Back Home

With travel restrictions and social distancing rules now step by step easing up, it was time for a trip back home to my parents and the village, I did grow up in.

Obviously we had to adjust our activities to these weird times – and ended up doing some walks and hikes in the vicinity – featuring some nice views of mountains, fields, pastures, meadows and villages down in the valley. While no real adventure, a very welcome break from my solitary walks around my fairly flat new home. Below some photos …

Corona Spring

Well – this spring did not quiet go as expected. Per my original plan, I was booked for another epic trip, starting with a couple of days in Sydney, followed by a jump over to New Caledonia and then an expedition cruise to Palau via the Solomon Islands and the east coast of Papua New-Guinea … and then came Corona.

Needless to say – my trip got cancelled and I found myself looking at a completely changed situation and world – social distancing did become the norm, travel was impossible and the focus put on home – with most of the time spent at home …

The exploration did continue though – as I spent plenty of time for walks in and around the forests and fields in the vicinity – starting with the already known trails and roads, to eventually spread out further and explore some of the more hidden or further away areas. Below some photos, that I have taken in the two month period between mid March and mid May. Some locations are a short 15 minute walk away from my flat, while others require a more involved 45 minute walk (one way).

Wining at the Main River Bend

For my birthday my parents had given me a voucher for a wining trip to Volkach at the bend of the Main river in the Franconia region.

It was now – the weekend before we Christmas – that we finally made it to Volkach for a weekend of sightseeing, walking through vineyards, cellar tours – and of course the one or other tasting. Below some photographic evidence …

Conclusion in Baku

We were heading back to town now, with a first stop in the outskirts of Baku, at Bibiheybat Mosque. It was not the mosque though, that we were interested in, but its square, offering nice view over Baku’s port.

From the mosque we did proceed to our last official stop, the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre / (Heydər Əliyev Mərkəzi). We spent some time looking at the building and its unusual architecture from the outside, though eventually did proceed to the inside.

The inside – next to a different view on the building itself – featured a number of exhibitions on various topics (some of which fairly random … some fairly good, other less so).

From the center it was – via a market (for some final souvenir shopping) – back to the hotel. With our flights scheduled in the very early morning, we knew a short night was a head of us and with half the group being sick, we did not manage a final group dinner.

The trip has been an interesting one – covering three countries, a total of seven UNESCO world heritage sites (six cultural, one natural), two mosques and at least 30 churches and monasteries – all of which at high pace.

During the trip the similarities – but also differences between the three countries have become obvious – from religion, food, drinks to the development after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting political systems.

Though – what did become apparent – even with this long and (according to the trip brochure) all-encompasing trip, we had just scratched the surface – with all three countries deserving a return … though then (at least for me) with a focus on nature and less so on culture and history.

Mud & Rocks of Qobustan

This morning we were leaving Baku, heading South for Qobustan.

At a service station we changed into a smaller van and made our way out into the desert, following some dirt roads – the destination being the Qobustann Mud Volcanoes.

The volcanoes are part of the Gobustan National Park and its museum was the next stop here. Focus of the museum – next to the geological details – is on the prehistoric carvings/ petroglyphs found in one area of the park. Of course that area – the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape was on our agenda next.

During a walk we were able, to see the carvings, but also to get a feeling of the environment around us – plus some good views towards Baku and the ocean. There was also an opportunity for a quick lunch here.

Baku at Night

After a day of sightseeing, we were hungry, so made our way to a restaurant quickly. After dinner we ended up in a cafe for tea, baklava and hookah (for those, who wanted – not for me though), afterwards some of us wanted to proceed for a drink with a view.

We somehow assumed, the flame towers would be a good place to do so (is there a better building for a rooftop bar?), so we made our way through town to the funicular, got on the last train of the day and eventually made it into Highland Park. We had another walk over to the viewing platform for some nighttime views of town. From here it was back to the flame towers, where – to our surprise – we ran into a construction site with two of the three towers closed off and parts of the third tower also not finished. Well – needless to say, there was no such thing as a sky or rooftop bar here. We ended up heading back towards the old town and finally found a good option there … directly looking at the flame towers.

Land of Fire

We were picked up by our bus at the end of the city tour, now leaving the city and heading East further out on the Absheron peninsula.

Our first stop was at the Ateshgah Zoroastrian Fire Temple (Atəşgah Zərdüşt Od Məbədi). While the area itself has been a place of worship since the 7th century, the buildings, we were looking at here, only date back to the 17th and 18th century. While now “sold” as Zoroastrian temple, it indeed has been a place of worship also for Hindus and Sikhs. The fire originally was fed through natural gas seeping through, today however it is coming in via pipe.

From the fire temple we continued to Yanar Dag (Yanardağ), the site of the burning mountain. Natural gas is seeping through a porous sandstone layer, the gas got eventually lit (with many stories around how and when) and is burning ever since. While impressive in itself, it also tells loads about the vast amount of energy, that Azerbaijan is literally sitting on – – clearly they have reason, to consider themselves as the Land of Fire.

Baku – first Impressions

We made it into Baku in the late afternoon. After some time, to freshen up (or an attempt in getting opera tickets), we left the hotel again – for some first exploration of town.

We made the short walk over to the gate into the old town, to then head into the direction of the waterfront. There were obviously some VIPs in the area, some of the narrow streets and pathways in the old town were essentially blocked off and we had to find ways around – – though eventually we made it out of old town and down to the waterfront and promenade. We were first heading towards the Ferris Wheel, passing by the massive flag pole (of course with flag – and once upon a time the world’s biggest … well until Tajikistan came out with theirs), Baku’s little Venice (perfect for kitsch-lovers) and the carpet museum. We eventually hit a major construction site, where we turned around now heading back along the waterfront.

We soon left the waterfront and were now looking at the modern shopping area up to fountain square, where we also ended up having dinner.