Aug 092011

I managed to survive my cab ride with the non-communicative driver and his non-ACd car to the Park Inn, and headed into what must be the most barren lobby I’ve ever been in…filled with….Koreans and Chinese!  It seems the 2012 Olympic Taekwondo Qualifiers were in town this week…go figure in Baku!

Up to the room which was nothing special, but was functional.  I guess at the prices I’d heard in Baku I expected slightly more, but then again at the same time, the location seemed great.  Right on the Caspian Sea, walking distance to the old town and the brand new mall in town – no complaints at all.  I would definitely stay here again if I ever returned.  Especially because Monica Lewinsky seems to recommend it!

Since it was nearing 10pm at this point, I checked out the mall across the street to procure some bottled water and just walk and get a feel of the place before crashing.  It had been a very long day, and I wanted to get up and check things out a bit before heading back to GYD to pick up Matt at noon.

Managed to get up early, and battle the Taekwondo crowds at the “all guests included” breakfast buffet, which was actually quite good.  Fortified for the walk, and confirming that Matt was on the way back to IST to catch his flight, I headed out for a stroll.  Maybe 200m or so from the hotel, and I was already on the Caspian, and strolling along the water towards the old town.  Notice the two strangely-shaped buildings in the distance…they’re supposed to be shaped like flames, and represent the oil wealth of Azerbaijan.

Continuing along the water, it was a great day…maybe around 80F/25C in the morning, sunny, and felt great.  Soon I was in the Old Town, and the “main” attraction of Baku, the “Maiden’s Tower.”  According to legend there was once a Maiden locked up in the tower, and surprise surprise, she jumped to her death from it.  I decided to pass on it for now, but did return later in the afternoon with Matt and we climbed to the top along strange winding staircases, which gave a great view of the city.

From there, it was onto the gate of the old city, and back to the hotel to catch a taxi back to GYD.  Found a driver in front of the hotel, but he wanted more than twice what I had paid the night before from the airport.  In over 90 countries, this may be the first extended “negotiation” I’ve ever carried on in another language (Russian in this case) and it proved one thing to me:  it definitely gets a better deal.  I got him down to the price from the night before, and also to wait for up to an hour to drive us back for the same price again.  It was actually a great experience, and we got to chat a bit about why I spoke Russian, his life growing up in Baku, etc.  Was one of those rare awesome experiences where you really get a feel for a place by interacting with a local.

The flight from Istanbul was on time, and soon we were back at the Park Inn around 1pm and ready to head out and explore.  Climbed the Maidens Tower, and enjoyed the awesome view!

Next up, was to the city wall, which I mentioned above:

We walked a couple more hours, and soon it was around 5pm and we were both exhausted from a very long day.  Headed over to the mall by the Park Inn for some coffee and wandering, and soon came up a….bowling alley!  Decided what the hell, and decided to have a bit of fun.  Despite having not bowled in years (we really missed our chance in Erbil, Iraq last year which would have been an amazing experience) both managed to break 100, and I think I set the place’s daily high with around 135.  Such high standards!  Notice Matt and Jasor bowing on the screen  😉

After that we headed to an early dinner at a place we’d found on Trip Advisor called Karavan Saray.  It promised to be full of tourists, but also to offer authentic Azeri food in an outdoor environment…just what we wanted!  Service was (as promised) indifferent at best, but the cold beers and grilled meats were fantastic, and we headed back to GYD to catch our 1030pm flight to Tblisi, Georgia full and happy.  Can’t ask for too much else!  The Park Inn had been happy to store our bags, and all things consider the drama was in the past, and things were looking up!  I’ll end things with a view of the outdoor dining area at the Karavan Saray restaurant.

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