15 years on the road and our 100th country: Azerbaidjan

It's been 15 years since we left Finland to wander the world. Azerbaijan became our 100th country as we visited Baku, which is within a short train trip from Georgia.

From Georgia to Azerbaidjan

There is a daily train service from Tbilisi to Baku. It leaves at 8:50 PM and arrives in Baku at 8:50 AM the next morning. The trains are Soviet style with three classes: first, kupé and platzkart. We favour platskart, because it is more spacious and less dusty. The trains have Soviet style toilets that are locked when the train stops at a station, and a samovar for getting hot water for tea and noodles. In Russiajust like in China — most of these old trains have been replaced by new, faster, and more expensive express or bullet trains.

The border formalities start within one hour from the departure. You don't need to exit the train as the officials come to check your passports and visas in the train. Normally the only question they will ask you is whether you have ever visited Armenia. The process is slow. It took a couple of hours before we were finally able to go to sleep.

Note that you can only buy a one-way train ticket on the Georgian side, and the ticket must be bought at a railway station in cash. If you return to Georgia, you have to buy the return ticket at Baku railway station where they accept credit cards. Tickets from Georgia are about 20% cheaper than from Azerbaidjan.

Baku

Baku is a mix of Soviet Union, Middle-Eastern, and European cultures. The city is very quiet, which felt weird after Georgia where people make much ado about nothing. Most people in Baku seem to work in the city centre and commute to suburbs, which means that the city is quite empty in the evening. It is the same in Minsk, Belarus. There are also other similarities between these two cities. Both are about the same size (Baku 2,2 million inhabitants, Minsk 2 million), they are quite clean, there are big streets and boulevards, and like in all former Soviet Union countries including Armenia, there are pompous parks with pompous statues.

The Baku city center can be easily walked around within one day. English is not widely spoken but you can always find someone to help if you get lost. It also helps that Azeris use Latin alphabet unlike the neighbouring countries Russia, Armenia, and Georgia. As there are not too many tourists around, you will attract attention and people will try to do their best to help you.

We like to visit local supermarkets on our travels but in Baku we were slightly disappointed. Prices seem to be regulated so that various chains have the same prices. For vegan foods the selection is very limited. You can find Russian eggplant spread, ikra, everywhere but that's about it. The prepared food sections have only super salty pickles available. For bread, there is the Armenian flatbread called lavash, a local round white loaf, and some Russian white and brown bread wrapped in plastic. It was nice to notice that local bread was not poisoned with excessive amount of salt like in Georgia. Fortunately it was the apple season so we didn't have to starve!

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