“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Last weekend, Jo and I took at trip to Azerbaijan's exclave, Nakchivan. It's supposed to be the cultural heart of the country and has a very ancient feel -- much like Iran just across the border. Very interesting!!

Because it's one of the only destinations going out of Baku's domestic terminal, the airport had a bus station feeling. We had to go up two flights of stairs with our suitcases, and there was even a ticket booth like in a bus or tram station. You can't buy your return journey until you get there! It certainly gives the illusion of being cut off instead of connected! Jo and I commented on the bizarre feeling -- two guys were racing remote control cars and boxes and boxes of goods were there, with one guy even flying with car parts. The flights are subsidized for nationals of course (and exorbitant for expats), and there is no land route there except through Iran. Our boarding pass said 12.50 but that's the "old time" (I wonder when Nakchivan was ever on that time -- the Ottoman Empire perhaps?) but we were leaving at 9. The cafe had friendlier people, and we noted the irony of there being no milk for my tea, but yet other customers had received a full omlette complete with pan. They loved the fact that my name was Natalya, and I believe I remember hearing someone saying 'Take off your clothes': before you get excited, they were talking about my jacket.

We arrived and took a taxi straight from the airport via Jolfa and the Aza bridge to the southernmost village of Ordubad -- what a great town! While it was once on the main road to Nagorno-Karabakh, it is now a sleepy place at the very end of the road. Jammed in the bottom triangle of Nakchivan, squeezed between a non-bridged river border with Iran, and hostile Armenia, it is a quaint forgotten sort of place. It had lovely crumbling mud brick walls and restored mosques. It had a lovely old square with a teashop under a giant cinar tree. The madrasa was being renovated and there was a cool bridge house under repair. Through narrow streets where the taxi driver, Shamil, would simply stop and sigh with exasperation when a car would happen by and need to get past. Jo found it amusing when Shamil was directing me to a better picture on the other side of the Aza bridge where there ended up being a garish yellow pipeline, ubiquitous to Azerbaijan to ruin the picture.

Stopping for lunch at a little place on the side of the road on the way back, we enjoyed our salads (and for me, kebabs) right above a dammed reservoir full of the most interesting fish, lizards and floating snakes. It was quite astonishing, in fact, to see 3 yellow snakes, a turtle, multiple ducks, and a cat all sharing the same space as the fish!

To Naxcivan city, where we negotiated being able to stay in the hotel of our choice (and not Shamil's), we wandered to the famous mausoleum just before it closed and huge storm rolled in. It was quite an exciting storm, but alas, we had no jackets. Tea (again), and I eat the whole bowl of sweets as it's already 6pm! We then wandered through the melted mud citadel collecting tile fragments (probably modern), scampering down banks and gawping at modern reconstructions of mud-brick (quite amazing actually, that they are not making them out of concrete). I was most fascinated that there was a mud-brick fort exactly like Merv (Mary) in Turkmenistan. Past closed Imamzade (over renovated!) to town, we felt quite accomplished for our first day. A Turkish dinner and ghastly green restaurant in the hotel for drinks (yucky decor and wine, price, etc).

We had arranged to meet at 9.15 through unlucky translator son Ali. After two museums we only sort of wanted to see (but Shamil wanted to show us) -- one was Heydar Aliyev's, and another was a more interesting carpet museum. We debated about what famous people's museums should have -- their breakfast food, favorite TV programs, a look at the inside of the house -- but these were not present in Heydar Aliyev's museum. To the ticket office to buy our flight back (and for Shamil to collect a secret package), finally we were on the way to where we actually wanted to go!

The mountains were high and spectacularly snow-capped, and we drove up into the passes where there are the famed islands within lakes that move location. We drove to Qarabaglar, a charming little village with the best Islamic structure I've seen in ages. Quaint homes and rusticly left-alone. Batabat -- not even a town, it turns out, is just lakes up a mountain pass. Spectacular scenery, but disappointing to have no village. We had a lovely little picnic ala Shamil under the cautious eyes of the army post above us (who were no doubt amused by us going to the toilet on the side of the road). Tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and lavash. Yum!

He then took us to his home past stones holding house roofs down, poppy fields, rivers, bridges, cliffs. We had tea with his wife and family and then tea again at the airport (this is after tea on the side of the road as well). We were the only women at the airport drinking tea, but the best part was the plane ride. Wow! What a jump back in history. It was a 1970s plane with an ashtray and sharp pointy things on the tray table, which was also extra high. However, the seats were more padded, and there was actually leg room, even if the seats did fall down like dominoes because there was no such thing as a recline! There was the oldest life jacket I've ever seen (thank goodness we weren't going over water). The window shutter is down because the window is cracked. It's also very hot! The toilet is retro complete with paisley walls and a wooden seat. No water! They moved our seat 'more up' to Business Class, but all the other rich people were late (in their own time). We were shocked to see a stretcher appear outside the window (contemplating the ghastly thought of an air-evacuation from here!). The stretcher went up the stairs, then down them, then up again as they tried to find a part of the airplane to accommodate this awkward passenger. We were barred from going backward, eventually, as he was given the middle part of the plane.

More photos at this link:

If you are interested in how another traveller found it, check out this link:

Sunday, May 09, 2010

My archway

This, my friends, is the archway of my courtyard... this hole now has concrete, but the other two (at extreme left and right) do not. That big wet pile of rubbish smells as disgusting as it looks, and those bins are usually overflowing everywhere. I'm pretty sure it doesn't meet BP safety standards, but the bonus is that while this construction is going on, there are no cars in the courtyard. The clean-it-up scheme for Nizami doesn't usually include courtyards, so I'm wondering how it will look, and how far the tiles will go in when it's all done!

Building... gone!!

One day I was walking home and the building I used to buy eggs from, and watch the cat sleep under the mannequins in the long corridor, was gone. I had bought a coat, and other clothes there, and the whole building was demolished, just like that. You can see the pile of rubble that was left behind above.

Now it's a huge construction site, usually completely blocked off from public eyes, but I managed to sneak in the other day and see what's happening. It means that the street that was almost finished with construction, Nizami, will now be blocked off for at least a couple of years.
I wonder how much warning the residents had? There was another building on the boulevard in front of the Maiden's Tower that went down in the same time frame. Apparently there was some dissent about removing it, so it was declared "unstable" yet the turn of the century walls were so thick they had trouble removing them. It's now a nice square of grass, in case anyone was wondering. Prime real estate for you!!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Baku Construction

Baku has been a construction site since at least September last year. I just thought I'd share some photos so you can get an idea of how bad it is!!