Surface area : 86600.0 km2
Population : 9165000 inhabitants
Azerbaijan is famous for its carpets, but silk, pottery and copper also make for great souvenirs. Be aware though that the export of any cultural item, even if it has no artistic value, is subject to authorisation by the Ministry of Culture and to export tax. Shops are usually open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday to Friday and from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays.
Baku has a broad range of restaurants offering international cuisine, from Chinese and Italian to Indian and Russian. Azerbaijani cuisine is a mixture of Turkish, Georgian, Iranian and central Asian flavours , with lots of meat - lamb, beef and poultry - and very spicy. Most dishes are based around rice with meat, or fish and vegetables. Saffron, mint and coriander are common flavours, whilst aubergines, cabbage or spinach accompany many dishes. The most widespread fish is sturgeon, which can be fresh or smoked. Meals are usually abundantly washed down with black tea, and, despite the presence of a predominantly Muslim population, local wines and brandies, Russian vodka and imported alcohol is freely available.
The Nevruz is the name given to New Year's Day by the Turks living in Central Asia, the Anatolian Turks, and the Iranians. The Nevruz occurs on the 22 March of our era and 9 March of the Gregorian calendar.
Nevruz lasts for three days in Azerbaijan and it is celebrated every year with big ceremonies between 21 and 23 March. The most important day after Nevruz is the 'ahir çerşenbe', or the last Wednesday - this day is called 'ılin ahir tek tek'. The Wednesdays in the four weeks of the month of the celebration are also of great importance, and it is on the Tuesday before the 'ahir çerşenbe', that men go to the cemetery to recite the fatiha, a sura from the Koran, while women go to the cemetery with halva, pilaf rice and other dishes that they have prepared.
The most important day after the Nervruz is the "ahir çerçenhe". One of the customs of this feast is to throw rings in the water. A container filled with water is put in the middle of the living room; the girls sit around it, and throw their ring into it. The container is covered with a cloth, one of the girls takes a ring out, pronouncing the improvised quatrain, and dedicates it to the person to whom the ring belongs.
The next day, before dawn, people go to the water source and wash their hands and faces there. The girls attach the thumbs of their two hands together with some thread and jump over the water, then cut the thread, and throw it into the water. This makes them believe that they will have a good destiny and a good suitor. Those going to the water source collect seven small stones near the source that they put into a bottle of water. These stones stay at the bottom of the bottle and on their return they cut three branches from a mulberry tree that they take home and keep until the next "ahir çerşenbe".
Respect the security regulations; use your common sense and refrain from talking about internal politics, corruption and the question of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Use competent local guides for visiting the country and non-Muslims should avoid visiting the country during Ramadan.