I had an away day yesterday (Wednesday, 15th May).
I had booked a cheap (about €70 return) flight from Tbilisi (my current location) to Baku. It is an hour each way. Out late morning. Back late at night. Buta Airways did the honours – it is the low cost brand of Azerbaijan Airlines.
Smart move. The outward flight was amazing, with the snow covered Greater Caucusas on one side, and the snow covered Lesser Caucasus on the other (small plane – you can see out of both sides). Just as I was getting bored by this, the coastline of the Caspian Sea appeared and we started to descend.
Baku is so different from Tbilisi in so many ways. It would be easier to mention how little they have in common – geographic location, and both being former Soviet republics.
I had time for an exhausting – but gentle – wander around the city centre (it was warm) and then it was back to the airport bus. One moment I will always remember is coming around a corner in the downtown area and smelling the sea. The Caspian.
Another highlight was the İçəri şəhər – Old City – which is fun just to wander through, get lost and then find your way again.
One thing you notice from that part of the city is the Flame Towers. 28-33 stories high, they are indicative of the city’s modern architecture. At night they are illuminated to provide a light show, alternating between flames, falling water and the colours of the national flag. It was clearly visible from my plane as it climbed away from the airport after takeoff.
The only place I paid to visit is the Şirvanşahlar saray kompleksi – Palace of the Shirvanshahs. It was 15 manat to get in (£7.50) for foreigners and 2 manat for locals. It was a lovely oasis of calm in the middle of a bustling city. It is mostly 15th century and was the seat of northern Azerbaijan’s ruling dynasty at the time.
The “one that got away” is the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijan Literature (or Nizami Gəncəvi Adına Azərbaycan Ədəbiyyatı Muzeyi, if you are local). I wanted to go in., but it was coming up to closing time.
My impression is I could easily spend 7 to 10 days visiting the country. I saw every few tourists, but until quite recently it was like trying to get into Russia – tough going and expensive to get a visa without booking a tour. Now it can be done online, costs just US$20, and takes 3 days.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2019