BAKU BEYOND: PART ONE: Moscow Calling.

Azerbaijan away. They dont get much more exotic than this. But exotic often comes at a price. On this occasion the price is the journey from hell.

I say journey from hell, but as I start typing this blog I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be an adventure. A jolly Jape.  I hope.

There is a direct charter flight going from Cardiif run by FAW travel partners Wonky Sheep. I had initially booked on to their trip but if I’m going to drag myself all that way I want to have more than one free day in the city. And that is effectively all the Wonky Sheep posse will have.

By putting up with the inconvenience of flying via Moscow, we get to spend twice as much time in Baku, for half the price.

I found a luxury apartment in the city centre with more bedrooms than we needed for £127 for four nights, I couldn’t be arsed to look further.

The day of travel arrives and I get a WhatsApp from out taxi driver in Baku – a voice message asking for a photograph of me so he will know us when we arrive. Modern technology eh!

And Aeroflot check in turns oug to be the easiest I’ve ever dealt with. A PDF boarding pass arrives by e mail without me doing anything.

The journey down the M4 was pleasantly uneventful.  We stopped in the services for a coffee and they tried to persuade me to go for the winter blend coffee for an extra 25p. I have no idea what the winter blend is, and am still none the wiser. They must think I was born yesterday.

Yep, that’s how uneventful the journey was.

Purple Parking and I are old acquaintances now. I’ve got into a routine of using them. Reasonably priced and extremely efficient.  Today though, they appear to be hiding.  For Terminal Four they have decided to not actually put any signage up. It’s as if they are entering the world hide and seek championships  You have to park in the Premier Inn and try and find their office tucked away in the hotel. They couldn’t hide from me though and we eventually found them with time to spare.

Unlike most terminal parking, there is no need  for a shuttle bus, just a five minute walk through a covered walkway.

Terminal Four is remarkably quiet, but it does seem to service the more obscure airlines. I note there is a direct flight to Baku with Azerbaijan Airlines. I know I will regret it but I Google them and find it’s a similar price to the flight we are on. I tell myself it must have come down in price since I booked our flights. Then I notice they only seem to fly every other day so they would have been no use coming back anyway.

The Prince Of Wales Pub is spotted so we pop in for some over priced cider. We get chucked out at stop tap. An outrageous nine thirty.

Boarding our flight is easy and fuss free. The fact that it is half empty helped.

It’s odd going away to watch Wales without being surrounded by welsh shirts and bucket hats. I’m not sure if it is the ridiculous route we are going or the fact that we are going so early that makes us the lone travellers.

When booking the flight I had the option of booking a veggie meal on all the legs of our trip bar this one. When the food comes around I am told I had to book a veggie meal in advance.  I can’t be arsed to explain/argue so make do with a side salad. Or at least I thought I would till I discovered beef in the salad.

Bizarrely the guy sat next to me had booked a veggie meal but didnt want it. Result!

We arrive in Moscow at 01:50 GMT, Or 04:50 Moscow time. I cant decide if I should be tired or completely knackered. Is it just late or have we been up all night?

And yes,  Moscow is one of those annoying airports that makes you go through the x ray malarkey even though you are coming straight from another airport.

When finally through security we walk from terminal D to F. The entire airport appears to be one giant gift shop. It takes a good twenty minutes to walk to our next terminal. There are times when we are walking past gift shops, but there are times when you are literally forced to walk through them to get where you are going. Moscow appears to have embraced capitalism big time.

I really dont get this duty free thing. I understand the concept but there are rarely any big savings to be made. £800 for a Burberry Jacket? I don’t care what price they are on the high street, that’s not a bargain.

And right next to our gate is ‘The Irish Bar’. Although we uncharacteristically decide 6am is too early to start drinking. Mainly cos we want to try to get some sleep. The fact that they only take roubles or euros does not help.

Short of paying to use an individual sleeping pod, the only option is to crash out on benches overlooking the runway. I sit watching,  quite literally,  the world go by. The airport appears to function around the clock and planes slip in and out at regular intervals.

The clock ticks slowly but unstoppably on, but the dawn is slow in coming. Around 8am it is possible to make out what is going on out on the runway – but still much darker than at home at this time. Baggage trucks and mobile stairs race around at high speed as if it is a demolition derby, seemingly unconcerned by the planes taxiing around them.

Every few minutes we are disturbed by an announcement advising passengers that there has been a boarding gate change. I have a flashback to the movie Airplane and the scene where people are sprinting from one gate to another. Very quickly my mind flicks to the movie Terminal, where Tom Hanks is stuck for ever in an airport.

Next to our gate, away from all the gift shops, is a gift shop. Well, a jewelry shop to be precise.  For those that forgot to buy jewelry before they came to the airport.

Eventually,  five hours after arriving in Moscow, without having seen the Kremlin, bought any jewellery or spent a rouble in the irish pub we board the flight to Baku.

Not a great deal to say about the flight and it is not followed by five hours sitting in a waiting room with nothing to do but blog, so I will spare you the details.

It’s hard to know how long we have been travelling,  what with all the time zones, but although it is afternoon here we are four hours ahead of uk, so it’s only twelve hours since we left Heathrow.

WhatsApp taxi driver is on time and we are whisked through the streets of Baku in his slightly worn Mercedes. The traffic is, as described in the Football Supporters Federation Cymru guide, well sketchy. These guys make Chinese traffic look like a scene out of Driving Miss Daisy.

We are shown around the apartment by an extremely friendly guy whose name I am too tired to remember. We chat about the flight and he says everyone in Azerbaijan flies via somewhere else because Azerbaijan Airlines are so expensive. I feel justified.

The luxury apartment,  to be frank, does not live up to its name. We have to walk down a dodgy looking alley, go through vandal proof steel doors, up in a communist era lift (dont worry about seeing the ground floor, it is safe, but dont try to hold door open with your hand it will have your fingers off), then up a final flight of stairs with chunks missing to our door.  The appartment a bit worn around the edges but it is a great price and a great location, so we are not about to complain.

There is a veranda from which we can look out over the new city and down into the old town.

So. Time for shit, shave, shower and out to paint the town red. Ish.