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Published: June 26th 2017
Geo: 41.2019, 47.1756
0810 Wednesday: The Olympic Park Hotel Sheki
Up and about: we are billeted in a "sports 5 star hotel"....Azerbaijan seems to lay claim to the Olympics at every opportunity.........
The Olympic Conference Centre.....park.......restaurant.....hotels......schools.......
When did Azerbaijan last host the Olympics.....?....
Our Hotel is acceptable, but it's is not not 5 star as proudly proclaimed by the State Hotel Ministry. We are the only guests which is spooky and reminiscent of the film "The Shining". We finally arrived in pitch black at about 2130hrs after a "convivial" group dinner in an open air town centre restaurant . I sat opposite two mature ladies who "loosened up" after a bottle of local plonk and took great delight in trying to find out how I "ticked". They obviously don't have much contact with younger men.....it must be refreshing for them..
To be frank, I have had to break into my stash of Alka-Selza. A diet of black olives (several hundred weight), gherkins, goats cheese and halal spam have taken their toll!
The last 24 hours has been hectic. We set off from Baku yesterday morning at 0800hrs for a 12 hour 320km drive combined with a whirlwind sightseeing tour. Our ETA into Sheki was due at about 2000hrs.
We soon left the outskirts of Baku and started driving through arid open scenery with a backdrop of large mountains ahead of us. These are the Greater Caucasus Mountains and form a natural divide between Azerbaijan and Russia. They rise to some 4,400m (half Everest) so are very impressive.
After about 20 mins the bus pulled over to let us look at "Mud Volcanos" conveniently located a few minutes stomp up a sand hill. Approaching with "reverential awe" I saw a little cluster of grey pointy mounds each with a small hole at the top......some bubble with natural gas while others gently exude grey mud forming lava fields..... ......At last!......we have found the long lost home of The Clangers......anticipating a small welcoming committee of little knitted mice like creatures I brush up my memories of The Soup Dragon and The Iron Chicken....just in case I needed to make a speech!
Gourban our guide has now changed gear from helpful to "hyperactive"..........in his high pitched "Borat style" voice he spouts (at high speed) useful trivia on every Mosque and slightly bashed up town museum we visit. The latter exhibiting little displays of clay pots and photos of dignitaries from the 1950's...........fascinating.
pass by newly planted vineyards and small peasant farms. The Russians under Gorbachov ripped out all the grapevines in the 1980's to try and stem the "pi!she?d" culture. The attempt failed miserably as production went underground and they distilled all sorts of nasty stuff that was sold with a white stick. By the way for those interested! The local beer is like Harp from the 1970's (it stays sharp to the bottom of the glass) and the wine not too bad after the first three glasses.
Late in the afternoon and flagging badly, we are taken to see archaeological digs proving that the Vikings came from Azerbaijan...apparently even the Norwegians are direct decedents of this little country . Their ruling family are desperate to put this place on the map.
The highlight of yesterday was a death defying minibus drive up to a mountain village. The driver was clearly a compete maniac as he threw his crumpled little van into every corner and mountain pass. Fortunately, it was a Mercedes and the Germans had had the foresight to realise that it would be driven for over 20 years in these sorts of conditions without genuine spares! Gourban chirply announced that this chap
had been doing this route for over 40 years!!! It was well-worth the "white knuckles" as we were treated to a magnificent vista of the surrounding mountains and an insight into rural mountain life. Strangely enough all the inhabitants looked the same.......?
GROUP STATUS UPDATE: rather boringly for the blog, we are all getting on like a house on fire! Only small signs of mild discontent brewing.....mainly about not being able to hear the guide properly......however, I have been here before and living in each other's pockets for two weeks takes its toll.......don't fear it won't be long........
Today we have been to the local Sheki market......not a place for the feint hearted!!! Chickens meet their maker in front of you whilst heads of sheep and cattle are neatly stacked up in front of each meat stall. We retreat to the dried herb and pickled gherkin section and regain our senses.
We now have a couple of hours to catch up and are then due to be picked up at 1900hrs local time for another Group Dinner.....time to reach for the dwindling supplies of Ballantyne Whisky......
Update: what we thought was a successful ginger ale purchase the other day has proved to be
a "false dawn"......inadvertently, we have purchased a fizzy mint drink called "moxumo"......nice
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