Following comments on our recent accommodation, Baku Khan’s Palace, we felt we should clarify the state of play: the palace is no longer. Instead stands a 150 year old fig tree which unceremoniously spurts a fruit out every minute to plop on the floor near our door and develop into a slippery smelly sugary mess. Under its arching branches is a dilapidated old building with wooden slabs instead of windows and exposed electric wires – one room of which was spider and dirt free enough to host three roll mats and provide us with a roof during our time in Baku! The courtyard outside happens to be where the municipality gardeners gather to sip tea and puff on impressively cheap cigarettes, as well as being the location of our shower: a sink which also feeds the ‘toilet’ with its water, perhaps explaining the bout of diarrhoea all three of us experienced over the first two days!
Within a few feet of leaving our sanctum, however, one comes upon the heart of recent years’ renovations within Baku in the shape of the centre of the Old City – a surprisingly successful mix of history, architecture, and tourist delights. Unrecognisable even to a previous resident of Baku, we are told, the centre of the city has received an incredible amount of investment over the past couple of years. White marble clad subways link the glossy beachside boulevard to glitzy hotels and every luxurious outlet imaginable. At night, the flame towers lead a frankly impressive illumination of hundreds of buildings from the traditional Soviet-built communication tower to the piers reaching out into the Caspian Sea. It really makes for an impressive location to explore and one which the government was unsurprisingly proud to show off by hosting Eurovision 2012: a competition closer to all Azeri hearts than most British ones!
Our house-hunter, a senior public figure, was kind enough to set us up with brunch and dinner at a lovely restaurant set within archeological remains of central Baku as we found our feet and sorted a few bits and bobs (haircut feels great). Between delicious local sour cream, honey, dolma, qutabs and stew pots, we managed to find the energy to walk to the ferry terminal. Naturally, the ticket office was closed before closing time, and the tourist information centre was equally defunct. We did gather some information, however: no one knows when a ferry will leave, nor how long it will take! With five fixed days on our Kazakh transit visa and 540km of corrugated desert road to travel in that time, the challenge is daunting.
We spent the evening Skyping some friends and family and completing (bar one clue) the Times jumbo crossword which one of my parcels had been wrapped in – a fun homely delight!