Today was Destination : Baku. We rose before dawn in order to beat the heat, and were rewarded with a stunning desert sunrise as we took to the road. The sun for the most part was shrouded in cloud, and it was a cool fifty kilometres before the outskirts of Baku came into view, a line of old apartment buildings forming a rampart against the sky.
I was focused so intently on them, in fact, that I didn’t notice Ant and Nico stopped on the other side of the road. Luckily they called out, and we cycled into town together to find to some fresh bread. We met with success just as we entered Xirdalan (also the name of a top notch Azerbaijani beer), and as we sat eating it by the side of the road, were beckoned over by a vegetable seller, who offered us tomato, salt, cucumber, red basil, and goats’ cheese as an accompaniment. Admittedly 9:30 was a little early for lunch, but we weren’t complaining.
Lunch down, we pedalled the remainder of the way into the muggy fug of Baku. There we met Joe, a contact of Nico’s, who had kindly been looking after a series of packages mailed to us by our families, containing spare tyres, a water filter, and sweets, among other things: all things which we will need to cross the desert in Kazakhstan.
From there, we went into town to take a look at the Old City. Spotting a fig tree, we sprung into action, attracting a small number of fellow fig aficionados. Courteous as ever, Nico offered some of his to a man who turned out to be a senior public figure, and promptly promised to find us somewhere to stay. An hour later, we were presented with Baku Khan’s Palace. Admittedly, it was actually a building site, an old house under renovation. But it suited us, particularly as the inner courtyard contained a grand fig tree, more than a century and a half old.
With this base arranged, we dared the early evening traffic to look for a bike shop. Nick and I wanted to get our bikes looked over before the next state of our trip, and Ant needed a box in which to fly his bike home. After some successful hunting (and a comprehensive scrub up!) we went for dinner with Joe, his colleague Arnold, and Arnold’s wife, Farah. Our destination was a shashlik joint looking out over the Caspian Sea, a fitting and filling way to finish our first day in Baku.