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Summer Wandering Pt.4 - Domestics In Azerbaijan  
User currently offlinePlymSpotter From Spain, joined Jun 2004, 11668 posts, RR: 60
Posted (3 years 5 months 4 days 10 hours ago) and read 10860 times:


Continued From


Part One: Summer Wandering Pt.1 - Yak42s; An140; & Chernobyl

Part Two: Summer Wandering Pt.2 - Yak42, An24, An140, & B732

Part Three: Summer Wandering Pt.3 – Flying the Il-86 & Tu154M in C with Aeroflot Don & Aeroflot



Summer Wanderings; Part Four:

Domestic Tu-154Ms and ATRs in Azerbaijan, and Overland to Georgia




Welcome to the fourth installment of my summer adventure, dating from 2008, which follows on from the last part I posted where I flew SIP-SVO-GYD on the Il-86 and Tu-154M with Aeroflot. This report documents several internal flights within Azerbaijan on both the outgoing Tu-154M and incoming ATRs, then my journey by train to Georgia and a little on this beautiful country.


Overall Route Map:


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Flights Covered in This Installment:

17.07.2008 ... GYD-NAJ ... ImAir ... Tu154M ... 4K-AZ17
17.07.2008 ... NAJ-GYD ... Azerbaijan Airlines ... Tu154M ... 4K-85734
20.07.2008 ... GYD-KVD ... Azerbaijan Airlines ... ATR42-500 ... 4K-AZ52
20.07.2008 ... KVD-GYD ... Azerbaijan Airlines ... ATR42-500 ... 4K-AZ52




Day 21 & 22; Tuesday 15th & Wednesday 16th July 2008:


Baku was a city which took me quite by surprise; like every destination I try to keep an open mind about what I might find, but after almost three weeks of experiencing regimented avenues of the concrete soviet apartment blocks prevalent in the cities of Ukraine and Moldova, I had formulated certain expectations. Expectations which were completely blown away. The city lies on the Western shore of the Caspian Sea, atop one of the most productive oil fields in the world – a fact reflected by the new found wealth which is powering the city’s design renaissance. It’s also one of the hottest capitals on the planet, reaching 45 degrees still air temperature on the day I arrived; only Baghdad further South recorded a hotter 48 degree maximum, so although I arrived in the late afternoon I relaxed in the cool air conditioned hostel until evening before venturing out to explore some of the city.

As far as hostels go it was one of the nicest and most central I’ve stayed at – two spacious rooms each sleeping four people in bunks, with a live-in manager happy to give you advice and help at most times of the day. Located within Baku Sovetti, the quaint and now exclusive old city, its $20 a night price was a fraction of what hotels wanted charge. Yet at the time it was the only such establishment in Baku and indeed Azerbaijan, yet unfortunately I think it’s now closed, moved, or done both and changed its name to the Caspian Hostel. A shame, but reflective of how removed the destination is from the mainstream.

By early evening a few others had arrived, so we took a walk to explore some of the city, heading towards Dagustu Park, which sits on a hill overlooking Baku and offers a great vantage point.

Funicular railway from the sea front to Dagustu Park:



Baku waterfront:


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The Eternal Flame associated with Martyrs Lane in Dagastu Park; a monument dedicated to the Azerbaijanis who were killed during ‘Black January’, when 26,000 Soviet soldiers violently subdued independence protests. It also serves as a memorial to those killed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia:



Baku TV Tower, the tallest structure in Azerbaijan:



Baku continued to surprise me at every turn; the city centre is a fusion of culture and design which brims with wealth and new construction. Unlike other former Russian cities I’d visited though, the underlying Soviet vernacular is actively being erased – no sooner had independence been declared then all icons associated with Lenin and mother Russia were torn down and destroyed, just about all public buildings have now been either replaced or renovated. Impressively though, the new designs already appear timeless; brand new sitting harmoniously next to old in a way I hadn’t seen before or indeed thought possible in the current world of juxtaposing modernity, with an attention to stonework detail that is completely lost in most Western designs and countries.

Museum of Literature:



Museum (of Carpets?):



Government House:



The Caspian Sea port:


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Baku Sovetti, the old city, has recently been included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. City walls and ruins:


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The Maiden Tower, dating from the 12 Century, is one of Azerbaijan’s proudest emblems and provides a great view over the old city:


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During the day I made a point of visiting the Azerbaijan Airlines (known as AZAL) city ticket office, located near to the State Railway Headquarters, in order to try and arrange some flights to the Azerbaijani Exclave of Nakchivan which is inaccessible by land unless you travel through Iran or Turkey. Having checked the airline’s rudimentary website before leaving England I’d found that AZAL offered six daily return flights; four on Tu-154 equipment and the remaining two on Tu-134 aircraft, so my aim was to fly out on one and back on the other. There was no information about prices or booking online, and despite eventually managing to get hold of the UK AZAL representative by phone they told me they had no clue either and that I would have to wait until I was in Azerbaijan and visit the main ticket office.

Confusingly the ticket office is split into two halls; with international and domestic flights in one and the Nakhchivan air bridge in another next door. There wasn’t much in the way of a queue, but there was a slight problem – they spoke no English at all, and I didn’t speak Azerbaijani – just pigeon Russian, so the lady helping me was probably tearing her hair out at my odd daytrip request. Through a series of drawings, scribbles and hand signals she managed to explain that the Tu-134 was running twice daily and that the Tu-154 ran four times a day – which I already knew, but that almost everything was fully booked for the next week. After much searching she came up with one flight the next day which had availability on it – fantastic! When I asked about the return she said it wasn’t necessary; all tickets are treated as an open returns, so I could take any flight back… so long as there was space. It was this condition which worried me – if there were hardly any seats outbound then it was likely to be the case inbound. There was literally no other way out of the Nackchivan Exclave for me; I couldn’t go through Iran (heaven knows I’ve tried enough times for a visa there!) and the border with Turkey is the only entry point to that country where visas are not issued on the border. I would be stuck, but what the hell - I wanted an adventure! I’d been told ticket prices were incredibly cheap on this route – which they are for locals, however foreign citizens pay ten times that price – 190 New Manat instead of about 20, which is fair enough really as it’s subsidized for Azerbaijanis but there is no reason why they should subsidize me as a tourist. A hand written ticket was promptly scribbled out and I was told to be at the airport in good time and have my passport. Paper tickets are a rarity these days, so it’s always nice to get them.


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With the Nakchivan flights sorted I then turned my attention to the Ganja flight which I planned to take as I left Baku on my way to Tbilisi. This had to be booked in the other hall as it was ‘just’ domestic and was a much easier process with ample availability. A single ticket cost 56 New Manat, or €44, one way. This more detailed map may explain the geography of where I was travelling a little better:


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Day 23; Thursday 17th July 2008:


My flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so I spent the morning sightseeing in the city and then caught a cab out to the airport. I’d left a note with the hostel manager that I’d be back soon, as I was leaving most of my stuff there – I really couldn’t be bothered to pack up my main backpack and take it with me, so hand luggage and a change of clothes would have to suffice if I did get stuck.

Flights to Nakchivan operate from the domestic terminal, a smaller and less imposing building which sits alongside the international terminal. Until the first truly domestic flights were launched to Ganja it was dedicated to this vital air bridge service, which is similar in many ways to the Berlin airlift. A full security check was made upon entering the building, scanning both me and my bags before I was allowed to progress upstairs to the marble floored check in hall where the flight had just opened. It wasn’t exactly an orderly process and the amount of luggage some people were carrying was extreme; three or four trolley loads per person - the cut off for paying excess baggage seemed to be more than about two, which in itself is pretty incredible! The desk was manned by a friendly guy who spoke a little English, so I was able to request a window seat at the back of the aircraft. His screen was tilted enough for me to notice that the seat map displayed a Tu-154, which was a real shame as the flight was scheduled to be operated by a Tu-134.

The Police were serious about the no photography policy in and around the airport and maintained a very visible presence, so I wasn’t able to take any shots of the terminal’s interior. Past experience told me not to reveal my SLR camera at all, and just stick to taking a few inconspicuous shots with my phone. Beside the check in area is a small café with large windows overlooking the ramp, I grabbed a roll with a questionable filling and sat down to watch the activity outside – not that there was much. On the left sat the Azerbaijan Airlines Tu-134 which I was hoping to fly on, whilst the Tu-154 on the right, operated by ImAir, was an unknown carrier to me.



About an hour before the flight boarded I headed through the security lane to reach the departures lounge, undergoing a second even more thorough screening. Along with Nagorno Karabakh, Nakchivan is central to the ongoing territorial dispute with Armenia, meaning the threat of terrorism is considered to be very high. Unsurprisingly some of the Police/security guards attempted to extract a bribe from me, claiming that I needed an additional visa/fee/pass/certificate etc… - whatever they thought I might believe basically. It seemed like they took turns in trying to tell me I needed the lot, which would of course cost me a ‘very reasonable’ $20, in order to visit Nakchivan. I’d checked if I needed any additional paperwork before deciding to visit, so just kept asking ‘why?’ and ‘what for?’ until in the end they got bored and told me to go away.  silly  The departures hall was more like a long conservatory strapped onto the side of the terminal - woefully insufficient for a flight carrying almost 180 passengers.

I was beginning to think my flight would be operated by the ImAir Tupolev sat on the ramp in front of me, when another Tu-154 touched down in the distance on runway 18. Expecting it to be an Azerbaijan Airlines example, I was surprised when I instead recognised the Uzbekistan Airlines colours, which is one of the best liveries out there in my opinion, especially on this type. I had an ideal elevated view and perfect light so I was dying to grab my SLR and snap away, but I knew that just behind me there were a dozen Police who I’d already annoyed by not pandering them with a bribe, so I had to made do with a discrete picture on my camera phone.



On the ground below a bus drew up and people began to gather around the only gate. As the door was opened passengers flooded down the stairs whilst a stifling wave of heat burst in from outside. Unlike in most airports I’ve travelled through, ground staff were checking boarding passes as passengers got on the bus, rather than doing it in the lounge. Thankfully the bus didn’t wait for too long before driving out to the plane; it was rapidly turning into a sauna and the smell of body odor was not pleasant. Just to really tease me it drove right around the Tu-134, pausing next to it, before continuing to the ImAir Tu-154 when the crew signaled they were ready to accept passengers.

The boarding process was strictly controlled; only half a dozen people were allowed on the steps at one time, and more passengers were not allowed to ascend until they had entered the aircraft. The sun baked down onto me until it was my turn, after being welcomed by the crew I turned right and headed to the back of the rearmost cabin, finding my seat just in front of the engine. Rows and seat numbers, in the Cyrillic alphabet, were displayed by an illuminated sign on the ceiling, whilst the row number alone was repeated on a small metal sign clipped to the base of the overhead lockers.


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Before too many people got onboard I took a few pictures of the cabin, figuring it was probably safe to use my SLR for the inconspicuous ones. The seats had Azerbaijan Airlines headrest covers on them, so I presume the aircraft had been hired in for the busier summer season to increase capacity on the route, instead of flying the smaller Tu-134. Still, I might have missed out on another aircraft type for now, but at least I gained an obscure airline to my logbook.

The cabin was in pretty good condition overall; standard fall flat seats with simple metal tray tables and back, which can’t exactly be called comfortable, but make do for short flights and a half decent amount of legroom. In the true ‘make do and mend’ spirit, my seatbelt had at some point been severed, and was crudely tied back together in a messy knot! The ends had been neatly trimmed down so at first I figured somebody had just tied a knot in the belt, until I undid it and found I had two halves.


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As the final trailer of bags and boxes were loaded into the rear hold, the last remaining passengers were bused out from the terminal. It seemed the rampers had a struggle to get the baggage hold door below shut, but after much shouting and heaving it was eventually slammed to with such force that the floor and seats around me shook. Fortunately the air conditioning was now beginning to have some affect on the heat inside the cabin, which had been building incessantly during the slow boarding process.

During the final preparations before chocks off a series of announcements were made in Azerbaijani, which may or may not have constituted a safety briefing. Even if the crew were speaking the Queen’s English I couldn’t have understood them, as the engines had just been started and the back of the cabin was now resonating to their might. The brakes released with a firm clunk and, very slowly (but with a lot of noise), the aircraft began to roll forwards, turning through 180 degrees to taxi towards the shorter 2,700m long Westerly runway, backtracking down the shimmering asphalt to reach the threshold of runway 16.


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GYD-NAJ Baku Heydar International to Nakchivan

Carrier: ImAir (Operating for Azerbaijan Airlines)
Flight: J2 253
Aircraft: Tupolev Tu-154M
Registration: 4K-AZ17
Date of First Flight: During 1986
Seat: 27F
Block Departure Time: 17:00
Take off Time: 17:11
Block Arrival Time: 18:00
Touchdown Time: 18:16
Distance Flown: 259 miles by Great Circle route
Total Flying Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Fare: 190 Azerbaijan New Manat (£117.86) return
Booking Fee: none


I was looking forwards to seeing how the Tupolev would perform; although the flight was relatively short, it was well over 40 degrees again outside and the passenger load was 100%, plus as many boxes and bags as the handlers could possibly stuff into the hold below. A tight turn was made over the piano keys, with no turning circle only the 60m width of the runway could be used to line up for take-off. There was a slight pause before the engines spooled up, taking almost a minute to increase little by little until all three were revolving at screaming pitch, shattering the air with a truly magnificent sound which epitomises why I love aviation.

It wasn’t a violent start to the roll by any means; more like the gradual acceleration away from traffic lights that you might expect from a fully laden family car, gradually building up into a full blown battle charge as it screamed suicidaly towards the end of the runway, easing its nose upwards and lifting away from the tarmac with a few hundred meters remaining. Climbing isn’t really the right word for what followed – for the first few minutes we seemed to just hang in the air, creeping upwards, but making very little in the way of altitude. It gave a great aerial view of Baku though, and the sound was immense. I think the best way of likening it is to the dubbed in effects meant to represent the ‘modern nuclear planes’ which would often find themselves in need of rescue during the Thunderbird children’s TV program. Some of the designs aren’t too dissimilar either.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dON-DLpx-eI




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A sweeping bank over the city directed the aircraft on a North Westerly heading as it began to muster a real climb, passing over a few of the coloured lakes which appear around Baku. No doubt some are caused by natural algae growing in salt pools, but the more ‘vibrant’ shades other than red are more likely to be cased by pollution and careless oil spills. Whilst the crew began to distribute a drink and light snack service of peach juice and sweet bread, the plane banked again – to the left this time, pointing us inland towards Nakchivan. Although progress is being made between Armenia and Azerbaijan, following mediation by Turkey, the two countries are still a long way from allowing an open border, meaning the only direct way between Azerbaijan and its largest Exclave is by air – striking echoes of West Berlin during its days of segregation by the DDR and the airlift which ensued.



The aircraft (cn 718), was delivered new from the factory in 1986 to Urumqi based China Xinjiang Airlines, where it operated as B-2603 until being retired in 2001. She quickly found a new home with ImAir and was re-registered as 4K-AZ17 on the 9th June 2001.


View Large View Medium
Click here for bigger photo!

Photo © Gerard Helmer
View Large View Medium
Click here for bigger photo!

Photo © Jim Newton


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It took some twenty minutes to reach cruise, by which time the Mingachevir Reservoir was approaching below, a major source of fresh water for Azerbaijan. The flight continued on course until a left bank was executed above Lake Sevan, in Armenia, in order to fly South towards Nakchivan, upon which were the spoilers raised and a gradual descent began. I think it’s serenely ironic that overland access is de-facto prohibited, yet neither country seems to have a problem with each other’s aircraft flying overhead… so long as it’s at high altitude and not over the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region itself.



When the aircraft had again entered Azerbaijani airspace the descent became more pronounced. The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic doesn’t cover a very large area; the airport and city occupy the lowest point of an arid and mountainous landscape, requiring a series of loops to be flown in order to lose altitude.



Leveling out from a 180 degree turn to fly back on ourselves in a North-Westerly direction, to lose height, with the Zangezur Mountains in the distance:



Making a long right hand bank over the village of Qivraq to then fly back South West to Nakhchivan, some 40km away:


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After completing the last loop the flaps began to extend, signifying that this time we were on final approach, followed a short while later by the gear dropping down and locking into place with a clunk – the Tu-154 is one of the few large aircraft where you can see the main gear from inside the cabin, thanks to its very wide track. In the distance the Araxes Reservoir, which sits beside the city of Nakchivan, came into view - on the opposite shore you can see Iran, another country which I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to get to for years; so near and yet prohibited.

The suburbs of Nakchivan City whipped by under the right wing as the scream emitting from the engines increased more and more the closer we got to the ground. Finally the runway shot beneath the aircraft just five seconds before the concrete caught hold of the Tupolev’s wheels with a soft squeal, followed inevitably by what sounded like the full wrath of God being released from behind, as the reversers swung into action to stop the mighty beast. It was a fast approach which took quite a bit of stopping too, no doubt influenced by the 2,863ft elevation; using reverse thrust for a full 2,000m before allowing the plane to roll hastily out along the 1,000m of runway 14R remaining to the turning circle.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLG-oB6wQcs


Although the runway is 3,300m long it’s only 45m wide, which is just too narrow for the Tu-154 to turn on, meaning backtracking almost 3km after using the circle at the end.


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So, I had arrived in yet another unusual and not very touristy destination – my first glimpses of the scenery outside were beautiful, with the arid plane leading away to craggy mountains in the distance. Just right for exploring - I wouldn’t mind being ‘stuck’ here for a day or so.

Upon reaching the ramp mine was the only aircraft present. A good few passengers were already making their way to the main door to be let off, much to the annoyance of one of the stewardesses – you don’t have to speak the same language to know when a lady is angry! Disembarking was carried out through door 2L in a much less orderly fashion than boarding. During the walk to the arrivals hall lots of people were taking pictures, so I followed suit and took a couple of the plane and Nakhchivan’s modern looking, well presented terminal building.


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I had no luggage to reclaim so once inside the terminal I headed straight for the ticket desk/check in to find out what the situation was with availability and listing myself on a return flight. During the course of this I started chatting to a really helpful man who spoke perfect English, he was very modest about it, but it was clear and unbroken and he really went out of his way to help me, which was very kind.

Availability was not looking good for Friday and over the weekend; not a single seat was free until Tuesday morning, whilst for today the aircraft I had just arrived on was flying back with a few empty seats, and the next flight might have some but was already looking full too. I was slightly gutted, as now I really wanted to spend some time seeing Nakhchivan – even just a day, but I couldn’t risk getting stuck until beyond Monday, which looked likely if I didn’t return straight away. The later flight was operated by Azerbaijan Airlines themselves, meaning I wouldn’t be taking the exact same aircraft again, so I was confirmed on that flight and headed to check in.

Because it was ‘probably already full’ I was informed of one minor proviso of me being on the flight – I may not have a seat. I was told this wasn’t a problem, I could still fly, but I’d just have to stand up if there were no free seats in the cabin. Nevertheless, I was offered a place to sit by the window and issued with a hand written boarding card displaying a seat allocation ‘4E’ which because the signage is Cyrillic is the equivalent of 4F, so I assumed all was in fact well.



There was still some time before I had to be in the departures lounge, so I headed to the terminal’s café to carry on talking with guy I’d met – I love meeting local people and being able to talk to them about their country and, likewise, he had a fascination with the UK and how life was there. He’d got it pretty much spot on – expensive compared to Azerbaijan!

The inbound flight roared down the runway just after eight o’ clock, not reappearing until five minutes later, such is the distance to backtrack. In the distance the mountains were beginning to turn a deep red, picking up the last rays of the sinking sun – it was beautiful and made me even more pig sick that I hadn’t organised my flights whilst back in the UK so I stayed for a few days. I bid my new friend goodbye, telling him to let me know if he ever got to London as he hoped, and made my way through security to the lounge where boarding was about to start. Once more people were snapping away on their mobile phones, so I joined in.


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A Policeman objected to my last picture, looking back up at the engines, but before he could make me delete it the crew member welcoming passengers to the aircraft pretty much told him to shut up, and for me to ‘here, get on aircraft, now’ …so I did just that!

My seat was in the front of the cabin, but as I approached row four I began to see what had been meant about possibly not having a seat; the window seat, to which I was allocated, wasn’t actually there – it was an empty space allowing access to an emergency exit. I didn’t realise the guy at check in had literally meant it would be a space by the window and not an actual seat. I asked a crew member, who just said ‘ah, you don’t have seat’ and was very uninterested and told me to sit anywhere I wanted, and pointed to the next seat along, telling me to stay there for now. Presumably this was somebody’s seat, but by the end of boarding nobody had asked me to move. Really I’m not sure why seats were allocated at all, nobody seemed to take any notice of them. The floor space by the exit, normally kept religiously clear, quickly filled up with overspill luggage that couldn’t be crammed in anywhere else – a case of presents, a bag with what looked like a wedding dress, even a potted plant. Not so great in an emergency, but I was hoping we wouldn’t be having one anyway.



There was no safety demonstration or announcement from the cockpit, the ground equipment was moved away, engines fired up, and the plane moved off – simple as that. Once more every hold compartment had been crammed with cargo, but even so a truck half laden with boxes hadn’t quite been found space and was driven away.

It was a bit difficult to see or move because the cabin too was brimming with luggage, so much so that my feet and legs were firmly wedged around my own backpack, but as the plane taxied to the threshold of Nakchivan’s runway 14R I could see there were several passengers stood in the middle galley area behind me. The crew didn’t seem to be bothered by this, only making a fuss when they got in the way of their duties, and treated it as a very normal event. Outside the sun had just set, painting the landscape in a misty dark purple.


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NAJ-GYD Nakhchivan to Baku Heydar International

Carrier: Azerbaijan Airlines
Flight: J2 256
Aircraft: Tupolev Tu-154M
Registration: 4K-85734
Date of First Flight: Delivered 7th December 1992
Seat: 4F
Block Departure Time: 21:00
Take off Time: 20:58
Block Arrival Time: 22:00
Touchdown Time: 21:54
Distance Flown: 259 miles
Total Flying Time: 56 minutes
Fare: 190 Azerbaijan New Manat (£117.86) return
Booking Fee: none


Upon reaching the threshold every inch of tarmac was used, swinging back around and stopping abruptly on the piano keys. Outside the temperature had still been in the mid 30s according to a gauge I’d seen before boarding back in the terminal and the runway sits at an elevation of almost 3,000ft. The Tupolev wasn’t exactly going out light either, so I figured this would be interesting. It wasn’t possible to video the take off this time; my seat was essentially a middle seat so I was too far from the window to keep my phone steady enough in the low evening light to get a clear image, but I wish I had tried. Once again the engines spooled up in stages, each one sending a new wave of noise forwards until it was a considerable roar, even in the front of the cabin. Then gradually, with gradually being the operative word, the aircraft began to roll down the runway.

The terminal and cargo buildings drifted past at what seemed like walking pace. Even when half the runway had been used the plane was still moving so slowly it was painful. Then a white marker rectangle painted on the tarmac slipped by – signifying there was only 1,000 meters left, yet still the lumbering beast wasn’t going fast enough to become airborne. Another two went by, then a larger marking meaning we’d reached the touchdown point for planes landing in the opposite direction and still the nose pointed determinably straight ahead. Another white marker shot by; 400 meters remaining, but now I could feel the nose beginning to lift quite rapidly into the air. The rear wheels remained planted stubbornly on the ground as a marker signifying there was just 300 meters remaining sailed by, waiting another agonizing few moments before the ground relinquished its hold on the aircraft and she slipped nervously into the air. Seconds later the piano keys were beneath us, then nothing but arid land. The mighty Tupolev had used over 3,100 meters of Nakchivan’s 3,300 meter long runway.



Over the threshold at barely 100ft AGL:



Maybe I should have been nervous about what could be perceived as a close call; it had taken 1 minute 28 seconds to get from brakes off to lift off, smashing my previous longest roll by almost 30 seconds. But I wasn’t bothered; after all, it’s just another experience. Despite being in the air we weren’t gaining altitude very quickly, and at about 1000ft a long right hand bank was made, skirting briefly into Iranian airspace whilst passing over the reservoir. Much like the approach, several circuits had to be flown in order to gain enough altitude to safely fly over the surrounding mountains, providing a beautiful view to the ground below which had by now turned a deep red in the dying light of the day.



Five minutes into the flight and we were back over the airfield, banking right again to complete the second circuit. The climb performance wasn’t exactly ‘sporty’.



At the end of the third circuit enough distance had been put between us and the ground to safely clear the Zangezur Mountains and fly back over Armenia towards Baku, again steering a course around the Nagorno Karabakh region.


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The remainder of the flight was uneventful, a brief drink and snack service was handed out once the aircraft had leveled out – although to be honest it had never really pitched up in the first place. Dusk gave way to night and the next thing I saw outside were the lights of Baku as the aircraft dropped down to land, the wheels squealing as they contacted the runway after a flight time of a little under an hour. We arrived on stand just as another ImAir flight was departing for Nakchivan, this one operated by RA-85732.



Disembarking was chaotic to say the least, as passengers sought to reunite themselves with their various items of luggage which had moved or been moved during the flight. Night time had done nothing to quell the temperature in Baku, so yet again the bus journey to the terminal was a hot and sweaty endurance, delivering passengers into a small reclaim area which was already being infiltrated by taxi touts, much to the annoyance of airport staff.

Outside I was met by a wall of them, all wanting $50 for the ride into the city. I just kept walking, telling them $10 when they asked me ’how much?’ - it didn’t particularly matter where I walked to; I was the pied piper and they the mesmerised followers. This tactic normally works, and sure enough after a minute or so one of them took my offer and lead me off to an awaiting LADA. Nevertheless he was definitely trying to screw more money out of me and took the longest route possible into the city – even stopping at a petrol station to try and get me to pay to fill his car up.  silly 

It was a repetitive theme that all taxi drivers I met complained bitterly about how much fuel cost now. Fair enough the government had recently doubled the retail price of petrol, but even so, it was just £0.40 a liter – a price not seen in Europe for more than a decade. Because of the detours it took over an hour to get back to the hostel, by which time it was almost midnight.


Day 24; Friday 18th July 2008:


There was so much to see in Baku, especially Baku Sovetti - the old walled city full of narrow streets and houses, that I spent the entire day exploring. The city very safe to me and I was comfortable walking around on my own at night. It had a Mediterranean feel; the atmosphere reminded me of Barcelona, long before it became a feature on every budget carrier’s route map and stag/hen parties discovered it.


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This style of architectural vernacular is being used for many the new buildings in central Baku, meaning they sit harmoniously next to the old and are almost indistinguishable. Old left, new right – although I may be wrong about the lower building as it is so hard to tell:



However there are a couple of building projects planned for the above waterfront which are going to completely blow the cobwebs away. Interesting, if not particularly subtle – in fact gaudy and tacky is a better description of the plans, so I’m glad to have seen the old Baku, before things like this spring up and it becomes another Dubai, which I think is inevitable given the projected oil wealth:

http://skyscrapernews.com/images/pics/1357FullMoonRising_pic3.jpg

http://skyscrapernews.com/news.php?ref=1357



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Day 25; Saturday 19th July 2008:


The following day I headed South from Baku with a couple of guys from the hostel, to visit the mud volcanoes of Qobustan. We took a service minibus as far as the nearest village and bargained to hire a taxi for half a day from there, driving overland into the hills to find these naturally occurring formations. Although hundreds of feet high, the very hills the volcanoes sit on are the result of their constantly ejecting mud, which spreads out from the cone like a miniature lava flow, drying hard within hours under the baking sun. These deposits have over thousands of years compounded to create a range of hills, all fed from the same vast underground reservoir. Each day they grow a little more as pressure and heat within the Earth’s crust forces more mud, containing traces of gas and oil, to the surface where it bubbles and gurgles out in playful eruptions.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkFlZZeJ7sg
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I’d never imagined that one day I’d have been driven up a volcano in a LADA, but this invincible machine had driven four of us straight up a hill similar to the one in the distance. They are a bit like cockroaches, nobody’s particularly pleased to see one, but they just won’t die:



From the rather quaint volcanoes we headed a little further North along the coast to an area of extensive rock carvings, dating back to a time when the Caspian basin was more tropical than desert:


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Some of the many roads leading out over the Caspian Sea to offshore oil platforms. These roads stretch for miles out to sea, but many are now abandoned as the rising water level has submerged stretches of them whilst lack of maintenance has caused other parts to collapse:


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Returning to Baku you pass through an industrial wasteland of abandonment. The city is surrounded by the mess resulting from past and present oil exploration; the landscape is dotted with towers, pumps and nodding donkeys extracting the black gold from almost everywhere you look, whilst the coast is dotted with scrap yards dismembering old oil rigs, as those beside them are readying new ones for use:


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Day 26; Sunday 20th July 2008:


Today I was due to fly to Gyandzha, or Ganja, from where I was going to carry on to Georgia. I modified my plans however to take the overnight train from Baku to Tbilisi that evening, joining the people I’d been to Quobustan with, instead of picking my way overland alone from Ganja in Marshrutkas (service minibuses often covering long distances). I’d booked the train ticket the previous night, but couldn’t book the return portion of the flight because AZAL’s office was shut, meaning I would have to do that once I reached Ganja. If for some reason I couldn’t fly back to Baku, then I’d just have to wait for the sleeper train to stop in Ganja that night and get on it there, hence I had to take all my luggage with me, just in case.

It was an early start; the flight left at 9am so I was up early and managed to find a cab by 6am. The elderly LADA hammered its way along, my spine absorbing every bump whilst my legs acted as a restraint in the absence of any seatbelts. Not too helpful when things like this happen with no advance warning:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGU5oBUwsGI


Still, I arrived at the airport in one piece, even if it was more by luck. This time I had to show my passport and tickets which were carefully examined, seemingly only out of curiosity, before being security screened and allowed into the domestic terminal. The check in hall and departures area were completely deserted this morning; the first rotation to Nakchivan was just taxiing out, so Ganja was the only flight for the next few hours. A single check in desk was already open for the flight, so I headed towards it and presented my tickets and identification. Again I’d been issued paper tickets for the flight, although they weren’t hand written this time.


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The flight didn’t appear to be very full and the lady checking me in spoke excellent English, so I was able to ask for a window seat on the right side of the aircraft, facing away from the sun. When she handed over my boarding pass I noted something odd; it listed the correct flight number and related to the correct aircraft map, but showed the airport code for Nakchivan as the destination, not Ganja. Apparently this is human error as staff are so used to only having a single destination to deal with, but she assured me it was alright.



This was the first truly domestic route operated from Baku for many years, excluding those to Nakchivan which is an autonomous region. Situated in the North West of the country some 250 miles by road or rail from the capital, Ganja is an industrial city with a population of 300,000. Flights commenced on the route just a few months previously in April 2008, operating twice weekly on Wednesdays and Sundays, and since then frequencies have been increased and further domestic routes activated.

An hour before departure I headed through the security lane, expecting another barrage of fictitious fees and permits to be levied in my direction. None materialized, so whether they recognised me again or just didn’t bother I don’t know. When it wasn’t packed with hundreds of people the lounge was actually quite nice, offering excellent views right across the apron and runways, not that there was anything to see again except for the same Tu-134 I saw parked previously and an ATR-42 being prepared for my flight. Baku seems to lie dormant during the day and only comes alive from late at night until early morning.

The flight call was a casual and muted affair. A member of staff appeared by the single gate, opened the door and the small collection of passengers filed obediently down the stairs after her to an awaiting bus. Sure enough the driver headed for the solitary ATR which was already shimmering in the building heat, drawing up alongside the aircraft an opening the doors.

The collection of airport police and officials surrounding the plane told me it probably wasn’t a good idea to reach for any form of camera, not unless I wanted to be rapidly offloaded, so I figured it best to wait until I was inside the cabin. Upon reaching the stairs I was greeted briskly by a male purser in his 40s or 50s. Maybe I was stereotyping too much; but initially I assumed he was one of the flight crew because of his regimented, almost military appearance and stature.

Boarding took no time at all, there being so few passengers to deal with, and a few minutes after I’d taken my seat the door was hauled shut. A full and detailed safety demonstration followed in Azerbaijani and broken English, after which the purser gave the all clear to the cockpit for the engines to be started. There were no other movements on the airfield, so a very rapid taxi was made to runway 34 for a Northerly departure.

During the final cabin check the purser had emphasized that photography was prohibited for this stage of the flight, so I made this parked Magic Carpet Airlines Il-76 my last picture:


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GYD-KVD Baku Heydar International to Ganja

Carrier: Azerbaijan Airlines
Flight: J2 239
Aircraft: ATR 42-500
Registration: 4K-AZ52
Date of First Flight: 07.08.2007
Seat: 11D
Block Departure Time: 09:00
Take off Time: 08:58
Block Arrival Time: 10:00
Touchdown Time: 09:50
Distance Flown: 197 miles
Total Flying Time: 52 minutes
Fare: 56 Azerbajan New Manat (£34.74) one way
Booking Fee: None


There was a lengthy pause on the threshold, then power was gradually applied as the aircraft pulled smoothly away and accelerated down the runway, rotating after what I’d guess to be just over a thousand meters. Compared to the Tupolev I’d flown a few days previously the little ATR was a rocket, gripping the air and climbing steeply away from the ground. A left bank was then made, leaving the Caspian coast behind to head inland over the terrain of Azerbaijan’s rugged interior, which leads upwards into the Caucasus mountains.


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The cockpit remained silent throughout the flight, so I can only guess that the cruise altitude was fairly near to the ATR’s ceiling of 7,600m, providing a spectacular view below. Yet even once at cruise the purser still wasn’t happy with me taking pictures out of the aircraft window, although he was perfectly happy for other passengers to use compact cameras to snap away. Unfortunately in many places people are of the mindset that having a black SLR camera equates to you being a journalist or spy, and persuading people otherwise is difficult to say the least – especially when you are a foreign tourist. I have to admit that on this occasion I just ignored him; if one rule had been enforced for everyone then I would have obeyed, but I wasn’t going to be subjected to prejudice like that. In the end he didn’t seem bothered anyway, which is a good illustration that it was probably one of those rules made up on the spot.



Around 35 minutes after take-off, engine power was reduced and the plane began a gradual decent to around 3000ft AGL, after which the nose was dipped into a fairly steep dive towards the airport, touching gently down on the plentiful 3000m runway. Little braking was needed during the roll out as the ramp and terminal were located at the end farthest form the touchdown point, with friction alone providing most of the deceleration needed.

Ganja’s terminal building appeared similar in many respects to that of Nakchivan’s. The domestic portion in particular seemed vastly overzealous considering it catered for just two flights a week, but is evidence that a higher frequency domestic network is planned for the future, perhaps even with larger equipment. Parking was hardly limited on the ample ramp, enabling the aircraft to park directly in front of the terminal. There were so few passengers, around ten I think, that upon deplaning the aircraft I found the hold luggage had been carried around to the foot of the aircraft steps for identification and collection, really useful as it saved time - I still had to try and buy a ticket for the return flight to Baku.

Walking up the steps to the arrivals channel my face was met by a refreshing wave of cool conditioned air emanating from the terminal. Inside the tiled marble floors echoed the clean modern presentation of the smart and obviously new building. Having already collected my baggage I passed straight through the reclaim area, and attempted to sneak through the ranks of taxi touts – there seemed to be about five for every passenger. Of course my attempts were futile and several trailed after me along a corridor leading to domestic departures.

Fortunately the ticket desk was easy to find, being at the end of that same corridor, and featuring an impressive four counters, although only one was staffed. Considering the flight had a scheduled ground time of 90 minutes and that the load on the way out had been far from full, I figured there was a very good chance of getting a seat on the return. Sure enough there was plenty of space available, and the fare to be paid was exactly the same – it’s rare now to find flights where the price is fixed, but pleasant in many ways because it means you don’t have to book weeks in advance to get a decent fare. As the lady serving me hastily scribbled out a hand written paper ticket I used my phone to take a picture back along the wide corridor towards the domestic arrivals area:


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Next I headed just around the corner from the ticket desk to the check in hall, a light and spacious area which served the domestic terminal on one side and the international portion on the other. A bored looking staff member beckoned me towards the single counter open for Baku, reaching out in anticipation for the ticket which I’d kept hold of as I walked over. After retagging my hold bag for its return to Baku, he issued my boarding pass and told me to go straight through security to the departure lounge.

The ‘Ground Handling Company’ is a state run enterprise which operates all Azerbaijan’s airports. This time they had used KVD - the correct code for Ganja, although they were using a three letter ‘AHY’ code for AZAL, not their J2 IATA one, which was slightly old fashioned:



The security process to reach the departure lounge was exceedingly thorough, unpacking most of my bag and inspecting each piece of electrical equipment individually. I often find this is the case at smaller less used airports in the more closed countries I’ve visited, and most of the time I get the feeling it seeks only to satisfy the curiosity of whoever is on duty. You can’t blame them really – it might be a safe position and a ‘job for life’, but with so few flights a week the monotony must be relentless.

From the lounge there was an excellent view of the ramp and the ATR waiting to return me to Baku. Azerbaijan Airline’s ATRs are illusive craft and very rarely photographed; the only A.net images of this particular machine having been taken at the MAKS airshow in Russia during delivery from Toulouse in 2007, making it under a year old. A great shame as personally I think the blue cheat lines make for one of the best liveries the type wears.


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Photo © Nikolai Ionkine
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Photo © Ilya Morozov



[Edited 2011-05-22 13:26:37]


...love is just a camouflage for what resembles rage again...
13 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlinePlymSpotter From Spain, joined Jun 2004, 11668 posts, RR: 60
Reply 1, posted (3 years 5 months 4 days 10 hours ago) and read 10849 times:

Considering the aircraft’s size, such a long turn around time seems excessive, yet even so boarding wasn’t carried out until five minutes before scheduled departure. Not that it was a lengthy process, there being only eight passengers on board for the return.

The initial impediment was rapidly compensated for by the crew who, like clockwork, readied the aircraft for departure in a matter of minutes. After completing the walk around one of the pilots helped pull the door shut before hurrying to his position in the cockpit. As the cockpit door closed behind him the port engine whirred into life and the ground hook-up was removed, followed a minute later by the starboard engine, whilst simultaneously the purser completed his cabin check, even managing a broad smile in my direction. Impressively the whole process took just a couple of minutes, and with a little buzz from the props, the aircraft pulled forwards to make a 180 degree turn and taxi back to the runway.


KVD-GYD Ganja to Baku Heydar International

Carrier: Azerbaijan Airlines
Flight: AHY 240 (J2 240)
Aircraft: ATR 42-500
Registration: 4K-AZ52
Date of First Flight: 07.08.2007
Seat: 3D
Block Departure Time: 11:30
Take off Time: 11:37
Block Arrival Time: 12:30
Touchdown Time: 12:35
Distance Flown: 197 miles
Total Flying Time: 58 minutes
Fare: 56 Azerbaijan New Manat (£34.74) one way


Visible during the somewhat brisk taxi was a Turan Air Tu-154M that had arrived from Moscow. It parked a little way from the terminal next to a series of large and, from their appearance, unused hangers and cargo buildings. Certainly this airport has the potential to accommodate a huge amount of traffic in the future:


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With such a long runway available and such a small plane with a very light load, it was obvious that the pilots weren’t about to back track three kilometers just to take off into the wind. There was barely a pause between swinging onto the shimmering asphalt and the two engines being brought pounding into action for the roll, lifting the aircraft casually off the runway without even trying and sending it powering into the sky. A slight bank brought one of the industrial plants which surround Ganja into view below, followed by a few suburbs and then nothing but desertification, interspersed by an occasional river of green signifying watercourses.


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A sharp right hand bank brought into view what appears to be an active military base, and also signaled the commencement of our decent towards Baku:



The messy outskirts of this otherwise pleasant city soon appeared as we skirted the North West of the airfield, entering another slight bank to the right which took the plane on a course out over Baku bay, providing a view along the industrialised shoreline with its many quays and wharfs that constitute the largest port on the Caspian. The purser obviously knew what was coming next as he hurried to his crew seat, reaching it just as a tight left hand bank was commenced, swinging the aircraft through 180 degrees in order to fly back inland and towards the airport.


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A number of large covered markets were visible during the final moments of flight, utilizing what appears to be a circus tent. I didn’t have cause to visit, I was reliably told by several taxi drivers that it’s possible to buy anything you could ever want inside!


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Touchdown on runway 34 came with a forceful landing five minutes behind schedule, following a flight time of just under an hour. The flare and ungraceful impact with the runway had killed most of the speed which, assisted by some very hard braking, enabled the ATR to make the last exit, without backtracking. Yet again the taxi took me right past AZAL’s immaculately presented Tu-134, not that my admiration was guised jealousy for not having flown it or anything…



The domestic ramp was just as empty as when I’d first left that morning, with the same parking position surrounded by a cluster of vehicles and equipment anticipating our arrival. This time the bags were loaded onto a trailer while passengers boarded a Cobus to be driven to the terminal, departing from the stand simultaneously and following each other in procession along the network of service roads to the terminal. The eight of us filed inside to the reclaim hall where the baggage belt remained motionless. Several minutes had passed when a ramp worker suddenly appeared through the plastic flaps, practically bent double as he walked along the belt carrying two cases. After shouting something in Azerbaijani, which I presume equated to ‘the belt is broken’, he disappeared back through the flaps and repeated this process until all the luggage was put out. Now I’m not one to cast judgment on people’s intelligence, but I did find it amusing that after returning airside through the flaps, he reappeared just seconds later through a regular service door right beside the broken conveyer!

I hoisted my Bergen onto my back, and prepared to be accosted by taxi drivers again as I walked out through the automatic doors from the domestic reclaim. To my surprise it was deserted, I almost had to do a double take! I guess that with the flight being a relatively new addition and in my experience not very busy, drivers head to the main terminal instead. Still, no problem, as I was planning to search for the bus which is rumored to run into the city, so I walked the few hundred meters over to the international terminal. Well, it’s not rumored; somebody also staying at the hostel had managed to find it the previous day, however airport information would only tell me that there was no bus, whilst wearing the most unapologetically sly look on their faces. No wonder, her friend had a taxi and she would just ring this number for me instead. I asked again about the bus, to no avail, so I thanked them and headed outside to find my own taxi - in heat already topping 40 degrees I had no inclination to search harder for a bus.

There was little activity, so several drivers clamored for me to go with them. I chose an old guy who looked like he could do with the money, and got a tour of several oilfields on the way back as his ancient LADA rattled over the half paved side roads. It took over an hour but the route was interesting, and he still didn’t ask for a cent more than the $10 we’d agreed before setting off. I know it’s ironic, but it was so refreshing not to have an argument about the fare at the end of the journey that I gave him a tip.



By now it was mid afternoon and the sun was beating down like a flame on my back, but there were still a few places I wanted to see in the city before I left, so I parked my Bergen back at the hostel and took a walk, clinging to the little bits of shade provided by trees and buildings. The more I explored, the more I liked Baku. I can see it being hugely popular in the future with European tourists who are after a contained adventure – something different but not too extreme.

As evening drew near I returned to the hostel to meet the guys I’d be travelling to Tbilisi with. The train station was several miles away and with the nearest Metro station being closed for renovation we decided a taxi would be easier, none of us fancied the walk put it that way! The station itself was a strange fusion of Soviet brutalist architecture surrounding outcrops of traditional vernacular, its vast and domineering booking hall reflecting that rail still provides the only affordable and somewhat comfortable method of travelling long distance for the majority of Azerbaijan’s population.

Slowly the carriages which formed the Baku to Tbilisi sleeper train were backed into the platform. They had spent all day baking in a siding, resulting in the temperature inside reaching oven like qualities.


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The bullet train emblem on my ticket was perhaps a little hopeful, but for under 23 New Manat – that’s about €22 – I had a second class ticket to Tbilisi, plus a night’s accommodation in the process. The coaches themselves were evidently of Soviet pedigree, containing a series of drab compartments sleeping four people in bunks. Décor aside, they were in reasonable condition and the bed was at least comfortable… as far as sleeper train beds go:



It seemed the air conditioning didn’t work until the train was moving, so I waited in the relative cool back on the platform until the train was due to leave. A little jolt as the couplings tensed was the only clue that we were moving, gliding out of the platform and through the city right on time. The heat was still oppressive back in my compartment, so I remained at a window in the corridor, catching the cool air whilst watching the suburbs of Baku slip past until we had entered the oil fevered landscape outside of the city.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VSEXenpJbM





Evening gave way to darkness and with that a desire to sleep, but a couple of the other travellers in my compartment had different ideas - they had prepared a veritable feast of different foods for themselves and their two small children, and intended to share it. It was really touching and very humbling to experience such generosity; that they were so open and happy to share what they had with complete strangers, so likewise I shared what I had brought, and we sat and talked.


Day 27; Monday 21st July 2008:


Even with a total of six people and their luggage in the small compartment it didn’t feel particularly cramped, and the ride was smoother than most of the lines I use regularly in the UK. Having been up very early I slept well and didn’t wake up until the border, where-upon there was a brisk tap on the door, which promptly slid open before it could be delivered an answer to reveal an Azerbaijani boarder guard. He already had a substantial wodge of passports in his hand, so there was no doubt about what he was after. Half an hour later he was back and so was my passport, so I drifted back to sleep whilst the formalities were finished.

The dusty light of dawn had been replaced by morning sunshine when the train pulled into the Georgian side of the checkpoint. This time in addition to my passport being taken and stamped, I needed to fill in what I believe was a customs declaration and/or an immigration form. To be honest it could have been anything; this apparently very important piece of paper was my first experience of the unique and beautiful Georgian alphabet, but there wasn’t a single western character let alone an English translation to help me. I trusted the judgment of a passing guard who told me which boxes to tick and what details to write, but I still have no idea what it was about or quite what I admitted to! The border guard took the duplex copy, which was hardly readable anyway.



After a couple of hours sitting at the border I could see why a lot of online travel forums suggested getting off the train and taking a taxi/bus to Tbilisi from here – it would certainly have been quicker. But eventually the wheels once again began to roll.

As I think I mentioned in a previous part, my initial plan had been to travel by ferry from Ukraine to Batumi in Georgia, however the threat of conflict with Russia meant that I wanted to avoid the necessity of having to traverse the country in order to reach my flight home out of Baku, just in case.

Entering Tbilisi’s suburbs the tracks passed Soganlug airbase, which was heavily bombed a few weeks later by Russian aircraft:



Georgia’s infrastructure is perhaps best described as crumbling; the result of decades of neglect caused by the lead up to the Soviet Union’s collapse and a lack of investment afterwards:


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Demolishing the former Samgori railway station:



The Tbilisi TV tower:


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A couple of hours later than planned the carriage rumbled into Tbilisi’s main station and drew to a halt. Looking around you could have been mistaken for thinking a bomb had just exploded, such was the condition of the platforms and pillars supporting whatever building sat above. Inside paint peeled from its concrete walls and ceilings, infiltrated by years of damp and mould, but elements of a once proud design still shone through. Certainly not the best first impression a city can give, but renovation appeared to be underway at the time.


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After my companions had bought tickets onwards to Yerevan for a few days time, we headed for one of the streets in the city which had several homestays. Run by families who have room to spare in their houses and wish to boost income, they are a hybrid between hostels and guest houses. It was easy to find one with vacancies for just a few Georgian Lari per night; located in an unassuming old town house which sat around a cobbled courtyard set back from the road

I realised that my three days were only going to be a taster of what Georgia had to offer; before arriving I was already planning a hypothetical return for at least a week, if I liked the country. The first day we spent walking and sightseeing through this contrasting and quaint city. Although Georgia lacked the mineral and oil wealth which was powering Baku’s renaissance, there were still signs of progress everywhere; Tbilisi felt European to me, actively associating itself with the West and the EU wherever possible, and had a very relaxed and sociable atmosphere. Even at night it felt very safe too; the only danger was caused by a combination of poor lighting and disintegrating pavements. It was probably this combination of factors which meant I hardly took any pictures to remember it by – another good excuse to return.

The Kura River and landmarks:



Vibrantly painted houses:



The Sameba Cathedral by night:



River by night:


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Day 28; Tuesday 22nd July 2008:


Having explored the city, today we decided to get out into the countryside and find some of the monasteries and churches which Georgia is famous for. Public transport is cheap, efficient and surprisingly frequent, relying mostly on small minibuses known as Marshrutkas, which serve practically everywhere. After an hour and a half of rattling over potholed roads in an ancient Ford Transit with a windscreen that resembled a poorly assembled jigsaw, we arrived in Telavi, a town about 80km North East of the capital. Here we bartered with local taxi drivers, as their local knowledge was our best hope of seeing what we came for. The guy we chose didn’t disappoint either, driving us up into the hills where the majority of these monasteries and religious retreats are located.

Shuamtr convent, much of which is in the process of restoration following abandonment:


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Something I found particularly homely, even slightly eery, was the similarity of the woodlands and much of the Georgian landscape to that of where I live in England. Had I been blindfolded and dropped into this picture, I honestly wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me I was in Georgia.



I’m not religious, but the highlight was visiting Ikalto Monastery and Academy, founded in the 6th Century by one of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers, it became one of the most important centers for culture and learning in the country. Restoration has caught the buildings just as they were about to crumble back into the Earth from which they sprang, Khvtaeba church (below) is receiving expensive underpinning which is a positive sign that somebody is investing in the future of Georgia’s history, whilst archeological excavations all around the site seek to understand more about it.


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Considering this area claims to be the birth of wine making some 7,000 years ago, it would have been naïve of us to leave without experiencing its most famous export, especially as the renowned Tsinandali winery and cellars happened to be just a few miles away. The imperialistic gardens and classical Italian renaissance style buildings were quite an oddity in the landscape, but the cellars below them were a wine fanatic’s dream:



Vintage 1814, just two bottles remaining… just think of the history and events which have happened since these were bottled, not that I’d actually want to drink them.



It would have been impolite not to try some of their current produce though...



No machine processing here, the bottles are labeled, filled and boxed by hand.



For the journey back to Tbilisi it was cheaper to take a taxi the whole way than pay for three tickets on the minibus. I’m guessing that the driver was going that way anyway, because he only asked for something like £5 for the entire 100km drive.

Main street of Televi:



Looking across the Alazani River’s flood plane towards the Caucausus Mountains:



And that draws this penultimate section to a close, which is to be concluded shortly in Summer Wanderings Pt.5 – The Long Way Home, which will draw the focus back towards aviation… honest  

Many thanks for reading this far, and for bearing with me as I take a while to catch up with writing this. Between the demands of university, work, friends, family and not having a working laptop until a week ago, I’ve had little spare time to sit down and get on with it. Or at least when I have had spare time I’ve been off travelling some more!


Still to come in the third part are the following flights;

23.07.2008 ... TBS-GYD ... Azerbaijan Airlines ... ATR 72-500 ... 4K-AZ65
24.07.2008 ... GYD-RIX ... Air Baltic ... B737-300 ... YL-BBK
24.07.2008 ... RIX-LPX ... Danu Oro Transportas ... ATR 42-300 ... LY-ARI
24.07.2008 ... LPX-RIX ... Air Baltic ... F50 ... YL-BAU
25.07.2008 ... RIX-FRA ... Lufthansa ... B737-300 ... D-ABXO
25.07.2008 ... FRA-BRS ... Eurowings ... BAe 146-300 ... D-AQUA
25.07.2008 ... BRS-PLH ... Air Southwest ... Dash 8-311 ... G-WOWC



As usual, please feel free to post any comments, thoughts, or if you would like to know any more information then please don’t hesitate to ask.


All the best,


Dan  



...love is just a camouflage for what resembles rage again...
User currently offlinePalmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1223 posts, RR: 17
Reply 2, posted (3 years 5 months 3 days 15 hours ago) and read 10006 times:

Plymspotter - I was following all of your earlier "wanderings" with interest and was very pleased to see this latest instalment. Your experiences sound amazing, as do they flights you've taken.

Thanks for continuing to take the time to post these reports. Shame you did not get on the Tu134 - and I agree, it looks great in AHY colours. I've only ever seen one of their A319s and that was at LHR about 18 months ago.

Looking forward to the next part! Cheers P/jet



Eastern - Number One To The Sun
User currently offlineLXM83 From Switzerland, joined May 2005, 610 posts, RR: 5
Reply 3, posted (3 years 5 months 3 days 12 hours ago) and read 9813 times:

Hi PlymSpotter

Thanks for your fabulous report! It certainly was worth waiting for it!

Too bad you didn't get the chance to see more of Nakhichevan.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
When I asked about the return she said it wasn’t necessary; all tickets are treated as an open returns, so I could take any flight back… so long as there was space.

Interesting system. Glad you made it back.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
Paper tickets are a rarity these days, so it’s always nice to get them.

Absolutely agree.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
I was surprised when I instead recognised the Uzbekistan Airlines colours

Wow, that's a Tu-154B-2!

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
Just to really tease me it drove right around the Tu-134

Life's hard sometimes.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
The boarding process was strictly controlled; only half a dozen people were allowed on the steps at one time, and more passengers were not allowed to ascend until they had entered the aircraft

I've seen that many times when boarding Tu-154's. The reason is unclear for me, maybe it has to do with the maximum loading capacity of the airstairs?

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
I was dying to grab my SLR and snap away, but I knew that just behind me there were a dozen Police who I’d already annoyed by not pandering them with a bribe, so I had to made do with a discrete picture on my camera phone.

I always carry a small pocket camera to use in such situations. It looks much less suspicious and you can just quickly draw it from the folder and shoot and put it back again.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
shattering the air with a truly magnificent sound which epitomises why I love aviation.

The Tu-154 noise is one of the best!

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
I think it’s serenely ironic that overland access is de-facto prohibited, yet neither country seems to have a problem with each other’s aircraft flying overhead…

I'm surprised about that. I always thought they would have to fly over Iran to get to NAJ.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
seat allocation ‘4E’ which because the signage is Cyrillic is the equivalent of 4F, so I assumed all was in fact well.
Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
the window seat, to which I was allocated, wasn’t actually there

That's hilarious.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Thread starter):
quickly filled up with overspill luggage that couldn’t be crammed in anywhere else

Seen that too, once on a flight from URC to OVB on S7. It's an ideal place for all sorts of bags and boxes  
Have you once seen a Tu-154 safety card? They don't use inflatable slides but rather a blanket which needs to be held by two persons on the ground..... so the couple of boxes don't really matter, it would be a difficult proposition anyway to escape quickly.

Looking forward to reading the next part!
Cheers, LXM83


User currently offlineFabo From Slovakia, joined Aug 2005, 1219 posts, RR: 1
Reply 4, posted (3 years 5 months 3 days 11 hours ago) and read 9672 times:

Daniel, a great report. I too wish to visit the Caucasus sometime soon.


The light at the end of tunnel turn out to be a lighted sing saying NO EXIT
User currently offlinesignol From United Kingdom, joined Oct 2007, 3017 posts, RR: 8
Reply 5, posted (3 years 5 months 3 days 6 hours ago) and read 9442 times:

What a fascinating trip, thanks for sparking my interest in the region!

signol



Flights booked: none :(
User currently offlineAirIndia77W From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 6, posted (3 years 5 months 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 9364 times:

Fantastic trip report! Very detailed and some very nice photos too!

Thanks for sharing.

--Nate


User currently offlineFlyingFinn76 From Finland, joined Jun 2009, 1706 posts, RR: 30
Reply 7, posted (3 years 5 months 2 days 23 hours ago) and read 9253 times:

Hi Dan,

I'll be damned - I had actually given up the hope of seeing the last parts of your epic report - it's been what, a year and half or something since the last installment?  

Anyway thank you for finally posting this up - your parts I & II influenced heavily my trip to Moldova and Ukraine in 2009 so maybe this will influence me to head to the Caucasus... The region sure looks nice and interesting, although I didn't realize it could get that hot there! You also managed to introduce me to Nakhchivan, a place I'd never heard about before. Those flights sound like a lot of fun and a bit scary at the same time.

Is the main industry in Ganja processing of a certain sweet leaf by any chance?    

Very much looking forward to the last part if you ever get that up, did those domestic Latvian flights back in 2008 myself as well!


User currently offlineThe777Man From United States of America, joined Jul 1999, 6596 posts, RR: 55
Reply 8, posted (3 years 5 months 2 days 15 hours ago) and read 9066 times:

Hi Dan!

Thanks for finally completing this part 4 of your trip! Amazing pictures and very exoctic places that are rarely covered in trip reports here. It must have been very frusting not being able to take too many pictures onboard this exotic airlines. Too bad you missed out on the Tu-134 but at least you got to fly on a very rare airline in Imair.

Looking forward for you to complete part 5 and hopefully more trip reports later this year from other trips.

The777Man



Need a Boeing 777 Firing Order....Further to fly....CI, MU, LX and LH 777s
User currently offlinegkirk From UK - Scotland, joined Jun 2000, 24947 posts, RR: 56
Reply 9, posted (3 years 5 months 2 days 13 hours ago) and read 8986 times:

Nice report Dan, sure you havent posted in the wrong forum though?  


When you hear the noise of the Tartan Army Boys, we'll be coming down the road!
User currently offlinegabrielchew From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2005, 3311 posts, RR: 12
Reply 10, posted (3 years 5 months 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 8820 times:

That was a very long and thorough trip report Dan! Must have taken you ages. I flew though GYD in November, but only saw it very briefly, from the comfort of a BD A321 in J whilst enroute from TBS to LHR. Looks like it's an amazing place to visit - maybe i'll for and watch Eurovision! That should encourage some hostels to open hopefully?


http://my.flightmemory.com/shefgab Upcoming flights:LCY-ARN-AMS-LGW,STN-OTP-AMS-YUL,YQB-JFK-LAX-DUS-STN,LGW-DXB-BKK-HKG-
User currently offlineA340600 From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2003, 4105 posts, RR: 51
Reply 11, posted (3 years 5 months 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 8790 times:

Incredible, nice work Dan 


Despite the name I am a Boeing man through and through!
User currently offlinePlymSpotter From Spain, joined Jun 2004, 11668 posts, RR: 60
Reply 12, posted (3 years 4 months 3 weeks 6 days 11 hours ago) and read 8278 times:

Quoting Palmjet (Reply 2):
Thanks for continuing to take the time to post these reports. Shame you did not get on the Tu134 - and I agree, it looks great in AHY colours.

No problem, and yeah the AZAL livery is great on anything really. Love those blue cheatlines.

Quoting LXM83 (Reply 3):
Thanks for your fabulous report! It certainly was worth waiting for it!

Thank you

Quoting LXM83 (Reply 3):
Wow, that's a Tu-154B-2!

Wow, I didn't realise that. One of my options was to carry on East, no saying I'd have taken that flight but it was something I looked at and a B2 variant would have been cool!

Quoting LXM83 (Reply 3):
I've seen that many times when boarding Tu-154's. The reason is unclear for me, maybe it has to do with the maximum loading capacity of the airstairs?

Could be, I'm trying to think now if it's happened on any other flights with different equipment. Maybe whilst boarding an SU A321, but aside of that it's just a Tu-154 thing I guess.

Quoting LXM83 (Reply 3):
I always carry a small pocket camera to use in such situations. It looks much less suspicious and you can just quickly draw it from the folder and shoot and put it back again.

That's a good plan, with those you can get away with some creative 'hidden' photography because compact don't make a shutter noise.

Quoting LXM83 (Reply 3):
I'm surprised about that. I always thought they would have to fly over Iran to get to NAJ.

Same here actually.

Quoting LXM83 (Reply 3):
Have you once seen a Tu-154 safety card? They don't use inflatable slides but rather a blanket which needs to be held by two persons on the ground..... so the couple of boxes don't really matter, it would be a difficult proposition anyway to escape quickly.

I think that depends on the options exercised by the carrier. I've got a few which show people holding the chute, some which don't distinguish it, and another one which definitely shows an inflatable yellow type slide.

Quoting Fabo (Reply 4):

Daniel, a great report. I too wish to visit the Caucasus sometime soon.

Thanks, it's a very diverse and beautiful area from what I saw.

Quoting signol (Reply 5):
What a fascinating trip, thanks for sparking my interest in the region!

Thank you and my pleasure.

Quoting AirIndia77W (Reply 6):
Fantastic trip report! Very detailed and some very nice photos too!

Thanks, glad you enjoyed the pictures.

Quoting FlyingFinn76 (Reply 7):
I'll be damned - I had actually given up the hope of seeing the last parts of your epic report - it's been what, a year and half or something since the last installment?

Thank you, yes it's been a while! I had the last parts almost done when my laptop power supply broke almost two years ago now, the HDD wasn't easily accessible to slave into a USB mount and the part to mend it wasn't available. I gradually re-wrote them on my main computer in my not very frequent spare time and had actually finished this fourth part (but was holding out to post both 4 and 5 together) when the C drive on my main computer malfunctioned. That turned out to be a bigger job than trying everywhere to find someone who could get hold of the part for my laptop, so a few weeks ago I got the laptop back and finished the original report. I only had to add the links in and bring it up to date with a proof read so posted it straight away, least I lose it a third time!

Quoting FlyingFinn76 (Reply 7):
Anyway thank you for finally posting this up - your parts I & II influenced heavily my trip to Moldova and Ukraine in 2009 so maybe this will influence me to head to the Caucasus... The region sure looks nice and interesting, although I didn't realize it could get that hot there!

I can certainly recommend it - I've been saying myself that I must go back to Georgia ever since, but I've still not got there. The temperature is insane, well over 40 degrees in the shade in Baku, but nice and cool up in the mountains.

Quoting FlyingFinn76 (Reply 7):
You also managed to introduce me to Nakhchivan, a place I'd never heard about before. Those flights sound like a lot of fun and a bit scary at the same time.

They are probably much safer now as it's Airbus equipment flying them. Nakhchivan looks like an intriguing place and if you get a visa in advance you can enter via its border with Turkey, a cheap 'back door' to reach Baku used a lot I am told.

Quoting FlyingFinn76 (Reply 7):
Is the main industry in Ganja processing of a certain sweet leaf by any chance?

Unfortunately I didn't have time to find out  
Quoting The777Man (Reply 8):
Thanks for finally completing this part 4 of your trip! Amazing pictures and very exoctic places that are rarely covered in trip reports here. It must have been very frusting not being able to take too many pictures onboard this exotic airlines.

No problem and thanks you replied to this thread before I could drop you an email to tell you it was up. It's a pain, but I'm guessing a night in an prison cell would probably be worse still   

Quoting The777Man (Reply 8):
Looking forward for you to complete part 5 and hopefully more trip reports later this year from other trips.

I just put it up. Once I'd recovered the original version I only had a little bit more to write and it was done, I just didn't quite have enough time to post it before I had to go away.

Quoting gkirk (Reply 9):
Nice report Dan, sure you havent posted in the wrong forum though?

Thank you. I'l be caring and sharing, don't worry  
Quoting gabrielchew (Reply 10):
That was a very long and thorough trip report Dan! Must have taken you ages.

Thanks, yes it took me quite a while. It's enjoyable though to do in my spare time, I just wish I had more of it.

Quoting gabrielchew (Reply 10):
Looks like it's an amazing place to visit - maybe i'll for and watch Eurovision! That should encourage some hostels to open hopefully?

It should raise awareness of the city and how nice it is, Eurovision is a massive chance to publicise Azerbaijan as a tourist destination and I get the feeling this was why they put so much effort into winning it. Until the flights get much cheaper though it's still going to be the reserve of wealthy travelers or backpackers with a sense of adventure and some determination to get there.

Quoting A340600 (Reply 11):

Incredible, nice work Dan 

Thanks Sam, glad you enjoyed it.


Many thanks for all the comments, Part Five is now online:

Summer Wandering; Part Five: The Long Way Home


Dan  



...love is just a camouflage for what resembles rage again...
User currently offlinegabrielchew From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2005, 3311 posts, RR: 12
Reply 13, posted (1 month 3 weeks 15 hours ago) and read 2231 times:

Bumping this from the past ahdead of my December trip! Super report Dan (again!). Shame you couldn't spend longer in Nakchivan..next time!


http://my.flightmemory.com/shefgab Upcoming flights:LCY-ARN-AMS-LGW,STN-OTP-AMS-YUL,YQB-JFK-LAX-DUS-STN,LGW-DXB-BKK-HKG-
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