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Explore Azerbaijan: Sheki

A travel guide for Azerbaijan

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During my first months in Azerbaijan I decided I wanted to explore as much of the country as I could. Azerbaijan is certainly one of those countries you can call "off the beaten path", so I wanted to share some of the hidden destinations you can find in the land of fire.

So first off lets venture off to "Sheki" (Şəki). Sheki is a small picturesque city situated in Northern Azerbaijan, by the lower parts of the Caucasus mountain range. The city is enveloped by green forests with snowcapped mountain tops in the background. Its a wonderful break from the semi-deserted capital, if you want to see some more lush nature and fresh air.

It was long past dark when we arrived in Sheki, and with the lack of street lights we could only see the outline of dark shapes and the sound of animals barking, mooing and bleating. We had been on a trip to meet an organization in Ganja, and as the meeting came to a close , we took a spontaneous decision to venture off up north. 40 AZN (≈40EUR) and 3,5 hour taxi drive later we arrived in this northern gem.

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The following morning we woke up early and going outside we were met with the marvelous sight of a lush mountain village. Not wanting to waste any time we set out to explore the city. As we were walking about the city we realized that the city had been redecorated to showcase its rich history; the streets were meticulously tidied and the houses renovated to showcase the traditional architecture and its rich history.

Sheki has a long history, dating back to 700 b.c when the Iranian people "Saka" came to settle the region. Since the original settlement the city was invaded several times and a variety of people have been ruling the city from Persian, Roman, Albanian and other rulers. Because of the invasions around the city most of the architectural remainders are only from the last few hundred years, but the city is a architectural pearl.

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From the center we walked the winding way up to the Palace of the Sheki Khan, which was the summer residence of the Khan. Built in 1797 it and its gardens is now the only remaining building from the Khan's fortress. The two store building is lavishly decorated with neat wooden decorations, and inside there are colorful glass mosaics and rich frescos.

After visiting the palace we walked back down to the center and passed by another remnant from the Khan; the Caravansarai. The building was built to house the caravans traveling on the silk road from China to Europe. It was the largest caravansary in the region and the building is still functioning as a hotel and restaurant. Its a nice place to visit to get a chance and a good hotel option if you want to follow in the footsteps of traveling merchants many centuries before.

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We only had a few hours in Sheki so we didnt have the chance to do more in depth exploration, but it was well worth the travel. If you have more time there are also some excellent hiking trails near the city. Its a beautiful place to visit whether you are just looking for a place to relax, or exploring Azerbaijani history and art.

Posted by CamillaS 22:52 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged travel guide azerbaijan caucasus sheki travel_guide off_the_beaten_path şəki Comments (0)

Day 365 - Celebrating one year abroad

One year in Azerbaijan

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Tuesday 2nd of June marks the one year anniversary of arriving in Azerbaijan, so I thought to note down a few reflections of the year abroad.

I vividly remember arriving at the airport in Azerbaijan, nervous, excited and full of wonder. It was a dizzying thought that this foreign country would be the place I would call home for the next year.

Standing in the shuttle bus at the airport I was looking at the people around, a few solemn looking businessmen looking bored and tired, an old woman leaning heavily on her son as the bus started driving, a little girl with pigtails and big brown eyes excitedly pointing at everything happening around. It seemed like the girl was the only one sharing my emotions of wonder and excitement for arriving in Azerbaijan. Her mother was wearily looking out without enthusiasm. Perhaps it was also the girls first time in Azerbaijan, or she was just happy to be back home, at any rate she was just as excited as me to finally be in Baku!

Now one year later I would probably be more like the bored business men arriving at the airport, the romantic honeymoon stage of my journey is lone gone, and has been replaced with routine of ordinary life. But I still remember and treasure the first few weeks when I was experiencing Azerbaijan for the first time.

One of the things I love with being abroad is the wonder of it all, how you can be like a child again exploring and discovering the world. Okay, I admit, that might be a bit of a romantic take on it, at times adapting to a new country is more a feeling of frustration, embarrassing and helpless. But for sure

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My experience somehow came to a full circle at the 365th day (That would be Tuesday 2nd June 2014). I was showing an intern around the city and to her new work. The girl had just arrived a few days earlier and all of this was very new for her. I took her around to her new work, took her out to lunch in one of my favorite restaurants and talked about the experience of living in Azerbaijan.

Over the last year I have gotten used to many things I couldn't understand in the beginning. For example when the bus we were supposed to take to the city suddenly changed its route and started going in the opposite direction. A year ago, I would be lost, but now I had gotten used to the roads and paths and managed to find our way from his strange route. Dealing with narcissistic businessmen (who of course were late for our appointed meeting time by 50 minutes). Who arrogantly told us “yes, yes, we can negotiate the working hours”, though we already have a clear contract on it. I found myself firmly repeating the same contract to him and what they had agreed on, I have started to understand the language of business now and learned the hard way that every condition, deliverable and requirement needs to be stared clearly. (And to always have a wide buffer in the timeline, as nothing will happen on time.

The last year has been a (for the lack of better words) rollercoaster. It has been amazing, frustrating, perspective-changing exhausting and unforgettable experience. Its not over yet, I still have 28 more days to go, and I plan on making more memorable experiences! F758041E2219AC681719A6C2A04DA066.jpg2013-06-24_21_32_15-1.jpg2013-06-24_20_09_25-2.jpg

Posted by CamillaS 22:05 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged picture reflection baku azerbaijan abroad living_abroad 2014 one_year_abroad Comments (0)

Flowers and Art in Azerbaijan

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Last weekend summer temperature finally set in and like a true Norwegian decided to utilize it by spending the weekend outside. (I only have 40-something days left in summer-sun before returning to a more mellow climate in Norway).

So what did I do on these days out? Well we had two festivals in the city, first of all Saturday was "Flower Day" in Azerbaijan and all the parks were elaborately decorated for the occasion. Roses, lilies and all the other flowers I don't know the name of were represented. Flowers were arranged to show pictures, inside archways and to make sculptures.

The other festival is the "Maiden Tower art festival". The maiden tower is a old brick tower situated in the edge of the old city of Baku. It's a symbol of the old city and there are a lot of legends and stories surrounding it. For many months the towers was closed due to restoration, and after nearly a year closed the tower is again accepting visitors to discover its history. On each of the 7 floors you can discover a different theory about the tower and see Baku's development through the past 700 years.

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There are many rivaling stories about the tower, but most of them say it was named after the Khan's daughter. She was a beautiful young maiden who fell in love with a commoner, her father was enraged by this and killed the boy. To make sure this wouldn't happen again, he constructed a tower to hide her away. The unhappy girl despised her prison and anguished for her love, so in desperation she threw herself of the roof and fell to her death where she was reunited with her love.

Now back to the art festival, the festival is an annual celebration of the maiden tower, and it allows international and local artist to paint their version the story. A few dozen mini-maidentowers were represented. Norway was there as well, though I have to say I liked last years contribution more..

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Posted by CamillaS 00:04 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged flowers summer sightseeing spring baku azerbaijan abroad flower_day maiden_tower art_festival Comments (0)

Happy Novruz

New Year Celebration in Azerbaijan

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The months have flown by and I realize I have neglected updating this blog. But I do have some lovely events and places to catch you up about.

Last month Azerbaijan celebrated new year, better known as the Novruz holiday! The celebration marks the start of springtime and a new year. The preparation started a month before the actual holiday with Fire, Water, Earth and Wind weeks celebrated with bonfires and candles each Tuesday. But the proper celebration started on Holiday eve with a family dinner and Novruz games!

I was surprised to see many similarities of the Norwegian Easter traditions in the Novruz celebration. Easter and Novruz is even celebrated around the same time. Much like the modern Norwegian easter Novruz is a family-centric holiday, its a time to celebrate, eat good food, candy and be with family. Its not religious, but stems from the pre-Islamic period of Azerbaijan and its fire-worshipping traditions.

How to celebrate Novruz?
Eggs, children traditionally paint the eggs colorfully, but if you are a bit lazy just put a stamp or a plastic egg wrapper aroud it. You can also have an egg fight! You and your opponent have one egg each and takes turns trying to crack the others egg. If your egg cracks you loose.

Fire Fire plays a special role in Azeri tradition, and especially during Novruz times. During the dinner candles are lit for each person at the table. But more excitingly are the bonfires that marks the streets! All over the city people make bonfires to jump over. You should jump over it three times while wishing for what you want for the next year; this ensures you are cleansed and ready for the new year.
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Sweets & games It wouldn't be a celebration without sweets. The traditional sweets for this time is Shekibura, Baklava as well as dried fruits and nuts. Children also go to the neighbors knocking the door, quickly running away before they are seen but leaving their hats. The person opening the door should leave sweets in the hat for the children to pick up later

Predicting the Future new years is often a time of reflection and making wishes for the year ahead, and that also plays a part of Novruz. Predictions in particular are important. One way is to sneak up to your neighbors door trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. This will predict what the next year will bring to you. There is also many games and activities for single girls to predict who is their future husband, I didn't manage to take a part of that this year though..

Again I should mention this is not a religious holiday, so its mainly fun and games, but it was a very interesting thing to be a part of, take a look at these clips of some of my celebration of Novruz 2014 :)

Posted by CamillaS 02:23 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged new year baku azerbaijan abroad celebration living_abroad novruz Comments (0)

Frozen Palms: Snowfall in Baku

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Hey there,

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Its been a long time since I've updated, but I'll get back on track now. I've already celebrated my 8th month in Baku, and started the countdown of the last 4 month.

Last week we got a bit of a surprise when it suddenly started snowing in Baku, and the snow actually stayed for nearly one week! It started snowing Thursday evening and to my surprise and delight there was a beautiful coat of white snow when I woke up Friday morning!

A bit of chaos ensued then with cars going of the road, work and schools closing, as a 10cm layer of snow covered the city. Now it would be easy for a Norwegian to make fun of the chaos over so little snow, but for a country not prepared to handle a nordic winter even a little snow creates big challenges for busses, cars and such.

But for myself it was just a fun little taste of Norwegian winter (though there is no snow in Trondheim right now). So other than a few meetings being cancelled, the week opened for allowed for watching people have snowball fights and making snowmen and fall when they are trying to walk on the ice-covered ground.

Posted by CamillaS 05:42 Tagged snow baku azerbaijan living_abroad 2014 Comments (0)

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