We arrived to Baku early in the morning by Airflot flight, being sure that we’ll be taken to the city without any problems by 20 AZN as it was written in many travel tips on different forums. But alas, we have not found anybody to take us by such price. The lowest price was 40-50$. So, we decided to spend several hours at the airport, waiting for the bus, which begins its work at 7-8 in the morning and goes from the airport to the nearest metro station – Azizbekov. By the way, before our arrival to Baku, we contacted hostel “1000 camels” and we were offered 3 beds by 40$ per night/per person without breakfast and with shared bathroom and kitchen. Taking into account, that there were 3 of us, it made 120$ per night :((. We found out that the price in that so-called “hostel” is the same as at any local 3 stars hotel. We have been in a lot of different hostels around the world, but we never paid much than 10-15$ per night/per person. Might be, we would pay 120$ per night if there was W.C. pan made of gold :)). So, we decided to check Araz hotel. We were shown our room, suffering with severe damp problems, browned paper peeling from the walls, paint chipping from the ceiling, rotten windows, doing nothing to keep out the noise of the busy road below and dirty curtains hanging precariously from two or three points on the curtain rail and bed linen, oh, i think it was not washed after previous client. And the price is too overcharge for what you get. But we were so tired after sleepless night and the hotel was quite far from the centre, so we were flat-out to look for any other place to stay and decided to stay there, thinking that it's only for a few days. Having a rest, we went sight-seeing to the city centre. The first day: Old City, Maiden Tower, Palace of Shirvanshakhs, several museums (history, carpets etc.), a lot of small narrow streets with interesting wood balconies and beautiful architectural buildings. By the way, walking around The Old City, we to stumbled on Red Roof Guesthouse and decided to found out the prices – alas, the cheapest single room was 100$ per night/per person. On the way back to hotel, we stopped in at Phoenix Pub for a few games of pool and to drink away the pain of having to spend a nights again in that terrible hotel.
The second day, after settling in and having lunch, consisting of cheeseburgers and chips at McDonalds rip-off, we went to see the favorite place of expats – The Fountain Square and Torgovaya street (the central place in Baku, as Red Square and Arbat street in Moscow, Russia). A lot of expensive boutiques and restaurants, pubs, basement bars, cafes, several theatres and cinema-clubs etc.. The third day we planned to visit the Zoroastrian fire temple at Saraxani, and made our way up to the main train station in the blistering heat of the midday sun. We were lucky in that there was a train leaving straight away and we sat on the hard, wooden benches, staring out the window as the city began to give way to that semi-arid desert we saw when we arrived here. We attempted to ask the lady, sitting opposite us, how long it would take to Saraxani but we came up against the language buffers once more. As it happens, we missed our stop, had to sit on the train for an extra 40 minutes until we hit the end of the line, the train turned and we went back to Saraxani, much to the amusement of the two ticket inspectors. Eventually we arrived in Saraxani and we walked the short distance to the fire temple, or 'Ateshkah' as the locals call it. Fortunately, we met two Italian journalists, who wrote an article about Ateshkah to their local journal and the rest of the time we spent together, listening interesting information about that miraculous place. On the way back home, they invited us to have supper with them in “Mugan Club” restaurant in the Old City. We ate kabab and drank vine – very delicious!!! There were also live music, different show…but the abdomen dance was the coolest!!! The woman, who was dancing, came up to that man whom she liked most and that man had to put some money into her pants or brassiere:)). Taking into account that my friend spent all his money to her, she liked him very much! By the way, we interested where did our new Italian friends stay and they told us about BakuRealEstate.net, which services they always used when they visited Azerbaijan. We were surprised founding out that the apartment, which they rented was close to Fountain Square and the price was much cheaper (2 rooms apartment by 40$/night), that we paid for our terrible hotel, located in the middle of nowhere. On the way back to hotel, which we now renamed the 'Hotel California' after the Eagles song. ''You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”', we pledged word of honour that the next time, we would also apply to that agency.
Well, the last day, having a sigh of relief, we checked out. We went to visit Quobustan, south of Baku, taking a bus from Azneft area. We passed numerous oil and gas facilities along the way, where there is a large open air museum, displaying stone carvings from what is believed to be the stone age. Some of the carvings are more faded than others, but nonetheless, this is an impressive site and the feeling of history that flows through you when you see these ancient artistic relics is nothing short of immense. In Quobustan we picked up the guide and a car and went to see mud volcanoes. The road to the volcanoes was basically a dirt track, which crossed over railway lines and oil pipelines, involved some quite steep climbs and generated a lot of dust. After a good twenty minutes of bumping around we arrived at the summit of a small hill, and laid out in front of us was, what can only be described as a lunar landscape. The mud volcanoes consist of a number of relatively small mounds of dried, caked mud, with a pool of thick, sticky mud on top.
We came back to Baku in the evening. We went to the Boulevard, walked a little, then ate fish kabab and gutabs, also drank tea with pakhlava in “Venice” restaurant just in front of Caspian seaside. And that was the end of our first visit to Baku, Azerbaijan.