Baku, Azerbaijan – Day 2 of 2

Today was a much slower pace than yesterday. I was quite surprised by how many things I got to see yesterday. I woke up at around 8:00am, and had breakfast downstairs. This time I opted for the “healthy” option, which was cheese, salami, yoghurt, olives, etc.

Even though that today was a slower pace than yesterday, the buildings were very spread out, so I had to spend a fair amount of my time on public transportation. My first stop was Heydar Mosque. I used the metro system to get here. Heydar Mosque is a massive Islamic mosque named after the former President of Azerbaijan; Heydar Aliyev. It was opened in December 2014 and has capacity for 75000 people!

It had already been over an hour since I left the hotel, and I had way too much coffee, so it was time to find somewhere to be. Ahhh yes McDonald’s comes saves the day. The catch is you need to purchase something, so I purchased… another coffee!

Next stop is an extremely ugly brutalism (modernism) building called the Gosstroy Residential Building. The Gosstroy Residential Building is a sixteen story apartment complex that was designed by Rasim Aliyev, a former Baku city architect. The building was constructed in 1975.

After taking pictures of the building I took the metro to Nizami Metro Station, which is the prettiest looking soviet metro station that I’ve ever seen. It has chandeliers everywhere on the platform area. Baku’s original metro stations were built quite lavishly, and were also built very far underground because they were built during the cold war and doubled as a bomb shelter.

I got off of the train at Nizami station and walked to the Azerbaijan State of Academic Drama Theatre. Theatre and dance are integral parts of the Soviet culture, and the theatre was created for a comedy called “Vizier of Kankaran Khanate”. The theatre was completed in 1919.

I then took the bus to check out the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art, opened in 2009, contains 800 pieces of modern art. It was funded by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation has created some joint collaboration projects with the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles. The museum doesn’t have individual rooms, but rather a large central open area where walls meet at different angles, which helps to create a multidimensional perspective of the exhibits. The museum was incredible, and had some hilarious pieces of art.

After visiting the art museum I walked to Military Trophies Park, also referred to as War Trophies Park. It is a public park that contains war trophies seized by the Armenian Army and the Artsakh Defense Army during the 2020 Nagorono-Karabakh war against Armenia.

I was getting quite hungry at this point in time so I purchased a delicious spicy donair from a donair shop called FMD (Flame Manqal Donair).

Right outside of FMD was the bus that I needed to talk to my second last stop for the day, Heydar Aliyev Centre. Heydar Aliyev Centre is a beautiful Neo-futurism style complex that consists of a 1000 seat auditorium, exhibition spaces, a conference center, workshops, and a museum. The wavy white building was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, and was constructed between 2007 and 2012. The building consists of a multitude of folds that connect various central spaces together in one single continuous surface. It was a very well thought out museum outlining the history of Azerbaijan, and all the wonderful things that Heydar Aliyev has done for his people, and I really enjoyed my experience there.

I then stopped in at the New Karavanseray Art Garden Restaurant for dinner. I had some delicious fresh bread and Dashbura, which is an Azerbaijani chicken soup. It was pretty tasty, and a bit salty, which I liked.

After dinner I took some night time photos. It’s really neat to see the Flame Towers lit up at night, as well as the Baku Ferris Wheel.

The rest of the evening I spent editing photos and blogging. Tomorrow, I jump on a mid morning flight to Dubai!

Tbilisi, Georgia – Day 3 of 3

Last night I slept a lot better than the night before. I had nearly 9 hours of sleep, which was a marked improvement. I started the day off by having breakfast downstairs. The complementary breakfast included a few slices of spam, a hard boiled egg, yoghurt, pancakes, and some rice. I skipped the rice since I’m quite allergic to rice now. I should have skipped the egg, as egg whites make me itchy.

After breakfast I walked to Chreli Abano, a traditional Turkish bathhouse. I had a 1 hour soak there with a traditional scrub. It felt great, however it did irritate my skin a fair amount. It only ended up costing me about $40.

After soaking at the bathhouse I walked to Sioni Cathedral, just a few minutes away. Sioni Cathedral is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral. The cathedral follows a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after particular places in the Holy Land. In this case it bears the name of Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It was originally constructed in the 5th century under the order of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Starting in 575 AD a new structure was built under the order of Guaram, the prince of Iberia, however it wasn’t completed until 639 AD. The church was eventually destroyed by Arabs. It was eventually rebuilt in 1112 by King David the Builder. In 1226 it’s dome roof was heavily damaged by the order of Jalal ad Din Mingburnu. It was eventually repairs, and damaged again in 1386, and subsequently repaired by King Alexander I. During the Persian invasions in 1522 and in the 17th century it was damaged yet again. It was substantially restored between 1657 and 1710, however was destroyed again in 1795 by the Persians. The cathedral was restored again between 1850 and 1860, however this time it was restored by Russian artists Knyaz Grigory, so the interior looked quite different. It hadn’t been attacked since, however undertook additional renovations between 1980 and 1983.

After exploring the Cathedral I walked across the bridge to take the Tbilisi Cable Car up to the top of Sololaki Hill to see the Mother of Georgia sculpture, and Narikala Castle & Fortress. The Tbilisi Cable Car opened in 2012. The views on the way up were breathtaking!

The Mother of Georgia Statue, also known as Kartlis Deda, is a monument erected on top of Sololaki Hill in 1958 to celebrate Tbilisi’s 1500th anniversary. The original statue was wooden, however was replaced with an aluminum sculpture in 1997 after considerable environmental damage. The sculpture, which resembles a female holding a cup of wine and a sword, was designed by Georgian sculptor Elguja Amashukeli. It resembles the endless battles that the city has had to endure.

Narikala Fortress is an ancient fortress that overlooks Tbilisi. The fortress consists of two walled sections on a steep hill between the sulfur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi. St. Nicholas church resides in the lower courtyard. It was recently rebuilt between 1996 and 1997 to replace the original 13th century church that was destroyed in a fire. The history of the fortress dates back to about the 4th century, when a fortress was built during the reign of King Varaz-Bakur. At the end of the 4th century the fortress was overthrown by the Persians, and recaptured by the kings of Kartli in the middle of the 5th century. It underwent considerable expansion by the Umayyads in the 7th century, as-well as the 9th century by king David the Builder. The Mongols eventually renamed the fortress “Narin Qala”, which means “Little Fortress”. Most of the current fortifications were built between the 16th and 17th century. In the 18th century the Persians repeatedly attacked the fortress. In 1827 an earthquake damaged portions of the fortress, which were so badly damaged that they were demolished.

At the top of Sololaki Hill I had a Vanilla Chimney. Imagine a cinnamon churro rolled into a cone, which is filled with fruit and vanilla ice cream. It was absolutely delicious, however was fairly pricey compared to other food here, costing nearly $13, when most food is about $5-10. From the top of Narikala Fortress you can also see Juma Mosque. Juma Mosque, also known as Tbilisi Mosque, is the only Muslim shrine in the city. It was designed by architect Giovanni Scudieri, and built between 1846 and 1851 to replace the original mosque that was built between 1723 and 1735 by the Ottomans, but destroyed by the Persians in the 1740’s. In 1895 the mosque was completely rebuilt again by Baku-based millionaire and philanthropist Hajizinelabdin Tagiyev in a combined neo-Gothic and Islamic architecture style.

I walked back down from Narikala Fortress to catch a bus to a unique collaboration place called Fabrika. Fabrika was once a soviet sewing factory named “Nino”, and is now home to a hub of an old-meets-new meeting space of creative and artistic people to congregate. It includes studios, shops, co-working space, cafes, and a hostel. There’s some unique artwork on the exterior of the building. I enjoyed a cup of coffee, relaxed, and took in the art.

After exploring Fabrika I took another bus to see Laguana Vere. The Laguna Vere Sports Complex is an abandoned Soviet era sports complex built between 1965 and 1978! It was designed by Georgian architects Shota Kavlashvili, Guram Abuladze and Ramaz Kiknadze, with additional artwork and mosaics produced by Koka Ignatov. Construction took a very long time because the project was placed on hold for eight years. The complex was opened on October 13th 1978. It was the first open-air pool in Tbilisi open to all citizens regardless of their social class / status. It consists of three pools arranged side-by-side; an Olympic sized 50 metre x 25 metre pool, a 25 metre x 10 metre pool, and a 25 metre x 20 metre diving pool. It features a beautiful brutalist concrete tower fitted with three diving boards at 5 metre, 7 metre, and 10 metre heights. Laguna Vere went into private ownership in 2000, and went into significant decline and was eventually closed in 2014. There were over a dozen stray dogs, and there was signage notifying that it is private property and to not take photos, so I didn’t stick around too long.

Another bus ride, and I arrived at the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, and the former Tbilisi Cable Car terminal. When I got off the bus there were two very angry Georgian grandmas fighting over a vendor spot, so I quickly walked by. I was quite impressed with how loud they were; they definitely had people looking.

The Georgian National Academy of Sciences (GNAS) was established in 1941. The building that houses GNAS was constructed between 1949 and sometime in the early 1960’s. It was constructed in two parts, the five-story horizontal array building that runs along the frontage of Rustaveli Avenue, and a 55 metre-high tower. Both buildings were designed by Georgian architects M. Chkhikvadze and K. Chkheidze, and are in a Stalinist architecture style.

The Tbilisi Cable Car Station is an abandoned cable car station that was built on the Rustaveli Avenue – Mtatsminda Park cable car line, which opened in 1959. The station was abandoned after a tragic accident occurred on June 1st 1990, which resulted in the 19 deaths, and 42 injuries. The cable car system was comprised of two cars, and the haul rope broke inside the coupler of the upper most gondola. Both gondolas rolled down simultaneously, and the upper gondola slammed into the wall of the lower station, killing four and injuring others. The upper gondola picked up speed and eventually crashed into the lower support tower and was torn upon from the cable. In 1988, two years prior to the accident, the cable car underwent some major reconstruction. The cable car system originally used three supporting towers, with the lowest tower standing 20 metres (66 feet) tall, and the two upper masts standing at 10 and 12 metres (33 and 39 feet). The lowest mast was replaced with a new 25 metre (82 foot) tall mast, and the upper two was replaced by one 20 metre (66 foot) tall mast. The original 25 person gondolas were also replaced with 40 person gondolas. It was determined early on that the braking system of the new gondolas were not functioning properly, and that staff members had to manually climb on top of the gondolas to turn it off manually. To avoid this inconvenience, they brake systems were disabled. On the day of the accident both gondolas were over-capacity, with 46 and 47 passengers on-board.

A short walk away is the gorgeous Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater. The Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater of Tbilisi, formerly known as the Tiflis Imperial Theater, is a beautiful Moorish Revival style theatre that is situated on Rustaveli Avenue, one of the main roads in Tbilisi. The theatre, designed by Antonio Scudieri, was built between 1847 and 1851. In 1874 a massive fire tore through the theatre. The theatre was rebuilt and opened in 1896 with its current design by Viktor Schroter.

I was starting to get fairly hungry so it was time to eat. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to find a restaurant that would serve some yummy local dishes, but I don’t think I was in the right area. All I could find was Americana style food. I had a cheeseburger at the Burger House for lunch. It was fairly good!

It was time to head up to Mtatsminda Park, located on Mount Mtatsminda. To get there I took the historic funicular to the top. The funicular was built between 1903 and 1905 by an anonymous Belgian man. Originally the railway was constructed to connect Upper Tbilisi on Mtatsminda (the Holy Mountain) with Lower Tbilisi. The original agreement, signed in 1900, was that the Belgians would be granted ownership of the funicular with a 45-year lease, after which it would then become property of the city. The new Upper Tbilisi district was unfortunately never built due to water supply issues, as well as the Russian revolution of 1905. The Funicular sat is near pristine condition throughout the years and was eventually utilized in 1938 when the park was opened at the top. Today the park includes an amusement park, TV tower, cemetery, and a restaurant. The funicular was shut down between 2000 and 2012 to undergo a complete renovation.

The Georgia Tbilisi TV Tower was built in 1972 and stands 275 metres (900 feet) tall. The tower is operated by Georgian Teleradiocenter.

The theme park contains a large Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and other amusement rides.

The views of Tbilisi below are absolutely fantastic, including my favourite view of the Public Service Hall. The Public Service Hall building is a beautiful modern building that houses the National Bank of Georgia, the Minister of Energy, and the Civil and National Registry. The building, designed by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, was opened in 2012. The building is situated next to the Kura River, and almost looks like a tree canopy. There are even petals that form the roof over the seven different buildings that comprise of the buildings. Some people describe the building as an overgrown mushroom forest in the midst of some towering trees. The leaves are made of fiberglass and resin, and the rest of the building is made of steel and glass.

After walking around the park I took a bus back down to Old Tbilisi and had dinner at the same restaurant that I had dinner at lastnight. This time I had traditional Georgian soup with mini khinkali’s in it. After dinner I walked back to my hotel to do another hour and a half of blog writing, before taking the bus to the airport to board a flight to Baku, Azerbaijan on a Buta Airways Embraer E-190.

I was greeted at Baku airport with a private driver that I had the hotel setup for me, since I knew it would be very late by the time my flight arrived. The drive from the airport to my hotel took about 30 minutes, and it was neat to drive on the same road that the Baku Formula 1 race is held on. I checked into my hotel and immediately went to sleep, because it was 2:00am.