Adventures in the Caucasus with Pierre

At the end of August I left my village and went to Tbilisi. That night I met up with my friend from SLO who had flown out here to visit. We spent the next three weeks galavanting around Georgia, Turkey, and Armenia. I think each of us took around 1,000 photos during the trip so I thought it would be  fun to create a sort of photo essay style blog post this time. So, I’ll be guiding you through our journeys with photos and short descriptions. Enjoy!

Our first day was spent exploring Tbilisi. We went up to Narkala Fortress and just wandered around town. While here we discovered hazelnut Snickers bars which were fantastic!

After Tbilisi we headed over to Sighnaghi in the Kakheti region. It is about 2 hours east of Tbilisi in wine country.

The city had an old fortress wall that seemed to weave in and out of the new and old parts. Most of the city has been completely rebuilt in recent years to draw in tourists. It now has a very Prauge type feel to it.

Our first night in Signaghi we ate dinner at this little hut overlooking rolling green hills.

During one of our explorations through the city we found a secret little path off one of the main roads. It just had a little gate which we went through. One path led to another and another. We walked around picking figs, apples, blackberries, and grapes.

Since Sighnaghi is in Georgia’s renowned wine region we figured wine tasting was in order. We found this place which was strangely enough owned by an American and was really overpriced. They did teach us a lot about the process of making wine though.

Georgian wine is made in these large containers called qvevri. Pierre discovered if you stick your head into one and make noise it sounds really cool.

Our homestay offered a trip to the David Gareja monastery complex which was about 1.5 hours from where we were staying. The monastery is located in a desert region with very little around in any direction and is located right on the border with Azerbaijan. The landscape was very different than anything I’d seen previously in Georgia.

The monastery was founded in the 6th century and has been worked on off and on since then. This is the area where the monks currently live and most of it was blocked off to visitors. You can see their cells are built into the mountain.

There was an old cart rail that I of course had to surf.

The older part of the complex includes an 11th century cave church. There were multiple rooms like this adorned in stunning frescoes.

Another fresco

We then went back to Tbilisi where we hopped on a plane to Mestia.

We got lucky and were the only people on the plane.

View of Tbilisi from above.

The Svaneti towers.

The plane ride was a lot of fun! We managed to get a bottle of wine on board and ran back and forth to look out the windows. Was great to have the plane all to ourselves.

Since we were missing BM this year we decided to have our own burn. Our first attempt was this little man didn’t work so well. It wouldn’t have been BM without some initial frustration and let down.

We gave up on our first man and made another one which burned quite well.

We held hands and danced around the embers. We talked about our friend who passed away and it was great to have a friend’s shoulder to cry on for a little bit.

While in Mestia we hiked out to Chaaladi Glacier.

It was beautiful up there.

There was a shaky cable bridge over the river.

Pierre told me that I looked like a hippie here. Felt that it was important to do a little balancing act on the log here. Walking through the path waves of pine smell kept on smashing into my face.

These huge mushrooms were all over the trail.

The glacier finally in sight.

We drank water that was melting off glacier.

At first we thought that by glacier they actually meant “mountain with snow on it”. But no, it was an actual glacier.

After hiking back from the glacier we of course decided that ice cream was needed. I got the biggest block of chocolate ice cream I’ve ever seen. No cookie crust, just chunk of ice cream.

I was on a constant search for pizza on this trip. Apparently sauce is just not an option for pizza in the Caucasus’. This pizza had slices of tomato and shredded chicken.

From Mestia we took a harrowing marsh ride down the mountain to Batumi. Once there we had to try the Adjaran Khachapuri. It has an egg and stick of butter on top of a pile of cheese. Nom.

This was the amazing Lebanese food we had in Batumi at a restaurant called Crispys.

Our next stop was Trabzon in Turkey. It was a fast paced city with lots to see and do. We spent most of our time just wandering up and down the streets.

At our first meal in Trabzon they brought us hazelnut baklava. Omg.

The view from our hotel room. There was a mosque right next door to us. The speakers blared the call to prayer into our room every morning at 5am.

Doner spit first thing in the morning. This whole thing will be gone sometime in the middle of the night. They keep on serving until it runs out.

Just one of the many mosques in Turkey.

We found the biggest cabbages in the whole world!! I’m not even sure what I would do with that much cabbage.

Another city with an old wall around it. Pierre did a good job holding it up.

In Turkey you can get Burger King delivered to you.

One of the traditional Turkish outfits.

There were lots of sultan statues around Turkey. I’ve decided that I really want to be a Sultan when I grow up 😉

We visited a mall and saw some of the latest Muslim women’s fashion.

The librarian nerd in me jumped for joy when we visited the local public branch and I saw this Dewey Decimal system sign in Turkish on the wall.

There was a sand beach right outside of Trabzon that we took advantage of. The water was shallow for a long way out and crystal clear; you could see right down to your feet.

The beach was fantastic and I had fun playing in the sand. It was a nice break from the rocky beaches in Georgia.

Of course while we were in Turkey we had to go smoke hookah. I got sick while I was there, but ‘suffered’ through smoking. It was delicious and incredibly cheap.

After Trabzon we made our way to Yerevan in Armenia. Of course the border between Turkey and Armenia is closed so we had to go back up through Georgia. This was quite the process. Pierre had some trouble getting across the border, the Georgian authorities scrutinized his passport, and when we finally got across our bus had left without us. Luckily we were able to catch a marsh back to Batumi. Our plans didn’t quite work out like we thought and we ended up buying tickets to take an overnight bus to Yerevan from Kobuleti. We went to Koueleti were we discovered it wasn’t a bus, but a marsh. The trip was 12 hours long, the driver blasted music the whole time, there was no room to lay down, and it was freezing cold. We arrived in Yerevan at 5am with no money, no place to stay, and not speaking a word of Armenian. A bit of poor planning on our part. We were saved from sleeping in the park by this guy named Eddie who was from Yerevan but had been living in Los Angeles for like 3 years. He took us to his place and let us crash on the pull out bed until a reasonable hour. In the morning he took us out for coffee and apple pie and helped find us a hostel.
Later that morning we walked around town, getting our bearings. This is the opera house.

There is a large park in town called Cascade. It’s full of sculptures, fountains, gardens. The whole thing looks like a large set of stairs. Inside it’s filled with art galleries. Very awesome. This guy you see here was referred to as the DJ of Armenia.

My favorite statue. She’s got so much character. There was a big fuss when it was put up being that she’s very naked.

View of the city from the top of Cascade.

One of the many fountain/garden/sculpture areas on one of Cascade levels.

This lion was made out of what appeared to be recycled tires.

Our first meal in Armenia was at Dolmama. It was incredibly delicious. These dolma had slices of steak in them.

On our way to meet up with a local CouchSurfer downtown we were greeted by crowds of people and fireworks. They were so loud they rattled our rib cages and echoed off the buildings all around us. We then saw guys in convertibles wrapped in Armenian flags with people cheering. When we asked what was going on we were informed that their chess team had just won the global championship. I’m thinking that this would never happen in the US.

It wasn’t just fireworks though. They also had a stage set up with live music. People were singing and dancing all around us. It was a great welcome to the city.

We met up with Ana who is from Yerevan but was well traveled and spoke great English. Her and Pierre had fruity drinks at dinner. It was here we learned that french toast in Armenia is not the same as in the US. In Yerevan it is slices of bread with cheese melted on top.

While doing laundry at the hostel I discovered the best cleaning product, Barf.

We met up with another CouchSurfer the next day and visited the only mosque in Armenia.

We also visited the first of what would be many churches during our time in Armenia. It was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a national religion and there are lots of churches. In this photo you see cross stones which appear everywhere! They are unique to Armenia and were initially used to identify locations where churches would be built. Fun fact: Armenians walk backwards out of churches so as to not turn their back on god.

Later that night we went back to Cascade for a jam session. There was lots of Beatles being played.

Then we took a tour up to Lake Sevan. It was quite overcast, but still beautiful. The lake takes up 5% of Armenia.

Of course while at the lake we visited another church.

Pretending not to be freezing cold at the lake.

This church had an entire courtyard filled with cross stones.

You could apparently do next to nothing inside the church besides wear a scarf on your head, have a simple haircut and pray.

There were lots of people selling crafts. This man was hard at word on his next carving.

After the church at the lake the tour group we were with headed to another church 🙂

You could read about this church in multiple languages as long as you were blind.

I know it probably comes as a big surprise to everyone, but our last stop on the tour (before lunch that is) was another church.

This church had a Jesus bathmat.

After our tour we went out with Ana again, this time it was for karaoke. She was an incredible singer. Pierre and I felt that we should dive bar it up true American style and we sang Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”, badly.

We met up with our new CS friend Artyom and his guest in from London, Mary, to go brandy tasting.

We toured the storage facility where hundreds of barrels were stacked. The room smelled so strongly you thought you might get drunk from the smell alone.

The Yerevan Brandy Company has been making booze since 1887. Apparently Winston Churchill loved the stuff so much that Stalin sent him 400 bottles a year. The barrels you see us standing in front of are about half the size of the largest ones they had.

This is the root of a walnut tree and a warning that this is what you will look like if you drink too much brandy.

After the tour it was time to drink. We had brandy that was 5, 10, and 20 years old. We were told that when you toast you clink your glasses in order to knock off the small devils that are always sitting on the edge. You are also supposed to hold the glass in your left hand so that it’s closer to your heart.

Once we were all sufficiently boozed up it was time to visit the last pagan temple in Armenia, Garni. It is thought to have been built in the 1st century AD.

I’m fairly certain this is the oldest thing I’ve ever been to see.

As we were leaving we saw this big pool of stagnant water. Gorgeous view of the mountains all around. Suddenly these young boys appeared, stripped down to their underwear and went swimming.

Feeling the need to balance things out a little bit, after the Garni temple we went to another church. This one also had some cave dwellings, spying holes in the floor, and rooms that were prime echo locations. We all decided there should be more rooms in our lives that echo.

At the entrance to the church was this little wishing well of sorts. The object of the game was to throw a rock and have it stay in one of the little shelves. If it stays then your wish will come true.

I kind of wanted one of these to wear around.

We decided to hitchhike from the church back to Yerevan. We had just about given up hope and were going to call a taxi when a van started to drive by. We stuck out our thumbs and he pulled over. He was a priest and a taxi driver. He already had two paying passengers, but there was plenty of room for us and he warmly welcomed us. His other passengers were less than thrilled though. The lady complained about us being in there the whole way back. She did this in Russian not realizing that Mary spoke Russian and could understand everything she said.

The last stop in Yerevan was the Matenadaran. It’s an ancient manuscript archive and is one of the largest in the world. Totally amazing!

That was the best ‘brief’ synopsis of my trip that I could give everyone. Just a small sampling of all the photos that we took. Have a ton of stories that I’m happy to share with people via skype or the next time I see you in person. If I tried to type it all out I’d only be writing about this trip until I came home!

Sorry this one took so long to get up, the next one will be posted sometime next week and will cover the return to school. Till then 🙂

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About Erin Berman

I'm an artist, a poet, an educator, and a life long learner. The world is my playground and I intend to jump on all the equipment.

Posted on September 29, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Rachel and I really enjoyed looking through this today 🙂 Our favorite parts were the Cascade gardens, the rock shelves, and the “Barf” detergent. Rachel found the detergent to be very ironic.

  2. Mets minda! I am definitely saving a link to this for my own travel ideas. I’m considering staying around for a few weeks before I use that free ticket.

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