Azerbaijan Shopping and nightlife
Shopping in Azerbaijan
The top souvenir to bring back from Azerbaijan is undoubtedly a traditional carpet, either woolen or silk. Most are in the sumptuous Persian style, although some are rather plainer and more ethnic. There are seven main centres of carpet manufacture: Baku, Shirvan, Guba, Tabriz, Karabakh, Genca and Gazakh. Each region had its own technology, typical patterns and colours.
If you are in the market for one of these beauties, a visit to the Carpet Museum on Baku’s Boulevard is recommended to get an idea of the range of styles and colours. Then it’s on to one of the carpet shops in Icheri Sheher, the Old Town. You may be able to haggle about the price over glasses of chai, but the days when you could pick up a bargain are long gone. However, you will return home with a stunning work of art.
Traditional earthenware pottery and ceramics in Oriental blue shades can be found throughout the country. Caviar from the Caspian Sea is no longer the bargain that it once was; pollution and over-fishing mean that the mighty sturgeon which produces these sought-after eggs is now rare. However, it is still approximately half the price of tins in the West.
In Baku, a trip to the Taza bazaar is recommended; it is where locals shop for the freshest fruit and vegetables. If you are the market for a chicken, granny will wring its neck, pluck and draw it before your eyes. There are also plenty of reasonably-priced handicrafts. Unlike many Oriental bazaars it is a friendly place with no aggressive salesmanship.
In the north, Sheki’s strategic location on the Silk Road has endowed it with centuries of silk-making expertise. The town's silk factory has a shop attached; both quality and prices are high. Tourist shops also sell silk items; scarves make colourful and highly portable mementos.
Any carpet or artefact more than 30 years old is subject to an export tax and must be certified for export by the Ministry of Culture. Even new carpets require a certificate stating the price and the age of the carpet. Items purchased at tourist shops should already be duly certified and the shop owner should be able to help you with any paperwork. Goods sold at markets or by private individuals may be more problematic.
Nightlife in Azerbaijan
Nightlife in Baku can be quiet or frenetic - take your pick. There are plenty of glitzy clubs (with prices to match) where you can dance until dawn. The names and locations change with dizzying speed. Dress to impress – in this town you can never wear too much bling.
The downtown area around Fountains Square is where many of the most popular bars and pubs are located. As the names suggest, places like O'Malley's, the Clansman and the Shakespeare, are lively ex-pat hangouts.
Many bars are in the basement and incredibly hot and smoky. The cafe-bars on the Boulevard are a quieter and classier alternative. Azeri bars are quite simple and serve mainly beer and Russian vodka. The top hotels have their own niche bars and nightclubs and there are a handful of jazz clubs downtown. Baku is a safe city to walk around, even by night.
If your taste inclines more towards classical productions, catch a performance at the Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater. The art nouveau-style building is magnificent and tickets are not expensive. The Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall holds regular orchestral concerts.
Outside Baku it is more a case of making your own entertainment. Bars are rare outside hotels and country Azeris love to sit and talk well into the night over endless pots of tea.