Seeing as my trip both began and ended in the country's capital, Baku, it deserves a page here on the blog. I arrived on a Friday morning by the night train from Tbilisi, not sure if the two Caucasus cities would be similar or different. Turns out they're very different, but in ways that make them both interesting. Baku, for one, was one of the most modern cities I've ever seen, with pristine stone buildings, numerous pedestrian streets, and virtually no garbage anywhere. It was definitely one of the most visually beautiful cities I've seen, but the only downside was that it didn't have quite the outgoing spark of life Tbilisi has. For example, as I'd walk down gorgeous, tree-lined streets, there would be almost no one out and about, making it seem a little like a ghost town. Anyway though, here are the things that stood out to me about Baku.
ARCHITECTURE & CLEANLINESS
I've never in my life seen a city quite like Baku. From the first minute after getting off the train, it was apparent that everything was incredibly new. However, it was not 'new' in the same sense as an eyesore like Dubai or some horrifying resort city. Everything was instead built out of stone and was a color similar to sand, made to resemble the traditional cultural Azeri architecture. All the buildings though, were in absolutely pristine condition, as were the monuments and many parks scattered throughout the urban area. There were very few skyscrapers, and nearly everything was focused towards a ground level.
On top of that, Baku is spotless. Literally, during my entire week there I couldn't find a single piece of trash in the city. Every street and every building was clean and maintained really well. Even the pollution was surprisingly really low despite the city's large size of three million and the abundance of cars. I'm not particularly sure how this happens but maybe it's due to the constant and ever-present wind keeping the air moving.
One of my personal favorites here was the waterfront part of Baku along the Caspian Sea. There's a long walking/cycling path going along the waterfront in the center and once you get further and further out, it eventually turns into a calm beach with clean water and smooth sand. This all made for incredibly gorgeous views, and if I could recommend one thing, it would be to climb the huge set of stairs in the city center and look out over the waters below. It was quite an experience.
Good news and bad news. The bad news is that there are not many street musicians in Baku. The good news is that the ones that are there are amazing. It almost made me wish that the usually quiet streets were flooded with music, but as that was not the case, I really appreciated what I found. I may have just seen at most one or two per day, but each musician completely blew me away, mixing traditional Azeri rythems with modern instruments. If you ever get the chance to go and come across a musician, wait around for a while and listen to the show. Believe me, you won't regret it.
This was one of the most interesting features I found in Baku. Directly in the city center, there is the ancient medieval castle castle walls with the interior remodeled to fit the modern city. There are windy walking streets that weave up and down the different levels, all the while tea shops and traditional Azeri restaurants have been constructed within the ramparts. Just like the outside, all of the stone within the castle also maintains the same sandy color and green trees sprout up here and there. One really striking features for me was that there are a lot of ancient, wooden artillery devices like catapults lining the walls. The whole place itself was very large and contained many twisting, interweaving streets, each with it's own unique aspect. It's definitely worth spending a day there.