Your trip across the Caspian may provide some of the scariest and most fulfilling moments of your entire journey.
– A veteran journalist we met in Tbilisi, Georgia who had seen it all in the former Soviet Union.
Although we are posting this from Pingyao, China, we dial back a few clicks to the beginning of our journey in Central Asia in an attempt to adequately address the images in our mind and the notes in our journals.
Oddly shaped like a damaged index finger or a distressed plume of smoke, the Caspian Sea pumps out oil and caviar in the midst of the surrounding desert and extreme landscape. Continue Reading »
Before this journey, our experience with the disputed regions in the Caucasus – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh – amounted to a few news articles and flashpoint body-count news tickers drifting across the bottom of our television screens.
Something bad had happened, people had died, but we never truly appreciated or understood the details. Continue Reading »
Given that Azerbaijani culture and language is Turkic in origin, it’s not surprising that its cuisine also carries a strong Turkish influence. Doner kebabs are so prevalent on Baku’s streets that you’d swear they were Azerbaijani by origin.
One thing is certain though. Azerbaijanis like their meat, with shashlik (barbecue) as the style of choice. One meal took us on the tour of the animal kingdom with seven different types of shashlik Continue Reading »
Lahic was the last of the Caucasus hill villages we visited and it reaffirmed that hill villages often have the most to offer in terms of scenery and real life experiences. They are generally hard to get to and usually involve boarding a Soviet-era school bus that should have been retired 20 years ago.
Winters in these remote villages are difficult – roads get snowed out and access to the rest of the world and its goods is limited. Locals reflect their accumulated years of difficulty with an outwardly rough exterior, but they usually soften quickly upon engagement. Even a “hello” in the local language will bring smiles, invitations for tea (or vodka), and possible induction into the extended family.
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While visiting the village of Kish just outside of Shaki, the Azerbaijani long weekend getaway of choice, we struck up a conversation with a newlywed couple – a young dentist and his wife – as they gave us a ride back into town.
“The situation with doctors and dentists is really bad in Azerbaijan. My salary as a dentist is only $30 per month.”
“How could you afford a car like this on $30 per month?” Audrey asked, as she sank back into the deep plush seat of his Mercedes sedan. Continue Reading »
Sometimes quotes are the best way to describe a place. Here are a few from our friend, Yahya, about Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
Posing as Estonians
The influence of Azerbaijan’s current oil boom (its second, the first occurred in the early 1900s) can be felt just about everywhere, not least in the price of accommodation which happens to be geared more towards oil executives with large expense accounts than independent tourists. Based on our research, hotels were out of the question. Baku didn’t seem to have a network of homestay families as in Tbilisi and Yerevan, so we opted for a short-term apartment rental.
“Don’t speak English when the woman comes. I told her you were Estonian. We get a better price this way.”
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Between embassy queues for visas, we’ve been taking advantage of Tashkent’s surprising supply of wifi and internet cafes.
As a result, we finally have some photos to show from Armenia and Azerbaijan, thereby completing our visual tour of the Caucasus. Continue Reading »
So there we were, parched on the pavement in Gobustan, Azerbaijan. Fresh from gurgling volcanic mud holes and ancient cave scratchings, we looked forward to catching a marshrutka (minibus) that was due any minute back to the big city, Baku. Fifteen minutes, no marshrutka. Thirty minutes, no marshrutka. Heat exhaustion setting in. Drink some water. Continue Reading »