Baku, Qobustan, Lahic, Sheki
Planning and overall impression
Azerbaijan is a
country which has been relying for a long time on oil revenues and only
recently opened up for tourism. In 2017 it became easy to apply for a
visa online, and it was no longer necessary to send the passport to the
Therefore Azerbaijan in 2017 it still lacked a well
developed tourist infrastructure of hotels, guesthouses, travel
Azerbaijan is more wealthy than neighbouring
Georgia, which is visible in the better infrastructure and more
developed capital. Baku has a bit of the modernistic skyline of Dubai
and Astana while its 19th and 20th century core looks like the one of
During our brief visit, outside of Baku we didn't find many
architectural highlights or historic places. And the ones we visited
are not well known outside of Azerbaijan.
The culture in
Azerbaijan is a mix of central Asian, Arabic/Middle eastern and
European. Contrary to other Islamic majority countries, people in
Azerbaijan do not seem to take religion too seriously. In Baku for
instance you find billboards with photos of bikini girls advertising
The Caspian sea coastline around Baku is relatively
unimpressive and the sea water is not very clean. The Greater Caucasus
mountains region however looks beautiful with lots of hiking and
mountain climbing potential.
Given the higher living standard in
Azerbaijan (it's an oil economy), costs in Azerbaijan are higher than
in neighbouring Georgia. For instance hotel rooms in Azerbaijan cost
more or less the same as in western Europe. Food on the other hand
is less expensive, and cars with drivers are very inexpensive
(which probably means that these drivers earn very little).
Food in Azerbaijan probably is not bad,
although we didn't find terribly impressive dishes - probably because
we didn't put in an effort to find local, characteristic food. We ate
in food courts, restaurants, sometimes in hotel restaurants. Over the
six days we spent in Azerbaijan we didn't run into special or
interesting dishes. The food culture in Azerbajian is not as obviously
displayed at every corner as in neighbouring Georgia.
We found hotels in Baku and
Sheki, but not cheap ones and in the end we booked an apartment for our
stay in Baku. Azerbaijan only recently opened up for tourists and the
hotel offering is still a bit limited.
Money / Exchange rate
Euro = 1.9 AZN (Azerbaijan Manat)
1 Euro ~ USD 1.12
phones and prepaid cards
there are three mobile network operators in Azerbaijan: Azercell,
Bakcell and Azerfon. We bought AzerCell SIM cards upon arrival at the
airport: package with 10GB
Internet and 20 minutes international calls for 22 AZN. Local
5 cents and SMSs were 3 cents (of a Manat). We also bought a 5 AZN
recharge. The coverage was good.
We used the Internet access
provided by the hotels and when outside the Internet package of the
mobile phone operators. Internet connectivity in Azerbaijan is not bad.
The weather was mostly good with lots
of sunshine, although the sky was sometimes overcast and sometimes it
did rain. This surprised me a bit because we had just arrived from a
week of essentially sunshine in Georgia and were expecting even more
dry weather in Azerbaijan. Baku is a bit windy.
Health / Vaccinations
No vaccinations needed for Azerbaijan.
VISA / Entry requirements
Citizens of CIS
countries (the former Soviet republics) do not need a visa to enter
Azerbaijan. Citizens of many other countries (EU, North and South
America, many Asian countries) are eligible for the electronic visa.
This can be easily applied for and obtained from the website of the
Azerbaijan government (https://evisa.com.az/en/
We lost quite some time (over an hour) crossing the land border from Azerbaijan to Georgia).
Azerbaijan seems a very safe and peaceful country. If there is crime, it not directed at tourists.
- Baku has some pretty cool arichitecture.
- The mud volcanoes in Qobustan are quite cool.
- The Greater Caucasus range
Things to avoid
- The Caspian sea coast near Baku is not very nice.
While in Baku we relied mainly on taxis and public transportation to
get around. For excursions outside Baku our host arranged a car with
driver. Then we did the transfer from Baku to Sheki and Sheki to
Tbilisi with a car with driver which the hotel in Sheki arranged for us.
some effort I didn't manage to find a local guide or tour operator who
could offer us reasonably priced services. The tourist oriented mindset
still isn't developed in Azerbaijan, probably because it's a relatively
Apartment downtown view, Baku. 127 AZN
for a huge apartment on the 10th floor of a skyscraper. Lots of rooms,
three toilets, giant place. The only problem is that it is an old
place, which desperately needs maintenance. Everything is old and the
window shades are broken. About 1km from the old town. Fast WLAN in the
Weather: sunny with clouds in
Tbilisi, not hot in the morning. Sunny, 27°C in Baku when we land, no
clouds. Strong wind in Baku.
Shortly after 10am I walk out of the apartment and walk to the Donuts
outlet on Freedom square where I buy some breakfast for us. Then I find
a taxi to go to the airport (20 Lari fee). With this taxi I get back to
the apartment, fetch Shirley, the kids and the luggage and we drive to
the airport, arriving there at 11:20am. We check in and pay the baggage
Our tickets with AZAL JET do not include a check-in luggege, so we have
to pay 87 Lari for each of the three suitcases, total 261 Lari (cash
only). AZAL JET doesn't offer the option to pay this online. It would
have been a total of 168 Lari had we paid through an agent of AZAL JET,
but we couldn't find such an agent.
Then we proceed through the security check and passport control and
shortly before 12pm we are at the gate. Everything runs smoothly,
everybody is relaxed.
My family is very much used to be in
airports waiting for planes and to fly with jets.
The flight takes off on time at 12:55pm. The plane (an A319 of AZAL
JET) is completely full. They serve a fish sandwich. We touch down at
1:55pm and after some waiting disembark. Things then proceed relatively
smoothly. By 2:30pm we've passed the passport control and proceed to
retrieve the suitcases. Then we get to the arrivals area (lots of
people offering a taxi transfer to Baku). We withdraw cash from an ATM
(500AZN limit per withdrawal; later in town I'll find ATMs with 200 AZN
and 1000 AZN limits).
Then we buy SIM cards. We choose the AzerCell ones:
package with 10GB
Internet and 20 minutes international calls for 22 AZN. Local calls are
5 cents and SMSs are 3 cents (of a Manat). We buy a 5 AZN recharge.
We then go with the guy who has been offering to bring us to Baku and
has been waiting for a while (initially he asked for 50 AZN, later I'll
give him 25 AZN). We walk with him to his (old) Mercedes car and start
driving to Baku.
We notice immediately the difference with Tbilisi: the infrastructure
is more modern, the buildings look more stylish. Later I'll understand
that this is sort of a facade,
i.e. in reality large parts of Baku are
in a pretty bad shape and would need some revovation.
In any case there is a lot of interesting architecture in Baku, i.e.
lots of stylish modern buildings. There will be a formula 1 race in
Baku and the streets are being prepared.
Shortly before 4pm we reach the apartment and meet Niko, who introduces
the apartment to us. Long introduction, contract signing, finally
around 4:30pm Niko leaves and we unpack the suitcases. At 4:45pm we
walk out to the nearby supermarket and buy some food.
At 6pm, while Shirley and the kids take a rest in the apartment I walk
into town. Initially I walk through this residential area and notice
that the buildings and the roads are in a pretty bad shape. The whole
neighbourhood is in a mess. This may be a wealthy country, but the
wealth is somehow not used to fix the broken places or perhaps is
unevenly spread. Also, distances seem to be a bit big. This is probably
a place best visited with a taxi or a car.
The old town is nice,
but inside the walls there are lots of newly
built buildings and some alleys have been closed by walls. Perhaps
during the Soviet period people didn't care about preserving historical
places. In fact in the entire old town there aren't many really old
structures. In any case these closed alleys make it more difficult to
explore the area, as you have to backtrack if you end up in a blind
After a while I reach the pedestrian area. Very nice, mostly buildings
in Neoclassical architecture, many shops and restaurants/cafes. No
western fast food restaurants (i.e. McDonalds, KFC etc.).
At 7:15pm I walk along the waterfront. There is no beach, only a wall
to the sea and a coastal green strip running parallel to the sea. Some
construction of new buildings along the waterfront. The pier is blocked
dut to the formula 1 race, so I walk towards the flame towers. These
are three glass and steel skyscrapers which are shaped like the flames
of a fire. They are on a hill overlooking the bay. It's possible to
access them by taking a funicular or baý walking up a staircase.
At the top of the staircase there is sort of a park with some other
structures, which at night are illuminated. After taking some pictures,
at 9pm I walk back to the apartment.
Apartment downtown view, Baku.
Weather: sunny, with some thin
clouds layer every now and then. Very little wind, not so hot.
We spend the entire morning in the apartment, because the kids need to
do some exercises for the school. After 12:30pm we walk out and fetch a
taxi. I tell the driver to bring us first to the Heydar Aliyev cultural
centre, then to the Port Baku mall. The price is 10 AZN. It ends up
that the driver brings us first to the Port Baku mall.
and the kids get out. Then it takes some motivation to get the driver
to bring me to the Heydar Aliyev cultural centre as agreed.
We arrive there at 1:05pm. The Heydar Aliyev cultural centre has some
impressive architecture: it has the shape of a Mexican sombrero hat,
white cement roof with lateral steel and glass walls.
by a large green meadow and next to it is the Baku Congress
Centre. After five minutes in this place we drive back to the Port
There I meet Shirley.
This Port Baku mall is the newest mall in Baku (completion date: 2014).
From the outside, the architecture is nice, but inside it's
unimpressive. Floors with shops selling expensive branded goods, no big
central space, layout as boring as an office building.
comparable to shopping malls in Dubai or Malaysia. And there is no food
So, at 1:30pm, we decide to get to the other mall, the Park Bulvar mall
in the Milli park along the sea. We start walking, but the distance is
a bit longer than expected (and with the kids walking is slow anyway).
So, when shortly before 2pm we spot a restaurant oppposite the Marriott
hotel, we decide to stop there and have lunch.
Turns out that the owners of this restaurant are very friendly and
customer oriented. Shirley compares them to the staff of the Baraqa
restaurant in Kutaissi (Georgia) who didn't care about us and whom you
even had to beg to bring you the menu card. The food is not that bad
We have lunch there until about 2:40pm, then we slowly walk along the
Milli park towards the Park Bulvar mall. In case you wonder why we
visit malls instead of the historical sights and tourist attractions: a
city doesn't consist only of tourist attractions; to understand it
properly you also have to act like a local and visit places which
The Milli park is a strip of land along the sea with meadows, trees and
flower beds. Quite pleasant to walk there, when it is not so hot as
today for instance.
Shortly after 3pm we reach the Park Bulvar mall. Shirley and the kids
will end up staying inside this mall for over four hours, doing a
number of things (some shopping, playing in the recreation area,
watching a short movie, having a brief dinner).
I'm in this mall until 3:50pm, checking it out a bit and buying some
snacks in the supermarket in the basement. Then I walk out and charter
a taxi for a two hours trip around Baku (60 AZN).
First the driver drives up to the Flame towers, then to the Shikhov
beach about 10km southwest of Baku.
He drops me off at the beach of the
Ramada hotel, which should be a good beach since this is a five star
hotel. The beach however is unimpressive: sandy with some shells, the
seawater is reasonably clean and very shallow. You can swim here, but
the place is not terribly inviting.
Around 4:40pm we drive to the next place, the Bibi-Heybat mosque. This
is a small mosque, rebuilt in the 1990s (the previous one was
completely demolished in the Soviet periiod in 1936), brown earth
colour, simple, but very nice both from the outside and the inside.
interiors are richly decorated and one of the halls has a golden cage
which reminds me of mosques in Iran. Despite the Ramadan period, the
mosque is relatively empty.
After a bit over 20 minutes in the mosque we drive to the Yarat
contemporary art centre. This is located immediately south of the big
flag pole, close to the Water Palace Su Sarayı, some sort of oversized
fitness and spa centre.
At 5:20pm we continue to the Bayraq Meydanı (National Flag Square), the
big flag pole. This flag pole is 162m high and you are not allowed to
get close to it (perhaps they are concerned somebody might try to
destroy it or hold a demonstration there). The Baku Crystal hall is on
a small peninsula behind the flag pole.
Getting there involves walking
for 10 minutes, because you can't get there by car.
The Baku Crystal Hall was built in 2011-12 to host the Eurovision song
contest and has been used after that to host sports and music events.
It's a big glass and steel building with a capacity of 25000 people.
Shortly before 6pm we drive back to the Park Bulvar mall. There I
rejoin with Shirley and the kids. After 7pm we have a simple dinner in
the food court of the mall, then at 8pm we take a taxi (5 AZN) back to
the flag pole. There I walk along the sea promenade and shoot some blue
hour panoramas of the Baku skyline. Shortly before 10pm we drive back
to the apartment with another taxi (8 AZN).
Apartment downtown view, Baku.
Weather: overcast and cold
(temperatures below 20°C) in the morning, then it starts raining quite
heavily with some interruptions until almost 3pm. After about 3:30pm
the sky opens up and it's sunny blue sky.
Because the weather is bad, we stay in the apartment until 2pm.
1:20pm Niko comes and collects the remaining payment for the apartment
(I had given him a partial payment of 300 AZN on Sunday). Some
discussion about the flat, Baku and what to do tomorrow. We book a half
day tour to Qobustan and the mud volcanoes for USD 40. After Niko
leaves, at 2pm we walk down and take a taxi to the Ganclik (Gənclik)
mall, which according to Niko is the newest and largest mall in Baku.
The taxi is metered and the transfer will cost 6 AZN. We arrive at the
mall at 2:40pm.
The Ganclik mall is big, modern and nice, although still not on the
same level as malls in Dubai or the Far East. It's a long building with
four floors (food court on the top floor), a mix of branded stuff
stores and more affordable stores.
Next to the mall there is the
Gənclik metro station. We have some (fast) food in the mall, then walk
around a bit.
At 3:50pm I leave the mall and explore the area.
Next to the mall there
is a big stadium. Shirley and the kids will spend more time in the
mall, while I will walk to the 28 Mall, another mall in Baku. By now
the weather is good again and the sun is shining.
With some stops along the way I reach the 28 Mall shortly after 5pm.
Opposite the mall there is the old train station, a very scenic building from 1926 and a big
square with a statue of Cəfər Cabbarli, another metro station and what
seems to be another mall or a department store, LC Waikiki.
Inside the 28 Mall there is a supermarket in the basement and a food
court on the top level. Overall the mall is not that terribly
impressive. I spend some time in the mall and in the area around it.
Then Shirley and the kids arrive and spend some time in the mall.
Shortly before 6pm we start walking towards the pedestrian area of
the one including the fountain square.
The area is quite elegant and relatively clean, with many high end
shops along the way. Lots of neoclassical buildings with artistic
facades, some looking like Renessaince palaces. It's like a mix of
Paris and Dubai.
Walking slowly and with plenty of stops we get close to the fountain
square shortly before 7pm. There we spot an interesting restaurant.
Sort of a combination of a bakery and fast food restaurant, but serving
fresh food, salads, soups etc. The food looks quite delicious. We stop
there for dinner.
Then, at 7:40pm, we continue walking. It's now very close to sunset
(8:10pm) so we spend time on the fountain square until the blue hour.
Then I shoot some photos of the area, which is very scenic at night. A
fter that we walk back to the apartment. It's 1.8km only, but walking
very slowly with many stops we are back in the apartment at 9:30pm.
Apartment downtown view, Baku.
Weather: a mix of sunny, clouds and
overcast sky. Fresh, quite windy, no rain.
At 10am we are outside the flat waiting for the driver for the Qobustan
tour (40 USD, i.e. 70 AZN). The driver is delayed, he'll only arrive at
10:18am. The car is a comfortable Mercedes Viano minivan.
The plan for today is to do a tour of the Qobustan national park,
there are very old petroglyphs (up to 35000 BC) and mud volcanoes.
Initially the driver drives to the north which is strange because
Qobustan lies to the south of Baku. Later it becomes clear why he is
doing so: because the motorway has very few entry/exit points, people
are forced to drive for km to reach one of the few entry/exit points.
In fact, our driver will drive past the Qobustan national park,
continue driving for a few km to the south, finally make a U-turn, then
drive to the Qobustan motorway exit (which is only on the motorway side
Baku itself is a quite modern city with a lot of construction ongoing.
There is a good motorway running from north to south more or less along
(but it lacks entry/exit points). There are also some
industrial installations here and there.
Railway line running parallel to the coast. Overall the area around
Baku is quite dry (semi-desertic), relatively flat (few, small hills).
The Caspian Sea coastline is unimpressive. The seawater is
greenish/greyish/muddish and I don't see nice beaches.
At 11:29am we are at the Qobustan NP museum. 4 AZN ticket for adults,
0.20 AZN for kids. We first walk into a small museum which explains the
history of the area. Interesting that this area has already been
inhabited 40000 years ago. Some exhibits showing the prehistoric life.
At 11:45am we get back to the car and drive to where the petroglyphs (=
stone graffiti) actually are.
The entire area is quite flat, but in the
background I can see some rocky cliffs and some big rocks/boulders
lying here and there.
Then, at 11:50am we get out of the car and start walking along a paved
trail with staircases.
This brings us to a number of spots where there
are petroglyphs engraved into the rock. Interesting, although I have
already seen similar stuff in Kyrgyzstan (Cholpon Ata). In total we
spend about 20 minutes walking on this circular trail before getting
back to the car.
Now the driver drives for a few km to the south, then stops in a place
where a guy is waiting with an old car (cost is 15 AZN, we'll give him
Turns out that we'll use this old car to drive to the mud
volcanoes (the Mercedes Viano is not suitable). The road is bad, but
still paved, at least initially.
We pass by a place where some rubbish heaps are burning, then the road
becomes a dirt track. After that it's paved a bit again and finally
it's a muddy dirt track. The rain of yesterday has made this dirt track
very muddy. We drive through some quite deep water holes.
At 1pm we park at the mud volcanoes. These are conically shaped small
heaps of mud, where the mud in the centre is sort of boiling. But it's
not hot and it appears that it's just some gas bubbles which come out
here and there.
These mud volcanoes keep growing, because there is
always some liquid mud flowing out of them. Some volcanoes are already
extiguinshed, i.e. they don't grow anymore.
The girls manage to get mud on their chothes, shoes and skin. Shirley
is busy cleaning the shows of Natasha.
We leave this place at 1:25pm and drive back towards Baku. Shortly
before 2:30pm we stop in the Darya fish restaurant and have a lunch
there until 4pm. Then we drive back to the centre of Baku.
I get off the taxi opposite the historic core of Baku, while Shirley
and the kids continue to the fun fair north of the mall. I'll spend
some time exploring the old town,
visiting the maiden tower (8 AZN
entry ticket, locals pay only 2 AZN). Inside the Maiden Rower there is
a museum and an elevator. Nice views from the top (27m).
Around 7pm I reunite with Shirley and the kids and we have a simple
dinner in the food court. Then I get some cash from an ATM (the one in
the car parking below the mall) and we take a taxi and head back to the
Sheki Saray hotel, Sheki. 180 AZN for
a big nice room in a four star hotel. Good standard, with all amenities
of a four star hotel (nice furniture, carpets), separate kitchen,
bathroom with shower, free WLAN in the room. The hotel has a restaurant
and is relatively central in Sheki.
Weather: a mix of sunny, clouds and
overcast sky. The weather improves as we approach Sheki. Fresh in the
morning, warmer in the afternoon. No rain, but more or less windy
At 9:30am the driver which the Sheki hotel arranged for us is already
in the lobby waiting for us. Not sure if he is from Sheki and came
early morning to pick us up (but quite possible however, as the guy is
a bit tired). We put our luggage into the boots and start driving at
The transfer to Sheki includes a number of stops along the way
(Mereze - Diribaba, Shamakhi - Djuma mosque, Seven Mausoleum, Ismailly -
Lahic village) and costs 180 AZN. Without the stops it would have been
just 80 AZN (unbelievable for how little money people are willing to
drive you around in Azerbaijan).
Leaving Baku, we quickly reach the motorway to the west. This motorway
is complete only in some limited sections. In other sections it is
under construction. Maybe it will be complete in a few years. Still
it's amazing that in a relatively well-off country like Azerbaijan in
2017 a main motorway is still under construction.
We reach the Diri Baba mausoleum (Diri baba turbesi in Azeri) at
This is in the Qobustan province, 90km west of Baku, one km
out of the city of Maraza (or Mereze) in a canyon on a cliff. Hadn't
the hotel put this into my itnerary, I would have never known about
this place. It's quite old (completed in 1402), but both from the
outside and from the inside it's not that terribly impressive. I guess
it must be a special place for the Azeri people.
We spend 15 minutes in this place, then continue driving. The landscape
by the way has been quite dry, almost desert-like so far. It will
become green later, as we get more to the west.
The next stop is the city of Shamakhi, 123 km west of Baku. Here there
are two places to visit: the Juma mosque and the Yeddi Gumbaz
mausoleum. The Juma mosque (Cümə Məscidi in Azeri) is very photogenic
and in a very good shape, because it was reconstructed a few years ago,
after having been damaged in 1859, 1902 and 1918 (initial completion in
The interior is nicely decorated, and the floor is completely
At 12:20pm we drive to the Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum. This is a couple of
km out of Sharmakhi, on a hill overlooking the city, next to a
cemetery. Sort of scenic setting with all those old
tombstones. Probably an abandoned cemetery. Again a place which I
have never heard
of before. Probably means something to the local Azeri population.
the open mausoleum there are some blankets, i.e. somebody must be using
this as a place where to sleep at night.
At 12:50pm we leave and drive to the village of Lahic.
This is in a side valley in the mountains,
located at 1200m of
altitude. Access via a road which is initially paved, then becomes a
dirt track in the last km. Breathtaking scenery, with steep cliffs, a
narrow river valley. The landscape is now very green, i.e. this area
must be receiving enough rain. We reach the village at 2:15pm.
Lahic is actually highly recommended, as a place not to miss. In
reality it looks like a mountain village which is totally oriented
towards tourists. The houses have been restaurated and are even being
rebuilt in perfectly cute local style.
Along the main road there is one souvenir shop after the other. The
only thing which is missing are restaurants and cafes. I only see one
or two restaurants, both outside the village.
We don't spend much time in this place, because it's a bit hot under
the sun and there are no restaurants. We head back to the car and tell
the driver to bring us to the next restaurant. The driver says that the
restaurant immediately outside the village is overpriced (which is
plausible, i.e. it's likely that any restaurant here has tourist
prices) and that he knows a very good and cheap place. So we leave for
this place. We'll find out later that this very good value place is
actually overcharging us for the food.
We start driving towards Sheki and after a stop or two reach this
restaurant at 3:45pm. It's an open air restaurant where they serve
grilled food. After some discussion we order the grilled lamb. The food
is not bad, although I must say that there isn't that much meat in
those pieces of grilled lamb we get. The bill will total 40 AZN -
exactly 40, with no breakdown in items we ordered. The gus probably
made up some number and multiplied by two.
We continue driving at 4:30pm and, after a brief stop in Qabala, reach
the hotel in Sheki at 6:15pm. The scenery is great: the road drives
through dense forests, leter there are views of snow-capped Caucasus
Once in the hotel we check in. While Shirley takes a rest in the hotel,
I spend some time exploring Sheki. I take a taxi (3 AZN) to the castle.
The castle is very well preserved and open. Inside the castle there is
a park and a palace. Then I walk back to the hotel.
I notice that besides the castle and the caravanserai there isn't
actually that much to see in Sheki. Looks like this place is a bit
overrated. In the evening we have a dinner in the hotel.
Sheki Saray hotel, Sheki. As I learn
today, the trip to Tbilisi indeed costs 120 AZN. The 160 AZN I am
quoted is because the hotel charges a 40 AZN commission (!). The
breakfast is buffet type, quite good in my opinion.
Weather: overcast and rain in the
morning. After 12pm the sky opens up and the sun shines through. Then
it's sunny for a while, but in the later afternoon the sky closes up
again. Relatively fresh the whole day.
In the morning we have a breakfast, then head back to the room because
it is raining.
Shortly before 12pm the sky opens up and the sun shines.
So we get out and take a taxi to the castle (3 AZN, seems to be the
standard price here for this trip).
At 12:18pm we are in front of the castle gate. The entrance is free and
the castle interior is a big park. We walk to the Xan Sarayi palace,
passing by the Albanian church. The entrance costs 2 AZN for adults and
0.20 AZN for children.
Inside the compound there is a (simple) park and the actual palace. The
palace is richly decorated, both from the outside and the inside;
reminds me a bit of palaces in Iran. We don't spend too much time
inside the castle (kids play with a little dog), and shortly before 1pm
we walk out of the castle from the lower gate. We start walking slowly
down the road, back to the hotel.
Along the way, opposite the Sheki Palace hotel, there is the
caravanserai. This is a large complex built in the 18th century, with
an inner court and rooms facing the inner court on a lower and an upper
level. Entrance via a gate. The building is in a good shape which would
suggest that it has been restaurated recently. No entrance fee. Some
tourists today, but not too many (actually in the whole of Sheki we
don't see that many tourists). When we are about to leave, a group of
travellers with suitcases arrives in the caravanserai. Apparently this
is used as a hotel?
When we leave the caravanserai it's 1:30pm. We spend some time
exploring the area.
Actually there is not that much to see except for a
mosque, i.e. not that many historical buildings. In fact the whole of
Sheki is not that terribly impressive.
We walk down the road and look for a restaurant. Finally we find one,
the "Ovçular Restoranı". As there are not that many restaurants in
Sheki (maybe we should have just eaten something at the Sheki Palace
hotel), we sit down here and order something. It takes forever to get
the food and in fact we'll be here until well after 3pm.
When the food finally arrives, it's a bit disappointing. We had ordered
a complete roasted chicken (for four people). The waiter had ensured
that the meat was good. Well, the meat is not good (seems to be a very
old chicken) and there is very little meat. It's mostly skin and bones.
Perhaps they have taken away some of the meat of this chicken and only
served us the remains. The taste is so-so. Then the potatoes (or French
fries) are missing.
But the surprise comes with the bill. It's exactly 40 AZN and not
itemised. I ask to see again the menu to check how much exactly the
bill should be, because 40 AZN seems a bit a lot considering what we
ordered. We get the menu and now the chicken which previously cost 12
AZN is priced at 25 AZN, more than twice as before. Since both Shirley
and I remembered this price of 12 AZN, we discuss the matter with the
waiter. Now the waiter insists that the price is 25 AZN. But these 25
AZN price on the menu is just a sticker which has been freshly attached
to the menu. In fact it is easy to remove the sticker and below you
find the 12 AZN price.
We should actually call the police and make a report, because clearly
the waiter is cheating us. But if translate into Euro, we are actually
being overcharged only by 5-10 Euro (ok, the food was bad). In
addition, I'm with the kids and we have no time to do a police report.
And who knows if the police here is honest or corrupt. So we just pay
and leave this place.
I take some photos of everything and post a review of this place on
Google Maps. In fact in Google Maps there are other two reviews of this
place, all warning about this scam (the price doubling trick with the
menus). Next time, before I eat in a restaurant in Azerbaijan I'll
check if there are any reviews in Google Maps or elsewhere.
But honestly, what kind of country is Azerbaijan, where restaurants are
cheating tourists. You'd have to take a photo of the menu with the
prices and confirm with the waiter what the prices are and be ready to
call the police if necessary.
It's 3:45pm when we continue walking to the hotel. We get there at 4pm
and take a brief rest. After 5pm I take a taxi (15 AZN, go and come
back) to the Kish village, where I visit the Albanian church. Kish is a
small village in the mountains, 6km north of Sheki.
The road to Kish is mostly paved, except for the last km or so which is
partly a mud track and a cobblestone street. Kish itself is a remote
village in the mountains with many old houses.
The Albanian church (entrance fee: 3 AZN) is an old church (also known
as the Church of Saint Elishe) is an inactive 12th or 13th century
Caucasian Albanian church. The church is quite small and located inside
a compound with some archaeological excavations.
The church interior contains no decorations and is used as a museum
(there are some exhibits). Outside in the compound there is a nice
garden and an open tomb where you can see the skeleton of a human in
the ground. A bit creepy and not sure if it is such a good idea to
expose the bones of a dead human in such a way.
Shortly before 6pm I drive back to the hotel. In the evening we have a
dinner in the hotel. Tomorrow we drive back to Tbilisi.
Sheki -> Tbilisi
Hotel Marcos, Tbilisi. 60 Lari for a
(simple) room with attached bathroom with shower. Some furniture:
fridge, sofa, chair, table etc. Free WLAN.
Weather: sunny with a few clouds the
whole day. Quite hot, no rain.
At 10am we take the car for Tbilisi. It's the same driver who drove us
from Baku to Sheki. The trip proceeds smoothly and at 11:15m we reach
Zaqatala is a city along the way which the Lonely Planet guidebook
highlights. And near Zaqatala there is the village of Car (or Zar)
which is also recommended.
Zaqatala is a pleasant city with some historical highlights (the walls
of a fortress, the ruins of a Georgian church), a nice mosque and some
nice parks. But that's it more or less. And the compound of the walled
fortress/castle is a bit messed up, because instead of preserving it,
they have built all sorts of modern buildings inside. Disrespect for
We continue driving at 12:10pm and, after a stop, reach the border at
12:50pm. We'll end up spending almost one hour at the border. First, I
make the mistake of changing the excess Azeri Manat into Lari at the
Liberty bank. Very bad rate. Should have changed the money on the
Georgian side, where the rate is much, much better.
We have to get out of the car, and take one piece of luggage with us.
With that we have to walk for about 100-200m to the Azeri checkpoint.
Longish time there to process the passports. I have to get back to the
car and fetch the printouts of the Azeri VISAs.
Long time to process the Malaysian passport of Shirley. Then we walk to
the Georgian passport control. Very long time to get through this
checkpoint. The guy asks me if I have two passports. Totally stupid
question. Then he needs forever to process the passport of Shirley.
Alissia is relatively fast, but with Natasha everything gets stuck
Finally we reach the Georgian side. Surprise, surprise, there are
several money changers with good rates, and taxis waiting for customers.
Because it is already 2pm we decide to get to Tbilisi without stopping
for lunch somewhere (from the border to Tbilisi it's about two hours).
We proceed quite quickly and reach the hotel at 4pm. There we pay the
driver the 340 AZN (180 for Baku-Sheki + 160 for Sheki-Tbilisi) and a
23 AZN tip (all remaining Azeri cash we have).
Once in the hotel we check in and unpack our stuff. Some discussion
with the hotel manager. For 15 Lari a driver will bring us to the
airport tomorrow morning at 4am. A bit pricey for the 2km distance, but
we have no choice.
But they'll bring us for free to the East Point
mall. So at 5 something pm we drive to the East Point mall. We'll be
there until about 7:30pm, eating something and shopping a bit.
After that we take a taxi back to the hotel.
Some effort to find a
driver, because it is not so obvious where the hotel is (nobody knows
it). 25 Lari to get back to the hotel and from there drive to the city.
At 7:50pm I drop off Shirley and the kids at the hotel, then drive with
the taxi to the Trinity cathedral (Sameba cathedral).
There I meet Maia, who until 9:30pm will show me around a bit. First we
experience how the old patriarch of Georgia walks out of the church.
Quite interesting, very local culture scene. Then we drive on the other
side of the river (at the base station of the funicular) and walk up to
a church where there is a very artistic cemetery (lots of statues).
Finally we drive back into town and visit the mansion of a rich guy
(very decorated interiors). After 9:30pm Maia drives me back to the