Baku, Azerbaijan Posted on January 19, 2023February 17, 2023 by KK I’ve been experiencing the longest writer’s block when I arrived at this entry. I just couldn’t find inspiration to write about Azerbaijan. It’s not that the country itself was boring – I mean, it’s called “The Land of Fire” – which is what I drew me here in the first place. But in the end, apart from the shiny capital of Baku (rich with oil money), I tried to find other interesting spots to make detours around the country but ultimately didn’t find any – not even natural “weird” geological phenomena like Yanar Dag could tempt me to make a trip. I wish say this though – the Carpet Museum of Baku was one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever visited in the entire world! You may ask why I’d be interested in carpets of all things. But have you seen carpet-weaving art? It’s stunning and very intricate! A lady demonstrating how a carpet is weaved. What patience and skill. I’ve seen similar in Uzbekistan and have come to truly appreciate the skill involved and understand why hand-woven carpets cost a premium. I remember the first meal I had after touching down in Baku was McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds. When you’ve been on the road long enough and had plenty of ethnic dishes, as delicious as they were, a cheeseburger/fries/sundae combo was very much in order to bring me back to “Western-world-baseline”. The streets of Baku are very European. You can tell Azerbaijan is one of those countries that spent a lot of their new-found oil money to catch up with the First-World – at least their capital Baku did. The country definitely tried to model Baku after European capital cities like Madrid and Rome. The buildings and roads were very new and there always seemed to be construction going on. Shiny new buildings going up along the city promenade. Aside from wandering the shopping district in Baku (where modern shops, restaurant and coffee-house chains fill the space), the city promenade provides great views of the Caspian Sea and was a pleasant stroll. The Baku Flame Towers in the background of the promenade. A closer look at the Baku Flame Towers. There is some semblance of an Old City that normally is preserved in cities that undergo drastic transformation and Baku had one as well. To me, there was nothing note-worthy apart from certain structures being preserved for cultural heritage – the rest felt touristy (as expected). A stroll through the Baku “Old City”. I don’t know what you call these structures that “protrude” but it’s commonly found around Baku. Manufactured contrast. European and Asian. Is quite brilliant considering Azerbaijan is partially in Asia and Europe. A closer look at the Islamic influence on architecture and design. You can always tell from the presence of a minaret. A lot of cemeteries in the Islamic world take this “design” – usually prominent religious figures from a country’s past. Self-described “World’s Largest Library of Tiniest Books”. Cue Zoolander joke. Walking underground to get from one side of a highway to the other. I’d stayed in Baku for about 3 days. In those days, besides walking around, I had another craving – to watch a movie in a cinema – and coincidentally, the latest Mission Impossible was out so I found a location playing a non-dubbed version and enjoyed the movie. (Little things like having a cheeseburger and watching a movie in a cinema bring certain comforts after being in foreign lands for some time.) After a day out, I ended up at the promenade once more and settled down before noticing some pretty colors in a distance – the Flame Towers were lit up! While the Flame Towers displayed many different color change schemes, my personal favorite is the classic and apt “Fire” theme. People-watching in the main square at night. Of course, I can’t visit a foreign land and eat McDonalds. My favorite meal was in a restaurant that was adjacent to a popular town square but the fun part was that it was hidden away – you can to find an unmarked entrance, then descend down a flight of stairs to find a place called “Firuze“, a popular spot for locals to eat classic Azeri dishes. (Check out the link above for the extensive menu of dishes of not just Azeri but common Caucasian food.) The waiter was very friendly and welcoming and through broken English and some non-verbal body language, helped me select some dishes. I had some “qutabs” as an appetizer and a lamb “gunbaz” as my main course. (I couldn’t find a link for the latter dish in Latin letters – that’s how you pronounce it though – and the menu describes it as containing “lamb, eggplant, onion, cherry, rice, and pomegranate paste” all wrapped up and cooked in a vegetable case. Inside Firuze. I love the decor. Qutabs. It is served with some yogurt. Gunbaz. The presentation is inviting one to cut it open to release its contents. I do recall is having a little tart taste to it, likely from the pomegranate paste. Would I go back to Baku? Probably not. I do want to try more Azeri food (and finding Azeri restaurants isn’t easy outside of New York City) and it was interesting to see what oil money can do to give a former Soviet Union city a face-lift and to bring it to the 21st century but there’s little else culturally that draws me back to it the way a city like Istanbul does.