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Baku in focus: Q&A with water polo parent Mark Edwards

With Great Britain’s under-17 water polo girls in Baku preparing for their first match at the European Games on Friday, England Water Polo got the lowdown on Azerbaijan’s capital from Mark Edwards – the father of Team GB’s Hannah Edwards – who has spent time working in the former Soviet state and he reveals how the athletes and spectators are in for a real treat…

What is Baku like?
International flights arrive into Heydar Aliyev airport, which is 20km northeast of Baku. It’s fairly modest compared to London airports, but it’s clean, tidy and a new terminal has been built primarily for the Games.Once in Baku, you’ll see it’s a rapidly developing city. An amazing amount of construction is taking place and as well as the European Games, Baku is preparing to host next year’s Formula 1 European Grand Prix.

Baku is a very modern city, especially with all the new buildings springing up, but behind the new facade of wealth there are also many areas dating back to the Soviet era.The main economy of Azerbaijan is based on oil and major offshore projects have been taking place in the Caspian Sea for decades.

The good thing is the government is investing this money heavily back into the city and constantly trying to boost the profile of the region. The existence of petroleum in this area has been known for centuries and control of the Baku oil fields was a major driver for the battle of Stalingrad during World War II.

What’s the best way to get around?
Taxis are relatively cheap and can be found at the entrances to all the major hotels, but don’t expect the drivers to speak English, as most only understand Russian. If you’d like to visit somewhere, ask the hotel staff to write it down, along with the hotel address so you can get back!

There is also a cheap Metro system in Baku that serves most areas of the capital.

What is there to see in the city?
Around Fountain Square there are numerous restaurants and bars which will appeal to a wide range of tastes and wallet sizes! The bars also seem to stay open until the last person leaves. There is an old walled city in Baku which is pleasant to walk around and it also houses the ancient Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower.

Flag Square is another interesting place as it boasts one of the largest flagpoles and flags in the world. Honestly, it’s massive!

If you’re planning some retail therapy between games, there are a number of modern shopping malls that house boutiques selling all the latest designer fashions. Along with the stylish malls and new buildings, I definitely think Baku is trying to give Dubai a run for its money.

It’s by the sea – are there any beaches?
Baku is 92ft below sea level, so there are no beaches as such, just rocky foreshores. It’s actually the lowest lying national capital in the world.  There is also not much natural greenery in Baku as the soil is such poor quality due to all the oil near the surface.

What will the weather be like?
I’ve never been to Baku in June, but I’m told daily temperatures are around 25C and it should be pleasantly sunny and warm. Hopefully!

What are you looking forward to most when you visit for the Games?
Seeing the GB girls get to the finals, of course!