Friday, December 28, 2007

Dreaming of Belarus

Would the main square in Minsk not be the greatest place on earth to spend New Year's Eve?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Under a Shroud in the Most Often Mispronounced City of All Time

A seven-day, five-city whirlwind tour has ground to a halt in Lodz (pronounced Woodge). In a little over an hour I will be feasting on a thirteen meal extravaganza and having more herring in one sitting than in my entire life.

The weather, after being at least sunny in Krakow, has turned ugly. I can't see more than two-hundred metres in front of me. In this part of Poland, that basically means you can only see to the next giant apartment block.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and please be safe.

Friday, December 21, 2007

There Definitely Ain't No Sunshine

"Does the sun ever shine in this place?" I asked.
"Ha. Not in the winter," was the reply.

The weather has been nothing short of miserable since getting to Eastern Europe. A perpetual cloud blanket has covered the region. It's really not helping my ability to tolerate Soviet-era architecture that sticks out like a bald guy at a Rogaine convention. I'd be surprised if I see the sun at all over the next two weeks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Getting Told, Lithuanian Style

"Man, it's really cold outside," I remarked after stepping into the foyer of the hostel.
"Cold? You think it's cold?" replied the woman working at the hostel.

Apparently Azerbaijan has made me soft.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hostelling in Riga

I'm staying at this place that is run by three wonderful older ladies. Every piece of bedding material is tiger printed, there are computers with internet in every room, and a safe attached to each bed.

The shower is like a waterfall. It maybe go down as the best shower I've ever had. And in Latvia of all places.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Little Mosque on the Hill

In and Around Baku

Post Boxes

The Orchestra House

An outdoor concert venue


Street Signs (the top one is a Dentist, the blue one is the street name, not sure about the brown one)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Old Baku

Pictures of Old Baku are all over the city. Most are found on fences surrounding constructions sites.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cairo All-Stars: Megan

"Now I know where I can hide..."

Anyone that comes back to Cairo on not once, but twice in the span of six months deserves to be unequivocally included in the list of Cairo All-Stars. Cairo, and Egypt, can be punishing to say the least. When you exhibit the qualities to handle said punishment in your first tour of duty, leave for a time, and then come back to receive even more punishment, there is no question that you own the city. And I would say Megan does own a little piece of Cairo. She has earned it.

My relationship with Megan started before I even arrived in Cairo. I was told that she would be my roommate along with Tom Gara. Lucky me. Putting up with Wisconsinites isn't exactly on a Canadian's list of recreational activities. Megan was made acutely aware of that, in a jesting fashion of course, to which she replied that I must pass a test to be her roommate. When I got to Cairo, everything fell through. Megan and Tom couldn't find a place that suited their standards. How unfortunate, but we did still end up living together in the end.

I can thank Megan for dragging my starving self to Cairo's cool places during Ramadan. My most vivid memory being the stampede at the Friday Market in the City of the Dead. While Simon and I couldn't prevent Megan being grabbed, we did put up a solid wall that prevented us all from being crushed by the raging crowds. And all before breakfast.

Megan was also a great drinking buddy. Famous for her "purse whiskey," she silently moved her way around parties and got specific people really drunk. Tom would know a little about that, and so would I. We also had countless nights at El Horeyya (only the most legendary bar in Cairo) drinking cheap Egyptian beer and eating whatever it is that they give you for free. We were in there so much that the staff would say hi to us on the street at random hours if they happened to see us.

When Megan was forced to leave her apartment, her and I went on the hunt for our own place. What we found turned out to be a place that has now been lived in by trainees for a year. To quash any rumours, we were introduced to the other apartment tenants as brother and sister. It was then that I was convinced maybe Megan really was a long, lost sister.

Now Megan lives on a houseboat. If that's not looking down with disdain on the city, I don't know what is. I would say foreign women in Cairo should seek to emulate Megan's attitude towards the city. Cairo may give tough love, but I'm pretty sure Megan sends it right back (along with a shot of duty free whiskey). Then again, why would she waste her good stuff in that fashion? It belongs in her purse.

See you in Turkmenistan?

Baku Nights

There are a lot of these lighted trees around the city

State Theatre

Perpetually lit statue

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Company of the Year Awards Pics

The Award Recipients

Apparently I'm the only one that smiles for photos in this country.

You'd think the people weren't happy...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How Expensive is Your Yacht?

Any guesses?

Deep Philosophical Question

This one goes out to Tom Gara.

What makes a good shawerma/doner carving knife? Length? Number of times sharpened? Sharpness? Menacing look of the man holding it?

I saw one the other day that was two-and-a-half feet long and had probably been sharpened hundreds upon hundreds of times. What a wicked piece of equipment it was.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On January 20th, 1990, Something Happened

On the right hand side of the picture is row of graves leading up to a monument commemorating Black January. Each of the people memorialized died on January 20th, 1990.

Here is a short description compliments of

"Late at night on January 19, 1990, 26,000 Soviet troops stormed Baku. They acted pursuant to a state of emergency declared by the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium, signed by President Gorbachev and disclosed to the Azerbaijani public only after many citizens lay wounded or dead in the streets, hospitals and morgues of Baku."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Car Trunk Commerce

The most common medium for selling apples and pomegranates in the back alleys of Baku is the trunk of a car. My guess is that there is probably an incredible quantity discount when purchasing a trunk load, or backseat-load.

The vendors must drive into the countryside into the morning, load up the car, and then make their way back to their designated selling spot by the afternoon. What I wonder about is spoilage problems. With so many people doing this, and the demand for the product likely not meeting the supply, what happens to all the apples that don't get sold?

I suppose if I see apple pies being sold in the same fashion, I'll have my answer.

National Business Awards 2007

If you're given the opportunity to go to the palace that has played host to the President's daughter's wedding and countless foreign dignitaries, you take it.

On tap: the National Business Awards. Thirty-five companies in different sectors were being presented with Company of the Year awards. I was only given the opportunity to go because of the "let's send the token foreigner because I don't really want to attend" syndrome.

They told me the event was being held at the Gulustan. Gulustan? Sounds like a country. When I heard it was a palace, I immediately pictured this daunting, mogamma-esque building overlooking the city.

The Gulustan is in fact a Soviet-era palace that is utterly devoid of architectural style. It sits amongst the trees on a hill that rises up from the western side of the bay. From the balcony on the Presidential level (as it is known), there is an incredible view of the city. Inside, on the other hand, is another story. The stairways are carpeted, the bathrooms have guys that will comb your hair, and the couches were leather.

The gala event was chock full of Azerbaijan's best business personalities. It seemed fairly obvious by the 80/20 proportion of men to women that the latter had not yet gained a foothold in the local business world. No doubt this is changing.

More importantly, though, was the food. Once again the spread on the table was impressive, and everything was local in origin. I wolfed down my fair share of Azerbaijan's finest, including a vodka brand that the average person doesn't see too often in his/her life. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Christmas in Polska

Paid for the tickets today. If all goes as planned (or perhaps as not planned), I will have quite the little adventure.

  • A day in Riga
  • A day or two in Vilnius
  • Two Food-filled Weeks in Poland (subject to random excursions to other countries)
  • Another day in Riga
  • Back to Baku

The fun begins in the wee hours of the morning on December 17th.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Baku Bowels

Alas, there is a gastrointestinal alliteration for every city on earth. Baku Bowels joins the likes of Delhi Belly, Cairo Colon, and Shanghai Stomach as things you want to avoid while travelling. Trust me.

Not that anyone wants to know about my bathroom habits, but I feel it necessary to compare the inevitable digestive abominations that have afflicted me.

The Baku version seems to start with a bout of queasiness, followed by an insatiable urge to vomit, then a series of painful minutes on the toilet, finished off with two days of eating yogurt and bread three times a day.

Must've been something I ate.