Summer. It comes in a myriad of different forms.
Cities throbbing with heat and eclectic, sweaty street life. Open-air concerts or relaxed late afternoons with friends in tree-shaded parks set in the baked concrete of urban tangles.
Or eased by a sea breeze and long, lazy days and evenings on the coast, free of the usual pressures of work and day-to-day family life. Days that come with the kind of freedom to roam, explore, play, think and talk that create memories we carry for a lifetime.
Sun worshippers seek it out and soak it up. Others look for refuge in cooler climes.
Photo credits: Samy on Pexels
But whatever the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of our own favourite summer memories, we all have them.
Historically a time of plenty and relaxation between the hard work of planting in spring and preparing for winter through autumn, summer has a special place for most cultures. . And for all of us that grew up waiting impatiently for the long days of our longest holiday of the year.
The rhythms of the seasons are one of the things that connect people from different cultures and geographies. Details may vary but common threads we can all associate with run through our memories of the communal experiences and occasional moments of reflective solitude that mark them.
It is those threads, among others, that bind the international and multicultural teams at K&C that interconnect to form our company. Helping create the relationships that empower us to work together effectively. And to work effectively with you.
In that spirit, this summer I wanted to take you on a journey into the summers our colleagues remember from childhood. And those they enjoy today.
Summers across the different countries our team members come from. And are part of the tapestry that make them who they are today – my colleagues and the people my colleagues and the people our clients have learned to trust and rely on to build and maintain their digital assets and projects.
We start in Azerbaijan, a country on the ancient Silk Roads where East meets West and the Caucasus Mountains roll into the Caspian Sea. And where Eastern Europe melts into the steppes of Central Asia.
Ayshan, part of K&C’s HR team, grew up in a very different world to the increasingly modern capital city of Baku where she now lives. But long before she moved to live and work in Baku, the city was associated with her summers.
Ayshan grew up in Yevlakh, a town of a little under 70,000 inhabitants in central Azerbaijan, 265km inland from Baku. It is, she tells me, also the hottest part of the country at the height of summer. Temperatures regularly hit 40C during the summer months “and there is no wind”.
Azerbaijan’s capital Baku sits on the coast of the oil-rich Caspian Sea. Photo credit – Aze-AgalarovYT
Growing up in Yevlakh Ayshan would visit Baku during her holidays, staying with relatives on these summer trips to the capital. Now she lives in Baku, like most of the rest of the city’s 2.23 million inhabitants, she travels outside of its bustle to relax.
Home to over a fifth of Azerbaijan’s population, Ayshan describes the constant traffic snaking out of the capital city during holiday seasons as people go to visit their hometowns or other parts of the country.
The most popular destinations for Baku residents today are the Caspian Sea coastal resorts, cooler mountains or the beaches of Turkey.
Ayshan escapes from the heat of Baku and the crowds of tourists massed in the coastal areas around the capital by spending her summer holidays in the country’s highlands. She splits her fellow Azerbaijanis into two distinct groups:
“People who love to go to the seaside. And the rest who love to go to the mountains and other countryside areas, usually where it is cooler in the north of the country”.
Turkey and Georgia have also become increasingly popular international destinations for holidaymakers from Azerbaijan, including Ayshan, as people have become more affluent.
Domestic tourism has also developed with the country’s oil and gas-centric economy. Ayshan describes new hotels popping up in the last decade in the cooler, northern mountainous regions that now attract the growing middle class.
Summer life on the coast is centred around Baku and the neighbouring Caspian Sea coastline to the north and south of the city where there are beaches and hotels. Families with longer histories in Baku stretching back a couple of generations or more also often boast dachas (summer houses) in the coastal areas within easy reach of the capital – usually up to about an hour’s drive from the city.
Mountains in the Gabala (Qabala) region of northern Azerbaijan – a popular summer holiday spot that now also boasts ski resorts
As well as those summer trips to Baku as a child, Ayshan would spend up to two months on a farm her father owned in the north of the country. The family would spend the time in the mountains camping and keeping an eye on the farm’s sheep and goats, which summer at cooler higher altitudes.
She would ride Caucasian horses, though she laughs she’s now a rusty horsewoman and would be nervous mounting the graceful creatures her childhood self was in tune with and fearless of.
Those summers camping for a whole two months and relying on water taken from nearby springs are her fondest childhood memories.
Ayshan’s just back from a holiday in the town of Gabala in Northwestern Azerbaijan, not too far from the farm she spent her childhood summers. There are thermal springs in the area but she says they mainly attract older generations. She goes to enjoy a slower pace of life, breathe the fresh air and enjoy picnics and barbecues.
Another attraction for Ayshan is the summer international classical music festival held in Gabala every summer which attracts musicians from all over the world. The concerts are free to the public and a centrepiece of the summer season.
Barbecues of lamb and chicken skewers broken up by chunks of fresh, locally-grown vegetables are a favourite. Groups of family and friends either gather in a shady meadow, or by lakes and streams and prepare their own barbecues, or visit specialised venues where you hand over your own meat to grill masters who cook it to perfection.
Grilled meats and vegetables are most often accompanied by a Shepherd’s Salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and sometimes cheese. Or the “BBQ salad” – tomatoes, aubergine and peppers cooked over the barbecue on a shish and combined with fresh onions and greens.
But of course, even within one country and nationality, summer means different things for different people.
Another of our team from Azerbaijan, Sultan’s Azerbaijani summer has a slightly different flavour to Ayshan’s. A chatty IT project manager with a young family, he comes from what he describes as a “native” Baku family whose residency in the capital goes back generations.
He explains that “most” of those originally from Baku moved abroad with the end of the Soviet Union and were replaced in the capital by internal migration from the rest of Azerbaijan. Many of those newer arrivals spend their summers visiting relatives still living in the smaller towns and villages scattered around the country.
But Sultan is a representative of the Baku “natives” that remained. As a child, long stretches of his summer were spent at the family dacha, on the coast around an hour from the city. His parents would take him there for weeks at a time and he would spend the long summer days playing with his cousins in the garden, surrounding areas and on the coast of the Caspian Sea.
Tourists enjoying an aquapark in a holiday village in Nabran on Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea coastline
As he grew up and started to stretch his legs as a more independent teenager, he would go to the livelier tourist hotspots on the coast, like Nabran. The area’s all-inclusive hotels, aquaparks and nightlife is popular with the younger Baku crowd and tourists from elsewhere in the country. Ayshan also visited the summer hotspot occasionally as a young adult already living in Baku.
Things have changed for Sultan now he is married with children. Like Ayshan he also now takes them to Gabala in the summer to enjoy the cooler climate and greenery he describes as “like Switzerland”.
While Ayshan enjoys the classical music concerts and quiet picnic spots Gabala offers, Sultan’s kids are most enthusiastic about Qabaland, a theme park he describes as a “little Disneyland”.
Gabaland, a theme park for kids in Gabala (Qabala), Azerbaijan
When back in Baku, summer is full of trips with the kids to the zoo and other attractions, concerts and events.
Another popular summer spot, he says, is Naftalan, which is less than 50km from Ayshan’s native Yevlakh. Naftalan is renowned for its famous “oil baths”, considered to have a restorative effect.
The oil reserves and natural gas so abundant it burns out of the Azerbaijani mountainsides are the lifeblood of the country’s growing economy. Even if the tech sector is now growing quickly, in large part thanks to the country’s traditions in mathematics that are a legacy of its history as part of the former Soviet Union.
Sultan and his family still spend time at the dacha he spent his childhood summers in, which is shared with the extended family. He often spends weekends there over the summer months and next week will go to spend a week or two living and working from the property. His cousin, who he spent childhood summers at the dacha with, will also be there, visiting from London where he now lives.
Sultan speaks with enthusiasm of the fruit trees in the grounds he can pluck cherries and apples from to eat to his heart’s content and the “barbeque area”, featuring the obligatory mangal – a particular kind of barbecue specifically designed to cook shashlik kebab – skewers of meat and vegetables. The juices are mopped up with lavash – a usually leavened flat bread and typical across the Caucasus, Turkey and Iran.
He also likes to make summer trips to Western Europe, more than the seaside resorts of Turkey and Georgia, which are the most popular destinations for international tourism out of Azerbaijan. He has visited London and even my own native Scotland and the city of Aberdeen. Oil was the connection there, with the trip made to visit his now London-based cousin who at the time was working there in the oil industry for BP.
Like Ayshan, perhaps to an even greater extent, Sultan’s enthusiasm for a good summer barbecue is apparent. Lamb especially, and chicken, are the centrepieces of these barbeques that often start in the afternoon and stretch long into the summer evening.
He’s clearly a man that appreciates his food and is a passionate ambassador of his country’s culinary prowess. When I express my affinity for Turkish food, which I presume may be similar, he agrees – that it is similar. But, he insists, Azerbaijani food is “much” tastier than Turkey’s, especially the meat. He does, however, concede that he prefers Turkish desserts to his home country’s sweet offerings.
And having lived in Turkey for five years, he is in a strong position to judge.
Mangal-style barbecues with family and friends are central to an Azerbaijani summer. Lamb, chicken and vegetable skewers cooked outdoour on these traditional barbecues are the summer staples.
Azerbaijan’s food culture is helped, he says, by the country’s unique collection of climactic conditions. Despite the fact the country covers roughly the same area as Scotland, it boasts 9 of the 11 global climate types as defined by the Köppen climate classification system.
Situated on the northern extremity of the subtropical zone, in the southeastern part of the Caucasus and the northwestern part of the Iranian plateau, Azerbaijan features a complicated geographical location and landscape. The proximity of the Caspian Sea, the effect of the sun’s radiation, air masses of different origin and several other factors contribute to its climatological diversity that ranges from semi-desert to Alpine tundra.
That means, says Sultan, that Azerbaijani farmers can and do grow everything from normally tropical fruits like kiwis and citruses to the Southern European staples of tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelons. Industrial-scale farming is still not common in Azerbaijan, which means most agricultural products are organic and produced locally, without the price tag associated with the label in Western economies – despite being tastier.
Azerbaijan’s hugely diverse climate conditions mean a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are grown across the country. Most of the farming in Azerbaijan is still relatively small scale and the produce organic.
My conversation with Sultan concludes with a heartfelt invitation to visit summertime Baku and Azerbaijan soon. He promises “when” I come to visit soon I’ll be looked after as well as my colleagues that recently visited. I won’t feel like a guest, I’ll feel at home.
And, he assures me, I’ll fall in love with the country, its people, culture, food and landscapes – just like my colleagues did when they recently visited.
I believe him. I’ll make sure I put his promise to the test as soon as I can.
I can’t wait to walk the streets of Baku, where the ancient architecture born of the wealth once transported along the Silk Roads meets the modern glitz of more recent hydrocarbon wealth that reinvigorated the country after a period out of the international limelight.
And to taste the passionately promoted summer barbecues of shashlik, rotated to perfection over a charcoal-fuelled mangal and completed with locally grown watermelon accompanied by white, salty cheese.