Azerbaijan has been in my radar since the 2013 when I first visited Georgia. Unfortunately it is a wee bit problem to get a visa to travel there, which involve a letter of invitation, sending passport overseas, etc, etc. We decided to postpone it until the visa regulation become relaxes a bit.
Finally, the patient is pay off. The visa is easy to get now. In April 2018, we applied visa online which is fast and cheap compare with sending the original passport overseas. We do not need a letter of invitation. It is a breeze to apply. We get our visas ready, tickets on hand, and it is time to board the flight. The flight from Copenhagen-Denmark, stopover in Moscow-Russia. We have 6 hours transit in Moscow, and time needed to catch some sleep since we depart at midnight. To my surprise, sleeping on the hard cold chairs in Moscow airport is not that bad. It added a new experience. After a couple of hours sleep, it is time to board our flight to Azerbaijan.
Unfortunately our trip is not a smooth sailing. It seems the murphy law is jealous with us and keeps following our foot step. We have trouble in October 2017, where we are not allowed to board the flight to South Africa, due to the visa problem. It cost us $$$$$
This time, we have trouble in the immigration once we landed in Azerbaijan. My best friend has trouble with his visa. His visa application was approved, but there is a mixed up on it. My passport photo was on his visa application. Duhhhh………….
Well…well… lesson learned. Never apply visa together online. Luckily he can apply online with the help of the immigration staff, and an additional cost of usd51. We waited for 3 hours inside the immigration until his visa approved. We are not allowed to go outside, and nothing we can see inside the immigration as it is only a hallway for the transit passengers, so no shops or restaurants. I actually can go outside, since I do not have any problem with my visa. But if I go outside I would not be allow going in again. The immigration staff is very nice and he brings us a couple of mineral water bottles to drain our thirst.
It was so funny to see my best friend expression. In that instance I remembered the movies plays by Tom Hanks where he was stranded in the airport. I tell him that if he is unable to get a visa online, he probably has to stay inside the airport forever. He is not allowed to fly anywhere. If he is deported back to Moscow, he does not hold any Russian visa. Oh boy… it was hilarious. … to me anyway……..but not to him. Once everything sorted, the cute “London taxi” take us to the hotel. Deep down, I know I will like Azerbaijen. I can feel the wind carrying it is message to my ears, I will enjoy this country, despite the visa problem.
The country is really exceeding my expectation. I never thought Azerbaijan is soo beautiful. The capital of Baku has plenty of sights to offer to the young and restless.
Old City Baku with Maiden Tower and Palace of Shirvanshahs are classified as a UNESCO sites.
The strong concrete walled and gate, covering the old town like a mother cradling it is infant from the civilization of the new town. The buzzling bazar and the carpet sellers attracting people to explore the old town. The friendliness of the people I encounter, the willingness to help lost stranger, and the many delicious traditional foods to samples, make everything come together and create a perfect and memorable holiday.
For people who do not like to explore on foot, there are plenty of taxis or buses to take them whenever they wishes. The green park and the flowers in the garden are waiting to be touch. The old city is buzzling alive but somehow feels very peaceful and secure with those high walled surrounding it.
We visited Gobustan National Park, 40 miles out of Baku, to see the rock carving and petroglyphs, dating back from the 5,000 to 20.000 years.
It displays mesmerizing images of prehistoric life in the Caucasus. The sketches showed ancient populations travelling on reed boats; men hunting antelope and wild bulls, and women dancing. The rock formation itself is a sight to behold. It is amazing and I feel so tiny compare with the vast land around me. I can feel the freedom and the wind caressing my face, it is such a good feeling to be out and about in the country side.
We see the mud volcano with it is explosions.
It is eerily beautiful, since we do not see any buildings nearby, nor we see animals in the close range. We only hear the wind singing to us, blowing our hair to create something unique, and the mud bubbles beneath our feet. Oh boy…… what a memory to behold.
The mysterious hillside with a continuously burning natural fire is an attraction in itself.
The Fire Mountain (Yanar Dag) is interesting to watch for a while and to warm up against the cold weather. A 10 meter long wall of fire never extinguishes since the 1950s. Local tells that it was a shepherd that accidentally ignited the fire by tossing a cigarette and it has burn ever since. Unfortunately, I find it was a bit boring. The view is not as nice as the rock formation in Gobustan, and I want to get away from there as fast as I could.
Tourist cannot skip Ateshgah (Temple of Fire) when visiting Azerbaijan.
It is one of the UNESCO site in the world, built in the 17th and 18th centuries. The temple used as a Hindu, Sikh and Zoroastrian place of worship. Atash word means fire. The Pentagonal complex has a courtyard surrounded by cells for monks. Wondering inside the rooms transfer us back to the old time. Outside the gate, there is a restaurant and shops selling Azerbaijen stuff from t’shirts, hats, to peanuts and candies.
The Bibi-Heybat Mosque includes the tomb of Ukeyma Khanum (a descendant of Muhammad) is a sight in itself. Beautiful view toward the ocean with the sun caressing my skin, I feel alive. Today the place is the spiritual center for the Muslims of the region and one of the major monuments of Islamic architecture in Azerbaijan.
We spend 4 days in Baku before we go to beautiful Saki town, which is around 6 hours drive by private car. We managed to find a reasonable price taxi to take us there with a stopover in “Lahic” town to see the traditional Coppersmiths at work. The driver is friendly and cute, and the drive was beautiful with scenic mountain view. We are full of life and really enjoy our adventure in this country.
Lahic town is really small but nice with a cobble stones and old houses from wood.
Since it was out of season, many of the shops are closed and we hardly see people there. We could not find restaurants either. Luckily we get a direction to the restaurant to fill our hungry stomach. We dine with fantastic mountain view at the open air garden. What a splendid time we have there……
After exploring the town on foot and watch the Coppersmiths do their work, we continue drive to Saki town. The drive was long but not too bad. The road was good and smooth but kind of boring, since we could not see any scenery on the way there. It takes almost 10 hours from Baku with a stopover in Lahic town, and somewhere for a tea and toilet break. Once we arrived in Saki, it was dark and gloomy. Not much to see around the town, and the rain start pouring slowly. We have dinner at the restaurant which served traditional Saki food, and then rest in the hotel.
The next morning, it is time to explore the UNESCO site of the “Palace of Shaki Khans”. It was built in the 1797 by Muhammad Hasan Khan. From outside, the Palace looks quite small and not that interesting. However there is a nice garden to enjoy outside the Palace. Once we step inside the building, it is an eye catching. The walls are full with mosaics. Shamed we are not allowed to take pictures of the mosaics and the guide following our footsteps all the way until we go out from the Palace building. The Palace is located high up the hill at the foot of the mountain. It is a very pretty site with many gardens and other museum buildings nearby. After that we have lunch at one of the restaurant with the view of the mountain. The food was okay but the scenery is breathtaking. Apparantly, two nights in Saki is not enough……….I could stay one more night at this place. It is such tranquil and soothing to the soul.
We walk leisurely to explore the small town of Saki. We wonder inside the famous “Shaki Caravanserai”. I originally want to stay there but luckily I booked the biggest hotel in town. Apparently the Caravanserai hotel is not operating at this time of the year, even though their restaurant is open for business. The building looks magnificent from outside and beautiful from inside. It has a big courtyard in the centre of the pool. Four entries led to the yard from all four corners of the buildings. To be honest, it is kind of spooky to be inside the building since it was only the two of us snooping around. We managed to see the unlocked room at the upper floor and it is really dark and dungeon feel. I definitely do not want to stay overnight there…….. very spooky……….
From there we explore the inner side of the building. We could not see anybody inside, so we are free to walk everywhere. We go up and down the building and explore the labyrinth of the many empty rooms. We get a bit lost and I feel shiver since it is dark, gloomy and so still inside the building. Caravanserai was built in the form of castles with one gate, and we have to go out from the same door we come in. No other way out and I am worry those light will turn off and we will get lost in the dark since we do not bring any torch. Oh boy… my imagination go wild in the darkness…
The next day it is time to say goodbye to Saki. Our private taxi driver will take us to the town of “Telavi” in Georgia with a stopover in “Zaqatala” town to see the old Russian fortress. The Fortress is impressive and huge, but it does not have a medieval charm. Apparently we are the only guests for the day and we have a private tour guide with a limited English showing us the area. We have fun chatted with Azerbaijan local and enjoyed the tea at one of the restaurant there.
After that we cross the border to Georgia and our driver recommended a small town called Sighnaghi. We are sold and off visited this town. The town is small but very scenic and beautiful with cobble stones, old fortress at the very top of the hill, churches, and wines. We really enjoyed this town and wishes we stay there………
We stop at one of the boutique hotel restaurant and have a strange cheese cake. Taste was okay but it was warm…..We called it Azerbaijan cheese cake, since normally cheese cake is served cold.
It was dark when we arrived in “Telavi” town. After check in at one of the small hotel, we decided to have dinner at nearby restaurant and exploring the town tomorrow. It is wine time….. Oh boy… one bottle wine do give me a headache. It is time for bed I supposed. night…night….
The medieval fortress and museum was closed for renovation when we explored in the morning. We stumble across an art school, which we think an art gallery. It has a beautiful wood carving building and feel so antique. We just go in and the teacher showed us everything and introduces us to the class room. What a wonderful experience to be able to interact with the students and local in this place. One of the students can speak English well and she translate everything for the teacher. It was so nice.
Finally it was time for our trip to “Tbilisi”. We take a share taxi from Telavi town, which is very cheap. Before long, we arrived in Tbilisi and we paid extra to the taxi driver to drive us to our hotel. We spent 3 days exploring Tbilisi and enjoying the food. I still love it there. Apparently the city has become more touristic compare with our trip 5 years ago. More people speak English, more shops and car rental on display along the street. It has been a fantastic trip and I am eager to go back there soon.