Let’s explore the best cities in each of the countries bordering Asia and Europe: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey.
The smallest continent on our planet, Europe, comprises 50 countries, 5 of which straddle two continents. The rich cultural heritage of each country attracts tourists from all across the world.
In this series, let’s explore the one best city in each of the countries, beginning with those 5 that spread across two continents, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey.
Although Baku is the most developed city in this country, Sheki is special for many reasons. This historic city is on the cross roads of the original silk route and is as ancient as they come. This city is also on the heritage list of UNESCO. With the river Gurjana cutting across the city and dividing it into two parts, you will see a unique atmosphere being cast on this beautiful place with Caucasus mountains on one side and the river valley on the other.
While exploring the relics and the history of the city do remember to enjoy the cuisine which is delicious and colourful. Some of the dishes you must try are the Plov made with rice, saffron and herbs accompanied by varius meats in the form of skewered dishes, most especially lamb, beef and duck.
How the country came to be called Georgia, nobody knows. The inhabitants of this country call it Sakartvelo. Tbilisi is another city on the ancient silk route and on the UNESCO heritage list which takes you back in time. Known for not only it’s heritage and monuments, the city is also famous for its nightlife, speakeasy bars in many of the backyards of homes, food and the most friendly people.
Once you have explored Tbilisi for its Narikala Fortress, the holy trinity cathedral, the pedestrian bridge called the bridge of peace, the Jvari monastry and have enjoyed the age-old thermal baths you can further explore the Caucasus mountains which are just 100 kilometers away and are popular with hikers. Do remember to taste some of the wines made in this country. After all, history shows this is the country that was the first ever to make wine and is more popularly known as the cradle of wines.
The capital of the country is Nur-Sultan which is modern but Almaty is special. This city which was the capital until as recently as 1997 is close to the Tian Shan mountains. The city itself is built on a slope offering you magnificent views apart from the many hiking trails and ski resorts.
While in Almaty, visit the castle of nomads and the Buddha petroglyphs which go back to the Bronze Age and help you discover the society as it was then. A drive of a little over 2 hours will take you to the Charyn Canyon where time stands still. This ancient city itself is worth spending a few days in and the other attractions are the Big Almaty Lake, Kok-Tobe Hill, the famed Gorky Central Park and the Ascension Cathedral.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Known to be one of the most magnificent cities on this planet, St. Petersburg was the imperial capital for more than two centuries. The city was founded by Peter the Great and to this day remains perfectly preserved. The city is Russia’s cultural centre and the must-visit places are Marinsky Theatre for the opera and ballet and the State Russian Museum.
What really sets St. Petersburg apart is the architecture and several waterways. The Neva river with it’s tributaries and canals gives it the characteristic that it’s justifiably called the Venice of Russia. Furthermore, given it’s northerly location, from June 11 to July 2 the city enjoys daylight for 19 hours each day making it absolutely the best time to visit.
Truly a mecca for the foodies and those who want to experience different cultures. With two and half millenia of history, this transcontinental city is more cosmopolitan than most imagine. The Bosphorus strait, which is a maritime route of great importance due to the transportation of many goods from the Caspian Sea and Russia to Asia and Europe, runs straight through the middle of this city dividing it into the European part and the Asian part.
You will find just no dearth of historical sites and spectacular views even though parts of the city are modern with shopping malls. Shopping malls aside, it’s the bazaars that have that timeless charm.
Even though the primary food is pilav and pasta, it’s the street food that you don’t want to miss. Look for Simit the circular bread, kebabs on skewers, Lachmacun which is Istanbul’s answer to pizza and crepe; a round thin piece of dough topped with mince meat – minced vegetables – herbs – garlic – tomatoes – onion – chilli pepper and cinnamon baked in a traditional oven and kofte.
Experiencing different cultures not only broadens our minds but also widens our horizons.
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