Baku seems to be having a party. Not sure why. Dave is too ill to enjoy it, i’m too tired. Baku has been great, but i’m really hoping the ferry to Turkmenistan goes on time, and i can’t wait to get to "the stans".
Not much of baku seems all that old, but the old bit is quite nice, puts me in mind of a james bond rooftop chase scene. Baku seems to be gearing up for celebrations of some sort, I think tomorrow is a public holiday. Been ripped off with tourist prices all day. Will have to get better at haggling. It’s easy to know when you’re being given inflated prices because 1 manat is about 1 pound. Farid says "the first thing in azerbaijan is the deal". He also said when he first met us and heard that we’d rode our bikes all the way from england, "you guys are f***ing crazy!", so he seems to be pretty much on the ball. Baku is quite hard to navigate, couldn’t find the hotel for a while, but now back in the room for a brief bit of relaxation before meeting up with russell and nathan later.
Baku is incredible, too hard to describe. A new bolt of astonishment round every corner. Loads of ex pats here, but i bet none of them realise how astounding this place is because they will have flown in and just arrived in a big city, not ridden 5096 miles to get here, passing through the rest of this country and everything leading up to it. I want to live in Baku, and i want a Lada with an air horn that sounds like a police siren. Seems to be de rigeur here. That or a big merc with blacked out windows and your hazard lights flashing, hand permanently on the horn button.
Farid arrives at the red lion, with his friend on a Fazer. We follow on our bikes at crazy speed through crazy traffic, even though farid is probably taking it easy for us. Good job he knows where the ferry port is, we would never have found it. Blasting through the traffic following farid is great fun, having a blast, not like nervously trying not to have an accident and not knowing where to go. Farid talks to the customs people, we don’t know what the hell is going on, but farid sorts it out. Amazingly, Nathan arrives on his suzuki. We leave the bikes in the customs area, farid negotiates a reduced ticket cost, we have to go back on tuesday morning to buy the ticket and get on the ferry. Farid races off on the bike and flags down a taxi, then taxi races bike back across town. While i shoot video from the back seat, farid’s friend talks on his mobile on the pillion seat as farid loops and swerves in and out of the traffic, in jeans and t-shirt. I’ve never felt so utterly uncool as i am in comparison to these two! Back to the air conditioned cool of the hotel, a cold coke from the fridge, a shower in the nicest bathroom of the trip by a factor of 1 million, and later we are meeting farid and co for a night out in baku and the finest kebabs this city has to offer.
Baku is astounding. An utterly astonishing oasis of western decadence in an otherwise barren and ugly country. The city is spectacular. We’ve only seen a small part, from the bike while concentrating on negotiating traffic, but it looks incredible. It’s like a mixture of paris, london, brussels, saint petersburg. Around the hotel looks like paris, leafy tree lined cobbled streets, cafes, trendy girls wandering about. The only thing that gives it away are the battered ladas parked amongst the mercedes. I’m already loving this city, now that we’re out of the rubbish part, so much so that i’m thinking about getting a job here after this trip. We’re now having some delicious food in a little place just around the corner from the red lion hotel, it could be a swish london cafe. Farid, our local helper is coming round in an hour to help us figure out the ferry. We had stopped at a posh hotel we saw, and they helped up find the red lion, after much calling around. Then Farid took a taxi to show us the way, and we had to chase it at break neck speed to get here. Turns out that Farid is a biker and is offering to help us find our way around. He seems like a very nice guy. Amazingly, there’s a picture of the tyne bridges on the wall of the hotel room. I love it here, and we’ve got two days to enjoy it.
Azerbaijan has been miles of nothing but poverty, with mostly unfriendly people and very few facilities like cash machines, hotels, petrol stations that take credit cards. At one petrol station today, all the attendants had gold teeth, in numbers seemingly proportional to age. Albania was nothing but petrol stations, azerbaijan is nothing but furniture shops. Road to Baku under construction, as with so many other roads we’ve been on. When it finally led on to the recently finished part at the baku end, with perfectly smooth tarmac, it was a joy and a relief. It’s really getting hot now, over 40 today. Azerbaijan landscape could be mars at times, really odd and getting properly desert-like. Italian driving is manic, albanian driving is crazy, in azerbaijan it’s just moronic. Dave put it best; "like driving the wrong way up a dual carriageway". All of a sudden, baku appears and is a huge city with modern hotels, fashion shops, glitzy buildings, luxury cars. Totally unexpected, and utterly incongruous. Finally found a hotel cheap enough, unfortunately no wifi, air con, proximity to city centre, or any clean surfaces. We found a half decent bar, suprisingly with english speaking staff and a private booth with our own tv, including CNN in english. They also have an english menu. I’m hoping for much better things tomorrow, once we get the bikes safely behind the line at ferry customs before the transit visas for our bikes run out. With our beer comes chicken wings. It turns out to be a whole baby chicken, about 3 inches long. Tasty, but insubstantial. Baku looks like an amazing place, so i’m really hoping we get lucky with finding a hotel and the ferry port, and that we can enjoy some of what the city has to offer.
A strange day. Took advantage of being ahead of schedule to do some bike maintenance. Laptop decided to work again, hotel internet didn’t. Short ride to the border and a very slow transit through customs, then onto another dreadful road. Why are international border crossings at the end of really bad dirt roads, even though there are hundreds of big trucks going each way? And as with so many other crossings, there seemed to be a new road being built. I didn’t expect roads at border posts to be so bad, and i don’t understand why so many are suddenly being re-built. Odd. As was the scenery, traffic, police activity and everything else about this country. Headed for the biggest town en route to the capital, and after riding around town for half an hour happened across probably the only hotel in town. It has a half decent shower of a complimentary toothbrush, which makes it about one toothbrush better than a travelodge.
Woke up at 4.30 to the sound of another call to prayer, even though we’re seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Woke up again at 6 to a beautiful sunny day, clear blue skies and already warm. Dug out the laptop to plot a route, now that tomtom is out of scope, only to find that it has conveniently broken again. Great. Still, after 2 nights camping wild, which isn’t much better than sleeping rough, i think we’re both thinking of finding a hotel in Tbilisi, so maybe a bit of luxury will soothe the disappointment of technology going kaput. Border crossing takes a long time, but is easy, and there’s no cost. Rubbish exchange rate getting rid of turk lira. Gravel road from the border sets expectations low. First proper georgia actually really pretty, much nicer than turkey, and road becomes good tarmac. Wrong turn leads to local offering to show us the way back to the main road, but he leads us to the institute of biological farming, where a girl who speaks english asks all about us. Eventually we find the way out. Burgers at the road side by a river. Tbilisi ugly and full of major loon drivers. No road signs. Cross temporary bridge next to remains of bombed out original. Airport hotel idea a total failure, no hotels, but do spot one on the way. Rain, dark skies and heavy rain, more mad traffic. Back to hotel, turned out to be perfect. Gorgeous girl on reception. Russian beer. Nice georgian food. Georgian wine really sweet. Georgian girls really sweet. Dutch guy in hotel, seems very pleased to have english people to speak to, plus he is a biker, rides a beemer. Nice to have comfort and relative luxury, and to be out of the rain.