Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia · 21 Days · 15 Moments · July 2018

Caucasian Persuasian

15 August 2018

Final Destination ———————— The last day driving we visited some sights close to each other. The first was a 2000 year old Pagan Temple. This was built on an even more remarkable mountain, built up from hexagonal basalt stone columns (the geologists among us went wild). Interestingly, this natural phenomenon is barely visited and we somehow picked up a young boy that provided us with directions down some steep rocky paths. Ps 1: We encountered some interesting road works Ps 2: We practice the art of “flat lay” to demonstrate Armenian food proportions after requesting a light lunch. Ps 3: The old cars driving around are super cool

14 August 2018

Hungry Horses ———————- Being in the Wild West of Armenia, horse riding seemed a sensible thing to do. We drove to an even more remote village where a family organised small scale activities. We mounted “Selma” and “Arab” and with no instructions whatsoever headed up the hill with 2 young guides. After some quick learning on the go, the pace went up and we had to hold on tightly to the horses. A break at the lake gave the necessary rest to our bottoms and horses. After the ride we drove on the lake “Sevan”, a place that should probably be skipped by everyone (thank you Lonely Planet for the Fake News).

13 August 2018

Nissan’it again ——————— It should be admitted that we only decided to come to the Caucasus about 10 days before departure. Consequently, our limited travel preparation was mainly focused on Georgia (and Azerbaijan visa which was not used in the end). Luckily, after arriving in Armenia,we wer able fix a car, prep an itinerary and off we went. Moments after departure we were already hit by another car. Fortunately no damage was visible on our car and the friendly old driver voluntarily redeemed us in grapes (not kidding). Our first stop was a monastery next to the iconic Mt. Ararat (which is now Turkish land). As the story goes, Noah stranded his ship on the mountain. We did not strand but drove on to the wine region of Armenia which looked like the setting of an old western movie (cows & horses included). We got a private tour at the cave where the oldest winery was discovered in 2007 (6000y old). Lastly, arrived at a really nice hotel, we learned that Armenia’s provide huge portions.

12 August 2018

ARTmenia —————- Passageways are often nicely decorated with wall paintings from Armenian art students.
YereVantastic ——————— After we arrived in Yerevan, we did what every traveler should do after a long train journey: relax at the Marriott hotel pool :) some of us may have underestimated the Armenian sun, but that did not stop of from joining the scheduled walking tour. Yerevan is a small yet bustling capital city with a very cosmopolitan feeling. Parks, (drinking)fountains, outdoor cafes and live music .. really nice place! Near the end of the walking tour, Eli got lost in a desperate search of a refreshing Fanta. Fortunately there was a scheduled drink in a smoky underground raggae bar where we rejoined the group . After sharing some beers and travel stories we went to see the fancy fountain show. It was impressive to see how the streets get busy in the evening and everybody dresses up like it’s Friday night downtown!

11 August 2018

15 hours of fun ________________ From Batumi we went on the cattle cart to Yerevan, Armenia. A 15 hour joy ride. The distance covered by this slow ancient machine was actually not so great but it was a genuinely charming ride. Through the window of the four bed cabin we saw some very scenic views. Once on the move the wagon becomes more of a community with people mingling around. The friendly Armenian-Americans in the cabin next door did their best to explain us all about their country, in the end even paying our taxi on arrival in Yerevan. The only thing nobody should ever do before a 15 hour train journey is eat out of date khachapuri, otherwise there may be many shaky toilet trips incurred...

10 August 2018

A poor man's Dubai _____________________ Batumi, aka the tacky pearl of the Black Sea, was one of the oddest places on this trip. Nice classic buildings are mixed with flashy casinos and architectural nono’s. Still it felt nice wandering around like kids with Turkish ice cream and a ride on the big wheel. The botanical gardens were cool, but not as cool as our Georgian hosts! They offered us dinner, wine and the strongest “cha-cha” we had so far. This was the perfect material to talk for hours on google translate :)

7 August 2018

Hiking continued _________________ Day 2: the intensity of the hike went up (800m up) and so did the scenery while the accommodation became more and more basic (no phone, no electricity and cows everywhere). It was around this time that contact with the home front was lost (sorry for any worries caused). In the evening we witnessed an insane thunderstorm, we saw a flashlight actually litting a three ! Our guide told us not to worry in our wooden house with metal roof. Day 3: Due to the rain we could not perform the scheduled river crossing on horses. Therefore an operation taxi was called for instead, and we hiked to the nearby waterfall. In the evening we had lots of loughs with the extremely drunk host. On the fourth day, we decided to leave the rainy mountains for the grandiose coastal city of Batumi. On the way there, Emma met some healthy, clean streetdogs.

6 August 2018

Mestia to Ushguli __________________ Our trip would not be complete without hiking the ancient villages through the heart of the Caucasus. We set off on a challenging 5 day hike with a local guide. The route brings us across valleys and over mountain passes while overnighting in local villages. Our group was made up of different nationalities which resembled the good old Erasmus vibes (us being the youngest participants ^^). Along the route we mainly saw cows, breaks were held at fresh springs for filling up water bottles. After a 6 hour hike we stayed in the home village of our guide. The group endulged the food prepared by the host family (soup, vegetables cheese and delicious mountain beef). Travel stories were shared with some local beers. At 10pm everybody was exhausted in bed. Oh and host had a dog which Emma loved.

4 August 2018

Off to the mountains🏔️ _____________________ After a final strech back to Tblisi, we took the overnight train towards the north east region of Svaneti. The terminus was just over 300 km away, but the train took 7 hours. Last year (refer to Asian Persuasian II) a Chinese bullet train would have taken about an hour to cover that distance. Still it had its charms :) From the end station we boarded a “Marytushka taxi” which brought us to the mountain range. These vans are driven by former wanne be rally drivers, after which we saw many broken down vehicles on the road for obvious reasons. Fortunately our van did not break down so we are all set now for a 5-day hike from Mestia to Ugushili.

2 August 2018

🍷-region ————— From the Caucasian mountains we drove west towards the oldest wine region in the world “Kakheti”. Ronald und Stefan joined us for the day, wünderbar. Unknown to some, the selected route included an “off road” stretch over a small mountain range. This may have been bumpier then foreseen but the Nissan held itself well, and we got great views on the rural Georgian life. After dropping off the Germans, we continued to our remote hotel in between the vineyards. Emma on navigation would have really really like to have seen a few signs between the destination, the pig farm and the road. Nevertheless, moments after arrival we were to be found in the pool, the outpost for next days. A baby pool for reading and a flamingo for floating, what more do you need in life ..Our hotel being a winery, was a perfect place to learn more about the traditional “quevry” way of making wine. We were pleased with the extensive explanations and degustations by our host 😋

1 August 2018

Ready, set, hike ———————- On went the hiking boots towards Trinity Church. The walk started off steep after which the incline went down and the nr of sheep & cows went up. Without to much trouble we reached the church, which hopefully will give us holy strength for the remainder of the trip. After a more challenging descent off the beaten track we were up for a fresh drink in the first cafe we saw on the foot of the hill. Beer and water being the only drinks in the fridge, we ordered a cup of tea with the help of Russian translator Andrei. We got talking with him and his travel compagnion Juanita from Columbia. She was on a cycle trip which started in Vietnam 9 months ago, and Andrei being a fanatic aswell was happy to join her for a part of the journey. We wish them a “good road.” To end the day we went to the fancy designer hotel for dinner. This was a truly exceptional experience. Side note 1) Former soviet style trucks still make up a large proportion off the car fleet.

31 July 2018

Sur la route —————- Around 20h in the evening we called a local car rental company recommended by our hostel. The next morning a 4x4 was brought to our door. Deposit, drivers license and windscreen wipers are not required apparently so off we went. As expected the driving style differs in Georgia, but Eli soon blended in. Once outside the city the views were remarkable and the ancient historical sights omnipresent. More importantly though were the dress up occasions; once again Georgia did not let us down. To reach our destination Mt. Kazbegi (+5000 metres), there is only way: the Georgian Military highway. This actually means windy mountain pass with potholes and cows on the road. A lovely day with splendid mountain views! Side note 1) Georgian Radio reception is not always great, luckily we are given a selection of Georgian best of CD’s to keep us entertained. Side note 2) A lot of tourists seem to come from the UAE, we wonder if we will encounter them on our 5 day hike

29 July 2018

Tbilisi ———- Asian, European, Middle Eastern, Russian,.. Tbilisi seems to have it all. Most of all it has a nice atmosphere, friendly feeling and great views. As tradition requires, we were all set for the free walking tour at 12pm. Our Iranian guide ‘Mo’ took us on a record setting 4h45 tour which covered the whole city including cable car and underground bakery). This was actually great and we met some interesting people. Part of the fun of these free walking tours are the weirdos that join. This time we had a Traditional Spanish band in full gear. A remarkable feat given the temperature (Tbilisi kinda means hot place). Side note 1) In Tbilisi, and Georgia in general, there seem to be a lot of streetdogs. These are very friendly though and the authorities look after them by tagging, vaccinating and sterilising them.

28 July 2018

Kiev ——- Kiev airport on fire, terminal being evacuated, staff don’t know where exit is.. Ok then...