Nick’s Barmy Wales Trip in the Baking Baku Heat

18 Jun

Meeting Natig, my host, at Baku was very straightforward, and I really liked this guy’s laidback attitude. He said that people over here did not generally worry about things like isolating, he did not mind me smoking, despite not being a smoker himself. On first impressions, Baku was a much nicer city than I’d imagined – some stunning architechture, both old and new. At times I wondered if I should just stay here, maybe claim asylum, with the UK being in such a mess.

My apartment, I could see as we approached it, was not in the poshest area of Baku. Nonetheless, the flat itself was very nice, extremely clean, large and spacious. Ridiculous value for money really.

Natig left me to it, and my first thought was to just relax for a bit. The opening game of the tournament – Turkey v Italy – would be on quite soon, and despite being tired, I really felt I should head out to a pub to sample some atmosphere, and well, just to enjoy some football and a pint, of course. I lay there wondering if I was going to be able to get up. I’d had a recommendation of a pub to go to from Dave of Wonky Sheep. Then I could hear some very nice sounding Azerbaijani music coming through the window. I went out to the balcony, had a cigarette and listened. It seemed to be coming from a nearby hotel.

This was my incentive to get going: I went out to catch a little of the music, but then got myself a Bolt taxi to Shakespeare’s, as recommended by Dave. Bolts are spectacularly cheap, and I think I was even getting the first few at 30% off. It would be something like 3 manat (about £1.30) for a 20 minute journey, and the app wouldn’t let you tip more than about 2 manat. The only thing was that this first taxi driver hurried me a little. I wouldn’t say I had to bolt to catch him exactly, but I think I did jog, and this was how the next disaster of my trip occurred.

I was wearing a tracksuit top (henceforth it was shorts and t-shirt day and night), and I think I must have foolishly placed the apartment key in the tracksuit pocket. On getting out of the taxi at my destination, I did a quick pocket check and just could not find the flipping key! The taxi had not left, but it was not in there either. I couldn’t quite believe this had happened: in over fifteen years of living in the same flat in Cardiff, I don’t think I’ve ever lost the door key! I did once lose a car key, but that’s another story.

I think I might have quickly contacted Natig and realised I was going to have to go back and try to find the key. The Bolt driver was now booked, so I had to hail a different cab (regular taxis, bizarrely, are about five times the price of Bolts, though still not expensive), hoping the key would be somewhere near the apartment block.

But of course, sadly, once I’d got back, I just could not find it. It was dark now, around 10pm. Various groups of tough looking men were standing around, none of whom spoke a word of English. I asked some Russians why they weren’t watching the football and they just said “No football. Just vodka” like something out of a comic book. By now it had been arranged that, despite now being thirteen miles away, Natig was going to have a spare key sent to me. I thought, as I waited, that to appease the Russians, I would go and buy a small bottle of vodka. But then, it turned out, they didn’t want any. People of all backgrounds in Baku, I was to discover, are very reluctant to take anything for free. In general, they don’t want to rip you off. They don’t even seem to like tips. Unless perhaps they just don’t like accepting anything from English speaking foreigners. When I said I was in fact Welsh, they seemed to warm to me a little, maybe even more so if I mentioned Cardiff.

It was also now that I had the first experience of Google translate not always being efficient. I think with relation to the missing key, one man showed me his phone that had the translated message “Eat. Changed” which let’s face it, could have meant literally anything. I nodded as if I knew exactly what he was talking about.

I was beginning to regret that I hadn’t arranged to meet Natig’s friend who was bringing the key in a nearby local pub as it was well into the second half of the opening game of the tournament by now. Once Italy had gone 2-0 up, I had a message from a friend in Indonesia recommending I watch the game on my phone – why hadn’t I thought of that before? (Although saying that, phone data was not free here as in so many places like Spain for example).

I continued to wait outside a flower shop near the apartment building, which would be my regular spot to meet taxis, and finally, the spare key was delivered (believe me, I clutched onto this for dear life over the next few days). Some money and more hand signals were exchanged and I was back in the flat again.  I did have a slight concern because I thought I’d seen a couple of lads with a key that looked like mine, but they’d assured me it wasn’t, and this did not prove anything to worry about. I had got a few supplies like coffee, some food and beer (along with the vodka), so there was not much point in going out again now, and I settled down for my much-needed first kip in Baku.

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