Friday, April 8, 2016

On the Way to Qabala.

Riding the ski lift at the Qafqaz Tufandag Mountain Resort Hotel in Qabala.

Pat was still asleep when I opened my eyes at 7:30a. But just a few minutes later and she was up.

At 8a we walked out our front door.  The sun was out but brrr....It was another chilly morning.

We're all staying in this two room guesthouse. Each room has its own separate entrance.  Our room is on the left and Rafael's is on the right. 
The small windows are the bathrooms.
The unpaved  driveway leads down to the main road that we arrived in on.

We made our way towards the main house.  There was no one in sight.  Too early so we went back to room.

Main house on the right.  Kitchen is behind the red doors.

Antsy Pat; patience is not one of her virtues and she will freely acknowledge that.  At 8:30a she went out to check again. Rafael was staying in the adjoining room and she heard rustling about but there was still no one out and about around the main house.  So, she came back to room.

Shortly after 9a, we both headed out. This time, Rafael was walking around.  I peeked inside the small kitchen and our hostess was cutting up the wild asparagus we had bought to make our breakfast.


We had some tea before the dish of scrambled eggs and wild asparagus was brought to our table. Nice eggs. Cooked in a ton of oil. Unfortunately, the eggs and the oil drowned out the delicate taste of the asparagus. Probably better if they had just been simply sautéed in butter.

Every day, the smile on his face grows larger.  He's getting used to being around us :-)

Wild asparagus cooked with eggs.

After breakfast, we paid 50 manat (about $33 USD) to the lady of the house and thanked her for allowing us to stay at her place. She was so hospitable, handing us a loaf of bread that she had just baked.


It was then time to get our luggage, pack up the car and hit the road.  By this time, the sun had retreated back into the clouds.  Another overcast, chilly day.  I am not enjoying the weather.


Before leaving Qaraqaya, Rafael wanted to take us to see a waterfall.  He didn't know exactly where it was located so it took a couple of stops to ask strangers for directions before he pulled off the main road into a dirt parking area.  Pat and Rafael went in search of the waterfall . I stayed in the car because the path was rocky and wet.  They were back at the car in just a couple of minutes.  Turned out that the brridge, leading to the falls,  was washed out so they could not proceed.

Pointing the way to Qabala.  In Azeri, the letter *Q* is pronounced like a hard *g* and the *ə* character is pronounced *ah*.

Today's travel destination was the small city of Qabala.  It's not a long distance between Qaraqaya and Qabala so we would make a few stops along the way.  To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what there was to see and do in Qabala but it's on the typical Azerbaijan tourist itinerary so therefore, we must go!

Unlike yesterday's drive through arid mountains, today we drove through lush green fields and snow capped peaks.


It was the first time I had seen vineyards and animals grazing.  If I didn't know better, I would say this was the country's agricultural region.


We also drove through a large forested area with trees clothed in moss.



Rafael told us that this region of Azerbaijan is a popular summer retreat area for folks from Baku who come here to escape the oppressive heat in the city.  Apparently, camping is popular and indeed, we saw many camp grounds as we drove by.


Rafael stopped at another set of roadside stands.  He was in search of a sauce that he loves and this region is known for that sauce.


I love roadside stands so I never complain when we stop at one.  While Rafael talked to the vendors about his sauce, I checked out what else was for sale here.

More pickled veggies.  Some of the stuff I had never seen before.

Patty pan squash.

I loved the jars themselves.  Too bad I can't bring any home with me.

Fruit leathers.  In Azeri cuisine, they are used to flavor sauces....not be eaten as a snack though I'm sure you could.

I then saw a bucket of morels. OMG!! Fresh morels. The last time I saw fresh morels was at Berkeley Bowl - they were selling for $29.95 a pound. Here, the vendor wanted 15 manat for about 600 grams.  That's about $10 USD for 1.3 pounds.  An absolute steal so I gladly forked over the money to the vendor!  I made a mental note that we needed to get some butter because there is no way I will mix these into scrambled eggs.  They are meant to be married with butter and maybe just a smidge of salt....nothing else!!  I will savor every bite!!


They look like pears but they're quince.  In Azeri cuisine, they are popular as a preserve ((heyva mürəbbəsi).

Rafael bought some locally grown apples and pears.   Unfortunately, Pat and I are spoilt by the sweet, crunchy hybridized apples we get in the US.  Yes, the *man made* varieties.  The *heirloom* ones grown here are mealy and dry.  Not tasty.


Everywhere we've been in Azerbaijan so far, we've met nothing but friendly people.  This guy wanted me to take his photo and so I glad did. 


He then turned his attention to Pat offering her a taste of I can't remember what.  Of course, unless it looks absolutely disgusting, we are always happy to sample something and if the vendor is lucky, we like the sample so much, we more of whatever it was we were tasting!


One vendor, a very sweet woman noticed my left foot.  I noticed her standing with a yellow plastisc bag in her hand.  Speaking to me in Azeri, which of course I don't understand, and gesturing with her hands, I figured out she wanted to put my left foot in a plastic bag....presumably to help keep it clean.  So, while her husband served as my brace, I lifted my left foot and placed it in the bag.  She then tied the handles around my ankle. We all smiled at each other and had a bit of chuckle over how I looked.


After are brief stop at the roadside stands, we continued our roadtrip.  Our next stop was at Nohur Lake  which is a small, picturesque lake.  There was a big house situated on the opposite shoreline.  Apparently, it belongs an Azeri government official.  Nice house.


The ground around the lake was damp so I stayed on the sidewalk but Pat said the water was very clear.

Good spot for a selfie :-)

I saw these lovely blooms. I think they the flowers of a fruit tree but I don't know what type of fruit. 

From here, it was just a few minutes drive to Qabala.  We made a quick pit stop for Rafael to add time onto his phone card.  There, he took the opportunity to ask the woman who was assisting him if she knew of an available house for us to spend the night.  He told us she placed a few calls and someone said they had rooms.  Rafael got he address and with a few kind strangers directing us along the way, we actually found the place!

On the back streets of Qabala.

I had Pat check out the house because I figured whatever was okay for her would be more than fine for me.  She came back with the word that the accommodations were suitable for us.  There were two rooms but only one was attached to a bathroom and that was the only bathroom that she and I would have to share.  I was fine with that.  The place also had a kitchen which was important because Rafael has been wanting to cook a meal for us.  We decided that if there were no other options, we would stay here.

Next, Rafael took us to the Qafqaz Tufandag Mountain Resort Hotel.  Rafael parked the car and we all headed inside.  From its name, I was guessing this was a winter resort hotel and stepping inside the empty lobby confirmed it.

At first I thought we were checking this place out as a possible place to spend the night but one foot inside and I realized that it was going to be an expensive stay and well, while we could easily have afforded it, neither one of us were willing to fork over the money.  The house was just as comfortable and far less expensive!  Yes, we are sticking to our budget travel roots!

From the lobby, we took the elevator to the top floor.  We stepped out to the portico to take in the view.  Hmmm....not much of a view to be honest.  By Azeri standards we were gazing out at tall mountains but for people who have seen much taller mountains, the ones here were really nothing much to gawk at.  We then headed to a part of the hotel where the ski lifts were located.  Rafael asked if we wanted to ride the lifts and well, I was not all that keen but he kept telling us it was interesting so after looking at each other and shrugging, we changed our minds and agreed to go on the ride.  The ride only cost 10 manat each.   I handed the money over to the cashier and in turn, she handed me a card that would get us through the turnstiles.  I had to swipe the card once to get me through and then a second time to get Pat through.





There were two runs.  We picked one and boarded the cable car.  It's not ski season so aside from Pat and I, there were only two other people taking a ride.


To be honest, it wasn't much of ride.  The grade was so gentle, I felt like we were going up the bunny slope.  Not an interesting ride at all.  I guess if you're Azeri, this is being in the mountains but most certainly, we're not talking the Alps here.  I've not been to the ski resorts near DC but I imagine they are similar.  Personally, I think if you're going to ski, you should go to a place where Mother Nature produces enough of the powder that you don't need man to help out.  But of course, these words are coming from someone who has never downhill skied in her entire life!


Pat pointed out the snow machines.  Like our ski resorts in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US, we get snow but really not enough to make for good skiing conditions so


Snow machine, idle for the time being.

Our bunny hill ride really wasn't worth the 10 manat and so I was really disappointed when we got off the lift.  We went in search of Rafael.  I was going to give him a small piece of my mind.  We found him wandering around near the ski lifts.  He asked how the ride was and well, we told him (kindly) that it was okay.  We were about to walk away when he pointed out that we could go on the 2nd run as well.  He cautioned us to get off at the top and not to continue on as the lift connects with the Qafqaz Riverside resort which is located at the base of the mountain on the other slope.  So, we boarded the second lift.


Housing for the ski resort workers.

This time, we rode up a mountain!  This was no bunny slope!  Now, we were taking in some nice views.



At the top of the mountain, we didn't have to get off the lift as it just circled back and headed down the slope.



It wasn't easy taking photos through the glass windows of the lift but nonetheless, I had to capture the views so I could remember them later.  The ride was a short one but it was worth the seeing the snow capped peaks.  In fact, we were so high up the mountainside, it felt like we were at eye level with the top of the snow capped mountains in the distance but I know they were even higher in elevation than we were.

That strip of snow is what we rode above on the first ski run.  Definitely the beginners' run.

Back at our starting point, we handed back our ride card to the cashier and then went off in search of Rafael.  It took us a while to locate him and of course, he was where you would expect to find him....standing right by our car.  He asked us how we enjoyed the ride and we kindly replied that it was fun.

From the hotel, Rafael took us to the center of Qabala.  There, we stopped at the river side park for photos.  The park area looked to be partially under construction and in need of some landscaping.  Hopefully, as the weather warms up, the gardeners can get out and do their thing.


There was a small footbridge spanning the small river.   Unfortunately, the path leading to the bridge was lined with river rocks and it was just too uncomfortable for me to walk on them.  That and there were some muddy sections of dirt.  I walked as close as I could to the bridge and then just too in the view from there.  The river was running high, flowing with water from the nearby mountains.


From the park, I could catch a glimpse of one of the ski runs that we had just left behind.


Next, we drove through town.   The roads are wide and well paved but aside from the ski resort area, Qabala is a pretty nondescript looking town.




We made a quick stop at Sheher Yeni Mosque.  It literally was a quick stop as neither Pat nor I wanted to go inside.  Truthfully, the mosques here are nothing much to look at and we really couldn't be bothered to take off our shoes, don headscarves for what would probably amount to just a few minutes inside.


Instead, we headed so Rafael could pick up more ingredients for the meal that he was going to be cooking for us today.  While he went off to get butter, tomato, and vegetables, I got a small box of Azeri tea and Pat picked up some bottled water.

From here, we headed back to the guesthouse that Rafael and Pat had checked out earlier in the day.  Pat was fine spending the night there and Rafael was thrilled there was a kitchen so as long as the two of them were happy, I was good to go.

The yard of our guesthouse in Qabala.

Time to settle in and relax!