Travelling in Azerbaijan?
July 5, 2011 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Travelfilter: Azerbaijan for Eurovision. Recommendations and where to travel afterwards.

I and a friend are planning to go to Eurovision in Baku (woohoo!). We'll be mainly in Baku, but would also like to do some travelling around and would love suggestions about where else we could travel to via transit (preferably train); we could rent a car, I guess, but neither of us is that keen on this. We also want to go to another country in the region and so far we've come up with these options:

1. Georgia. Train from Baku to Tiblisi (we both love train travel).
2. Kazakhstan via ferry (despite our love of trains this was our first choice, but it looks as if the ferries are very few and far between and it might not work very well)
3. Turkmenistan via ferry (the ferries seem more reliable for this)

Has anyone ever done this? What would you recommend? Are there any hidden snags in any of these options that we should know about?

For information: we are two Irish women travelling on Irish passports, both in our 30s. We love trains. We are pretty easy going, don't mind if things are chaotic or don't run on time, and while we like comfort if it is to be had, we can do without it if necessary. We're not into massive hiking or outdoor adventure. Neither of us is looking for a wild time during the nights: we want to see Eurovision, eat local food, see nice scenery, go to some museums, and enjoy whatever the country can offer. Neither of speaks Russian, unfortunately, and I don't think the range of languages we do speak (Italian, French, Spanish, a little German) will be much help there, so we'll be stuck with making our way in English. Our time is fairly flexible in that we were thinking of travelling for about 2-3 weeks, but could adjust that if we have enough notice about how long it would take to travel elsewhere.

Oh, and neither of us wants to go to Iran, even if we could get the visas. We had thought about Armenia, but that seems near impossible, so we reluctantly abandoned the idea. And have I mentioned how much we like trains yet? :)

Thanks for any help you can offer.
posted by lesbiassparrow to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Georgia will be easier and fun! Actually, if I were you, I'd fly to Armenia, then do Georgia, then go to Azerbaijan. The ferry is probably not going to be fun.

I'd do a week in each country if you can./

I'd be happy to put you in touch with nice people in each country.

English will do you find for traveling.

What is important now is - how much do you want to spend?

Unfortunately all of this region is really lacking in mid-range accomodations. Shitty Soviet - Luxury with not much in between.

Are you interested in couch surfing? B+B? Hostel?
posted by k8t at 4:35 PM on July 5, 2011

I have done the ferry to Turkmenistan. Its weird. The port you arrive at, Turkmenbashi is really a nothing town, and its several hours to Asgabat from there. Its basically desert - its very pretty, but dull after a bit. Asgabat itself is the oddest place I've ever been. I have no idea if they've loosened up the travel restrictions, but you had to have a guide. If you want to see weird cult of personality stuff just this side of North Korea, Turkmenistan is your choice.

I've also gone overland from Tbilisi to Baku. Its not as weird. Georgia is great. The nytimes had an article about homestays in the western georgia a few weeks ago - I did homestays in other parts of the country, but they were amazing. Food is phenomenal - maybe the best travel experience I've ever had.

I didn't really spend much time Azerbaijan but did seem incredibly polluted - between old soviet chemical plants and the current oil boom there was just sort of that petrochemical stench out in the country. Baku itself is not so great IMHO. Its basically an oil town (or it was 6 years ago when. I remember very large scary oil workers and the woman they pay for being a common sight. It is also quite expensive. I'm sure its a lot cooler once you get away from the center of town tho. I think we were on the hunt for a bar to watch cricket when we were there, so surely some sample bias

I've only been to Eastern Kazakhstan, but my understanding is Western Kazakhstan is a lot like that same stretch of Turkmenistan - and its even further to civilization. Maybe the Aral Sea would be your nearest "sight".

Were I you, what I would do instead is catch a flight from Baku to Uzbekistan - probably Tashkent if you want to take a train, or transfer in tashkent to another flight, and visit Samarkand, Bokhara, and Khiva. By far the most interesting museum-y/city based stuff in Central Asia.

(Food in Central Asia is not a reason to go BTW - its an amazing place to see, but not to eat. My molars hurt for weeks after I got back from chewing tough lamb every day for dinner.)

So basically - eating, hanging out, meeting people - Georgia. Sights - Uzbekistan.
posted by JPD at 4:39 PM on July 5, 2011

The Atlantic had an interesting blog post today about the current political climate in Kazakhstan, for what it's worth.

It sounds like Georgia might be a winner, but is Turkey an option, given the fact that you have a few weeks?
posted by mauvest at 6:52 PM on July 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the help and suggestions. It's looking like it will be Azerbaijan and Georgia. I think so much of us wanting to go to Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan was the thrill of taking a ferry across the Caspian Sea, but instead we'll have the train trip through Georgia to enjoy. We had thought of Turkey, but then we are so unlikely to be back in that region again, we thought we'd take advantage of being in that area to travel to a nearby country.

k8t I think we'd like to splurge for Baku (well I would as that part is a much delayed several years worth of birthday gifts for my travelling partner). But otherwise we'd be fine with humble enough accomodation; we'd prefer hotels or B&Bs rather than couch-surfing. And I'd love to take you up on the offer of names to get in contact with! (I'll memail you about that.)

I'm a bit worried about adding Armenia, in case we run into trouble crossing from Georgia into Azerbaijan (I know you can get the visa on a separate piece of paper, but I'm still a bit worried).
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:48 PM on July 5, 2011

If I were in the area I would desperately want to go to Uzbekistan and see the Savitsky Museum, which was in this amazing documentary click for "the desert of forbidden art".

But Georgia too -- yeah, Georgia!
posted by hungrytiger at 11:23 PM on July 5, 2011

A note on Eurovision itself: keep a close watch on their Facebook pace for announcements about ticket sales. I went to Dusseldorf this year and it was a bit of a mess - locals had priority ticketing, and the general public servers couldn't handle the traffic. We barely managed to get seats for the final, way up the back. They're selling tickets for both semis these days too if you want stay a little longer and those tickets are easier to get, too.

Enjoy! It's a great experience.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:07 AM on July 6, 2011

No one in Baku cares that you were in Armenia. I have dozens of long term Armenian visas in my passport and they've never mentioned it in Baku and I've never heard anyone (in a decade of hanging around the Caucasus) have a problem. Just don't go to Karabakh.

2 weeks in Georgia might be too long for your first trip IMHO.
posted by k8t at 3:47 AM on July 6, 2011

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