Highlighting the Regions
We know already that I’m skeptical about the possible benefits of Eurovision coming to Azerbaijan. One of my main contentions is that the benefits, if any, won’t extend beyond Baku to the regions, where it’s hard to argue that the money couldn’t be put to better use (corruption notwithstanding). That being said, it looks like, at least in the immediate wake of the Eurovision win, some news outlets are delivering on another of the possible benefits of this year’s win: Getting to know Azerbaijan.
The Guardian over the weekend featured a nice story highlighting a few spots in Azerbaijan outside of Baku:
As we climb out of dusty Baku, the landscape gets greener and more wooded. In this Xanadu, wild horses nibble and gallop free, and we graze on tea and spoonfuls of carnelian cherry jam. There’s a river called A Gazelle Cannot Cross It, and isolated villages whose zinc roofs are a mix of Mongol and Moorish styles. A mountainside of butcher’s shops features adjoining penned flocks of sheep, in the local before-and-after style. High above, an eagle eyes us. At Vandam (cue Jean-Claude jokes) we drive through a magical pistachio forest, and here’s the ancient mountain city of Gabala, which is roughly the size of Stroud. Swish hotel complexes cater for Bakuvians who come for the alpine air and views, and in one of these live Tony [Adams, formerly of Arsenal FC, now coach for the Gabala team], and his assistant, Gary Stevens.
A few things about that paragraph. First, the description actually isn’t that far off. The jam and the wild horses and city are all there. Yet, the context is tough to understand. For people coming from European countries or the US, it’ll be nice to have some tea and jam, but the post-Soviet context is a shock that doesn’t come through.
Second, it’s important to realize that most of the tourism in this country is for the more well-off Bakuvians who want to get out of the city and out to the mountains. Thus, big resorts such as those in Lerik, Gabala, Quba, or Göygöl. On my bitter days, I’d probably say that these resorts are a decent way to get away from the crumbling infrastructure that plagues the country.
Finally, at the end of the article, Kevin Gould, the author, cites a few places to check out more information about Azerbaijan and also highlights some opportunities for accommodations. Included in his list is CBT Azerbaijan, featured here over on the right under Other Neat Sites. CBT Azerbaijan differs quite a bit from the other options listed, which are hotels, because of its homestay focus. If I were an Azerbaijani official (and I didn’t have a stake in the aforementioned hotels), I’d want to push my tourists to these homestays. There’s very little that could be more valuable for the Azerbaijani countryside than to have more frequent exposure to foreigners, foreigners as people who represent a diversity of ideas and differences. Not only do the incoming AZN go to families, but the cultural exchange opportunities go much further than they would in Baku.