A: Your next flight is Baku.
Me: Huh? Where?
A: You know, Baku? Baku in Azerbaijan?
Me: Huh? Where?
A: Baku, its less than three hours from Doha! You know, Caucasus, Caspian Sea?
Me: Now I am lost.
I prided myself for knowing a lot of different places all over the globe, but I was clueless about this hidden, beautiful and exotic city. It completely blew me away.
The first thing you notice about Baku as you make your way through either by walking or driving is that the city is super clean. The roads in the centre of the city looks spotless and seem to shine. It’s like someone made the effort to wax them.
I took a stroll on the streets of Baku, that’s the best way to know more about a city. The streets are lined with a fascinating mix of old and modern buildings. Whereas in most cities old buildings or new architectural landmarks really stand in Baku old and new are mixed together to make a great beautiful blend. Baku being a gateway between China, Europe and the Arab world, really breathes the atmosphere of the ancient Silk Road.
With the exception of spotting a few Japanese and Korean tourists we felt like being the only foreigners in town. And so did some of the local people. A few people were staring at my colleagues and me, and a few others were waving at us from the open window of their car. I shyly smiled and waved back feeling a bit uncomfortable doing so. It was clear; people in Baku are not (yet) exposed to the tourist invasions I have witnessed in cities like Barcelona or Venice.
I love eating local dishes. Two restaurants came highly recommended. We ended up choosing Nargiz restaurant because of its spectacular and cozy. interior. To access the restaurant we had to go down a set of stairs that gave access to an underground door leading to the dining hall.
To find it you may have to ask for directions. Where is it. Old town.
If you’re not keen you might miss the restaurant, because there is a cafe in front of it…the only clue you have is its name and a hidden staircase.
The door looked boring but once pushed open, I was gushing like crazy. The interior Wow! I felt I was thrown into the Persian stories I had read when I was little. It was a hidden cave, the entrance decorated with lost treasures and antiques. Unique carpets, pictures and lamps lining the walls and ceilings. I was thoroughly impressed and now even more hungry.
I cannot remember the name of the dish I requested. Menu: https://www.facebook.com/pg/NARGIZ.RESTAURANT/menu/?ref=page_internal
It was a pot full of meat chunks, in thick gravy and pomegranate seeds with a cover on top, which tasted like bread. I was wondering the whole time whether one is supposed to eat the cover or not? I sampled a piece, curiosity won me over. But am sure it was bread…and normal rice on the side.
There were quite a few waiters, all of them making a respectful effort to make us sit at one of their tables.
You may have a bit of trouble communicating, when it comes to getting to know the wide variety of local dishes. At some point our waiter brought an IPad to make our search easier. Great idea; we all ended up choosing our meal based on how mouth-watering the picture looked. Once decided on a meal our waiter asked us whether we wanted ‘chicken or meat?’
After such a lovely and satisfying meal a midnight stroll is a must. The street are crowded with people, the weather is amazing. I had the chance to see the popular landmark “Flame Towers”, as flames represented by lights changed colours as they went up and down the buildings. It’s made up of three buildings, taking the shape of a rose. But the lightshow can only be enjoyed during the night.
After haggling with a few taxi drivers, one man finally agreed to use his taxi at a very fair price. I just had to stop by at the *I love Baku* sign in Heydar aliyev centre another popular landmark. People respectfully queued, waiting for their chance to take a selfie or a groupie. I had finally managed to climb on top of the letter K, when fellow acquaintances on the flight showed up. My colleague was quick to invite them, to our photo session. I was quite happy to stay on top of the letter as the clicked away.
Baku is such a beautiful hidden gem, I would love to go back and discover more. One thing is for sure now I know a city called Baku. Or at least I think I do. Perhaps there is much more to discover.