Saturday, 3 December 2011

Old meets new in Baku

I didn't know much about the capital of Azerbaijan before visiting. I didn't have high expectations, imagining an ostentatious city built on oil wealth (BP has its biggest operations here). And yes there are some flashy buildings but there is also an old town which is an UNESCO world heritage site and a pleasant pedestrianised centre. After the empty streets of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan it was wonderful to see some life. People were sitting outside cafes enjoying a coffee, the shops were teeming and couples walked along the sea front. It felt very western compared to Central Asia, with many familiar brands. I hadn't realised how worn down I'd become over the past month. The food had become monotonous, constantly negotiating shared taxi fares tedious, visa paperwork onerous and some of the police tactics just plain ridiculous. Now, that was all behind us and there were no obstacles in our way to prevent us completing over overland trip I felt re-energised.

There were pastry shops everywhere and the Azerbaijanis had waistlines which attested to the fact that they were often tempted. We happily indulged too. Despite having a pleasant day wandering around the compact city centre and old town we were not going to pay the inflated hotel room prices to stay another day. With a ticket on the night train costing just a couple of dollars, it was the cheapest bed in town, so that night we were trundling westward again.

Friendly locals on the seafront

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