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Shaki: Azerbaijan’s ancient agora of multiculturalism

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Sarkhanbay Khuduyev, a native of Shaki region and a dynamic public servant, invited us (a group of U. S. and European scholars) on behalf of the Baku International Multiculturalism Centre, to conduct a research visit in the regions of Shaki and Qabala during the weekend of October 28-29, 2017.

The region of Shaki is the birthplace of Mirza Fatali Akhundov, a famous Azerbaijani writer and philosopher who established a new period in Azerbaijani literature.

The region of Shaki is located over 320 kilometers west of Baku, it is one of the ancient regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan, located in the northwestern territories of the land of fire, its people epitomize the very essence of Azerbaijani multiculturalism that is unique at international levels. The region of Shaki borders in the north with the Republic of Dagestan, Russia; it is globally unique, due to its multiculturalism values, intercultural coexistence and of its ancient religious monuments that have endured merciless historical manipulations and archeological site destructions during Russia’s Tsarist regime and Qajar Dynasty (1789–1797).  Unfortunately, historical manipulations in Shaki have continued in the years of Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev.

We left Baku on early Saturday morning, our careful driver swiftly crossed the impressive suburbs of Baku and all of a sudden we found ourselves in front of a majestic landscape on both sides of a well maintained paved road, in the outskirts of Gobustan District, where light brown Fold mountains are intertwined with Dome Mountains, making Gobustan countryside an unforgettable scenery where modern public works are intertwined with rare natural beauty.
The national paved road was winding at the very intersections of these geological works of art, that were making our trip very unique and enjoyable due to its precipitous angles and occasionally steep curves that enabled us to be introduced with Azerbaijan’s myriad of mountain ranges, observed thousands of kilometers away, thanks to spectacular clear skies. In the outskirts of Gobustan, 120 kilometers from Baku, we were greeted by two young Azerbaijani teenagers who were holding two live rabbits by their ears; their joy added a special laugh to our trip. 

We stopped for breakfast in Ismailli District, at a local restaurant, where the meal was: a traditional qayanaq (scrambled eggs with tomato), local honey cloves, three types of locally made white cheeses and freshly baked loaves of tandir bread.  

After the imposing serpentine national highway, on the western side of Ismailli District begins a belt of dense forests were imposing old trees create a natural green and orange carpet with their wide crowns and in many occasions tourists will appreciate remarkable nature’s colorful caves – that continue for miles and miles – created by these majestic trees that follow through the Qabala District (the capital of ancient Caucasian Albania), serving as a natural shield from the Sun’s beams for the tourists’ eyes.  Accompanied by such a concert of colorful trees, we continued to travel through Oghuz District; home of famous Neolithic period’s archeological sites, VII century Govur castle in Khachmaz and of many other historical Azerbaijani ancient monuments.

Oghuz District is the world’s ancient home of mountain Jews, today it has two well preserved synagogues and a thriving Jewish Community that conserves and upholds its religious rites and historic traditions.

After traveling for over five hours we arrived in Shaki, at Marxal Resort and Spa, an advanced tourism complex of high standards that certainly overshadows, surpasses many Hilton resorts worldwide.

In the late afternoon hours of Saturday, we visited the ancient Caucasian Albanian Church in the village of Kish (Kiş), where the Government of Azerbaijan is currently building a paved road that connects the city with such a unique religious and cultural site of rare international reputation.  Shaki (Sheki) is also home of a Santiago Calatrava style bridge connecting the city with the village of Kish (both sides of the river); that was recently inaugurated.

For dinner we were graciously invited at the home of Sarkhanbay’s grandmother were our team could not escape from a local famous meal of şüyüdlü sǝbzi plov, a traditionally cooked yellow rice with white raisins, honey glazed apricots, topped with a delicious crusty rice pancake.  Traditional Azerbaijani earl grey tea, homemade yogurt, hazelnuts, walnuts, locally grown pomegranates and apples were also a delight of this memorable visit.   

During the early morning of the following day (Sunday) we visited the Khan’s Palace, located inside the walls of Shaki’s Castle, where imposing paintings in walls and ceilings (unique battle scenes, lions standing on top of large grey fishes and bright red pomegranate trees) epitomize the philosophical principles of Sun Tzu, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and illustrate the tenets of Alfred Thayer Mahan (a U. S. Historian and a highly important strategist of the 1800s).  The round temple of Caucasian Albania, located within the walls of the Shaki Castle, is a rare monument that brings together ancient history and revives Azerbaijan’s multiculturalism environment that is deeply rooted and provides a rather different positive perspective when compared to other countries in the region and beyond.

According to the Leader of Shaki City Executive Authority Mr. Elkhan Usubov: “Azerbaijan pays a great importance to the preservation of cultural heritage as well as promotion of the country`s rich cultural heritage across the world.”

In 2016, the region of Shaki hosted the 34th meeting of the TURKSOY Permanent Council. The conference was chaired by TURKSOY Secretary General Dusen Kaseinov. According to Mr. Abulfas Garayev, the Azerbaijani Minister of Culture and Tourism: “throughout 2016 a number of events were held in Shaki with the support of TURKSOY; Shaki was the ‘Cultural Capital of the Turkic world.’” Shaki is a rare treasure that brings together religious tolerance, intercultural dialogue and unparalleled multiculturalism values.  As Academician Prof. Dr. Kamal Abdullayev once said: “Today, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, is worthily continuing the political course of his great predecessor [HEYDAR ALIYEV], and is telling to the world; “Multiculturalism is a state policy in Azerbaijan and has no alternative!”” The year 2016 was declared by the President of Azerbaijan H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, as the “Year of Multiculturalism,” it is indeed the perfect political decision aimed to preserve the rich literary works of Nizami Ganjavi, Huseyn Javid (son of Nakhchivan), Mirza Fatali Akhundzade (son of Shaki), Mirza Jalil, Abdulla Shaiq, Kamal Abdullayev and many other legendary writers of Azerbaijan.   The region of Shaki may unquestionably be considered as Europe’s cultural capital, standing at the foot of Greater Caucasus Mountains, where Sunni Muslims have the highest level of education per capita in the world.   

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Travel & Leisure

Think outside: 5 ways to disconnect and enjoy the outdoors

MD Staff

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Life is hectic, full of demands at work and home. Add digital distractions like computers, cell phones, tablets and more, and it’s no wonder many people are experiencing record-high levels of stress.

One simple solution is to shift your perspective by spending more time outdoors. When you do an enjoyable activity outside, stress begins to melt away as you bask in the fresh air, sunshine and beauty of nature.

This doesn’t mean you have to be a savvy outdoor adventurer. There is a growing movement of people of all ages and walks of life embracing nature by finding new ways to discover the world around them. If you feel the draw of the outdoors, consider these five ideas for disconnecting and enjoying activities outside:

1) Try something new

When you challenge yourself by trying a new outdoor activity, you gain confidence and build lasting memories. You might also find new connections with a shared perspective. Curious about fishing? Look for local opportunities and guides. Want to learn how to rock climb? Research local classes and clubs. Interested in an experience of a lifetime? Explore the many options Polaris Adventures provides. These expertly tailored trips throughout the country let you try new ride-and-drive experiences that you’re sure to never forget.

2) Take a hike

One of the easiest ways to explore the outdoors is something that virtually anyone can do: hiking. Put on comfortable, sturdy athletic shoes and have fun discovering the parks and forests around you. Whether you opt for paved trails or a more challenging path through the forest, it’s a wonderful way to have fun by yourself or with others. Make a day of it by packing lunch or other snacks for mid-hike picnics where you can take in the grandeur of Mother Nature.

3) Explore the open road

There’s something freeing about the open road and exploring the nation’s highways, byways and hidden winding roadways. The fresh air and breeze in your face is second only to the sights and sounds of the new surroundings you experience as you explore cities, towns and country sides. As you look for your next adventure, try an alternative to a car or motorcycle that provides an exhilarating experience, such as a three-wheeled motor vehicle. These vehicles are as fun to drive as they look, plus most can comfortably seat two people for joint outdoor exploration.

4) Head off road

Find endless possibilities beyond the pavement. Few things can compare to traveling off road and discovering hidden spots and new places. With Polaris off-road vehicles, the options are only limited by your desire to explore. Pack up your gear and head out knowing you’re in a machine made to journey through the forests, deserts, mountains and beyond. Go at your own speed and see where it takes you.

5) Wander the water

Whether it’s a pond, lake, river or ocean, the water is equal parts soothing and exhilarating. It provides countless opportunities to spend time outside, depending on your personal preferences. Fish from the shoreline. Rent a canoe or kayak to discover bays and sandbars. Kick back and explore on a Bennington Pontoon. Try your hand at paddle boarding. When in doubt, just plan a beach day with a group of friends or the whole family.

As life continues to pull people in every direction, it’s more important than ever to take a moment and spend time outside. With these ideas, it’s easier than ever to enjoy connecting with others and the outdoors. For more ideas about what to do outside, visit Polaris.

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Travel & Leisure

Trips that transform: How airline miles can transform a child’s life

MD Staff

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Maksim was just a few months shy of 2 years old when his parents rushed him to the emergency room for severe flu-like symptoms, only to find that their little boy was suffering from kidney failure. Since that day, Maksim has spent most of his six years in and out of hospitals, doctors’ offices and dialysis treatments.

After receiving a life-saving kidney transplant from his father, Maksim and his family had to remain vigilant to protect him from any risk of infection by limiting his daily activities and exposure to other people. He has not had the life most children enjoy, as he is unable to go to school and play with other children.

Despite all of this, Maksim has always kept a positive attitude, as his parents observed: “His joy blows us away.” Maksim’s parents have chosen to put some of their own plans on the back burner while coping with his mounting medical needs and getting Maksim the care he needs to survive. Most of what Maksim knows and remembers in his short life is being sick — a life filled with needles, surgeries, side effects from medications, dialysis, hospitalizations and more.

Until Maksim’s social worker told his family about Make-A-Wish(R).

Maksim is fascinated by sharks, and he wanted to visit Hawaii to spend time at the ocean. “I like playing with shark toys,” Maksim said. “And I have a lot of shark books! I love when my parents read to me.”

Due to medical delays, it was awhile before Maksim would be able to take such a trip, but once his wish came true, his parents described his wish trip to Hawaii as “pure joy.”

“Every waking moment outside of his medical care was focused on him having fun,” Maksim’s parents said. “We all got to pause life’s responsibilities and focus on fun and family. It was such a unique opportunity to take time out and do something special, because he has to live with this affliction for the rest of his life. At the end of the day, there just isn’t much time left to spend together because there is always something else demanding your attention. Being granted time away like this brings tears to our eyes.”

At Make-A-Wish, 77 percent of children’s wishes involve some form of travel. Make-A-Wish has the resources to grant only half of those wishes. To make all of those life-changing wishes come true, the organization needs more than 3 billion airline miles or points and 25,000 room nights every year.

If you have unused or close-to-expiring airline miles/points, you can make a difference in the life of a child battling a critical illness. Donate your miles or points through participating travel sponsors, including American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Delta Air Lines. And, once you donate miles and points to Make-A-Wish, they never expire.

Here’s how you can help:

1. Visit wish.org/travel.

2. Select the airline(s) of the miles/points you would like to donate.

3. Know you have transformed the lives of wish kids and their families with your donation!

Your gift of airline miles/points is crucial for children with critical illnesses. That’s because a wish trip creates an opportunity for a child to experience life beyond illness. It’s also a chance for a family like Maksim’s to reconnect and get much-deserved respite.

When asked what his favorite part of his wish trip to Hawaii was, Maksim responded, “I think the whole trip was my favorite part!”

To learn more about Make-A-Wish, visit wish.org or check out #TripsThatTransform on Instagram to see some of the amazing places wish families have experienced, thanks to Make-A-Wish donors and partners.

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Travel & Leisure

Top 4 Drives around Beverly Hills and L.A. to Experience in a 2019 Maserati Levante SUV

MD Staff

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With a deep history of more than 100 years of Italian craftsmanship, Maserati’s DNA is a balance of luxurious, sophisticated style paired with the soul of a race car.  And as part of a new stay-and-drive package at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel, the following driving tour suggestions will help guests experience the famed Maserati lifestyle and all that Beverly Hills and Los Angeles has to offer.

Rodeo Drive “Italian Craftsmanship” Loop

  • 1 mile (1.6 kilometre) loop that takes approximately 10 minutes without traffic

Undeniably one of the most famous streets around the globe, experience luxury on this loop around the legendary Rodeo Drive. Expertly pairing Maserati’s history of creating exquisite masterpieces with the storied history of Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel, car aficionados and enthusiasts will enjoy the best of Beverly Hills from a Maserati Levante.

Starting Point: Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel – 9500 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, California 90212

  • Depart Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel, originally built on the Beverly Auto Speedway. The then American board track, built in 1919, was home to speeding Model Ts and saw the likes of prominent race car drivers such as Jimmy Murphy and Harlan Fengler before the Hotel’s opening in 1928.
  • Head west on Wilshire Blvd (0.1 miles).
  • Make a slight right onto N Camden Drive (0.3 miles).
  • Turn right at the 2nd cross street onto S Santa Monica Blvd (390 feet).
  • If you look to your left you will pass the Bang & Olufsen store, which is one of the brands that develops sound systems for Maserati.
  • Turn right onto Rodeo Drive.
  • On the right before you get to Brighton Way you will see BVLGARI at 401 N Rodeo Drive.  This legendary Italian jeweller creates one of a kind timepieces for Maserati owners.
  • Continue down Rodeo Drive and on your right you will see the Ermengildo Zegna store at 337 N. Rodeo Drive.  Zegna and Maserati are long standing partners and Zegna exclusively creates an optional silk interiors and soon to come in Spring 2020 a leather woven interiors for Maserati.
  • If you continue down Rodeo Drive to Wilshire Blvd you will be back at the renowned, Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel. Make a left on Wilshire Blvd, then a right on El Camino Drive, entering through the guard gates modelled after the Buckingham Palace gates.

End Point:  Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel – 9500 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, California 90212

Mulholland Drive Scenic Overlook

  • 6.2 miles (10 kilometres) that takes approximately 20 minutes without traffic
  • Pro Tip: Program 8591 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, California 90046 into your GPS

Best done in the daytime, stop at this popular overlook to see the city stretching into the distance beneath, complete with breath-taking views.

Starting Point: Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel – 9500 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, California 90212

  • Head east on Wilshire Blvd toward S El Camino Drive (479 feet).
  • Turn left onto N Beverly Drive (1.7 miles).
  • Stay left and continue  onto Coldwater Canyon Drive (2.8 miles).
  • Turn right onto Mulholland Drive.
  • Destination will be on the left.

End Point:  Mulholland Scenic Overlook  8591 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, California 90046

Pacific Coast Highway to the Getty Villa  

  • 13.4 Miles (22 kilometres) that takes approximately 31 minutes without traffic
  • Pro Tip: The Getty Villa 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, California 90272 can be added to the GPS

Enjoy scenic coastal views as you travel on one of American’s most scenic roadways, the Pacific Coast Highway to the esteemed Getty Villa. Offering an experience of ancient Greek and Roman art in a setting that recreates a first-century Roman villa, the museum is home to J. Paul Getty’s antiquities collection. The two-floor museum displays art that spans the 7,000 years from the end of the Stone Age to the fall of the Roman Empire and is complemented by stunning fountains and gardens.

Starting Point: Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel – 9500 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, California 90212

  • Head south on S Rodeo Drive toward Charleville Blvd (0.5 miles).
  • Turn right onto W Olympic Blvd (1.8 miles).
  • Continue straight to stay on W Olympic Blvd (0.1 miles).
  • Turn left onto Overland Ave (1.1 miles).
  • Use the left 2 lanes to turn left to merge onto I-10 W (0.2 miles).
  • Follow I-10 W and CA-1 N to Getty Villa Drive 13 min (9.6 miles).
  • Merge onto I-10 W (2.8 miles).
  • Keep left to stay on I-10 W (1.7 miles).
  • Continue onto CA-1 N (5.1 miles).
  • Turn right onto Getty Villa Drive.

End Point:  The Getty Villa 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, California 90272

Peterson Automotive Museum

  • 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometres) that takes approximately 7 minutes without traffic
  • Pro Tip: Program 6060 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90036 to the GPS

Known as the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles not only invented the magic of movies and television, but in turn is recognised as the driver behind the nation’s passion for vehicles due to Hollywood’s influence on crafting captivating car movies throughout the years. To learn more about Hollywood’s impact on the car culture, visit the Petersen Automotive Museum. Featuring more than 300 vehicles, make sure to visit the Made in Italy installation, which guides guests through the manufacturing process of the Maserati Levante, and the new Hollywood Dream Machines: Vehicles of Science Fiction and Fantasy, which explores the cult classic films and stories, bringing them to life through props, design drawings and physical vehicle models.

Starting Point: Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel – 9500 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, California 90212

  • Head east on Wilshire Blvd towards El Camino Drive (2.3 miles).
  • Turn right onto S Fairfax Ave (89 feet).
  • Turn left into Petersen Automotive Museum Parking.

End Point:  Petersen Automotive Museum 6060 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90036

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