hands could hold) of dolma, I graciously declined.  Somehow it didn't seem right to be eating at a funeral party for someone I had never even met!

Serving up the tea.

Very friendly cooks and servers.  Not only did they offer us tea but they also offered us food!

The men waiting their turn to eat.

Rafael told us it is Azeri custom for the women to eat first which explained why there were so many men hanging outside the pavilion- they were just waiting their turn.  We also got asked to be in a photo with a man and a young boy who I presumed was his son. Odd thing was that they used my camera to take the photo. Huh??  Had no clue why they thought I would want to have their photo.

Posing with two complete strangers next to the pavilion that was serving as the dining room for a funeral party.


One of the men that Rafael had been talking to told him to take us to a park near the Ramada Hotel. They said it was a nice place. Rafael had never been so he stopped the car every now and again to ask for directions.


From a distance, we saw a structure that was obviously modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The words on the frieze read (translated to English) "Heydar Aliyev Park".  Even from a distance, we could tell it was a massive garden and it was obviously newly constructed.  In fact, the foundation of the park was laid on January 21, 2012 and the park was officially opened exactly two years later.  In addition to functioning as a city park, it also serves as a site for the city's World War II memorial.



I know that imitation is the highest form of flattery but I think if you are going to build a monument, it should be a unique design....not taking from one that already exists.  You don't want people to refer to your monument as the Arc de Triomphe of Azerbaijan. You want to build something that is so magnificent that others will want to imitate IT!

No offense, the Azeri copy is nowhere as good as the French original!



Perhaps it's because the park is still new but there's something missing here.  It's not a very inviting place; it feels empty.  Is it too new?  Too big?  Too fancy?  Too clean?  It needs something to make it feel *lived in*.....like people actually come here to relax and enjoy themselves.  



We  walked a short distance past the arch but that was it.  I think the War Memorial was at the other end but the longer walk was not tempting.  We decided to get back in to the car and continue our journey.

Next, it was off to find accommodation for the night. Rafael gave us the choices - Ramada Hotel or something similar at around 140 manat per night. Lower cost options at 100 manat or budget options lower. We chose budget. Then, he threw out another suggestion. Spend the night at his home in Baku. The plus side is that we wouldn't have to leave Ganja early in the morning for the long 7 hour to Quba which is our destination for tomorrow. It is about a four hour drive from Ganja to Baku so we cut our travel time down in half. Plus, he said.....he has fast internet at his home  :-)

We thought about his offer for all of about 1/2 second before accepting it. I think he would appreciate a night of sleep in his own bed as well. Rafael called his mother to inform her that we are on the way and her reply back was that she was ready! So, on to Baku we went. Somewhere along the way, we need to pick up some sweets as a hostess gift. I cannot walk into her home empty handed
At a roadside stand on the way to Baku.  Rafael wanted to buy a bottle of sauce to go with the barbecue he was planning for dinner. 
It didn't dawn on me, until Pat mentioned it later, that the vendor simply opened up a bottle for Rafael to dip his
finger into to taste the sauce.  I don't think he double dipped but still.  Can you imagine that happening at a farmer's market in the US?  Never!!

Rafael's mom and family, here we come!