Autumn in Armenia and a bit of Georgia, too (October 2016)
Our main destination of our Caucasus trip was Armenia. We imagined Armenia to be a rather small country so we thought we might as well spend some additional days in Georgia. As it turned out there was much more to see and do in Armenia than we expected plus due to road conditions it takes much longer to get from A to B. More on that later...
Because of cheaper flights and better flight times we decided to fly into Tbilisi / Georgia and start our trip from there. We stayed in the capital of Georgia for two nights - as it turned out this would be the only time that we spent two nights in the same accommodation in a row on this trip:-) We explored the city and came to the conclusion that we like it a lot. It is hilly so you have some nice views over the city, the old town is fascinating and at the same time sad because first of all you wonder how all these really damaged buildings can still stand (even some not on their own) and second of all we were surprised to see that almost all of them are still inhabited. We enjoyed the delicious Georgian food and luckily we have been to a Georgian restaurant in Krakow so we already knew how to eat "Khinkali" (a sort of Dumplings) correctly :-)
view over Tbilisi
After we picked up our rental car we left the city and drove south to David Gareja. We went some time hiking through a colorful landscape and spent the night in a homestay in the almost abandoned town Udabno. The family prepared a room for us and we were also served delicious dinner and breakfast.
The next day we already crossed the boarder to Armenia which turned out to be very easy and straightforward. The rental company had prepared all the papers for the car and everything worked fine. On our way through the scenic Debed Canyon we visited 2 monasteries before we arrived at Alaverdi - an old Soviet industrial town. The friendly owner of our accommodation prepared a great dinner which we enjoyed together at one big table with many other nice travelers.
Continuing south the main road was blocked so we had to take a deviation through a small valley with crazy roads and tiny villages. Just minutes after we were back on the main road we had our first car break down. Luckily we were close to a gas station. After some time 2 police officers were curios about the breakdown. They approached us and were really eager to help us. One of them spent 4 hours helping us. We disassembled the broken part and together with Edgar the policeman drove to the next bigger town (30min) to organize some hand-made spare parts. In the afternoon we had gathered all the necessary parts and drove back to our car while listing to Scooter and "How much is the fish" in full volume on the stereo. In the end we only spent 10€ to fix our car and after saying goodbye to the policeman with a big smile we were able to continue our journey:-)
passenger in an Armenian police car with Scooter at full volume. Notice the potholes.
In Armenia the daily rhythm is rather late. People go to bed late and as a result breakfast is served rather late - often it is not available before 9am. When we were staying at Lake Sevan we decided that before breakfast we wanted to see the sunrise at the Sevanaik peninsula. We did not expect the gate to be locked and had some trouble leaving the guesthouse so early but in the end someone woke up and opened the gate for us :-)
sunrise at Sevanavank peninsula
driving through Golden Autumn
We usually started to drive in the morning with no clue what our final destination would be. We always looked for an accommodation in the late afternoon which never was a problem. Seldom have we been to a country with so few tourists in general and never in a country with almost no German tourists. We continued our journey further south to the city of Goris known for its Stone Forest. The landscape around Goris was beautiful and we did some hikes close to Khndzoresk (yes try to pronounce the name of that town...) the next day.
Stone Forest near Goris
As it turned out the small town of Tatev would be our southernmost point in Armenia. Since some years Tatev is famous for its cable car which is over 5 km long and for its really well restored monastery. We did a nice hike along a rocky ridge and enjoyed the time in the lonely nature - the only person we met that day was one shepherd.
jumping around the world - Armenia edition
On our way to Jermuk we picked up some Iranian hitchhikers and ended up sharing a rental apartment together with them. When we went out for dinner we accidentally ended up in the middle of a birthday party where we were literally being pulled on the dance-floor and had to shake with the locals. Naturally it would have been impolite to refuse the homemade Cognac which they offered us.
It was good that we had a big car so the three Iranian guys and their three huge backpacks also fitted in it. After an amazing breakfast made by Milad we first visited the really nice waterfall of Jermuk. Afterwards we left the town in search for the natural hot springs close by. It took some time till we found the right gravel road. This was the first time that we put our 4x4 to good use and at three quarter of the way we decided that the way was getting to dodgy and too difficult to continue driving so we stopped the car and continued by foot.
hot springs near Jermuk
On the way to Yerevan we had our second breakdown. After trying to start the car again for approximately 2 hours (waiting times included) we realized that this time there was no way to continue on our own. So we organized a towing car which, although it was Sunday, was rather easy and it arrived after 2 hours. We were towed 80km to Yerevan to a small garage. In Armenia very few people speak English (it would be good to speak Russian here...) but if you have some patience and luck there is almost always someone somewhere nearby who can speak English…in the meantime we used our hands and feet and Google Translate ;-)
breakdown number 2
We spent the night in Yerevan and the next day around noon we could pick up our car again. It turned out that after this repair it was very reliable (we had no problems the rest of the trip) but from that moment on the engine had very reduced power. This resulted in us having to battle old trucks and rusty Ladas uphill...
Time was already running out and we definitely still wanted to do some more hiking. So we decided to drive to Garni and Geghard and start a two-day hike into the mountains from there. It was nice to hike in a totally different landscape than what we are used to from Austria. Although we hiked along a seemingly lonely and small gravel road we met quite many truck drivers crossing the mountains. They really could not understand why we rejected their offer of giving us a free ride and how we preferred to walk instead - this must seem weird to them :-)
We also saw some shepherds who where looking after their animals. One of them approached us from very far away and when he finally got to us asked us something in Russian. Sadly we don't speak Russian (yet) but he used his hands and feet and imitated a donkey sound so we understood that he was looking for a donkey - unluckily we had not seen one.
After this hike we had to make our way back to Georgia. Until this moment we had had two weeks of golden autumn with very nice weather and perfect temperatures. On the last days we got a little bit of rain and grayish weather which even was a welcome change after two weeks of almost no clouds at all. We drove for two days until we reached the crazy traffic of Tbilisi again. Driving on our own in this city was definitely the craziest and most challenging traffic we ever had and we were totally exhausted when we finally arrived our accommodation in the evening. The next day our wonderful road-trip through Armenia and a small southern part of Georgia sadly was over.
Thank you in Armenian means "shnorhakalut’yun" - luckily one can also say "merci" instead...
of all the trips we have done it was by far the
cheapest transportation to get from the airport to the city center of Tbilisi - the public bus which runs every 30 minutes around the clock costs less than 0,25 US Dollars.
while you have left hand driving in both Armenia and Georgia many cars have the steering wheel on the "wrong side" - direct cheaper imports from Japan and elsewhere
because the roads are in such bad condition and because most of the time there is very little traffic you end up driving at the better part of the road which very often is the left side
while we enjoyed the freedom of being able to go everywhere anytime with a rental car we also have to say that we felt some disadvantages; mainly that with a rental car we felt much more disconnected and further away from the local people.
in Armenia many many cars, buses and trucks drive with gas (CNG). They don't have quick connectors as in Europe though. Instead when you fill up your gas car the gas pipe is attached to your car manually with a big wrench (DE: Schraubenschlüssel)
hitch hiking in Armenia is very common. Many locals use it as normal means of transportation. We picked up many locals and also some tourists.
at least in every second town there is a speeding camera
we did not see a single motorcycle, scooter or moped in entire Armenia
Tbilisi is a cat city - we have never been to a city with so many cats (this one cat island in Japan is still high on our list...)
on our trip we drove 1660km (1037 miles) (without the towing distance :-) ) in total. This might not seem a lot but due to roads being windy and in very bad shape you don't cover much distance per hour - which was not our goal anyway