Baku round-up

Baku Azerbaijan Old City Flame TowersBaku Azerbaijan Old City catBaku Azerbaijan Old CityBaku Azerbaijan Old CityBaku Azerbaijan Old CityBaku Azerbaijan Old City bread womanMosque and flame towers BakuBaku by nightBaku highway and Trump TowerHeydar Aliyev Cultural Center BakuHeydar Aliyev Cultural Center Baku birdBaku Azerbaijan FountainBaku Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev Baku Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev placeBaku Azerbaijan Old CityBaku Azerbaijan Old City
Earlier this week I said that I would reserve my impressions of Baku until the end of the week, and I sit at the airport en route to Bangkok, here they are:

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.

I’ve developed a habit…

Streets of Helsinki at night, FinlandStreets of Helsinki at night, FinlandStreets of Helsinki at night, Finland
I’ve developed a habit lately; a habit of walking in the evenings and on weekends, completely devoid of any purpose or plan. Choosing a direction based on a strange pulling feeling on the one side if your body, or on the basis of which set of traffic lights are green.

I suppose I used to do something similar back in Jhb – except that it involved driving and not walking and it was so nowhere near as pleasurable. I love how walking allows your eyes, in fact all your sensory organs, to take in information at the speed that evolution intended.

There are times while I’m walking when I feel there is a strange magnetic-like force that is preventing me from turning around and heading home. There are times when just as I come home, keys in hand, I decided to keep going “for just one more block” which turns into four. Or fourteen. Or forty.

Tonight I am in Helsinki, Finland, and these are three street shots from two-hour stroll this evening. What a contrast to the streets of Manhattan that I have been walking the past 6 weeks. They are mostly empty by midnight here, sort of like Johannesburg,but without the threat of menace in the air.