Monday, April 4, 2016

More of Baku.

Taking a photo of the old walls of Icherisheher.

I woke up around 6:30a. I was toasty warm under covers.  There was enough light filtering through the curtains that I could tell it was a sunny day.  A quick check of the weather on my phone told me it was cold day.  I guess it's not yet time to pack away my down vest.

The bad news is that my left ankle is feeling sore from walking yesterday.  It looks like I've not fully recovered from my sprain nearly 2 months ago!! I decided to switch from my walking shoes to my hiking shoes and will just wear them from now on.

Yesterday, the receptionist had told us that breakfast would be available at 8am in the upstairs dining room.  We lingered in our room until nearly 8:00 before we made our way up.  The one thing I know about Pat is that she is never late...not even by a minute.  So, if you tell her breakfast is at 8, she will be there at exactly that time.  Of course, I know that everyone runs a few minutes late so I was not expecting anything to be ready for us.  We just had to walk up one flight of stairs to reach the dining room.

The room was spacious but there weren't that many tables.  Afterall, the hotel only has nine rooms so you don't need all that many tables to cater for even a fully booked hotel.  There was a Russian woman, working in the kitchen, to get our breakfast ready for us.  Based on the amount of food she was putting out, there looked to be at least another room of guests staying at the hotel.   

The room was chilly when we first entered but soon warmed up as the woman turned on space heater.


As the woman worked away in the small kitchen , we kept busy checking out the view.

The room had windows on three sides as well as a small balcony.  It was too cold to go out on the balcony but from the windows, we have a nice views of the old and new cities, the sea and the Flame Towers. 


Our breakfast spread was the same meal as what we had in many a hotel in Central Asia - toast, jam, honey, yogurt unidentifiable meat, cheese. Tea.  Hardboiled eggs came later.  It was a very simple breakfast and while it may not have excited our tastebuds, we managed to fill our bellies.

Back down in our room, we waited til 10a to head out.  Our morning destination was Martyrs' Lane. We set out with a rough idea of how to get their based on the map in the Lonely Planet guidebook.

We walked down the street, past Shirvanshahs' Palace.  That soon led us to the large bust of Aliaga Vahid, a famous Azeri poet. 


Yalchin had driven us past the bust yesterday and had told us to take a close look at his hair so we did. What looks like hair from afar is actually carvings of people and trees!



It's incredibly detailed bas relief.  Very cool, I thought!


From here, we exited the gate to the modern day Baku.

A picture of contrasts.  Modern day Baku on the left; old city Baku on the right.

The path we were on led us to a lovely park with fountains and a well manicured garden.  We were back to that part of modern Baku where litter does not exist.  Seriously, if you look down at the walkway, it's so clean, it shines!  There's not even a single drop of bird poop!  If there was, you'd see it right away against the black stone!



A fountain that looks like it could easily belong in heart of any Western European city.

Gardeners were out mowing the grass, tending to the flower beds and trimming plants. A man was sweeping the path. Always, there is someone cleaning here!  They need to come to my house and garden next! :-)

Taking good care of the grass.  I don't anyone walks on it.


The gardeners were hard at work planting the annuals.


There is somewhere wiping, polishing, sweeping or mopping every surface!

The path led us down to Neftçiler Prospekti.  The buildings that line this broad avenue have a very old world European flair to how they look.  It's not until you look closely and see the occasional touches of Islamic art that you realize you're not in a European city.


I knew exactly where we were as we had crossed the same street  Following the map in the guidebook, we crossed Neftçiler Prospekti, using the underpass. No surprise that it was immaculately clean!


The stairs led to the street level. I had to look back to admire the structure. Beautiful for a street underpass.


The sidewalk ran alongside Denizkenari Milli Park (Azeri: Dənizkənarı Milli Park).  There was a small man-made canal with gondalas and gondaliers ready to take you for a ride The canal surrounded a small island which was home to what looked like a restaurant. 


It was mid morning but the park was pretty empty.  Maybe because it's a work day?


We continued heading in the direction indicated on the map all the while on the lookout for the  funicular that would take us to the top of the hill where Martyr's Lane is situated. Along the way, we passed the Carpet Museum. Earlier we had decided we wouldn't visit this place so we passed it on by.  Perhaps on another day.

Then, we caught sight of a steel and glass structure that looked like the funicular station.


We headed back down into the spic and span clean underpass to cross the street.  I had to smile at the sight of a man mopping the floor that was already so was so clean I swear you could've eaten off of it. I don't think there was any dirt for him to mop off! 

Hard at work cleaning the floor.  The man was most definitely not dressed like the typical municipal worker!


Indeed we had reached the funicular station but unfortunately, the posted sign indicated that it was closed on Mondays.  Our bad luck.

We then spotted the steps leading up the hill.  After a few seconds of deliberation, we decided to take them.  We had no idea how many steps there were but decided we would go as far as we wanted and if we decided we had had enough, we would just turn back around and head on back down.



The steps were actually littered with a bit trash! What?? Cannot be!! Not seen a single speck of trash on the ground so far.....not so much as a leaf. Now, I was seeing less trash than I would if I were walking a similar place at home and I'm shocked! How quickly I have gotten used to seeing spic span clean as *normal*!

The steps were laid out in tiers so occasionally, we would stop to rest. I am so impressed with Pat's ability to walk and climb stairs!! I sometimes forget just how old she is. I didn't count the number of steps but soon we reached what we thought was the top - at least it was close to where the upper funicular station appeared exit to.


Then....we saw the next set of steps to our left. Also tiered. I counted at least 12 tiers of 10 steps each. Argh!! Another 100 + steps. I asked Pat if she wanted to go further and she was game so we began climbing them. Again, we took breaks between the tiers. I could hear Pat struggling a bit with her breathing so I slowed down so she wouldn't feel rushed. Usually, I'm the one doing the huffing and puffing so I know what it's like to be in her shoes.

Once we reached the top of the stairs, we were standing on one of the highest points in the city. From there, we took in a nice panoramic view of the city and Caspian Sea.




We continued walking, towards a structure that looked like it could be a memorial of some sort.


It turned out to house the eternal flame. I patiently stood by and watched a group of Azeris take their photos in front of the monument before taking my turn to capture a shot of the flame.

A group of young Azeris who would soon be posing in front of the eternal flame, proudly holding
up the flag of Azerbaijan.

I guess Azerbaijan is so oil rich, it can afford to have.a really large flame going. It actually was so large, you could feel the heat from it as you approached it. It's more an eternal inferno than eternal flame!


There was a path leading away from the eternal flame. A row of graves and tombstones flanked one side.  From the images I had seen before arriving into Baku, I knew we had arrived at our destination.  This was Shehidler Khiyabani (Martyrs' Lane).


All the tombstones all had the same date of death - January 20, 1990 because these were the Azeris who lost their lives battling the Soviets on January 20, 1990, known in the Azeri history books as Black January.  On that fateful day, Soviet troops stormed Baku by order of the Kremlin in an ultimately failed attempt to save Communist rule and put down Azerbaijan's independence movement.  For several days, 26,000 Soviet soldiers cracked down on protesters, firing into crowds without warning and killing more than 200 people. At least 700 were injured. Moscow declared emergency rule, which lasted for more than a year. Thousands of Azeri Popular Front members and sympathizers were subsequently arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.



Looking back towards the pavilion housing the eternal flame.

Martyrs' Lane is part of larger cemetery; it's estimated that about 15,000 people are entombed here.  We entered another section where Azeris who lost their lives in the conflict, with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, are buried.


Instead of retracing our steps, we decided to take another route back to Icherisheher.  Our walk would take us within stone's throw of the Flame Towers.


We didn't have a good map with us but I told Pat that as long as we keep walking downhill, we should eventually end up at the water's edge and from there, we would know how to make our way back to the old city.  Simple navigation skills.

Our walk took us through neighborhoods and streets that looked more like your typical Baku neighborhood than the high end area we had been passing through on our walks.  The buildings were definitely much more run down looking and the streets in need of paving.  Yes, Baku is spending its money spiffing up the parts of town that wealthier members of its society frequent at the expense of the less wealthy.  No surprise as I've seen this same thing in many cities around the world, including Washington, DC!

In this part of town, I saw people going about their daily routines. There were no Dior or Celine stores or chic looking pharmacies here.  Just small shops and convenience stores selling everyday goods and food, banks, restaurants dishing up simple food to locals, etc.  Everything catering to *normal* folk.



We instinctively made our way towards the old city.  At one point, we finally caught sight of the old stone walls. We knew we were walking  in the right direction. Our walk took us past the University which is located on the other side of the wall, very near our hotel.

I paused to take a photo of the Double Gates before we entered Icherisheher.


Engraved above each of the two gates are the symbols of two lions and a bull; the coat of arms of Baku.  Many historians believe that the bull and the cow are ancient symbols of Baku.  Since the land was very dry here and it was often crossed by very strong winds, people living in the city were unable to grow crops and therefore, they raised cattled instead. These images can be found in rock paintings  throughout the Absheron peninsula.  As for the lion, their depiction on Baku’s coat of arms, many historians believe that the symbol is probably used to maintain Baku’s heraldic traditions and links to oriental culture.


By the time we re-entered Icherisheher, the world had awakened.  Yes, the souvenir vendors had opened shop.  Surprisingly, neither Pat nor I checked any of them out.  After all, it's only Day 2 and we'll be in the country for at least eight more days....plenty of time for souvenir shopping!



We rested back in our room for a few minutes.  It really is nice to have a hotel that is so conveniently located to all the major sights!

I just flopped onto my bed. I really needed to put my feet up to give my left ankle a chance to rest. It was not feeling 100%.  I had changed to my hiking sandals today and even with the additional support, the foot is a bit sore.

We then headed to lunch. Wanted to try the kebab place we were not able to get a table at last night but they were again fully booked for lunch so we ended up going to Qala Divari - where we had breakfast yesterday. Pat ordered grilled lamb and classic tomato cucumber salad.


I decided to have the dushbara (dumpling soup) and qutab (meat filled lavash).

Dushbara.

Qutab.  Meat filled lavash that is quickly pan fried on a griddle.

Hands down, the food is much better in the Caucasus than anywhere in Central Asia! We ended the meal sharing a pot of tea which here, tastes like Earl Grey....it has a milder bergamot flavor than the Earl Grey I'm used to.....prefer the Azeri version.  With Azeri culture so similar to Turkish culture, it was no surprise to see our tea being served in tulip shaped glasses.  I feel like I am back in Turkey!


After lunch, we set out to find the vegetable market. At lunch, we were seated by the window and I spotted a couple of women lugging bags of veggies. I was curious to check out the market.

We headed back down to the statue we had stopped to take photos of earlier. I think we're still a bit tired. I knew it was a bust of Vahid but for some reason, when Pat pointed to Nizami Statue, in the Lonely Planet guidebook, it didn't dawn on me that it was something entirely different.


So, with the wrong starting point to begin with, you can imagine what happened. The irony of it all was that it was at least a 10 minute walk from the restaurant to Vahid's bust and a slightly shorter walk to Nazim's statue. So, essentially, we took a long walk around the old city and after it was all said and done, we never found the market. In all honesty, I had lost interest by now more so after thinking that by this time of the day, many of the vendors would have likely packed up and gone home for the day. 

The part of the new city that looks like a European city.

Thankfully, we happened upon a large pedestrian only shopping area. Unlike the upscale shops we had walked by yesterday, this place was filled with locals, out and about. I can only imagine how packed this would be on a nice weekend day! Plenty of shops and restaurants, a nice park, and lots of benches for sitting and people watching.



A 21st century sculpture of a girl, wearing jeans and a crop top, talking on her cellphone :-)

The European style buildings here have been well restored and appear to be very well maintained. We even came upon a Mado store. I know Mado well. It's my favorite Turkish ice cream shop. Pat and I ogled at the ice cream selections from the other side of the window. For a few seconds, I was tempted to go inside and get a cone but I was still full from lunch. Pat never said anything so we just moved on.


We passed by a building with an interesting facade.  There paintings of men with names and dates presented below and life sized statues of men stood above. Looking at the map in Lonely Planet book, we figured out this was the Nizami Museum of Literature. The museum is named after Nizami Ganjavi, a 12th-century Persian poet who is considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature.  He is revered in this country.


Across the way, in the center of a park, up on a hill, stood the statue of a tall man. The name below read *Nizami*. Doh! This was the statue of Nizami....our supposed starting point!  At the bottom of the hill were several water fountains.  Though the water was not flowing today, this part of the park is known as Fountains Square.


We were just stone's throw from the Double Gates. We both knew exactly where we were. We took a quick rest stop at the park before heading back to our hotel.


We were still full from lunch but we knew we had to have dinner so we made it a light one.  We ate at a small restaurant, located about a minute's walk from our hotel.  Pat and I shared some qutab and a salad of potatoes and peas. 


Tomorrow we start our time with Rafael and we'll be doing some sightseeing around the Absheron Peninsula.  I'm looking forward to it!

Goodnight from Baku!