Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Azerbaijan idealised

It is hard to say whether Azerbaijan wants to promote itself as a tourist destination. On one hand, there are many official videos presenting Azerbaijan in an idealised way. On the other hand, there have been some recent changes to the visa regulations. Apparently, from the 15th of October it will be no longer possible to acquire a visa upon an arrival at the Baku International Airport. This will definitely have a negative impact on the Azeri tourism industry.

But going back to promoting, here is my favourite video:

I could definitely do with a flying carpet like that.

And here is Azerbaijan the average person will never have the chance to experience:


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Quba to Xinaliq, October 2010

Here are some photographs from a short trip to Xinaliq. Xinaliq is an archetypal high Caucasus village, surrounded by breathtaking mountainous scenery. I wish Baku was located somewhere half this beautiful.

On the way to Quba:

The Jewish cemetery in Krasnaya Sloboda:

On the way to Xinaliq:

Children in Xinaliq love being photographed :)

If you have 10 Manat (almost the same as 10 Euro) to spear you can get yourself a pair of hand made slippers.

A view through the hole in the wall of a local mosque.

Almost like the English Lake District:

Houses in Xinaliq:

...and some beautiful scenery...

Carpet makers in Quba. It takes about 3 months to make a medium sized carpet.

..unless you team up with someone else...

I cannot wait to go there again!

Monday, October 4, 2010

City of contrasts

Baku is not an easy place to define...It’s a shame that I haven’t been putting my thoughts on paper for the first day here; because my relationship with this place is constantly changing...It’s best to describe it as a love-hate relationships ;) Currently we are going through a ‘hate’ stage. So I may be a bit biased here ;)

Baku is a city of contrasts. There are things I love about it... and there are things I hate. But most of all, Baku is completely different to what I thought it would be. And it is also nothing like what people in the West think of it. I often get emails from my friends asking me: “So how are you doing in Afghanistan?”, “Can you go on the street without a headscarf?”or “Oh, that place must be horrible, Islamic countries are so oppressive”...This just shows me how little we know about this part of the world and how strongly our knowledge is twisted by the media. And saying ‘this part of the world’ I mean anything East and South of the European Union.

Azerbaijan is officially a secular country and its people do not seem to be oppressed by any religion, which doesn’t mean that they are not oppressed at all. However, there are some peculiarities and cultural norms, which probably have their beginnings in religion and local traditions. For example, local girls do not dress differently to European girls. You rarely see a young woman wearing a headscarf. In fact, I haven’t seen so many short skirts anywhere else in the world! But, it is seen as highly inappropriate for a grown man to wear shorts. And when J and I go for a walk both wearing shorts not many people take an interest in looking at my legs....everyone is steering at his legs! I have to admit that this is highly discouraging... up until know I thought that my legs weren’t too bad...

So looking at the girls strolling along the boulevard, wearing sexy evening dresses and 10 centimetre high heels, you wonder: what happened to the local culture? Has Islam really completely vanished from here? But it is still somewhere in people’s mentality... For example, the same sexy girls from the boulevard aren’t really, as one could think, on the way to the local nightclubs. They are just enjoying fresh air and walking alongside their families or boyfriends. You rarely see an Azeri girl in a pub. This is not really an appropriate thing to do for a respectful woman. All the non respectful ones are welcome though.

Drinking doesn’t seem to be very popular with men either. And this is one of the things I love about Baku. There are many ‘tea houses’ which are always full of people, mostly men and families. People seem to know how to enjoy each other’s company while drinking nothing more than tea with a bit of very sweet and tasty jam. But it doesn’t mean that they never drink alcohol at all. As I’ve heard from a trustful source... Azerbaijanis have acquired many things from its Powerful Northern Friend during the Soviet Era...and one of those things is a taste for vodka! Vodka in a Muslim country? Some may ask. That’s just one of Azerbaijan’s many contrasts and curiosities.

Of course, most of my observations are based on Baku and its surroundings. I don’t know how religious people are in the villages, but I don’t think there are many extremists hiding in the mountains of the South Caucasus.

Baku by J.

J's photographs speak for themselves.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

First impressions

There are many different faces of Baku. And I believe that different people experience it differently.

Baku can be beautiful, green, wealthy, looked after...

Baku has got a beautiful old town:

Art exhibitions:

...and beautiful carpets and silk:

But not everything is just as beautiful and looked after...

This is a bit further away from the centre.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

So where exactly are we?

For all of those who were sleeping during their geography classes and for those whose geography classes never covered anything else beyond the British Empire, I’ve decided to attach a little map of Azerbaijan to this post. So know we all know where we are located J

And that's how Baku looks from the distance:

And a close up on our district. That’s more or less where we have been located for the last few months. More or less and with little breaks.

And some views from our flat:

This blog will speak about our experiences over here. I’m not aspiring to educate everyone on the history and all the issues of Azerbaijan. I just want to show it the way I see it from my Western/Eastern European perspective. This is going to be a kind of a diary. And from now on, my friends should not complain, that I’m not keeping them updated ;)

How it all began...

Baku. Who would have thought!? Not me ;) Well, not five months ago anyway...One beautiful evening J came back from work and said that his company is looking for people to work in Azerbaijan and it was during the same beautiful evening that we’ve decided that this was a perfect opportunity for us to see and experience a totally different part of the world. How totally different it is we were yet to find out... here we are... July is almost over. It’s been a month since I’ve arrived, but it feels as if it was just a few days ago. I’m an alien in an alien place. My Russian is tragic. My Azeri... nonexistent. But I am learning new tricks everyday ;) I know where to go if I want to buy cheap veggies or if I need to buy something European. Sometimes, I have to visit a few shops before I can prepare a meal. So I’m forced to be creative in the kitchen ;) Anyone who knows me at all will realise how hard this is for me ;) But the biggest challenge is the public transport system. There are no official timetables, no bus route maps, not even a simple list of buses and their destinations. The only way to find out is to figure it out yourself while getting lost in Baku’s suburbs. Sometimes even that is not enough as the buses change their routes quite regularly ;) Just to make it all easier ;)
Sometimes, I miss some of the things I found so boring in the British chapter of my life... rain, food, shops and the unbearable lightness of being... England! I was taking you for granted ;) I wanted something different, and I found it!