This 2018, along with our usual features in our blog (Food, Events, New Places), we are introducing Travel Destinations that’s only within 5 hours (or less) flying distance from Doha (link of our previous post here). This is one of the biggest moves that we have taken for our readers so far.
“TWO NIGHTS” is our special feature post for every destination that we will visit and will be published on the blog every TOURSday – our designated travel day special (in the Middle East, Thursday is the start of the weekend and an ideal day to travel within or out of the country). But since this is our maiden episode, and we can’t wait to share this to you, we are publishing it earlier to answer the queries that we have been receiving regarding this trip to Azerbaijan. I also suggest that you read our previous posts so you will have an introduction of our featured destination.
On this first episode of our (supposed) TOURSday SPECIAL, we are giving you the highlights of my recent travel to the beautiful “windy” city of Baku, in “the land of fire” – AZERBAIJAN.
Note: Since we were initially informed of the location of our accommodation, then I started to plot the itinerary making sure that I’d be able to maximize the time and cover as much places as I can.
DAY 01: LIVE LIKE A TOURIST
It’s quite normal for anyone traveling to a new country to visit common tourist spots and personally experience what is it like to be in the place that we usually see on Instagram… or “postcards” if you still have one. Also, during winter, the sun rises quite late so it is still dark at 7:00 AM in Azerbaijan. So, it is always advisable to take heavy breakfast to last long and be ready for a long walks as well. Definitely, a weather appropriate and culture sensitive clothes are advisable. Lastly, an investment on a good walking shoes will definitely prove useful.
11:00 AM HEYDAR ALIYEV CENTER
It is one of the many interesting and beautifully designed buildings in the city. It is a museum that houses historical artifacts and modern arts much like the Museum of Islamic Arts in Qatar. This center was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and named after Heydar Aliyev, the first secretary of Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982, and president of Azerbaijan Republic from October 1993 to October 2003.
The main building showcases the country’s history equipped with modern interactive facilities. It is one of the best ways to get introduced to Azerbaijan’s history – from the discovery of oil in the early 1800, understand the cause of Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict (and the still ongoing tensions within the disputed territory of highland Karabakh), when Azerbaijan adopted its declaration of independence on 18 October 1991, up to the present economic boom.
The second building houses modern art exhibitions including the scale models of several modern architectures adding up to the exciting cityscape of the country.
12:30 PM INNER CITY
The Old City or Inner City, as it is commonly called nowadays is the heart of Baku’s history (Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan). It is the oldest part of Baku which is surrounded by walls (like the Intramuros of Manila or somehow, the Souq Waqif of Doha). In December 2000, the Old City of Baku which is also called İçərişəhər in Azerbaijan, including the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower, became the first location in the country to be classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Maiden Tower is a historical place and a world-famous landmark in Baku City. It was also believed to be a classic example of Zoroastrianism and named so because the tower was not destroyed by any enemy (untouched). I was able to climb up to the tower’s view deck and got a 360 degree view of the whole city and its nearby area including the city’s beautiful water promenade.
As you walk along the maze-like streets of the INNER CITY, you will still feel the old ambiance with a minimal modern touch through its paints and reinforcements to secure the old structures. The streets are narrow and the slopes are steep yet they can still manage to have sidewalk parking. There are also a lot of interesting spots that street photographers will definitely enjoy.
2:00 PM NIZAMI STREET
My continuous walk along the streets of the INNER CITY led me to one of its exit gates near the Icherisheher Metro Station. From there, we decided to proceed to Nizami Street, a popular shopping street in downtown Baku. Along the way, we saw several of Azerbaijan’s leading educational institutions where the former President used to study as well several parks, monuments and museums. Take note that all of their parks have WIFI!
At Nizami Street, you will feel the European side of the country and the influx of modern fashion in the country. It also has a lot of cafes and restaurants, and from here we sample the Azerbaijani food at Firuze Restoran – an underground restaurant in one of the side streets of Nizami offering authentic Azerbaijan cuisine.
A further walk along the street revealed even more branded stores and kiosks selling various items from toys to cigarettes. I also noticed that the entire area was an artist haven with its many street arts and bronze sculptures scattered in different places.
5:00 PM BAKU BOULEVARD
And to catch the dramatic sunset, we rushed to Baku Boulevard (popularly known as “Bulvar”) – a water promenade overlooking the Caspian Sea, much like Doha’s Corniche.
It is several kilometers of long parkway that run through the many new developments in the area like the a multi-story shopping mall Park Bulvar, the Baku Crystal Hall which hosted Eurovision Song Contest 2012, the National Flag Square which has one of the world’s tallest flag, the Baku Ferris Wheel, the new building of the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum, and the “Little Venice” also in Baku Boulevard.
8:00 PM CHINAR RESTAURANT
I have to recharge and go back to the hotel for a quick rest and to freshen up myself. Then I headed off to Chinar for dinner. It was one of the highly endorsed places in Baku for dinner. True enough, it surely lived up to my expectations. The Asian vibe was very evident, a dim lit restaurant and a great selection of food are affordable compared to Doha.
However, I was not allowed to take photos so I couldn’t present a view of their restaurant but you could probably check out their social media for some images.
10:00 PM NIZAMI STREET at NIGHT
I was told that the view of Nizami is different at night. And they said it right. The illuminated streets were dazzling in the evening. And the place surely come alive as the underground pubs and bistros opened up.
Will cut this short for now as I don’t want to overwhelm you with long texts. On the next installment, will bring you the second part.
UP NEXT: Part 2 – “TWO NIGHTS in AZERBAIJAN: Live Like A Local (DAY 02)”