October 8, 2008 Wednesday – Sheki/Baku via Kudamir
We spent the morning exploring Sheki. First, we took a short drive to the former Khans’ Palace which, though small and compact, is an architectural delight. Two rows of nicely framed cloudy glass windows grace the central façade. There is window after window of world class stained glass on the interior. And, the walls, ceilings and floors of each room have Versailles-like craftmanship that are a feast for the eye.
Before departing Sheki we took a walk down to the market which was buzzing with mid-morning activity. Sheki, being a relatively small town (63,000) and distant from major metro areas, has a rural character that is reflected by the simply dressed vendors and shoppers in the the market. The town is noted for its baklava and bakers offer their product in large, circular shallow pans that could double as pizza pans. The sheets of baklava are colorfully decorated and hundreds of honey bees drop by for a sample of the product they helped create.
After lunch we set off for Baku on the west central Caspian Sea coast. The road that offers the fastest and most direct route between Sheki and Baku was closed due to recent washouts during flash floods. Thus, we drove south to reach another east/west highway that lies south of our intended destination and progresses east along the northern edge of the Kura Lowland, a largely flat, barren and meagerly populated region. The road eventually brings you to the Caspian port city of Alyat, an hour or so southwest of Baku.
The drive north along the coast is unremarkable except for a massive gas extraction rig that lies a few hundred meters off the coast. We stopped at what is reportedly the finest beach along this stretch of the Caspian for a closer look at the extraction rig. The beach’s sand had black streaks which I can only presume are the result of oil spills.
Despite the beach’s gloomy appearance, our guide said that during Baku’s hot summer months you have to make reservations days in advance to secure spot for your beach chair or towel.
Baku is a sprawling city with a heavy flow of traffic along the coastal roads, especially during the early evening hours. But, by and by, we arrived at a modestly modern Hyatt Hotel and a noteable contrast to our stay the previous night in the centuries old Sheki caravanserai.