Attractions Great and Small
A flight to Dubai, then another flight all the way back north over Iraq takes me to Azerbaijan. The forecast looks consistently cool for the next few days, and as I overland the Caucasus I plan to enjoy this actual autumn as much as I can. My hostel’s broken credit card machine forces me to find cash, so it is evening by the time I actually get to see the city. I walk to the Caspian Sea coast where Baku shows off some of its most charming wonders. There are centuries-old towers, monuments, and even a “tiny Venice” where gondoliers float around labyrinthine swimming pools, looking for tourists to take around. I watch men play life-size chess before it is time for bed. I make a note to return to the free Museum of Miniature books when it opens the next day.
My first mission in Azerbaijan, however, is to find out how to leave. Buses to Tbilisi, Georgia run nightly, and I plan on getting on one that evening to keep ahead of my strict Caucasian schedule. That is, my schedule through the Caucasus. You know what I mean. I find a bus that’ll drop me by the international bus station, and find instead a sketchy mall with poor lighting and mostly-vacant commercial real estate. I see no buses, and only a couple of ticket vendors, but none go to Georgia. There are routes all the way to Istanbul and deep into Iran, and I wonder what those must be like. I ask around and every shop owner sends me somewhere different. Eventually I make it to the top floor, and there are no more shop owners to ask. I see a wave of people with luggage enter through a door down the hall, and follow that trail to where dozens of buses are waiting. I ask around for Tbilisi tickets, and finally one person tells me “Tam,” Russian for “There,” and points to the roof. I climb another flight and indeed several ticket vendors are selling for routes around Azerbaijan and Georgia, and I am able to find a woman selling tickets to Tbilisi for 8 bucks. I happily buy one and tell the saleswoman I’ll be back later. She smiles politely, as if to say "I don't care if you come back at all, but I am paid to be nice so I'll give you a pleasant smile just because you didn't yell at me like every other customer today."
Doctor Doner (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Kebabs)
The rest of my day is free to sightsee, and the hostel owner gladly stows my back while I do so. The only two notable sights I visit are the miniature book museum, which has a whole section on the works of Marx and Lenin, and two long-forgotten window-sill monuments stacked atop one another. Looking out into the street sits a pair of cement lovers from a ledge. On a window ledge above sit three cats of similar substance doomed to also watch the street for eternity. The “Monuments to Lovers and Cats” are one of the highest-rated free attractions in Baku, and as they are in the heart of the Old Town it would have been silly to miss these art works that speak so deeply to me, as two people forever battle inside: one is looking for lovers, the other is looking for cats. I have no clue who designed these sculptures but he/she truly speaks to the human condition.
The night is cold and it’s time for dinner. Baku undoubtedly offers some of the world’s cheapest kebabs, and since I have slowly been transitioning to an all-kebab diet since my arrival in the Middle East, I think it is time I sample some of the local offerings. First, I stop at a neighborhood spot that offers a kebab for only 2.5 Azerbaijani Manats (1.4 USD). I eat one and my craving for another takes me to chain “Shawarma No. 1” which certainly does not sell the No. 1 Shawarma in the city, but offers a nice midrange option for those who actually want to sit down and eat. On this chilly night, they even lend blankets to customers to take the shawarma experience to the next level.
It is cold.
I’m in heaven.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.