Azer-Mania, Day 0-1
Minneapolis, New York, London, Istanbul, Baku. What do these cities have in common? They’re all large metropolitan areas, major cultural centers with great culinary scenes, artistic life, lovely histories, and major airports. I mention the airports, specifically, as that’s where I’ve been spending most of my time these past few days. I left Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon, and after four flights to four countries, I landed in Baku, the site of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, on Friday evening.
The things we do for the things we love…
Baku is truly an exercise in contrasts. It was a major pain to get my visa (as an American, I had to apply for one through my nearest Azeri Embassy, as opposed to just picking one up on arrival), and it arrived at FedEx a mere four hours before I was scheduled to depart Minneapolis. After that bump in the road passed, it was smooth sailing (er…flying) out to the Land of Fire.
After taking the night and settling into the hotel, my teammates with ESCInsight.com and I headed out to pick up our accreditation, and we took the liberty to explore a bit around the area. Here are a few observations that I’ve picked up so far…
- Crosswalks/zebra crossings don’t really seem to exist here, so every time you want to cross the street, you re-enact your own personal version of “Running Scared”. Azeri pedestrians are a fearless bunch…
- Other things missing from Azerbaijani roads…turn signals, clear detour signs in case of road blockages, and any semblance of lane adherence. Glad I’m not behind the wheel here, and this is coming from someone who grew up near New York!
- Despite rumors to the contrary, locals don’t seem to mind if they see a man wearing shorts. A kilt, however, will elicit full-on stares.
- The contrast between the old, the new, and the new-designed-to-look-old is pretty striking. Baku’s architecture is a wild blend of styles, veering from the ancient stonework of the Old City (Icherisheher) to the hypermodern Flame Towers and Heydar Aliev Cultural Palace. In between, you have everything from ramshackle, dusty back streets to newly-constructed apartment blocs merging styles from East and West.
- There are scaffolding and dust everywhere you turn, and hovering above it all is the faint scent of oil, the lifeblood of Azerbaijan’s economy.
- There’s going to be a lot of walking for me over the next few weeks…needless to say, my decision to pack primarily flats was a wise one.
An interesting lowlight that might become a highlight in time occurred this morning as my crew headed to the Press Centre. Little did we know, the Tour de Baku cycle race was snarling traffic and causing major delays all over the city. What was expected to be a 15-minute cab ride from our Hotel to the venue turned into a two-hour wild goose chase that took us to parts of the city that we likely never would have seen. Seeing the local butcher shops with bulls’ heads displayed out front, the children looking wide-eyed at our Eurovision-logo-emblazoned cab, the men sitting on their front stoops taking lazy drags on their cigarettes…it gave me a view of the Baku area that I hadn’t expected to come across. As frustrating as arriving late to the Crystal Hall was at the time (even though, everyone was held up in the same traffic as we were), I’ll look back on those two hours fondly.
There’s more to come, of course! For more of my goings-on, keep your eyes trained on ESC Insight…I’ve already interviewed Latvia’s Anmary and Albania’s Rona Nishliu, Switzerland’s Sinplus (even cuter in person!) and there’s definitely more to come from my team and I. (And if you ever have any questions you’d like me to ask the artists, give me a holler!)