Baku, Azerbaijan is the world’s lowest lying capital city at 28m below sea level. Buildings range from ancient Middle Eastern to drab Soviet-era to modern glass and steel. The streets are clean, but full of kittens roaming about freely. Every other store in downtown Baku is either a phone shop or a coffee shop.
The iconic Flaming Towers of Baku look great from a distance but a disappointment up close. Basically you can’t get anywhere near them unless you look rich. The Old Town is worth a wander on foot. The sweeping curves of the Zaha Hadid-designed Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center and the rug-shaped Azerbaijan Carpet Museum are also places to go for Instagram snaps.
Two million people live in Baku, most of the can be seen strolling along Baku Promenade on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Friendly, speaking better English than you’d expect and open, unless the subject of politics come up. Understandable given that this is essentially a police state, though the Azeri-born Russians will happily slag off the government. Bet they would do that with Putin…
Gutab is the excellent local street food staple, triangle shaped pancake turnovers filled with meat and vegetables. Also tried Dolma (parcels of beef, lamb, greens, grape leaves, onions and rice) and Khinkali (a tripe-like beef, onion, dough and butter dish). KFC and McDonalds were to be avoided as they had the strictest Covid certificate checks in all of Baku.
Xirdalan is the quaffable local beer. Cheap too, the most we we’re changed for a pint was 5 Manat (about £2.15). O’Malley’s was hands down the best Irish pub in Baku. Though the craic was sadly curtained by the midnight Covid curfew.
The impressive looking Baku Olympic Stadium should have been a 15 minute amble from Koroghlu metro station. Instead the walk there is convoluted and in circles for the purposes of crowd control, even though there were no crowds, taking nearly an hour. Gates were only open 45 minutes before kick-off, inside there was no food or drink on sale. And there was only one disabled toilet opened to serve the entire away section.
The only down side of the Baku trip was corrupt hotel staff; I thought I was playing safe when I asked hotel reception to book me a taxi to the airport the night before. The next morning the taxi waiting for me no seatbelts in the back and a juddering sounding engine as it speeds along (and I do mean speed). The fact the driver had no taxi registration on display, or fare meter, or even a taxi sign on the car leads me to suspect the hotel receptionist didn’t so much as book me a taxi as ask a mate to drive me to the airport for a nice little earner. When we arrived at the airport, instead of dropping me off at departures, my ‘taxi’ stopped in the short stay car park. Possibly because as an illegal taxi, it wasn’t entitled to use the drop off points.