Monday 9 May 2016
Around Baku, Azerbaijan
Up early this morning for our first breakfast with the new group. There are 15 of us in this group, 11 from Australia, 2 from England and 2 from Hong Kong. After breakfast, we set off at 9:00am by bus for a city tour of Baku as well as a number of places in areas surrounding the city. First we went to the Old City and although we had visited previously, we went into a few additional places that we hadn't seen before. The weather was fine and mild today about 22C. We climbed to the top of the Maiden’s Tower built in the 12th century for a spectacular view of the city and the Caspian Sea nearby. When the tower was built, as a defensive building and to secure valuables from invaders, the sea was right next to the base of the tower. It's now about 500 metres away from the edge of the shore. We were told about an interesting project that occurred recently when mending the outside walls of the tower. They found the damage had been caused by hundreds of swallows and other nesting birds – they didn't want to kill them and so sought advice from around the world on how to move them. They built hundreds of nesting boxes on a nearby building and with both noise and aromas, enticed the birds to move home. We also looked inside the old caravanserai which is now a restaurant, but used to be a place where merchants rested and conducted business. In 1947, many German prisoners of war were sent to Baku and constructed more than 25 buildings in the city all of which still remain. We then drove out of the city east past some amazing modern buildings and along the Absheron Peninsula out to the villages and finally to the Atashgah Fire Temple, a Zoroastrian place of worship from ancient times. Very interesting but although it has been restored with models of what happened there, the flame that burns is the same one that the early Zoroastrians worshipped. We then drove to a 12th Century castle in a fairly decrepit looking village – the castle had not been restored but looked in fairly good condition on the outside although we were not able to climb to the top for fear of maybe falling. The castle had been used as a fortress in the olden days and when the villagers spotted pillaging about to happen from the sea which was nearby, they could all stay in safety inside this castle. We then drove further to the Yanar Dagh State Historical Site which is a natural gas fire on a mountain (hill really) that has been burning for at least 2,500 years as it was written about by the Greek historian Herodotus. During the Second World War there were some unsuccessful attempts to extinguish this flame so the German aircraft could not see it and thus identify the location of Baku, but it still burns to this day. This area had much new development taking place but looked pretty dreadful, lots of rubbish, unlike in the city, and few facilities. There were still flocks of sheep and and some cattle in the streets so it is obviously an area in transition. We drove back to Baku, stopping to view the Cultural Centre, an amazing building that is based on the famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe holding down her dress. We then drove back to the hotel, arriving about 5:30pm, and after a short rest, went out for dinner in the town at one of our favourite restaurants, Café Araz, and had a delicious meal and a beer for less than $A18. We walked back 20 minutes to the hotel and to bed around 11:30pm.
Tuesday 10 May 2016
Visit to Qobustan, Azerbaijan
This morning it is a brilliant blue sky day. After breakfast the bus picked us up and we drove out of Baku City for about 65km southwest to the Qobustan (Land of Stones) UNESCO World Heritage Site and Museum. On the way out there our guide Balosh spoke about Azerbaijan and all of its achievements since its independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and it was a pretty long list. In 1950, ancient petroglyphs were found in the stone outcrops of Qobustan. These dated back from 5,000 to 40,000 years ago and included boats, cattle, goats, hunters and men and women. The museum was quite new and very modern with a number of interactive displays, but it was a bit unnerving as it was too much. We then caught the bus up a little further and looked at the petroglyphs. We were in sight of the sea, but up high and we were interested to note snake warning signs. Our guide also told us that Azerbaijan had poisonous lizards. When we had finished at Qobustan, we headed back towards Baku and then had a tour of the Baku Carpet Museum – we had visited this museum previously but we spent another hour looking around it with the group. There are some interesting carpets there and they are very proud of their carpet making skills in this country. We then went back to the hotel and out for a light lunch of a wrap then back to the hotel again. Tonight we are going to our (now) favourite restaurant in the city near the square with a couple of the people from the trip. Hope they like it…. – it is very “local”.