Stig and ABAX spent some time in the Azerbaijani Capital city Baku. For those of us in Northern Europe, Azerbaijan and Baku will be best known for hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 . The country, along with their neighbours, has an ancient and proud history. Azerbaijan has for centuries contributed to the world's cultural heritage through literature, music, architecture and art. It has also raised a number of prominent personalities in chess. Among these is the legendary grandmaster Garri Kasparov.
The country, with its population of 9.5 million, is the size of Sweden in terms of inhabitants. The country’s capital, Baku , is home to 2.5 million. The currency of Azerbaijan is called Manat . Although the country is highly secularized, the majority of its citizens are Shia Muslims . The name of Azerbaijan derives from the ancient Greek name Hale Kai and is the translation of an ancient Persian term meaning " fire kingdom " or " eternal flame land"
Stig says :
The Fuzz! We have once again crossed another border, this time into Azerbaijan. There is a distinctly different feel to Azerbaijan in comparison to their neighbours. In the rural areas, the roads are still gravel tracks, where weathered wives sell fruit and vegetables. However the towns and cities are more developed, more like those in the western world. This land is oil-rich, and the wealth shows.
The border crossing was tough. The guards were tall, muscular and gruff. Small talk was not easy, especially as our Norwegian accent causes our words to flow like a waterfall when heard by ears not accustomed to our language. I hate not being able to engage in small talk, it makes me feel insecure and inferior, a bit like when you are trying to chat-up an incredibly smart woman. The guys emptied the van. Everything went through the scanner, even my cough medicine. Two hours later, we hit the road again.
We arrived in Baku at midday yesterday. And after running around to orientate ourselves, we started to dip into the hotel. It turned out to be in the old town. I did not realize it, but just great – you couldn’t wish for a netter location in Baku . The Old Town is right in the centre. However it was not easy to find the hotel, even the taxi drivers could not recall such a place. And no wonder, it was a tiny little hotel in the pedestrian zone and the sign on the wall was not more than 20x40 cm. Problem, the hotel was full and we were referred to the neighbouring hotel. A terrible eyesore hotel and I wondered if this was the worst hotel I had stayed at. This is not my first time travelling. I have stayed in 300 hotels, so for this place to set me on edge, it must have been up there...
The hotel facilities matched my first impression. A quick shower resulted in water covering the floor. But I thought that now we are off to Iran for two days and later in rural India and Bangladesh , I can’t begin to be picky right now, we were supposed to " just" sleep there . Sleep would is something that I would have to tackle in a few hours.
As we walked around Baku, clear comparisons could be drawn with cities such as Singapore and Dubai. Everything is clean and neat. Each city street is lined with French fashion houses and designer stores. However, one trait I have drawn from my time here is that everybody is very aware that they are a wealthy nation. The attitudes of the customs officers, the police, the guys at our hotel and in the restaurant where we ate. Our customer didn’t have the same effect that it had done in other countries over the last weeks.
You cannot put everybody under the same shroud though. Just before bedtime we had a few beers with some locals who showed a genuine interest in what we were doing. He shared some jokes, stories and even ‘high-fived’ an older gentleman referred to only as Big Boss. Now back to that bed! Never before have I experienced such an uncomfortable mattress. There was more metal and spring than there was fabric. What a long night that was!
In the morning we left Baku and set our sights on Iran. Things change now, it will be a different world, both in terms of law and conduct. But first, let me finish with Baku. The hotel aside, I have been very impressed with the city. The parkland on offer in Baku is phenomenal. The canals, the palm trees, the fountains... all beautiful. There are flags everywhere too! They add colour and movement to an already exasperating skyline.
Works are nearly completed on the new national stadium. The summer of 2015 will see the inaugural European Games held in the new 65,000 seater stadium in the city centre. Other venues for swimming, cycling, gymnastics and so forth are springing up all over town.
Now that our time in the Caucasus has come to end, opinion as to our favourite city is split between me and my father who is travelling with me. Despite the lack of a sprawling old town, Dad loves the grandeur and cleanliness of Baku. Yes it does have superficial elements to the city, but for the weekend tourist or a non-hardened traveller, Baku offered all the mod-cons with enough history to dabble in. I much prefer Tbilisi, where the culture is evident in each building and every person.
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