Visa Guide to Azerbaijan for Filipinos

There was very scant information on the internet on how to get a visa for Azerbaijan. The honorary consulate in the Philippines has no authority to grant visas which means you have to get it elsewhere.

One blogger used a visa service while another sent hers to the embassy in KL.

Since the nearest consulate is in Kuala Lumpur, I decided to apply there. I looked up their website ( and sent an email to the address in the contact page. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a quick reply from one of the consuls, Mr. Eldaniz Musayev. who not only gave me the instructions on visa application but gave his Whatsapp number too.

This is how my co-faculty and I applied for the visa as we were attending a conference in Baku:

1. We made photocopies of the ff. documents:

Information page of passport

Hotel booking

Flight reservation

Letter of invitation from the conference organizer

Employment certificate

Downloaded and signed visa application

2. I sent the above documents, 2 pcs of passport-size photos, and our passports to the Azerbaijan Embassy in KL via DHL. It was addressed to Consul Eldaniv Musayev. I inserted RM 400 (RM 200 for each of us) inside my passport.

After leaving the DHL office, I sent a Whatsapp message to Mr. Eldaniv to inform him that the documents were on its way.

3. Our passports with the sticker visas were ready in 5 working days!

Unfortunately, I forgot to send an additional RM 25 with my documents so our passports could be couriered back to my address. Mr. Eldaniz sent me a Whatsapp message and I made arrangements for my co-faculty’s friend to just get the passports from him as she was heading back to Manila in a couple of days.

The entire process was very easy. Mr. Eldaniv was very responsive to my emails and Whatsapp messages. He updated me when he received our documents and when our passports were ready.

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Hello Hong Kong

So near yet never really in my travel radar, Hong Kong is one of the places I’ve always taken for granted. Maybe because I associate it with my childhood. Back in those days of expensive airfares, Hong Kong was THE place to be. It was a fabled place of exotic cuisine and legendary shopping. So I grew up going to Hong Kong a couple of times with family. It was Bangkok that marked my transition to adulthood (that’s another story).

The last time I was here was in 2013. Spent a few days snacking on dimsum before heading to Israel. Nothing has changed with this short trip. It’s still about food.

This time, I’m with my eldest sister, a family friend, and our long-time househelp who turned 60 this year and whose birthday treat this was. They’re all staying until Sunday while I’m flying home on Friday as I’ve had to alter my travel plans due to a botched-up schedule. Got a one-way Cebu Pacific outbound ticket. Too bad for my Cathay Pacific non-rebookable flight.

Just spent most of the day yesterday at the harbour, the cultural center, and Mongkok.

I really love how the Hong Kong Cultural Arts Centre is open to the public regardless if there’s a show or not. It’s a good idea really as it encourages people to explore the center and let them think about art rather than closing it off like some sacred place open only for a privilged few.

Light showers sent us taking refuge at cafes which wasn’t all that bad. This delicious soufle served like an omelet at the 3rd floor on one of those buildings in Mongkok was a pleasant surprise.

Not musical instruments this time but books were my most significant finds. Didn’t know there was an HK branch of the Taiwanese bookstore, Eslite. Saw the signage just as we rounded the corner from the star ferry terminal. Spent about HK$ 800 on a some books including a copy of Routledge’s “Philosophy and Music” which was at half price.

It was my first time to see the Symphony of Lights at the harbour. Quite nice but not really overwhelming. The harbour is beautiful at night as it is.

Now, this time the whole view, crowds included.


Unfortunately, the area where our AirBnB is, Queens Road West, seems empty of those push-cart dimsum places. We did find a small air-conditioned eatery serving good noodle soup near the HUK MTR station. The goal for today is peking duck before I head to the airport.

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Istanbul Practicals

I stayed 9 days in Istanbul and still couldn’t get enough of this historic city. I really enjoyed myself and want to share how me and my colleague managed our trip.


To/From Airport

There is a metro line that connects Ataturk to the city center.

To save us the hassle of looking for our hotel at Sultanhamet, we just booked transport from one of the numerous kiosks at the arrivals area of Ataturk airport. Cost was 25 USD.

When we transferred hotel to Taksim, we hailed a cab off the street for 35 lira. We could have taken the tram to Kabatas then the funicular to Taksim but we worried how we would manage the narrow turnstiles with our luggages.

From our hotel in Taksim to Atatur k, we booked transport with our hotel for 90 lira.

Around the City

Of course, the Istanbulkart is the way to go. Rides are cheaper with the card rather than paying per route. We bought our cards at the magazine kiosk near the Serciki station for 10 lira. Much cheaper to buy direct from the machine at 6 lira. We never took the bus but we used the card for both tram, metro, and boat.

The tram and metro have stops that connect with each other. We mostly used the tram.

Useful stations are:

Kabatas – Funicular to Taksim

Karakoy – Funicular to Tunel for Galata Tower

Eminonu – Bosphorous boat tours, ferry to Uskudar

Gulhane – Topkapi Palace, National Archaeological Museum

Sultanahmet – Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque

Beyazit – Grand Bazaar


Sultanhamet or Beyoglu? I too asked that when deciding where to stay. Since we were staying 9 nights, we decide to spend 4 at Sultanhamet and 5 at Beyoglu. Good decision.

Staying at Sultanhamet allowed us to just walk or take the tram (if we were tired) to the main sights such as Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque.

At Beyoglu, specifically at Taksim, we were able to shop and shop and enjoy the vibe of Istikal street with its crowds, shops, street musicians, cafes, and restaurants.

You can say that by staying at both areas, we experienced two sides of Istanbul — the historical at Sultanhamet and the modern at Beyoglu.


The Sultanhamet area seems to have the monopoly on kebab and doner meals.

I enjoyed eating more at Taksim as there were more varied choices and there were places that were like fastfoods with main meals on display. There are many along Istikal Caddesi.

Much cheaper are those on the streets away from Istikal. We found this place at a narrow street just opposite the street of our hotel. We ate here many times.

The price is much lower and the food is much better than the one we had along Istikal.

All of these plus a small bottle of Sprite is only 20.50 lira. The desserts here such as sutlac are also much cheaper. I didn’t notice anything different from the 3 lira version I had here to the more expensive one at a cafe along Istikal.

The fact that many locals eat here says a lot.


Typical tourist souvenirs such as magnets, carpet-design pouches, and keychains were cheapest at the old city than at the Grand Bazaar or at Taksim. If you want to buy the cloth used for scrubs in the hamam, you can get them at shops along Galip Dede Caddesi at the end of Istikal. They’re just 5 lira compared to the 10 lira I got at a small convenience store in the old city. At the Grand Bazaar, it was 20 lira. I also bought a pestemal at the same street for 10 lira. It’s similar to the ones I used in the hamam.

Take note that the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays.

There’s a grocery called Ucler just across the Uskudar pier on the Asian side. I bought my olive oil soaps there for just 8.90 lira for a pack of 5 soaps. Much cheaper than the 5 lira soaps at souvenir shops. The bakeshop there also sells bahklava at a much lower price– 54 lira/kilo for hazelnut compared to 68 lira at the fancier shops.

July seems to be sale season (“indirim” means sale) as all the shops at Istikal and at the Forum Mall were on sale and prices were really slashed down.

My favorite shop was LC Waikiki which seemed to be the Turkish version of H & M. Clothes and shoes were really cheap.

Even items that weren’t on sale were quite cheap (39.95 for shirts, for example).

Istanbul is a city that demands to be discovered and explored. I never felt that the 9 days spent there was too much.

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Last Day in Istanbul

Last day in Istanbul and I heard mass at beautiful St. Anthony church built in 1912 by the Franciscans. The servers and the congregation are largely African and music is by an African choir. Wonderful to hear robust African songs as liturgical music.

Had lunch at our favorite eatery and as always, enjoyed it. For dessert, I had a slice of this cake which I guess was “tres leches.”

It was very good as it had just the right amount of soaking. What made it different from the usual “tres leches” is the burnt caramel top which added a counterpoint to the milk taste of the sponge cake.

Madame P and I went on our ways. She to shop and me to just take the tram and see the city a bit. I had forgotten that the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays so when I got there, I just decided to walk down the road in the direction of Sultanahmet where I can pick-up the tram again.

Discovered other sights such as the tombs of past sultans which I had missed earlier.

Took the tram and disembarked at Karakoy to walk to Galata Tower. However, I stumbled on the Tunel funicular (I had forgotten about it!) which saved me an uphill slog. I had loaded 5 lira on my Istanbulkart so might as well take all the rides I could with it.

Up at Tunel and turned right downhill too look for the shop selling Turkish water bowls for 25 lira which was lower than the 30-40 lira at shops I had passed on my walk to Sultanahmet earlier. Bought a copper one and was given a free tea spoon, probably to make-up for the 5 lira discount the shop owner didn’t give.

That somehow ends any my Istanbul trip as I’ve nothing more planned until we leave for the airport at 9pm.

Bye, Istanbul. I hope to see you again.

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Turkish Sweets

I love how Turkey has a penchance for sweets. Big thanks to the Ottoman rulers who cultivated the population’s sweet tooth with unique delicacies.

Mostly everone associate’s Turkey with two sweets: Turkish Delight (locally callef lokum) and bahklava. My sisters have been bugging me for bakhlava ever since I got here. Bakhlava indeed is love. The very mention of its name lights up mine and my sister’s eyes. The combination of pastry sheets, honey, and nuts is just amazing.

At Taksim, lokum and bahklava compete for space.

Just like Turkish lutes, provenance and heritage seems just as important in lokum and bahklava as makers advertise their year of origin. Choose among 1461, 1864, or 1905.

This shop seems really popular as they have multiple branches. They also have nicely furnished cafes.

But Turkey is more than these. There are other delights such as fried dough dipped in honey.

Citir Halka is saccharine heaven. Bite into it and honey drips. Fancy cafes at Taksim also sell this but you can get this local treat at a stall at the market street in Uskudar.

Kazandibi is a caramelized chewy milk pudding. It’s so good especially with a scoop of ice cream. You wanna close your eyes and remember your past loves.

Sharing the spot of my favorite dessert with kazandibi is sutlac, a creamy rice and milk pudding that looks like a souffle.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to bring these desserts back home with you. They wouldn’t last in a 12-hour flight.

And of course, there’s Turkish ice-cream. That sticky and chewy ice-cream made thick by extracts from the root of a rare orchid. It’s as much fun to eat as it is to purchase some on a cone as the vendors try all sorts of tricks.

For more conventional tastes, Turkey has wonderful hand made chocolates, too.

There’s also the popular Moazzaic Cake which is a dark chocolate cake with crushed cookies. Perfect with Turkish coffee.

This dessert from a cafe in the old city is banana on a chocolate cake smothered with thick marshmallow-like cream and nuts.

It’s like “tres leches” with a burnt caramel top. Very good with just the right amount of soaking.

With hefty servings of main meals, the challenge in Turkey is leaving room for all these desserts.

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A Trip to the Asia Side: Uskudar

Took the ferry boat from Eminonu pier to Uskudar. I was surprised how big and nice the ferry was. There were two large air-conditioned cabins with nice cushioned seats and an open upper deck with wooden benches where I stayed.

The 12:30 trip didnt have too many passengers. I boarded the ferry just as it was about to pull-out and there were still empty seats at the often full upper deck. The ferry was definitely much better than the one we boarded for the Bosphorous tour a few days back. The 15-minute trip across the strait was very relaxing. The weather was just right.

It had been showering in the morning the past few days but the sky was clear today.

Disembarked the ferry and headed to the two mosques just across.

It was time for Friday prayers and the mosques were filled with men doing their Friday obligations.

Outside the prayer hall, women waited. It was atmospheric just sitting in one of the wooden benches and listening to the Imam’s voice blaring out of the speakers.

Had a soup break at an outdoor cafe just outside the mosque. The soup for the day was a creamy rice and vegetable chowder which had a strong minty flavor — a taste I have gotten quite used to since having an oily meat soup in Baku.

Nearby was a narrow cobbled street lined with fish shops and restaurants, spice shops, and a stall selling fried sweets.

Snacks of fried dough.

This fried dough drenched in honey is called citir halka (2.50 lira). It’s delicious and every bite sends honey drooling down your chin. Definitely not for those watching their sugar intake.

Unlike the European side of Istanbul, Uskudar has a more local feel.

This used to be a bath house designed by the famous architect, Sinan. It has been restored to house shops, a cafe, and a restaurant.

How to get there from Taksim

1. Take the Taksim – Kabatas funicular. Upon arrival in Kabatas, follow the sign that points to the Taksim tram stop. Go up the stairs and you’ll find yourself at the Kabatas tram station. This is the last stop of the tram.

2. Ride the tram to Eminonu.

3. Exit the Eminonu tram ststion and cross the road. You’ll see the ferry station to Uskandar. Use yoir Istanbulkart to pay.

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Galip Dede Caddesi: Music Street

This narrow street of Istikal is heaven. It is lined with music instruments shops. To get here, just walk along Istikal Caddesi coming from Taksim Square until you reach a fork on the road. The one on the left is Galip Dede Caddesi.

Went to two shops and I was treated very well by the shop keepers. I was like a kid at a toy store. I was so pleasantly surprised how reasonable the prices were. The shop keepers weren’t pushy and were very patient with my questions.

I bought a mey (flute) and a bendir (frame drum) at the first shop I went to. It was raining and we were offered cay (tea) as we sat out the rain. In the meantime, I had a photo op with the instruments.

The second shop had more stuff including small instruments such as the wooden spoons called kasic which are played like castanets. I was able to bargain down my purchases of an Irinian santur (board zither), baglama (lute), darbouka (drum), and another type of drum to just 380 lira since I was paying cash. Not bad.

The guy playing the baglama was the one who attended to me and he was very accommodating and wasn’t pushy. He would also point out the professional instruments from those for students or for display only. He also demonstrated many of the music instruments.

There are many other music instruments shops and aside from Turkish instruments, they also sold cellos, double basses, violins, and drums. Curiously, I also saw African rattles and kalemba and South American rattles. There were also many toy instruments for kids.

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Moving to Taksim and to the Old Man from Tourist Hell

We checked-out of Gulhane Corner Hotel, our home for 4 nights, after visiting the National Museum of Archaeology in the morning. We had originally planned to just take the tram and the metro to Taksim, having gone the route the day before but decided on taking a cab at the last minute as we were not sure how we were gonna pass the narrow turnstiles at the stations. As always, cabs are nowhere to be found when you need them. After about 10 minutes of waiting, a cab stopped in front of us and unloaded passengers with luggages. One thing I’ve noticed in Istanbul, at least at the Old City, these past few days is that cars just stop anywhere unmindful of the traffic light. I had hesitated to take the cab as we were on a single lane street and it was a green light; however, the delivery van driver behind didn’t seem to mind. We quickly loaded our stuff and got on the cab. 35 lira was kind steep for a short ride to Taksim but it was better than not getting a ride and the driver knew the exact place we wanted to go– the corner of Istikal St where LC Waikiki was. He dropped us right in front of our hotel when we pointed it out.

Taksim is totally different from Sultanahmet. The vibe is more modern and energetic. Rather than small souvenir shops, modern stores in renovated buildings line the wide road.

What I like best about it though are its proximity to my favorite retail shop, LC Waikiki, a few hamam, and Galip Dede Cadesi the street where the music instruments shops were.

The Old Man from Tourist Hell

Since Agoda’s system has been going haywire the past few days, I just decided to head to Hotel Mara to personally book our stay there. The young English-speaking lady was very pleasant and wrote down our reservation. When we checked-in today, there was an old man at the reception who seemed to be the owner. It took time for him to assign our rooms. He also insisted on us paying cash even when I pointed to the card machine. He kept repeating, ” change money.” He then claimed that the card machine was broken contrary to what the lady yesterday said. I knew how to do card transactions from my experience working the front desk of the gym and I could tell he was just pretending to transact, punching the wrong buttons. Such a greedy old man! When asked to convert the Turkish rate to dollar, his conversion factor was way too high so we just decided to go out into the rain and look for a money changer. Really greedy! Couldn’t even wait until late afternoon (we were hoping the lady receptionist would be there by then) for the payment. We were tempted to just move to another hotel but it was raining and it was close to 12 already. We finally paid and got the card key to one of the rooms. We were told the other one would be ready after 30 minutes. When we returned at 4pm, the room wasn’t ready yet. At 5pm, we were given the card key to a room which turned out not to be ours. After a bit of explaining, he finally got it right. Gheez. It almost destroyed by excitement to be at Taksim. Anyway, all is well that ends well. I do miss our spacious rooms at Gulhane with its large windows and chic interiors. Much cheaper too.

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Turkish Eats: More than Kebabs

Cuisine this side of the world is familiar to my palette and something I have always enjoyed. Fresh salads, tasty grilled meats, flavorful rice, and a variety of mezzes make for an exciting culinary thrill. Of course, the breads and the sweets are in a class of their own and deserve their own blog.

Here are my own Turkish delights (not referring to the sweet):

Bread, bread, bread and more bread. Just like in Azerbaijan whose cuisine is very similar to Turkey’s, bread is sacred in the Turkish table.

Breads are everywhere.

Where lots of people are such as squares, you’ll never fail to see these carts with freshly-baked simit, soft round bread with sesame.

Order a meal and you get bread.

Even at fastfoods. there are piles of bread by the cashier. Complimentary, of course. For a budget traveller keen on carbs, you can skip the pilav and just have free bread.

I think the only time you don’t get bread is when you order a sandwhich or a roll. Imagine having bread to complement your sandwhich?

The breads are really delicious and baked fresh. Makes me wonder though what happens to all the leftover breads that people don’t eat? I’m guilty myself for not finishing my bread as I’m just so stuffed.

With a culture so in love with bread, it’s no surprise that meals or snacks made with bread would be popular. This Turkish “pizza” called pide is perfect if you’re caught between a real meal and a sandwhich. A crust boat-shaped flat dough is stuffed with a variety of filling such as cheese, egg, meats, vegetables, then baked in an oven. It’s very filling and quite cheap. Have it with some pickled green chiles.

This is pide with cheese, ground meat, and egg.

This is just cheese and egg.

Lahmacun is also like pizza. Thin flat dough is topped with minced meat, onions, and tomatoes and baked in an oven. Squeeze some lemon over it, slice some grilled chile, roll-it up, take a bite, and weep for its deliciousness. but the dough is thin and flat. Perhaps, this is where Western restos got the idea for those fancy rolled-up pizzas?

It’s not bread but more of a pastry. Borek is love! Layers of thin phyllo sheets filled with either cheese, spinach, ground meat, or a combination of those. Stumbled on Pesrevzade, a nice small cafe at Fatih which serves delicious borek. The one pictured below only costs 10 lira (roughly Php 112).

You can also just have it plain with confectioner sugar dusted on it.

Kebabs are probably the most iconic of all the meats to all non-Turkish including myself. The ground meat grilled in sword-like flat skewers are always tasty thanks to the variety of spices mixed in. It’s still a toss-up on whether I prefer it with pilav (rice) or durum (flat bread).

One of my favorite meals is tandir where grilled meat, usually lamb, is served atop very flavorful pilav.

This particular eatery at Fatih with outdoor seating had such wonderful pilav I had to close my eyes taking a spoonful so I could really relish it.

Talking about pilav, the Turkic’s take on rice is just wonderful. Lovely basmati rice that’s aromatically flavorful. Sorry, bulgur but I’m not too fond of you.

Pilav with a hint of cinnamon.

The Turkish really know how to grill meats. This grilled chicken ordered at at fastfood in Taksim was so tender and had the right salty and smoky flavor. With pilav and a small bottle of sprite, it only cost 15 lira!

Had this meal of green bell peppers stuffed with rice and meat, chicken with vegetables and mushrooms, pilav, and a small bottle of Sprite for only 20 lira!

Istikal Caddesi in Beyoglu has such wonderful eateries where there’s a wide variety of freshly-cooked food to choose from.

Servings are generous and the prices are reasonable.

This is a kind of beef stew with vegetables and topped with mashed potatoes.

This is a large ground beef patty (kofte) with mashed potatoes.

Stuffed green pepper, chicken with mushrooms and vegetables, pilav for about Php 200 only!

Kofte (meatballs) with potatoes and carrots and a think crepe stuffed with chicken and vegetables.

Meatball (kofte) and eggplant.

Baked pasta.

Accompanying these meals are side dishes called mezze such as vegetables, olives, and a whole lot more.

I enjoyed eating my way around Istanbul. Whatever I chose to eat always turned-out delicious.

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Bosphorous Cruise: Bringing out the worst in people

We booked a Bosphorous tour (55 L each) at a tour agency just across the hotel. Meet- up was at the magazine stand by the Aga Sofiya Hamam at 3:30pm. Madame P and I arrived at 3pm just to make sure we would have enough time to look for the place. 3:30pm clocked in and we went to the stand. We had no idea who to look for as the tour agent merely said we will see his friends there.

“Will they be in uniform”

“No. You will see them. ”

It sounded like a covert operation.

As I approached the stand, as if on cue, a well-dressed man offered “Bosphorous tour! Leaving now.” I told him we were already booked and showed him the ticket. He smiled and pointed to a lady in a pink t-shirt and jeans and an official-looking ID lace and ID around her neck and said she was our tour guide and to come back at 4pm. We decided to just wait at a nearby bench.

At 4pm, a sizeable crowd had gathered and pink t-shirt girl arrived waving a small Turkish flag. Indeed, she was a guide. We followed her down the cobbled road behind the Hagia Sofiya where we were joined by an even larger crowd. It was a 10-minute downhill walk to the pier. People seemed to be hurrying to the front. Lining-up at the pier, a dignified-looking middle-aged white woman tugging a young boy with her shoved her way to the front pushing people and causing a commotion. A male voice from behind shouted, “What’s the matter mom? You’re pushing people to the water just to go first in the bloody boat!” Everyone was quiet. An Indian woman in front of me softly said what seemed to be in everyone’s mind, “He is right.” I guess getting herded like cattle just to get on a ferry boat brings out the cattle in you.

Madame P and I took center seats at the open deck. The boat soon left the pier.

Our guide made running commentaries as the boat cruised the Bosphorous.

The tour itself was interesting as we got to see the beautiful structures at both the European and Asian side of Istanbul.

Aside from the ornate palaces, what took my breath were the beautiful homes of the rich by the sea.

Cargo ships are a usual sight at the Bosphorous as it is one of the main sea passages.

The entire trip took about 2 hours. It was quite enjoyable as looking at the city from the Bosphorous gave it a different angle. It was also a way to see the different neighborhoods such as Karakoy and Besiktas.

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