Qurban Bayram Trip Part 2: Days 2 and 3

I wrote “Kurban Bayram” on the whiteboard while talking to a group of students about the holiday. “That’s not how we spell it,” someone interjected. What? I studied the term for a second. “Oh, that’s right – ‘Kurban’ with a ‘K’ is Turkish; you spell it with a ‘Q,’ correct?” Everyone seemed happy when I made the appropriate change and some were impressed I knew the difference between the spellings.

So, in light of this recent revelation, this post’s title has the correct AZERBAIJANI way of spelling Qurban Bayram – everyday is an educational journey!

Anyway, back to the trip I had last weekend….

Day 2:  Şəki, Kiş, and Qax’s Waterfall

Back on the road….

IMG_1539

Şəki is a bit of a climb from Ismayıllı; it took a few hours to get there, but the trip was beautiful. Another beautiful thing was this piece of culinary art:

The dough and sweet concoctions are layered in a big, round pan.

The dough and sweet concoctions are layered in a big, round pan.

Friends and family back home, this is halva, Şəki’s special version of baklava. I have been introduced to more types of baklava than I can count on my fingers, all delicious but in small quantities – talk about sweet and syrupy! You can buy halva for 4 to 5 manat per kilo (about $6 to $7 for about 2 pounds).

After visiting the halva shop, we drove to the Şəki Khan’s Palace. I was pretty excited because the history of this place is pretty awesome.

I'm so excited.....I'm so excited!!

I’m so excited…..I’m so excited!!

Fact Fact History Lesson: 1) Similar to the Şirvanşah’s of modern-day Baku, the Şəki Khans (khan = ancient/medieval title; “king”) controlled small but key transit points in the Caucasus. Şəki is located at the base of the Caucasus Mountain range and that is where the Şəki Khans made their home. 2) The palace was built in the mid-18th century; much of the decorative glass was imported from parts of the Italian peninsula. 3) No adhesive was used when arranging the stained glass windows. Its stability depends on exquisite precision. 4) The interior paintings are 85% original; the other 15% is touch-up/preservation work. 5) The palace is on a nomination list to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I loved it. Oh yes I did.

I loved it. Oh yes I did.

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the interior, so I substituted that with the exterior.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the interior, so I substituted that with the exterior.

Sheki Khan Palace 4

Sheki Khan Palace 6

And the view was nothing to scoff at either.

And the view was nothing to scoff at either.

As I said, not allowed to take photos inside. But it was more breathtaking….handmade paintings of motifs, hunting/royal scenes, flora/fauna, mythological creatures (including dragons!). There are some images online, one of which is here and another here. The admission fee was 2 manat per person (about $2.50); and 5 manat for an English explanation tour. The guide we had was very good and we could understand all she said, so I think it’s worth the bit extra for the guide.

Sheki is pretty pristine; and I really appreciated the fresh air.

Şəki is pretty pristine; and I really appreciated the fresh air.

We went to the next attraction in Şəki: the Karavansaray. What is a caravansaray, you ask? Once upon a time during the height of the Silk Road trade route era (roughly 100 CE; keep in mind that the Silk Road trade routes have an extremely long history), caravansarays served as hotels for the traders making the arduous journey across the Eurasian continent. They parked their animals (yes, including camels) in stalls and could rest, eat a good meal, and meet other traders from countless cultural backgrounds. Şəki was a such a stop and the Karavansaray is a big tourist attraction.

The grand entrance.

The grand entrance.

Speaking of camels....  ;)

Speaking of camels…. 😉

Sheki Karavansaray 3

Sheki Karavansaray 4

Sheki Karavansaray 4

I believe this is the original location and layout of Şəki's caravansaray. It serves as a hotel today, so I'm not positive how much of the structure is original. Regardless, it's in the main part of town and worth the visit (free to enter too!).

I believe this is the original location and layout of Şəki’s caravansaray. It serves as a hotel today, so I’m not positive how much of the structure is original. Regardless, it’s in the main part of town and worth the visit (free to enter too!).

Always stairs to climb....

Always stairs to climb….

Sheki Karavansaray 7

Of course, happy to be there.  (:

Of course, happy to be there. (:

I don't know....I could stay here awhile.

I don’t know….I could stay here awhile.

Sheki Karavansaray 10

Sheki Karavansaray 11

Of course there is always time for selfies  :)

Of course there is always time for selfies 🙂

Hayley in Sheki 3

We made some time for shopping….

The main drag of shops.

The main drag of shops.

We just about flipped out in this ceramic shop. If you're lucky enough, I might have gotten you a gift from here.  ;)

We just about flipped out in this ceramic shop. If you’re lucky enough, I might have gotten you a gift from here. 😉

Okay, okay, more to see – back on the road!

Heading to Kiş, a little village within the Şəki region

Heading to Kiş, a little village within the Şəki region.

The next stop was Kiş, most famous for an Albanian church located high in the mountainous steppes. If you are able to get here, beware that the streets are SUPER narrow, i.e. NOT made for SUVs to drive through.

Here's an example; and it was narrower on the drive up!

Here’s an example; and it was narrower on the drive up!

“You can park the car and we can walk to the church,” I said meekly as we made the sharpest right turn possible to follow signs. “No. We are not doing that,” Aysel insisted as she battled the road conditions and skirted by cows. I was honestly worried about the engine and tires of this vehicle, but we made it. “And you wanted to walk,” Aysel shot me a look. Never tell a strong-willed Azerbaijani woman that she can’t do something!

Little Kiş.

Little Kiş.

Outside the church.

Outside the church.

Okay, before I show you more pictures, Fact Fact History/Anthropology Lesson: 1) This church was originally a pre-Christian temple/shrine area of the ancient Albanian people. 2) No, not Albanians as in modern-day Albanians who live in Albania, but a completely different group of people. 3) Unlike the modern-day Albanians (with the second “a” pronounced short like in the word “cane”), this is Albanian heritage (with the second ‘a’ long; like if you said the word with a British accent). 4) Yes this matters because researchers and academia are trying to figure out how the area was settled, and the Caucasian Albanians provide pieces to that puzzle. Thank you for sitting through the lesson, here’s more pictures:

Kish church 2

Entrance fee was 2 manat, by the way.

Some open-ground displays of artifacts and skeletal remains.

Some open-ground displays of artifacts and skeletal remains.

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

There was a bombardment of this Russian (I think, maybe?) tour group. I have no idea what they're doing here, but I trusted they knew the importance of their actions.

There was a bombardment of this Russian (I think, maybe?) tour group. I have no idea what they’re doing here, but I trusted they knew the importance of their actions.

Looking up.

Looking up.

It was a little dreary inside the church, so I was happy to emerge and see this.

It was a little dreary inside the church, so I was happy to emerge and see this.

Kish church 8

Kish Church 9

Kish church 9

Waiting for the bathroom, and noticed that the view of the church was surprisingly splendid.

Waiting for the bathroom, and noticed that the view of the church was surprisingly splendid.

Oh, and the entry door was spectacular.

Oh, and the entry door was spectacular.

We got back in the car, somehow made it through those narrow streets again, and headed towards Qax to see a waterfall. Along the way we came across another church:

Just sitting high on a hill, overlooking the landscape. No information about it, no context, I have no idea who built it, or how old it is....fascinating.

Just sitting high on a hill, overlooking the landscape. No information about it, no context, I have no idea who built it, or how old it is….fascinating.

Qax 1

Close to Qax. (The ‘q’ has a hard ‘k’ sound; the ‘x’ has a throaty sound as if you’re trying to clear a cough from the back of your throat. lol)

The sun was setting fast, so we had to fit in this last excursion of the day.

The sun was setting fast, so we had to fit in this last excursion of the day.

Qax 3

Qax 4

The mist beckoned us....yes, we drove straight in that direction.

The mist beckoned us….yes, we drove straight in that direction.

Our trusty vehicle to reach Qax's waterfall was this beauty: a Soviet war vehicle made in 1975. It was the bumpiest ride of my life but it got the job done. We climbed high up to see....

Our trusty vehicle to reach Qax’s waterfall was this beauty: a Soviet war vehicle made in 1975. It was the bumpiest ride of my life but it got the job done. We climbed high up to see….

Qax's Waterfall (of which no one knew the name - sorry!)

Qax’s Waterfall (of which no one knew the name – sorry!)

Now, Dana was amazing and climbed all the way to see it up close.

Now, Dana was amazing and climbed all the way to see it up close.

I chickened out because, seriously, look at what the ground was like: slippery, loose sheet rock. No thank you.

I chickened out because, seriously, look at what the ground was like: slippery, loose sheet rock. No thank you.

So I just remained and admired the view.

So I just remained and admired the view.

And that ended Day 2. We got dinner, made it to our hotel in Ismayıllı, and crashed.

Day 3: Bazaar, Gəbələ, and Seven Beauties Waterfall

On Monday (October 6th) we spent the day in Gəbələ, well known, again, for its natural/scenic beauty, but also as a developing international tourist destination. I’ll elaborate on that in a bit, but first look at this forest we drove through:

Maybe you don't see it, but something about was magical.

Maybe you don’t see it, but something about was magical.

And look at that moss!

And look at that moss!

We made it to Gəbələ (commonly spelled “Gabala”; pronounced GEH-beh-leh), and hit the local bazaar first.

Aysel, our lovely hostess and guide for the weekend, happened to match the fruit perfectly.  (:

Aysel, our lovely hostess and guide for the weekend, happened to match the fruit perfectly. (:

Yummy....and cheap. I got apples, peaches, pomegranates, and green peppers for under 5 manat.

Yummy….and cheap. I got apples, peaches, pomegranates, and green peppers for under 5 manat.

Cross the bazaar off the list. Next we made our way over to the Tufan Ski Resort. A ski resort in the fall, Hayley? Oh yes, this is recently constructed (actually they’re still hard at work, but what they’ve completed so far is amazing and top-of-the-line), and several people in Baku said that the ski lift was amazing and the views were worth it (also affordable at 10 manat per person). What I personally thought was amazing was how fast Azerbaijan is constructing this resort. Fast but with quality; Azerbaijan wants to become a tourist destination and I believe hosting the Olympics is on their to-do list. What better way to achieve those things than by building a prime ski resort almost overnight?

Tufan Ski Resort Plan

The plan of the ski resort. The red portion is under either recently under construction or will be started soon.

This was my first time in a ski lift, and I was excited.

This was my first time in a ski lift, and I was excited.

Climbing up....

Climbing up….

The view was awesome, indeed.

The view was awesome, indeed.

Turfan Resort 5

Tufan Resort 5

The first stop was super foggy.

The first stop was super foggy.

At the second stop. As you can see, the crew is hard at work. When this is done, it will be gorgeous.

At the second stop. As you can see, the crew is hard at work. When this is done, it will be gorgeous.

Turfan Resort 9

Busy creating the ski lanes.

Busy creating the ski lanes.

Warmed up with hot chocolate at the last stop.

Warmed up with hot chocolate at the last stop.

Whew – that took a few hours. Time to head home? Probably….but not without fitting in one more side trip!

Azerbaijan Driving

We made our way to the Seven Beauties Waterfall (Yeddi Gözəl). Drove through this village to get there.

We made our way to the Seven Beauties Waterfall (Yeddi Gözəl). Drove through this village to get there.

As you can tell, the sky looked like it was about to rain any minute. And it did. Once we arrived at the waterfall and stepped out of the car, it poured.

But I was well prepared and kept my happy face on.

But I was well prepared and kept my happy face on.

Started the climb up to see the waterfall.

Started the climb up to see the waterfall.

And more stairs - there were a lot. Also very slippery. I could've slipped and lost my phone forever.

And more stairs – there were a lot. Also very slippery. I could’ve slipped and lost my phone forever.

Everyone managed to make it to the first landing. Aysel's son was proud of the accomplishment.  (:

Everyone managed to make it to the first landing. Aysel’s son was proud of the accomplishment. (:

But there was more to see - so I climbed more stairs.

But there was more to see – so I climbed more stairs.

Made it to the top to see where the waterfall spouts from the rock.

Made it to the top to see where the waterfall spouts from the rock.

I was happy I made it all the way, but get me out of the rain!

I was happy I made it all the way, but get me out of the rain!

Seven Beauties Waterfall 8

Seven Beauties Waterfall 9

And finally, we stopped for dinner before making the final push home. The food was less-than-desirable, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the weekend or this view from the restaurant:

Azerbaijan Regions 1

Azerbaijan Regions 2

So there you go, friends and family back home, this was a survey of Azerbaijan’s regions.

Special.

Truly.

I cannot wait to see what more this country has to offer. Until next time… (:

PS: If you are a Fulbright hopeful/recently accepted/simply curious, Dana also wrote a post about our weekend with plenty of lovely pictures too. Click anywhere here to get to her blog, “Salam Sumgayit.”

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