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February 25th 2018
Published: September 22nd 2018
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The journey from Dubai to Baku is just a few hours and the airport is modern having opened not long ago, it was so good I took some photographs which I don’t normally do in airports. Azerbaijan is oil rich, so I wasn’t surprised to see some Dubaiesque skyscrapers with the Flame Towers perhaps the pick of the modern architecture.

The guy from the hostel came to meet me at the airport and we travelled into the city centre in a London Cab which was cool. Stopping at the impressive Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre along the way was also worthwhile as its design is certainly futuristic.

The city runs along the Caspian Sea and has walled old town surrounded by the 19th century city surrounded by soviet and modern architecture. From here we continued to the hostel which is in the older part of the city near the centre and is located in a 19th century building close to the national museum and the central shopping district.

My first stop was the National Museum located in a lovely old building which was once the home of an influential oil baron. I was assigned an English-speaking guide who schooled me in the history of this small nation which was at one time or another a part of every empire in this region including that of Alexander the Great, Persia, Rome, Ottoman, British and Soviet. The museum was well set out and I saw some interesting artefacts the house itself was also beautifully decorated with its period furniture and grand stair case.

From the Museum I manoeuvred my way around the F1 track to reach the park that runs the length of the esplanade, checking out some of the quirky statues and admiring the shady water front area. I then crossed a busy road before plunging into the UNESCO listed old town near the 12th century Maiden Tower with many of the other major architectural highlights such as the Palace of the Sirvanshahs and the caravanserais built around the 15th century. I wandered the inner city for several hours stopping for a very good meal at one of the more expensive restaurants before popping out the opposite side of the inner city and wandering along the wall to the Hard rock café before entering an Irish Pub not far from my hostel. Beer is cheap here, so I had a couple before returning to my lodgings.

Next morning, I rose early following my guide to a traditional diner for a great breakfast before heading down the road a short distance to the vehicle that would take me out of the city to visit several interesting sights. The first stop was at the impressive Bibi-Heybat Mosque which sits above the tomb of Musa al-Kazim the daughter of the seventh Shiite Imam which looks out over the Caspian. Across the road on top of the cliff is a cemetery full of tombs and graves accessible from some very modern stairs.

Sixty five kilometres from Baku in the Qobustan area are the country’s famous mud volcanoes. The journey south followed the coastal road and passed the many resorts that line the sea shore. It was interesting for its unusual scenery which included oil derricks pumping away everywhere some even sat in the front gardens of houses others while others sat on platforms out in the sea. We eventually stopped by the side of the Salyan Highway where after some communication between the guide and driver, a very frustrated guide explained that the driver didn’t know the way, so we transferred to an extremely cool beat up Lada for the journey to the volcanoes.

Exciting and a bit frightening at times, that old car which he started by rubbing a few wires together smashed its way through some horrific roads eventually slowing at the base of big muddy hill. I thought we would walk from here but no he put the vehicle in first gear and powered up the side of the hill slipping and sliding every which way before summiting in a mud bowl.

He pulled to the side went to his boot and came back with some plastic shopping bags for us to wear on our feet, the bags made little sucking noises as I made my way across the mud to the first “volcano”, I was thinking this isn’t slippery at all until I went arse up half way up the side of the little mud hill.

Over rated! If you want to see spectacular bubbling mud then go to NZ, I only have one pair of pants and they were now covered in mud. The journey down from the mud plateau was frightening as the driver launched of the top sliding sideways down the hill before pulling hard right onto the track. The Lada journey was far more exciting than the mud and probably the highlight of the day.

Returning to the van we cleaned ourselves off as best we could then journeyed (on much better roads) to the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape Reserve with its modern museum. Petroglyphs and paintings describe images of prehistoric life in the Caucasus and date between 5000 and 20000 years. The paintings feature hunters, dancers and ancient boats and are wonderfully preserved.

We returned to Baku traversing the city on the way to Yanar Dag a site where flames burn from the ground, it was unique enough I suppose but some what underwhelming, from here we headed out towards the airport to visit the Ateshgah a much more interesting fire temple used by Zoroastrians, Hindu and Sikh for worship. The eternal flame went out after all the oil and gas in the area was extracted and now runs on piped gas, the structure is about 300 years old and worth the effort to visit.

Later I popped into a pub for dinner and ordered a Mexican meal I was quite excited because I love Mexican food. The yellow rice and roti bread should have warned me, it seems the pub is owned by Indians and the food could have come out of Mumbai or Delhi but certainly not Mexico City, very disappointing.

The next morning it was time to head back to the hotel and Dubai I had had a very busy few days and enjoyed my visit immensely, the airport is incredibly modern and comfortable, so I didn’t mind the few hours I spent there. I would recommend Baku to anyone wanting a weekend getaway.

Additional photos below
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23rd September 2018
Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre

Amazing architecture

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