Baku marked the start of a 3000km summer bike ride south west to the coast beyond Antalya. We had flown direct on Uzbekistan Airlines from our newfound home in Tashkent, across the brown desert, the great steppe and the Caspian Sea.
Baku was noticeably holding its breath for what was to be the first Formula 1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan. When an ancient city becomes a racetrack, it certainly has an effect on the place, getting around was nigh on impossible with most roads closed and the shoreline had been turned in to an LED fest; the F1 promotional bandwagon.
We got out of the city as quickly as we could just before race weekend, as the mayhem would have been too much for this cycle tourist. Niamh had hired a 4x4 and would be my one-stop support team for a week of riding towards a border with Georgia.
It was easy to make comparisons to our new home; Uzbekistan, but as we moved west, Azerbaijan’s personality shone through. As an inappropriate example of this, our first night was spent in a theme park- Qobuland. I’ve still no idea what the theme is, but it is unique for sure. We then headed into the beautiful mountains to the north, along cobbled town high streets, and Soviet backwaters. We passed through the yellow ochre 'Badlands' with its mud volcanoes and switchback mountain highways and then up towards the fortress city of Sheki.
A few days in, it was my birthday, and being the lucky boy that I am, after a good day of riding, my support team had found a hotel in Oghuz, and when I arrived, showered me with treats. Such as snacks, my favourite Russian Honey Beer, and a cake with a musical candle.
We sat on the balcony watching the sun set, looking towards Russia, happy with my lot, accompanied by the candle playing Happy Birthday. Well, it never stopped. The bloody candle played on and on an on for hours. There was nothing resembling an off-switch to be seen, it couldn’t be smashed, so the (honestly rather tacky orange plastic) device carried on playing all night. That was until about midnight, at which point I'd had enough and lobbed it out of the window. Except, in my slumber, I hadn’t thought about the dining room conservatory below. The only slightly tilted glass ceiling displayed the thing in all its glory, and throughout breakfast, diners were treated to a quasi-Chinese rendition. I worried how many of whom knew it had been my birthday.