My First Amazing Azeri Wedding

Nothing can quite prepare you for an Azeri wedding. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s a wedding in Azerbaijan. I’ve always harboured a not-so-secret desire to go back to aincient times and enjoy some king’s hospitality. That is of course never going to happen, but after my first Azeri wedding, I now know what that might have been like.

Vodka,Caviar And Classical Music

Last Saturday, in the late afternoon, we walked down a very long lilac carpet and stood around under the trees as trays of canapés, caviar and champagne were brought to us. (Baku is on the Caspian Sea, the home of caviar). Most of the crowd around us was an intimidating bunch, all over fifty, with dark suits and a serious demeanour, think old school Mother Russia. I’m assured they were all important guests, and I’m not about to argue that point.

Then to remind us that Mother Russia had once extended all the way down to Azerbaijan, after numerous requests for water, we were given shots of vodka. A simple mistake really,when language is an issue; Water = Wota = Wodka. But hey, I thought it was pretty generous of them to bring shots of vodka over before the party had even started.

Fortunately it wasn’t long before a younger, more attractive and eclectic crowd started to arrive. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Then the lovely couple came in, signed the register under a giant lilac dome, and we were ushered inside. The marquee was huge, with about 100 tables on freshly laid fake grass, either side of a stage, and glass runway that changed colour all night. This is where the evening entertainment kept rolling until 2am… but I’ll get to that.

Wedding Marquee in Baku Azerbaijan

Table feast at Azeri wedding in Baku Azerbaijan

A Feast Fit For Kings

The first overwhelming aspect was the table. Every single one was already piled high with meat, fish, breads, snacks, more caviar and bottles of French wine,vodka, beer,more vodka…and more vodka. There were permanent waiters on every table who wouldn’t allow you to do anything except feed yourself. Seriously. They served my food,changed my plate and cutlery,poured my drinks,pulled my chair out and pushed it back in.You’ve never seen service like it.

The bride and groom had their own elevated thrones off to the side,high enough to look down over their subjects, but luckily for us peasants,they did wander down later to mingle and and take to the dance floor.

A Spectacular Show

As if the feast wasn’t enough, the entertainment was something else.If I had grown up in the region or spoke Russian I would have been even more impressed.There was such a long line-up of famous Azerbaijani and Georgian dancers, singers and the actor Vakhtang Kikabidze from the iconic Russian film, Mimino (who was also singing),that many who had wanted to perform had been politely declined, and the DJ who was supposed to start at 11pm only got onto his decks at about 2am.

Vakhtang Kikabidze sings at wedding in Baku Azerbaijan

Dance troupe at wedding in Baku Azerbaijan

Famous Georgian Dancer at wedding in Baku Azerbaijan

And here’s the thing, not once was I bored, nor were any of the people in our party, quite a few university friends who had also flown in for the wedding. The singing was beautiful, the dancers were mesmerising and when the wedding cake came out, even that was spectacular. It was a 10 foot high tower of pillows. I don’t recall anyone cutting it (apparently they did), but we were all given our own baby pillow to eat, and that was really tasty.

It felt more like a cultural show than a wedding,as two giant video cameras on long cranes constantly swept the room,beaming the images to a giant screen on the wall. There was also an army of photographers.When I lined three friends up for a photograph,I was actually physically shunted out of the way by one of them so he could get a good shot. Paparazzi are alive and well in Baku.

Spectacular 10 foot wedding cake in Baku Azerbaijan

Finally, after hours of eating, drinking, dancing, watching and more drinking, we finally managed to pour ourselves into a taxi and head home. And let’s just say all of us spent the next day quietly cocooned in our luxurious hotel rooms with the curtains firmly shut.What a night, what a wedding.To the hosts, and the lovely bride, I have only one thing left to say, chokh sagol (and in Russian, bolshoye spasibo) for an incredible experience. Nazdarovye.

Baku Is A City Of Sculptures

A city that is full of sculptures always seems more sophisticated to me.  There’s something progressive about a city council that appreciates the arts, and puts money behind it to make a stroll through the city feel like a walk through an outdoor gallery. That’s exactly what I found when I headed to Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city last weekend for a friends wedding.

The Bulvar

It’s known as the windy city, which I had somehow forgotten, so our first day there was a rainy, blustery affair, but then the gods smiled on us the next morning and it was a picture perfect day, ideal for a stroll from our hotel to the Old City. So we headed straight out onto the Bulvar, which is a very long, impressively maintained boulevard and park, that runs right across the city centre, alongside the ocean.

Sculpture old man in the park along Bulvar in Baku Azerbaijan

 

Sculpture of sailing captain in park on Bulvar in Baku Azerbaijan

It wasn’t far into our walk before we met an assortment of interesting bronze sculpted characters. The artist that received this commission must have been very happy, because there was a different character every few hundred metres. It was great to see so many in such pristine condition because there are quite a few cities where that definitely wouldn’t be the case. (And yes, I had to pose with at least one).

Reconstructed City Centre Baku Azerbaijan

When we left the Bulvar and crossed the busy Neftchilar Avenue into the Old City (which is a UNESCO world heritage site), we didn’t find any more bronzed sculptures, but we did find a few other interesting art works on the walls, down the alleyways and outside the small, neatly kept stores. (But that’s all in another story specifically about the Old City).

City Centre

Leaving the Old City, we decided to take a different path back to the hotel, and were very thankful we did, because we stumbled onto the pedestrianised city centre that’s closed to all traffic. Which is awesome, because not only is the entire seafront a walkway, but so is half the city, which means you can walk for hours in well landscaped, reconstructed areas with loads of interesting and quirky things to see along the way.

Sculpture of woman putting lipstick on next to a fountain in Baku city centre Azerbaijan

 

Sculpture of woman with umbrella in city centre Baku Azerbaijan

No matter where we went, we found sculptures, stone carvings and even pop-up dogs having a great time on the lawn. We also found some artworks on a ceiling running the length of a large department store, and bird houses that looked more like bird hotels, nestled in many of the trees.

The outskirts of Baku may not be that attractive, (the same could be said for any city, including Prague or Paris), but the reconstruction and development of the city centre makes downtown Baku a beautiful place.

Sculpture of a painter in the park on the Bulvar in Baku Azerbaijan

Dubai isn’t a good walking city at all, so for me, being able to walk in traffic-free areas all day was a luxury. If you’re headed to Baku any time soon, I recommend packing a good pair of trainers and strolling about for a few hours in one of the cleanest, prettiest and most pleasant city centres you’ll find anywhere in the region.