Azerbaijan – Aug 2019

‘We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.’

Anonymous

For the first post we explore the latest trip this August, Azerbaijan. The best part of the trip was the coincidence of having a friend being in the same country at the same time – isn’t the world a small place. A great short trip with some amazing landscape and tech explored.

To help Navigate I’ve created sections so that you can navigate to the section you are interested in: The Pre-Trip checklist, Our Journey Summarized and specific location based details and experience. This way you can focus on and jump to sections you are interested in. I have also mentioned the time in brackets, for ex: Gobustan (1 Day Trip) or Gobuland (1 Hour), to give you a thumb rule of how much time you should aim to spend at each location.

Minimal Pre-Trip Checklist for August travel:

  • Visa Related – for UAE Residents there is visa on arrival
  • Travel Essentials:
    • Toiletries – the usual depending on hostel or hotel stay
    • Tech – just your phone+power-bank would do apart from a universal power adapter; GoPro, Drone, Insta360 if you love good video captures
  • Umbrella / Rain cover
  • About 100 Manat (local currency) per day – depending on how much exploring you plan to do – does not cover hotel stay. 1 Manat = 2.15 AED (Aug 2019)
  • Translator App – since most don’t speak English well
  • Roaming Data or Local SIM – would be useful out of the airport to use the Bolt App (similar to Uber/Careem) for transport, really cheap compared to Taxi’s & booking.com travel service + there’s a cash option to pay.
  • Clothes for rainy and humid weather mostly + 1 hoody or jacket for cable car ride to the top in Gebele.

Our Journey

Day 1: Baku Fountain Square Stroll > Sea Side Walk > Crazzy Bear (Conceptual Pub)

Day 2: Fountain Square (Starbucks, Morning Coffee) > Fountain Square (Koz Plus Doner, Lunch) >Yanar Dag (Fire Mountain) > Heydar Aliyev Center (Abstract Art Museum) > Old City Baku (La Mangerie, Dinner)

Day 3: Tour Day 1, Gobustan – Mud Volcano > Rock Art Cultural Museum > Rock Art Landscape > Bibiheybat Mosque > Great Mardakan Fortress > Fountain Square (Coffee House, Break) > Little Venice > People By Eleven (ISR Plaza, Restaurant & Lounge)

Day 4: Tour Day 2, Gebele – Gobuland (Breakfast with a view) > Jummah Mosque > Garagaya Rope Bridge & Mini Trek > Nohur Lake (Lunch with locals dancing in the background if you’re lucky) > Tufandag Mountain Resort (Cable Car ride to the top with a view) > Fountain Square (Bayramoglu, Dinner)

Day 5: Morning Flight back to Dubai

Baku

As soon as you land or before if you the proactive type download and install the Bolt app for all travel in Baku & other major cities in Azerbaijan – it’s their Uber! Compared to any Taxi or Travel booking service this is way more convenient to use. Also helps if you don’t speak the language.

Fountain Square at Night

Also recommended is staying somewhere central to the city, we stayed near Fountain Square – very easy to just walk around and find things to do, places to eat as well as walk to the Sea Side and Old Town. If you are from or familiar with Dubai you are more likely to find this place like home with all the regular shops, places to eat, coffee shops, shisha spots, bars and clubs – one key difference though, all of these places are a short walk away. The fountain square area comes alive in the evening with droves of people just walking around, sitting, chatting and catching up. Lots of cartoon character mascots, men with monkeys you can pet, pet friendly. Lots of tourists from the Middle East to be found here. The city goes through extra effort to keep clean and maintain order.

Some great places to just chill in Baku Central that we can recommend are:

  • Little Venice, Sea Side near the Carpet Museum – exactly what it sounds like, a mini version of Venice with restaurants and shisha lounges on either side and boats passing through.
  • La Mangerie, Old City – great restaurant ambiance and decor, great place for some snacks, drinks and a chat. A little on the pricey side though.
  • Koz Plus, Fountain Square near Hard Rock – Great Doner and local food options.
  • Starbucks, Fountain Square near Hard Rock – Morning Coffee and yes before you ask, I’m biased on this one.
  • Bayramoglu, Fountain Square near McDonalds – Good Shawarma and decent shisha
  • Crazzy Bear, near Fountain Square, Google it – Can not recommend this place enough, make reservations if possible or go early (around 6/7pm) if you can’t – good food and once evening turns to night the place comes alive with music and dance. Amazing decor and ambiance too!
  • People By Eleven, ISR Plaza, Fountain Square – Music, dance, food; make reservations early on (the bouncer here is pricey) decent crowd if you’re willing to get the party started.

Yanar Dag or Fire Mountain

One of the most underwhelming points of the trip was the visit to the Fire Mountain. Yes, there’s fire but not there’s no mountain on fire. Due to natural and plentiful availability of natural gas and it seeping into the atmosphere from the porous rocks there’s a small subsection of the rock side on fire. This was accidentally discovered by a shepherd when lighting a fire near here and now serves as a tourist attraction. There’s a bridge near here taking you to the top of the hillside – don’t go there with high hopes though, no more natural fires to be seen across the hillscape.

Heydar Aliyev Center

This Center in Baku (2 to 3 hours) is a sight to behold, the architecture alone will have you mesmerized for a good while – inside and outside. A building architects keep in their bucket list to visit!

The contents inside are no less, from the abstract art sculptures on the ground floor all the way till the heritage floor, toy floor, 3-D Building Model floor and the art & history floor – there’s something to capture everyone’s attention; even the non-musem goer’s.

My favorite was the toy floor, the detailing on some of the toys and models was spectacular. There were even abstract toys around. An artform to behold in my opinion – the building and the contents inside.

Gobustan or Qobustan (1/2 to 3/4 day trip)

Mud Volcano Pit

Before you head out of Baku Central do keep in mind to have a good guide with you who speaks both English and Azerbaijani for trips outside the city – will definitely save a lot of translation time plus you help out the tourism economy a little.

Gobustan is an interesting place to visit, the way here too explains clearly the rich and easy availability of crude oil and natural gas in the region. The Mud Volcano’s (3/4 hour) are an interesting visit, bubbling mud pits and hundreds of them small and large spread across the landscape. People believe the mud to have properties good for the skin as well in case you are in the mood for a mud bath or take some home in a bottle for later.

The next stop could be the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Center (1 to 2 hours), a UNESCO World Heritage preserved site for its rock art collection from the past 40,000 years! Do ensure not to spend too much time in the Center though (unless you’re into that sort of thing) and head on over to the actual path through the eroded hillscape for the real thing. Art through the ages depicted across the walls here for you to admire and ponder over what the Azeri ancestral society of that age was going through when carving these out.

Drone’s aren’t allowed here, so ensure to get some really long selfie sticks if you want to get a heightened view or get up close for some shots.

There’s also some good look out points where the rocks fall off towards the landscape.

Bibiheybat Mosque & Great Mardakan Fortress (part of the Gobustan Trip)

The Mosque (1/2 hour) isn’t that impressive considering you are from the Middle East or a Muslim influenced country. Though once you get to the inside is where this is totally different – shiny green tiles, gold center, beautiful architecture and design; something pictures cannot do justice to. Comparatively a short stop unless you want to also look towards Caspian Sea and the dock below.

The Great Fortress (1/2 hour) a little ways away is one of five that you can look at, a strategic viewpoint in it’s heyday and currently just a view point to a suburb from days past. A stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Baku Central.

Gebele, Gabala or Qabala (1 Day Trip)

We decided to start our tour mornings early (7am) so we could get more done, take our time and also maybe get back early – for this day, didn’t quite work out that way but was a good day nonetheless. This was the day though that we realized the importance of a tour guide who spoke both languages, since ours didn’t show up.

We started the day with a great big breakfast at Gobuland (1 Hour)! Totally recommend it just for the view. A deck balcony overlooking a small (probably man-made) lake. The staff here don’t speak the language so be careful of what you end up eating since there’s no menu. They usually bring a set menu to the table which is a whole host of things from bread and butter to honey and olives – send back what you don’t need as soon as it is set on the table. Can also ask for some other items apart from the breakfast set if you’re still hungry. Also, very much recommend the honey.

The Jummah Mosque is a quick stop (1/2 hour) with a great history and some good reconstructed architecture.

Garagaya Rope Bridge & Trek (part of Gebele Trip)

Save most of your time (2 to 3 hours if you chose to trek as well) for the Garagaya Rope Bridge on the way to Gebele! Not only is the crossing worth it over the flowing stream below, there’s hot tea waiting on the other end (not free of course). The most exciting thing is the trek around the hill and downwards towards the water stream below. Some cold gushing water, a great rocky river bed and a breathtaking view all around. Can also try to head to the little village up top for something to drink (something we regretfully did not find the time for). The trek is an easy one if you are experienced and a medium difficulty one if not. Keep in mind a local at the bridge entrance charges about 1/2 Manat per person.

Nohur Lake (part of Gebele Trip)

It might have been timing or just plain luck that we ended up here for lunch (1.5 hours) in the open ground Sahil restaurant during the Eid Break. A whole host of locals took to dancing on a makeshift stage – men, women and kids of all ages having the time of their lives; a better look into their culture we couldn’t have asked for and that too while having some delicious local food.

Tufandag Mountain Resort Cable Car Ride (part of Gebele Trip)

Another exciting part of the trip for us (2 to 3 hours), would recommend to go for the 3 line cable car ride to the top and also be prepared for cold weather – check the local forecast. Depending on when you travel (usually evening if you are coming in from Baku) you’ll see fog covered mountains great cold climate, maybe even some rain on your ride to the top. There’s also a restaurant up top should you feel the need for a hot cup of coffee or tea. They charge about 22 Manat per person for the 3 Line Cable Car rides.

Hope this helps plan your next trip to Azerbaijan! Use the comments section to let us know your experience. Can also follow my exploits on Instagram or reach out to me on Twitter – links on the Home Page!

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Essential Travel Tech!

In this post we talk about the Tech essentials when it comes to travel .. mostly cos I love tech – the actual and only essential is the smartphone everything else is an aid to up your photography and videography game. Since the smartphone season has begun, kicked off officially by the Samsung Galaxy & Fold , this is as best a time as any ..

  • The Smartphone
  • The Action Cam
  • The Gimmick Cam
  • The Drone

What we do not talk about here is the basics i.e. the cables, power banks and selfie sticks since I believe those are usually taken care of in general anyhow. Something I can cover in a later post about interesting basic tech that up the travel experience.

First up, The Smartphone has come a long way since the days of the popular Nokia’s and the age of the Blackberry. Today’s smartphone can do almost anything that you used to need cameras as well as laptops to do. Excellent photos and videos can be taken, edited, stored and posted as well directly from the little metal slab in your palm.

Samsung Galaxy S10+

The ‘best smartphone’ is an extremely subjective term these days with so many options. There are expensive all rounders (One Plus 8T) but there’s also a phone for note taking powerusers (Galaxy Note 10+), one photographers (upcoming Pixel 6 or Huawei P50 Pro), another for videographers (iPhone 12 or 12 Pro Max), for gamers (Asus ROG 5S) and so on. Ultimately it’s all about the budget – if you are someone who wants the best but for the least, then the One Plus is your best bet; if money is not such a concern then spend some time figuring out which phone fits your need the best.

The key point to note is that if you have a good phone you don’t need much else and the rest of the gadgets below are just minor increments in the wow factor of your captures.

Next up, are the add-on gadgets, you don’t need em, but it is pretty great if they are around.

To start with, the Action Cam, a rough and tough photo and video capture buddy that can take a beating, handle the heat, snow, water and still not complain. Pretty necessary especially if you love activity and sport in general. The Go Pro 9 series or the DJI Osmo Action for this one and you can’t go wrong. Whats more important are the accessories that go along with. Something to strap the gadget to your arm, head, chest or just to make sure it doesn’t sink and you should be covered for all occasions.

Next up, the Gimmick Cam, keep in mind though, today’s gimmick is tomorrow’s main stream device; trouble is you never know which gimmick succeeds.

Insta360 One X

Some great options if you’d like to start with are the Insta 360 One X2, Go Pro Max and Ricoh Theta Z1. This enables some great quality 360 video with a mobile editor to support point of view video editing and you end up looking like a professional videographer. Not to mention some VR support and you can come as close as possible to reliving the experience without stepping out of the comfort of your home. Needs some serious commitment though towards continuous use, photo/video editing and store or else it gets added to the gimmick gadget drawer that we all have (though we don’t want to admit it).

Drones, the more hyped about gimmick gadget than most, especially now. It definitely seems a lot more fun than it actually is and takes a bit of effort currently to set up and use. But real good capture once you learn to use it well. My recommendation would be to start small (depending on budget – the DJI Tello or the DJI Mavic Air or just borrow if that’s possible) – practice with this, get the feel for the gadget and once you understand that this is your thing then you can go out and get a proper drone.

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Hello there, @robinbmac here!

A collection of my thoughts for all the things I love reading, talking and learning about – technology, travel and more!

Why do this?

  • Have a lot of tech info rattling around in my head just out of interest and love to share
  • Love to travel as well and get around a bit thanks to an amazing travel planner in my wife!

FAQ:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
    • 3rd attempt at a tech blog, love to share info about tech – probably satisfying a need for attention.
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
    • Mostly about smartphone tech, travel that’s easy to get to from the Middle East – but will usually sideline it to other topics around tech that I find interesting as well
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
    • Someone who just needs to keep up with the current thing in tech & travel in bite sized reads, simplified and opinionated and also someone who wants more info or to discuss these topics I find so interesting
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?
    • Would love to do this full time – and if you help me get these, you have my utmost gratitude (all I can afford right now)

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Cheers! 🙂

What is Cryptocurrency? (As in ‘Bitcoin’)

(The Original article is posted by me on LinkedIn on September, 2017: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-cryptocurrency-bitcoin-robin-machado/

Been curious about this myself for a while, did some research, and thought I’d do a knowledge share for all who would like to know more about this topic like me.

This is an article for all who have questions such as:

  • What is Crypto Currency? (Or ‘Bitcoin’ if you are more familiar with that)
  • What do I do with Crypto Currency?
  • What does the future hold for Crypto Currency?

While learning about it myself, I will do my best to answer these questions in as short and sweet a method as possible.

What is it?

Well, to put it simply, someone somewhere said I’ve had enough with these localized, government-controlled currencies that could really mess up sometimes and that it’s time to create a global currency that would work in a more meaningful, non-biased, and secure way. If you are one of the few that hasn’t faced such a challenge – congratulations; but if you are somewhat of a global citizen or even someone who travels and understand things like exchange rates (& Forex), you kind of understand how a currency that doesn’t get affected by ‘where’ you spend it has its benefits.

Pros:

  • Global,
  • Encrypted,
  • Self-monitored,
  • Open ledger (transparent)

Cons:

  • Still hasn’t taken off yet (so you can’t use it in most places),
  • prone to hackers (but so is banking),
  • prone to fluctuations (since it still has that new smell),
  • the world hasn’t finalized on one cryptocurrency .. so exchange rate between crypto’s might eventually be a problem (..something to think about)

By the way, that someone I mentioned before was a person or group named Satoshi Nakamotoand they created Bitcoin in 2009 – some good Netflix documentaries on that if you are interested, such as Banking on BitcoinSince this is the first it gets the privilege of being considered primary, such as with Xerox.

Bitcoin – CryptoCurrency Fluctuations – Feb 2017 to Sep 2017

The value of Cryptocurrencies is certainly prone to fluctuations, value rapidly changing based on demand (& supply). Like all valuable materials, the overall supply is eventually limited i.e. production would gradually decrease. As for how this currency is supplied, for example, like Bitcoin, it’s via Bitcoin Miners – People who use special software to solve math problems and are issued a certain number of Bitcoins in exchange (still learning this side of things myself TBH).

What do you do with it?

Simply put it is a currency, so you can do with it what you would with a currency – buy, sell, trade. The only difference is, it isn’t widely accepted yet so there aren’t too many places to use it .. and more importantly, you can’t use it for the everyday requirement .. yet. It is rapidly gaining popularity though and could very well soon go mainstream, once a popular global standard eventually rises.

Another option that many are going for is to invest in it .. buy it, store it, forget about it for a couple of months or years. Many early investors seem to find that just doing that has helped them multiply their investment. Disclaimer here though, do your research before you invest in any cryptocurrency and especially research on how you plan to buy it and store it .. those need to be dependable too. Can reach out to me as well for help, will do the best I can. Ethereum, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a cryptocurrency that has by far the most gains due to being backed by major corporations such as Microsoft, Samsung, JPMorgan Chase, and others in what’s being called the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. Though when corporations get involved, things start going wrong in the long run; for now, it’s just a wait and watch.

There are multiple options to buy Cryptocurrencies, the most popular are app-based wallets such as Coinbase. There are multiple ways to bet for and against Cryptocurrencies too, such as IQ Option Europe. Once again, disclaimer here, do the research, evaluate your risks, and then start. Always start small, learn the ropes, and then you can gradually go bigger as you gain a better understanding of how things work. 

Where adoption of Cryptocurrency is high, there are ATMs being installed too. For example, in the US there are 1000’s ATMs installed in many states where they use a scanner for authenticating your identity, and then you can transact.

What does the future hold?

Everything has to get a lot worse before it gets better. What we are talking about here is the impact on the national and global currency-based economy. There is currently a massive system in place put forward by governments and financial institutions to manage currency as we know it .. the supply of it, credit rates, interest rates, exchange rates, and so on. This global unregulated cryptocurrency system evades all that for a person-to-person exchange like the barter system of the old days but is available globally via an app – which basically means that governments are no longer involved in regulating or manipulating. Also means that governments now need to find a way to be involved or be left out of the conversation altogether.

The sum it all up, keeping the financial crashes in mind, the cryptocurrency option seems like a better way to go but that’s mostly because we do not fully comprehend how much of the government and financial regulation system most of us actually depend on till this goes mainstream. Good governments however will find a way to adapt, bad governments will find a way to profit, all the institutions in between will rise, fall, change, and slowly things will fall in place to the new reality. All in all, cryptocurrencies are in fact a new reality that we are not fully aware of and we are learning on the go. We can probably have a great guess on what the future holds, but ultimately as the current times have taught us, anything is possible.

This article represents info based on my research and also my opinion on the subject.

Hope you enjoyed the read as much as I enjoyed writing it, feel free to share, leave a comment, question, or otherwise. Thanks!