November 30, 2016 – December 3, 2016
Have you ever heard of Baku? How about Azerbaijan? Yeah us either, until we started searching for “short trips to make from Abu Dhabi” and “Hot Deals” on Groupon (no shame). Baku kept popping up on our searches, and after we did some reading and digging – and saw some of those hot deals – it was an easy decision to travel three hours to see this cool city.
December 1 and 2 were declared holidays for the private sector only a short week before our trip, which we had already booked. Just a small amount of drama surrounding this since November 30 is technically the holiday — regardless it was all sorted and off we went for our short four day trip to Azerbaijan.
We used Jumbo Tourism for our tour and got a STEAL of a deal through Groupon. Seriously, if you haven’t looked on Groupon for travel deals you should start.
Azerbaijan Fun Facts :
- Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is known as the “city of winds”, as over 200 days of the year it is extremely windy.
- Azerbaijan is commonly referred to as “Land of Fire” (refer below to Day 4 of trip and viewing of Fire Mountain).
- It’s primary industry is oil and gas, being on the Caspian Sea.
- It is extremely difficult to plant fruit and vegetables in Baku as the soil is so salty. However, green olives and figs do extremely well in these conditions.
- The language, Azerbaijani, is most similar to Turkish.
- Muslim is the primary religion, with over 96% of people practicing Islam.
Day 1 : Nov 30, 2016 : Wednesday
We left Abu Dhabi at 4:00AM and headed to Dubai via taxi for our departure flight. That 1.5 hour drive really adds to the travel fatigue, I would try and avoid having to depart from Dubai again in the future. We arrived in Baku at 10:00AM where we met our tour group and guides. From the airport we did a small city tour on our way to the hotel, the Hyatt Regency. We had a few hours to relax before meeting the tour group for a continued city tour.
In the late afternoon we started our proper city tour. Our first stop was Martyrs’ Lane, or memorial park. Walking through the park, you eventually reached a large lookout point over the Caspian Sea and a view of the Flame Towers (on the left-hand side).
Our bus met us at the opposite end of the park where we next visited Shirvanshahs’ Palace Complex. It was at this time that the sun was setting and it was getting quite cold . . . probably around 8 degrees C. Maiden Tower is within the complex and is one of Azerbaijans’s most prominent emblems.
We then walked through the “Old City” towards Fountain Square. The walled ancient city is over 1,500 years old. I loved walking through this part, with stone roads and old buildings it was an interesting contrast to the modern city hiding behind the brick walls.
Once we finally arrived to Fountain Square (only about a 10 minute walk through the Old City) we had free time to eat and shop. We had Döner for dinner and visited Nutelland for dessert. If you’re a fan of Nutella (I think everyone is?) you would have been in hazelnut heaven.
We met the group again at the fountain and headed back to our hotel for 8:00pm.
Day 2 : December 01, 2016 : Thursday
Woke and ate breakfast in the hotel. Met the group in the lobby and onto the bus to begin our 225 km drive towards Qabala. Cold & wet day! Lots of rain and only about 10 degrees C.
On our way to the city we stopped and visited Diri Baba Mausoleum, which was actually a very cool monument. The mausoleum stands out from a high cliff, two storeys high, and appears built into the rock. Climbing up narrow steps and muddy hills you get a spectacular view from the top of cliff.
We continued the drive to the Juma Mosque in Shamakhi. As mentioned before, the majority of the current population is Muslim. There are many mosques as you drive through the country. The most memorable moment of this site was watching Tammy put a baby to sleep in her arms.
We then stopped for our lunch. This was, to this day, the worst meal I have ever had. It is all about the experience, yes. But I would never go back and relive this. Our group was piled into a small dining room with a murky-watered fish tank at one end. We were fed family-style, served bread at first, then what was supposed to be chicken soup. Except I don’t think the chicken was chicken. We had plates of “meat” put onto the table. Do not ask me what the meat was, was it beef? Lamb? Not a clue. Finished that meal as quick as I could, only to use the squat toilet before heading back onto the bus.
On our way to the bus, though, we were stopped by a flock of sheep.
We stopped at a little street market and bought some fruit leather and found some boyfriends . . . who actually tried to get onto our bus LOL.
After more and more driving we finally made it to the final destination of the road trip, which was worth the hours of driving. We got to the Tufandag Winter/Summer Mountain Resort. The sun was setting and it was extremely foggy by the time we arrived, which made us a little skeptical about going up the mountain.
We bought our gondola passes and with our “not very winter appropriate” attire, headed up the mountain. Above the fog we went and caught the sunset as it disappeared behind the mountains. This was an absolutely magical moment as it felt a little bit like home with the cold fresh air, the snow and the mountains. From what I can remember we took a total of 5 gondolas up the mountain to the top.
The sky was dark by the time we made it down to the bus. We then made the 4 hour drive back to our hotel in Baku.
Day 3 : December 02, 2016 : Friday
Woke up, no sleeping in. Breakfast again in the hotel…they had this amazing strawberry juice (that’s one memory that really sticks out, haha).
We drove to Gobustan, a district within Baku, that is known for its rock petroglyphs and mud volcanoes. We didn’t get to see the mud volcanoes because of the wet weather . . . which doesn’t really make sense if you think about it ?
We went into the Museum of Petroglyphs for a brief history of the rock art and previous inhabitants of the area.
From there we did a quick walk around the park to see the engravings in the rock. It was quick because it was raining.
We finished the morning sightseeing by early afternoon and were dropped back at our hotel for “free-time” all afternoon and evening. We walked from our hotel to a restaurant down the road, Cafe City. We had soup and pizza, and obviously had to try the local pomegranate wine. Kind of ironic, a Muslim country producing their own specialty wine
Day 4 : December 03, 2016 : Saturday
Our original itinerary flight was departing at 1:00PM, however, it was changed to 6:00PM so we had a whole extra day of sightseeing. We ate and checked out of the hotel.
Our first stop was the Carpet Museum. I will say, there is only so many carpet museums or carpet factories a person can visit in their life. It was a beautiful museum and fortunately we weren’t guided through the entire thing, but left to wander on our own.
From the museum you can walk out along a pathway that is right along the Caspian Sea. The trees were autumn colours and it was a warmer day with bright clear blue skies, absolutely beautiful.
From there we went to the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre. Super cool building architecture (the white building in the first photo of this post). You had the option to go inside and explore, we opted to take pictures outside at the I <3AKU sign instead. We sat outside on the grass in the front of the building and chatted with others from our tour which was nice.
Our next stop was the Ateshgah Temple, or Temple of Eternal Fire. Originally built by Hindus, it was partially destroyed when Islam came into practice. A place to worship fire (one of the four elements of their beliefs) natural gas flowed to parts to create constant fires.
Our final stop before the airport was the Fire Mountain, or Yanar Dag. Essentially a dirt hillside that has flames coming from its base due to the constant natural gas seeping from the ground . . . honestly, I’m not a geologist so that information probably is not 100% accurate. I can tell you what we saw, which was a pile of dirt with a fire at the base with the smell of natural gas in the air.
From there we made it to the airport, a small rush to get checked in, through security, to try and find food (unsuccessfully), and exchange our money (also unsuccessful).
We arrived into Dubai before midnight and were back in Abu Dhabi (another taxi ride) by 1:00AM, in time to get a few hours of sleep for work the next morning!