Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Novruz Celebrations

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Lada Legend - On the Road to Dashkesan: Xanlar

One of the things we really wanted to do at some point on our voyage of discovery was to setup the trunk kitchen for a little roadside BBQ action. We came close at Narmin's, but the trunk wasn't really utilized to its full potential. On the way to Xanlar, we realized that this was our last night to make a trunk kitchen happen. It was now or never.

Xanlar is a unique little hamlet in western Azerbaijan. It was originally settled by Germans in the early 1800s, so the town's architectural style is largely that of central Europe at the time. Just prior to World War II, Stalin shipped all the Germans to Siberia. Apparently they were considered a threat to the nation.

Today, Xanlar has about 20,000 people and remains a prominent wine producer in the country. Recently, its name was changed to Goygul, or Blue Lake, because of the famous Blue Lake that is perched in the hills (about a mile above sea level) a short distance away. The lake is protected and you're technically not allowed to go there, but residents of Xanlar will gladly take you in their trunk for a small fee.

What makes the city visually unique is that it has retained much of its architectural history. One building in particular, built 150 years ago, has become the stuff of legends. It is a hotel that is remarkably still standing, despite the really creaky floors, random tunnel to the bathroom, and Sylvester Stallone 1990s movie posters.

The hotel is run by this old, some would say creepy, dude who likes the company of females. He greeted us warmly and let us know that there was plenty of room available for our travelling band of misfits. We ended up with a fairly large room with four decrepit beds--one of which you could definitely classify as an institution bed. On the wall was some sort of cigarette packet mosaic. Oddly enough, none of the packets were attached to the wall.

We asked the old man if we could setup the BBQ in the driveway. He said yes, so we went out in search of food to grill...and beer. Upon our return, the owner had a troupe of dudes in the foyer drinking vodka and eating pickles. Generally, when you see something like this happening you really have no choice but to sit down and start taking shots. This had the potential to be a long, long night.

I managed to get away with only one shot. Vodka was the last thing I needed with the seven hour drive ahead of us. Unfortunately, the fact that I declined to continue the vodka parade meant that Blake had to pick up the slack. He performed admirably and really took one for the team.

Our trunk kitchen turned out fairly well. We had sausages and vegetables grilling. The men kept asking where the meat was, but soon realized that the vegetables weren't so bad--especially when mixed with cheese. One guy in particular became obsessed with the squeeze bottle full of sweet soy sauce. He kept trying to put the sauce on his food, but it just wasn't working for him. At one point, I think I sprayed it all over his jacket.

At the end of the night, our hosts were properly inebriated and we were full and ready for bed. We left as soon as we got up in the morning so as to avoid any promised "touring" offerings made the night before. Thank goodness the Colonel started.

Eight hours later we were back in Baku. One thousand kilometres, no breakdowns, and a lot of really cool stuff seen and done along the way.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

How to Stay Dictator

"While the ranks of the world’s dictators have been culled in recent weeks, there are still quite a few out there clinging to power. A friend of the blog Kent Babin and I figured the survivors could use some help so we came up with a list of recommendations (most of which should be taken with tongue firmly in cheek) for all those looking to eke out a couple more good years." (Politics by Other Means)