Azerbaijan Roll Out Part One: Fast Train To Ganja

By the end of 1993 I was 27, flat broke, jobless, and had no idea what to do next. I’d spent the year in Zurich, mainly because of a girl – most things back then were due to girls – but I came back to London sadder, wiser, and possibly harder-hearted than before I’d left.

I don’t really recall what led me to apply for a job at the airport. But I was living just a few miles from Heathrow, so it made good sense. I remember having this clunky old manual typewriter,* and I started to crank out application letters to all the airlines.

*A manual typewriter was bit like a computer, except you couldn’t access the Internet, install apps, swipe right, or delete anything you’d written.

After many rejections, I was eventually asked in for an interview, and on January 17th 1994 I turned up in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 for my first day.

Over the next six or seven years I had numerous operational jobs including Check-in Agent, Pushback Driver, Load Controller, Aircraft Dispatcher and Traffic Coordinator. But in 2000 things took another significant turn and I got a job in the DCS department.

Departure Control Systems are the IT applications that airlines use for check-in and aircraft weight and balance, and feed all the other airport and airline systems. It was a good move for me.

In 2005 I moved away from the airline to one of the key suppliers of these systems. These days, when an airline wants to move from their old (inferior) system to our new (vastly improved) system, I’m the guy who project manages the implementation.

A typical project takes anywhere from nine months to three or four years. I’ve been working on this one for 12 months so far, and now it’s time to go live.

We normally go live with a very small airport initially. That way we can catch all the problems and keep any impact to a minimum. The wonderfully named Ganja in the west of Azerbaijan seemed like a good choice for the pilot airport.

I left London with my colleague Monika late at night, and arrived in Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku early the next morning. There’s not even a daily flight to Ganja, so we ending up tearing through Baku in a perilously traumatic cab ride to the station. From there it was four hours on the train to Ganja.

The days of taking film on work trips are over for me. I don’t want to subject it to multiple x-ray scans, and you can’t rely on everywhere allowing a hand search. These were all JPEGS shot on my Fujifilm X100F using its fantastic built-in Acros film simulation. No post-processing required!

All photos Fujifilm X100F

Baku Train Station

I could have taken loads of pictures as we sped across the country, but they all would have looked like these next three photos. There’s not a lot out there, but I do get a closer view of those mountains on the way back.

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

I don’t blame Monika for flaking out. We’d been awake for over 24 hours at this point.

Ganja Azerbaijan

And we arrive in Ganja. The official language of Azerbaijan is – unsurprisingly – Azerbaijani, a form of Turkish. But as a former Soviet state many of the older guys speak Russian. Which means I can say hello, goodbye, thank you and yes. Not entirely useful when getting a cab. Everyone does seem to understand the word vodka though.

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

The view from my hotel room

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

I’m not convinced they have a word for diet in Azerbaijan. Or vegetarian. The food blends regional influences from Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean. Dishes tend to be meat-based, especially lamb and chicken. This is all washed down with lashings of vodka, which these guys can put away as if it’s water. I don’t have the same superpower, which I found out the hard way on my previous trip. The second half of the evening was a blank and I woke up next morning on the floor of my hotel room. Top Tip: Don’t go out drinking with an Azerbaijani. It won’t turn out well. And even if you do have a good time, you won’t remember it.

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

And here we are; Ganja International Airport, with the first flight on the new system being to Moscow’s Vnukovo airport.

We just had just 30 minutes to take a look round the city, so I can’t tell you much about it. But like Baku, it has a very laid back atmosphere.

Ganja Azerbaijan

And flying back to Baku, over those wonderful snow-capped mountains. Now it’s time for things to get serious…

Ganja Azerbaijan

Baku At Night

When I was working in Baku back in July, I had only two hours in the day to look around.

This time I had only one hour at night.

The weather was comfortably cooler this visit, at around 25°C. The famous Baku wind helped keep things fresh. Baku is known as The City Of Winds, and in fact the name comes from the Original Persian for Bādkube, meaning ‘pounding winds’.

Baku sits on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, and although it was once a former soviet state, it has a distinctly European atmosphere. The city really comes alive at night, with bustling crowds, open-air cafes and restaurants, opera houses, singers, buskers, and groups of men drinking coffee and playing games.

This was the first time I’ve put the Fuji X100T through its paces at night. I think it acquitted itself quite well.

Baku At Night / Fuji X100T

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku At Night

Baku In Two Hours

Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan, the largest city on the Caspian Sea, topped and tailed by Russia and Iran. The name Baku is derived from the original Persian name, Bād-kube. This broadly translates to the rather catchy ‘Place Where Wind Is Strong And Pounding’. Which is fortunate, as when I was there it was consistently above 35℃. The breeze definitely kept things bearable. In the winter it can get quite severe.

Baku was part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. Russian is still spoken by a proportion of the population, and there’s definitely a slight soviet flavour. But the city also has both a European and a middle-eastern feel. If Paris and Dubai had an illicit fling, and the love child was shipped off to a Russian Uncle, then that’s Baku.

Baku / Fujifilm X100T

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

In spite of what the title says, I actually spent five days in Baku. But most of the daylight hours were spent working at the airport, and consequently I had just a single afternoon to look around. Ideally, I would’ve liked to take my Nikon F100, but I knew there’d be few chances to use it. And I didn’t want to put my film through at least two x-ray scans without even having used any. Instead, I took my compact and perfectly formed Fujifilm X100T.

The X100T was given to me as compensation a reward for 10 years service with the company. I don’t normally get on with digital cameras, especially compacts. I don’t even like using my smartphone for pictures. I assume they chose it based on its vintage styling. But Fuji’s camera has many of the things you normally don’t get in a compact. A viewfinder, for one thing. And ‘real’ controls; an aperture ring and a shutter speed dial. Best of all for me, it shoots natively in black and white, and crucially, the photos rarely need any editing. I shoot it much the same way I would any film camera and don’t need to spend hours editing in front of a computer. Just like film, all the choices are made before and not after I press the shutter. Oh, and it also features a fixed 35mm (35m equivalent) lens, the same focal length I use on my Nikon F100. I feel right at home.

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

I see that some sources refer to it as the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, but my visa just said the Republic of Azerbaijan. Democratic in a country’s name is always a bit of a warning sign. Yep, I’m looking at you Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Anyway, I’m not going to make any comment on the state of Azerbaijan’s democracy. But it’s worth mentioning the 2013 election, where the incumbent Government won with 72% of the votes. The one problem? The results were accidentally released via a mobile app the day before voting started. In the words of one of our greatest philosophers: “Doh!”

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Baku

Go and visit Baku. It’s warm (in the summer), the food’s great, the people are lovely, the city is safe, and the atmosphere is relaxed. And even though the driving’s vaguely disconcerting, it still only scores about 5/10 on the Cairo Brown Trousers scale.

Airlink DCS Kick-Off Meeting

Two days in Nice on the French Rivera for the Airlink DCS Kick-Off meeting. Staying at the Villa Azur in Villeneuve Loubet, which is practically in the sea….

Nice, October 5/6 2017
Camera: Fujifilm X100T


A quick stroll round the Marina nearby.

Off to Antibes for a night out with Carole.

Arriving at the Belair offices

Great views of the Alps and the sea from the office.

Me (2nd from right), a couple of colleagues, and the Airlink Team