Monday, January 16, 2012

To Dubai: Baku Airport

Heydar Aliyev Airport cat, Baku, Azerbaijan
 
The Heydar Aliyev Airport in Baku, Azerbaijan. This is where I spent six hours of my life today.

It doesn't take much to entertain me, and I felt quietly adventurous when I found myself culled from the transit herd after we debarked from the Tbilisi flight in Baku, and was the recipient of that carefully noncommittal phrase, "have a seat, please" which can be the precursor for anything from a few moments of mundane delay to a full-blown, meltdown-worthy travel crisis.

I learned in Ethiopia that the best course is usually to relax and let the local processes unwind as they need to do. So while a gentleman carried my passport and boarding pass hither and thither, I pulled out one of my classic sci-fi paperbacks and read. I had six hours to kill, and this was as good a way to do it as any other.

In due course, I was escorted upstairs, pushed through a security check, then squirted out into the international gate area.

A curious place. Several duty-free shops and kiosks, one open cafe-bar, but other than that, mostly wide and empty corridors. A smallish lobby for travelers; not many chairs. Some travelers consumed more than their share of the limited seating by stretching out and sleeping.

A paucity of electrical outlets.

No means to exchange money. I was given to understand by the somewhat sullen cafe guy that he only took AZN, the Azerbaijan currency. I checked with the duty-free shop; confirmed there was no place to change money. This seemed to be borne out by the fact that no one in the waiting area was eating or drinking anything. Found out hours later that the cafe guy does, indeed, take USD for purchases. I got something to drink, at least. And lesson finally learned (hopefully): Pack some sort of munchie for these plane trips with long layovers - never know what, if anything, will be accessible to me, plus saves money.

I found an electric outlet in the wall in one of the corridors, outside a store. Nothing to do but to plop myself down on the floor and plug in my laptop. The airport does have free public wifi.

And then I saw a cat.

Heydar Aliyev Airport cat, Baku, Azerbaijan


Friendly, too. He cuddled right next to me on the floor and took a nap.

And then I made friends with a 16-year old girl from Kazakhstan. She's been studying English for two years, and I was her first chance to talk with a native speaker. She's going to Dubai for a shopping trip with her mother and aunt. We talked about terrorists in Kazakhstan, school, Kazakh food, and making it big in Hollywood. She introduced me to her mom and her aunt.

Ran into a Texan couple who work in Baku, one for the embassy and one as an English instructor. They've been in Azerbaijan for two years and like it there.

Eventually, our waiting room time ended and it was time to go. The in-flight movie looked like it was a 1960s Hollywood Western, the colors kind of faded, set in a mountainous, steppe-y sort of place with horses and the like, only it was Azerbaijani. Cool.

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