Life hasn't always been easy for Bakuvians, as poor infrastructure, poverty, unemployment and conflicts blighted their shakier past, so the success story of the present day is little short of a miracle, especially if we are judging by comparison. Behind all this is the mainstay of the Azerbaijani economy, namely natural gas and black gold (oil, to those in the know), although it is worth pointing out that this has also contributed in no small measure to Baku being the world's most toxic city, on ground level, not that air pollution levels actually match. On a city tour of boomtown Baku, the key starting point is most likely to be the enclave of the Old Town, as a few of the city's main landmarks, namely Maiden Tower, Juma Mosque and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs are located here. Walking around this labyrinth of alleyways and mini plazas is a joy to behold, and losing oneself in the thick of it all produces a few of the high-level emotional upthrusts normally associated with far more prominent tourist areas. The Mugam Club is a restaurant-cum-show venue which comes across as a caravanserai courtyard setting, decked out so tastefully that you might wish to
indulge as something of a holiday splurge, especially given that the food served here occupies the higher quality bracket. Fountains are a prominent feature of Baku, and the greatest two examples are Fountain Square, in a glorious set of surroundings, and Philarmonic fountain park, looking like an Italianesque meeting spot which may not look out of place in central Rome. Architecturally, Baku is the kind of city which is enough to make this traveller whoop with joy and elation, but the one constatation is that virtually all of the architecture of note pertains to buildings of the same colour, albeit an alluring shade of ochre, which blends in beautifully with a clear sky backdrop - Baku-tiful! Examples thereof are the Government building, the State Academy, Heydar mosque, and countless other buildings of note, each one a fine example of how history can be preserved in its elemental glory. On the opposite end of the spectrum, modern and avant-garde architecture and construction abounds too, and the 3 flame towers are now iconically Baku, signifying Baku's Dubai-style rise to glory, as much as the quirky shapely Heydar Aliyev centre is a design which could not fail to etch itself upon your mind
once sighted for the first time. It's not all about the city setting though, as excursions outside of the capital within easy reach are the kind of experiences which only a truly soulless fool would choose to skip over. The Ateshgah fire temple more than hints at the nation's status as the 'Land of Fire', and for more flaming treats, look no further than Yanar Dag, an ever-burning hillock which makes you marvel at its very existence through sheer dint of its very uniqueness. The petroglyphs of Gobustan may provide a few diversions in an area strewn with rock formations, but Gobustan's real star turn happens to be the mud volcanoes, which are located in an almost lunar-style landscape, and bubbles away in their own pools of boiling mud which left this traveller somewhat awestruck, and slightly fearful that a bigger than usual eruption might endanger any camera-toting bystanders. On top of all of this were shopping, nightlife and dining options worthy of a place in any developed nation's repertoire, and yet again, the choice of destination for a life-alteringly great week away appeared to have validated itself at very least twice over. For all those who merely associated the
country with a symbolic win in the Eurovision song contest, be well aware of the fact that modern-day Azerbaijan is a nation of considerable pulling power.
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