Earlier this month I took my first trip to the West Coast to visit three of my close friends who have moved/moved back. It was a much-needed break from work and I was blessed with ‘San Francisco summer’ – the two or three weeks of heat and sunshine in September/October. I spent the first few nights in Oakland (the rest in Outer Sunset) and had great fun during First Fridays. It was also fleet week so loads of noisy airshows and festivities around the city. I enjoyed the wine and trip out to wine country. I absolutely fell in love with the ‘painted lady’ houses; ate a burrito the size of my arm; racked up so many flights of ‘stairs’ on my iPhone activity counter; marveled at the Redwood trees; and discovered Dutch Crunch bread.
1. Baku is a strange city, a mix of Soviet and Turkish influences. A strange mix of old buildings and new, and new buildings made to look old.
2. Crossing roads here is akin to shark diving without the cage. There are very few crossings, people drive like crazy and at times outright ignore things like red lights.
3. More scary than crossing the road is going in the cabs. Here it seems perfectly acceptable for the cab driver to be driving, talking on the phone and smoking at the same time.
4. Here is a quick cab guide in case you ever visit: I paid 15 AZN from the city to the airport which should serve as a guide to your negotiations;chances are the cab driver has no idea where you are going; and insist on the meter (I will do a separate blog post on the cabs in Baku).
5. The airport wifi is fast and free.
6. Data is cheap cheap cheap. When I arrived I managed to buy a micro sim for my iPhone in 5 mins for 10 ANZ (about 12 dollars I guess). A 1GB data bundle costs a little over 6 USD. In NYC I pay 25 USD for 1GB on my prepaid arrangement.
7. A great walk is along Nizami street, through the Old Town and up to the Flame towers. A bad walk is one to the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centrer (the white organic building in the photos).
8. I got stared at a lot walking around, which was strange because I don’t really stand out there and often got addressed in the local language or in Russian. It was a major difference from New York where no one makes eye contact on the street.