I made it, and I think I’m going to like Baku,
the interesting capital of Azerbaijan,once I get it figured out.
Arriving at the Heydar Aliev International airport in Baku is a really interesting experience. The terminal is wonderful, with no expense spared, the immigration lines efficient and quite friendly, baggage retrieval speedy and a couple of ATM machines to help one on one’s way.
Then the irritants start.
In a clearly well-off country, I am not sure why the police officers who hang around outside the arrivals really need to stoop to hustling taxis; fortunately having ascertained that the correct price is about 20 Manat (about $25) from a French, Old Baku Hand, their opening gambit was 50; I spurned their advances and offered 10, they countered with 40 and I wandered off to clear customs.
Outside customs there was the usual murder of taxi-drivers, annoyed at the police spoiling their pitch, no doubt, so I settled on 30 and in to town we went. Why this absurd pantomime? I have no idea.
When I arrived in Warsaw last week, there were large signs in the arrivals area telling you how much to expect a cab ride to town should cost; sensible, easy and extremely helpful. It is an idea that should spread around the world and save travellers arriving in a city the angst of “The Arriving Traveller Taxi Rip Off Blues”.
But away I went, and what a drive! A ten-lane highway, whizzing past gated communities of upper middle-class housing on either side on the 35 kilometre highway; served, I have to add by tar-driven buses of a debatable vintage. One went the super highway only to collide with a ring of post-Soviet concrete buildings and thence into the city.
Part Monaco, part Dubai, part provincial Russian town; part European, part Istanbul on steroids and all Baku.
I think I’m going to like this place.
It is, I have to say, a study in the difference between wealth and riches. The world’s finest brands are represented; lights, camera, action! Fabulous, and gloriously idiosyncratic. I love paradox; the clash of cultures; old and new, sweet and sour, your shout or mine, and Baku seems from first glance to epitomise these feelings.
Extraordinary public buildings, lit with no expense spared adjacent to the medieval wall of the old town; fine shopping boulevards with ancient cross streets in a different socio-economic century.
A stunning sea side corniche, fine cars, old Ladas and yet more ancient buses propelled by burning chicken-feathers.
They have a metro system here, and tomorrow I will take it to the end of the line and have a look; I like other peoples’ suburbs. Ridership apparently dropped by 10% when they increased the fares recently from $0.15 to 0.30, a major public policy issue. It does make you wonder how that get to work for less.
I am looking forward to tomorrow.
And, do you know, they have ferries that go from here to Turkembashi, across the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan; very, very tempting.