Thursday, December 14, 2017

Business trips are my vacation

It's pretty often when I see memes on my facebook timeline with similar phrases to "vacations with kids are basically business trip". And in my personal opinion, it's also the other way around: when you have kids, business trips are basically vacations. Well don't get me wrong, I enjoy traveling and vacationing with kids. As you might have noticed from my previous posts, we travel and vacation a lot with kids. However though, like most moms with babies, once in a while I wish I could just have a night away from the kids to just sleep for eight (or even six!) hours straight. And business trips, for me, are the answer to this.

Of course I could easily have a night out with the girls, or with my husband, and leave the kids for a night to the grandma (or a sitter). And I do that, now and then. However, my needs sometimes extend beyond the need to sleep alone. I also miss being just by myself sometimes. Not being someone's mother, or someone's wife. I used to travel alone when I was much younger. This nature changed when I met my better half who's also a travel addict, so we started to travel as a couple. Now with two kids, we travel as a family with young children. Business trips, are basically my excuse to not only get more sleep, but also experience solo traveling again, now and then.

In June I went to Beijing, China, for a conference; leaving my then five-month-old and three-year-old at home. I wrote about the dilemma here. After the post, I received mixed responses. Half of it judged me for having left such a small (and exclusively breastfed) baby for work reason, and the other half saw it as an empowering decision. Honestly, I was glad I chose to go.

Last month, in November, I was invited to hold two lectures for two days in Baku, Azerbaijan. I immediately said yes for three reasons: I needed a little break for myself, I have never been in Baku, and we needed the money. My mother-in-law agreed to stay at our place to watch the kids while I'm gone, because my husband wasn't able to take day-offs.

I left Zagreb on Saturday morning, although my lectures were only on Monday and Tuesday. The organizer wasn't able to get me flights on Sunday so I had to fly earlier. Which was a good thing for me, of course. My husband and the toddler drove me to the airport, and I left the baby with grandma at home. Like when I was leaving for Beijing, this time I also left expressed breast milk in the freezer. Although, now that she's 10-month-old, she preferred mostly real foods to breast milk.

Above Istanbul, landing for a stopover

With three hours of layover in Istanbul and three hours of time difference, I only arrived in Baku at around 9pm. It was cold and raining when I went out to the bus stop after exchanging some money. Five or six taxi drivers approached me to get me hire one of them, for 50 Manat (around €25) to my hotel. I was a little stunned (and honestly afraid) so I turned on my phone and search for Uber. There was an Uber 3-minute away so I ordered one. It offered me a drive for 10 Manat (€5), a fifth of the price the guys wanted me to pay. 5 minutes passed and I didn't see any car coming. On the GPS I saw the car was right there. An official for the airport parking asked if I needed assistance, so I told him I'm looking for my Uber. He went around the lot to find the car by the license plate, and finally found my Uber, empty, with no driver. Using his own cell phone, he called the phone number provided by my Uber guy, but  he wasn't answering. I had no other choice but cancelling my order, which cost me a penalty of around €2.While still figuring out options, an elder guy took my suitcase from my hand and put it into the trunk of his car, while saying "I'll drive you for 15 Manat (€7.5)". The price sounded okay, he knew where my hotel was. The problem? He wasn't a taxi driver. The car is not a cab. He was just there. I know I should've ran and just find a cab, but a little adventurous part of me told me to just go into his car. And I did.

We didn't talk much. In fact, not at all. He knew no English, and I don't know a word of Azeri. We drove for 20 minutes and I didn't have any bad feeling about it. Then I saw my hotel and he dropped me off in front of it. I thanked him and handed him 15 Manat, and safely got to the hotel.

I had the whole Sunday to myself. It was a beautiful sunny day in Baku, although a bit windy. After breakfast at the hotel, I headed to the city center with the free shuttle bus provided by the hotel. The shuttle bus left me in front of Park Bulvar, a shopping center nearby the Port, at the beginning of the Promenade along the Caspian Sea. I walked along the promenade, saw several interesting architectures and saw the famous Fire Towers from afar (three towers shaped like a flame together). I headed to the Old Town and started my journey at the Maiden Tower, that was built to worship the fire by the Shirvanshahs, who ruled in this area between the 9th and 16th centuries.

The view of Baku with its Fire Towers from the top of the Maiden Tower
I climbed the Maiden Tower after paying for 10 Manat for the entrance. I would've paid half price if I had my student card with me, but of course I left it at home. Don't judge, I'm legally a student ;) Each floor of the tower is part of the museum with historical collections and stories, and from the top I had a 360 degree view of Baku.

After enjoying the view from the top, I took off and decided to get lost in the old town with no map. The old town is the part of Baku inside the old wall, with a palace complex, mosques, and several museums. I walked alone in the small quite alleys and realized that this, was exactly what I needed. I needed to be alone, somewhere new, somewhere I've never been at, just to get myself recharged.

Souvenir stands along the small alleys of the old town
I bought a ticket for the Shirvanshah's palace (would've paid half price too if I had my student card with me), and started exploring the palace. Too be honest, I wasn't too impressed. The palace complex was quite small and empty. I sat down a little bit looking at the ruins of hamam (the bath house of the royals) and went out. I walked along the city wall and stopped to buy passion fruit fresh juice from the street seller. I remember it was a traditional thing in Istanbul, so I assumed here it's a thing too. I decided to walk toward the Fountain Square to find a restaurant.

Inside the Shirvanshah's Palace complex

I found a small restaurant with authentic interior and glass wall with full view to the square. I had to order lamb pilaf since it reminded me so much of my life in Istanbul. Pilaf is rice cooked in seasoned broth, served with stew, mine was with lamb stew caramelized onion, dried apricots, raisins and chestnuts, it was traditional Azeri and recommended by the staff. It was delicious! Most importantly, I was enjoying my meal ALONE! I know most people hate eating alone, but eating alone is one of the things I enjoy the most. I had been missing this!

My pilaf and a glass of draught local Xirdalan
I went back to the bay area and decided to walk back to the shuttle stop to get back to the hotel. I went back to the city that day in the evening to grab dinner, but back to the hotel quite early to enjoy my spa bath. I didn't want to tell you this, but I had a personal spa massage bath tub in my hotel room. Yup, no kids, big bed, and a spa bath. It was heavenly break.

On Monday I had to work, so I spent the whole day in the conference hall of the hotel. I met two new colleagues with whom I was working, so we went out the evening to buy some souvenirs and eat dinner at a restaurant nearby the Maiden Tower. Tuesday was similar, except one of my two colleagues had already flew home. I took the other colleague to have dinner at the restaurant I had lunch the first day, then we decided to visit the Aliyev center. Heydar Aliyev center is a gallery and a conference center with a museum inside. But that wasn't the reason we wanted to visit it. The main reason was because this building was built by the famous architect Zaha Hadid, who also built the spectacular train station in Naples and the port terminal in Antwerp. She almost built Zagreb airport, too, but she didn't win the tender.

Heydar Aliyev center was, ladies and gentlemen, spectacular! It was breathtaking to see. We wanted to go to the museum but it worked only until 4pm, so we were just standing there in front of it, and made two rounds around it. The curves and the flows, the building was magical seen from every angle. The roof flows all the way to the floors around it where we were all standing. See it yourself:

That night for the last time I had my private spa bath. I slept very tight in my king-sized bed. On Wednesday morning I had late and slow breakfast, then headed to the airport. I watched a movie during my first leg of the flights (The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson), had a good coffee in Istanbul airport during my short layover, and finished a book in the second leg of the flights (Veronica Henry's A Night on the Orient Express). By the time I arrived in Zagreb at 10pm, my toddler and my husband were waiting for me on the arrival gate with the biggest smiles. I kissed them both and handed her a red Lego suitcase with Lego Junior horse farm in it. She happily said "I want you to go to a business trip again soon so I get more gifts!" And just like that, I was rested, had a vacation, they got their well deserved break from (annoying) mommy, we're happier reunited, and soon we were driving toward home where my baby and mother-in-law waiting for us.

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