The Games finally started this past Friday. The whole city shut down Friday for the games, the highways were blocked off and the government declared it a day off from work so people could attend. One of the first events that I was able to attend was the Gymnastics preliminary round on Saturday. The experience was not what I had expected. The facility was incredible, but the crowd simply did not exist. At one point in the day, when the Azerbaijani team was competing a large crowd showed up to cheer, but left immediately afterwards. For the most part, I got the impression that the majority of the patrons were either competitors, staff, or family & friends of the competitors. Regardless of the poor attendance and over-zealous security, we had a great time.
The next day we went out to Sumqayit to spend the day at the beach. Sumqayit is an interesting place. Once a popular Russian vacation destination, the town has succumbed to a large influx of displaced persons over the past decade or so. The result is an in interesting mix of a clearly once-rich tourist destination, and the slums/taken over buildings of displaced persons. The incredibly lush and well-kept park on the waterfront dwarfs Baku’s Park-Boulevard. However, the once vibrant and sandy beach is neglected and moved up the coast several kilometers. As a result, Sumqayit’s waterfront is dead and dirty. A short ride up the coast will bring you to a well-kept stretch of beach filled with hotels, resorts, and restaurants that cater to patrons at tables on the beach. We found a nice spot on the beach and spent the majority of the day sitting out in the sun.
At work, I’ve been tasked to do a report on public benefit status for corporate entities. Currently, Azerbaijan has no such status but certain ministries have inquired about the possibility of drafting legislation to encourage more public benefit activities. Ramadan starts tomorrow, so many people in the office have started to prepare for the upcoming month. I get the impression that the city will slow down during the day quite a bit, but will have a more vibrant nightlife than normal. Either way, it should be an interesting time to be in the city!