It was Sunday afternoon, and my work in Baku was essentially complete – just a few things to wrap up in the morning. I had been told by my colleagues to visit the “old city,” a fortress-town that in 2000 was deemed by UNESCO as Azerbaijan’s first World Heritage Site. Happy that the gates were open so late in the afternoon, I poked my head in and began exploring. It was fantastic. Narrow and curvy alleys, cobbled streets, eerily quiet. I snapped a handful of pictures and spent an hour or so walking around, then it started to rain and I headed back to the hotel.
The next morning, I left for the airport 4 hours before my flight, knowing that I needed to stop at the DHL office to ship some paperwork back to Boston. Still wasn’t enough time. One day, when I am rich and famous and powerful and all that jazz, I will buy GPS devices for all cab drivers in Baku. I’m serious. I had the hotel arrange for me a cab, as I hadn’t had luck the last few days getting to my destination. I repeated the name of the street very clearly before getting in the vehicle, and the cab driver even acknowledged my pronunciation. I thought all would be well. After an interlude of wrong turns and some dense, construction-induced traffic, we found the DHL office. The line was long, too long considering that my flight was 2 hours away and we were at least 45 minutes from the airport. Oops. I bailed, jumped back in the cab, and made it to the airport just in time. Luckily the airport was empty and I breezed through security.
On the plane to Tbilisi, I was stopped from taking pictures of the mountains out the cabin window. Other than that, the flight went well – water, snacks, the usual. For Tbilisi customs, I used a different passport, not really sure if my Russian visa would cause any heads to turn. The passport official laughed when she saw my picture, asking for another form of identification. I pulled out my driver’s license, and she laughed even harder. I am in dire need of a more appropriate photo identification. Chuckles aside, I picked up my bag and found a taxi, eager to get to the hotel and start wondering around the city.
The cab driver and I, like most interactions I’ve had with people this trip, didn’t understand each other. The only words I understood were “President George Bush,” words that were accompanied with hysterical gesticulations of drinking and dancing. I later learned that when Bush was last here, he had quite the time. I was also shocked to see good ‘ole George waving at me from a Himalayan-sized banner over the road: “President George Bush Highway.” I couldn’t believe it. I’ll be sure to have my camera ready next time around.
The hotel is not nearly as lavish as the one in Baku, but the location couldn’t be more convenient. I spent the evening walking around to get my bearings and managed to find a copy of Moby Dick in a Georgian bookstore. A phenomenal read so far. I worked today and yesterday, pleased with how accommodating most shop owners have been. One high-end boutique, though, said that I was not allowed to write down prices – I could only memorize them. I’ve killed one-too-many brain cells in my day to be able to effectively memorize a series of brand names and prices. I ignored their request and wrote away, running out the door before they could voice a second complaint. Such is the life of the surveyor.
Two funny stories:
- I walked into an Internet Cafe to inquire about prices. The owner says, in perfect English, “100 lari [about $60 dollars].” I froze, rightfully dropped my jaw, but before I could retort he spoke again. “That’s bad news. But I have some good news. I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico.” Ha! I started cracking up, he started cracking up, then I moved onto another store.
- I took a break from surveying and poked my head in a shop that showcased knives and chess sets in the window. I pride myself on being a quasi-nerd, and I was stoked to check out what they had. All the chess sets were pretty elaborate, one particularly interesting – a “war on terror” edition if you will. Pawns on one end were represented by 8 miniatures of George Bush, with Tony Blair as king and the twin towers as rooks, etc. On the other end, Bin Laden was king, planes were rooks. It was the most hysterical, un-politically correct merchandise I have ever seen. If it wasn’t several hundred dollars, I would have bought it in a heartbeat. I tried to take a picture, but before my camera powered up, I already had the attention of two employees who politely said nuh-uh. I grudgingly agreed to put the camera back in the case. Damn.