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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

From Idyllic Highlands to Cacophonous Baku

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BAKU, Azerbaijan -- If there's one thing I didn't miss about Azerbaijan during my two weeks on a Scottish island, it was the noise. On the tiny Isle of Lismore in the West Highlands, it's so quiet, you can hear the splash of Gillespie Black's prawn nets as he casts them half a mile out at sea.

In Baku, you're hard pressed to hear the bellow of the sturgeon kebab seller above the constant car horns, six different types of Turkish pop music and his mobile phone.

The funny thing is, no one seems to notice. Gulya, our vast, rosy-cheeked neighbor, and her family have decamped to the street for the summer, spending every evening on an assortment of deckchairs, stools and straw mats outside their front door.

They've set up a makeshift table using an old refrigerator and a warped door, on which they put a bowl of sunflower seeds, a large plate of cream cakes and, most important, the telephone, on an extra long lead. I suppose it gets so hot in their house during the summer months, it's cooler to sit outside.

"Don't you mind the noise of the car alarm?" I asked Gulya last week. Our other neighbors, recently returned from Moscow, drive a shiny Hyundai, whose alarm goes off at all hours of the day and night. I've considered dropping a brick through their windscreen in protest, but that would probably set off an even louder siren.

"What car alarm?" Gulya said.

You'd think at least Baku's Fountain Square might be a haven of tranquillity, where couples can stroll arm in arm on balmy summer nights. It isn't.

Every shop that opens onto the piazza has a stereo blasting chart music at top volume. Shopkeepers vie with each other to see who can play the loudest: The result leaves you temporarily deaf and makes the pavements shake.

Over the weekend, we went to Beh Beh, or Yum Yum -- one of our favorite restaurants. They serve delicious sturgeon, walnut hors d'oeuvres and a dish called satch, that comes in a cauldron and sits on top of smouldering coals.

They had a live band on Saturday night, playing Latin American tunes with an Azeri edge -- not necessarily two musical styles I would think of combining.

It was so loud you could hear it in the next street.

"Is there any chance the band could turn their amplifier down a little?" I shouted to the manager. There was only one other table of diners (Azeris like to go to their dachas at weekends).

"You'll have to ask the other customers," he said.

I did, but they just shook their heads and shrugged. "We can't hear you," they yelled.

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