Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Last Views of Baku.

Pat with Yalchin Mammadov (owner of Gobustan Private Tours) and Rafael.

From Sumqayit, we continued our roadtrip to Baku, driving along a road that followed the shoreline of the Caspian Sea.  We had left behind the mountains, the forests and the fields.  We were back to arid lands. 

Pardon the splotch of bird poop on the window.

Seaside restaurants and hotels lined the side of the street closest to the water.  This is a very popular place for folks from Baku to come to to enjoy the sea and have a nice seafood meal.  So it was no surprise to see that on the other side of the road, a lot of new construction was underway.  One day soon, there will be dozens of houses, apartment buildings, hotels, shops and restaurants in this small area.  


On the outskirts of Baku, Rafael drove us around what he said was a salt lake.  If I remember correctly, that the lake is pink in color but perhaps it was the time of day or angle of the sun, but I did not see any pink.  Unfortunately, there was a tall chain link fence around the entire lake otherwise I would have asked to stop so we could take a closer look at the water.  If indeed it was pink, that would have been a very rare sight as there are less than a dozen such lakes in all the world!  Had I known there was a pink lake in Azerbaijan, I definitely would have asked if it would be possible to visit it.  Next trip!


We wound our way through the streets of Baku  to our next destination.


The price of gas is fixed throughout the country.  70 qepik for a liter. 
That comes to about $1.79 for a US gallon for 92 octane!

Azeri pride.

Rafael parked the car in front of Heydar Mosque, the largest mosque in the Caucasus.  Of course, it's named after Heydar Aliyev, the country's first president.  His son, the current president, inaugurated the mosque on December 26, 2014.

The mosque is constructed entirely of limestone and it is H-U-G-E!!  We didn't go inside - not even up the stairs to see if the door was open or not.  I think we've had enough of mosques.

Each of the four minarets stands 95 meters (311 feet) tall.


The exterior facade is very plain with relief work providing some decorative elements.


A first for me.  If don't feel like climbing the steps, you can take the escalator up to the front entrance!


A large marble book documents the mosque's dimensions.

A grand staircase leads up to the front door.



It was a short visit to the mosque.  I had long decided that just because something is large does not make it impressive.  As grand as the builders of this place had intended it to be, it felt a bit empty and cold to me.  Perhaps it's because I much prefer the mosques of Turkey and even Uzbekistan to this one.

After Heydar Mosque, poor Rafael had no idea what to do with us. Thankfully, Pat suggested carpet museum. Along the way, we pointed out to Rafael where we would meet back up with him later - at 6p at the Double Gates of the Old City.

The carpet museum on the left, Flame Towers in the background.  You can't miss the museum.  It's shaped like a rolled up carpet!

Rafael dropped us off by the funicular entrance. We took underpass across the street the to the museum.  Our entry tickets cost us 7 manat each.  Pat left her jacket at coat check while I shoved our stuff into locker 166 as we were not allowed to take our bags or my camera inside.  Photos were allowed but I could only use my cellphone camera.


We took elevator to the 2nd floor and looked around and then rode the escalator up to 3rd floor where we wandered about the exhibits some more.

As you might expect, the carpets here are absolutely gorgeous.  We both eyed a few that we thought would look marvelous in our very humble homes.  Should we ever be so lucky to own anything that looked as beautiful as these rugs!

I have to say that every piece was very well displayed and described.  Unfortunately, the camera on my phone doesn't really do the rugs justice.


I wanted this trio of runners!  Would look so nice in my hallway which currently exists only in my dreams :-)


The museum has some nice spots where you can enjoy nice views of the city.

In addition to rugs, the museum also has pieces of  *applied arts* on display including fine examples of traditional Azeri costumes and textiles.


Both Pat and I had our eyes on this piece which I think is something you hang above a doorway.

A small section of the museum was devoted to Azeri metalware.


There, a monitor was playing a video showing a metalsmith at work in his shop.  I could have sworn the man was Kableyi from Lahij!

Here's the video.


Here's my photo of Kableyi.  Doesn't the guy and the place he's working in look like Kableyi in his workshop in Lahij?


It was a rug within a rug. I want!!

There were only two floors of displays in the museum and it didn't take us long to walk through the place.  Before leaving the museum, we retrieved our items from the storage locker.

We decided to head back to the Icherisheher aka the Old City, strolling along the seaside promenade.  It's a nice park area but it was empty of people most likely because it was mid afternoon on a work day.  I can imagine this place would be crowded with people in the early evening hours and on weekends.

The Carpet Museum on the left, one of the Flame Towers in the background and man made canal in the foreground.



We walked until we reached the intersection with the Four Seasons Hotel and then took underpass to cross street.  I still cannot believe just how beautiful the underpasses are in Baku.  Seriously, white marble floors with decorative inlays.  There is not a speck of dirt on the floor!  What a world of difference from the NYC Subway or the DC Metro!


We entered into Old City via gate that Rafael used to exit each time he took us out of the place.  From there, we made our way to Tendir restaurant. I had read about it somewhere being good value for the money and since we hadn't eaten here, we decided to give it a try.

The place was decorated in a similar style to the other two restaurants we had dined at in the old city - with traditional textiles and carpets decorated the walls and floors.  I think you're suppose to feel as if you are eating in a village restaurant somewhere in old time Caucasus. There were barely a handful of tables inside the small restaurant.  The place is so small that there aren't even any toilets!  Poor Pat wanted to go but had no choice but to wait.

It was an early dinner but we had to eat as we knew there would not be any food on the train. Pat had chicken kebab and I had lule kebab which is ground lamb. We had water + Sprite to wash down the meal with and then we finished off with a cup of tea each.



Pat's 3 pieces of chicken on the top of the plate, my 3 pieces of kebab on the bottom.

We shared a small loaf of tandir bread, our last bite of A

Leaving the restaurant, we walked through the Old City, heading towards the Maiden Tower.  It was drizzling very lightly.  I will not miss the overcast, cloudy, chilly days. 



On the way, we stopped into the restaurant that is in converted caravanserai to use the facilities.  Unlike the US where a restaurant's facilities are reserved for use by the patrons, here they don't mind you walking off the street and using them.  So nice.

We talked with one of the waiters, a young man who told us he is from Tbilisi.  He gave us restaurant and food recommendations.

Old City Baku in the foreground.  New city Baku in the background.

When we first visited the Maiden Tower, I remembered seeing a bridge sign pointing way to the Double Gates.  We followed the path.

The Maiden Tower.

Situated stone's throw from the Maiden Tower is an old hamam - the domes give it away.



There's also an open air museum.  For whatever reason, we never visited either place.

There's whimsy here.  You see the kids with their kitty but notice the three kitties looking down at them from above!

Looking back towards the Maiden Tower.

Standing outside the Double Gates, we had about 20 minutes to wait for Rafael.  Impatient as always, Pat kept wondering where he was the moment her watch displayed 6p but the time on my cellphone showed it wasn't quite 6p.  I told her it's rush hour and he would be here as soon as he could.  Besides, our train was not scheduled to depart until 8:30 there was no need to hurry.  Rafael had never been really late on our entire trip and today was no different.  He drove up a few minutes after 6 p. 

The Double Gates.

The plan was for up to meet up with Yalchin before departing for the train station.  Yalchin was only going to be free after 6p so timing wise, everything was working out well.

We met up with Yalchin at a nice cafe where he treated us to tea and some sweets. We chatted for a bit - recounting to Yalchin how the three of us had spent the past week. Apparently, we were his first set of customers doing a custom tour and we did it in a way that none of his customers had done previously i.e., his customers are typically Middle Easterners who demand a higher level of accommodation than we did. Apparently, Rafael told him that our style of travel was not only much more fun but it allowed us to experience the life and culture of the counter in a much deeper way. I could have told him that. In any case, I encouraged Yalchin to add our style of trip to his offerings and he said he had planned to do that but was waiting on our feedback to decide whether or not to actually proceeding. Everyone was in a great mood - we even saw Rafael laughing. Finally!!  We soon parted ways with Yalchin - thanking him for all that he had done for us and wishing him well as he worked on growing his business. For all my pre-trip concerns that the Azerbaijan leg of the trip would not work out because Yalchin had seemingly been so unresponsive, he turned out to be exactly the opposite.

Pat, Yalchin, and Rafael.

Rafael drove Pat and I to the train station and then got us on board the train - carrying our suitcases all the way to our compartment. We are booked into compartment 13/14. Cosy and comfy.

We each gave Rafael a hug and said our thank you's and goodbyes. Before we had gotten out of the car, we had given him his tip - an NYC t-shirt, an NYC baseball cap and most importantly, around $140 USD.  He was not only a good driver but he took care of me at the clinic, bought food for our first two day's meals, found accommodations for us and even had us spend the night at his family's home! For that, he deserved the tip we gave him.

At 8:30p, the train pulled away from the station. Now....it's time to relax and switch our thoughts to our upcoming days touring Georgia.

As we leave Azerbaijan, we reflect on our time spent here.

For me, it's a bittersweet goodbye.  I'm always sad to leave a place I've come to visit.  Even though it was a short visit, it was a very interesting one that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Of course, if nothing else, I will remember the time I spent in a medical clinic here!  My favorite experiences were visiting two small villages - Lahij and Khinaliq, the homestays in Qaraqaya and Qabala, and seeing the mud volcanoes in Gobustan.  I have also been incredibly touched by the hospitality that Azeris have shown us on this entire trip!  It leaves me feeling very humble.

I don't know that I will ever return to Azerbaijan but I'm really glad I came and I know I leave with some very precious memories.

Goodbye Azerbaijan!