I was extremely excited and eager to visit Baku. Since researching Azerbaijan and learning of the history surrounding the small country, I’ve been looking forward to exploring. I’ve marveled at the many journeys taken across the famous Silk Road.
This was my trip to Baku, Azerbaijan in September of 2019.
Approaching the city of Baku by plane was hazy at 1 am and my eyes were tired from traveling. It was hard to see the city in the inky, night sky. As we got closer and closer to landing, I started to make out small lights in the Caspian Sea, which I later discovered were oil wells. The plane rumbled as we landed and erupted in animated and thrilled locals clapping and cheering, clearly enlivened to be arriving home. Even at 1 am, the excitement and anticipation surrounding Baku was refreshing.
First impressions of any country always begin at the airport and this one didn’t disappoint. The airport was decorated in gold awnings and yellow lights illuminating the floor, brightly, even in the middle of the night. Taxi drivers didn’t shout or beg for you to follow you to their cars which was appreciated more than they know in the early morning. Even the little kids waiting with their parents to welcome their guests or family members didn’t play or dance, they just stood there quietly and patiently. I had been in Azerbaijan for 10 minutes and I was already extremely impressed and curious.
Baku, in the light of the day, was filled with people, some tourists, but mostly locals. Countless people cruised the boardwalk overlooking the Caspian Sea. Little kids twirled balloons around their little fingers. Men sat in cafes smoking hookah and reading newspapers. Women gossiped in the shade of the trees, watching the waterfront. For anyone with a love of people-watching like myself, this was the place to be.
The old town of Baku was no different from the boardwalk due to the number of people and things happening constantly. It was a maze of cobblestone and cars trying to figure out the puzzle of where to go. The tourists gazed at the Maiden tower, their eyes filled with curiosity at how the tower came to be as no one knows. The store owners beg people into their shops and stop to charge kids for trying on their Russian hats. Watching the busy happenings in the old town was chaotic yet amusing and never seemed to get old.
Comparing the old town to the outer walls was such an opposite experience in just about everything. I could look to the left and see the cobblestone mosque, caving in at the roof and then look to the right and see ridiculously high skyscrapers and the famous ‘Flame Towers’ that light up at night. Instead of street sellers and beggars, businessmen with briefcases walked in and out of tall towers. Visible children were sparse in my eyesight in the new but lined the streets in the old. Outside the walls were top-end stores that seemed virtually empty with people but everywhere inside the walls were people cruising the streets with shopping bags. All in all, I enjoyed being in the new area of Baku just as much as the old and contrasting the two sides in the huge city was crazy interesting.
The city was not the only place that caught my attention. Gobustan, a small drive outside of Baku, was just as captivating. The caves were filled with stories of prehistoric life visible in the rock carvings; petroglyphs. As we wandered through the caves, I could make out all the different animals and objects carved onto the cave walls. I constantly pointed out caveman, horses, and wooden boats easily visible unlike so many other places similar to this one around the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was not only for staring at the petroglyphs, however, as the Caspian Sea was portrayed so beautifully from the top of the hill where the Gobustan site sat. As much as the city captured my heart, this small day trip was equally engrossing.
After analyzing and staring at the petroglyphs, we drove a little farther into the National Park of Gobustan; the reason, mini mud volcanoes! We laughed, amused as they spurted mud all over at random moments and surprised us all. They bubbled over the sides and slid down their slope, drying in the sun. We took amusing pictures pretending we were on top of the volcanoes, on top of the world, while really we were just practicing our camera angles. These two day trips were equally as fascinating as the capital city and well worth the drives.
Five days in Azerbaijan was not enough however we did manage to fill our time by cramming in countless adventures. We gazed at the Maiden Tower in the hot afternoon sun wondering about the history surrounding it. We ate in many restaurants remnicient oF our time in Turkey. We stared at the Flame Towers and watched as they turned into fiery colors of red, yellow, and orange at night. We took a funicular to see the overview of the whole city and the eternal flame. We learned about the history of Baku under the influence of the Soviets during a walking tour. We took pictures at the “Yanar Dag” which is another flame that blazes non stop. All in all, as much as we did in Azerbaijan, we couldn’t possibly feel like we had seen even a fraction of what there is to see here.
The sum of Azerbaijan? – Oil wells lining the Caspian Sea barely visible on the horizon. Mosques detailed with green limestone and red, yellow and blue stained glass. Petroglyphs perfectly preserved. Tall buildings that scraped the sky. People strolling the boardwalk.
Will I be back to Azerbaijan? Maybe one day. As much as I loved my trip, there are thousands of places waiting to be explored that might be just as amazing as Baku… or maybe not. I won’t know till I see the rest of the world but what I do know is that Azerbaijan is high up on my favorites list and I’d recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone.