I was tired of travelling from Brussels via Istanbul over Black sea… but once I started to land to Baku over Caspian sea… I woke up again and all the excitement started to run again.
I got the present at the airport in Baku upon my arrival. After all, it was my first time to Azerbaidjan. What a nice welcome. 🙂
My friend Cagdas was waiting for me at the airport together with some local friend of his. At the moment we sat in the car I realised that magic is happening around me. Everything was in lights. Buildings, highway, yards…
The land of oil and fire… logically, shows you the light!
Quick dinner and we went to sleep. At that time, my day was already 28 hours long.
The first day was about exploring the architecture in the relatively new area. Around The Fountain square etc. I was surprised how streets are clean and paved with beautiful shiny stone.
Or for example, when you want to cross huge avenues and you take the underground passage which is a marble palace if you ask me:
Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region.
Drilling for oil began in the mid-1800s, with the first oil well drilled in the suburb of Baku in 1846. It was mechanically drilled, though a number of hand-dug wells predate it. Large-scale oil exploration started soon by Russian imperial authorities when they auctioned the parcels of oil-rich land around Baku to private investors. As you can imagine, Azerbaidjan doesn’t like much Stalin’s USSR and Armenia (I will explain later).
As Azerbaijan went through its first oil boom the architects from all over Western Europe were attracted to the city to design buildings for the expanding city mixing traditional with Western European.
The Land of Fire has interesting lamps in the streets of Baku: the old oil lamps that remind about the story of Aladdin.
Also, Azerbaidjan and Persia (nowadays Iran) have lots of shared cultural heritage like carpets or poets. I was impressed by 12th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet: Nezāmi Ganyavi who is considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature. I found his great monument is the city Center, even though the official religion in Azerbadijan is Muslim shia. To add to this, people of Azerbaidjan are not religious at all. In fact, they have lots of traditional holidays mixed with zoroastrianism (I will come to it back again later).
To the Old city!
Dating from the 12th century and surrounded by the walls, it is a perfect place to get shade or have a meal in a traditional way.
Baku was the realm of the Shirvanshahs during the 8th century CE. After the great earthquake in 12th century, they moved to Baku so the Shirvan era greatly influenced Baku and the remainder of what is present-day Azerbaijan.
It is highly recommended to build the Shirvanshahs’ palace.
In 18th century Russia invaded Iran and somehow Azerbaijan became part of Russo – Persian wars. Remember I mentioned that Azerbaijan and Iran have intertwined history?
Most of the Old city was re-built again but this with different influence.
The next stop, short but cute one was the Baku Museum of Miniature Books. It is the only museum of miniature books in the world.
Exhibits in the museum were collected by Zarifa Salahova (the sister of Tahir Salahov ) over the period of 30 years. Her collection consists of more than 6500 books from 64 different countries – Soviet Azerbaijani painter and founder of the Fine Arts Academy in Baku.
What else can Old city offer you? Here some more traditional charm 🙂
On the other side of the Old city is the Maiden tower. Built in 12th century, but that time in the shores of Caspian sea. It ground floor however, is built between the 4th and 6th centuries. Today, is much more far away from the coast itself so you can see how the sea is shrinking due to pollution.
The Maiden Tower houses a museum, which presents the story of historic evolution of the Baku city. The view from the roof takes in the alleys and minarets of the Old City, and a wide vista of the Baku Bay. The Tower is covered by cloud of mysteries and legends which are rooted to the History of Azerbaijan and national Culture of Azerbaijan.
Some scientific sources indicate that the Maiden Tower is a paramount example of Zoroastrianism and the pre-Islamic architecture in Iran and Azerbaijan.
One of the most popular legends is the one about the girl coming out of the Flamed Maiden tower when the enemy was attacking the city.
That was enough for that morning. Tea time 🙂 (with the view on Maiden and Caspian Bay).
Unsweetened tea is a sign of rejection. If you visit Azerbaijan, the Land of Fire, you should definitely taste its tea. Azerbaijanis say “Çay nədir, say nədir”, which can be translated as “when you drink tea, you don’t count the cups” and means that is something almost “sacred” in Azerbaijan.
As my friend introduced me to the local expats in Baku, that night I ended up partying at the 22nd floor of Landmark hotel. The view was amazing and the moon was even more amazing – too bad I never manage to capture it on my camera.
The next day I decided to make it chill. I went down to the coast to meet Caspian sea in person. Although I was flying over it when travelling to Kazakhstan.
It is the largest enclosed inland body of water on Earth by area – although shrinking heavily, but also the world’s largest lake or a full-fledged sea. I would call it a sea – cause it is salt.
By the end of the 19th century, Baku became known as the “black gold capital”, and many skilled workers and specialists flocked to the city. By the beginning of the 20th century, Baku was the centre of international oil industry. In 1920, when the Bolsheviks captured Azerbaijan, all private property – including oil wells and factories – was confiscated. Afterwards, the republic’s entire oil industry came under the control of the Soviet Union. By 1941, Azerbaijan was producing a record 23.5 million tons of oil per year, and the Baku region supplied nearly 72% of all oil extracted in the entire Soviet Union.
Moving further, the promenade and 21 century architecture. You can see the Flame towers from almost everywhere in the city as the fire is the icon of the country.
Actually the most close I could get to the Flame towers was climbing up to the Nagorny park. This is the highest point in the city and a unique observation deck. From here you can see the whole of the capital. There is a mosque, a monument to the victims of Soviet occupation of Azerbaidjan and Armenain occupation of Nagorno – Karabakh.
I was able to enter the mosque but only to go upstairs – where is traditionally reserved part for women. I was not able to see much and of course, I had to take off the shoes.
The alleys with tombs of soldiers and officers begin at the cableway station. On the lowest alley there were buried the soldiers who perished during the Nagorno Karabah War in 1992. On the upper alley there were buried the officers who died at the same place during 1990-92.
While waiting for the sunset, I decided to try the Azerbaijani beer: Xirdalan.
As mentioned several times, the culture and history of Iran and Azerbaijan are mutual. I always thought that the carpets are traditionally persian, but then I discovered azerbaijani rug.
As this is an ancient center of carpet weaving, there is a Carpet museum to teach more about this historic item.
Traditionally, since ancient times the carpets were used in Azerbaijan to cover floors, decorate interior walls, sofas, chairs, beds and tables…
The carpet weaving is still big part of the society so you can see how the social happenings influence the culture of carpet weaving.
They are even in the taxi:
I took some photos of the traditional clothes in the museum:
Tea time again. This time I met with a local. I have a friend in Baku who I met some time in Rome and decided to text him to meet. Toghrul explained the tea moments again and ordered like an Azer the black tea with typical fruit feijoa. Only feijoa were served as a marmelade.
However, I decided to have an additional coffee and baklava. Habits are habits.
The dinner looked this:
The third day I decided to go to Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center. This is the name of the first president of modern Azerbaijan since the fall of USSR. The building has a shape of the signature of the president. A master-piece of the modern architecture.
The regime established by Heydar Aliyev in Azerbaijan has been described as dictatorial or authoritarian and repressive. Political commentators highlight that Aliyev ran a heavy-handed police state, that he rigged elections and muzzled the media whereas others emphasize that his balanced policy brought stability to Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is rich with oil hence the modern architecture is flourishing. I am not fan of it, but I took some photos:
When taking the higway and noticing all these big buildings – I noticed the wall follows us as well. The more we were leaving the city – the cityscape became dirtier and the wall higher. It is built to hide the poverty.
However, there is always some pump taking the oil out of the dirt – and the pipeline. All along the highway or any road – the pipeline. Maybe there is no sidewalk, but there is a pipeline.
The last day I spent visiting outskirts of Baku. As Azerbaijan is also the land of Zoroastrianism – I decided to visit the Ateshgah temple where this religion was practiced.
The followers of Zaratustra were respecting the fire as eternity. As this is the land where oil burns and it burns eternally, the believers built a temple in 18th century with the fire in its centre. The natural eternal flame went out in 1969, after nearly a century of exploitation of petroleum and gas in the area, but is now lit by gas piped from the nearby city.
And that was the last day.
Next morning I took the breakfast and headed towards the airport.
Well, I guess, the most reasonable start would be: I arrived to this city to attend the wedding of a friend. This is her city by birth and it took me 4 hours in an ugly bus to arrive here.
The bus started from some shabby little station, actually it was a corner. Luckily, I got friends with a girl who offered me a ride to the hotel where I was supposed to sleep.
Once I arrived, the party started.
Waking up was like this:
Galați is a port town on the Danube River hence the naval shipyard. The city had a growth through trade: Ottomans, Russians, France and England, Genovians… you name it!
My friend Gabriela Denise and I decided to take a walk that morning and enjoy breakfast before we had to go to our scheduled wedding hairdresser.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit this beauty: Fortified Monastery of the Holy Virgin – the oldest building in Galați da ing since 17th century. It was built from local materials including stone, forest wood, brick and lime, sand from the beaches of the Danube and so on. With its typical Romanian church architecture, the monastery has some specific elements of interest such as a bell tower as it was used for observation of the Danube valley and for defense.
The walk through the city looked like this:
I guess the Communist era left its traces. Although the city has nice places to chill and enjoy the real romanian traditions like this restaurant, for example:
Time for the wedding! Orthodox wedding! Can’t wait to meet the tradition 🙂
From Moldova I took low cost company TAROM and landed to Bucharest. And I was surprised. 🙂 My friend insisted to order an Uber for me as the local taxi drivers are fatal serial killers trying to scam the tourists. So I decided to accept the advice.
As my Uber driver and I were approaching the city, I have to say I did not expect broad avenues and green boulevards. At all.
Also, Bucharest is very proud to have long past connections with Paris. Maybe sometimes trying too much to explain to be French-alike but let them be.
For example Arcul de Triumf – a triumphal arch. The first, wooden, triumphal arch was built hurriedly, after Romania gained its independence in 19th century, so that the victorious troops could march under it. The new one is more sober Neoclassical design and more closely modelled in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The river Danube flows through the city but it is not very attractive.
Upon my arrival to Victoria square, I noticed the Government building covered with the big Romanian flag:
Very imposing. I continued to take some beautiful photos of the 19th century buildings and admire the elegancy of this city – in certain moments.
However, I started with the 0ld town (Lipscani) of Bucharest. It is still under re-construction in order to shape the tourist boom with many bars and restaurants.
The buildings are mostly from the time of Ottoman control (16th century) and later when Bucharest was occupied at several intervals by the Habsburg Monarchy and Imperial Russia (in 18th and 19th century). During the second half of the 19th century, the city’s population increased dramatically, and a new period of urban development began. During this period, gas lighting, horse-drawn trams, and limited electrification were introduced and the canalization of the river.
But let’s go back again to the Old city with many beautiful places like the Biserica Stavropoleos neo-romanian 18th century monastery and church.
As I did not have the proper clothes, I was not able to enter, but I managed to sneak inside to the atrium of the monastery and inside the church to make some photos.
There is even a little Italy in Bucharest: Biserica Italiana of the Most Holy Redeemer. It is a Roman Catholic church made of Lombard Romanesque red brick.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop for a drink at least, because my time was limited. I needed to catch the bus to Galati (to attend my friend’s wedding) but this would be definitely my place to chill: old, charming, historical but vivid!
The Manuc’s inn is the oldest operating hotel building in Bucharest. The inn was built in 19th century as a khan, and originally owned by a wealthy and flamboyant Armenian entrepreneur.
The last I saved for the metro. I took the line towards the Uniri square in order to reach the Parliament Palace. It is the largest parliament building in the world, formerly named “Casa Poporului” (People’s House). The building, which was built in 1984 by Nicolae Ceauşescu, spans 12 stories, 3100 rooms and covers over 330,000m2.
Unfortunately, I came to late to enter. Apparently, the visitors can enjoy the tour which leads through the building’s vast collection of marble rooms and even go out on the balcony where from president Ceaucescu had his memorable speeches as the one in 1989 which caused the outbreak of fall of the communism in Europe (it started here, from this very place and started to spread amongst Europe) 🙂
I arrived early in the morning to Moldova, with no special expectations. I knew it is the poorest country in Europe and that the visit to the capital of Chisinau can be done in one day.
Landing with Air Moldova looked like this:
Btw, apparently in Air Moldova you are not allowed to take more than one glass of wine. How sad, especially as the country is famous for vineyards and it is its biggest export product. Even more, Moldavia used to be the vineyards garden of former USSR.
Chişinău is very wealthy compared to the rest of the country, as Moldova is not a very rich country. Whatever was that suppose to mean as the suburbs of Chisinau looked really poor.
However, the center was nice. People very hospitable and kind so I really can not say anything against this city.
As I started my first walk in the city center, I realized the facades had the ornaments from previous USSR – with both the good and bad qualities associated with it:
Perhaps the best example of the USSR traces on the architecture would be this building on the left.
The Cathedral Park – better known as Central Park, is in the very centre of the city. With a regular guest in it:
The centre is adorned with the Nativity Cathedral, the main church for the city. The cathedral was built in the 1830s to a Neoclassical design and it is clearly an orthodox christian church.
Actually, the cathedral is placed at the Great National Assembly Square where you can find the Triumph arch constructed in 1841 which is the center piece of this square. The Arch is really beautiful holding proudly the national flag.
This square was formerly known as Victory Square since many events used to happen here like the demonstrations and protest during the celebrations of the October Revolution in Chisinau in 1989. Hence the monuments:
Across is the Stefan Cel Mare Monument or Stephen III (The Great) and his monument – witnessing that he achieved European fame by resisting the Turkish advances in the 15th century. The monument is the gateway to the beautiful park of the same name.
Funny thing I noticed – and I do not know the reason why, but seems like in the horticulture of Chisinau is cabbage included. I noticed the cabbage heads in parks:
After 2 hours of site-seeing, I decided to sit in the park at some local restaurant and order the local beer. I know that wine is the main beverage here, but it was such a hot and sunny day so I couldn’t resist. 🙂
With the great view at the fountains in the park:
Later that day I visited the National Archaeology & History Museum. Not sure who what I expected, but I was disappointed there was not a single item described in english. Luckily, I can get some Romanian (official language in Moldova) from my Italian knowledge.
The day finished with the most famous thing for Moldovans: the wine. As mentioned, Moldova has a well-established wine industry. Fossils of Vitis teutonica vine leaves near the Naslavcia village in the north of Moldova indicate that grapes grew here approximately 6 to 25 million years ago. Unfortunately, I had no time to visit this places… next time Moldova 🙂