Baku – Yanar Dag, or Azerbaijan for beginners
How to get from the airport.
At the exit, the tourist will immediately encounter a lot of taxi drivers trying to convince you that there is no public transport from the airport. It exists, the bus (looking more like marshrutka) nr. 116 departs every 20-30 minutes from the far end of the parking lot.
We reached the metro, and a kind young girl did not only show the way to us, but also gave a ticket as a queue in the metro was terribly long. This was the beginning of the great cultural shock which accompanied us all over Caucasus: how is it possible to remain so altruistic, generous, and hospitable in the 21st century?
When we entered the carriage, a number of men stood up to let Nastya sit. She resisted trying to explain that our ride would be short, by they insisted. As we learned after, it is normal, woman is highly respected in the Muslim country. Any feminism? Hardly. Keep that in mind while travelling there, don’t wear shorts like Nastya at first did, and at least share the luggage with your girlfriend (don’t let her carry everything :)) otherwise you will be pointed at by the strangers at the streets of Baku.
One can easily get lost in Baku metro, as it consists of multiple tunnels without any signs (thought with many small shops). We were looking for the way to the railway station, but it took a long time to find it. At first we bumped into this building: the former beautiful railway station now became a KFC, while current railway station is quite ugly.
For 2 manats (1 manat is approx. 0,92 euros) we got our luggage stored at the railway station and embarked on our first breakfast in Azerbaijan in the nearest cafe “Yeni baki” at Dilar Iliev str., 251. Neither of the waiters could speak English or Russian, and an old man sitting at the nearest table helped us with the choice (in Russian). We ordered kutabs (0,6 manats per piece) and tea, both were excellent!
After this great breakfast, we decided to go to Yanardag, the place where due to natural gases the piece of ground is on fire. Such natural phenomenon is quite rare and is mainly encountered in Azerbaijan. Places like that often became the worshipping places for the followers of Zoroastrianism.
How to get to Yanar Dag.
As Lonely Planet recommended, we went to metro station Gyanchlik. But there we learned that marshrutka to Yanar Dag departs from the metro Azaldyg. As usually, people we very helpful and thanks to them we reached Azaldyg and marshrutka nr. 147 stop . The style of driving in Azerbaijan (and all around Caucasus as we learned later) is absolutely crazy, always have your hands on the rails! The defined stops do not exist, as marshrutka stops to pick up or drop people if needed. Men immediately yield their seats to women. Getting to Yanar Dag from Azaldyg cost 0,5 manats and took 50 minutes.
The ticket to Yanar Dag costs 2 manats (1 – for students). To be honest, there is nothing special. It is said that in winter it is more fun as fire is just next to snow. Probably, it is also nice in the evening, but the access to it is hardly possible then.
Having reached the metro by the same marshrutka, we went to the station Icherisher to walk around the old city. It was indeed nice, many narrow streets with shadow so essential on the hot day.
The cats were also looking for the relief from the heat:
Remember the tea we had in the morning? Here is the sculpture of armudis – traditional pear-shaped glasses in which the tea is served. There are numerous interpretations of why these glasses have such an unusual form: it is easy to handle, it resembles woman’s body, etc. As a matter of fact, the reason is much simpler: the tea in the bottom section of the glass cools down slower than in the upper one.
Some more sculpture of armudis:
Famous Maiden Tower was closed, and we decided to go to the sea cost to try to take a boat, as Lonely Planet advised, but it again failed, as they had canceled boats several years before. Tired to death, we ended up sleeping on the benches:
Where to eat?
But it lasted for only few minutes, as a policeman woke us up. Don’t sleep in the public places in Baku! Meanwhile, a couchsurfer called us and suggested to meet in a local restaurant. He picked us up and drove there. There were the tables in a beautiful garden, and lots of excellent food:
Having eaten really a lot, we paid 55 manats (for 4 of us). The name of the place, strongly recommended:
Tima (a couchsurfer) and his friend Dima are very interesting, well-educated people working in a petroleum company. From what we understood, being involved with petroleum industry is the major (if not the only) way to become successful in Azerbaijan. Baku is very rich, while the rest of the country is rather poor.
Dima decided to show night Baku to us, and it was indeed impressive, unfortunately our camera hardly grasps how much money is spent on electricity in Baku every night. The city develops rapidly, and claims to become “second Dubai”. Famous flame towers:
Eurovision concert hall:
We met another friend of Dima and Tima, Azerbaijani one. All three of them impressed us on how much they know and love their country.
Dima drove other to the second couchsurfer, where we were supposed to sleep. Volodimir, the Ukranian who had lived in Baku for a while, also hosted an American who cycled all over Turkey and Azerbaijan; his next goal was cycling through Uzbekistan and he was staying in Baku for a while waiting for his visa. After a short talk with him and Volodimir, we got to sleep: that day was too long. The next day we made a side trip to Gobustan and mud volcanoes and walked a bit more around Baku.