A Travellerspoint blog

Azerbaijan

Getting to Know Azerbaijan

Day 29 Thursday June 22 2017
Qax to Sheki / 50 Km

  • We wake this morning to find a completely different weather front has descended on Qax. It is cool, cloudy and raining. This is Azerbaijan for goodness sake and it's the end of June. If there is beautiful Caucasus scenery out there to admire, we are unlikely to see it.
  • Meanwhile UK basks in sun and temperatures not experienced since 1976 . We both remember 1976 very well. SG hopes she does not have to wait 40 years more to experience a great & prolonged British summer.
  • We think of Sean the sheep, bald, newly shaven. He must be shivering right now.
  • We have yet to embrace Azerbaijan. Mind you, this is only our second day - our accommodation is strange - we have that feeling that hits now and again - get us out of here!
  • Beware of hotels with net curtains at every window & caged parrots in the foyer. How cruel & unnecessary.
  • Where on earth is Azerbaijan? See the national flag in the photo. The Turkic heritage is obvious.
  • The Azeri language has Turkic roots and shares its grammar and much of its vocabulary with Turkish. Not that this assists us in any way! But it does help to explain why Turkey & Azerbaijan are big buddies in this region. Some say they are one people, two states.
  • Azerbaijan is the largest of the three South Caucasus states (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia), and is bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Iran & the Caspian Sea. It is the size of Austria & has a population of just under 10 million people, over 2 million of whom live in the capital city, Baku.
  • Historically Azerbaijan played an important role as part of the Silk Road. And the country's strategic position as a gateway between East and West is still relevant today.
  • In 2006 the Baku/Tbilisi/Ceyhan pipeline was completed by a consortium of 11 energy companies, including BP, who with the largest share, is operating manager. The pipeline secures the flow of Azeri oil to Europe without relying on the goodwill of either Russia or Iran. A major concern to the West for obvious reasons.
  • Azerbaijan is oil rich. In fact oil extraction dates back to the 7C BC making it one of the oldest oil regions. In 1905 Azerbaijan was producing half the world's requirement. Under Russian control investment lagged, even stagnated. It was only in the 1990's after independence from Russia that the oil boom days returned.
  • Baku seems to have benefited hugely, judging by the glitzy city scape on show in photos. But elsewhere there is evidence of urban poverty and degeneration. What does happen to the nation's oil income? Why has it not filtered down?
  • Politically Azerbaijan is a Presidential democracy but the President's position is quite authoritarian. It is also currently a family dynasty arrangement. Ilham Aliyev succeeded his father, Heydar Aliyev in 2003. Opposition parties do exist but they have little impact.
  • We are only in Azerbaijan for 3 days. We did not feel we could visit the Caucasus area without coming here. But independent tourism is not easy and without language knowledge there are limitations. Hence our decision not to prolong our stay, nor venture further east as far as Baku and then have to drive all the way back.
  • Today we are travelling a relatively short distance to Seki ( pronounced Sheki ) It is described by Lonely Planet as the loveliest town in Azerbaijan. We are beginning to lose confidence in the accuracy of some of the LP content and the weather does not help. If you are ever coming to this area, you can probably do Qax & Seki in a 1 day rather than 2 day schedule as SG has organised.
  • Some 5 km further North uphill from Seki is the village of Kis. It is famous for the Church of St Elishe. A small, simple limestone church that reputedly dates to the 1C AD.
  • It is described as Caucasian Albanian. Which by the way has nothing to do with European Albania. SG needs more research time to understand. But essentially this region has always been a battleground for competing empires. It was therefore inevitable that 'identities & loyalties' changed frequently over the centuries. Far more complicated than the UK's relatively simple history of conquest & occupation.
  • According to local tradition, Christianity entered Caucasian Albania ( part of contemporary Azerbaijan ) in the 1st century through St. Elisæus who came from Jerusalem eastward through Persia to preach Christianity. He built his first church, on the site of a pagan temple, in the Caucasus in a place called Gis which is believed to be modern day Kis. What supreme irony that the Muslim country of Azerbaijan claims to have on its soil one of the oldest Christian churches. It is known to many as the "mother-church" - the foundation of institutionalised Christianity.
  • In fact Azerbaijan is 95% Muslim and within that figure 85% are Shia Muslims. Only Iran has a higher proportion of Shia Muslims. And yet Turkey is Sunni Muslim. Gosh the world is complicated!

After a church visit, it is of course time for a trip to the Sheki fortress. Following several devastating floods Seki moved locations in 1770's to roughly where the fortress is now located. Within the fortress there were originally more than 40 royal buildings. Today only one remains and apparently it is one of South Caucasus most iconic buildings.

  • Photography is prohibited. There seems no consistency in the rules about flash / camera/ mobile. It varies so much from place to place. We take a few anyway, very surreptitiously. But it's hard to get a photo that creates a wow factor. Perhaps that's why it's not allowed. So that there is little evidence of the quality of restoration work?
  • Our Sheki hotel is another odd place - centrally located, bar, restaurant, little garden, very small double beds and an air con system that is not working. Memories of a hot, uncomfortable night in Turkey resurface. Please God no, not again. Thankfully the weather outside is relatively cool - only 25C!
  • By the way there is an old Karavanserai in Sheki town which is also a hotel and which has great potential. But currently it does not look as if they are bothered whether they have guests or not. It is worth popping through the huge entrance door to look at the layout of this 18C building and imagine how it must of been when Seki was part of a busy trade route.
  • We eat a late lunch - hydrated camping food to which you add hot water. We then head out into the centre of modern Sheki in search of a suitable place to have supper. When food is so grim, it becomes hard to think of anything else. AG spots a kebab shop which is a possibility for him but certainly not for SG - ever!
  • The only real achievement this afternoon is to find an empty chair in the local barbers shop and a barber with time on his hands. Andy's hair does not take long to cut.
  • At least the local Azeri red wine is not too bad and makes food palatable. Yes Azerbaijan has a wine industry too. Even though it's a Muslim country. So how does that work then?!
  • After tonight, only one more sleep in Azerbaijan.

Today's Weather in Qax. And How is it in UK ?

Today's Weather in Qax. And How is it in UK ?

Parrots in a Cage at Reception in Qax Hotel

Parrots in a Cage at Reception in Qax Hotel

Loading the Truck on a Very Wet Day

Loading the Truck on a Very Wet Day

Azerbaijan Flag - a Reflection of Turkic Heritage

Azerbaijan Flag - a Reflection of Turkic Heritage

Narrow Lanes Around Kis Church

Narrow Lanes Around Kis Church

Kis Church Also Known as Eliseus Church

Kis Church Also Known as Eliseus Church

One of Two Plane Trees in the Palace Grounds - Aged 500 Years   And Still in Good Condition

One of Two Plane Trees in the Palace Grounds - Aged 500 Years + And Still in Good Condition

Exterior Wall Fresco on Palace Building

Exterior Wall Fresco on Palace Building

Interior Wall Decoration of Palace Building

Interior Wall Decoration of Palace Building

Stained Glass Window - Typical Azeri Decoration

Stained Glass Window - Typical Azeri Decoration

Main Entrance to Karavanseray

Main Entrance to Karavanseray

Doorway into Karavanseray

Doorway into Karavanseray

Tea Room at the Karavanserai Hotel

Tea Room at the Karavanserai Hotel

Accommodation Area of Karavanseray

Accommodation Area of Karavanseray

Halva - a Local Speciality

Halva - a Local Speciality

Looking Worried - Before His Haircut

Looking Worried - Before His Haircut

Looking Happy with His Azeri Haircut

Looking Happy with His Azeri Haircut

Sheki Street

Sheki Street

Posted by sagbucks 20:35 Archived in Azerbaijan Comments (0)

It's Azerbaijan Day

sunny 25 °C

Day 28 Wednesday 21 June 2017
Border Crossing Day Georgia / Azerbaijan
Sighnaghi to Qax / 166 km

  • The weather has improved significantly since last evening and views from the breakfast table over old Sighnaghi have too.
  • The trip now has a name - London to South Caucasus & Return 2017 (LAAG / London Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia )
  • Border days are always exciting - especially when crossing into a 'new' country, unchartered territory as it were. At last the guide books will start meaning sense because they now have immediate relevance. Doing research on Azerbaijan 6 months ago was a rather 'dry' process. It will all come alive today.
  • You'll be hearing Azerbaijan mentioned a lot this weekend. Baku, the capital city is hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix. A road rather than a circuit race. Had we realised this at the time of planning, we may have decided to visit Baku after all.
  • It is the Azeri border that concerns us most. They don't like old diesel vehicles and can refuse entry if the truck does not comply. Our truck came off the assembly line just in time.
  • As is so often the case we arrive at the border not knowing the procedure. The overhead sign wishing us luck does not inspire advance confidence. There are rarely any written instructions. We wing it, play it by ear, ease our way through politely. It is very much case by case. That's part of the travel experience.
  • As it happens, the border is quiet today. There are no queues so we have the officials' undivided attention. The vehicle records are as important as our personal papers.
  • Our truck is checked over by a sniffer dog & the human eye. Luggage goes through a scanner. Payment is made for road tax & insurance, amounting to about £75. The amount charged does not seem to be time related.
  • In all the whole procedure takes just over an hour. Not bad at all and far less than we anticipated.
  • At the first petrol station after the border we fill up. Diesel is a quarter of the price back home. It is one of the distinct advantages of having vast oil reserves and being a major oil producing country.
  • Just by the petrol station is a cluster of bee hives and they are being inspected for their honey output. The beekeeper is at least wearing partial protective clothing.
  • It is not long until we get another photo opportunity. A farmer is shearing his small herd of sheep by the roadside. It is around 25C and sunny. The sheep are lying calmly together under the shade of a large tree. They seem very content to be in a queue for a much needed haircut.
  • The first place we visit is Zaqatala, Azerbaijan's hazelnut capital. The oldest part of town is some 2km uphill. We park up and have a walk around - our main job is to find a bank so that we can withdraw some local money. It helps!
  • Inspired by Lonely Planet we then drive some 8 km further uphill to a village called Car but pronounced 'Jar'. It reads well - a chocolate box village with rustic restaurants tucked away in its woodland fringes. It's lunch time - worth a look don't you think?
  • We are not sure any of the Lonely Planet team actually went to Car! The road is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles; satnav & the maps me app both have trouble picking up GPS signal and there are no restaurants in evidence. Yes it's rural and not unattractive but chocolate box pretty is an exaggeration. Shame on you Lonely Planet. This is not the first time we have experienced such discrepancy.
  • We are now not so far from Qax where we are staying overnight. It's a bad afternoon for navigator. Signposting, Garmin, and Maps Me App all agree on the route so SG forgets to check the map. Had she done so she would have realised that AG intended a different route to the one we now drive. With good reason, since the road is in very bad condition and full of potholes. Oh dear. So 45 km on a very slow road. Tedious to say the least, for both driver & navigator.
  • Once in Qax, we again follow a Lonely Planet recommendation ( FOMO! ) to drive a further 5 km uphill to a little mountainside community called Ilisu. Fortunately the road is OK and the snow capped mountains in the distance make for pleasant scenery. But diminutive village of photogenic old homes is somewhat overstated. We do hope that Lonely –Planet are not setting a trend for Azerbaijan experiences.
  • We are staying in the rather pompous sounding 'El Resort' - it is a huge residential complex with park like gardens, tennis court, indoor swimming pool, gym, bar, restaurant. Oh, and a prayer room. It is devoid of atmosphere and we seem to be the only guests. Why on earth has such a monstrosity been built ? Who might the clientele be?
  • Thank goodness we are only staying one night. Dinner is perhaps the worst of our trip to date. A truck supper would have been preferable. We still have stocks and another two nights in Azerbaijan, so perhaps tomorrow.
  • Azerbaijan is a Muslim country - we have seen and heard mosques since our arrival here but the density of mosques is far, far less than in Turkey. It is also Ramadan of course. But there is no problem in ordering a beer at the bar well before sunset. Attitudes are obviously more relaxed here.
  • SG momentarily contemplates a glass of chilled white wine to lift her spirits and to improve the taste of the pizza that is about to be served. But when the bottles of wine are brought to the counter for her to choose, Diet coke suddenly seems the best option.

Scenery from Our Breakfast Table

Scenery from Our Breakfast Table

We Have Never Been Wished Good Luck at a Border Before.

We Have Never Been Wished Good Luck at a Border Before.

The Azerbaijan Brand Welcomes Us

The Azerbaijan Brand Welcomes Us

Checking For Honey - Just Over Azeri Border

Checking For Honey - Just Over Azeri Border

Waiting for Their Hair Cut

Waiting for Their Hair Cut

Farmer Shearing a His Sheep - Traditional Shearing Scissors

Farmer Shearing a His Sheep - Traditional Shearing Scissors

Lamb having Its First Hair Cut. So Docile.

Lamb having Its First Hair Cut. So Docile.

Old Ruins of Orthodox Christian Church

Old Ruins of Orthodox Christian Church

Hazelnut Tree - Zaqatala area is Centre of Hazelnut Production

Hazelnut Tree - Zaqatala area is Centre of Hazelnut Production

Country Lane in Car

Country Lane in Car

17C Mosque in Ilisu - Carpets No Doubt Newer!

17C Mosque in Ilisu - Carpets No Doubt Newer!

Old Barn in Ilisu

Old Barn in Ilisu

Our Resort Hotel in the Middle of Nowhere

Our Resort Hotel in the Middle of Nowhere

SG Requests a Bottle of Wine, and This is What is On Offer

SG Requests a Bottle of Wine, and This is What is On Offer

Posted by sagbucks 11:56 Archived in Azerbaijan Comments (0)

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