Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Last Views of Azerbaijan. Quba and Sumqayit.

Pat munching on popcorn in Sumqayit. She's a happy camper though she wished it had more melted butter! :-)

I can't believe this is our last day in Azerbaijan and tonight we'll be on our way to Georgia.  But we still had at least 12 hours to go before then and we made the most of it.

Pat and I had our last Azeri breakfast in the hotel dining room.  I was pretty certain that we were the only two guests staying at the hotel and the empty dining room confirmed that! 

She asked me, "Where do you want to sit?" :-)

It was a set breakfast.  Bread, butter, cheese, jam, tea.  I am so looking forward to something different.

I enjoy a savory breakfast and I've had more than my fair share of *mystery* meat aka deli meat on this trip but these *sausages*
were a highlight.  Only kidding.  I think they boiled the things in the plastic wrap.  Inside was a hotdog....at best.

We met up with Rafael at about 9:50a.  So far on this trip, we've hit the road around 9a every day but today, I think he he needed to sleep in this morning.  He did look well rested when he got out of the car and greeted us.  We've been with him everyday now for more than a week and he's taken really good care of us.  I'm going to miss him.

Quba is home to Azerbaijan's largest community of Mountain Jews and one of the largest Jewish populations in the former Soviet Union. Rafael took us across the river, up a hill so we could look down on the Jewish quarter. He called them the Red Houses....as he said, where the rich Israel people live.




Next, we went down to the Jewish quarter searching for the synagogue. Rafael had to ask for directions which lead us not to synagogue but a mikvah instead. I had no clue what that us until Pat explained it to me.



As described in Wikipedia:
Mikveh or mikvah (Hebrew: מִקְוֶה / מקווה, Modern   mikve, Tiberian miqwe, pl. mikva'ot or (Yiddish) mikves,[1][2] lit. "a collection") is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. In the Hebrew Bible, the word is employed in its broader sense but generally means a collection of water.[3] Several biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity after ritually impure incidents have occurred.[4] A person was required to be ritually pure in order to enter the Temple. In this context, "purity" and "impurity" are imperfect translations of the Hebrew "tahara" and "tumah", respectively, in that the negative connotation of the word impurity is not intended; rather being "impure" is indicative of being in a state in which certain things are prohibited until one has become "pure" again by immersion in a mikveh.

After the destruction of the Temple, the mikveh's main uses remained as follows:


Pat wasn't born Jewish but she married a Jew so she has more knowledge than I do.  When it came to the mikvah, she only told me about the part of women being cleaned after having their monthly period.  Hmmm.....not a place I want to visit now or even in my younger, pre-menopause days.

We had found the mikvah but not the synagogue.  Pat and I walked around the street corner because I saw a map that I thought indicated the synagogue was that way. No go.  As we turned to walk back to where our car was park, a man driving by stopped and asked about us.  Most definitely, an Asian woman stands out here!  We graciously answered his questions and then wWe asked for directions to synagogue which he gave us and we relayed back to Rafael.

Rafael drove us to the synagogue following the man's directions.  Lo and behold, we spotted the Star of David on the red brick facade.




Pat was so excited to see a synagogue.  Most certainly, tourists to Azerbaijan would not expect to see a Jewish community in the country.

Men  were loading matzoh and wine into a van.  Perhaps they are getting ready for passover which will begin in 10 days.  Pat asked but we were not allowed inside but they did allow us to take photos peering  through the opened front door.



On our way out of the Jewish quarter, we happened upon a building that looked to be a defunct synagogue.  Pat asked to stop so we could take a few photos.




Next, we headed back down to the river which is dry at this time of the year. 


Looking back towards the Jewish quarter.

I was far less interested in the bridge area than in the facade of the Jewish wedding hall. 


The lettering was a reminder that Quba was part of the USSR.  Residents of Quba still speak Russian rather than Azeri as their primary language.  As religion was outlawed by the Soviets, it's obvious this building was constructed after independence.

Next, we headed back to a familiar part of town.

Colorful yet drab housing.  Another reminder that this part of the world was once under the umbrella of the USSR.

Like many buildings we've seen on this trip, the ones in Quba are decrepit reminders of more glorious days.

We passed by Ardabil Mosque and stopped at Juma mosque which is octagonal in shape and was built in the 19th century.  Red brick seems to be the preferred building material here.




The door to the entry was open but then all the other doors were locked so we really could not go inside. It's been a theme on this trip :-(


Standing in the courtyard, I really could not get a full view of the mosque.  We were too up close. So, as Rafael drove off, I had him stop so I could get a full view of the mosque and its minaret.



Then, it was time to leave and head back to Baku.  It was a boring drive for next two hours. Poor Rafael - I didn't want him falling asleep at the wheel. I suggested turning on the music.  Perhaps that would help.  I lapsed into daydreaming. Pat was reading on her Kindle.

Counting sheep to stay awake :-)

Gawking at windmills to stay awake.

We arrived into the town of Sumqayit.  Rafael asked if we would be interesting in stopping and well, neither Pat nor I knew anything about the city and with nothing else on our itinerary, we agreed to a stop.



On our way into the center of town, we saw a most unbelievable view.  It was a car with a load of sheep piled on top of the roof!  I've seen animals being transported but nothing like this.  It was as if someone just laid the sheep, one atop the other, and then strapped the entire load down!


There were a few sheep with their heads just dangling down near the car's windows. I was certain the sheep were headed to the slaughter house but my heart was sadden by the sight of these animals needlessly suffering.


Sumqayit is Azerbaijan's third largest city.  It's only located about 20 miles from Baku so in the US, it would almost be considered a bedroom community for people working Baku.   Indeed, it's a nice little city.  The one thing that immediately strikes you is just how clean this place is - it's like Baku, not a speck of dirt anywhere!  The streets are wide and traffic light so it was very comfortable drive through the center of town.


Rafael was heading towards a park that runs alongside the Caspian Sea.  Situated in the park is a large, modern sculpture of a dove which of course is the symbol of peace.


Rafael parked car and we walked across the street to oddly named Culture and Leisure Park. 

A closer view of the dove.

Although the park is situated along the seashore, there was no way, where we were standing to actually get down to the water's edge.   I think the city is working to change that and so there's quite a bit of construction taking place.


Pat immediately spotted a popcorn vendor and wanted some.  It cost 50 qepik (about 33 US cents) for a small bag and she said she only had 40 qepik. I didn't have any small change so Rafael treated all three of us to bags.  He's such a nice guy.  Thank you!!



Pat and I strolled around a bit while Rafael enjoyed a bit of rest sitting on a bench and chatting with a local resident.


It was nice warm, sunny day for us and the temperature was perfect for a stroll in the park.  We nibbled on our popcorn and chatted as we walked along.  We made our way all the way to where there was a carousel and some other amusements for children.


We stood and watched as a young father hoisted his daughter on to one of the carousel horses.  Seconds later, the carousel started to move.  The young girl and her father seemed to really be enjoying themselves.


It was just a quick stop in Sumqayit - really just chance to stretch our legs and take a break from riding in the car.  From here, we continued our drive to Baku.