72 hours in Baku, Azerbaijan


With the colder weather approaching Central Europe/Asia, I was intending to visit to parts of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan before winter fully approaches. As such, I tried to pack the most I could into 72 hours in and around Baku before moving on. The three days in Baku was a mix of museum, exploring the city and getting outside of Baku to the more diverse landscapes of Azerbaijan. If you stayed only in Baku, you would think the entire country was flat and dry!

First 24 hours
After taking the night train from Tbilisi, Georgia to Baku, I checked into the SAHIL Hostel & Hotel which is centrally located near the high end shopping stores and restaurants and hit the streets. For a budget traveller, I would recommend staying here, it’s located centrally, clean and a great way to save some cash at ~$5USD a night.

Azerbaijain Carpet Museum
As boring as this place sounds, it peaked my interest as to why a country would spend time and money to create a building in the shape of a rolled up rug. The admission price at my time of visit was 7AZN, roughly $4 USD, and worth a quick stroll through to see live demonstrations of carpet making and see some carpets dating back to the 14th century.

Old Town Baku
Just a few minutes walk from the downtown area, the Old Town feels like you are stepping back in time with it’s exterior fortress and stone lined streets. Walking around the area you will find antique shops and and endless number of vendors selling sweets, teas and freshly made treats. It’s a little touristy, but a must do while you are in town.

İçərişəhər Bookhouse & Cafe

Through some of the winding streets I stumbled upon a cozy book cafe that is setup for folks to hang out, study and do some reading with tea and other snacks. I spent a few hours here catching up on a novel and trying out some of their tea and sweets. A great way to unwind after the long day walking around Baku!

Local pastries
Around the town you will find a lot of bakeries with ladies behind the counter rolling dough, and placing them into stone ovens to bake. The breads that come out of these are simply amazing and a must do while visiting any of the countries in the Caucasus. One of my favorite varieties is a bread baked with local green vegetables inside.

Day #2  – Let’s head to the Mountains
Khinaliq, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. The thought occurred to me, I could either spend the day exploring the natural mud volcanos or head to the mountains. I have a weak spot for mountains and joined a long day trip to one of the highest villages in Europe at 2350m/7710ft. Typically when I am backpacking I try to avoid tours, but the public transportation here would have been tricky and would leave me with little time to see other sites along the way.

Eagle Valley
One of the most surreal parts of the trip was not the final destination, about a hour from the city of Quba, called the Eagle Valley. Just a short hop out of the car and we we’re standing on a cliff overlooking a large canyon, and spotting wild eagles flying close. It was a surreal moment with the clouds rolling in from behind us and seeing the contrast from the flat and dry area of Baku.

Khinaliq Village
The journey to Kinaliq village is long, with lots of dirt roads and some moments where you feel like the car could possibly get stuck. We arrived around 1pm and was excited to be having lunch with some locals who have converted converted their home into a guest house. We were treated to a home cooked meal which included lamb plov, local sheep cheese, eggplant and a cucumber and tomato salad. The sheep cheese here was simply the best I have had, and it turns out to be made locally within the village. After lunch we were served local black tea that’s popular everywhere in Azerbaijan and candied cherries to finish off with a sugar rush.

The journey to Khinaliq was an entire day from 9am to 9pm, and I would highly recommend this as a part your itinerary in Baku.

Day #3 – Baku Runners Club & Relaxing on the shore
Any visit to a country wouldn’t be complete without a chance to meet and interact with some locals. I did a quick google search and found the Baku Runners club and headed out the door in the morning to make the 10am call time. The running group had been started by an ex-pat a few years ago, but attracts both locals and foreigners alike. The Saturday run was a 10k that follows the harbor and turns back around to finish at the Cafe where you can leave your belongings, it’s also a chance to grab a coffee and socialize.

During my run, I met Mayis from Baku, who has been part of the running club for a while and kindly offered to help me call the port to find out when the boat to Kazakhstan would be arriving in Baku. He was excited to talk about his upcoming move to Germany for his MBA! It’s interactions like these, and a chance to learn about the local culture with people that make my journey worthwhile.

I also had a chance to meet Sarah from Australia, and we connected pretty quickly on travels and learned that she had recently moved here with her husband and kids for two years, as her husband works for an oil company. She asked where I was staying and even offered me a place to crash if I was going to be in Baku for longer. It was really inspiring to meet such an welcoming and super fit young mother in just a few kilometers!

Catching a sunset on the shore
The last part of my evening was spent near the beautiful shoreline, where you find many families and teenagers walking around and enjoying the afternoon sun. Looking out over the skyline and water, it made me feel like I am in just another European city. I was a little skeptical about visiting Baku, but it’s a nice place to spend a few days during your time in the Caucasus.

Baku Pier

Team RADepilliar [8] Race report & Reflections

Race report & Reflections

All of the training paid off, we were able to finish with an official completion time of 4:53:33, which was 10 minutes faster than the previous record! We can honestly say this was one of the best experiences of our running career, to be running with folks in another Country and have them waiving and reacting to our costume while running. Some of our favorite memories of the run:

  • Mile 14 is where things got real. There was a lot of pain, and the reality of having to finish 10 more miles to go
  • Run/Walk schedule was important for this marathon, it’s difficult to run so close together
  • The look on the little kids faces when they saw the caterpillar comping up! Some of them just lost it and started dancing around and waiving their hands!
  • Crowds. The fine folks of Berlin at every corner of the run cheering us on.
  • Running into other runners from home, making it feel like such a small world.

We’re blessed to have had such a wonderful experience at the 2017 Berlin Marathon. Thank you to all of our friends and family that have helped us out along the way, our crazy Dog Haus Run Club and everyone else who thought we could pull off this whacky run record.

Team RADepillar [4] Prototype and construction of costume

Prototype Costume

Creating the first version of the costume was pretty simple, we had an Ikea laundry basket laying around along with some suspenders. Since we didn’t want to look too strange running around with metal coils, we bought a few pieces of fabric from the store to cover it up. Here’s a breakdown of the materials used:

For the first test run, we used the Ikea FYLLEN laundry basket (coils), fabric and duct tape

We weren’t sure how the costume would come together, but we decided the best way would be to clip the suspenders to the coils directly and reinforce it with a keyring in case it broke off. For the front and back of the coils we added some duct tape to make a small belt in between so the coils wouldn’t stretch too much. Safety pinned on the fabric and voila!

After running a 5k with the Dog Haus Run Club in Pasadena, CA

We took the first version of the costume for a 5K run around Pasadena and it held up surprisingly well, the suspender clips did not come off and the safety pins didn’t tear the fabric. All good signs that a costume with these materials might hold up for an entire marathon distance. A little embarrassing at first showing up to our run club with this on, but everyone was supportive and gave us some ideas for the next revision of the costume.

Race Costume Prepration

We had approximately 2 months to build out and thoroughly stress test the costume during some runs, longer than 5K, before the Berlin Marathon. It took a few weekends to get the prototype put together, as it takes multiple people to model the costume. Having a successful run with the prototype, we started work on pulling together the supplies we needed for the full build. This list was revised many times during our trial and error period, but should mark items that were actually used for construction:

 Shopping list:

Testing of the IKEA FYLLEN baskets

Most of the materials for the body, stripes, head and bottom were acquired in Downtown Los Angeles, we took a few trips to the garment district to select fabrics and eventually found the googley eyes.

Fabric shopping in the garment district of Downtown Los Angeles

Close up of the material selected for the body of the caterpillar, a really nice sequenced material in green! Best of all, this fabric was light and airy and wasn’t too expensive compared to others we encountered.

Putting it all together

Assembly and testing of the costume was a huge group effort, we had friends and family come by at differnt hours of the night to lend a hand in sewing, glueing, modeling, etc. Lots of pizzas and sodas were consumed in the making of this little guy.


Team RADepillar – [3] Costume brainstorm

How did we come up with the idea for the caterpillar?

This was probably the area that took the most time (next to the actual costume build) there were a lot of 4 person costume ideas thrown around – but finding the one that would fit our group dynamic and become viable. And also our key requirement was to make it unique and fun!

We came up with a short list of ideas and then started to bounce ideas around with friends and our run club, Dog Haus Run Club (DHRC) in Pasadena, CA. I recall at the original inspiration that we thought would work was a “slinky” from Michelle Hernandez at DHRC. Somehow that idea morphed into a “slinky caterpillar” which since the slinky is flexible and would give the costume some bounce. In the end you wouldn’t know our caterpillar is a slinky, however, the costume functions the same – beneath the shiny sequence fabric.

The idea for the Caterpillar just kind of stuck, and we came up with this original mockup of the costume during our flight to run the San Francisco Marathon this past July.

Mockup of the 4 person caterpillar costume

(Yes, it looks like it was created in Microsoft Paint… but I we Photoshop…)

Team RADepillar – [1] Inspiration & the team

What was the inspiration for running the Berlin Marathon?

During a visit to the Oktoberfest celebration in Torrance, CA – we thought, wouldn’t it be awesome to visit the real Oktoberfest and run the prestigious Berlin marathon? (I’m sure not everyone thinks of running a marathon with a beer in hand, but we’ve met a few folks at the Dog Haus Running Club that are like minded.) Once the seed was planted, we were able to secure 4 entires into the marathon a few months later. (It’s all a lottery system, this 40k+ marathon sells out every year so be sure to register with a group of friends.)

My group of friends and I have been running marathons together for the last few years, and decided to attempt to break the record for the 4 person marathon in a 4 person costume.  As a group we’ve raced about 6 marathons between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The team consists of Sarah Mattison, Chain Lee, Nam Gip and myself.

Since the Berlin Marathon is known for the fastest marathon in the world (and we would never come close to that in this lifetime) we thought a Guinness world record would be pretty epic!

Sarah Mattison, Chain Lee, Nam Gip and Michael Wong at the San Francisco Marathon