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Playing in the Mud…Volcanoes

Around one third of the world’s mud volcanoes are located in Azerbaijan, and so of course a visit to them was high on my Baku Bucket List.  The best and closest ones to Baku are found near Gobustan.  Here are a few photos from our visit.

The road to the volcanoes was not the easiest, but it made for a fun day of off-roading.  Plus, the views were fantastic.

View of the Caspian from the mud volcanoes

View of the Caspian from the mud volcanoes

As we were heading home, we made a last minute decision to try to find the cave drawings.  We weren’t expecting much, but since we didn’t know when we would be back in the area decided it was worth it.  Wow!

First off, the little museum at the entrance to the park was one of the best small museums we’ve ever been to.  It was unfortunate that we were pressed for time (they close at 5pm), because the exhibits and technology interfaces were really well done and quite impressive.  My favorite was a computerized turtle that showed the evolution of the landscape of Gobustan over the past centuries.

As for the cave drawings, if you like history, they are pretty much a must do.  I can’t believe they have survived for so many centuries and are still so clearly visible on the face of the rock.  Worth the trip for sure!

Near Lahij

Out of Baku and into Lahij

Two weekends ago we found an opportunity to put Baku in the rear-view mirror and venture out into the beautiful Azerbaijan countryside.  Our destination was Lahij, a small and relatively remote mountain village a few hours drive from Baku.  Although it easily could have been a day trip, we wanted to take our time so decided to stay overnight.

We left around midday Saturday morning, and within a few hours the dust and noise of the city had given way to beautiful green mountains. The change from one climate zone to another happens so quickly and almost without warning.

Near Lahij

Near Lahij

We didn’t have much of an agenda beyond enjoying nature, so that’s pretty much what we did.  Saturday afternoon was spent wandering through the small streets of Lahij, with it’s vendors selling copper, spices, trinkets, and other goods.  In the evening we made our way back to our guest house, with it’s large backyard garden.  Sitting at a table enjoying a glass of wine, I realized how accustomed to the noise of the city I had become.  In Lahij, the only sounds were those of the birds, cows, and occasional rooster.  What a relaxing way to end the day!

Beautiful Lahij scenery

Beautiful Lahij scenery

On the way back Sunday we made the absolutely correct decision have lunch at one of the roadside tea stops.  Tea, honey, bread & cheese… and I am still dreaming of that honey.  Best I’ve ever had!  Good thing the restaurant is unique enough we will easily be able to find it again.

Home of the best honey I have tried yet

Home of the best honey I have tried yet – I’ve heard it is because of the  type of flowers use by the bees..

One more item off the 2014 Bucket List.  How’s your bucket list going this year?  Any adventures to share?

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Fire Mountain

One of the many names for Azerbaijan is the Land of Fire. The country has so many natural gas reservoirs close to surface, that occasionally the gas finds it’s way to surface and then finds an ignition source. The result? Yanar dag, aka fire mountain.

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Although the actual fire may not seem that impressive, when you consider the natural forces that must be at play to keep it burning for decades…it does cause you to pause for a moment. I’ve heard that at night it’s even better, but we went in the middle of the afternoon so have not yet experienced the midnight fire.

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Pretty cool yeah? Oh, and one of the items on my 2014 Bucket List, so enjoyed checking that one off.  :)

Climbing and Biking

We’ve been having so much fun lately that I’ve almost forgotten to post updates. One of the really cool things about Baku is that most of the big events that Azerbaijan hosts happen inside the city, so we have easy access.

In the past month Baku has played host to an IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) World Cup event, and the Tour d’Azerbaidjan cycling event. There may have been even more international sporting events, but sometimes it is hard to keep up with all that is going on in the city during the summer months. Not a bad problem to have I suppose.

Just a few photos from both events. We cycled down the Boulevard to watch the IFSC event (um, can is say crazy watching them bound up the wall in literally seconds!!!), but only had to walk a few minutes for the finish line of the bike race. The weather has been gorgeous so more than happy to have an excuse to venture outside.

Speed Climbing - so incredibly fast

Speed Climbing – so incredibly fast and impressive to watch.  Under 8 seconds bottom to top.  I don’t know if I could even make it to the top!

At the finish line of the Tour d'Azerbaidjan

At the finish line of the Tour d’Azerbaidjan, watching one of the last laps.

The Changing of the Weather

Over the past six months, as I have moaned and groaned about the cold, people kept telling me that one day it would just happen- the weather would change. One day it would be cold and windy, and the next it would be sunny and beautiful. Well, that day was this past weekend. And I could not be happier!

Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day! For the first time in six months I wanted to be outside. We did a very slow (I wasn’t quite feeling well) four mile job along the Boulevard. No wind, fresh air…what a great way to start the day.

Giant Ferris Wheel along the Boulevard.  We'll have to go for a ride on it someday.

Giant Ferris Wheel along the Boulevard. We’ll have to go for a ride on it someday.

I am now so excited to get out of our apartment and begin to explore the rest of the city and country. Summertime here we come :)

Ending point - Crystal Hall.  We hadn't actually been that far down along the Boulevard before.

Ending point – Crystal Hall. We hadn’t actually been that far down along the Boulevard before.

Hit by a Car

I was walking home this afternoon when I had one of those moments that caused me to question why I was here. I was hit by a car. Now, before you worry too much about me I am fine. It was not moving fast and luckily the intrusion to my calm day was the worst damage, but still…I was hit by a car.

Baku has its share of crazy drivers. It’s a bit if extreme sport at times, massive traffic jam at others, but for the most part there is some unwritten rules that allow things to work. Lanes are suggestions, horns are mandatory, and if you see a space take it.

Walking is fairly convenient, so I do quite a bit of it, and expect I will even more once the weather gets nicer. However, I do my best to avoid running across highways and try to plan my route to maximize crosswalks. And so it was today.

I was walking home, along my carefully chosen path. I waited at the corner for the red light, then the green cross walk. I even waited for the first row of cars to screech to halt before commencing my journey across the street.

All was good until I reached the middle car. He had overshot the line and was poking out quite a bit into the intersection. I had two choices: cross in front and put myself at the mercy of oncoming traffic, or cross behind and worry about…we’ll…nothing because I would then be in the crosswalk.

I chose the latter. Apparently the wrong choice. A few steps in and I realized the driver was reversing! Straight at me! I really didn’t have much of a choice but to brace for the impact. Luckily he didn’t have a chance to gather much speed so I easily walked away, but I pretty much fumed the whole way home.

I am fine. No damage, no injuries, but just a strong reminder. Always be on your guard. Walk defensively. Pay attention.

And you? Have you ever had a near miss accident?

Sunday Fun Day Brunch

Yesterday I finally checked out one of the famous Baku brunches; to be very specific, the Sunday brunch at the Fairmont. Let me just say that I am very glad today is a non-working day.

Brunch starts at noon, ends at five, and absolutely requires a reservation.  You have two options: all-can-eat or all-you-can-eat plus unlimited champagne.  Needless to say we choose the latter.

I wish I had taken more pictures, but I only one shot of the dessert bar towards the end of the day.  It’s looking a little skimpy, but hopefully you can get the idea.

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Yummy dessert bar

The food was absolutely delicious.  I wish I could have tried more, but even with careful pacing and a morning workout to ensure an appetite, there was only so much I could eat.  Cheese platters, seafood appetizers, build-your-own salad and pasta stations, a carvery, pancakes, pastries.  And all so tasty.  In fact, I’d love to  know where they get some of their ingredients. My guess is they are imported specially for them?

All said, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends, but one I may only be able to afford when I don’t have to wake up early the next day.

There are a number of other restaurants/hotels that offer similar brunches around the city.  I’ll let you know which is my favorite after I’ve had a chance to visit them all.

What’s your favorite way to spend Sunday afternoon?