Today was the second tour with Private Tours Azerbaijan. I really wanted to see some more of the country and there was the Palace of Shaki Khans I really wanted to see. The tour cost 250 EUR for two people and we were picked up around six o’clock in the morning. We asked the driver to stop on the way, so we could grab something for breakfast. Apparently the driver was already informed that I spoke Russian, so while he was really nice, he barely bothered to speak English at all and when he did, it wasn’t on a very high level.
We had a lot of driving to do this day and in hindsight what we should’ve have done is to hire this company to take us all the way to Georgia, but it never occurred to me before the driver mentioned that they actually do that quite a lot. It would’ve been a much smarter move than to drive halfway across the country and then back especially on what happened at the airport, but more on that later.
We drove for a long time before ours top and we slept most of the time, but it was interesting to see how the scenery changed from desert around Baku to greener and savanna-like and finally to forests and mountains. We stopped at a lake. I wrote down that the driver called it Nuhur lake, but I haven’t been able to find it on a map, so I’m not sure if that’s the correct name. The lake wasn’t anything special and of course you couldn’t swim in it as it was so polluted. Living in Finland it is quite common to have into blue-green algae, but nothing that would really prevent you from swimming, so it was perplexing to continuously run into polluted bodies of water.
We continued until our next stop at Qabala ropeline. We parked and my boyfriend noticed that our car had smoke coming out from under the hood. The driver bought us tickets to the ropeline and told us where to go and what to visit and he went back to fix the car. There was a hotel and were a lot of Arab families with children visiting this place. Apparently you can hunt birds in this area of Azerbaijan and this is a popular sport. Hotel provides a bit of fun for the kids while (I assume) their fathers are hunting.
So we went up and viewed the scenery of forest and mountains. There was a restaurant on the top, where we had ice cream just to pass the time, but there was nothing else except for the view and nowhere else to go but down.
We spent some time at the top watching the scenery in order to give our driver time to fix the car. We were like four hours away from Baku and the last thing I wanted is to hitchhike back there. 😀 When we got down, the driver was fixing the car with another man and it took them about 20 min to finalize what they were doing. Our driver assured us that this has never happened before and now the car was fixed so it will last us the rest of the trip.
We continued to Shaki (or Sheki as it is sometimes spelled) to see the the Palace of Shaki Khans. Our driver bought us tickets and we had to wait until our name was called. They had a bit of a confusing system where they let people in small groups only with a guide and somehow kept track of whose turn it was to get in. At this point I was happy that we had a driver with us because after about half an hour he said that they’re calling our name and we went in. During the half an hour he made maybe 10 min of awkward chitchat about the place, but nothing factual, just how amazing it was that something like this exists and how old the trees in the yard were.
When we finally got in, we realized that we need to stick with the group and listen to the guide speak in Azeri. Our driver stayed outside. I would’ve assumed that he either have briefed us on the history of the building and khans while we waited outside or would’ve come with us and explained everything during the tour. Instead we looked around at over-restored palace and marveled at how little people seemed to care about historical sites. A whole bunch of people touched everything they could and some people leaned against walls. You weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but it was very colorful and had paintings all over the walls. The Azeri guide told a couple of them off for touching the walls but it had little impact.
After the half an hour tour in the palace with very stale air we headed to a church across the street. It is apparently a museum for the local history and a way of living, but to be honest, it was a complete waste of time. It had about 15 locals drinking their afternoon tea and our driver/guide showed us some artifacts which ranged from some furs to newspaper clippings and had no theme. Luckily we spent only about 10 minutes there.
We continued our journey to Kish, which is located about 5km from Shaki. When we got to the bottom of the hill our car started smoking again. The driver just told us to find the Church of Kish by ourselves, so we started heading up the hill. I think it took us a good half an hour to climb the streets and find the church. Luckily they had at least a couple of signs pointing the way. The road was in a very bad condition, but there were still a few cars riding up and down them.
We had to pay for the church entrance ourselves even though it should’ve been part of the tour, but luckily it was only 2 manats per person. The church has been very nicely restored and converted into a museum. It was built either in 12th or 13th century as a Caucasian Albanian church. Caucasian Albania is a historical region that existed on the territory of present-day Azerbaijan.
It had a calm garden where we spent some time sitting in shade.
After viewing the church, we headed back down. I estimate that we spent about an hour and a half away and when we got back down to where our car was parked, there were something like six different guys trying to fix it. Our guide said that it would take maybe half an hour more, so we sat down and started reading a book.
Finally they actually managed to fix the car and we were off. The driver apologized repeatedly and said that this has never happened before and that he’s sorry, but this is not his fault. I mean, yeah, this is probably not his fault, but for the price of the tour the absolute minimum we were expecting a car that does not break down. 😀 We were driving back and the driver wanted to stop at a gas station to get some gas, which of course was ok. I got out to get some water and got 4 small bottles because we were super thirsty after climbing the 1km up to the church. Then the driver asked to get one of the bottles and I gave him one assuming that he would pay for it himself, but nope. He started fussing around with the guys operating the gas station, so I paid for all the bottles. We sat down in the car assuming we would continue our journey, but no. The guys at the gas station started changing tires on the car! This again took like 20 min to do. And while I assumed before that the car malfunctioning was in fact an accident, I wasn’t so sure after this episode. Nobody can be so unaware of what is happening with a car he drives every day! All in all this car business cost us about a two-hour delay in getting back to Baku.
Finally we were driving back and the driver apologized again and stressed that this is in no way his fault and if we would leave a review on Tripadvisor, we should take that into account. Argh! So yeah, not really happy with how things worked out with this company, but we got back to Baku in one piece. The time was almost 11 p.m., so there weren’t a lot of restaurants open anymore. We headed to a nearby burger place called Meating Point we’ve noticed a couple of days before as it was still open. We were so tired and hungry that we wolfed down burgers and some drinks without even a thought about taking pictures and headed to bed. The burgers were ok, but nothing special. A good place for a late night snack.