Baku – a city with a rich history and kind people
Thursday, June 8, 2017
Azerbaijan’s capital was on my list of places to visit for a long time. “Delicious tea (hand on heart, best tea I have ever had), kind people and narrow stone paved streets of Old Town” – is what stuck in my heart and mind the most vividly. The few days spent in Baku visiting friends were time well-spent.
Before travelling to Azerbaijan, check if you need a visa. The Government of Azerbaijan has recently made the visa application process easier for certain nationalities and you might be able to get away with an e-visa. It costs around 25 USD. Be careful when choosing the website as some non-governmental ones might include extra compulsory services and increase the total amount to as much as 90 USD.
There are several airlines operating flights to Baku. Personally, I am a big fan of Turkish Airlines as they do give you the best value for money. It’s worth paying a bit extra for good in-flight entertainment, a delicious meal and a check-in luggage.
The transport in Baku
Heydar Aliyev International Airport is modern and beautifully built. This airport’s not busy, we were lucky not to have to queue for long.
Frequent bus Airport – 28 Mayis Street is a cheap way to get to the center of the city.
Alternatively, a taxi to the city’s center should not be more than 10-15 AZM, but it is better to agree on the price in advance.
Also, London taxis are recommended as it is easier to make sure that the driver puts his meter on. Also, make sure you have money in small notes in case a driver does not have change.
Trip to Gobustan
With the help of “Bag Baku” Facebook page we organised a trip to Gobustan and the Mud volcanoes. There were three of us and the trip costs around 45 AZM per person, i.e. 25 euros.
Our guide Meherrem picked us up and we drove 70 kilometers outside Baku to the historic town of Gobustan. Flat-top mountains in the distance and fossilized shells visible on the rocks today is proof that hundreds of thousands years ago Gobustan was below the sea level.
Gobustan is famous for a number of carved drawings on rocks. Historians assume that old civilizations used to hunt and later on learnt to domesticate wild animals and use them for labor. Many Gods used to be worshiped and during religious celebrations animals used to be sacrificed.
Next stop – mud volcanoes. Due to pressure a mixture of gas, water, oil and mud comes bubbling out to the surface from a depth of around 2-3 kilometers. It is entertaining to watch, but the mud extracted from here is also used to treat skin disorders.
On the way back to Baku we stopped in Bibi-Heybat mosque used by Shia muslims. It is the first time that I stepped into a Shia mosque. Modest clothes are a must, including a headscarf and the removal of shoes. This mosque has a significant meaning for worshipers as inside there are graves of religious leaders. Many people come here for blessings of those resting in peace.
Places for eating and drinking
Pappa Roti café in RasulRza street is a walking distance from the Old town (IcheriSehir). They serve famous buns which have a sweet as well as salty flavor. It is reasonably priced too.
The tea garden next to Qız Qalası serves the Azeri tea with marmalade of your choice. The atmosphere is perfect on a warm day with the view to Baku’s famous monument – the Maiden’s Tower (Qız Qalası).
In case you are looking for a gift from Azerbaijan, Xurcun shop is the place to go to. It is located in BoyukGala street and they sell dried fruit, tea, traditional Azeri sweets like BallıŞəkərbura, a pastry filled with nuts and honey. The shop assistant did make an effort to package my purchase as a gift.
If you wish for a less touristic place, MənimŞirinEvim bakery is only a short walk away from the Miniature Book Museum (MiniatürKitabMuzeyi), where they sell fresh traditional pastries.
Georgian restaurant Oda House in Boyük Gala street is a highly recommended dinner place. The food is great and sensibly priced. We even managed to find an English speaking waiter.
Exploring the Old Town
The Old town is beautiful, though it’s easy to get lost in its’ narrow streets. It is the heart and the soul of the city. Only a few thousand people live here and old houses are slowly being refurbished by the Azeri government.
I went on a private Old town tour which cost 30 AZM.
First my guide took me nearly 30 meters up to the top of Maiden’s Tower. The 360 degrees Baku view is totally worth climbing all the steps. Baku is a perfect mix of old and new: modern glass buildings next to classic ones, luxury cars on the roads next to old Lada cars, which reminds of the Soviet Era.
We visited Abad souvenir shop which helps 102 craftsmen from all around Azerbaijan to develop their small businesses and promote their handmade pieces. This initiative is backed-up by the Government of Azerbaijan.
The Shirvanshahs’ palace is worth your attention if you are a history enthusiast. The display of historic items is very interesting. There is the Bowl of Forty Keys, a bowl decorated by forty healing prayers for forty illnesses and believed to have healing powers. There is also a mosaic style window made simply by pushing different size wooden pieces together, without any nails or glue.
Habitants of Baku
I must say that the people in Baku are very kind and their intentions are pure. Once a local man walked with us just to make sure we took the right bus and in another instance a shopkeeper gave me a bottle of water as a gift when I ran out of change. With time, memories of Baku will fade, but I will never forget the kindness of the people living here.