Welcome To Baku!

Finally, I have access to the Internet again [thanks to The Baku Roasting Company] and can upload my blog entries and associated images.

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“Azerbaijan, Is that a country?” asked the American artist that Sandra and I met in Lefkosia. “Yes”, I replied. “It borders Russia to the North, Iran to the south and the Caspian Sea to the East”. As far as the people who have heard of it are concerned, it is just another one of those “stans” like Afghanistan and Pakistan, full of Islamic fundamentalists and crushing poverty. Well, that hasn’t been our first impression.

Dawn on our first morning in Baku from our apartment

Azerbaijan sits on the second biggest oil field in the world and has been independent of the Soviet Union for nearly twenty years. In the past two decades, there has been a rush by Western oil companies to ingratiate themselves with the government to get heir hands on the Black Gold.

Baku the Capital, is the most rapidly changing city in the Caucuses where old Lada taxis chase flashy Mercedes along tree-lined boulevards full of designer shops while men with droopy moustaches play backgammon in bars on pot-holed back streets. A limpid, heavily polluted Caspian washes against the beautiful, curving promenade of the city while on the steeply sloping hills, brash new tower blocks create of glitzy backdrop.

Baku - Old and New

Walking around Fountain Square next to the ancient walled city last night, we watched families in smart modern dress and young couples holding hands take the cooling air. The area is full of beautiful old pre-Soviet stone-built streets that have been scrubbed clean, refurbished and opened as coffee bars, restaurants, shops and offices. Mansions built by the robber Barons of the first oil boom face tree lined boulevards while the heroic building that used to be dedicated to Lenin has been converted into a carpet museum.

On the very edge of the “Islamic” world, seventy years of communism followed by a further twenty of rampant capitalism have blunted religious fervour and according to Lonely Planet have turned Islam into a vague cultural identity, where observing Ramadan means cutting down on beer and cigarettes.

Unlike Cairo, you are not hassled every five minutes by street sellers and guides and you don’t endure the anxiety that everyone is after the contents of your wallet. In Windhoek, we were very careful about where we walked, avoiding lonely corners and dark alleys but here, the streets have a very different atmosphere. We felt safe and relaxed as we wandered about. Little English is spoken and people are reserved but genuinely friendly and helpful. One taxi driver could not understand our request and started to phone a friend who spoke English but before he could connect with him, a young student came up and acted as an interpreter for us. That was a breath of fresh air.

Let us see what the new day brings…

 

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About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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15 Responses to Welcome To Baku!

  1. Excellent! I’m glad to hear of your safe arriva, it’s very interesting, I really knew nothing about Baku. It sounds nice.

  2. stevehollier says:

    According to The Lonely Planet guidebook, Baku has the 8th best nightlife in the world… I don’t think that is true but it’s fun here!

  3. Edward Fynn says:

    Hi Steve Good to here from you.
    Recently thought about how you are doing in the “stanland” Is it?
    We are fine in Windhoek

    • stevehollier says:

      Thank’s for checking out the blog. Yes, we are fine and settling in OK although still awaiting our things to be sent from Windhoek.
      There are plenty of photography oportunities…

      • Edward Fynn says:

        I can imagine that. Please post some on your facebook and any other site that you have. Did you get the link for the iphone art work from that guy who exhibited the sunset foto that you bought? I will like to try my hand on it.
        Hi to Sandra.

  4. Hugh Paxton says:

    Aha! The old ‘waiting for our things to arrive from Windhoek’ thing! We’ve done that, too. It was the ‘waiting for our things to actually leave Walvis Bay’ that was the rat’s piss in the milk (or more accurately on our boxes as they sat gently accumulating fungal growths in the container). Our ship wouldn’t sail until it was full and that took sufficiently long enough for us to think “Bugger this! Let’s buy everything we need here, in Bangkok”. We did just that and predictably our stuff arrived almost immediately after we had completed our shopping spree. We now have two of everything. Truly our cups overfloweth! Best wishes to you both in Baku! Look forward to hearing more of your adventures. Great Blog, Steve! Keep it coming! Cheers!
    Hugh, Midori and Annabel
    PS If the winters are as harsh as I suspect they may be in Az, sultry Thailand is always available (although I anticipate an incoming mother in law some time in December and you don’t want to share berth space with her).
    Hope you fare better!

    • stevehollier says:

      Hugh!
      Yes, we would like to come visit you all in sweaty Bangkok. Unfortunately, mid December to mid January is when Sandra is on holiday. We’d like to visit the region for about three weeks, so do let me know when it is the best to avoid your dear Mama-inlaw!

  5. Olwen Evans says:

    Great to hear you’re settling in! Good luck with getting your things from deepest darkest…

  6. Genie says:

    Hi Steve – what a great blog!! Baku sounds amazing and truly inviting!!! Thank you for sharing this with us. So it looks like you have got internet now?? Or is it still down at the cafe with the good coffee?? Hope school is great for Sandra for now at least. As said in an email you are sorely missed …………..:-} Look forward to the photographs of Bak and Az. Still have to put my pictures from Tibet on facebook, but all in good time once we have sorted through about 2000 plus photos.
    Big hugs
    xxx

  7. Genie says:

    Wanted to add, that photo of the old (and new) – ha ha – is rather phallic!!

  8. CAROL KYLE says:

    Steve Was great to know that you and Sandra finally arrived safe. Reading your blog – most interesting and clearly the need for lack of security is welcome. So far seems like a great decision to move there. Keeep writing – you are a born journalist. C x

  9. Katherine McDonnell says:

    How lovely to learn so much more about a country that I’ve only heard of and only exposed to through their participation in the Olympic Games!! Lucky you and Sandra – enjoy every moment (even Lonly Planet’s nightlife recommendations) and keep us all informed.

  10. Brumelda English says:

    hi there Steve, it all sounds great, hope you guys are keeping safe!!!

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