Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I've failed. I wanted to get from Japan to England without getting on a plane but on Friday last week i did exactly that and flew from Tashkent to Baku. But now i'm in Azerbaijan which makes me sound exotic and adventurous even though Azerbaijan is neither.

I left Samarkand and the friendly guesthouse and grabbed a train that sped through the familiar mixture of desert and cotton fields back to Tashkent where i stayed in a guesthouse with the three most Bravian looking men i've ever seen and a French guy who seemed to have an affliction to wearing clothes whilst staying in the dorm we were sharing. He also wanted to walk to Mongolia. I met some interesting people in Uzbekistan. It was a fun country though. I wasn't expecting much from deserts and mosques but i was amazed and entertained almost everyday in a country where the average age is 15 and everybody seemed obsessed with either making money or escaping to another country.

I did leave for another country. I managed to get through immigration at Tashkent airport which was bursting full of (guess who?) loads of old French tourists and waited to board my flight to Baku.

Disclaimer: If you are my father then you should probably not read the next two paragraphs. As far as you're concerned nothing out of the ordinary happened on the flight and flying is ace. Just ace.

Thanks to an airport worker and a bus, i and a dozen very Russian looking men found ourselves on the tarmac queuing to get on a plane that looked suspiciously small for an international flight. I've slept in bigger hotel rooms. I noticed a red dotted line around two of the windows and in red letters it said simply "cut here in emergency". The plane was already full of Pakistani men who'd transferred from a flight from Lahore. It seemed that there wasn't enough time or space for all of their luggage to be stowed away properly so the guy next to me spent the whole flight with his suitcase wedged between his legs. Other nondescript boxes that had been shrink-wrapped jutted out into the aisle. Now, i'm an open minded liberal thinking guy but when you get on any aeroplane there are certain things you don't really expect to see and one of those is a lot of Muslim men holding onto boxes whilst on a flight to Europe. It brings out the Fox News in you and that's never a good thing.

But i finally realised on this flight that traveling by plane is crap. You have to be there three hours early, everybody gets treat like a terrorist, the food is shit, you watch movies you don't like or you've already seen and unless you've got a window seat or are lucky enough to suffer from mild narcolepsy you spend most of your time counting the pieces of dandruff on the persons hair in front of you or guessing how many layers of make-up the stewardesses put on their faces that day (Why do they always cake themselves in it? There are certain people who have to wear too much make up to work - clowns and figure skaters. That's it.). The announcements fascinate me as well. "In the event of an emergency...." What kind of an emergency? I'm in a chair in the fucking sky. If the name of this emergency is anything other than We've Run Out Biscuits then we're all mince. Or when you're late leaving and the captain says, "Sorry about the delay. Hopefully we'll be able to make up some time during the flight." How? What the hell are you going to do? Take a short cut? Fly faster? The sooner we invent trains that travel quicker or some kind of Star Trek teleportation device the better it will be for for everybody.

After spending the GDP of Malawi on a visa at Baku airport (robbing bastards) i got a taxi to the centre of the city. My taxi driver was a friendly man and through my miniscule handle of Russian and the taxi drivers broken English here are some things we managed to establish.
I'm rich because England is rich.
My name is similar to a famous motorbike and for the rest of the journey i will be refered to as "Davidson" but it will always be said in a Mr Miagi style "Danielson" kind of way.
I'm 27.
He's 33.
He has two kids.
I have no kids.
I'm weird because i'm not married and i have no kids.
I should hurry up and get married and have kids because my dick will go limp before i'm thirty three.
His dick went limp before he was thirty three.

My expectations for Baku were amazingly low. Everybody i'd met who's been there hated it and as a result i didn't think it was too bad. It's going through another oil boom (in 1905 it produced 50% of the world's oil - economic freedom has led to another) and as a result there's a huge amount of money pouring into the place and the classical European looking buildings are being refurbished or just rebuilt. There's construction and building everywhere, BMWs race Ladas and taxis, hot looking women are crawling all over the place and the old town is smack in the middle keeping all its history and alleyways intact.

I left Baku and came to Sheki by bus which took an age as the road was under construction. Azerbaijan is a nice enough place but it'll be much better when it's finished. Sheki is an old town in the cool hills in the north west of the country. There's not a great deal to see here but it's a really friendly little town and the old men sitting around in the central park playing checkers and sipping tea watched over by the old buildings is a nice contrast to the money and pace of Baku.

Tomorrow i'll cross the border to Georgia which everybody seems to to like as it's full of wine, food, mountains and hospitality. Let's hope everybody is right.

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