Azerbaijan & Georgia - 20 Day Explorer (Virtual Tour) - Day 2
We were due to be heading to Aerbaijan & Georgia @ this time of year, however, COVID-19 restrictions have required us to suspend all tours for the rest of 2020.
On this virtual Tour, you can travel with us as we explore two emerging countries - Azerbaijan & Georgia. On this Tour, we fly into Baku, Azerbaijan and out of Tbilisi, Georgia and bus, hike & funicular our way around these amazing cultures.
We travelled with Qatar from Brisbane-Sydney-Doha-Baku (Azerbaijan). This had us depart Sydney @ 9.45pm with an arrival time into Doha @ 5am the following morning for a 7.45am departure to Baku.
You will find the ME3 (Middle East 3 - Emirates, Etihad & Qatar) usually have early morning departures from their respective hubs at Dubai (DXB), Abu Dhabi (AUH) or Doha (DOH) to beat the heat later in the day (hot air is less dense and it can be more difficult for a fully-loaded aircraft to take-off) and to time their arrival into Europe at a reasonable time during the day.
Hamad International Airport, Doha
Day 2 Doha-Baku
The 2.5+hr transit at Doha is just enough time to grab a shower (at either an airport/airline lounge or the Be Relax spas located throughout the terminals at DOH), stretch the legs and sample some great Middle East foods - nothing like fresh (cardamon) coffee and dates to get you going! We do like DOH as a transit hub as it is not as cramped/dated as AUH (pending the opening of the new Midfield Terminal) or as overwhelming as DXB - it is a new airport, the passenger numbers are manageable and it is easy to find your way around.
We arrived in Doha aboard Qatar's largest aircraft, the A380, and departed on its smallest, the A320, for our 2hr 50min flight to Baku.
This photo gives you a good idea of the respective size of the two aircraft....the A380 seats 517 passengers whilst the A320 seats 144.
This flight, in fact, only took 2hr 10 minutes and the time of the day meant we had a great view of Baku as we came in over the Caspian Sea - Baku's famous TV Tower and Flame Towers were clearly visible.
Baku's International Airport or, more correctly, the Heydar Aliyev International Airport, Baku (named after a former Azerbaijani President) is a SkyTrax 5 star airport which is fitting as Baku is Azerbaijan's largest city and the largest city on the Caspian Sea. It has just been named in the Top Ten Eastern European airports and is located 20km to the NorthEast of Baku. There are a few transport options from the airport into Baku proper including a local bus, taxi and private vehicle. In our case, as we were travelling with a small group, we were able to organise the hotel's shuttle bus to collect us.
Note: Australians need to get an Azerbaijani e-Visa prior to arriving in Azerbaijan. Qatar Airlines will not let you board in Doha unless you have a visa. It can be confusing getting an e-Visa online (purely because of the number of "official" websites with widely varying costs) and so MK1 Travel applies for all visas on behalf of our guests to ensure that we have the right one and that there is one less thing to worry about.
Our Tour officially starts on Monday evening and we had intentionally arrived a day early so our home for the next 3 nights is the Central Park Hotel, Baku - a 4 star hotel 5 minutes walk from Fountain Square and very centrallly located although central Baku is readily accessible from most points.
We had time this afternoon to settle in and get an idea of the layout of this fascinating city and its history. The afternoon at leisure also gave us the opportunity to grab some SIM cards to use throughout Azerbaijan - it was quite difficult finding any that suited prior to leaving Australia - one of those situations where these countries are in either/neither in Asia or/nor Europe, perhaps? Wi-Fi is widely available, especially in the larger towns ut we do find it useful to have access to the internet in case our group gets split up.
There are 3 main mobile/internet providers in Azerbaijan - Azercell, Bakcell & Nar. They all offer voice/internet packages and it really is a case of working out which deal at the time is best for you. Often a good idea to wait until you reach Baku as the airport kiosks can be more expensive for the same product. We ended up with an Azercell deal that offered no voice/10GB data for 10 manat (@ $9AUD) or could have gone with a deal that provided voice/10Gb date for 17 manat. You will need your passport, preferably cash and some patience).
We will need to go through a similar process in Georgia.
Tomorrow morning we will continue to explore before meeting our local guide in the evening.