Published: March 14th 2006July 19th 2005
Hotel: Velotrek Hotel (Baku, Azerbaijan) $30
Visa on arrival: $40
$1 USD = 4700 Azeri Manat
We decided to head to the airport early this morning for our 10:30 AM flight to Baku. We hailed a cab from the hotel, but we were only able to talk him down to 1200 roubles (the books say 900 is best). This seemed a bit excessive as we were already on the road to the airport, but all 4 of us crammed into the LADA as it was raining and we didn't feel like walking to Beloruskaya station to take the metro+bus option. The flight to Baku left from SVO-2, the international terminal. There are checkin desks at both sides of the terminal; we went to the wrong side initially before finding the correct checkin desk for Baku. Once we passed through immigration into the secure area, we still had several hours before our flight departed. There's not much to do once inside SVO; there are some duty free shops and a few cafes, but it is pretty grim. We did not have lounge access, so we sat around in a cafe spending the last of our roubles. We soon boarded the flight to
Backgammon is very popular in the Caucasus
Baku, an old Tu-154 Soviet trijet similar to the 727. This was an older aircraft than the Tu204 we had flown in on a few days ago, but the cabin and seats still seemed in good condition. Business class was huge at 7 rows of 2-2 and nearly empty. All 4 of us were in economy in the bulkhead row. The flight to Baku was about three hours. About 3/4 through the flight, there was a commotion at the back of the plane, and the flight attendants were calling for a doctor. Apparently someone had had a stroke or heart attack, but we continued onto Baku where there was an ambulance waiting. The view approaching the airport was pretty desolate; the area around Baku is mostly desertlike scrub dotted with oil derricks. The Absheron peninsula is one of the most polluted places on earth, from inefficient Soviet extraction to the petrochemical plants that were once located here. Most of the oil production is now offshore, funded by Western companies. We had planned on getting our visas on arrival at the airport; there is a window before immigration where you must pay $40 and provide two passport photos, after that immigration itself was a breeze. We got some money out from the ATM and were deciding which hotel to check out when a taxi driver approached us and said he'd take us to the Absheron hotel for $20.. seemed a bit much and we'd heard the Absheron was a dump anyway. We took the taxi but when we said we'd rather go to the Velotrek hotel instead, he got upset.. but he did take us there. We were in fear for our lives as he was driving 110Mph weaving in and out of traffic, this seems to be normal for here! There isn't a lot of hotel choice in Baku; there is either $200+ a night Hyatt or Radisson (for the oil execs), or $5 a night fleapits, with not much inbetween. The hotel Velotrek seemed a good compromise at $30/nt, it was rated a 3* (but only 2* if that), but the location was good near the minibus depot and a metro stop. There were food kiosks, bakeries, etc nearby as well. An Azerbaijan youth soccer team was staying there so we were lucky they had rooms. The room itself was extremely basic, with two twin beds with flimsy sheets and a TV (I wish I had brought my sleeing sack). No A/C and it was in the 90s, but a fresh breeze blew in from the window. Our first order of business was to check on train tickets to Tbilisi in a few days, so we took the metro (5 cents!) down to the train station. Azerbaijan uses the Latin alphabet and the language itself is very similar to Turkish, so we were able to read the metro signs! There are only two lines in Baku, with more planned. We bought first class tickets to for $26, still quite a bargain (the price had just gone up from $20). It was about 5 PM as we wandered around Baku towards the harbor. We found a nice place to eat, obviously for ex-pats and oil workers as there was about a dozen BP execs sitting in the bar. We wandered to the park around the harbor where several teenagers were canoodling. There were pictures everywhere of the Azeri president and the Turkish president, apparently they are good 'friends'.