We contacted our hotel by email, the Teatro Boutique Hotel, asking how easy it would be to go from the airport to the hotel by public transport. They replied giving us the transfer for free. However, if you wish to go by public transport you can take the bus 116 (runs every 30min). It leaves from outside the airport building and terminates at S. Vurgun park on 28 May street. The fare is AZN 0.2 (€0.2). The taxis in Baku should offer fixed prices to hotels throughout Baku town. On the way to the hotel there were buildings illuminated everywhere you looked. What a hotel the Teatro Boutique Hotel is (£60 per night)! Every wall and ceiling was exquisite, the place was modern yet sumptuously decorated in gold and marble. Our room was huge, a far cry from EasyHotel Budapest. Even though not everyone around spoke English, they go the extra mile to try and help you out.
We caught up on our missed night’s sleep then walked to the soviet-era metro (7-10min walk) to then get to the gleaming city centre. We walked through a gate in the Old Town’s walls and visited the Shivanshah’s Palace, museum and remains of the bath house, while shading ourselves from the 26C heat. We strolled by the city walls to the Maiden Tower, where a maiden was imprisoned, according to legend. Then we had a nose around the old caravansary, now a restaurant and stumbled upon the Europe Day celebrations being held.
Next we wandered along the enormous boulevard, on the shore of the Caspian Sea and took in views of the Flame Towers, the Crystal Hall (location of a the 2012 Eurovision Finals) and Flag Square. We enjoyed the pier and large harbour fountain before settling into an open-air bar to watch the towers to light up. Such a show we saw! The Crystal Hall was shimmering, the Telecoms Tower (Socar Tower) was changing colour and most buildings were illuminated. However, best of all were the Flame Towers after 9.30pm. The three of them changed into the Azerbaijan Flag, then animations of flames, and then white people waving the flag. It was well worth the wait. What an amazing place!
The following day, we had breakfast at the hotel, postponed our day trip 24 hours and went back to sleep. I didn’t surface until 3pm! I must have needed it.
The day after we were taken around by the hotel driver (£90 for the day, plus £18 for Yanar Dag), which we paid direct to the driver as the hotel wanted to charge another £90 for it. We first stopped at a supermarket to get some fruit, sandwich, juices etc. Then we stopped at Gobustan, to see the Petroglyphs (£1.80 entry, includes museum, plus £1 for the driver to park his car). This was amazing, some of the carvings were 22,000 years old. We saw images of dancing men, pregnant women, and all sorts of animals in the natural caves on the hill. Our self appointed guide we met there even showed us rock tambourines, bowl-shaped hollows carved into the music you could play music on. It would have been worth it just for the refreshing breeze and the views. Such a peaceful place.
There were guides telling us that the driver didn’t know the way to the volcanos and would show us just 2 small ones. They then went on saying that they could take us to 20 or more.. We decided to stick to our driver (who by the way stayed quiet while the other man tried to convince us to pay same extra money to see more mud-volcanos). Next, after much asking for directions, and primitive roads our driver took us to the stunning mud volcanoes, which wasn’t that difficult to find in the end. Azerbaijan has the most in the world, and they are normally found in areas with big deposits of gas and oil. We saw oil seeping to the surface in places. The mud volcanoes were like nothing we had ever seen before. We drove up a steep track to a moon-like landscape punctuated with mini volcanoes gurgling away as the spouted thick, grey mud continuously, as the volcanic gases escaped into the atmosphere. You could even put your hand in, and much to our surprise the mud was cold. One the highlights of the trip for sure.
The next stop was Flag Square but we didn’t stop as the car park was closed and we were keen to get to Yanar Dag (burning mountain). On the way we passed many oil derricks pumping away, to earn more petrodollars to build modern masterpieces such as the flowing, white Heyder Aliyev Centre by Zaha Habib (the British/Iraqi architect who designed the ray-like London 2012 Aquatic Center), and various stadiums under construction. Yanar Dag was small but interesting, it’s a place where natural flames shoot out from a layer of rock, as the gas escapes. The country gets its name (land of fire) from the thousands of these that used to exist before extraction began, but now this is the only one remaining (£1.80 entry).
For dinner we went to the nearby themed restaurant, Sheki, to eat some local specialities recommended by the hotel. Mark had the piti soup, made with oxtail. The waiter poured the soup out of a terracotta mug into a bowl, before mashing the rest with a small pestle. I had vegetables stuffed with minced beef and salad, which was delicious. The hotel gave us a free ride to the airport at midnight as they were about to pick someone else up. We had to wait until 5AM to catch our plane, but luckily we managed to lie out on the chairs and get a bit of shut-eye.
Azerbaijan is an amazing place! It’s a place we’ll never forget.
Our four day, three night trip to Baku cost 604 New Manats for two people excluding flights. (Prices accurate as at June 2014).