How often does it happen that you come to a place and like it straight away? By now I would say cautiously “like it” because many centers of town, especially capitals look gorgeous, but away from the bustling and hustling? Not so much. Especially countries considered developing.
Baku is one of these places I feel for straight away. Is it the fresh smell of the sea close by? Is it the fact that things look clean and orderly? The many water fountains in the center. The pleasant food, that is still rather affordable. Basically the prices here look the same as in Euro on the menus in Germany, with the difference that the exchange rate is such that everything costs half as much.
Subsequently, people confirmed that there is a similarity to architecture in such a place as Paris, Istanbul in other parts of town, and I would say that it reminded me of Barcelona in some places. An amazingly restored place, not at all as “soviet” as Tbilisi in parts, or especially Yerevan. Which has pros and cons.
Almost 30 years on it does no harm to get a whiff of the olf Soviet Empire. Especially if you never had the chance of first-hand experience as me. At the same time, it impresses to see something torn or to employ a more neutral term, divided between Soviet times and a Muslim and almost middle-eastern heritage. Combined with an apparent striving for European values or at least appearances.
Talking about appearances, Baku offers a spread of optical female stiles (which I am more focused on than the guys. For the guy’s style, come here yourself 😉), a range of fashion, spanning from conservative Muslim to – dare I say – quite skanky. I love that tension. When arriving at one of the main subway stations there is quite the exhibit of facsimile art on the walls, spanning all relevant centuries of western art. I was most amazed about the art I knew containings the boobies (like the iconic Delacroix painting that was on the 100 franc bills). I did not expect that in a mostly Muslim country, I must admit.
But to throw that in here, there is some widespread insecurity in the west due to extreme feministic attitudes nowadays – which of course the general public does not ascribe to, just the media likes the stories they produce-, what art can or cannot do. So in either case, let us not prematurely throw stones. Or what would Jesus say? Pull the beam from your own eyes… you know the verse of course.
Architecturally it seems you have almost everything here. The most modern attempts – and I must admit that I like the flame towers with their actual flame-like light-show at night (which I am looking at right now, sitting on the hostel’s balcony)-, as well as the architecture that reminds of the best times Europe had before it decided to lay itself into ash. And naturally the several hundreds of years old remains of fortification architecture and royal housing.
In my mind, this may be the most pleasing of the three capitals I have seen in the Caucasus region. That being said, it is good to keep in mind that Azerbaijan has had the pleasure of enjoying an influx of “oil-money”. Not all you see is, of course, the traditional Baku. The way it was in Soviet times. Not at all, some assure me. But no matter, it is pleasing beyond my expectations. It also helped that Valid and Anastasia took me to a very nice restaurant in the old town, serving very pleasing local dishes. You know me and food. I will certainly try to cook some of these myself. I now cannot wait to get to Iran which is apparently going to be within the same vein.