Middle East Travels

Azerbaijan – The Land of Fire

Guest Post Alert

Antarlina is our guest blogger for this post. She lives in Dubai and thrives as a banker over the work week and an WhatsApp Image 2018-03-30 at 8.42.52 PM (1)avid traveler during the weekend. She is also a foodie and loves to cook up a storm in her kitchen. Her trip to the wonderful city of Baku and its surroundings in Jan 2018 was truly a memorable one.

As narrated by this lovely traveler, in her own words. Read on.

I have been looking forward to visiting the eternal land of fire ( as “Azerbaijan” literally means) but was holding on to my plans as the visa regime was quite complex. But with Azal airlines spreading its network in the UAE and local carriers increasing their fleet to and from Baku (the capital city) it was time to make that weekend getaway!

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The magnificent 30000 ft view over Iran as we fly towards Azerbaijan from Dubai

Before you go

Visa proccess

Most nationalities will require a visa to enter Azerbaijan. Till about 2 years back, getting a tourist visa to Azerbaijan was fraught with uncertainties. Corruption was rampant with high red tapism in the process. But the government has now completely revamped their visa service with a online application process with Standard delivery in upto 3 days and Urgent in a few hours. We got our visa through the standard service in less than 48 hours. Just log into their Official website and file away to get your visa. There are multiple other websites providing this visa but with additional charges so make sure you log into the government website only.

Exchanging currency

Make sure to take Azali AZN (their currency) in low denominations before you fly. In case you missed out, the banks accept EUR, USD, UAE Dirhams only. They may or may not be willing to exchange other currencies so it is better to stick to the above.

Where to Stay

We checked in at the Winterpark hotel which is located conveniently from most places of tourist interest in Baku.

Day One

You can take an Uber from the airport to the main city. It will cost you about one third of what you might be shelling out if your hotel sent you a pickup.

Please be sure that the taxi drivers do not speak English. Communication can be very challenging. They might only be speaking Azerbaijani and Arabic at the very best. Google translate might come in handy at these times. However, the educated class speaks English and is quite helpful with directions.

Palace of the Sirvanshahs

We took a cab to the Maiden Tower which is opposite the Baku Boulevard (the Boulevard is a promenade running along Baku’s seafront). You may or may not climb up the tower (you need to purchase tickets). This place has a number of restaurants so you can grab a meal here. Turn on your google maps and walk up to the Palace of the Sirvanshahs. This palace was destroyed by Soviet bombing thus almost entirely rebuilt. There is an entry ticket of 2 AZN. Although the interiors are modest, the view of the Flame towers from the palace courtyard and the bath are definitely worth it.

Miniature Book Museum

On your way out of the palace, look out for a sign board of the Miniature Book museum where you can find miniature versions of books on display(A Guiness book record).

We booked an Uber on our way back to the hotel.

Nazimi Street and shopping

In the evening, there is no better place than the much famous Nazimi street for a stroll and some souvenir shopping. The street is lined with souvenir shops and fast food joints on either side. At the end of the street there are a few diners serving European cuisines. We picked up fridge magnets from one of the souvenir shops.

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The view from the Palace of Sirvanshahs. And my beautiful mom

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Baku Old City Walls

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Martyr’s Lane

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Panoramic Baku

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The Flame Towers

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The Funicular to the Martyr’s Lane

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At Nazimi street

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Fountain Square

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Day Two: Road Trip

We booked a guided tour with Baku Explorer which started at 09:30am with the following itinerary:

  1. Gobustan: We started our day with the iconic petroglyphs of the Absheron peninsula. As our car went up the plateau and parked very close to the actual site, we didn’t have to walk much. Besides the ancient symbols, you can enjoy a scenic view of the Caspian Sea.
  2. Mud volcanoes: The approach road to the volcanoes is extremely muddy, which caused our driver some trouble. One of the rear tyres was stuck in the mud and it wasn’t until a Good Samaritan bailed our car out of the mess.

Consider carrying spare shoes as you stand to spoil your shoes as you climb the little mounds of mud to have a look at the volcanoes bubbling away. The mud is mostly thick and dry but does give away at a few places.

  1. Burning mountain: We made a mistake of not picking up our lunch from the main city. There was hardly a food joint on the way to the burning mountain. We were saved by a supermarket from where we picked up some local delights.
  2. Atesgah: Very beautiful during the evening twilight as the fire burns away amidst the castle-like temples giving an eerie feel.
  3. Martyrs lane, view of the city & Funicular: One of the highlights of our trip, the martyr’s lane is a tribute to the massacred Azerbaijanis when the city was unsuspectingly attacked by the Soviet Army during “Black January”. We walked down the alleyway laden with memoirs of the martyred and were led to the main alter where a blazing fire was keeping the surroundings warm in the chilly weather. Right behind the altar one can behold the modern city, a view captured in many souvenirs. Walking ahead, we got a clear view of the Flame Towers, the iconic building of the capital city.

Finally, we took a funicular from the highland down to the waterfront and were dropped off to our hotel by our tour operator.

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Gobustan

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Mud volcanoes of Gobustan

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Day Three: Final hours

Fountain square, Statue of Nazimi and the Old city walls

We had about three hours before leaving for the airport and so we headed out for one final stroll and souvenir shopping. We walked down the alleys lined with coffee shops to the Fountain Square which is surrounded with coffee shops, restaurants and shopping malls. We regretted not making it here earlier.   We walked on towards the old city wall perimeter which is lined with souvenir shops and eateries. As we neared the Maiden tower, we found a couple of shops with a nice collection of oil paintings and bought a couple of them at 20 AZN per piece. We took an Uber back to the hotel.

To the airport

Should you want to grab a meal before your flight, do that before you clear passport control as there are limited options on the other side of the counter.

My thoughts

Baku, the city is a perfect example of the juxtaposition of the archaic and modern. The country and its people celebrate their heritage and prehistoric treasures while embracing modernism. The iconic Flame Towers pay homage to the national treasure that has kept the nation thriving. The young have hopes for the future; an undying spirit much like the eternal fires that surrounds them.

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