Baku (Briefly)

11 May

Today we became officially brave explorers as we made our way into Baku – the capitol of Azerbaijan.

To give you an idea, here are three super authorized statistics from Wikipedia:

  • The first written evidence for Baku dates to the 1st century AD
  • Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus Region
  • In the Lonely Planet “1000 Ultimate Experiences”, Baku placed 8th among the top 10 party cities in the world

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On a more personal level, here’s a rundown of our Big Baku Adventure:

After meeting at the bazar here in Sumgait, we popped onto a marshrutka (only 50 qepik!) to take us into the city, just about half hour away. The van was booking it, almost on level with the best Disney World adventure rides.

Once we arrived, our itinerary had us going to Martyr’s Lane first, but in transit we decided to stop at The Baku Roasting Company, as it by far is the best (and, really, the only) true coffee shop in Azerbaijan.

That in itself was a trip; the moment we stepped inside, it was like being in the Acoustic Café back in Eau Claire. Big windows, solid wooden tables, dark coffee smells, soups of the day – and so many smiling Americans! Just as we were sitting down, in walks the American ambassador to Azerbaijan and his lovely wife. We had the opportunity to meet with him briefly a few weeks ago, but it was totally surreal to have coffee and see him in his khakis, enjoying a Saturday with his wife (and security agents, of course). We talked with them briefly, and they then invited us to ride along with them into the city center to see the flowers.  After a quick call to hq, we were told YES, please do! I’ve never been in an armored vehicle before – what a trip! Such thick windows! I cannot express how kind and sincere they were – truly an amazing experience.

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Yesterday was Flowers Day, in honor of the late president’s birthday. They deck out a park in the city center with millions of dollars worth of flowers in various designs and patterns, everything from Shrek to a big “90”, to a gigantic archway. We didn’t venture all the way in, but it was a crazy sight to see.  Here we parted ways with the ambassador, but only after the best photo-op of the day.

Next, we visited Martyr’s Lane, a memorial to the citizens of Azerbaijan who died defending their country. It was a very somber but intriguing place. At the end is a big overlook to see all of Baku in its glory.

We meandered quickly through the Old City, and made our way to lunch at an expat’s Mexican restaurant. Talk about strange! To order Mexican food in English to an Azerbaijani waitress – I love it. I made a lovely impression on our new expat friends by spilling my drink all over the floor, but it wouldn’t have been the full awkward Olivia experience without. Ah, such is life.

We also walked down by the Caspian and I held a monkey – no big deal – and we also took a tour of the Peace Corps office and lounge. You feel sort of official, I think, when you are finally allowed in this place. We are still not yet volunteers, but getting there.

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When I came home tonight, the furniture we have been in the process of getting all week finally arrived. In thirty boxes. I write this at 1:42a.m. Still no internet here, so I will share it when it turns on. Who knows, I may still be awake! I think the bed is nearly finished – but who’s to say.

As much as I wanted to put up a giant stink about it, it has turned into a relatively pleasant evening. Almost like a holiday – we are all waiting up anxiously for the new fancy furniture. We’ve made some jokes, my host dad gave me a big bag (seriously, this was huge news and was awesome) and we ate sugared strawberries. All is well with the world.

It was quite the surreal experience. Everything I feel and think while in Azerbaijan so far totally slipped away while we walked down big shopping centers – with the Gap, McDonald’s, Schlotskys – and visited the sites, running into other tourists. It felt like a completely different country, but it was still new and totally amazing.

 

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2 Responses to “Baku (Briefly)”

  1. timswhateverworld May 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    Cool to hang with the Morningstars eh? Very cool.

  2. ruth krueger (@tromtt) May 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    awesome. As always!

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