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Sunday, March 31, 2013

More fun times with my parents

The Fingers of Besh Barmag!

Yesterday, we set out for the Castle of Çiraq Qala.  The closest we got was a bunch of seriously bemused workers who were wondering what the crazed American tourists were trying to do in the mud and cold as they explained to us that everything was closed for work.
We wandered back down the roads through the aged-looking oil fields, 
and went for our second goal, Besh Barmag!  Apparently, the name means something about fingers and a mountain, and the craggy peak rises about 1,300 feet from near the edge of the Caspian Sea.
Since time immemorial, folks have been coming to this mountain for various forms of worship.  I'll admit that the roads up there may have elicited a prayer or two on my part.
We started up the steep old stairs up in to the rocky peak.
The climb up was steep and scary, and at times got pretty tight.
Brandon could only use one hand, as he held Joseph tightly with the other one.
At the top of the climb, a small building had been constructed.
The climb down was every bit as nerve-wracking and spectacular as the climb up.
 Little legs had a hard time with some of the sections.
I know a couple of parents and grandparents who were happy to get everyone down again safely.
 A nice Azerbaijani family offered some local snacks, and we headed back to Baku.
We ended a great day by eating homemade pizza, and watching The Princess Bride.  Only a couple of people fell asleep...
We hope that all your climbs are equally as successful, and that your hosts also brought IBC Root Beer!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Another stolen post

This has been one great trip!  I've been able to try even more hair styles,
view architecture from the Soviet era, (stunning, simply stunning)
and explore a fascinating part of the world with an expert guide.
This week, among lots of other things, we got to see the (actually) world-famous petroglyphs of Gobustan, of which there are more than 4,000 examples.
The art work was created by folks living in these parts even 100,000 years ago, and the little kids could hardly keep their hands off it.
The immense boulders upon which the carvings were made lay strewn among several small mountains rising from the plains at the edge of the Caspian Sea.
The area also contains an inscription by a Roman legionnaire, in the latter half of the first century, which is the furthest east of any evidence of the Romans.  Sophia found it amusing.  Something about why the gallinaceo crossed the via.
The associated museum was far less boring than expected.
We also visited Yanar Dağ ("Burning Mountain"), and although it wasn't much of a mountain, it was indeed on fire, thanks to someone carelessly igniting the naturally-leaking natural gas back in 1958.
That day, we saved the best for last; that's right, the Mud Volcanoes of Gobustan!!
These little guys are also powered by natural gas, and they bubble and blop away harmlessly, the mud being cool, temperature-wise.
There were little bubbling lakes, which of course demanded offerings of mud balls.
After scraping as much evidence of our visit off the shoes, pants, hair, etc., we loaded up.
Later in the week, we abandoned the kids and visited the Old City of Bakú, sitting on the edge of the Caspian on the Absheron Peninsula.
This really is an old, old place, with evidence of habitation for at least a couple of millennia, by successive waves of Turks, Tatars, Mongols, Russians, American diplomat families,  
and Azerbaijani carpet merchants.  Oooh!  Pretty things!  
We explored under
 and through
 and around the old city,
 which sits next to the busy harbor on the Caspian.
We had to admit that the traffic, though really awful at times, was a little more organized, with fewer potholes to dodge than where we've been living.
Meanwhile, we're stuffed with great Georgian, Azerbaijani and whatever food, and are having fun with the grandkids.  We know they have to weigh our luggage at the airport, but we hope they don't weigh us.
We hope that your mud volcanoes are friendly too!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stolen from my parents' blog

My parents have come for a visit, so we've been having some fun.

Out of Baku!

After we had settled in for a couple of days in Baku, Ashley bought provisions and we headed out of town for a four-day trip to the mountainous countryside, kids and all.  Our first goal was Saki (pronounced "Shecky"), a popular destination for internal tourism.  
The weather was beautiful, and the countryside showed signs of early spring, with the fruit trees just starting to bloom and the fields an iridescent green.  However, the inmates get restless.
We pulled over by an old apricot tree and ate dried fruit and Azerbaijani Moon Pies.
The most important part of such stops is getting the wiggles out.  You could almost read the thoughts of the passing motorists - "Crazy Amerikans!"
Once in Saki, we immediately took advantage of the cultural heritage of the place, such as the ancient McDonald's slide at the hotel (I am not making this up - you could still see the logos),
and the rich heritage of Azerbaijani television.
However, before their little brains turned into qarğıdalı sıyıq (rough translation - "mush") the kids were whisked away into a higher village to see an ancient, and we're talking built on a 2,000+ year-old religious site, Albanian temple. 
Those achingly picturesque snow-capped mountains in the background are the Caucasus, on the other side of which is Russia.
Later in the day, after another al fresco midday meal, this one topped off with Azerbaijani juice boxes (peach, apple and banana - hold it; banana juice?!) we hiked up to a fort built by the locals in the 1700's to successfully defy the Persians as they swept through.  The rough translation of its name is "Come and see!"  An even rougher translation is "nah, nah, na-nah nah!"
Kathleen and I arrived at the top first, to find a group of young men talking.  They all insisted in having their pictures taken with the intrepid young, blonde, cute Amerikan.
Her sister missed out, arriving too late to meet the guys.
We discovered the amazingly extensive fortifications of the sheer mountainside as we climbed and slid back down.

Any exploration that ends with throwing rocks in water is considered a grand success.
We won the coin toss, and got the girls for the sleep-over, while the parents were stuck with the boys.
On Friday, we drove to Lahic.  OK, "we drove to Lahic" doesn't do the journey justice.  
I would have taken more pictures, but I was using both hands to hang on, and my eyes were shut a lot.
Bridge-building takes many a quaint and idyllic turn here in Azerbaijan.
Lahic is older than memory, and when Main Street (only street) was built, the vehicles (horses, feet) were not very wide.
Once we had stopped and they'd pried my fingers loose, the Lahic Guest House proved to be delightful, with chickens and swings,

and shepherds with their horses and cigarettes.
We'd had great luck previously with Ancient Fort-Finding, so trusting in the guide book, we set off to explore another one.

However, this one proved more elusive, and so after an exhausting hour of climbing, 

Ashley, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, declared that the rectangle of stones on the one flat place we encountered must represent the pre-medieval fortress for which we were searching.
"Fine," we said, "and so those extra piles of stones at either end must have been the entrances, instead of just the goals of the local soccer pitch."  The kids couldn't care less, and had a great time running around the place.
Meanwhile, their grandmother looked achingly picturesque, as the Queen of the Caucasus.
After so much gamboling about, the kids loved their dinner.
The next day, after strolling through town and buying knitted slippers from a nice lady (the one on the left),
we headed back down the road.  OK, what would you have guessed this sign meant?
If your Azerbaijani is better than mine, you would have correctly said, "Look out for falling rocks!" and there was a reason.  With a loud bang, one hit a rear window.
Luckily, in packing for the trip, Brandon had felt inspired to bring a roll of West Virginia Chrome, aka duct tape, and we were able to secure the crinkling glass for the drive back to Baku.
All in all, it was a grand trip, and everyone had a glorious time, including the Princess of the Caucasus.
We hope that they have Moon Pies wherever you are also.