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Day 14 – Qobustan, Azerbaijan

20 May

Getting up seemed more difficult today. Perhaps it’s the realisation that the trip is almost over. Breakfast was back in the private dining room and the others had tucked into omlettes. Thankfully service was very slow and I was never offered one. Milk was only available directly from the cow, apparently.

We had 250km to get to Baku today, so we started at 8am. Some dampness had appeared overnight. Not just on my head. The early diatribe from Balash consisted of more information about the Caucases and the Russian poet Tolstoy. I’ll have to buy the book.

Pomegranate jam, walnut jam and Azeri black tea were just some of the suggested purchases if we wanted to stop off at a supermarket. And had a credit card. How much was he expecting us to buy?

The changeover from Soviet style collective farming to private ownership was discussed. Basically they all have large mortgages set against future crop production. Got interested when George pointed out some flags. Disappointed that these were a type of sheep.

Armenia got a mention or three. The conflict is all their fault, and the Russians who supported them in Nagorno-Karabagh. The Russians missed no tricks by selling weapons to both sides. Azerbaijan didn’t want to take the help of Turkey in case it started WW3. (This was back in 1992). Our guide is from the geographically unconnected and reputedly autonomous Azerbaijani region of Nakhichevan. They can only get there by plane or via Iran. He swears it is fully part of Azerbaijan.

The rest of the journey was through the odd village but mostly farmland with strawberries, grapes and lots of furniture and butchers shops. “Interesting for farmers.” Combine harvester of the month will be a new photo feature in the Dorset Evening Post. We also witnessed the oil terminals and gas pipelines that have provided so much of this country’s wealth.

Arriving at Gobustan (or Qobustan) we stopped first at the award winning museum. Fantastic interactive displays, which we almost enjoyed uninterrupted until several bus loads of school kids arrived with their camera phones.

The site covers 3 mountains and contains over 6000 petroglyphs – rock carvings.
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Leaving the museum we headed first to a rock inscribed by a Roman legionnaire, then we headed uphill to see the main collection of petroglyphs. Humans dancing, pregnant woman with no heads (no further comment required there) and various animals were all drawn. Our guide explained that they practiced hunting on the drawings which explained the marks on them.

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We returned to the bus, avoiding the cliff that was previously the sea edge. And the children. Hundreds of the blighters. I really do prefer quiet tourist attractions.
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Lunch was just inside the Baku boundary, overlooking the Caspian Sea. It’s most memorable for the strange selection of drinks that we had. There was no coke and no lemonade, but we had fizzy sour cherry (dark red), fizzy tarragon (bright green) and something called kompote, which we think was still guava juice. The minced lamb was excellent as well.

Driving into Baku proper, we passed many land based oil pumps, as well as several oil rigs in the sea. The most exciting thing was the Eurovision arena, next to the largest flagpole. Unfortunately, the “windy city” was indeed too windy to fly a flag.

After a brief check in to our last hotel of the trip, some off us headed out to a nearby bazaar. Local indeed. Carolyn seemed quite intent on sourcing something sharp, pointed or otherwise dangerous. Until she found a bell. We escaped after encountering fruit salesmen that gave us free samples and then got upset when we didn’t buy any.

Going our separate ways I discovered the Baku City tour bus. Due to the F1 preparations in the city, they were unable to run the bus as the barriers had been partially erected. Walking directly into town instead, I found the waterfront promenade and promenaded until I reached the carpet museum and Little Venice. This involved passing the F1 pavilion where there were lots of kids enjoying the simulators. Beautiful waterfront though.
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Heading back to the hotel I decided to take the metro. Witnessed the rush hour crowd trying to crush through only one very narrow door of the station. Successfully purchased a Bakikart allowing me 5 trips on public transport for the price of 10p each.

The metro itself was very far underground on the slowest moving escalator ever. The crowd would never survive in London. Everyone stood 2 abreast without moving.

The train itself wasn’t crowded – until the next stop. Slightly dated, with no adverts and a cool air circulation.

Arriving at 28 May station, I made it back to the hotel via the shopping mall (Zara, Gap, Next etc…)

We met in the hotel sky bar overlooking the city. Extravagant prices for a drink were avoided by me. The barkeep managed to cork Amanda’s wine.

Meeting up with Max and the whole group, we headed into town to Fountain Square (severely lacking in working fountains) to eat in the top restaurant in Baku. They told me my order of chicken in a pineapple and orange sauce came with rice. It didn’t. Amanda was still waiting on her plov long after the rest of us had finished. Apart from that, it was actually quite nice with many carpets decorating the basement walls. Also tried the Azerbaijani wine. Still waiting for a meal to be served piping hot on this trip.

A daunder back to the hotel via a flag shop resulted in a very happy Tony.

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