Thursday, August 25, 2011

Decor details

By popular demand:

 this room features an entire wall mirrored, with naked lady/piano photo

bathroom detail


Some views from atop Maiden's Tower (dating from 1400-something) in the old city. An overcast day.

And down below, in the old city

Hats, and carpets for sale

Outside the old city, along the "Bulvar".  English taxis, painted purple,with billboard photo of President in background.


Met our upstairs neighbor last evening, after an increasing crescendo of drops rained down the bathroom and kitchen ceilings. Tom went upstairs, knocked on the door and said "su" (water), pointing down. "Oh, you must be the new neighbors downstairs"...  Well, really not that many people speak English here!

  • guy with an I heart Paris shirt. Nearby, a woman with I heart Sydney
  • signs:  Renesans Decor, Dijital Foto
  • no one but me with an umbrella in the rain--maybe the wind too often makes umbrellas impractical? They know the rain will be short-lived?They like to be wet?
Some houshold items are proving very difficult to find: bathtub drain plug, clothes hangers, feather(or?)  duster, small lock and key (for mailbox), bath mats, a solid color--sigh.


"Baku" means city of wind

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

photo revelation and latest from Baku

One block from our apartment--they cost a dollar, and YUM
Well well well. Apologies to you dear reader. I have just figured out that I can upload full size photos here, thanks to superior internet capability I suppose. So you hopefully won't have to squint and use your imagination quite so much.


wind tunnel street
It isn't windy every day, but when it is, the side street leading to the main thoroughfare becomes a veritable wind tunnel. Today I had to lean into it--felt like a 45 degree angle. Good thing I am not a skinny stick or I might have drifted hopelessly askew. 

building on the corner

The hair is limp straw in this climate, the skin cries out for emollients, which fortunately I have brought a healthy supply of (except that mostly it is in the boxes sent from Tacoma that haven't reached us yet). Also sunblock.

"Our" subway station, the Old City
Each subway stop has its own few bars of identifying music, that let you know, rather pleasantly, which stop is coming up.

At our local station (see photo), new and dramatic escalators carry us surprisingly deep for being so close to the sea, and feature lights that alternate colors, to amuse us as we descend. Far more exciting are the older, Soviet built escalators, which move at a very rapid pace. At the bottom of each escalator, new or old, sits a matron in a booth.
T and approaching train

Below, the Old City walls. Just beyond the walls on one side are a row of stores: Bulgari, Dior, Emporio Armani...  They face the "Bulvar" --the long park at the edge of the Sea.

On Sunday we spent three hours trying to find the English-speaking church, held at the Baku International School (ed note: Tom's school is The International School of Azerbaijan).  There is no sign for the Baku Int'l School. Well-meaning souls directed us to three or four international schools (wow, there are lots!) around town. Two subway rides, one lasting more than 20 minutes, and--I've lost count but I think 7 bus rides, not to mention considerable walking in the 90+ degree heat, led us to an English speaking heroine (on the last bus), who walked us all over the neighborhood, quizzing shopkeepers, until we found the place, an anonymous looking door in a high wall. Sheesh.  The lady turned out to be Christian, perhaps that provided extra motivation, though her desire to aid us was undoubtedly genuine in any case. She invited us to her house for tea (we declined, exhausted). We invited her to come to church there the following week. Tom is going to check in to child care for her, and call her on Saturday.

One of the nearby fountains

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Scenes from Baku

Near our apartment are the National Art Musuem, the State Puppet Theater, and the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic. And many other grand buildings. Everything seems to be lit up at night (grateful we are just out of eye-shot from the apartment).

We joined a health club today.  Pricey (but they all are), and a bus ride away, but it is on the 9th and 10th floor of a building and has great views of the Caspian Sea from the ellipticals and the cityscape from the sauna...  Feels good to work out again. As in Beirut, we will do lots of walking here, but it isn't quite enough. (And will be brrrrrrr in the winter wind!)

Looks like K will have no trouble finding ESL work. She has already had nibbles from three private language schools, without any formal effort.

Assorted notes:
  • on the bus, men stand for women or children, women for older women
  • at a larger grocery store (hard to find!! 6 kinds of flavored mayo in refrigerated squeeze packets (e.g. olive)
  • at the nearby traffic circle, police lay in wait to nab miscreants who fail to stop at traffic lights
More pix for you ~
Baku by night

and day

Along the "Bulvar",  the Caspian Sea

The shopping mal, on the Bulvar--facing the Sea

On the Metro (subway)

Tom relaxing under the watchful eye of the landlord's daughter


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Baku bits

Some things are fun and easy to figure out:  Italyan restorani, bulvar, komponi, komputur (but also kompyutor and kompu-with an umlaut-t-then a schwa-r).
Others more challenging. Confusion results from two places having the same names (e.g. 28 May subway station and 28 May Street, which are several blocks apart, ditto Nizami) but there are actual addresses, unlike Beirut---yay. Gradually we will find our way around, and have already made some headway with buses.  On Sunday we made it out to a vast market 8 km outside the city. First we took the bus in the wrong direction and had a tour of downtown, but after completing the loop it then headed out along the Caspian coast toward the market.

The coast in that area features apparent vacation homes, new and multistory, facing a beach that looks quite bleak, with oil derricks near and far. The wind is frequently very strong and so beach umbrellas have a very sturdy look. A Ramada Hotel looks a bit fororn in that landscape.

The market (sorry no pix, was focused on shopping!) is like a US outlet mall gone wild. Clothing and household goods under several vast roofs. We loaded up on things we hadn't been able to find in the city: electric adapters, silverware, plastic bins and stepstools, an ironing board cover.  Thankfully the school gives us a generous "settling in" allowance.

Below, some typical downtown street scenes. The first is one entrance into the Old City.

Many things are expensive but two are very cheap: bread and watermelons. Guess you could live on that. A loaf of sliced bread 40 cents max and a 10 pound watermelon less than a dollar.  Today spent over $4 for a small jar of peanut butter.

Yesterday jumped through several bureaucratic hoops to get internet ordered for the apartment. Today the first steps in a quest for TV cable service.

Whimsical stone carvings in the Old City

 Apparently a large fountain very near us is "musical".  Lots of things to investigate!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fresh eyes

First, the apartment. It took a couple of days but I have come to my senses and started to settle in. The apartment isn't that bad--it was a shock, but it isn't that bad. I realized that most of the knickknacks left behind were intended to add to the d├ęcor. The wallpaper is actually new, and the place has just been painted. Few staff live in palaces, or have tasteful furniture. The apartment we saw in April was an exception, and it wasn't downtown. One administrator gave up trying to get the school to move all the extra furniture from her apartment. It isn’t that they don’t care, it just isn’t a priority; it shouldn’t matter. The furnishings are not the reason we are here. Not that we will give up trying to make it more are some of the chairs we really need to get rid of, with wallpaper behind. Not shown: two 6' long credenzas. Make the school a lovely, comfortable place—that is a priority. Fair enough. And as for shopping convenience, Baku ain’t Beirut or, obviously, the US.  Small neighborhood stores (say, 8 X 15’) are the norm, and serve a surprisingly large area. Tiny vegetable stands on the sidewalk ditto. (I think they retreat to stairwells in the winter). Probably I will walk 15 minutes to one larger store and could take the bus back from it. Occasionally a two-bus trip will get me to a Russian products store that is more reasonable and has a wider selection. The Indian-owned supermarket 20 minutes’ walk down the Bulvar (= Boulevard, Corniche, seaside) turns out to not be really worth the effort. But it wouldn't matter what part of town we are in--shopping options are largely the same.

Here is one early effort at easing the trauma of the onslaught of garish design--flip the bedspread over.

Baku! Fascinating place. Many, many massive administrative buildings and museums—think Washington, D.C. or even Rome in design. An utterly charming walled old city, UNESCO heritage site. In fact we walk through the old city to get the Metro (subway), about 10 minutes away. Contrasting with the classical, sedate and often ornate public buildings are dramatic modern high rises. Three shaped like flames jut into the sky from the hill behind where we live, making great landmarks. Much construction: dismantling or refurbishing of old, building of new, in both classic and modern styles. Small parks and fountains abound.

Old style building with modern behind, above, and from closer up, below.

Corner where we catch the bus

And below, Tom in front of our building.

There is a W O N D E R F U L story about the parks! It is surprising to realize that this place is essentially a desert. In the 1860s/70s when British oil executives found themselves pining for England’s greenery, they hit on a plan: tankers carrying oil were levied a special tax, payable if they returned empty, but waived if they returned with cargos of soil and saplings! Brilliant. And a canal was dug from the Russian border (300+  miles!) to bring water to care for them. And voila, the many parks of Baku, almost every one of which has a fountain.
The guide book says that at least one of the filling stations in the city dispenses not gasoline, but water.

A fountain in front of the old city walls

Other fascinating notes: GDP has grown 1000% in the last decade.  95% of the economy is based on oil and gas. At one time, Azerbaijan once provided 50% of the world’s oil. Though the end of the oil reserve is in sight, natural gas was recently discovered. Oil and gas have produced an attractive, somewhat cosmopolitan city. Surprising, no Starbucks as yet.
For the record, it was about 17 hours of flying from Seattle,  34 hours door to door due to long layover in NY.

Tom navigated us to a large covered market. We started out at our local subway stop, which sports a glass pyramid that is positively Lourvre-esque, and walked many blocks. At the market (sorry no pix) the smell of fresh dill and peaches waft over. Also warm meat, but we won’t dwell on that here.

----more to come

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Baku apartment

Bad 2- star hotel? Brothel? More kindly, think tacky summer beach rental.  Mostly cheap, mismatched furniture, way too much of it, and the most garish wall paper you can imagine, up to four different patterns in one room. Striped furniture that manages to be in a different color scheme than ALL the wall paper. Chandeliers that are quite nice, really, but just too much.  An unlit entry way that is wide open to the world, stray cats on the steps, quickly leading to a flight of steps with no handrail.  Knickknacks that are hideous to me but apparently meant something to the landlady, as did no doubt the large portrait of her daughter in a chunky gold plastic frame on the wall in the living room. A Santa Claus cookie jar leers out from atop the fridge, “ho ho ho!”. There is no desk or bookcase. A table crammed into the kitchen makes it is impossible for two people to be there at the same time. What were they thinking?? Other staff have near palaces up the hill.
On the plus side: a great location in downtown, in a good neighborhood (though largely store-less) near the boulevard along the Caspian Sea and near the old city. Several bus lines a couple of blocks away. Plenty of light. A/C and hot water. Quiet. The mixed: there is a balcony but it is unusable due to 1) awkwardness trying to reach it and 2) piles of junk left behind by the landlady. Decent water pressure in the shower but the holder is broken so it is hand-held only. The shower sits above a non-functioning Jacuzzi.  A brand new microwave just for us; the many control buttons are all in Russian. Sigh and double sigh.

En route

Delta Airlines: no blankets, cold food and headsets for sale, no movie
Turkish Airlines: personal video screens with 100+ movies on demand, pillow, blanket, eyeshade, socks, lip balm, toothrbush. Maps shwing the flight route, cameras showing what is below and ahead. Foot rest and folding head rests. Free booze. Lots of food.
. . . . . . .
Crossed just about everything off the USA shopping list during our month there, spending a thousand dollars or more in the process. It's once a year, Tom has to remind me. Had quality face time with many old and dear friends. I feel stocked up, full and ocntented, ready to go forward.
On board, perusing the SkyMall catalogue, we view a number of tracking, eavesdropping and covert filimg devices, high tech speakes, a variety of elaborate dog beds, fancy suitcases, and survival gear. All of which pretty much sums up what seems prevalent in current American culture: convenience, paranois, pampered pets. We had notices many more smart phones this year than last, and even larger flat screen TVs than before. SO many luxurious conveniences, taken for granted. Is the US tops in luxury-for-most? DOn;t know, having not spent time recently in Europe or maybe Japan. The dark side of all the technology is the barrier that it presents, the lack of human contact, the initiative squelched by automated customer "service," gas pumping, grocery store self checkouts, canned security questions. People get jammed into predetermined size boxes that purport to fit all. I love visiting but I love the out-of-the-box-ness of wilder places too.