Vision Editor Hass Yusuf reporting from Baku
Well for you early birds, I’m starting the blog a day early with first impressions about Baku.
Flew in via Turkish Airlines (decent service with great food) from Heathrow, stopping at Istanbul before the second leg of the journey to Baku. Accompanying me was the usual suspects: David Elder, Robin Scott, Andrew Main, Paul Jordan and of course Elaine Humperdinck-Dove. We came from all corners of the UK – London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. How very ‘cosmopolitan’.
Everything at Baku airport went smoothly. Once you got your passport checked, you were sent to a different section where you filled in your Visa application form (if you previously hadn’t applied for one). If you’re unsure about any categories, just write down ‘Eurovision’. Even your date of birth – just kidding of course! You then had to hand in your form along with $118.
Once you pick up your bags and exit into the main airport area, turn right to find an exchange bureau. They offer a decent rate – best to bring dollars if you want to exchange cash – and there’s also an ATM machine.
During this arrival process, Eurovision volunteers were on hand to give you a hand. Now normally in past experience they just smile and point you in the way of taxis or trains – but here in Baku, they went a step further – escorted you to the right visa application area, exchange bureau, etc. They even got hold of taxi drivers. General thought was that there would be dedicated transport laid on, but that wasn’t the case here.
The taxi journey into to town took about 20 minutes. General thought later on, when compared to another taxi journey, was that we might have been slightly ripped-off. So avoid unshaven taxi drivers with gold teeth. In fact you should avoid anyone with gold teeth regardless.
For those of you concerned about my welfare, I’m staying in a rather fab 4-star hotel with David Elder and Robin Scott. As is befitting an editor for Vision magazine I appear to have been given the best room available – even have a jaccuzi! Far better than a fart in the bath.
First impressions about Baku – very impressed so far. There seems to be massive building projects all over the place – and they’re not skimping on design or cost. There are some magnificent designs with buildings in all different shapes and sizes – but nothing tacky. It appears to be very Westernised.
The people appear to be on the whole very friendly – and all fashion savvy – except for unshaven taxi drivers with gold teeth.
Another taxi adventure occurred when we attempted to go to the Eurovision venue – The Baku Crystal Hall to pick up our accreditation badges. The hotel booked the taxi this time, so no rip-off, but he had no idea how to get to the venue. After going down dirt tracks and stopping and asking various security personnel, we eventually got near the place. After a brisk walk in the nice warm weather (is the UK still under a cloud?) we eventually got to the accreditation booth a small distance from the Crystal Hall itself. There wasn’t a big queue, but serving one customer at a time, will take forever once a big influx of journalists arrive.
Not knowing where we were we hopped onto a bus going in the general direction of the old town where our hotel was located. Once getting off at the main Fountain Square area we chanced upon a young Eurovision volunteer who us to our hotel. So far these volunteers get ten out of ten – and we’ll reserve judgment on taxis a while longer. Hint: best to use ‘official’ Eurovision taxis – you can’t miss them – then look like London black cabs and decorated with the Eurovision logo.
Anyway, going back to the accreditation booth, once we received our accreditation badges, we were given a press release saying that “due to logistical activities around the press centre”, doors would open tomorrow rather than today for the press. Sounds as if something isn’t finished yet! And apparently there’s a press conference at 11.00am on Sunday morning to update journalists on various matters. Fine – except rehearsals are meant to start at that time! Maybe not – full report tomorrow…