Sunday 30th July - Baku: The windy city
An incredible wind storm hit Baku overnight. It sounded like the apocalypse had struck the city and our hotel would be flat by morning. Definitely no chance of any ferries leaving today, we wouldn't have been keen getting on one in any case. We would have surely blown over to South Africa if we'd boarded.
After a bit of research we discovered that there was a Catholic Church in Baku, an English Mass was scheduled at 11am. It seems that the church has a mix of English Masses and Russian. Despite having to stay in Baku longer and missing the Saturday ferry it seems to have all worked out nicely. Attending Mass in a country where you'd expect there to be no Churches at all is always a nice surprise. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was only a ten minute drive from our hotel. Patrick, James and Haylee attended Mass while Natalie waited with the car. The Church was packed. A huge variety of cultures attended including Filipino, Russian, African and Indian. Following Mass, cake and coffee was served in the room next door. Haylee and Patrick had a chat to the Priest and asked for a car and team blessing. He was more than willing. Fr Joseph explained that Baku previously had a beautiful Cathedral which was destroyed by Stalin. In 2002 Pope John Paul II visited Baku where a small Polish community was living. The President of Azerbaijan offered to the Pope a large piece of land in the city for a new Catholic Church to be built. Five years later the Church of the Immaculate Conception was in full swing! Onya President!
Fr Jospeh got all his garments and holy water ready for the blessing. A few Parishoners came outside with him to have a look at our car. Fr Jospeh asked for the Blessed Mother to watch over us and that our journey be a safe one. We all got a sprinkle of holy water and a miraculous medal each to carry on the journey. Miss Panda was showered with holy water too; she had better get us to the finish line now!
Following Mass we drove to the town centre to have a look around. Baku used to have the worlds largest KFC built inside an old train terminal. Unfortunately it's now closed. Such a shame, no Dirty Bird for us today. We opted instead of a traditional meal inside a restaurant that was close to a large shopping centre. James wasn't feeling too crash hot after the meal and got a taxi back to the hotel. Despite it being a fifteen minute ride in the middle of the day the taxi only cost him $2.50aud! Bargain!
Natalie, Patrick and Haylee looked at the shops inside a large complex then drove to nearby Old City to have a look at the famous Maiden Tower and the cobble stoned streets. Baku is an okay city but there definitely isn't too much to see! We'll give them double thumbs up though for the Flame Towers which is Azerbaijans equivalent of Sydney Tower. Three large glass buildings stand in the middle of the city. At night an incredible display of lights showcase the country's flag and bright flames. Azerbaijan is extremely proud of their flag, even the globes at restaurants are changed to reflect the red, blue and green colours on the Azerbaijani flag. We thought what better way to see the flame towers than to watch them from the balcony of a fancy restaurant.
Old City- Maiden Tower
(Inside old city)
Twenty minutes later we'd borrowed a locals phone, contacted a restaurant that claimed to have a good balcony and booked a 7pm dinner. Jump forward an hour and we did indeed dine at a fancy restaurant with a pianist playing fancy music, but unfortunately the balcony didn't extend as far as a view of the towers. Regardless we had a beautiful view of the water and coastline. The restaurant was on the top level of a fancy shopping centre not unlike our Westfields. It was also located along the grassy esplanade of Baku which comes alive at night with rides and restaurants. A very pleasant part of the city. In the distance we could see the large arena used for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest. Natalie's dish was so tiny she practically needed a microscope to see it. Patrick shouted the ladies dinner for the evening. James unfortunately was still feeling under the weather and sleeping at the hotel. Wifi in hand we discovered that a bunch of other teams were having beers at a nearby pub. At the mention of beer James miraculously came back to life and wanted to venture from the hotel back into the city to meet us.
Natalie had a headache creep up on her during dinner so Haylee and Patrick dropped her back at the hotel and picked up James. Twenty minutes later we were driving around the pub district of Baku tying to find somewhere called Vobla pub where a bunch of other teams were. In true Azerbaijan style to buildings look like rubbish on the outside but are all decked out inside. We found a bunch of pubs which didn't have names out the front so we took a gamble and parked out the front of a random one. Bingo! It was the right one. A huge bunch of teams were inside enjoying beer after beer. One bloke who had quit the rally a day earlier went and bought a round of sixteen beers for everyone. The lady at the bar mustn't have ever done an order so big because she misinterpreted it as ten beers. The otherwise dead pub was full of life with ralliers complaining of border crossings and crazy European drivers. After a ridiculous number of beers a few headed home while we kicked on with two English teams and an American to the next bar. The staff at the bar were a few young blokes who stunned us by speaking Korean with Pat. Every rallier at the table tripped out at this; here we were in the middle of Baku watching Pat have a full blown conversation with these young Azerbaijani men. We wouldn't see our new Rally friends the next day as they were bound for the Baku ferry port so we farewelled them and drove back to our accommodation. No one follows road rules in this city so Pat had fun veering all over the lanes. The bloke at the front desk of our hotel got all funny with us when we arrived back asking for our hotel payment now at 3am in the morning. What? We hadn't even spent the night yet or checked out and he wanted our money? He wouldn't take no for an answer so James paid for his portion which made him somewhat content. Haylee told the bloke we wouldn't be paying anymore until we'd actually spent the night in the hotel so we went off to bed quite peeved off.