Sunday, February 5, 2012

2012 is here

It is hard to believe that December and January have gone by in such a flash.  We had a great time back in Washington and Oregon over the holidays.  The weather was cooperative so that our trips on I-5 were uneventful.

On December 26, we took Mary and David and Peter and flew down to Las Vegas for a few days.  It is very handy to have a direct flight from Bellingham.  It was sunny there, but not quite as warm as we would have liked.  We wanted to see Cirque du Soleil's Beatles Love show again and we wanted our kids to experience it as well.  We all enjoyed it thoroughly and we had some good times together celebrating Mary and David's fourth wedding anniversary and David's birthday, which is also in January.

Once a year, our flight back home gets to be in business class, so it was a little more comfortable.  We got to fly back together which always makes the travel better too.  Since I've accumulated so many frequent flyer miles, I was allowed to have an extra checked bag.  That was soon filled with all sorts of goodies like Triscuits, frozen sausage patties, and of course, fabric.  Besides the fabrics that I need personally, there is always some shopping to do for the crafts group.  We've figured out that getting ready for that bazaar in November should be a year round effort, so we are hard at it again.  I also decided to bring my newest Bernina to Baku.  Although my little Elna Stella is a great machine, there were a lot of sewing things that would be easier with a newer, better machine.  So I padded it with some clothing and packed it in my carry on bag.  Thank goodness Ed was with me to heft it into the overhead bin.

Having a better sewing machine here really gave me a boost in January.  I've decided that 2012 is the year of the scrap, which means that I'm trying to make a major dent in all of those scraps that I brought here with me.  It's been fun keeping track of just what I've done with them, and I'm going to try to continue with that throughout this year.

When we were first back here in January, the weather was quite nice.  The days often included some sunshine and temperatures in the high 50s.  Then we came to Martyr's Day, January 20.  Twenty years ago on that day, the Soviet military slaughtered over a hundred people on the streets of Baku.  January 20 is now a holiday when the Azeris like to visit the cemetery on the hill.  The president always takes a walk there and there are usually traffic jams because so many people want to visit the same site.  This year, the weather was horrible that day and it hasn't improved much since then.  It has snowed several times and it is very cold.  Ed has been sent home from work early more than once, and the schools have been closed.  Since Baku isn't used to snow, they don't really know how to deal with it.  I've stayed in a lot.  Even when it hasn't been snowing, all those tiled sidewalks are horribly slippery.  Today we've finally seen some blue skies and the temperature warmed to 47°, so maybe we are going to go back to having normal winter weather.  Fortunately, we didn't suffer the power outages that some of you in the Pacific Northwest had in January.  We did lose power for one hour one evening, but we were already on our way to bed anyway.

Last night was one of the major social events of the expat community.  There are a lot of Scottish people here so they have formed a Caledonian Society, which puts on the Burns Ball and supports several charities.  In past years they've had a St. Andrews Ball in November and a Burns Supper in January.  This year they combined those two events into one and called it the Burns Ball.  This is in celebration of poet Robert Burns' birthday, which is January 25.

It was held at the newly opened Hilton Hotel.  It was our first time in this new hotel and it seems to be very nice.  As we arrived, they had a photographer set up to take our picture.  Then we were handed a glass of champagne.  We had purchased our tickets with friends, so we all got to sit together.  The decorations included miles of tartan swags and table runners, and the centerpieces had a thistle flower and purple and silver balloons.  There were bagpipes, of course, for piping in the haggis.  A band had been flown in from Scotland, so there was dancing after dinner.  They also read some Burns poems and there were a few speeches.

First we had a very nice salad, which was followed by Scotch Broth (a nice warm up on such a cold night).  I was advised to order the vegetarian haggis since I'm not too excited about the ingredients in the traditional recipe.  Ed had the traditional variety.  We both poured a little whiskey on it and it was quite tasty, along with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed pumpkin and carrot (neeps).  The menu noted that this is as close as they could get to neeps in Baku.  My Scottish friends tell me that neeps are mashed turnip, but not the variety that we are used to; theirs is a sweeter, bigger turnip.  Dessert was a heavy chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream and a berry compote.  There was also a piece of candy in a little silver bag at each place.  It was called Scottish Tablet and seemed to be a combination of butter and sugar.  The table also had boxes of Scotch shortbread, a bottle of Glenfiddich whiskey, and a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream along with both red and white wine.  The waiters were very attentive, so we never had to wonder where our next drink was.  We finished the evening feeling more than well fed.

The new Hilton Hotel was the first of the new ones to open in the main part of the city.  We can see that several more are nearly ready.  There will be a new Marriott, Four Seasons, and a Fairmount.  I'm sure that they are all racing to be ready for Eurovision in May.  We can see from our window the construction of the Crystal Hall out near the big flag.  That is supposed to be the venue.  A German construction company is building it, and they've said that it will be done by the end of March.

This will be another big year for travel for us.  Ed has a week off in March for Novruz (a celebration of spring) so we will be home to see the family.  Mary has started her student teaching in North Bend, Oregon so we will drive down there.  Peter is working on his senior project.  They should both graduate in June so we will be home for that too.  Then our niece, Kelly, will marry Adam on Labor Day weekend so we can't miss that event.  And of course, the last trip of the year is for Christmas.

As I've mentioned earlier, it is time to get our new residence permits.  The Azeris have come up with some new hoops for us so they aren't ready yet.  Two days after we returned we had physical and psychological exams at the clinic.  Apparently we passed those exams so now we are waiting.  If they aren't ready when I want to leave on February 25, there is a method for leaving without it.  I've got my fingers crossed that they will be ready in the next couple of weeks!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Catching up

August was beautiful and sunny here in Baku, as long as it was viewed from inside an air-conditioned room.  Venturing outside was best done in short spurts since it was very hot and somewhat humid too.  However, we didn't really understand heat until we spent a weekend in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  There, it was so hot, that when we came out of an air conditioned building, Ed's glasses fogged up!  We did have fun sight seeing with friends and visiting a few of the wonderful shops, including a quilt store.  We will definitely return since there is a direct flight from Baku, but we'll make the next visit at a cooler time of year.

Since BP's Baku calendar celebrates the local holidays, we noticed that Ed would have several days off near the end of August, so we decided to take a five day trip to Scotland.  The idea was to go where we could hear English spoken.  Well, we did hear English, but we didn't always understand what we heard.  We spent two days in Edinburgh and two days in Glasgow.  It was great fun to actually walk on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh after reading about it in lots of historical fiction.  In Glasgow we met up with a friend and enjoyed visiting the sights and local pubs.  Scotland succeeded in cooling us off; we were almost glad to get back to Baku and warm up.  We saw the sun in Scotland (between rain showers), but it's not a very warm sun.

We spent parts of September and October in the Pacific Northwest.  We were able to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with our kids in Portland and visited lots of family and friends.  I got to go to two different quilting retreats and I participated in the Evergreen Quilt Show where I exhibited my Mumbo Gumbo scrap quilt.  Right before returning to Baku, I flew to Huntsville, AL for a nephew's wedding.

Back in Baku, it was time to finish up all the preparations for the local International Women's Club charity bazaar.  I'd spent much of August working on table runners and ornaments, and there were some more advent calendars and wine bottle bags to make in November.  The bazaar was held last week and it was a great success.  The charities are worthwhile, so this is something that I will probably continue to do while I'm here.
Baku is still windy.  I've used my sunglasses to keep the wind out of my contacts, but now that I'm sometimes out when the sun isn't, I think that I need to get goggles.  I'll be visiting Hardware Sales back in Bellingham, hoping to find something stylish.

Now, it's time to pack up and head to the airport again.  We are very happy that we will be home with family for both Christmas and New Year's Day.  We will be back to Baku January 3, just in time to apply for a new residence permit.  That is a somewhat lengthy process, and it must be completed before we can leave the country again, so we're trying to stay on top of all the deadlines.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Eurovision is coming!

There has been a lot of excitement in Baku since we last added to our blog.  Azerbaijan has won Eurovision!  We had never heard of Eurovision, but it is apparently a singing contest where Abba got its start.  Now that an Azeri duo has won, everyone is very excited that the contest will be held in Baku next May.  We think that it's going to be a very interesting year to be here.  Apparently there are a lot of preparations to do.  Both Hilton and Marriott have hotels under construction and it will be interesting to see what gets done in time for all the visitors who are expected.  We are also hopeful that these expected visitors will help smooth out the visa application process.  We've heard varying stories about where the contest will actually happen - the most interesting prospect is that an entirely new venue will be built!

As new arrivals, we noticed that there is a lot of construction here everywhere.  Some days you can see some action, but a lot of the time it seems to be idle.  Since the big win in May, there is definitely more action around town.  One story is that the wife of the president loves Paris, so a lot of the old Soviet era buildings are receiving a Parisian style facelift.  They do look nice.  We are quite amazed at some of the scaffolding that is used.

We heard that after a building nearby collapsed all by itself a couple of years ago, it turned out that more floors were added than planned and that it was 25% short of concrete.  The government then condemned many existing buildings and issued stop-work orders on others that were under construction.  (Is building inspection a new idea here?)  That building is being rebuilt now.

Just this week we've noticed that another nearby building seems to be growing taller.  We don't know if that was planned all along, or is it an afterthought?  Ed has done some random research and discovered that we may not have left the earthquake danger zone.  Apparently, there was a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Baku in November of 2000, the strongest in 160 years.  More than 90 buildings and apartments blocks were seriously damaged.  Some studies have been done that show that most of Baku would not fare well in a major earthquake.  So why are we living on the 17th floor?

The "flame towers" have been under construction for several years already.  We have seen quite a lot of progress on them in the last few months.  It would be wonderful if they could be finished this year, but it looks like a monumental task.

BP is planning to move into a new building which is being constructed for them.  They are supposed to move in (including Ed's group) at the beginning of 2012.  We drove past it after visiting the Museum of Modern Art a few days ago.  It looks like they still have a whole lot to do.

The show at the Museum of Modern Art was a group of photographs of Azerbaijan taken by foreign photographers.  It was really good.  There were a number of large scale photos of Baku and we had fun finding our apartment building in several of them.

We are finding the summer weather plenty hot here.  Our apartment has air conditioning and it is getting quite a workout.  The temperature has reached 40°C (104°F) already.  We understand that the heat will last into September.  The taxi drivers who are willing to use their car air conditioning are getting more of our business than those who just roll down the windows.  Here you can see me looking wilted in Fountain Square.  Apparently these little figures help you avoid where they are working on the paving.

Ed has completed his wine rack table and we have furnished it with an electric opener and a globe.  This one is a little more sturdy than the chocolate ornament.  We also finally got some bookcases.  We bought one plastic shelf unit from a Scandinavian store and two other shelves from a German family who were leaving town for China.  Now the fabric has a home in the sewing area, and the ovens are off the kitchen counter.  Yea!

As some of you know, we had a very nice visit to the Pacific Northwest in June and July.  It was wonderful to see family and friends in person.  We had a great time and felt that the long flights were well worth all the fun we had.  We're ready to do it all again before too long.

Many of the expat quilters are out of town for most of the summer.  There are a few of us who are staying in the AC and quilting like mad.  In my sewing corner, the AC blows right at me, so I can still keep my iron on.  The first scrap quilt top has been delivered to Susan the quilter, so now I'm on to the one called Scrappy Chaos.  I love that name since I feel that it quite accurately describes my sewing area.  I'm also working on several table runners and aprons for a charity bazaar which will be held in November.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

You are going to live...WHERE?

Baku, Azerbaijan. Population 2 million people (officially). Private estimates are up to twice that. Here is the map (on a globe—in Russian—that is an old chocolate Christmas ornament).
It is literally half-way around the world, 12 hours ahead of Bellingham.
Nominally Muslim, Azerbaijan was part of the Russian empire from 1813 to 1918. It enjoyed independence from about 1918 until 1920 when the USSR invaded and annexed it. During this brief period, Azerbaijan established equal rights for women. It was a Russian state until independence in 1991 and this had a significant influence on the culture. This year (2011), Azerbaijan celebrates 30 years of independence from the USSR. See also and and

Neighboring countries are Iran, Armenia, Georgia and Russia. Baku is on the Caspian Sea, which we see out of our living room windows.

Main business? Oil. Lots of oil. Not much else.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Welcome to windy Baku!

Who knew that 2011 would be such a whirlwind?  Ed decided to take a job in Baku, Azerbaijan right around Christmas, 2010.  The terms sounded good, and the possibility of a new adventure has always been a good hook for him.  We approached the whole process with lots of big IFs, since there were many possibilities for glitches.  He passed the offshore physical on January 3 so the next step was an application for a visa.  First you need an invitation. . .then you're at the mercy of the consulate.  In order to get a visa, you have to send your passport to Washington, D.C. with a promise from the embassy that they will only keep it for 10 working days (holidays don't count).  Last fall we had signed ourselves up for a 10 day vacation in Belize at the end of January - his passport came back Friday at noon and we flew out of SeaTac that night.  Whew!  Close one there.  The week in Belize was glorious - good music from Jerry Jeff Walker and great food and fun with family and friends.  We returned to Bellingham late Sunday night, did the laundry, and Ed was on a plane to Baku Monday morning.

He arrived on February 1 and jumped right into work and finding an apartment.  One of the terms of the contract is that housing is provided and we did have some choice in the matter.  Ed ended up taking the first apartment that he saw since it has a spectacular view of the Caspian Sea and a fairly neutral decorating scheme.  And it is in a fairly modern building.  We've never lived in a high rise before, but we're on the 17th floor now.  It is a furnished apartment and we've added several things from home to help it feel more familiar.  This is the name of the street that we live on, but we don't expect to receive mail here.  E-mail and Skype are our current preferred modes of communication.

After I finished winding things up at my work in Bellingham and packing up our household goods shipment, it was time for me to apply for a visa.  I sent my application in on March 1 and it came back to me April 1.  Looks like more than 10 working days to me.  Everyone just says, "But this is Baku!"  I'm having to adjust my get things done attitudes.  The household goods arrived just fine, but I wish that I'd sent a microwave cart and a bookshelf.  Who knew that such basic items would be hard to find.

Anyway, here we are enjoying a leisurely Easter Sunday.  We're already into Easter while you all are asleep since we are 12 hours ahead of the west coast.  We've thawed out a frozen salmon fillet from Norway so we'll cook that later.  When we look outside, toward the sea, there is a very large flag that gives us an indication of how bad the wind is today.  It was really awful a couple of days ago, so they even took the flag down.  It has rained a couple of times since I got here on April 6, but we do see the sun more often than we usually do in Washington.  If we look really hard to the horizon, we think that we can see some of the drilling rigs.  Our little camera isn't good enough to get a photo of that.  Maybe we'll get some better binoculars one of these days and have a good look out there.

Ed has about a 15 minute walk to work and we can walk to several small grocery stores.  Yesterday, we took a taxi downtown and then shopped our way back, making the last stop at Life Supermarket.  It is one of the big ones, but they don't have caraway seeds.  We walked back, but that really is a pretty long trek so I hope we don't do that too often.

Our living/dining/kitchen room is quite large so we have installed the sewing corner.  The light is great with all the windows and there are good overhead lights so I'm getting a lot done on one of my scrap quilts.  Some days I've actually been sewing from sunrise until sunset and beyond.  It is very handy to have one's sewing corner right in the middle of the apartment.  I've also made a new cover for the resident ironing board and some wall pockets for one of the bathrooms.  These bathrooms have pedestal sinks and no medicine cabinets so no storage.

The bed in the second bedroom has drawers under it so that is where the bags of scraps are living.  The wardrobe in there has all of the new fabric.  Thank goodness I brought quite a bit of fabric because the stores here don't have very much in the way of quilting cottons.  They have a lot of fancy fabrics (bling is very popular here), wool suitings, and other fabrics for sewing clothes.  That bedroom is also the drying room since we don't have a clothes dryer.  Some people (those who live in official BP housing) have combo washer/dryers, but most people hang their things outside on their balconies where they can collect dust and bird droppings.  We put our wet clothes in the drying room.  They are usually dry in one day.

The expat women have been very welcoming.  There are five or so quilters among them, and they are all mostly fairly new to quilting.  I'm going to two quilting meetings each week.  I've been to one coffee and there is another one scheduled for Tuesday.  We have two taxi drivers available who can speak some English.  We will never drive here.  The traffic is AWFUL!  They use their horns freely and manufacture new lanes as needed.  This means that a roundabout which has three lanes can easily accommodate 5 small cars and one bus.  Surprisingly, we haven't seen many accidents.  This sign indicates that drivers should watch out for pedestrians dashing across the street.

At the coffee I attended, we learned how to have things sent here from the USA fairly inexpensively.  We've ordered a few things online and are waiting for them to arrive.  It looks like it takes about two weeks.  This appears to be good for smallish things.  Who knows what the shipping would be for a bookshelf.

All in all, life is good.  Ed is enjoying his work and I am enjoying quilting nearly full time.  The chores of daily living do take a little more time than at home, but maybe we'll get more efficient as time goes on.  The grocery stores here have most of the things that we need, although yesterday we saw fresh asparagus without tips for a high price.  I suspect that the tips were damaged in shipping so they just removed them and put the stalks out for sale.  Fresh broccoli is also expensive, but there are many brands of vodka at all price points!

We are happy that we've finally gotten started on our blog.  We hope to add more observations and photos on a fairly regular basis.  We also hope that our little message will inspire some of you to update us on your happenings.  Happy Easter!

Ed and Carol