My trip to Azerbaijan was the perfect example of how things never turn out the way you think! Expectation leads to disappointment but if you go with the flow, life surprises you in wonderful ways!
Azerbaijan was not at all as I expected it to be and while it didn’t measure up to my expectations in some ways, in other aspects it was truly a magical experience.
When I travel I’m usually looking to visit a lot of markets and night bazaars where I can walk around and enjoy local food stalls and arts and crafts. I’ve also gotten into the habit of looking up art, craft and cooking classes so that I can learn something new while traveling. Thailand and Malaysia were amazing in this regard and I was expecting a similar experience in Azerbaijan. I was surprised.
We went to Azerbaijan for nine days and looking back I wish I had the foresight to get the visa to Georgia as well. We had more than enough time to do both countries. We went to Gence and Baku and took day trips to Sheki and Gobustan. Looking back I would have spent a couple of days in Gence and about four days in Baku and then I would have made my way across the border.
Gence is a lovely city with some beautiful architecture and great walks. It was almost like being in a small European city. There was not a lot to do so my husband and I spent a day just walking around the city. That’s one of the best days we spent there. There was no hurrying from attraction to attraction. It was a leisurely day and we enjoyed it thoroughly. One of the things I learnt on this trip is that it’s OK to not have the entire day planned out. I usually have a long list of things I want to see and do and it tires me out most of the time. I think the next time I travel to a new place I will definitely give myself some time to just ‘be’. Soak in the environment and enjoy the surroundings.
We took a day trip to Sheki. Even though this was the city where I was supposed to find many local crafts, other than a couple of small paintings, I wasn’t able to find a lot. I was lucky in finding these in a little out of the way art gallery and they were both made by local artists! Azerbaijan is known for its beautiful games of Backgammon and hand painted stained glass tea cups. Other than that I wasn’t able to find anything much that caught my eye. The local souvenirs seemed to come from Turkey mostly.
Walking around Sheki was a lot of fun too! It’s a lovely little city and you can easily see it in a day. We also took a day trip to Gobustan. Gobustan State Reserve is a very rich archeological site with more than 6000 rock carvings. These carvings depict primitive people, animals, ritual dances and more! On average these date back 5,000 – 20,000 years! The place is a desert and since we went in the summer (looking back the timing was bad) we weren’t able to explore a lot but I did make my way to some carvings that were close to the small museum.
Another place we went for lunch was the Shirvanshah museum restaurant. We happened upon it while walking around Baku. It was massive! Just the expanse and attention to detail were astounding! The whole place was set up as a journey through the country’s recent history. The core of this structure was a Medieval hammam and is now surrounded by rooms upon rooms filled with treasures. Each dining area has been decorated around a unique theme and you can see an entire wing that has been devoted to the Soviet period. You will find lots of museum worthy pieces scattered all over and this is one experience I truly recommend! We went for lunch and found it empty – which I loved! But for dinner you might need a reservation. Prices were very reasonable too.
The old city of Baku had some beautiful monuments and you can walk around for an entire day. The streets are winding and there are lots of trees for shade. The atmosphere is relaxed and beautiful. Here and there you will find small cafes and souvenirs shops. Some shops also have antiques and original paintings in the miniature style.
On the whole I enjoyed my experience in Azerbaijan – it was almost as if I was shuttling between Europe and the Middle East. From a historic muslim shrine to a Russian cafe in minutes!