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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Tourist Destination of Rusty, Dusty Splendor?

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BAKU, Azerbaijan -- It's rare that we get visitors to Azerbaijan. True, my mother found a cheap deal on British Airways last year, but the day she arrived in a summer dress and sandals, the sunshine turned to thunder and the torrential rain didn't let up until she was halfway back to London. This year she's spending her summer holiday in Italy.

I suppose I shouldn't complain. When I tell people I live in Azerbaijan, they stare back at me blankly. "It's part of the former Soviet Union," I explain, "in the South Caucasus," but by then I've usually lost them.

Our mail occasionally gets sent to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast by mistake, and someone I know here had a letter addressed to Macau instead of Baku.

When war broke out in Afghanistan last year, my grandmother insisted I take the first plane home. She assumed our house backed onto the Tora Bora cave complex and that Osama bin Laden must be hiding in our cellar.

So when a friend told me she was coming to stay for 10 days and that she was arriving on Friday, I laid plans for some serious sightseeing.

Azerbaijan is not a Mecca for tourists. What little there is to see hasn't been designed with the visitor in mind. The National Carpet Museum, which houses hundreds of beautiful rugs (my favorite is a silk kilim hand-embroidered with 180 red, green and blue camels) rarely has electricity, which means it's as dark and sweaty in the summer as the Tora Bora cave complex must be.

However, my friend and I wandered the cobbled alleys of Baku's Old Town on Sunday and climbed the Maiden's Tower, from the top of which you can look out across kilometer upon kilometer of rusting oil derricks on the shores of the Caspian Sea. In a strange way, they do look rather magnificent in the evening light.

This afternoon we are going to see some of the oldest cave etchings in the world at Qobustan. They are easily as impressive as the ones at Lascaux in France, but there are no hot dog stands or parking attendants sporting Qobustan baseball caps.

Instead there's a tiny, dusty museum, also prone to power cuts, which is closed Mondays and Thursdays. I'm not complaining. I'd take Qobustan, where you rarely meet another person, over Lascaux and its endless lines any day.

I've just had a call from my sister saying she's coming to stay next month, too. I explained that her Prada shoes probably wouldn't be necessary and that Louis Vuitton doesn't have a branch in Baku, but that doesn't seem to have deterred her. I wonder what she'll make of the rusting oil derricks.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.