Wednesday 4 May 2016
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to Baku, Azerbaijan
After sitting in the hotel lobby in Ashgabat from about 7:30pm last night, we were picked up by the driver at 1:00am and taken to Ashgabat International Airport, only about 10-15 minutes away. When we arrived, we checked in, had our bags x-rayed 3 times, showed our passports 3 times, went through Immigration and waited for our Lufthansa flight at 3:30am. There were only about 30 people on the flight, and of these, about 10 disembarked in Baku and the rest stayed on board for the flight to Frankfurt. As we boarded the plane the Purser excitedly said ‘you look like tourists, are you tourists’. When we replied that we were, she said she'd talk to us during the flight and subsequently came and spoke to us for almost the whole journey – she wanted to hear about our travels in Turkmenistan! Upon arrival in Baku, it was a very quick trip through Immigration; we picked up our bags and our driver was waiting for us in the arrivals hall. Our driver gave us a running commentary in broken English of all the buildings on the way in to the city. There was no traffic as it was only 4:00am. Then it all got very confusing. When we arrived, he took us into a Hotel Bristol, then upstairs with all our luggage to the Hotel Boulevard (where we were booked) office, where another man met us and, after a brief conversation that we couldn't understand of course, we all went back down to the street again and across the road with our bags, round a corner and into a door marked Hotel Ametist, up the stairs to be met by a night manager at the reception desk. We were then shown to our large room, consisting of a lounge room and then a bedroom, neither of which had windows, they had been closed up permanently or painted white. There was also a bathroom. We noted that the evacuation instructions behind the door had Hotel Balion on them. We were pretty shattered by this time, being 5am and so we went to sleep and woke up around 9am and went and had breakfast. The man who appeared to be in charge told us that he had only taken over the hotel 10 days ago – he spoke a little English and told us that we could ask him anything we liked……a little later we were just about to go out and another man, who spoke better English but looked like a gangster and had a very heavy silver chain round his neck, knocked on our door and firstly asked if we were happy with the room. We said…”oh yes, it's quite nice and we are very happy here”…… Then he said that we could have a half day discount as well as breakfast each morning – as compensation (what for we wondered). We thought….OK…..then he left. We were quite puzzled as we had booked this hotel online before we left home (in February actually), but obviously we had been placed in a different hotel and he said something about not paying commission. It didn't really matter to us as the hotel was fine (whatever it is called), our room was fine (except for no windows) and it was clean and neat and close to the water and near to the old city. However we were quite confused by the whole episode. We then went out to explore our surroundings, checking out the square nearby, which had lots of restaurants, shops, plenty of shady trees. We then went to the bank and changed money, and walked down to the seafront. Baku is situated on a peninsula that juts into the Caspian Sea and is quite hilly, has 2.1 million inhabitants – it is a very old city having been settled since the 7th century AD by Muslim shahs and sultans. The Azeri people are mostly olive skinned and dark haired. There is obviously a lot of money here as the streets have many fancy cars, Rolls Royces, Mercedes, BMW’s and lots of large black 4WD’s with tinted windows that are driven by “Mafia looking men”. Oil is the major industry here with Azerbaijan being one of the world’s largest oil producers. The city has many large skyscrapers and is host to many events. The people seem very friendly and welcoming. After lunch at McDonalds (too tired to look for anything more interesting) we strolled around a bit more then went back to our room for a rest. At about 7pm, we went to dinner at a local restaurant we had spotted earlier and had a lovely meal and drink, then back to the hotel nearby to bed.
Thursday 5 May 2016
In Baku, Azerbaijan
Today we had breakfast in the dining room at the hotel around 9:30am, then went out to do a bit more exploring. We changed some more money at the bank then walked through the Old City, an ancient walled town that has many historic buildings and beautiful monuments. Truly lovely place, we strolled up and down, checking out the site where many people had lived since the 7th century AD. There are many shops and restaurants dotted in among the other buildings. After we had finished there, we walked back up to the square and bought lunch, a kebab each, Lynn's in a roll and David’s in a wrap. Very tasty and only $A3.50. Sat in the shade to eat them watching the people passing by, then back to the hotel at about 2:30pm. Had a rest then out for dinner at around 6:30 pm. We enjoyed a very nice meal in a local Azeri restaurant. Many of the groups around us were men chatting and drinking tea. Back to the hotel for an early night. Weather fine and mild today around 21-22C.
Friday 6 May 2016
In Baku, Azerbaijan
We had breakfast in the dining room again. The manager of the hotel spoke to us again and told us the location of an interesting bazaar up town – we also had to buy an adaptor, so found one in a “hardware shop”. We walked up to the area where we are moving to on Sunday and found the hotel in which we will be staying. The area uptown is not as interesting or as pleasant so we are glad we are staying where we are for the first five days in Baku. At the bazaar, we bought some nuts and strawberries and then walked back to a large square and sat on a seat and ate some strawberries and passed the time people watching. Then we came back to our hotel for a rest for the rest of the afternoon. We will go out again for dinner tonight to one of the many restaurants in the area. The weather is fine and warm, probably around 23-24C. Apparently it doesn't rain very much here, only in early spring and late autumn. Out to dinner at the local place we went to last night Azar. We started talking to a German man who who was a judge who is working with the Azerbaijani Government on improving human rights in this country. Fascinating conversation.