BAKU BEYOND: PART THREE: You can take the boy out of the valley, but you cant take the valley out of the boy

The day started with picking up our tickets for the game.

There was a time when getting tickets for Wales games was easy. These days everyone wants to go so they have a loyalty system based on the number of previous away games. That has proved to be flawed though, with some people buying tickets simply to keep their points but not actually travelling to all games.

In an effort to clamp down on ‘harvesting’ of tickets, for this game you had to turn up in person in Baku to collect your ticket, furnishing passport as you pick it up.

It seems to have worked for this trip, with many fans getting their foot on the ladder with this being their first trip buying tickets in their own name.

We find a small crowd gathered to pick up tickets as they start dishing them out. Plenty of staff are on hand though, so no queue.

We then head down the boulevard towards the famous Maiden Tower and the Old City.

When we arrive we find an interesting looking tower, which is over six hundred years old. It is well preserved but experts are unable to confirm what it was actually built for.

Around the tower is the old town, which is not quite what I had expected.  It is quite small and the number of free lance tour guides outnumbers tourists by at least two to one.

We escape the clutches of the eager tour guides, many of whom actually seem keen to whisk us off outside the city to mud volcanoes and fire temples.

The old town is full of old buildings (obviously), many of them are converted to boutique hotels and nick nack shops selling an array of silk scarves (Azerbaijan silk, none of that Chinese nonsense- apparently), pottery, figurines and so on.

In one shop when trying to get out we comment “they are stunning, but we don’t want one thank you”. In a classic moment of lost in translation,  we are then shown little busts of Stalin. Oh how we laughed, as we barged our way out the door, without buying Stalin or indeed anything Stunning.

As we wander we stop outside a cafe to get directions. We are too tired and thirsty to resist the waiter that drags us in and makes us buy beer.

As we sit watching the world go by, and the police come in for their protection money, a young lad joins us to tell us we are very white and that he learned to speak English so he could understand Michael Jackson lyrics. He is in awe when one of the gang reveals they saw the Waco one in Cardiff Arms Park.

As we wander back to the less old town we walk passed many designer shops, Gucci, Versace , Bang an Oulfsen etc. They are immaculately laid out but remarkably free of customers.

Eventually we hit the road to take our massive haul of Azerbaijani tat back to Shawshank, then head out for the pub. The Hop Pub has walls covered in football scarves and sells Strongbow.  Very expensive strongbow. We have one bottle before heading out in search of food.

We wander into a large Pizza restaurant, which serves a wide range of dishes, but hardly anything veggie. I opt for Four Cheese pizza.

All around us people are toking on hookahs.  They even appear to have specialist Hookah waiters that come around and have a good toke for you to keep it going while you eat. They have a wide selection, including what appears to be hookahs made with melons and mangoes.

As we eat we are spotted by a passing reprobate from Caerphilly,  who drags us to a back street bar near out hotel.

It’s a long narrow bar with the bar running the full length. There is one lone barmaid who runs around serving everyone, throwing out unwelcome customers and challenging people to games of Connect Four. And winning.

At the end of the bar there is a gang of North Walians hogging a laptop, using youtube as jukebox,  which pelts out of the pub PA. We get a mix of punk, britpop and cool cymru to provide the soundtrack to the evening.

Sometime after the witching hour we head back to the Old School Pub. It is a remarkable oasis of calm in a sea of drunken madness.

Heading back to the ranch we decide to have one last drink in a bar at the end of the road. After one drink we try to leave but the barmaid has taken a liking to us and furnishes us with free beer till … oh, around four am ish. But eventually our cups runners over and we head home.